A Scottish band singing with a mid-Atlantic accent is obnoxious. says Frightened Rabbit
Ahead of their festival gig here rock quartet Frightened Rabbit tell Chris Jones why they won’t tailor their vocal style just to make it big in the USA.
"I am quite literally an alien here," says Scott Hutchison from his new home in Los Angeles, "and the lifestyle is completely different. But that's why I did it – it's refreshing and as a writer trying to respond to my environment, it's provided a whole host of new material that I can draw on."
Singer-songwriter with indie band Frightened Rabbit, Hutchison recently moved to California to live with his American girlfriend Courtney. Meanwhile, the rest of the band still live in Glasgow, where they have long been stalwarts of the city's febrile music scene.
Since forming in Selkirk a decade ago, they have slowly but surely built an adoring fanbase with confessional songwriting, unflinching lyricism and stirring indie anthems, sung by Hutchison in his gloriously unvarnished Borders accent.
Hutchison's move to America makes a lot of sense if you consider his band's career path.
It was only with their fourth album, Pedestrian Verse, which reached number nine in the UK album chart, that they had any kind of commercial breakthrough at home. On the other hand, having spent years crisscrossing the States on tour, they built up an American fanbase the hard way and for years found themselves more popular in the States than in the UK.
Hutchison suggests that an American "thirst" for Scottish forebears like Mogwai, Teenage Fanclub, The Delgados and Belle and Sebastian helped pave the way for Frightened Rabbit, and that the open-hearted nature of their music helped too.
"Singing in our own accents really did help us," he says. "I think there's something a wee bit obnoxious about a band from Scotland singing in that kind of mid-Atlantic accent.
"There's a great love for Scotland in general over here – the fact that there's a lot of heritage really did work in our favour. But at the end of it all, it has to be music, songs and albums that people can connect with."
And how about the swearing? Like an introspective counterpart to The Thick Of It's Malcolm Tucker, Hutchison is a master of creative profanity. "Well, the f**ks are fine but the C-words were not initially very well received," he says cheerily.
"Colloquially, in Scotland and I'm sure in Northern Ireland too, that is not always a violent word," he says of the latter. "It can be a term of endearment and it just doesn't have the same level [of offence] back home. Over here, there was a collective intake of breath from the audience."
Hutchison often uses the word 'honesty' when he talks about his songwriting, His songs are sometimes amusing, often heartbreaking meditations on love, loss and life, captured with a painter's eye and a poet's turn of phrase. And he is not much keen on sugar-coating his words for sensitive American ears.
"I would never do that," he says. "The whole point of writing music, for me, is to be honest. The second that we lose that honesty we'll lose our audience. That kind of language is how I talk, and it's the best way I've found of telling how I feel."
Still, Hutchison's new life in California has made him rethink one aspect of his life – his very Scottish instinct to bottle his emotions.
"The interesting thing about having an American girlfriend is that communication is so different over here," he says. "It's much more open on a one-to-one basis. We talk about everything, and it's really wonderful. It's not the Scottish way."
- Frightened Rabbit play the Stendahl Festival, Limavady, on August 8. For details, visit www.stendhalfestival.com