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A Conversation between Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad

30 September 2008, 09:31

If you haven’t noticed, the Scottish music scene’s thriving. There’s a new sense of worth emanating from the nation’s sweat soaked venues and acts like We Were Promised Jetpacks, Broken Records and El Padre are creating sounds with the potential to shoot beyond the country’s towering trajectory and out over the Atlantic. And the reason for this tartan-clad revival? Well, there’re two: Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad.

Over the past twelve months the uniquely home-grown sonics of the ‘Twilight’s magnificent Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters and Frightened Rabbit’s equally elegiac The Midnight Organ Fight have pulled relentlessly on the UK public’s heartstrings. Forget the grating art school chic of Franz Ferdinand, these acts truly encapsulate the sound of modern Scotland: vehemently sarcastic, bitterly morose and absolutely, unflappably honest.

So in the first of a two part interview, The Line of Best Fit caught up with Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison and The Twilight Sad’s James Graham before a gig in Edinburgh during the Fringe to discuss their morbid disposition, the increased popularity of the Scottish brogue and, of course, Gwen Stefani…

Well, we’re in Edinburgh and it’s the Fringe Festival. Have you had any chance to see shows?

James Graham:
Nah, I’ve no money at all.
Scott Hutchison: I went to see Limmy last week.


You don’t know Limmy?? Aw man, where’ve you been? If we’re talking about Scottish stuff he’s the funniest guy about at the moment. He’s got a website and he does all these podcasts and videos. It’s just wee characters that you’d definitely know if you lived in Glasgow or anywhere in Scotland really. He’s got this one character whose an ex-junkie called Jacqueline McCafferty.
James: Jacqueline, Jacqueline McCafferty.
Scott: And he’s got another character called John Paul the Ned who’s brilliant. You should definitely go check him out.
James: I can’t afford to.
Scott: I’ll take you as a wee treat then.
James: Aww… thanks.

Do you need to pay? Can’t you guys play the ‘don’t you know who I am’ card and stroll in to anything you want these days?

They’d probably just laugh us away.
Scott: Have you ever tried that? I mean, it’s easy to get on guestlists but have you ever actually rocked up to somewhere and tried it?
James: Nah, I’d be too embarrassed - it would be awful. There was a guy going about in Glasgow saying he was our manager at one point and getting into places. Why would you even say that? You wouldn’t get in anywhere. I think the doormen just laughed at him.

Talking of japes, why do so many Scottish bands - and I count both your groups in this - have such a morbid sense of humour when it comes to lyrics?

I think Scottish life can be a bit dark and miserable. I mean it’s not California here and I think it’s been bred into us. I’m always asked if I listen to Arab Strap records in my room all my time but I’ve never listened to an Arab Strap Record all the way through.
James: Honestly?
Scott: I’m not kidding, I’ve listened to about three songs.
James: Christ, I listened to one the other day.
Scott: Aye, it’s not that I’m not interested in them but I think it confirms that it’s an innate Scottish quality to look on the bright side of darkness. But you’re not very funny.
James: I’m not funny - there’s nae uplifting parts to me at all.
Scott: I went round to his house the other day and it was a beautiful summer day - one of the hottest of the year - and James was sitting by his laptop in his bedroom with the blinds down and one wee lamp on. I think he’d just closed a very rude window as I walked in.
James: Aye so it was:, I think. But I don’t really like hot weather so that was why I was sitting in my room in the dark. I just fucking hate the summer.

I hear you, especially in Scotland: a combination of pissing rain and sweaty buses equates to an omnipresent stench of wet dog.

I know what you mean. You know those t-shirts you forget to wash after a particularly stinking day and then when it rains a few weeks later the dog smell comes back?
James: I’ve nae idea what you’re talking about.
Scott: You’ve never had that? I guess that’s because your mother does your washing for you.
James: She does, aye.

Right, back to the topic fellas. Why do we Scots write such morose songs?

I dunno, I just don’t like happy songs so I wouldnae write any. I hate happy people who go about smiling all the time, pretending that life’s great. That’s just not me and I don’t think many people are like that either - the Scots are just as miserable as fuck.
Scott: I think the dark side is more interesting; no-one likes people who think everything is great.
James: Like that woman from the T In The Park coverage, the one who used to be in El Presidente. She spent the whole festival saying: “amazing, amazing, amazing”. Fuck Off.
Scott: Aye, amazing as a word should be used considerably less than it is at the moment. Not everything can be amazing.

There’s a fair amount of brutal colloquialism in your lyrics - I’ll use ‘puttin’ the boot in’ and ‘kicking your cunt in’ as prime examples. How does that go down outside of Scotland?

In America it worked just as well.
Scott: Yeah but your ‘cunt’ is quite a subtle one.
James: We also got away with it on the Gideon Coe session during the day. Nobody noticed at all.
Scott: We’ve got one of our songs coming up in a mainstream American TV show that has a cunt and a shit in it and they’re playing it whole. I don’t know how it’s going to work, I don’t know if they’ll voiceover it with ‘jobby’. They really hate ‘cunt’ over there and when I use it they think I mean kicking a woman in a vagina or something equally as horrid; yet over here it’s acceptable.
James: My mum and dad asked me about the lyrics but we’ve just never, ever spoken about ‘that’ lyric.
Scott: So, is that ‘cunt’ someone I know?
James: No, it’s a generalisation that signifies a whole lot of people.
Scott: You mean it’s an umbrella over one person so they can’t be identified?
James: Aye, a cunt-brella.

Have you ever seen the American website that tries to decipher your lyrics James?

Oh aye, it’s amazing. It’s a shitty website that someone’s made up and it’s got stars and shit all over it.
Scott: Is it that one that looks like a My Little Pony website or something. As if they needed to say ‘Unofficial Twilight Sad website’ when it’s covered in stars and glitter. Although, it might have been Andy’s doing.

With the brogue being ‘in vogue’, so to speak, I take it you see it as a good thing that folk here are singing in their own accents rather than using that faux-American drawl bands used to put on?

Scott: I don’t sing in the same strength of accent as does but I find that when I’m singing one of their songs I start strengthen’ it up a wee bit, eh. But I think there’s no other way of singing songs than like that.
James: I do roll my r’s a wee bit but I never really think about it.
Scott: You know there’s these American bloggers out there who call him Groundskeeper Willie?
James: Aye, Groundskeeper Willie - fucking brilliant eh? But I’ve never really thought about singing in an accent.
Scott: I don’t know why I sing with an accent either - I’d never heard his band before I started Frightened Rabbit and I’d never hear Popup either.
James: Nah, I’d never heard Popup either, in fact I don’t think I’ve heard them to this day. Or have I? I think we’ve played with them….
Scott: Anyway, moving on…If I’m singing about things that are happening in my own life then there’s no way I could be honest about it if I’m singing in another accent. If I put on an American accent then it wouldn’t work at all and people wouldn’t believe it.
James: Aye, these songs are about us and there’s nae point in trying to do it any other way.

It’s well known that The ‘Twilights’ rose to prominences in the States before being picked up here, whereas I remember seeing Frightened Rabbit a multitude of times in various venues over the past few years. Considering your pathways, is it strange you’re now both on an equal par now in the States?

Aye we had an American release out before we’d put anything out and then we toured there for a bit and then we came here. I quite glad we did that in many ways.
Scott: It’s kind of unique to Fat Cat to be honest. So many labels think you have to work on the UK before you have a chance of making it in the States and that’s why you have the stupid pressure of cracking America or whatever. If you just go there and work like you do over here it’s probably going to happen - they fucking love Scottish music, in fact they love Scottish ‘things’. They do man, they love everything about Scotland.
James: The thing is; if there’s a buzz about a British band in Britain the American’s don’t really give a fuck. But if there’s a buzz about a British band in America then it all filters back.

You mean like Bush?

Aye, we’re the new Bush apparently. Yes!

Could be worse, I’m pretty sure most folk would be chuffed waking up to Gwen Stefani in the morning.

I had to do this blog thing on the Guardian and I talked about pumping Gwen Stefani from behind. I’m not sure it will ever be published.
James: We had to do a single review column for The Skinny and we gave Bush's new single five stars for boabin’ her and two for the song.

Okay, I’m sure Gwen’s getting the divorce papers sorted as we speak. So, how different are the American crowds to those in the UK. I’m assuming Frightened Rabbit don’t quite have the same scale as the Twilights just yet?

Nah, they’re much bigger than we are over there.
Scott: We sell shows out in the States all the time but I don’t think we’ve sold one show out over here. So, yeah, we’re doing pretty well over in America.
James: We haven’t been out there in a while so I really don’t know. I think the only significant thing for us, was playing the Pitchfork festival. All the other shows were pretty small, at about 200 - 300 people.

That’s still pretty good I’d say, considering I saw The Ruby Suns over there and there must have been about twenty people. It’s odd they don’t seem to support their own, don’t you think?
Yeah but it can be really random as well. There were some pretty dead shows initially.
James: Aye, you have to get through the shit to get to the good.
Scott: People over there find music a lot more independently than they do here - there’s not quite so much external influence. I find the NME governs what people think all too much here and they don’t really have that in the States.
James: They’ve got Pitchfork but quite a lot of people look down on them for being cuntish to bands. They’ve been really good to us but I think there’s a lot of negativity towards them because of how harScott they can be. If you look at the Black Kids review or even the Jet one where a monkey was drinking its own piss - it’s pretty funny but if it was your band you’d be like .
Scott: Pitchfork are capable of ruining bands careers.
James: Aye they are: British Sea Power got U.2 for their new album. I really think that’s worse than a monkey drinking its own piss.

I noticed that at T In The Park you were both in small tents. What did you make of that?

James Graham: Yip, we were in the Unsigned Bands tent. I was quite happy to play it but I saw it as a kick in the nuts because we’re not unsigned and there were bands on that bill who weren’t where we are and hadn’t put in as much work as we have.
Scott Hutchison: You feel like you’ve produced good enough music that you could be treated as a real band and not be lumbered into one of those tents. There’s a lot of promoter politics to get a good slot at T In The Park.
James: It worked out well but at the time it felt like ‘for fucks sake’.

So will you be looking for a bigger stage next year?

I’d be happy never to play it again.
Scott: I preferred Belladrum, it had a much more hospitable atmosphere.
James: I don’t like T In The Park at all - it’s pish. Connect was good but the line-up’s shite this year as well. It’s really disappointing that it’s gone down that road.
Scott: It’s not really healthy to see your career in terms of the size of the tent, what’s important is who was there and who has enjoyed themselves.
James: After we’d done an interview at T in the Park I saw some band on the NME stage and I said to the guy ‘I never want to be like that’. I’d be quite happy to stay on a smaller stage for the rest of my career.
Scott: It’s quite rare for a band that explodes to ever make a long term success out of their career. I’d rather see it as a job. It’s a particularly fun one but it should be work at the same time and I wouldn’t want to have anything that I hadn’t earned. So although I thought we’d earned a stage bigger than what we got at T In The Park, we actually earned an audience there.

It’s rare to see a critical word said against you and you’re pretty well renowned on both sides of the Atlantic. Did you ever envisage this is where you would be when you started out?

I think there’s an element of luck, hard work and timing.
Scott: I don’t know how this will read when you print it but I knew when we’d made our second album [The Midnight Organ Fight] that it was really good and I expected it to make us more popular. I think you visualise where you would like to be and I’m happy where we are currently.
James: I wanted to be doing this and I wanted people to like the band but I just didn’t know whether the songs were good enough. The fact that people are enjoying what we’re doing is amazing. Some more money would be nice. In fact, any money would be good.

Surely you guys aren’t doing too badly cash-wise?

I’ve been on and off the dole for the past two year - mostly because I haven’t signed up for the PRS or anything like that.
Scott: Well, that’s your own fault isn’t it?!

So did you guys know each other before ‘the fame’?

I definitely knew who they were when they were at demo stage because I was playing them to everyone.
James: Aye, I would go round to his house and play him our demos and he’d play me his - it was quite gay actually.
Scott: Ahh…memories. But - and this is going to sound really bummy - I actually don’t think there’s a band I enjoy listening to and enjoy spending time with as much as them. I don’t know if it’s because it started happening at the same time for us both. I remember when Alex from Fat Cat told them that Frightened Rabbit were playing at the old Stereo and they came down to see us. Afterwards there was this group of drunken lads talking to my girlfriend and I was saying ‘what the fuck are you doing? Who are you?’
James: We were like ‘Alex fae Fat Cat said we’ve got the same spirit’.
Scott: Aye, from then on we just went to each other’s gigs and I don’t think I missed a show until they fucked off to America. I don’t think I’ve heard a Scottish record I’ve liked as much since they released .
James: Cheers. It’s the same for us. This is a bumfest isn’t it? You do know we’re going home together after this gig?
Scott: We’ve already spooned.
James: Aye watching The Bodyguard drinking mouth wash.
Scott: Can I get a gammy?

Erm..moving on then. Do you think the spotlight is too heavily focused on the Glasgow scene, almost to the detriment of other areas in Scotland?

No, I think it’s a good thing. It’s the one place that’s constantly maintained a presence with its music scene. Y’know Dundee came and went with The View and Aberdeen never really happened either. Not too slag Aberdeen off, it’s a nice city and all that.
James: I’m a shareholder at Aberdeen football club.
Scott: Are you? Really? And you’re complaining about being poor?
James: Oh aye, the champagne’s on me. I’ve also got shares in Euro Disney as well.
Scott: What the fuck? Check out stock market boy. ‘Oh I’ve got nae money but I’ve got shares in Aberdeen Football Club and Euro Disney’. You’ve probably got some sitting in Microsoft too.
James: I wish!

I’ve interviewed a number of new Scottish bands recently and they’ve cited you guys as the main influences in their sound. It must be quite flattering to have taken the reigns from Franz Ferdinand and stopped the glutton of slanty-fringed guitar bands we had a few years back?

I really don’t think anyone should look up to us at all. We’ve only released one record and that’s nothing really.
I mean it’s very flattering and I think it’s a more substantial well to drink from than Franz Ferdinand. I don’t really hear the influence in these newer bands - it must be very subtle - but it’s a nice shift in the way things sound and bands like El Padre and We Were Promised Jetpacks are pushing that forward. I feel like Glasgow has a bit more romance now and we’re part of that.
James: Well there’s a lot more spooning going on. Go to Sleazy’s one night and you’ll end up going home with someone and spooning.
Scott: This is going nowhere… move on please. Please.

Have either of you noticed a change in the grassroots of Scottish Music since you set out?

We didn’t really gig about a lot so I couldn’t tell you. I’m not really sure what it was like to begin with.
Scott: I think it sounds a bit different. There was a lot of electro and twee going on and I think that….. Actually I don’t really know what’s going on in Glasgow these days, I’m rarely out.
James: I couldn’t tell you what Glasgow was like but I could tell you what the scene is like in Banton .
Scott: So what’s going on in Banton then?
James: Well we’ve got a jukebox in the Swan and our drummer used to be in a band called Stone Whisper. They were amazing.

There was a lot of pressure on Scottish bands to move to London a few years back…

S-H-I-T-H-O-L-E: shithole.

…I take it that’s not something you’re going to consider in the future?

Nah, I’d rather be miserable up here than down there.
Scott: I don’t think it’s the centre of the universe and there’s a lot of…
James: Arseholes?
Scott: Aye, but there’s a lot of arseholes everywhere. The difference between the arseholes up here and those down there is that they don’t see anything outside of their big, huge playground. You do put a lot of pressure on yourself when you first play down there but I would urge new bands not to consider London as the end of the yellow brick road.
James: I just get really stressed there.
Scott: We were playing that White Heat and I never knew the audience but the moment they walked in they oozed were proper hipness.
James: Like Nathan Barley?
Scott: Aye, exactly like that.
James: I just end up sitting in the corner trying to avoid eye contact with people when that happens.
Scott: Places like Leeds - that’s my favourite city to play in the world I’d say - have much more atmosphere and the crowd are with you constantly.
James: Aye, the first two rows in London are like that while the back rows are just looking at you like . Christ, I don’t know how you’re going to write that up.

Aye, I’m starting to wonder. Now you’ve grown in stature, what’s the craziest commercial offer you guys have had.

Naebody’s really offered us anything yet.
Scott: Well we had Hollyoaks and the one that’s coming up that’s really fucking big .
James: Nobody likes us; they’ve nae offered us anything. Nae tampon adverts or sexual favours. Although our bass player does offer them out.
Scott: All we do is sit about and say ‘Ah my life’s shite, naebody comes on to me. May as well go and write another album’. So going back to the start, that’s where the misery comes from.

What would it take the for you guys to produce a chirpy, up tempo pop song?

I would say that ours are poppier than theirs. I wouldn’t class them as pop but if you take the words away they’re definitely a bit poppier.
James: We definitely won’t be writing one.
Scott: He and I are going to do something together when we get a bit of time. We’ll try and take each other out of what we’ve been doing; removing me from lyric writing process to concentrate on the music, whereas he can concentrate on writing music that’s a bit quieter and a different background for his voice. That could be a pop sensation.

Is this definitely going to take place?

I’d like it to happen. My mate has a place up in Fife which is always empty so hopefully we can sort something out.
James: I’m up for that.
I’m up for it as well. It’s just a nice holiday for us.

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