Frightened Rabbit: Doomed relationships, Big Brother and the missing $28,000

Frightened Rabbit

Many Frightened Rabbit fans would cruelly welcome the news that Scott Hutchison, the band’s guitar-playing singer and songwriter, recently split up with his long-term girlfriend.

It was, after all, a previous break-up with a different woman (more on that later) which prompted an outpouring of bruised, raw emotion in Scott’s lyrics that – coupled with paradoxically uplifting, stirring Scottish indie-rock – became The Midnight Organ Fight, the defining second album that brought Frightened Rabbit their intensely devoted (and rapidly growing) following in the UK and across the Atlantic.

The latest separation happened halfway through the songwriting process for their outstanding fourth album Pedestrian Verse, out on February 4, 2013. However, Scott’s approach to lyricising his feelings wasn’t as harrowingly intimate as last time, with the frontman preferring to follow the template of songs such as State Hospital and album opener Acts Of Man, whose narratives come from “a wider lens”, as he puts it.

Thus the signposts to a doomed relationship – e.g. the chorus of December’s Traditions (“It’s not the answer, sticking plaster on a shattered bone”) or album closer The Oil Slick’s almost apologetic acknowledgement of the lack of positivity in the previous 11 tracks (“So it came to pass and I came home with four worn-out limbs and not one love song”) – sees Scott doing a lot less handholding with his audience, instead colouring his darkest feelings in metaphor.

“While I did want to write about what was happening to me, I tried to use some of that language – not to hide it – just so that it didn’t seem so obviously (an album of) two halves,” says Scott. “There are references to it [the break-up] in other songs as well but I didn’t want it to be Organ Fight Mark II in terms of it being that explicit.”

Having been fortunate enough to interview Frightened Rabbit around the release of each of their previous three albums, I’ve always found Scott to be an exceptionally honest person, sometimes disarmingly so.

However, back in February 2008, while chatting in their dressing room before a gig at the Cathouse in Glasgow, I asked him about the ex-girlfriend who inspired their break-up record The Midnight Organ Fight, only to be told (firmly but politely) the topic was off-limits. The reason for his reticence was a fear that others might perceive him to be exploiting his ex’s brush with fame to publicise his band.

Five years on, and few could deny that Frightened Rabbit have done a damn fine job of exploiting their own talent, so when I broach the subject again, Scott is much more comfortable speaking about Shell Jubin, the woman who broke his heart and inspired their much-adored second album.

If that name sounds familiar it’s because she was a contestant in Big Brother 5 in 2004, (in)famously mowing the house lawn wearing nothing but a scarf. Shell and Scott were both art students who lived together in a flat in Glasgow’s West End. They split in 2005 but remain friends.

“I was on Little Brother a couple of times, I did a lot of stuff,” recalls Scott. “It’s weird, you were the only person who ever mentioned it to me.

“I don’t really care any more because I have a career now, but at the time I didn’t and I was very aware of that. That’s why I clamped down when you brought it up. I didn’t want to be associated with it because I thought it could be very damaging. In a way there would be instant promotion for the band but I didn’t want that, so there was no talk of the band in anything I did.

“It was really hard. I was skint and they [media outlets] were offering me quite a lot of money to talk about her, ‘she and I’, stuff like that. It was totally fucked up. I was doing my degree show; I get up one morning and there’s a journalist buzzing my flat having found out where I lived, and I’m trying to finish off something I’ve worked towards for four years. It was horrible. I would leave the house every night and go for a walk for 50 minutes at the time it was on then come back in. I genuinely couldn’t bring myself to watch it. It was bad, really bad.

“It was just a really weird event in my life because we split up and got back together prior to that [Big Brother] happening and that’s what most of Organ Fight is about.”

Scott could have been forgiven for thinking it unlikely that a more distressing episode would ever befall him, but another extraordinary incident in October 2012 ran it close.

Frightened Rabbit were travelling on their tour bus from Canada to the US when border officials seized $28,000 that the band were carrying in cash.

“It was perhaps a slight amount of naivety on our part,” admits Scott. “We’d done a few shows in the US, gone over to Canada with that money – they were fine with that, by the way – and then got stopped on our way back into America. Our tour manager hadn’t been able to bank the cash, which was merch and fees, and couldn’t do so in Canada because they don’t have the same system.

“You’re allowed $10,000 per person and there were 10 of us in the touring party, so we were saying, ‘Some of that’s his, some of that’s his’. But it was all in one place so they were taking it away from us because we had too much.

“But the money wasn’t the main concern for me. We were held in this – it’s wrong to call it a cell but it was fucking depressing – little office and told nothing. As far as I knew we were maybe going to be put in jail. We were held for six hours, not knowing if I was going to get a criminal record that would stop me getting a visa, stop us touring the US. I was thinking, ‘Career’s over. Fine. Get used to touring Britain’.

“They started asking us about drugs and stuff. The whole bus was rattled through, everyone’s bags. Of course they didn’t find any drugs, we’re not idiots! I got the impression that the first guy who took us in – and basically stole our money from us – had just started the job and wanted a big sting for his bosses. They were being assholes, basically.

“We were there for so long that people’s shifts actually ended and began. And the next guy said, ‘I’m not quite sure why you’re here but I have to complete this process’. Sort of like doing his very best to say sorry without officially saying sorry because he’s not allowed to. That was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had in the band, it was horrible.

Thankfully, the band have since been offered their $28,000 back – minus interest that the Customs and Border authorities are claiming for holding it.

“Our accountant is appealing against that, so we’re trying to get the whole amount,” says Scott. “That’s a lot of money for anyone.”

February 3, HMV, Aberdeen Union Street (4pm)
February 4, Fopp, Glasgow Union Street (6pm)
February 5, HMV Edinburgh Princes Street (6pm)
February 26, Picture House, Edinburgh (sold out)
February 27, Music Hall, Aberdeen (tickets)
February 28, Barrowland, Glasgow (sold out)

Click here for details on where to order Pedestrian Verse, and check out the making of the album below.

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