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Ever since Scott Hutchison started releasing music as Frightened Rabbit more than a decade ago, his emotionally honest and incisively worded lyrics have been among the project’s most beloved qualities. Over the course of five albums, including their new Painting of a Panic Attack, Frightened Rabbit’s frontman has made poetry of his misery, and still somehow managed to make it sound anthemic -- like a triumphant rallying cry rather than a downer. In all of those respects, Painting of a Panic Attack - produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner - is the band’s most accomplished collection yet. “Great songwriters touch a nerve, and I think Scott really touches a nerve with these songs,” says Dessner. “To me, lyrically, this album is a step above anything he’s written before.”
Beginning with the 2006 debut album Sing The Greys, Frightened Rabbit have become one of the U.K.’s most beloved exports. Though originally self-released, Sing The Greys earned the band a deal with indie label Fat Cat Records, who re-released the album and the two that followed: 2008’s Midnight Organ Fight and 2010’s The Winter of Mixed Drinks. Their last album, 2013’s Pedestrian Verse, marked their Canvasback / Atlantic Records debut, as well as their most critically and commercially successful albums to date. In the UK, that LP was dubbed “a triumph” by The Quietus, while The Guardian described it as “a collection of stirring, instant anthems.” Equal praise came from wide swath of U.S. outlets, including Rolling Stone, Time magazine, and Pitchfork, who praised Hutchison’s “lucid assessments of social and emotional turmoil.” The album also helped Frightened Rabbit achieve new commercial milestones, bringing a Top 10 debut in the U.K..
“I think a lot of this new record is informed by reaching a conclusion of sorts with Pedestrian Verse -- closing a door on a sound that we came the closest to achieving with that album,” says Hutchison. After taking some time off from Frightened Rabbit to record and tour in support of the 2014 solo album he released as Owl John, the singer returned to his band with the goal of continuing to explore new approaches to songwriting. One important aspect of that evolution has been a shift to a more collaborative process, with all five band members contributing as songwriters.
Painting of a Panic Attack began in the summer of 2014, when the band -- Hutchison, his brother/drummer Grant Hutchison, bassist Billy Kennedy, guitarist/keyboardist Andy Monaghan, and multi-instrumentalist Simon Liddell (who worked with Hutchison and Monaghan on Owl John and joined Frightened Rabbit after Gordon Skene’s amicable departure) -- convened in Wales to begin demoing ideas. “We started as though we were making an instrumental album,” Hutchison explains. They wrote and tracked approximately a song a day during the course of a couple weeks and ended up with a dozen ideas that Hutchison took back with him to his new home in Los Angeles, where he would tackle the lyrics.
The singer had relocated there from Glasgow earlier that same year, and, although initially optimistic about the move, he was surprised to quickly discover that he felt profoundly out-of-step in LA. “I don’t usually get homesick,” he says, “but I’d never gone so far from home for such a long period of time before.” Being disconnected by friends, family, and especially his bandmates was a stark contrast to his life while making Pedestrian Verse, where the band moved in together, forging a camaraderie and connection that was, in Hutchison’s own words, “gang-like.”
As he worked his way through the Wales demos, Hutchison says, “I was circling what could be a central idea for this record -- this sense of not really being sure why I was in LA. But I was still avoiding admitting that that was how I felt.” He sent a few tracks to his brother Grant for some feedback. “Grant was like, ‘Are you really saying what you think here?,’” Hutchison recalls. “Initially I was pissed, but as I thought about it more I realized that he was right. That, out of the desire for this album to be different, I was avoiding writing about the stuff that actually matters to me and the things that were going on with me at the time. I was fictionalizing a bit too much. And after that conversation, a lot of things came into focus.”
The first thing he wrote after that -- the anthemic “I Wish I Was Sober” -- is sure to become one of Painting of a Panic Attack’s signature songs. “It’s a lonely song,” says Hutchison. “There’s a lot of that on this record, because I was really lonely in LA. And I think that’s what ‘I Wish I Was Sober’ came to represent: that desperate point where you’re like, ‘I have had too much and I don’t have anyone to lean on.’”
Of first single “Get Out” -- a tune about a lover you’ll never get over -- Hutchison says: “‘Get Out’ is about that person to whom you are completely addicted. They are a drug, and the one that you don’t feel like quitting. They live in your blood and will not leave. I’ve always found it compelling to write about the physical nature of love and loss, rather than the mental aspect. ‘Get Out’ continues that exploration and takes it to a somewhat obsessive level.”
As Hutchison continued to work on the new songs, he reached out to Dessner to discuss collaborating -- maybe writing a couple songs together. The two musicians originally met in 2013, when Frightened Rabbit opened for The National on a month-long tour. But Dessner was also a longtime fan of the band, and quickly became the obvious choice to produce Painting of a Panic Attack. “Before this,” Hutchison notes, “we’d never actually worked with a producer who had such a distinct awareness of our catalog and where we’d been as a band. And Aaron was very mindful of that -- what we had done in the past and where we needed to go with this album to take us creatively forward.”
Frightened Rabbit arrived at Dessner’s Ditmas Park, Brooklyn studio last August with thirty contenders for Painting of a Panic Attack, and whittled down from there over the course of the following month. As they considered which direction the album should take, Hutchison says it became clear that the best tracks were the ones with the most emotional immediacy. “‘I Wish I Was Sober’ is not the first song I’ve written about being drunk, and ‘Break’ is not the first song I’ve written about being a fuck-up and wishing I wasn’t, but it turns out there are many ways of expressing that,” says Hutchison. “I think people who are fans of our band come to us for a sense of belonging. I know that’s not unique to us, but I really do believe that our music can come to a person at a pivotal point in their life and that we can become this place to consider where you are in the world.”
Billy McCarthy (vocals, guitar)
Eric Sanderson (bass, keyboards, vocals)
Rob Allen (drums, percussion)
With its open-armed energy and elegiac grace, “AUGUSTINES” marks a colossal leap forward for Votiv/Oxcart recording group Augustines – no mean feat considering the extraordinary power of their breakthrough 2011 debut, “RISE YE SUNKEN SHIPS.” Songs like “Now You Are Free” and the plaintive “Walkabout” are both immediate and engaging, joining joyously unrestrained arrangements with singer/guitarist Billy McCarthy’s signature affective lyricism. “AUGUSTINES” marks a milestone on Augustines’ amazing journey, the work of a gifted band ascending to new heights while simultaneously grappling with their place in the universe.
“You have to do some soul-searching when given the opportunity to manifest your dream,” McCarthy says. “You’re free to walk the walk you always said you could walk.”
“If you struggle for a period of time to get something, there’s obviously a feeling of pride that comes when you achieve it,” says co-founder/bassist Eric Sanderson. “It’s very freeing, but like with any kind of freedom, it comes with a sense of wonder and confusion.”
Augustines was born upon the ashes of the Brooklyn indie rock band, Pela. That combo called an end to its collective trip in 2009, but founders McCarthy and Sanderson reunited to record a series of deeply personal songs chronicling despair, depression, and the untimely death of a close family member. They dubbed their intimate new endeavor, “Augustines,” which trademark issues required be appended to “We Are Augustines.”
“The name ‘Augustines’ resonates for us in many regards,” Sanderson says. “The minute we gave the project a name is really when it birthed itself. To have that name taken away from us, or even modified in a minor way, was always difficult. Now we’ve come full circle.”
“RISE YE SUNKEN SHIPS” – recorded and mixed by Dave Newfeld (Broken Social Scene, Super Furry Animals) – instantly set Augustines among modern music’s most compelling new bands. Songs like “Juarez” and “Book of James” touched a collective nerve, their dark subject matter refracted and then elevated by Augustines’ affirmative approach. Hailed by iTunes as 2011’s “Best Alternative Album,” “RISE YE SUNKEN SHIPS” was a critical and popular sensation, earning abundant praise and a fervent fan following. McCarthy and Sanderson enlisted the talents of British-born, conservatory-trained drummer Rob Allen and with that, Augustines became a fully-fledged band. The trio traveled the planet, performing innumerable headline shows, support sets, and show-stealing festival dates.
“We went touring together for two and a half years,” Allen says, “ Over two hundred shows…You can imagine the kind of bond you get from going on the road like that. You become a family.”
By the end, Augustines felt akin to Archibald MacNeal Willard’s “The Spirit of ’76,” bloodied but unbowed as they marched home from their long campaign. They paused to heal their dents and dings, with McCarthy embarking on an extended expedition that saw him visit such far-flung locales as Kenya, Turkey, Mexico, and Alaska. He eventually drifted back to the Applegate, California elementary school where he first learned an instrument. There he worked, observed by students and faculty as he put fingers on strings and pen to paper.
“I wanted to go back to the most stripped down form,” he says, “to when and where music first touched me. It was very soothing, having been at this for 12 years, to limp back to this small town grade school.”
Meanwhile, Sanderson and Allen worked on demos of their own, each still abuzz with ideas and experiences garnered on the infinite tour. In late November 2012, Augustines reconvened for a month of woodshedding at Temperamental Recordings, a converted 19th century country church in Geneseo, New York.
“It was like a music factory,” Allen says. “You could just feel the creativity oozing. We’d been playing basically the same set for two years so it was just like an overflow of ideas, like lava from a volcano.”
Fully armed, Augustines next headed to Bridgeport, Connecticut to record with co-producer Peter Katis at his residential Tarquin Studios. Katis (The National, Frightened Rabbit, Interpol, and – most importantly to Augustines – Jónsi) proved the ideal collaborator, helping focus the band’s driven pace and ample vision.
“We needed to work with somebody that was mature and confident,” Sanderson says. “Peter is very regimented and organized. He’s level-headed and that helped us to be level-headed as well.”
From the start, the sessions evinced a decidedly more optimistic point of view that the one which fired their heartrending debut, with songs like “Nothing To Lose But Your Head” and the buoyant “Kid, You’re On Your Own” lit by positive vibrations and striking confidence.
“This was us moving on together,” Allen says. “It was wonderful to come through the other end and record a new record. It was a huge accomplishment and looks towards a brighter future for us all.”
“The depth and the place the first record came from is not something that is repeatable,” says Sanderson. “It’s not something one would want to repeat. We did everything we could -- as artists, as men – to learn from that experience, to become better people and move on.”
Where their first record was created in relative isolation, “AUGUSTINES” was made “with the awareness that we weren’t going to be alone anymore,” says McCarthy. “This is us handing it over to those people that sang our songs back to us all over the world.
“The first record was obviously very personal,” he says. “It was really for us in many ways. There was almost an exchange – we turned from the interior and started considering some of the breathtaking moments that happened to us on the road, in different countries.”
Indeed, tracks like the thundering “Cruel City” and the album-closing “Hold Onto Anything” demonstrate a distinctly outward shift in sonic scope, interpolating the holistic experience of West African music into Augustines’ sweeping, multi-faceted sound.
“It’s not musicians up on a pedestal,” Sanderson – who studied music in Ghana – says. “The audience is singing, the audience is dancing, they’re all making music together..” That's what we've been trying to do our whole lives as musicians, but only recently have we been able to embrace that."
“It’s all about being inclusive,” McCarthy says. “Interaction is the lifeblood of what we think music is.”
Now based in Seattle, Augustines are eager to bring their brilliant new album to a worldwide audience keen for their return. If “RISE YE SUNKEN SHIPS” provided much needed catharsis, “AUGUSTINES” now takes this very special band to an altogether new plane, transcendent and triumphant.