what the music of frightened rabbit means to me

it was the Winter of 2013. i was sitting in a parked car at the bottom of my then-girlfriends’ parents’ home. on the radio was 88.5, wxpn. on the stereo came this thunderous drum, quick “tst tst tst” of a snare and the mesmerizing pangs of guitar strings. these instruments were soon joined by this warm, blunt scottish voice bellowing out, “far from the electric floor…”

the song was “the woodpile” and the band i just fell instantly into was frightened rabbit.

admittedly, my first thought was that some of the words were a bit hard to catch with the accent. but the song has this way of building you up by the first chorus, only to drop you to another quiet verse. all the while, scott’s voice bellows with this electricity and earnest that feels like you just bumped into him at the bar and were witness to the panicked moment.

at that time in my life, i was finishing my freshman year at college. my best friend had gone to college at boston university. it was a drastic change to not see him every day. and i struggled to balance young love and this new sense of freedom - and the unexpected duty i felt to excel in my courses. college is about testing your social boundaries, and a song with the chorus, “will you come back to my corner? spent too long alone tonight,” made my feelings of aloofness feel more normal.

i remember walking to class on a cold february morning, listening to the album the midnight organ fight for the first time. “a cripple walks amongst you, all you tired human beings // he’s got all the things a cripple has not, two working arms and legs,” the song “the modern leper” opens the album. it doesn’t take long to feel the heartache of 2008 scott hutchison. by the song “poke” I felt immensely understood and rather disturbed by how well these thoughts resonated with my feelings. it wasn’t a deterrent though, as i went on iTunes and continued to buy the rest of the fr catalog.

at this point, i was feeling the tunes frightened rabbit has shared. i found the collection of demos released on soundcloud, and i was looking into the influence of scotland on the band. i have old journal entries quoting fr songs of the day. there was something special about what scott was saying, how he chose to say it, and when in my life i heard it.

in just under twelve months, i would be revisiting these songs with a new perspective - freshly dumped by my girlfriend of two years. it was a painful point in my life, and what felt like my first true heartache. if i had to associate a color to that time, it would likely be grey. grey is as much a feeling as it is a color. people identify with associations like “foggy” and “hazy”. grey is feeling foggy and dim. there, but not fully there. scott was able to take the tangled mess of emotions one has after a loss and twist the words into chants of desperation, remorse, and at times, resiliency. the midnight organ fight takes on a whole new meaning when you listen to it after a break-up. two things helped me stay afloat during that time, running and listening to “keep yourself warm.”

you don’t have to be heartbroken to relate to frightened rabbit, though. through the years the band has crooned and hammered through reflections on life and history (“backyard skulls”) to the alienation of religion (“holy”). the band, and scott, have grown in the years since i first heard them on the radio - both sonically and lyrically. in 2016, the crew released painting of a panic attack. still struggling with mental health, scott pulls the audience through a dark reflection of self-abuse (“wish i was sober”) before letting the light in with “still want to be here.” as a fan growing up alongside the band, it often felt like scott was able to put into words what the growth felt like. all the while, the band works to build this wave of sound through each song - as they attack and recede.

in the years since, frightened rabbit has gone on to release b-sides, eps, singles, and scott released solo music as the act owl john, as well as the super-band, mastersystem. on the friday before my college graduation, a few friends and i got to catch frightened rabbit at the electric factory in philadelphia. it was a bittersweet evening. no other concert could have harmonized with the emotions i felt graduating college. when i returned home from a cross-country trek to seattle, fr was the first band i got to see. right back in philadelphia, with familiar friends, i watched them pound through an intense light show for “fast blood.” and then, in february of 2018, we caught tickets to see the 10th anniversary show of the midnight organ fight in washington d.c. scott was feeling unwell that night, and asked the audience to help sing the higher notes. he has this charm and honesty in stage banter. he took time that night to address a fan that kept screaming, “i love you!”

“no you don’t. you don’t even know me. that’s very sweet of you, but listen to these songs - i’m no good,” was something close to what he’d replied.

it takes a special soul to speak in earnest about the weight of life - the impact of religion, the devastation of intimacy, and the captivity of anxiety. backed by a brother and band - scott built these emotions up with grandeur. the type of people that stood in the crowd at these shows were the type of people that understood the weight of the words. every fan in the room was someone who, at some point, felt at home inside the whirring of a song like “skip the youth.”

it’s been almost a year since the world lost scott’s voice. it might seem odd to feel so deeply for someone you have never met, but if you listened to the frightened rabbit catalog, then you knew scott. he didn’t hide his emotions. in concert, he was just as earnest during banter. to me, scott’s music will always be a symbol of the strength of connection through honesty. in the past year, on more than one occasion, i have crested the top of a hill listening to frightened rabbit. scott’s words have helped me crest countless hills throughout the years. but to reach the top, and know that the voice that helped you reach the peak is no longer there, is a sadness that cannot be consoled. there was this voice that understood the darkness and was able to sing through it. now those dark thoughts feel settled in quiet. a darkened stage where we are all still waiting to hear what we want to hear - that it’ll be okay, that’ll we’ll all make it through this.

some people don’t make it through this though.

to me, frightened rabbit’s music sounds like life - to love the journey is to understand it’s ending.

-d

In the time since I began this post, Frightened Fabbit has released a free download of the remembrance show that was held for Scott in December of 2018. Artists such as Aaron Dessner (The National), Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie) and Julien Baker sing the songs of Frightened Rabbit and remember Scott’s joy. You can also support the Scott Hutchison fund here.

if you are struggling, you are not alone. help can be found by:

Texting Crisis Text Line at 741741.

Calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Talking to a friend, a parent, a partner, a teacher, a counselor or anyone at all.