He’s been playing guitar and keyboards in Frightened Rabbit since the Scottish band released the highly acclaimed The Midnight Organ Fight in 2008, but Andy Monaghan joined the group almost by accident. He was playing in a few bands in the Glasgow scene at the time Frightened Rabbit started out, and became friendly with lead singer Scott Hutchison after appearing on the same bill on a few occasions. But one fatefully drunken New Year’s Eve saw Monaghan invited to join the band… he thinks.
“They went and recorded Midnight Organ Fight and put too many instruments on it, so Scott got really wasted one night and asked me to join the band. I don’t know if it was by accident or not, but I’m still here now so he can’t be that pissed off!” laughs Monaghan. “I was totally hammered when he asked me, and the next day I could hardly remember what happened. I texted him a couple of days later saying, ‘Did you ask me to tour? I can’t really remember what happened,’ and he was like, ‘Yeah man, if you’re up for it.’”
Even after such an inauspicious introduction, Monaghan hardly made the best impression on his new bandmates. “I went to meet with the guys and Scott says, ‘What kind of guitar have you got?’, thinking I had some like really nice guitar and knew what I was doing, but I had the worst guitar in the world and he was kinda like, ‘Oh… is that it?’”
Despite the shaky beginnings, Monaghan has been a constant fixture of Frightened Rabbit since then, as they followed the success of The Midnight Organ Fight with The Winter Of Mixed Drinks and last year’s excellent Pedestrian Verse. The new album marked a significant change for the band, as they released it on Atlantic after their previous three albums had been put out by indie label Fat Cat Records. According to Monaghan, the change allowed the group to relax and take time to find new songs, rather than be pressured by the studio constraints of an indie label.
“I guess they just gave us a bit more time than Fat Cat usually allowed us to. There was no deadline to get the album done by. We were allowed to go away for a year and a half or something, we could record ourselves and try out a few new things and get to grips with actually working as a band in the studio.”
While they’ve been releasing consistently brilliant music and touring almost constantly for the last half-decade, it seems 2013 was the year thatFrightened Rabbit finally broke out. Their earnest brand of folk-tinged indie rock with lyrical themes of heartbreak and domestic drama – a style Monaghan paradoxically refers to as “depressing, uplifting Scottish guitar music” – has been winning over fans on an unprecedented level for the band.
With Pedestrian Verse cracking the top ten in the UK charts, Frightened Rabbit opening for The National on their US tour and a debut appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman, the Scotsmen have been quietly courting bigger and bigger audiences on both sides of the pond. “We just had nine weeks in America, which was amazing. Three weeks with The National and then five weeks headlining ourselves, which were some of the biggest shows we’ve ever done. It’s been a really enjoyable last couple of months.”
On top of their heavy touring of the US and their native UK, Frightened Rabbit are no strangers to our shores, having played festivals such as Splendour In The Grass, Groovin’ The Moo and the Woodford Folk Festival in recent years. They’ll return next month for St Jerome’s Laneway Festival, and Monaghan says the always-appreciative crowds – and maybe also the weather – is what keeps bringing them back.
“Obviously we love Australia, it’s a great place to be, a great place to hang out and we’ve got a lot of friends there. Coming to Australia is such a good thing for us, coming from Scotland. The culture and everything is really different, and just being able to get some sunshine is fantastic.”
Their frequent visits definitely appear to be bolstering Frightened Rabbit’s Australian fan base; after playing the Oxford Art Factory during their previous trip to Sydney in May last year, they’ll be stepping up to the considerably larger Metro Theatre for a Laneway sideshow this time round. Monaghan puts their growing popularity down to the good old-fashioned hard yards they’ve done touring over the years.
“Whenever we come back here the shows are slowly getting bigger and better, and we’ve been over to Australia maybe three or four times. The more you go, the more people can hear about you and the more people want to come to shows, and it just has that knock-on effect I think,” he says. And when that level of popularity gets them on a festival bill with so many other exciting artists, it’s a win for both Australian audiences and Frightened Rabbit themselves. “The Laneway Festival, it’s unbelievable, the lineup for that is so good. I’m over the moon to be in that lineup with Kurt Vile, Warpaint and Chvrches; that’s going to be a fantastic tour to be on.”
Frightened Rabbit are at Laneway Festival 2014 at Sydney College of the Arts, Rozelle on Sunday February 2. You can also catch them at the Metro Theatre on Thursday February 6 with support from Gang Of Youths. Their new album Pedestrian Verse is out now through Atlantic.