FRIGHT­ENED RAB­BIT

Q (UK) - - Contents -

Fol­low­ing the tragic death of Fright­ened Rab­bit front­man Scott Hutchi­son last month, we look back at his life and the deep mu­si­cal im­pact he made.

On 11 May, Scott Hutchi­son, singer and song­writer with Scot­tish ro­man­tic rock band Fright­ened Rab­bit, was found dead in a ma­rina in South Queens­ferry, hav­ing ap­par­ently taken his own life at the age of 36. Talk­ing to friends and col­leagues, Jazz Mon­roe traces Hutchi­son’s life and the deep im­pact his pas­sion­ate mu­sic and pow­er­ful per­sonal em­pa­thy made upon many.

When Scott Hutchi­son sang about de­pres­sion, the dis­ease seemed ter­ri­ble and magic. He yelled un­til dark thoughts burst into colour, as if his throat were con­demn­ing his heart and head and the ba­nal­i­ties swirling around in it. In his pleas, sor­row be­gan to sound no­ble, shame con­quer­able. The Scot­tish sto­ry­teller re­sisted es­capism even as he de­nounced the world be­fore him, il­lu­mi­nat­ing mis­spent lives and the pos­si­bil­ity of re­lief. In the end, his in­die-pop re­al­ism launched its own kind of dream­world, pro­pel­ling him across the globe and into an on­go­ing communion with the thou­sands who loved him, and still do. “What’s the blues when you’ve got the greys?” sang Hutchi­son, then 24, on the open­ing track of Fright­ened Rab­bit’s de­but al­bum. Lis­ten­ing back now, it’s strik­ing to feel his raw tor­ment slam against your eardrum, to hear his brogue rat­tling around the stark record­ing like an echo in a prison cell. In each line, you feel the blunt force of

the hurt he would spend the next 12 years stream­lin­ing into pop mu­sic. “I think I’ve given up,” he cries wildly, star­tling him­self, “my body’s given in.” That was 2006, a bleak salvo from one of Scot­land’s most promis­ing song­writ­ers. On Fri­day, 11 May, the 36- year-old, who’d met and ex­ceeded that prom­ise many times over, was de­clared dead. “Be so good to ev­ery­one you love,” he had tweeted two nights be­fore, from a ho­tel in South Queens­ferry. “I didn’t live by that stan­dard and it kills me. Please, hug your loved ones. I’m away now. Thanks.” Hope lin­gered un­til around 8:30 that Thurs­day evening, when his body was found float­ing in a nearby ma­rina. On the day his death was an­nounced, some of Hutchi­son’s friends, in­clud­ing mem­bers of the many bands whose ca­reers he gave leg-ups to, con­gre­gated for “a shar­ing of mem­o­ries” in Ed­in­burgh. De­spite his sta­tus as a revered “in­die cham­pion”, Hutchi­son left deeply per­sonal im­prints. Mike Palmer, the gui­tarist in Ed­in­burgh band We Were Promised Jet­packs, mostly re­mem­bers his laugh. “I pic­ture his shoul­ders tight up around his neck and his head tilted back a lit­tle, his face scrunched up,” he re­calls now. “And how he made a ‘hehe’ rather than a ‘haha’ sound. Mak­ing Scott laugh was joy­ous in it­self.” Many com­men­ta­tors, not least the as­sailants of Bri­tain’s thread­bare men­tal­health and social-care ser­vices, sug­gest the sui­cide cri­sis among men can be cured with “We need to talk” slo­gans. But Hutchi­son, the open heart of Fright­ened Rab­bit, was a man who di­vulged end­lessly, lis­tened keenly, dis­sected, dredged and doc­u­mented this stuff for a liv­ing. For all his pas­sion, his mu­sic was use­ful, too – songs about love, sex, sui­cide, poverty and the tox­i­c­ity of men­tal ill­ness, all of­fer­ing lis­ten­ers a so­lace that eluded him. “Scott be­queathed to us his ar­mour, gifted us the gal­lantry he wasn’t able to fully utilise,” sum­marises his friend Michael Ped­er­sen, writ­ing a week af­ter Hutchi­son’s death. “For many, this was the will to keep mov­ing.”

Born in the Scot­tish Bor­ders, Hutchi­son earned his mu­si­cal-odd­ball stripes young. In a small town oth­er­wise con­vinced pop be­gan with That’s En­ter­tain­ment and con­cluded some­time around Won­der­wall, he be­came known, not with­out sar­casm, as “the Jimi Hen­drix of Selkirk”. His mum called him a fright­ened rab­bit – he was so shy that he’d been held back a year at nurs­ery – and it wasn’t un­til he started a four-year de­gree, at Glas­gow School of Art, that Hutchi­son be­gan talk­ing for fun. He said later that his illustration course – mak­ing chil­dren’s toys, cat­a­logu­ing the social his­tory of chairs – was a “won­der­ful, eye­open­ing jour­ney to nowhere”. Al­though he’d even­tu­ally re­dis­cover the hobby, draw­ing gig posters and al­bum cov­ers, at the time he re­fo­cused his faith in mu­sic. In 2003, he played his first solo shows as Fright­ened Rab­bit sup­port­ing Shit­disco, “in front of five, some­times six peo­ple,” his brother Grant tact­fully noted. When Grant moved to Glas­gow in 2004, he joined Fright­ened Rab­bit on drums, and the pair en­listed gui­tarist Billy Kennedy to record the frayed demos later pack­aged as de­but al­bum Sing The Greys. Af­ter re-re­leas­ing the de­but on Fat Cat, the band lev­elled up with The Mid­night Or­gan Fight, a brac­ing heart­break saga recorded in a cup­board un­der Hutchi­son’s stairs. En­list­ing bands in the lo­cal scene, they toured the al­bum around Scot­land – a time of “pure magic”, re­mem­bers Katie Harkin, then fre­quently shar­ing their stages as Sky Larkin’s front­per­son. “I was deeply moved by how closely he’d lis­tened to our songs at a time when I wasn’t used to be­ing heard,” Harkin says. “He was a true em­path.” At a 2008 show, Hutchi­son watched sup­port act We Were Promised Jet­packs af­ter a band mem­ber am­bushed him back­stage. A year later, on his rec­om­men­da­tion, Fat Cat re­leased the group’s de­but al­bum. “We were in awe of him,” Palmer says of Hutchi­son. “We thought of him as a men­tor.” As new

“Scott be­queathed to us his ar­mour, gif ted us the gal­lantry he wasn’t able to fully utilise. For many this was the will to keep mov­ing.” Michael Ped­er­sen, poet and col­lab­o­ra­tor with Hutchi­son

friends flew into his or­bit, Hutchi­son’s oc­ca­sional dark turns caused con­cern. “When I didn’t see him for a long stretch, I’d hear sto­ries and worry,” Palmer admits. “But when­ever I saw him he seemed put to­gether. He did know the code, that the third or fourth ‘so, how’re you do­ing?’ meant ‘no re­ally, are you OK?’ And he’d an­swer. But never when it was re­ally bad.” With The Mid­night Or­gan Fight, Fright­ened Rab­bit found them­selves court­ing ex­pand­ing Amer­i­can crowds, drawn first by blog cov­er­age and later by song syncs in shows like One Tree Hill. They em­barked on a ma­jor State­side tour with The Twi­light Sad and We Were Promised Jet­packs, a clan of epic ro­man­tics de­nounc­ing the mid-decade pa­rade of Scot­tish in­die bands fash­ioned af­ter Franz Fer­di­nand. On the road, Hutchi­son learned to tem­per his dev­as­tat­ing songs with wry stage pat­ter, re­gal­ing one crowd with de­tails of a re­cent sex dream about Jay-Z. Fright­ened Rab­bit played a pri­vate show for a cou­ple in Austin, drank petrol in Kid­der­min­ster, set scor­pi­ons on their own gen­i­tals in the Nevada desert. But as this new lifestyle in­ten­si­fied around Hutchi­son’s re­morse-laden heart­break al­bum, it ex­hausted them, too. They made a preser­va­tive tour­bus pol­icy – no talk­ing dur­ing the day – and by night drank plenty of whisky (“to re­mind us of home”). When Hutchi­son per­formed Poke, a solo acous­tic lament, he some­times broke down in tears.

Fright­ened Rab­bit were now one of Fat Cat’s most lu­cra­tive prop­er­ties. On the sur­face though, lit­tle had changed for Hutchi­son. In 2009, he played a home­com­ing show at Ed­in­burgh’s Elec­tric Cir­cus, ask­ing Dan Will­son, who records witty folk songs as Withered Hand, to sup­port. “I went to the venue full of do­mes­tic woes, kid stuff,” says Will­son to­day, speak­ing by phone from Ed­in­burgh. “Scott was ab­so­lutely shat­tered, just off the plane, and I was slightly in awe of him. But

he said some things that re­ally changed me that night.” In the years to come, Hutchi­son would open cru­cial doors for Will­son, se­cretly se­cur­ing his US la­bel deal and later tak­ing him on the road in Cal­i­for­nia, of­fer­ing up his apart­ment for ac­com­mo­da­tion. But that con­ver­sa­tion, as they coiled ca­bles be­fore sound­check, hasn’t left him. “I re­mem­ber com­ing home and say­ing to my wife, ‘It was like an epiphany’,” Will­son says. “Ever since then, when­ever I was in his or­bit, I would light up. I’d feel awake. A lot of peo­ple felt the same way, be­cause of his in­cred­i­ble em­pa­thy. I some­times feel like there can be too much.” Af­ter the bruis­ing Mid­night Or­gan Fight tour, Fat Cat gave Hutchi­son a few months to write and demo a new al­bum from scratch. Eager to please, he sac­ri­ficed time off and swiftly un­der­took the task in iso­la­tion in ru­ral Scot­land. With no phone or in­ter­net, he’d wake for por­ridge at 9am, walk along the coast and be­gin writ­ing, paus­ing only to watch Dickinson’s Real Deal over din­ner. The re­sult­ing al­bum, The Win­ter Of Mixed Drinks, bur­rowed into ex­is­ten­tial and ro­man­tic en­nui while re­ject­ing its pre­de­ces­sor’s open-chested con­fes­sions. He was long un­happy with the re­sults: it was rushed, he said, and over-pro­duced, but came alive on their ex­haus­tive tour, which in­cluded a cov­eted slot on Late Night With Jimmy Fal­lon. De­spite the three-year gap be­fore their next LP, the ma­jor-la­bel de­but Pedes­trian Verse, Fright­ened Rab­bit found them­selves pro­mot­ing that fourth record with­out hav­ing had a se­ri­ous break in 10 years. Hutchi­son be­gan to crack, end­ing one show curled in a foetal ball. “The irony is peo­ple ex­pect it, be­cause it’s emo­tional mu­sic,” Will­son says, high­light­ing the blurred lines be­tween pas­sion and reawak­ened an­guish on­stage. “You’re meant to be up there bleed­ing.” Hutchi­son re­cu­per­ated by set­ting aside Fright­ened Rab­bit for Owl John, a mostly solo project com­pleted in LA, where he was now liv­ing with his girl­friend. De­spite some Cal­i­for­nian alien­ation, life was good: he’d gone veg­gie, cut his drink­ing, tem­po­rar­ily quit smok­ing. He’d of­ten go out with his girl­friend, get­ting pissed and start­ing ar­gu­ments – an ar­range­ment, he said, that he could hardly have been more pleased with. “That was a happy time for him,” agrees Will­son, who joined him State­side. “A lot of us felt this dark un­der­tow, but he did a pretty good job swim­ming away from it most of the time.” Hutchi­son lasted 18 months in LA.

“Some peo­ple skim along the sur­face, right? And it’s great to have peo­ple like that at par­ties. But oth­ers feel things deeply, and you could tell that was the deal with Scott.” Dan Will­son, Withered Hand

“He couldn’t live with­out Scot­land and Ten­nent’s,” his brother Grant joked. But the sub­se­quent cam­paign around Fright­ened Rab­bit’s fifth al­bum, Paint­ing Of A Panic At­tack, oc­ca­sion­ally veered into cri­sis. One night, Hutchi­son pub­licly dis­solved the band, only to re­tract his Twit­ter screed and blame “the pit­falls of mix­ing al­co­hol, de­pres­sion and social me­dia.” Last month, the news of Hutchi­son’s pre­sumed sui­cide came amid a flurry of new ac­tiv­ity: a 10th- an­niver­sary tour of The Mid­night Or­gan Fight, the de­but al­bum by his grungey side-project Master­sys­tem, and ses­sions for the sixth Fright­ened Rab­bit LP. In his final in­ter­views, his mild sul­len­ness damp­ened none of his ob­ser­va­tional nous, that light, play­ful res­ig­na­tion to our dire ex­is­tence that Scots seem so eas­ily to con­jure. “He cer­tainly wasn’t out­wardly dour or grumpy re­cently,” re­flects Will­son. “Some peo­ple skim along the sur­face, right? And it’s great to have peo­ple like that at par­ties. But oth­ers feel things deeply, and you could tell that was the deal with Scott.”

Last year, Michael Ped­er­sen, a Scot­tish poet known for knotty rhymes and comic ob­ser­va­tion, re­leased a book called Oys­ter with Hutchi­son’s il­lus­tra­tions. This was among the singer’s hap­pi­est work: his teenage art form, re­vis­ited in a mo­ment of dis­en­chant­ment with the mu­sic in­dus­try. (“Your band be­comes a busi­ness,” he said in a re­cent in­ter­view. “It’s hard to avoid that.”) On the po­etry book’s cover is a “vagi­nal-look­ing oys­ter”, as the au­thor puts it. He’s hav­ing it inked soon, his first tat­too. Ped­er­sen went for din­ner with Hutchi­son on the Sun­day be­fore he went miss­ing. This was two months af­ter Fright­ened Rab­bit’s last tour, a re­cur­ring ad­just­ment pe­riod Hutchi­son once spoke of in weary terms: “I go out on tour and am com­fort­able there, and I’m hap­pi­est when I’m per­form­ing, in a way. And I go home and it’s like, ‘What the fuck do I do? Who am I?’” Per­haps still com­ing down to Earth, Hutchi­son met Ped­er­sen and the poet Hollie McNish at the port of Mal­laig. They or­dered a huge seafood plat­ter and con­sumed it in cheery si­lence. “God, I re­ally love your il­lus­tra­tions,” McNish said, fi­nally. “They’re so beau­ti­ful. What’s your favourite thing to draw?” Hutchi­son stared off, pon­der­ing the ques­tion, and the world, for a long mo­ment. In Ped­er­sen’s telling, there was “magic in that wait, beat­i­tude, si­lence slathered in colour”. Hutchi­son re­sponded: “It would have to be sev­ered arms. Yeah, sev­ered arms. I love those wee guys.” McNish, mouth agape, said noth­ing. “Also clouds,” Hutchi­son added, smil­ing. “In­tri­cate lit­tle clouds. Maybe that’s more what you were look­ing for.” As Ped­er­sen warmly notes, “By the time the £ 149.50 cleared from my bank ac­count three days later, you had left us and some­thing had left me. But right there in that mo­ment, we were brim­ful.”

Fright­ened Rab­bit (from left, Si­mon Lid­dell, Andy Mon­aghan, Scott Hutchi­son, Grant Hutchi­son, Billy Kennedy); (inset, above left, from top) 2006’ s Sing The Greys al­bum and 2016’ s Paint­ing Of A Panic At­tack.

Rab­bit in the spot­light: Scott Hutchi­son at the Hand­made Fes­ti­val, Le­ices­ter, April 2018.

Po­ets cor­ner: (from left, Scott Hutchi­son, Michael Ped­er­sen, Hollie McNish, Dan Will­son), Glas­gow, 2017; ( inset, above) Ped­er­sen’s lat­est col­lec­tion, which features Hutchi­son’s art­work.

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