Hate Music: Scott Hutchison's Owl John Project Explored

Scottish songwriter talks frankly to Clash...
Owl John

Scott Hutchison was scunnered. Seek. Knackered.

Frightened Rabbit’s growth spurt – a move to a major label, a Top Ten album and a sold out tour – had been accompanied by growing pains. On the road for almost a year, the Scottish group were pushed to the brink by a schedule which was as unrelenting as it was successful.

“There was a point last year” he admits, “where I personally almost had enough of being in the band and working like that.” Pointing to an exhausting, exhaustive sold out show at London’s Brixton Academy, the singer continues: “That was just before it got right bad. It was definitely getting there at that point. We all needed a break.”

It was at this point that Atlantic Records intervened, and hinted that a solo project could let out this bad blood. “The situation was quite apparent to people around us, who then suggested: ‘why don’t you take a break? Indulge yourself and get away from the band.’ As it stands, I’ve had a break and got my head out of the arse of Frightened Rabbit, basically, because it had been there too long” he laughs. “The really nice thing is that I kind of don’t care how this album does because the aim has been achieved. I wanted to be in the band again.”

Recorded under his pseudonym of Owl John, the material is much too strong, too bracing, too daring to be filed away as a curiosity, as simply what Scott Hutchison did on his holidays (find a full Clash review HERE). Coming at a time of great flux in his personal life – the boy from the Scottish Borders recently moved to Los Angeles – it finds the songwriter grappling with exhaustion, fatigue and a remote, quite strange environment.

“Socially I do have pals there and stuff but I didn’t have the same network” he admits. “You just have to build from the ground up. The US is full of bureaucracy and I’m not really used to that. I was going, doing, setting these things up with my girlfriend and it was almost like she was my mum or something. Showing me how to fill out forms, I felt like a fucking idiot for a lot of it. That is something which has faded now I’ve got it all set up, but initially I was completely out of sorts. It starts to feel like home, though, gradually.”

Yet the material was laid down somewhere rather closer to home. Recorded at An Tobar on the Isle of Mull, it found the songwriter getting away from it all with close friends Andy Monaghan (of Frightened Rabbit) and Simon Lidell (of Olympic Swimmers).

“Well, from our perspective it’s more to keep us away from any kind of alcohol temptation. We couldn’t record in Glasgow because we wouldn’t actually get anything done” he laughs. “There’s not a lot of activity on Mull, there’s not a lot going on. There’s no one watching the clock to see if we can get away so let’s work as hard as we can! We had free reign.”

Laid down across two weeks, the unit quickly clicked into gear: idea after idea came tumbling forth, with Scott Hutchison revelling in an atmosphere of sheer creativity. “We had shitloads of stuff!” he exclaims. “We actually ended up with a spare day at the end of it. It was a really productive time. We were doing long days but everyone’s head was really into it. It’s just the sound of us enjoying ourselves. There was always ideas flying around. It came together quite quickly, organically.”

Clicking into place, ‘Owl John’ is an album which fans will no doubt recognise but comes with its own atmosphere, its own quirks and curios. “I mean, there are moments on this album which are familiar to anyone who knows Frightened Rabbit but we did what we could to remove it slightly from any comparison” he explains. “With the band, we tend to demo things to quite a finished standard and I didn’t want it to just come off sounding like a quickly assembled Frightened Rabbit album. This idea of going in with nothing – first of all, it’s both terrifying and exciting, and it also forces you to accept that whatever idea, whatever notion you have for the song... we just said, whatever idea you have for the song just put it down.”

As a result, the songs are open, confessional. ‘Hate Music’ deals with his feelings at the end of that lengthy headline tour, while ‘Red Hand’ is a (fictional) song about betrayal. Wearing his feelings on his sleeve, Scott’s writing style is the polar opposite of that cliché of the repressed Scottish male.

“I’ve never felt awkward about that kind of thing” he muses. “It’s a weird one because these are not things that I necessarily talk to my pals about, either. They were saying: ‘it’s strange to hear you were feeling fine one week and bad the next.’ It’s fairly forthright. Again, I’ve always written songs like that and sometimes it’s my only outlet, it’s all I can do is write a song about it. It’s a wee bit maladjusted, in general terms, but it’s the best way, I think.”

Set to complete a number of shows under his Owl John moniker, Scott Hutchison is relishing the chance to delete the divide between artist and audience. “I remember when Frightened Rabbit started playing you could have a conversational aspect to the show. And that, unfortunately, gets lost the larger the scale,” he states. “I wanted to get back to that, get back to this idea of the show as a conversation, really. Finding stuff out about a person, giving that extra bit to the audience is important to me.”

A record designed with a specific purpose, ‘Owl John’ has helped Scott Hutchison to regain his vigour for working with Frightened Rabbit. Currently at a studio in Wales, the group are busy assembling ideas for their next album. “This album, really, we’re just more excited about it than we would have been if we’d gone into the studio in February tired of each other, having spent the year living in each other’s pockets. I think this is to the benefit of where we’re going. We’re hoping to have it done by the end of the year, so aye, it’s definitely served its purpose. I’m happy to be here.”

One question remains, though: is this the last we hear of Owl John? “If there was any need for it personally I would make another album, yeah. Obviously the next two or three years might see me getting sick of it again, it might be nice to intersperse Frightened Rabbit records with these Owl John albums but who knows? It might be the first and last.”

'Owl John' is out now - check out a Clash review HERE.

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Owl John is set to play a show at London's Oslo venue on August 6th.

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