Scott Hutchison on the new collaborative project, and what he'll do next...

It’s a curious thing. No matter how nuanced, refined, emotionally subtle a songwriter’s work becomes, there’s a part of them that wants to plug in an electric guitar, turn the amp up all the way and kick out some serious jams.

The latest example? Mastersystem. Featuring Justin Lockey of Editors and James Lockey of Minor Victories, the line up is fleshed out by Grant Hutchison and Scott Hutchison from Frightened Rabbit, and their debut album is a righteous grunge homage, a kind of mid 30s angst record propelled forward by almighty, gargantuan riffs.

“I don’t think there’s an enormous amount of that music being made just now,” says Scott on the phone to Clash from “wet… as always!” Glasgow. “It’s deeply unfashionable. Which kind of appealed to me, in a way. It is a nostalgic sound to me. For people of an appropriate age it does ring a bell.”

“It was very reminiscent of the stuff I was listening to in my mid-teens,” he continues. “It’s weird how that side of it is a throwback to some of the favourite stuff from my teens… stuff like Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer, early Idlewild. So in one sense it sounds like a throwback but to me it still somehow sounded fresh.”

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There’s still an element of maturity, though; Mastersystem’s debut album ‘Dance Music’ pushes the needle to the red, but it’s the work of older musicians, it’s crunch made all the more impactful from the fact this band know exactly what they’re doing.

Scott sums it up: “Youthful sounding music with mid 30s problems on top of it. That’s the contrast that I was going for. It’s angst, but it’s a different kind of angst than you have when you’re 15, 16.”

‘Dance Music’ sounds for all the world like four musicians thrashing it out in the studio, but it was actually recorded piecemeal, with Scott not hearing the record until the music was essentially finished. “It was not done like that at all,” he explains. “I’m glad that the illusion is there. Even with full time bands, a lot of these things are done remotely. Like, I’ll do the vocals on my own with them directing me. It was sent to me pretty much fully formed, it was already constructed so I didn’t really want to fuck with that.”

“The other reason why we were working remotely is that everyone has day jobs, so there’s only so much time you can utilise to make the record,” Scott continues. “For me, the sum total of writing was about a week, five or six days. It was all really quickly put together. And I think that suited the ethos of it, that it wasn’t particularly studious.”

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It’s angst, but it’s a different kind of angst than you have when you’re 15, 16...

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“Justin working with Editors, and myself and Grant with Frightened Rabbit, those can become...” - he takes a deep, deep sigh - “very involved projects that take over a year to complete. I don’t think me and Grant get the opportunity to play like this in Frightened Rabbit any more. Certainly on studio albums, y’know. So it was nice to have something that was free.”

Recorded in Doncaster over an exceptionally short period of time, the vocals on ‘Dance Music’ were done in spells of three takes each, he says, “and then we were done”.

“The nice thing about it was there’s no Frightened Rabbit song that’s a mystery musically to me because I’m a partner to all of it,” he says. “So I quite enjoyed getting this stuff that I only heard when it was ready. It wasn’t even in demo form – they just sent me basically what you hear.”

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Album highlight ‘Old Team’ is virtually a manifesto for the project – at one point it was a mooted band name, with Scott insisting “mid 30s problems is where the nugget of it started.”

“I mean, it was all pretty close to the surface at that time,” he explains. “There wasn’t a lot of digging to be done when I’d found the right seam. I suppose, looking back, the tour for the last Frightened Rabbit album was over, and always at that stage… When you’re so busy, away working, actual real life doesn’t come into it, and when you get back you’re like: ah fuck, how do I get a structure back? What am I doing here? And is there a much more worthwhile to lead my life, which isn’t quite so self-indulgent, and self-centred? A lot of these questions were as a result of trying once again to figure out the purpose of the whole thing.”

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When you’re so busy, away working, actual real life doesn’t come into it...

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Is the purpose in the action, do you think? “I think it might be, y’know!” he says with a slight chuckle. “I don’t know the structure just yet. The act of putting those concerns into something good… That’s the dichotomy isn’t it? Because I’ve made a relatively long career out of exposing my faults. Weirdly, that leads to moderate success! There’s definitely a juxtaposition there.”

“I’ve made a Mastersystem album about these feelings where I wonder if I really have a purpose… and then through the album I have a purpose! You’re re-purposing ennui, really.”

Scott talks a lot about the wear and tear of touring life - “We’re talking about two day hangovers now, and I can’t do the same shit I used to do in my 20s!” - but there’s also an evident love for making music, something which has never really shifted over the past decade. The process of working with Mastersystem – it’s speed, in particular – he left a deep impression.

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You’re re-purposing ennui, really.

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“I’m going to take that forward,” he insists. “As I mentioned before, the whole process of working on a song in my other band can get quite studious, and I think I could definitely be accused of over-thinking things, or making it too clever, but sometimes you don’t need that and also we actually didn’t have the time for it.”

“A song like ‘State Hospital’ could take three months to finish. And these were… I would rattle through two or three in an evening. It was really refreshing to not over-think it but to still be happy with the results. There was a learning thing for me to take forward into the next Frightened Rabbit, where maybe there’s something to be said for that raw gut feeling, which I’ve maybe avoided or certainly quoted in metaphor, or poetic turns of phrase. Maybe a more direct approach can be more exciting.”

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The demo process for the next Frightened Rabbit album is already under way, with the band recently re-visiting their much-loved 2008 album ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’. “I was slightly embarrassed by it,” he admits, “but then the further I got on I realised that… ah, I think that’s what people like about it, that it has rough parts, it’s not perfectly recorded. Compared to some of the more polished efforts we’ve put out recently.”

“I think going back and seeing that human element being much more evident in the music turned my head once again, and I thought: ah, maybe we don’t need to polish everything to within an inch of its life or clean things up in the same way. I think those two things coupled together have given me pause for thought.”

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I used to bring my guitar pedals into venues in a plastic bag!

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When this piece goes live Mastersystem will be somewhere in a rickety tour van, playing a string of UK shows in venues slightly smaller than those Frightened Rabbit have graduated into. It’ll be a refreshing experience, with Scott able to strip things right back down to the core.

“I’m chuffed to be doing it like that,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to do it for three weeks but I think we can handle 10 days. On the last Frightened Rabbit tour we had PAWS open for us. Being a three-piece with amplifiers and a drum kit, I watched them set up every night and thought, fuck that looks good! And then also for them to play and be fucking excellent, I thought: ah shit! It made me re-assess things.”

“We’ve got two laptops onstage doing all this shit, and all the production, so to pare that back is going to be so exciting. That’s reminiscent of how I used to tour. I used to bring my guitar pedals into venues in a plastic bag! And although we’re not going to be plastic bagging it, it’s definitely going to be a nice reminder of how we used to operate.”

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As the conversation winds down we’re left with a series of musings on the future, and if Mastersystem could perhaps lead to a sequel… Mega Drive, perhaps?

“That’s a fucking good idea!” he laughs. “The thing about is, because it was so quick the idea of doing another one certainly doesn’t fill me with dread, it would be as and when it was needed. But I would be up for it.”

“There’s a seam in there and the whole thing would be anti development between albums. Continue releasing the same sound but with different songs. There’s no point, is there? There’s no point in a Mastersystem album cycle, across two or three records, even changing. We’d just like to be the outlet for our raw, teenage selves. I’d definitely say yes, should it come up again… for sure!”

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Photography: Danny Payne

'Dance Music' is out now.

Catch Mastersystem at the following shows:

April
30 Birmingham O2 Institute 3

May
1 London Oslo

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