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“Thanks Man!” Remembering Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit

My most prized possession is a small tan poster that hangs on my wall just feet from my bed. It’s a drawing of a long-bearded man with a hat emblazoned with the word “JOHN” in all-caps. But beside him reads “THANKS MAN! Scott” in scribbled handwriting.

It was given to me by Scott Hutchison, frontman of Scottish indie rock outfit Frightened Rabbit, after his solo show on October 14, 2014, at the Bell House in Gowanus, Brooklyn. He was performing under his Owl John moniker, and had just come off the stage, sweaty and multiple whiskeys deep, making a point to talk to every fan that came up to him. I held back at first, too nervous to approach my favorite lyricist of all time. Never mind the fact that I had interviewed him a few weeks prior. I couldn’t move a muscle.

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Finally swallowing the lumps in my throat, I mentioned that it had, in fact, been my voice on the phone. Before I could finish my sentence, his face lit up and he gave me a giant hug, thanking me profusely, mentioning that he could tell that I “gave a shit.” After a minute or two, I encouraged him to talk to the others in the growing line behind me. He told me to meet him backstage for some wine.

I was dumbfounded. One of my favorite musicians wanted to hang out with me? I couldn’t believe it.

We ended up over at Mission Dolores for a few more drinks and I remember almost feeling let down by how normal he was. The guy who had written The Midnight Organ Fight — still my favorite album of all time — just wanted to talk about burritos and his girlfriend. But more importantly, at some point in our mutual drunken haze, he told me to keep pursuing writing, saying that my piece on him was one of his favorites.

At that point in my life, I was very recently unemployed, and had yet to be paid a single cent for my words. Scott Hutchison gave me the confidence to keep pushing to make it as a writer, no matter how difficult and scary it seemed then. Without him, I doubt I’d be writing these words today.

I interviewed Scott twice more over the next few years, most recently about the tenth anniversary tour of The Midnight Organ Fight, which hit the Bowery Ballroom and Music Hall of Williamsburg in late February of this year. In that conversation, I asked him the same question I had asked him twice before, one that I designed especially with him in mind almost a decade earlier: “How do you manage to sing these ultra-personal songs night after night in front of hundreds, if not thousands, of people?”

This time Scott gave me a variation of the answer he’d given me before: “Who is the protagonist? It’s not me. It’s going to be them. It’s their life. They projected their lives to these songs and that makes me very proud that a song can be specific, yet universal enough that it can allow people to walk into their own experience. Yes, they’re singing these lyrics that are personal to me, but they are not considering my life too much.”

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That is why every tribute written about Scott’s passing feels so deeply intimate; his brutally honest and strikingly heartfelt lyrics soundtracked our lives, got us through our worst breakups, and pulled us out of our lowest lows when we needed something, anything, to grasp on to. It’s why it’s nearly impossible to write about Frightened Rabbit without first mentioning some random memory we associate with their music.

And Scott’s been there for me for years. He was there when my freshman year roommate first played me “My Backwards Walk” in the dorms. He was there when my friend Jenna died, and our mutual friend Travis and I listened to “Poke” in silence while driving back from a concert a couple of weeks after the funeral. He was there when my friend Elli left Berkeley to study abroad in Scotland for a year, and I’d play “Scottish Winds” each time I knew she was tuning in to my college radio show. He was there when I was terrified and left my native Bay Area and moved to the East Coast, listening to “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” on the flight to calm me down. He was there when I was broken up with for the first time in New York, using his “All is not lost” refrain on “State Hospital” to get me through it.

He was there for me then, and I know he’ll be there for me in the future. He’ll be there for all of us in the future.

I’ll never hear his voice again on the other end of a phone call, never again get a sweaty hug from one of the few musicians I felt like I could call a friend. But some kid experiencing his or her first heartbreak will find The Midnight Organ Fight and it’ll show them that they’re not alone. Because, for as personal and specific as Hutchison’s lyrics were, they are universal and applicable to all of us, no matter what we’re going through.

In his song, “Head Rolls Off,” Scott sang, “While I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to Earth.” He made colossal changes to my personal world, influencing my career and life in ways I didn’t think possible for a musician from halfway across the world. And for that, all I can say is “THANKS MAN!”

If you or someone you love is in need of help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. It is free, operated 24/7, and provides confidential support for people in crisis.

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Body of Missing Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison Is Discovered

On Thursday night, police in Edinburgh, Scotland, announced that they’d found a body in the search for Frightened Rabbit singer Scott Hutchison, who had been missing since early Wednesday morning. Hutchison, 36, was last seen leaving the Dakota Hotel in South Queensferry, at 1 a.m., after posting a series of messages that left his family and bandmates concerned for his well-being.

“Be so good to everyone you love,” the first tweet said. “It’s not a given. I’m so annoyed that it’s not. I didn’t live by that standard and it kills me. Please, hug your loved ones.” Several minutes later, he posted a second tweet: “I’m away now. Thanks.”

According to the Guardian, police discovered the body at 8:30 p.m. on May 10 in Port Edgar. His family were notified, and released a statement that they were “utterly devastated” by the loss.

Since he began performing as Frightened Rabbit in 2003, Hutchison has consistently written about his struggles with anxiety and depression, endearing him to a generation of indie-rock fans. This spring the band toured in celebration of the tenth anniversary of their seminal album The Midnight Organ Fight, which Hutchison discussed with the Voice.

“People started to come to me and talking about really personal, emotional subjects that they may not have told their closest friends, but they were telling me about them,” said Hutchison. “I didn’t know how to deal with it at all. Due to the personal nature of that record, an expectation of me had been built up in the listener’s head a lot of the time and I was very keen not to disappoint.”

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On May 9, Frightened Rabbit posted a message on the band’s social media accounts asking for help in finding Hutchison: “We are worried about Scott, who has been missing for a little while now. He may be in a fragile state and may not be making the best decisions for himself right now.”

In their statement Friday, Hutchison’s family wrote, “We are utterly devastated with the tragic loss of our beloved Scott. Despite his disappearance, and the recent concerns over his mental health, we had all remained positive and hopeful that he would walk back through the door.”

“He was passionate, articulate, and charismatic, as well as being one of the funniest and kindest people we knew. In addition to his musical success, Scott was a wonderful son, brother, uncle, and friend. Despite whatever else was going on in his life he always had time for those he cared for.”

“Depression is a horrendous illness that does not give you any alert or indication as to when it will take hold of you,” the statement said. “Scott battled bravely with his own issues for many years and we are immensely proud of him for being so open with his struggles. His willingness to discuss these matters in the public domain undoubtedly raised awareness of mental health issues and gave others confidence and belief to discuss their own issues.”

UPDATE – 5/12/11, 10:145 AM: Hutchison’s bandmates in Frightened Rabbit issued the following statement:

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bio9HWXnN7a/?taken-by=frabbits

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Ten Years of Frightened Rabbit’s Indie Classic “The Midnight Organ Fight”

In the period between 2004 and 2007, Scott Hutchison was persistently heartbroken. His on-again, off-again relationship would never truly achieve stability — he and his girlfriend couldn’t live together, but they sure as hell couldn’t be apart for long.

“It’s not just about one breakup from one relationship, which then led to an album,” the lead singer of Scottish indie rock outfit Frightened Rabbit explains. “It’s like a period of muckups in the same relationship on my part over the course of three years.”

Following his graduation from the Glasgow School of Art in the early 2000s, Hutchison was living in a tiny flat in Glasgow and working odd jobs at galleries, liquor stores, and furniture shops, using all of his spare time to record raw, unpolished demos in his kitchen, and playing tiny shows with fellow guitarist Billy Kennedy, plus his brother, Grant, on drums. But even as his craft was developing one dead-end gig at a time, Hutchison was growing increasingly disillusioned with his chosen path as labels, majors included, would string the band along for months before finally turning them down.

“He was angry with the music industry, and he was not getting a foot in,” Alex Knight, co-founder of Brighton-based Fat Cat Records, remembers. “He’s got the breakup, he’s stuck in Glasgow, wants to be in a band. He’s still living in the same town, not getting out of that town, not experiencing anything different, and just struggling.”

Instead of succumbing to his rough situation and walking away, Hutchison channeled his feelings of desperation and anxiety into his music, which eventually led to The Midnight Organ Fight, one of the most lyrically accomplished and introspective albums of the young millennium. In the ten years since the release of the record, Frightened Rabbit has amassed a cult following, building off the success of their 2008 release, landing a major record deal with Atlantic, and playing virtually every late-night talk show and festival around the world. This winter the band is taking the product of Hutchison’s heartbreak — 14 songs of despair and catharsis — out on the road for a short tour of smaller venues than usual, playing the record in full, including two New York shows at Music Hall of Williamsburg and the Bowery Ballroom.

But back in 2007, things didn’t look so good. Beginning in 2004, Hutchison had sent labels a series of four demo CDs of varying quality, full of unfinished lyrics, off-key singing, and what Knight calls “a cacophony of noise.” Underneath the roughly recorded demos lay some of the most raw and honest lyrics in recent memory, a devastating account of his never-ending breakup. Many of those early tracks were released as 2006’s Sing the Greys, the band’s debut, initially released by local label Hits the Fan Records. Others, however — some dating as far back as 2005 — would go on to make up some of the most anthemic and brutal songs on The Midnight Organ Fight: “Fast Blood,” “Head Rolls Off,” “I Feel Better,” and “Keep Yourself Warm.”

“Your songs are improving. This is a much better set of demos,” Knight remembers telling the band. But he also noted that “the drums sounded like these cornflake packets getting clattered about in the background.”

Though one of those early songs, “I Feel Better,” famously ends with the line, “This is the last song I’ll write about you,” Hutchison continued to mine his crumbling relationship for inspiration. Even after Fat Cat eventually signed Frightened Rabbit, and the band began to record with famed Connecticut-based producer Peter Katis (Interpol, the National, Jónsi), Hutchison still wasn’t terribly prepared for his personal struggles to be widely heard.

“For some stupid reason, I didn’t even really consider that they’d ever be particularly public,” Hutchison says. “Even though I did have a mission to play to quite a lot of people, you record these songs and go, ‘Ah fuck, I’m going to have to do this now.’ Although I don’t at all regret not censoring myself, on one hand, it was extremely uncomfortable for me and on the other, that exact thing is definitely what got people in. It’s uncomfortable, but they were getting something very visceral, real, honest, and open. I guess in part, I thrived off of that embarrassment or that difficulty.”

And while Hutchison didn’t feel compelled to repress his most sensitive lyrics, those around him tried. Knight says that, while he knew the record would eventually be successful, he also knew that it would be a slow burn: the album wasn’t going to get radio play due to the rough around the edges nature of the recordings and its high number of expletives, including the prickly chorus to an otherwise tender lament: “It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm.”

“Everyone who heard that was like, ‘What the hell is this?’” producer Peter Katis remembers on first hearing what would become one of the group’s most famous refrains. “It’s a pretty heavy line and over the top, and I said, ‘I don’t like to talk about lyrics and I’m not telling you to change this, but it can be super off-putting. It’s something to consider – is there a variation that wouldn’t destroy all of the meaning but wasn’t off-putting?’ In the end, my gut said, ‘Don’t change the person’s lyrics!’ It brings the house down at shows and it’s very moving. I take that as a great lesson – I almost tinkered and thank god I didn’t.”

Though the album received critical praise — particularly in America — upon its release in April 2008, it relied on word of mouth, and the corresponding album campaign was centered on the live experience. Known for the crushing volume of the the band’s shows — Katis says, “I thought my chest compressed, it was so loud” — Hutchinson was able to successfully hide behind the pair of heavy, fuzzed-out guitars from him and Kennedy. But since Midnight Organ Fight’s tracks didn’t reflect their thrashy live versions, Frightened Rabbit added multi-instrumentalist Andy Monaghan to give more musicality and subtlety to the songs.

Hutchinson’s anguish was now on full display, finally in focus for the growing audiences at each show, and while he may have played these songs before, his lyrics — previously disguised as yelps and screams — were now completely audible for the first time. He had to relive his breakup night after night without anything to hide behind, especially during the solo acoustic stanzas of “Poke,” perhaps one of the most tortured songs ever written:

You should look through some old photos
I adored you in every one of those
If someone took a picture of us now they’d need to be told
That we had ever clung and tied
A navy knot with arms at night
I’d say she was his sister, but she doesn’t have his nose
And now we’re unrelated and rid of all the shit we hated
But I hate when I feel like this
And I never hated you

With the album’s growing reputation, Hutchison was getting what he always wanted — a legitimate career in music – but it came at a price, taking a heavy emotional toll on his mental health. Already regularly fighting bouts of depression, Hutchison found that he had to confront his demons each night on tour, while dealing with the physical exhaustion of playing up to twelve shows in a row with no days off. And without meaning to, Hutchison had made himself a magnet for his fans’ misery, the leader of a traveling lonely hearts’ club band.

“People started to come to me and talking about really personal, emotional subjects that they may not have told their closest friends, but they were telling me about them,” Hutchison remembers. “I didn’t know how to deal with it at all. Due to the personal nature of that record, an expectation of me had been built up in the listener’s head a lot of the time and I was very keen not to disappoint.”

This weekend, Frightened Rabbit plays “Midnight Organ Fight” in New York

Luckily for Hutchison, he had the benefit of touring with fellow Scottish rockers the Twilight Sad, friends from before Frightened Rabbit tasted success. “I suppose at the time when he was first going through it, it was a really fucked-up therapy session in front of many other people,” says Twilight Sad frontman James Graham. “If he did find it tough, we were there to put a drink in his hands and go and have a laugh.”

Plenty of bands can rock out, but it was Hutchison’s lyrical honesty that drew fans, even influencing a new crop of musicians. “I have such an appreciation for people who discuss the ugliness of love,” says Julien Baker, who collaborated with Frightened Rabbit on a surprise EP in late 2017. “I feel like sometimes, we don’t get to the gritty imagery of that ugliness. Even if it’s working or it feels momentarily good, it’s still quite this grotesque thing. We’re trying to imbue it with beauty and I think that idea is something [Hutchison] captures well. It’s just crazy how you feel so embedded in the scene that they’re constructing for you.”

Still, as the crowds grew and the venues doubled and tripled in size, Hutchison felt like he was oversharing, perpetually picking at a scab that could never heal. 

“I was sick of feeling that I was fucking complaining onstage every night,” Hutchison says. “These songs were grating on me a lot, and that’s what formed the next album’s narrative being a lot less personal and a lot more veiled. I started censoring myself. I was embarrassed a little bit.”

As time went on, he began to write in a different way, avoiding the detailed emotional evisceration of songs like “My Backwards Walk,” and taking a step back. Frightened Rabbit’s next three albums, especially 2013’s Pedestrian Verse, found Hutchison singing about other people and searching for new protagonists, even opening up the songwriting process to his bandmates for the first time.

Ten years removed from the release of The Midnight Organ Fight, Hutchison is overjoyed to play all of these songs in the same set once again. They may not be the same unrefined, deafening threesome without a bassist, but these songs are still just as meaningful to the band and their fans as well.

“I’m relishing the chance to bring these visceral moments back to people in the audience,” Hutchison says. “I love the reactions and the moments that really work on that album. I make a joke at the beginning [of each show] –  ‘Oh, get ready to be really fucking sad’ – but then it’s not. It’s the least sad 45 minutes that we’ve ever played. It’s pure and it’s just letting go and it’s been a really, really great thing to do so far.”

The woman who inspired those songs may be far removed from Hutchison’s life, but many of Midnight Organ Fight’s tracks still very much resonate amongst Frightened Rabbit’s listeners, who project their own experiences and relationships onto the tracks about struggling to acknowledge a breakup, attempting to push away suicidal thoughts, and giving into the pressures of going back to a former partner just one last time. A scrappy and emotional breakup album for the indie rock generation, Scott Hutchison & co. are definitely in a better place mentally than they were a decade prior, finally content to revisit their overexposed past without any hint of the heartbreak that overwhelmed the songwriter in the first place.

Frightened Rabbit plays “Midnight Organ Fight” in full at The Music Hall of Williamsburg on February 24.

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Frightened Rabbit

Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit are indeed a terror, having titled their Steinbeck-esque third album The Winter of Mixed Drinks, with brass-tinged singles instructing the depressed and depraved to “Swim Until You Can’t See Land.” Flushed with anthemic choruses and a subtle shoegaze gloss over their bombastic brand of self-loathing (tonight’s group sing-along will be to the blistering track “The Loneliness & the Scream”), re-imagine the Arcade Fire as pale Scottish mopesters who’ve given up on everything but their guitars. With Maps and Atlases.

Wed., April 28, 7 p.m., 2010

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Frightened Rabbit

Because Scottish indie folksters Frightened Rabbit played a sold-out show at Bowery Ballroom just a couple of weeks ago, it’s up for debate whether this all-request acoustic gig—the final stop on their U.S. tour—is merely a veiled cash-in attempt before heading home. Despite their motives, though, the group’s full-throated, cracking vocals, determined strumming, and idyllic, personal lyrics make for some of the best trad indie rock since bands such as Arab Strap and the Delgados defined their country’s late-’90s heyday. With New York indie folkster Gregory and the Hawk (the nom-de-pluck of songstress Meredith Godreau).

Mon., Feb. 2, 9:30 p.m., 2009