On May 10, 2018, we lost one of the finest songwriters of a generation in Frightened Rabbit's Scott Hutchison. Just over a year later, the band are gearing up to release a version of their second album 'Midnight Organ Fight' with guest vocals from friends and fans to celebrate Scott's legacy. We talk to those close to him and the artists featured about what made him so special.
The remaining four members of Frightened Rabbit are gathered around a small table in a cafe in Glasgow. We’re here to talk about the upcoming covers album of their fan-favourite 2008 record ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’.
Having interviewed late frontman Scott Hutchison more than I have any other artist over the last dozen or so years, it’s weird – and painful – to be talking over a F’Rabbits release without him here.
As a fan, too, you feel his absence as a presence on the album. But his brother – drummer Grant Hutchison – and bandmates Billy Kennedy, Andy Monaghan and Simon Liddell remain a tower of strength and fraternity, driven in their mission to keep Scott’s spirit and memory alive, and – not least – his wicked sense of humour.
There’s a sticker on my notebook featuring the below image of Scott’s wide Cheshire Cat grin surrounded by his lyrics from ‘Heads Roll Off’: “I’ll make tiny changes to Earth“.
“It’s interesting that this photo has been doing the rounds,” smiles Andy. “He was actually laughing because we were supporting Noel Gallagher in Glasgow and there were these guys in the front chanting ‘F’RABBIT F’RABBIT, GET TO FUCK’. That’s what prompted the smile.”
Simon laughs and remembers how, “Some guys were just giving us the finger for the whole show,” before Grant sighs affectionately and adds: “That was one of the things so great about Scott. In situations like that, there was no one better to turn it around and make light of it. Whenever we fucked up, he knew there was no point in getting annoyed. Just make a joke of it and move on.”
Through our many conversations – whether talking about Frightened Rabbit, his solo work as Owl John, or the gnarly passion project of his final release with Mastersystem – Scott was always as brutally honest, self-deprecating and black-humoured as the songs that he made.
“Music just makes sense of things that don’t make sense. It just makes something kind of neat out of something messy,” Scott Hutchison, 2018
“Music just makes sense of things that don’t make sense,” Scott told me during one of our final interviews, just a few months before we lost him. “It just makes something kind of neat out of something messy.”
“There’s a satisfaction, and that comes before worrying about whether I should be making these things public or not. Some things, maybe I shouldn’t, but I think for me it’s a type of therapy.”
It’s that transparency with his demons relating to depression, self-doubt, hangovers and relationships gone awry – but always with a bittersweet sense of hope – that saw Frightened Rabbit’s music strike such a deep and personal chord with so many fans. So many felt like they knew him, because he was mirroring their faults and fears with no shame or filter.
“I remember the tour after the album came out,” Andy tells us. “Whether it was in Leicester or Austin, we had all these people suddenly coming up to us to talk about how they’d responded to the songs and how it was like someone was talking directly through their lives. It was a shared experience. These songs had somehow got them through a traumatic experience. I remember overhearing Scott have these conversations and being like, ‘You can deal with this one! You got yourself in this situation!’”
“A lot of guys would talk to Scott after shows. He was someone who could vocalise how they were feeling – in an eloquent and poetic way, but also keeping it brutally honest.”
– Grant Hutchison
Grant agrees: “Even though people had listened to this album about a guy saying that maybe he isn’t that great at relationships, they were for some reason seeking advice from him after shows. He was like, ‘I’m not the guy to ask. Have you not heard the record?’ It was a lot guys as well, which is an important thing – especially now with [growing problems with] mental health among men of a certain age. The men that came along had found a spokesperson for that. At the time, that wasn’t really a thing: someone who could vocalise how they were feeling. Yes, in an eloquent and poetic way, but also keeping it brutally honest.”
“That’s the reason for the success of ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’. People can see themselves in it. They saw how they felt and it was OK. It didn’t mean that they were weird or weak.”
I once asked Scott about these kinds of fan encounters.
“That’s the whole point in a lot of ways,” he told me. “Obviously the songs are quite personal, but there has to be a way in. So once a person talks to me and says that they not only found a way in, but lived within a song or album for a really long time, that’s fantastic to hear.
“I guess my voice has been coupled with a lot of their worst times and it’s helped. So I think it’s often seen as a friend in those times. But I’m really, really pleased when anyone says that something I have done has helped them. You know, you can’t knock that.”
That ‘friend’ really came to the fore on second album ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’. NME noted it as not only one of the best albums of 2008 but also of that decade – praising it for being “bleak [but] also utterly beautiful, scathingly honest, darkly hilarious and impossibly grandiose”. On one of our last meetings after Scott played a ‘Bandstand Busking’ gig in London last March, he spoke of how he’d enjoyed revisiting the album for a 10th anniversary tour the month before – and said he’d been putting together a covers version of the record with the tracks reimagined by some of the band’s close friends and collaborators.
He’d intended it for a vinyl release last summer. In May 2018, Scott took his own life. He was found at Port Edgar near South Queensferry in Edinburgh.
Since then, biological brother Grant and his brothers in the rest of the band have been heroic in their resolve. As well as encouraging others to be more open about their feelings, they’ve also launched the mental health charity Tiny Changes – a name borrowed a lyric to from the band’s single ‘Heads Roll Off’, which has become a mantra for Frightened Rabbit fans working towards good causes in Hutchison’s memory.
Now, the band have decided to release the ‘Organ Fight’ covers record just as Scott intended. Naturally, the context of the release has changed, but we shouldn’t think of this act as an elegy; rather, it’s a celebration of the music that they made together and the impact that it had.
Scott once told me that “there’s a thread and a story if someone’s been following us from the second album,” and that “all a Frightened Rabbit fan wants is a place to go and consider what it means to their lives”. Having described the record as being “a depiction of fucking and fucking up” (see the poetically brutal take on a drunken fumble with “You won’t find love in a hole, it takes more than fucking someone you don’t know to keep warm”) as well as a record that “hurts and heals in equal measure”, Grant tells us what ‘space’ he feels ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ adopts now.
“The album is saying ‘I feel like shit, I’m a bit of a prick, and I hate myself for it’. Those are emotions that we’ve all felt”
– Grant Hutchison
“It feels to me like an album that is so complete and whole that you can climb into it and be a part of it in its own world,” he replies. “The narrative is so strong that you can immerse yourself. Scott would probably say this, but that album was influenced quite a lot by Craig Finn and The Hold Steady – where it feels like someone has got up in the pub and started telling this story of someone going through a breakup, or someone who goes out shagging all the time. They’re stories that everyone feels that they’ve been a part of at some point in their life.”
“The lyrics that Scott wrote about things that happen to every single person on the planet. It’s a tangible thing that people can grasp onto. There’s not much in there that’s an abstract concept.”
He shrugs: “It’s like, ‘I feel like shit, I’m a bit of a prick, and I hate myself for it’. Those are emotions that we’ve all felt. This album was written, recorded and released to nobody. We didn’t have a real fanbase when it came it so that wasn’t a consideration when Scott was writing these lyrics.”
Prior to the release of ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’, Frightened Rabbit were stuck in relative obscurity following their debut ‘Sing The Greys’. “Pre-Frightened Rabbit was the Franz Ferdinand, art school era here in Glasgow,” Grant recalls. “They were skinny guys, then we’re the overweight hairy guys coming in like ‘You don’t need to look attractive!”
“Franz Ferdinand were of the art school era here in Glasgow. They were skinny guys, then we’re the overweight hairy guys coming in like ‘You don’t need to look attractive’!”
– Grant Hutchison
The band once took great joy in turning one online troll’s insult – ‘FURRY BRICK BUILT MEN’ – into a rather fetching piece of merchandise. Did they ever indulge the wearing of skinny jeans?“ Fucking hell, no!” Grant says. “But saying that, Scott went to art school and was playing with Shit Disco and stuff when he first started in music, but even then he knew that wasn’t where he sat or wanted to…. Probably because he felt overweight and hairy.”
‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ soon became a cult favourite, earning the band tour slots with Biffy Clyro in Europe and Death Cab For Cutie in the US as they started to sell out much larger venues themselves. Their success showed what was possible for others in Glasgow’s alternative scene, spurring on the likes of We Were Promised Jetpacks, their close friends and FatCat labelmates The Twilight Sad, and later Chvrches.
Among these kindred spirits are the artists that Scott and the band handpicked to reimagine their songs on ‘Tiny Changes’. Biffy deliver a warped, breakneck and thoroughly Biffy-ish rendition of ‘The Modern Leper’ (praised as “the best song ever written” by frontman Simon Neil), Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry joins The National’s Aaron Dessner (who produced F’Rabbits’ final album ‘Painting Of A Panic Attack’) for a sombre and heartfelt run through ‘Who’d You Kill Now’, Daughter deliver a devastating take on the heartbreaking ‘Poke’, their former touring buddies Oxford Collapse reunited just to give ‘I Feel Better’ a grunge-y twist, and their closest friends The Twilight Sad deliver an overwhelming take on ‘Floating In The Forth’, made all the more profound by the significance of the Firth Of Forth to Scott’s death, as he was found there by the banks.
“The bands on this album are the collective F’Rabbit family,” Andy Monaghan
“Somehow it wouldn’t have felt right if someone else had decided to cover that,” Grant tells us.
For Grant, the aim of the album was “to tell the story of the last 10 years. The people who we asked have all been a big part of the last decade in various ways. With Scott, we put a bunch of names together of various people and pretty much everyone agreed.” That roster also includes Julien Baker, Manchester Orchestra and The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn. Curiously, there’s also a cameo from US comedy hero Sarah Silverman: a new version of ‘My Backwards Walk’.
“We were aware that she was a fan as she had Tweeted lyrics to that song various times,” says bassist Billy Kennedy. “Scott met her a few times while he was living in LA around the time of [Scott’s solo record] Owl John and [the last Frightened Rabbit album] ‘Painting Of A Panic Attack’. They did one show together as well where they hung out and got to know each other. I think Scott reached out to her to see if she’d be involved, knowing how much the album meant to her.”
“Sarah Silverman was passionate about being on the album. That was pretty surreal”
– Grant Hutchison
Grant continues: “She was like, ‘How do I get on this?’ You don’t say no to that. She was passionate about it. That was pretty surreal. I saw the DMs between her and Scott in our Twitter where she was like, ‘I don’t think I contributed much to that’, but the phrase I always like to use with things like that is, ‘You’re the mustard in the macaroni’. If it wasn’t there, you’d know.”
Here are some words from other artists on the record that we spoke to, telling us about what tiny and massive changes Scott made to their lives.
BEN GIBBARD, DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE
“I find myself having epiphany moments with a band, but those moments are fewer and far between now. I’m blown away less frequently than I once was, and ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ kind of came into my sphere at a pivotal time for me when I was going through a difficult time in my life.
“I felt similarly about that record and that band than I did when I first heard The Cure. That same feeling of like, ‘Where did this band come from?’ It gave me that a similar lift that I’ve only felt five to ten times in the past ten years. It just doesn’t happen as often.
“We kind of reached out to Frightened Rabbit and wanted to see if they would play some shows with us, and we immediately became really good friends. We did two tours together, and we just really, really loved Scott. For everything that he was going through, he was always a really lovely, positive, funny, self-effacing, wonderful human being.
“We’ve lost a giant. He was such an amazing writer and such an amazing human being,” Ben Gibbard, Death Cab For Cutie
“We’ve lost a giant. He was such an amazing writer and such an amazing human being. I think it’s been really wonderful to see in the tributes to him how much wider his music had gone than I’d ever really known. This music was as important to these people as it was to me.”
LAUREN MAYBERRY, CHVRCHES
“Grant reached out to us to say that Aaron [Dessner, The National] had done an arrangement of the song and they were looking for someone to sing on the track. I loved ‘The Midnight Organ Fight’ and all of Aaron’s work so it seemed like a good match. This always felt to me like every song on the album had an important part to play in the overall story or narrative, and Aaron’s arrangement really maintained the original emotion of the song which I think is important. Paying homage to a great album rather than trying to re-do it.
“I remember hearing ‘Sing The Greys’ at a house party, and keeping an ear out for the new album after that. It’s one of the most lyrically individual albums I have heard, especially coming out of Scotland, and as someone who was only a few years into playing in bands at that time, it was really inspiring to hear something so unique and honest. It’s rare to find an album that can be heartbreaking and thought provoking and funny, all at different points.”
BEN JOHNSTON, BIFFY CLYRO
“We’re not huge fans of covering other bands. Obviously we have done over the years for BBC sessions and stuff like that, but this was very different. We jumped at the chance to do this. We took ‘Modern Leper’ and we kinda Biffified it. It’s a tough one because ‘Modern Leper’ is such an amazing song and can’t be made any better. It can’t be elevated in any way. All we could do was make it more Biffy. I’m so glad that the boys like it.”
“That was the first song by the band that we heard. I remember Simon [Neil, frontman] saying, ‘You need to hear this song. This is one of the best songs ever written’. About four or five listens in I was right on board. It really is one of the best songs ever written: lyrically, the composition, it’s just pure genius. To get the chance to do any kind of version of that is just a massive honour.”
“The impact of the album was huge. We soon realised that it was a serious work of art. It’s just really grounded in Scotland, without being overly ‘trad’. Then there’s the honesty of the lyrics with Scott’s take on life and the darkness of it. There’s a classic Scottish morbid outlook that they had, but it somehow gave you hope at the same time. That’s really quite an amazing talent. ‘Midnight Organ Fight’ was really on repeat for us. It became very important for Biffy. The first opportunity we had, we invited them on the road with us. They were even better live than they were on record. That’s where the love affair began.”
“F’Rabbits are just lovely, lovely guys. They’re kindred spirits. It did not take long for us to become close. Straight off the bat, we were just really similar people. We had a lot of laughs, some crazy times and we put on some great shows. I just wish that we got to play more with them. They knew how to have fun.”
“He was the voice of not only a generation, but a nation. I’ve just got so much love for Scott, for the band. It’s unquantifiable,” Ben Johnston, Biffy Clyro
“I remember when we played the Royal Albert Hall and, bizarrely, Alex McCleish (the football manager) came backstage afterwards. Scott was there, my wife was there, and my son was there. He was only 13 at the time and had got into trouble at school for singing Frightened Rabbit songs. You know, singing ‘get my hole’, and that ‘Jesus is just a Spanish boy’s name’.
“Anyway, we told Scott about him being told off for singing ‘You won’t find love in a hole’, and he was just so embarrassed. It was so cute. He was so humbled that my son loved his band and became really nervous. He was like, ‘This guy is my hero’. That’s the one thing I’ll remember: how cute Scott was and how broad his smile was that day.”
“Scott had this smile that just gave you hope and put a good slant on the day. But the actual content that was coming out of his mouth in his songs was really morbid. He was both unique but very relatable. Scott was articulate but seemed to sum up the way that a lot of people in Scotland feel, but we don’t know how to say it. He was the voice of not only a generation, but a nation. I’ve just got so much love for Scott, for the band. It’s unquantifiable.”
“Scott had this smile that just gave you hope and put a good slant on the day. But the actual content that was coming out of his mouth in his songs was really morbid. He was both unique but very relatable”
– Ben Johnston, Biffy Clyro
“They just have the honesty. A lot of people are pedalling something, or trying to make sure that there’s an aesthetic to their band. There was nothing contrived about the nature of Frightened Rabbit. They were exactly what they said they were. They weren’t perfect, but who wants perfection anyway? But they were fucking close. They had the passion and that’s what it was for me. When you watched them play it was so engaging and so visceral. It set them apart from everyone.”
“When you shut your eyes and listened to Scott, you were welcomed into that world. But, it was a tough one to be in. There was a lot behind what was being said, but if you didn’t get it then it didn’t matter. It was cathartic for them, but you were welcome to be a part of it.”
JAMES GRAHAM, THE TWILIGHT SAD
“Scott texted me and Andy separately asking if we’d both be up for being part of the covers record. He knew himself that it wasn’t a question that he really needed to ask. We were doing it. We were there from the start. The F’Rabbits guys supported us when were down and out. Scott always had us in his mind and wanted us to be part of stuff. Even though we were friends, it was still a massive honour to be asked. I told him that as well. I said, ‘There’s a million people you could have asked to be on this record that would have wanted to’
“A nice thing is that when someone says ‘Frightened Rabbit’, the next thing they usually say is ‘Twilight Sad’, and vice versa.
“Having done ‘Floating In The Forth’, I feel very strange about the song choice looking at it now. I’m terrified of it, especially with the way that we’ve done the song and that line that I repeat at the end [‘I think I’ll save suicide for another year’]. It haunts me a wee bit, to be honest. But what other band could have tackled that? Who else could do that? Someone said to me the other day that it must have felt like it had become a sense of duty. It’s not a burden, but that song stands out quite obviously now. Even when the album first came out, it was a hard song to listen to. Some people still can’t listen to it, especially since we lost Scott.
“When Scott passed away, there were so many messages, memories and story about him on the internet. They were beautiful things, and people said so many amazing things about Scott, but I couldn’t do it. I went into my shell about it and was really protective of memories of Scott. They were my memories and not anybody else’s. Everyone else wants to share and that’s a beautiful, thing as well – but for me, I couldn’t. My way of voicing my emotions about it was to sing his songs. It’s partly selfishly for us because it’s still a very cathartic to do, and in a weird way it feels like I’m speaking to my friend every night.”
“Scott was one of the smartest and funniest people you’d meet. The way that he could one minute have you in tears, then turn it around and have you in hysterics all in a three minute pop song…it was absolutely genius,” James Graham, The Twilight Sad
“When ‘Midnight Organ Fight’ first came out, it was probably one of my favourite times in the band. It was us, and the F’Rabbits in the back of a van, travelling around the country, playing to nobody. They’d just released ‘Sing The Greys’ but they had ‘Midnight Organ Fight’ up their sleeves. We released our record [the acclaimed ‘Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters’], and Scott was the biggest champion of that. I think he saw it as a moment of, ‘Right, OK, I’ll see you ‘Fourteen Autumns’ and I’ll raise you ‘Midnight Organ Fight’! One of my favourite memories is going over to Scott’s bedsit before they went to America to record ‘Organ Fight’, and he’s like ‘I’ve got this song, can I play it to you?’
“Myself, Andy and Scott very much hated it whenever someone pulled out an acoustic guitar and started playing it. If we were at a party, we’d leave the room and go drink all the booze in the kitchen. But this was just the three of us in a room and we’d had a few drinks. He played ‘Poke’ to us and I’ll never forget that. We both turned to each other and went, ‘Fuck’. When we left we said to each other, ‘That’s pretty special’. We now know what effect that song has on people, but to witness that firsthand in a tiny room, we just knew he was about to do something so special to take F’Rabbits to the next level.”
“Scott was one of the smartest and funniest people you’d meet. The way that he could one minute have you in tears, then turn it around and have you in hysterics all in a three minute pop song…it was absolutely genius. His way with words was a very Scottish thing. That’s probably why we became friends and connected so much. It wasn’t Scottish in an ‘Och aye denoow’ way. It was clever. It was the way that we spoke to each other. Even the way that he sings ‘cunt’ in ‘Poke’ – through one of the most soft and beautiful songs, he’s singing about ‘kicking somebody’s cunt in’. It could be shocking but it’s just so smart. Some people can be too smart for their own good when it comes to songs, but Scott had an honesty too.
“That word can get brandished around a lot, like ‘Oh, it’s so sincere…’. That can be quite sickly, but the way that he did it was just Scott. There aren’t many people who can make you feel like you’ve really got to know them through their songs. People did. They knew him.
“The main thing for me is that Scott really wanted this. He wanted it so much and Grant wanted it so much. It was a celebration of that album and that’s what it is. It’s a celebration of Scott’s work and the music that he put into the world. This is a very brave thing for the band to be doing. For Grant to be so strong and out there just shows you how important he knows that this is.”
When talking to James, he added that “Scott’s music will continue to live on and reach new people, all the time, but we’ve got to find new ways to make sure that happens”. Frightened Rabbit themselves say they definitely won’t play any more shows again, but are open to celebrating their music in whatever ways feel right. Curiously, they tease that something may even be in the works with The 1975.
“They’ve come to a few shows,” says Grant. “We are having conversations with them. We’ve been in touch. Their bassist [Adam Hann] is a big fan and they reached out after Scott died. Matty Healy is also a big Twilight Sad fan”
And as for their other plans as band?
“It’s not the end of Frightened Rabbit as such,” replies Grant. “Frightened Rabbit doesn’t exist as a physical thing, but it’s going to stay alive through people sharing it. The songs won’t stop getting played. There are people who haven’t heard us who will in the future, and that’s an amazing thing.”
And what of the new material that the band were working on before Scott’s death?
“There were a few tracks that had vocal on them, plus a handful of tracks that didn’t make it onto the last album,” says Simon. “There is stuff that exists that people will want to hear.”
Grant: “There are some unheard songs and demoes that we’ll probably work on when we’re in the right place. They were new songs that we were working on. We’d been working since the end of the ‘Panic Attack’ campaign. I think it would be good for us too. You know, completion. They’re there, and personally I’m very aware that they’re there. I haven’t managed to go back through them yet. I tried a couple of times but I can’t do it.
“I feel it’s important that we do it, and that we have the control over it. The songs will be there forever anyway on a hard drive. I know for a fact that Scott wouldn’t want them released in their current state, because they’re not ready, but it’s personally something that I feel I want to do, and I want to do it with these guys. Everyone feels the same. I don’t know what format that will take, but that’s for when we’ve figured things out.”
“There are some unheard songs and demoes that we’ll probably work on when we’re in the right place,” Grant Hutchison
For now, the band are figuring out what form the Tiny Changes charity will take. After launching a crowdfunding page in Scott’s memory earlier this year, tens of thousands of pounds in donations flooded in from fans and well-wishers. The band’s efforts were even raised in the Scottish Parliament to call for more action to made to support young people with mental health struggles.
“The response has been incredible, Grant tells us. “The logistical plan is that we’ll be asking for people to apply for funds and grants and we’ll give it out that way, rather than designing our own services.”
“It’s something that me and the family are really proud of doing. It’s something that we know Scott would approve of. [We] just need to figure out what we’re doing with it.
“We’re celebrating the amazing creativity and genius of Scott,” concludes Grant. “Not just the songs, we’re celebrating him as well. We’ll always miss him, and we want to keep him in people’s hearts.”
“We’re celebrating the amazing creativity and genius of Scott. Not just the songs, we’re celebrating him as well,” Grant Hutchison
For those who have let Frightened Rabbit in, their music remains a friend for life. For everyone who sees themselves in ‘My Backwards Walk’, still “working on their faults and cracks, filling in the blanks and gaps”, Scott’s songs may not hold the answers but they do console.
We all fuck, we all fuck up, we all get fucked, we all miss people, we all feel shit sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be forever if we face it together.
“Now is the time for men to be as gentle and open and emotionally fluent as they can be, I suppose,” Scott told me in our final interview.
“I think this is the thing that happens to a lot of people influenced by Frightened Rabbit. By ‘influenced’, I mean driven to opening up. It’s put in a certain way that they can associate without feeling like somehow they’re being weak. You know, there’s definitely admittance in these songs, but there’s not always weakness. Even if there is, there’s a certain sense of self that they can associate with. It’s important to have a place to put your thoughts that you can’t quite express yourself.
“So I’m all for making that kind of music, not just for men, for anyone who wants to find a way to, you know, let go.”
‘Tiny Changes, A Celebration of Frightened Rabbit’s The Midnight Organ Fight’ is released on July 12.
For help and advice on mental health:
- ‘Am I depressed?‘ – Help and advice on mental health and what to do next
- Help Musicians UK – Around the clock mental health support and advice for musicians
- Music Support Org – Help and support for musicians struggling with alcoholism, addiction, or mental health issues
- YOUNG MINDS – The voice for young people’s health and wellbeing
- CALM – The Campaign Against Living Miserably for young men
- Time To Change – Let’s end mental health discrimination
- The Samaritans – Confidential support 24 hours a day