Speaking to Scott Hutchison AKA Owl John


‘Hopefully the profits [from Owl John] will be around the thirty-five pound mark, and I’ll be able to do it...‘Scott Owl John Hutchinson’’. Discussing the cost of changing his name to fit the new solo-project, Scott Hutchinson is comically self-deprecating. But cash aside, as he takes to the stage after our interview it’s clear that the man has at least earned himself an impassioned following over the years.

e show quickly becomes a sing-along with a twist. Down-to-earth as ever, Hutchinson cuts a deal with his audience: ‘I pick a song, then you pick a song - alright?’ So in between new material, the crowd bombards him with requests for old Frightened Rabbit classics - and he’s more than capable of obliging. If you’re ever feeling jaded with the hackneyed old formula of one-man-and-his-guitar, Scott’s the one to go and watch. A dynamic singer and effortlessly rhythmic guitarist, he floods the room with emotion, whipping his audience up into a state of drunken euphoria.

Earlier in the evening we met backstage at Oslo in Hackney, where the show would take place later on. We kicked off by discussing the origins of the Owl John tunes: ‘we were like: we’re gonna have two weeks; we’re gonna try and do a song a day, with no material prepared whatsoever, and see what comes out the end of it - to kind of keep it fresh and exciting and spontaneous...These are not the shit on the floor from Frightened Rabbit’s old sessions’. Owl John has largely been promoted as a solo record, but Hutchinson sees it as a group effort; he’s particularly emphatic about the role that the ‘extremely talented’ Andy Monaghan played in production.

And listening to the record, it is the turn towards various forms of sonic wizardry that distinguishes it most obviously from Hutchinson’s previous work. Strangely processed riffs, spoken-word samples, and even a bit of vocoder have all been thrown into the mix - alongside the usual ingredients of drums, guitars and vocals. I suggest to Scott that there are even some quite psychedelic moments in there, and out comes the deadpan: ‘Yeah - we were doing acid the whole time’. In a more earnest tone, though, Scott’s keen again to credit Andy: ‘I was...egging him on to make it weirder and weirder’. There’s also something a bit more intimate about the sound of Owl John, ‘a bit less fist-in-the-air’ than Frightened Rabbit’s latest release, Pedestrian Verse (2013): ‘There were certain rules: we didn’t want too many big choruses...[and] essentially there’s no cymbals on this record - we banned those’.

The intimacy is also there in the anxious, scattergun feel of the record’s lyrics: ‘Owl John is probably much more about me than Pedestrian Verse was...I moved to the US and a lot of the album is about that initial period...[that] sense of displacement’. It also marks a kind of return to form in terms of lyrical subject matter. As we talk a bit about how Scott feels looking back on the earlier records, Sing the Greys (2006) and The Midnight Organ Fight (2008), it’s clear that some of the earlier lyrics now make him wince: ‘I’m 32 now, and I wrote a lot of those songs when I was in my early twenties...It’s like looking back at a photograph of yourself with a middle parting or something!’

But there’s also a rawness to the earlier lyrics that Scott puts down to having had a much smaller audience: ‘I didn’t censor myself at that time...before I had an audience I wrote for myself, and only for myself, and that’s not true anymore - no matter how much you want to go into the studio and make an album for you and the band, there’s [still] this thing in the back of your head’. Scott concedes that ‘there’s definitely material on [those early records] that’s far more personal I could ever write now’, but he’s also adamant that the pressurized process behind the Owl John record forced out some of his habitual ‘self-editing’: ‘the idea behind this album was that the process was to be so quick as to almost disallow any censorship...it does hark back a little bit to some of those “wincey” songs.’

We finished up by talking Scottish Dancing and Scottish Independence (though not in relation to one another). ‘An alternative Ceilidh record could be fun actually. We did a collaboration with a Scottish folk band called Lau, and if I was gonna do a Ceilidh album it would have to be with them - they’re fucking amazing’. Explaining that reeling, as it’s also known, was practically obligatory for kids as he was growing up, Scott says, ‘I have reeled a shitload...[but it’s] this soul destroying thing for a 7-year-old to have to go through, when you’re trying to pick partners and it’s like - ‘Uh. Nobody wants me. Again. I’m gonna have to be paired with a boy.’’ On the matter of Independence, Scott’s feelings are much less mixed. It’s a definite ‘yes’ vote for him, and apparently for the rest of the band. But he also makes it clear that Frightened Rabbit’s never been a politically motivated band, and sympathises with bands that have steered clear of the question for fear of losing fans.

As it stands, the future of Owl John is uncertain. Hutchinson and co. are set to begin work on the next Frightened Rabbit record very soon, and Scott seems happy to admit that ‘if [Owl John] fades into obscurity, I don’t really care. It’s been fun - a really brilliant experience to make it, and I really love playing on my own...I would love to do at least one full-band Owl John show but I don’t want it to encroach on the band’s work. That’s the thing I love most’. Owl John doesn’t fit the cliché of solo projects as self-indulgent ego massage then. But Scott’s self-deprecation aside, it is a brilliant record in it’s own right - well worth checking out whether you’re already into Frightened Rabbit or not.