Mastersystem – Scott Hutchison (of Frightened Rabbit) on His Supergroup’s Debut Album

Recapturing the Thrill

Apr 28, 2018 Web Exclusive
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Remember when you closed the door to your adolescent room, head spinning from that uniquely youthful, unbound energy that needed to be channeled somewhere? Picture a summer night in your past, hormones raging and you throw on The Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream. Suddenly, another part of your being that you've only just become acquainted with is jolted awake. You break into air guitar, or break out a real one, feeling yourself grow two feet taller. The unwitting aggregation of tensity building continuously in all of us, the byproduct survival, needs an outlet but when you're young and without many responsibilities, such energy amasses more towards the thrill of discovery. Something in the coordinated rush of melodic guitar distortion in overdrive, with giant drums crashing behind it, taps straight into what's coursing through the youngster finding out who he or she is and what moves them.

"There should be a study about the teenage complex and distortion because there's definitely something that happens to teenagers when they hear distorted guitars," offers Scott Hutchison, the Frightened Rabbit frontman who was enjoying a sense of calm excitement on the release day of Dance Music, the debut album from his surprise supergroup Mastersystem. "That kind of faded for me when I turned 18 and 19 and started getting into more longing and romantic music but before that, I was all about [heavy] guitars.... It's such a satisfying way to learn"

An exultant celebration of guitar power and the dopamine it's capable of triggering, Mastersystem is a project conceived by brothers Justin and James Lockey of Editors and Minor Victories, who extended a very pointed invitation to Scott and his brother, drummer Grant from Frightened Rabbit, to come join. Dance Music is a release about release and should strike fantastically at the nostalgia bone in young adults who began seriously listening to alternative rock music in the late '90s, recalling the era's epic electric guitar sound that encompassed college rock, power pop, and grunge. The chord that is struck right away is the early Smashing Pumpkins of Gish and Siamese Dream, some Weezer, some Filter, and some threads of the massive and melodic efforts from Hutchison's Scottish brethren Idlewild, Aerogramme, and Mogwai. Expect shivers, waves of 'em.

"That sound for so many people in their mid-30s puts you back in that place immediately," says Hutchison. "I was looking for the seam to get into this thematically and I thought, 'What better way to get out my mid-30s angst than on a teenage sounding record?' I kind of liked that juxtaposition of this exuberant music that reminds me of being 18 but I want to talk about what's happening with me now...I'm having to re-learn another [way to play guitar] but the thing is, I grew up on this kind of music. It's weirdly familiar to me. I learned by playing a lot of bar chords and I've lost a lot of hearing in one ear because of the level I had the amp in my room.... It was all bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Weezer and Dinosaur Jr. that informed all this. A lot of people who I've sent the record to in advance were like 'Shit, this reminds me of being in high school.'"

The void in rock of that precise style of blasting emotive output has only just begun to fill out again. Car Seat Headrest and Mitski have proffered emphatic examples on recent albums but Mastersystem's debut surges with this electrical current from beginning to end. The absence of this pure evocative force is something Justin and James were mindful of.

"In the current climate of music, guitars are more out of fashion, so I think it was definitely an effort to do something kind of 'uncool' and not current," explains Hutchison. "Idlewild, The Wedding Present, The Posies [were all references].... A lot of [Steve] Albini stuff they were thinking of as well, thinking that in today's climate this would be a throwback. But for me, it sounds pretty fresh actually. We thought there was a void of this kind of stuff right now. Heavy guitar music seems to exist mostly in the emo mold now, and the thing about modern pop emo is that it's not fuckin' heavy. The guitars buzz away but this stuff to me sounds like what heavy guitar music should sound like."

Both musically and vocally it seems like this project served some sort of cathartic need for everyone involved. "It came at the perfect time," says Hutchison, who needed a place to direct new energies emerging after coming down from the 10th-anniversary tour for Frightened Rabbit's breakout album, The Midnight Organ Fight. As if sprung fully from its origin, Dance Music feels untainted by marketing strategy and pomp and in a way it was. After the brothers Lockey wrote the music, they sent it to Scott without them ever even having played together, not even just fucking around, and without him really expecting it either.

"I actually didn't play a single piece of guitar on the record," Hutchison reveals. "I got these songs pretty much fully formed. I still listen to this record on occasion because I almost feel like I'm listening to someone else's band. I wrote the lyrics and the melody but all of the music is this really nice mystery to me."

Yet this notion didn't just come out of the cold British air. Besides being active collaborative musicians, Justin and James are the filmmakers behind Hand Held Cine Club and back in 2012 when Scott and Grant were about to record Pedestrian Verse, their fourth album with Frightened Rabbit in a house in the Scottish highlands, the Lockeys asked to tag along and capture it on film. The two sets of brothers have been close ever since and as the music for Mastersystem began to materialize, discussions about doing something together got serious.

"But I have discussions with people in bands all the time like, 'Ahh, we should do something together!'" confesses Hutchison. "That's a fairly common chat to have but 8 times out of 10 it doesn't come to anything.... This was one of those lucky things. These are the best projects, where you don't really know how they came together. But they were adamant [about getting me involved]. When they first sent me the songs, I was like, 'I don't really know if I have the time to do this justice right now.' And they were like, 'We'll wait. We only hear your voice on this stuff. There's no list of peopleyou are the list, so no rush.'"

That must have been nice to hear and a strong vote of confidence for Hutchison. He was suddenly gifted with bursting music made expressly with him in mind to enhance. And does he ever. The inner beast was stirred. Once the tunes had sunk in, the lyrics poured out. Every writer knows the feeling of wanting to find and struggling to consider the perfect words for thoughts on something for which you care deeply, just as they know the feeling of writing freely from the tingling passion for something that has inspired you instantly.

"It was a completely different way of writing and it was enlightening and refreshing," Hutchison says. "The thing I take away from this is that as much as I wrote these lyrics quickly, a lot of the stuff that came out of the process was really strong. I think I had had the attitude that you need to give a song time to mature and distill ideas down but actually, there's so much to be said for instinct. I had almost worked that out of my writing method. Things can be over-thought and when you get to that point it becomes a study. It's not this release that you should have...I think I learned about getting less caught up in the detail and shooting from the hip a little more on this one. I didn't overthink this stuff because the music had such a rawness to it, so I was kind of saying, 'Fuck, if it sounds right, then maybe it is right.' It doesn't have to be deep and meaningful. I think there are moments where it does do that but for the most part, it flies along with the music in a nice way."

It's tremendous to hear Hutchison's passionate call in brogue resonate so well with full throttle guitar drive, emphasized in the spine-tingling, layered harmony choruses on songs like "Proper Home" and "The Enlightenment." It's at these moments when you realize this was a collaboration destined to soar, the fit so perfect that it spurs the exclamation "Where have you been all this time?!" The vitality in Hutchison's delivery indicates that he revels in his specific Mastersystem role of vocalist, like an actor known and loved for a certain kind of part who gets the opportunity to break out and do something different. The same goes for his brother Grant.

"Grant was able to go back to the way he loves to play. His style of play evident on the first couple Frightened Rabbit albums has been tamed [on subsequent recordings] but it's always been there. People are [always] like, 'Holy shit, the drummer's a beast.' He's extremely animated and loves bashing about. He started drumming because he loves making noise, so for him [Mastersystem] is like a dream come true."

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Dance Music is that it sounds like it was bashed out in one straight recording session. That's the kind of energy it has. "It wasn't like that at all!" laughs Hutchison. "It was the complete opposite! We haven't even rehearsed these songs yet for the [upcoming] shows. We get in the room together playing for the first time next week. It speaks to the skill of Justin and our mixer Paul that they managed to make this sound like it was one room. To me, it sounds like it was a bunch of people in a room."

Mastersystem will get to reproduce that essence when they take Dance Music into the live setting. The band is anxiously heading into it's mini U.K. tour to test the legs of Dance Music in action. "The other exciting part of this is we really have no idea how many people are going to latch onto this record," says Hutchison. "The whole idea was to take people by surprise and I think for fans of Frightened Rabbit, maybe it's a nice unexpected change in direction as well. The greatest thing that could happen for me is if someone who actually doesn't really like Frightened Rabbit gets into this album."

A brotherly bond has now been fortified with might in the form of Mastersystem, with a record you tend to associate with young rage, igniting in its makers an invigoration they fully intend to carry forward.

"As musicians get older they tend to calm down. That's what happened with us," Hutchison admits. "The last album for Frightened Rabbit had far fewer rock moments on it than previous efforts and that's kinda what happens. The great thing about this project is that it has given me a fresh perspective of where you want to go from there, as every decent side project should. I mean, I don't think Frightened Rabbit is going to make an album that sounds like this but I think there's a sense of the best kind of fearlessness and abandon on this album that I think would really benefit our next step.... What I realized about [early] Frightened Rabbit records and why so many people got into them is because they're very human. It's not people perfecting their craft, it's people doing something via gut instinct. That can so easy to get lost. I think I've lost it at some points and things like this remind you why you started making music in the first place. For me, this brought the thrill back. That's what you need. It's so great to feel that energy and try to capture some of that naivety as well. None of us knows where this is going but the journey is fun and that's kind of the point anyway."

www.mastersystemband.com

Mastersystem Tour Dates:

Sat, April 28, UK, Leeds, Brudenell Social Club
Mon, April 30, UK, Birmingham, Birmingham O2 Institute 3       
Tue, May 1, UK, London, Oslo

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August 28th 2018
8:15am

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