Tiny Changes to Earth: The Lasting Legacy of Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, May 24th, 2024  

Tiny Changes to Earth: The Lasting Legacy of Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit

Grant Hutchison, The Twilight Sad's James Graham, and Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite on the Late Frightened Rabbit Singer

Jun 10, 2019 Mastersystem Photography by Elena Johnston (Illustration for Under the Radar) Bookmark and Share

When it’s all gone, something carries on ... and while I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to Earth. - “Head Rolls Off”

The nightmare began with two tweets, sent 19 minutes apart, on May 8, 2018.

“Be so good to everyone you love,” Scott Hutchison, frontman of Scotland’s Frightened

Rabbit, wrote in his first Twitter post. “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.”

Then the second. “I’m away now. Thanks.”

Two days later, authorities would identify the body of Scott washed ashore at Port Edgar near where he was staying in South Queensferry in Scotland. Statements were issued to confirm that the songwriter who had dealt so viscerally and vulnerably with his own mental health issues through music had committed suicide.

“I obviously saw firsthand Scott’s depressionhow he dealt with it and struggled with it. There was a part of me that kind of knew that this was how I would say goodbye to him, you know? But nothing can really prepare you for that happening. One thing I now have is the experience to convey to other people that that option, when you think you’re helping the people you’re leaving behind, that’s not the case,” says Scott’s brother and bandmate, Grant Hutchison. “I know that’s something Scott felt. Everyone saw what he tweeted before he did it. It’s not a secret. The one thing if we could go back and say, ‘No, you’re not a burden. You’re loved and I feel loved by you as well.’

“That’s the other thing I think that isn’t promoted enough is that I think Scott felt like he let us down or let people down because of his illness or because of who he was. I did say it many times, but I’d want to remind him, ‘Shit, everyone lets people down sometimes. That’s just part of life and you just get on with it.’ There’s never anything that I feel is so huge or insurmountable that the only option is to leave, to take your own life.”

A Heart Laid Bare

Being a fan of a band is typically about musical enjoyment. Being a fan of Frightened Rabbit is more about emotional resonance.

The old songwriting adage describes the songwriter’s process as a willingness to open a vein and bleed, but the resulting music is rarely allowed to be that raw. The music industry demands a certain detachment or distance from the bloody pulp of life’s greatest frictions, internal or external. Scott Hutchison, however, eschewed any and all filters, a sacrifice to maintain the connection that meant so much to himone built on a painful vulnerability. Scott’s struggles with depression and even suicidal thoughts were well known to fans of Frightened Rabbitor even his other musical outlets such as solo project Owl John or, more recently, the supergroup Mastersystemsince such struggles formed the lyrical content of so many songs.

“Scott was very open about his mental health with me and with the world,” says James Graham, a longtime friend of Scott’s and frontman for fellow Scots The Twilight Sad. “When we were together we spoke about how we both struggled with anxiety and how doing what we do for a living can be the best thing in the world and how lucky we were, but we also spoke about how the constant pressure affected us. We talked about how we put too much pressure on ourselves but didn’t really know what to do to combat that.”

Grant laughs when he recalls the writing and recording of Frightened Rabbit’s final album, 2016’s Painting of a Panic Attack. “He would say in interviews that I told him it sounded like shit, but that wasn’t true. I just told him it wasn’t him.” Grant says his brother was trying to mask some of the more obvious emotions for the first time.

“I think he became a bit self-aware of how much he’d put out there,” he says. “When we were demoing that last record and some of these songs came out not sounding right, I said to him straight out it didn’t sound like him.

“Yes, he was clever with his lyrics and they were extremely well-written, but it was the honesty and self-deprecating nature that really endeared people to Scott. Even when people would see us live, 80 percent of them would talk about what Scott said between songs. It was as much a part of the experience as the songs. It was that same person that they knew in the songs, which isn’t always the case in music. That’s something not a lot of people have now is this openness and willingness to bear everything to people.”

Unfortunately for his brother, Grant also believes that living in the experience of those emotions that gave birth to the band’s songs became a burden too heavy to carry for the frontman.

“I guess that’s part of the reason for how Scott felt. That’s a very stressful and exhausting thing to do. Year on year and album after album, to put yourself out there in that way, it’s going to cause anxiety, stress, and potentially depression. That’s what people loved about him, but that’s a big part of why he’s no longer here.”

A Connective Power

Grant remembers the exact moment when the music-and, consequently, its ability to connect-felt special. He felt it himself on stage, when everything “clicked into place.”

The year was 2009. As members of Frightened Rabbit, Grant and Scott, along with band members Billy Kennedy and Andy Monaghan (Simon Lidell would officially join in 2015), were playing Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh in support of their FatCat breakout album, The Midnight Organ Fight. The critically acclaimed work, produced by Peter Katis (Jónsi, The National), landed on numerous year-end lists and was hailed for its unflinching honesty, emotional vulnerability, and earnest hopefulness. The blend would become Scott’s calling card, so to speak.

“It was in 2009, before we knew we could make any sort of career out of this,” says Grant. “I think we both kept looking at each other, like almost pinching each other. It was a sold-out show in Edinburgh and our parents were there seeing for the first time that this wasn’t just a hobby. They’d always been supportive, but until you see something like that happen, you even tell yourself, ‘Well, give it another few months or a year.’

“I always reference this John McEnroe quote from when he finally played against Björn Borg. He says everything felt like it was in slow motion. When he hit a shot back, it felt like he had twice as long to get to it. The night felt almost like that. We were all just so in sync and everything moved so smoothly and so slowly. It felt like we had some sort of hold over the room that we’d had before but in much smaller numbers. That was a magical night for the band.”

It was that night, Grant says, that he learned Frightened Rabbit’s music could (and would) mean so much with so many.

“One thing I read a lot after he died was that he’d speak to people after shows at the merch or stand and have a smoke with them outside or have a drink with them after the show,” he says. “He was just a normal guy, really. That’s the thing I think people really felt a connection with as well.”

Friends from other bands took notice of the same things, the strong connection between Frightened Rabbit fans and the vocalist who sang songs so easily inhabited by the room.

“Scott wrote very personal songs that people really related to,” says Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai, a fellow Scottish band who had crossed paths with Frightened Rabbit on previous occasions including a headlining gig for Scottish independence in 2014. “As a band, they always welcomed their fans to share in the experience. I think they created a family with their fans in a way that was really special.”

“He was so funny,” adds Graham. “When you went to a Frightened Rabbit gig you didn’t just get music; nine-times-out-of-10 you got a Scott stand-up show as well. I loved going to gigs where he played on his own and would tell stories in between songs. Scott wasn’t trying to be anyone else other than himself. He didn’t give a fuck about trying to be the cool lead singer of a band. He just wanted to play music and connect with people.”

A Necessary Conversation

It’s safe to say there’s likely never been more conversation in the music industry about mental health than there is today after the deaths of Scott Hutchison, Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, and others, but there’s still significant work to do on these subjects.

“I think there has to be more support for mental health generally,” says Braithwaite. “In music, life can be quite lonely for some people and I think there has to be more support for people who need help.”

Graham says he and Scott connected with each other about that lonely life. “It’s easy to say, ‘just ignore the negativity that is sometimes sent your way, but it’s not easy when you care so much about what you do,” he says.

“I’m no expert in this and I still haven’t processed what’s happened so I’m probably not in the right headspace to be giving out advice,” Graham continues. “All I know is that we just have to be kinder to each other and talk to each other more about things that aren’t easy to talk about. We have to talk to each other and not at each other.

“We need to listen more. That’s a start, and after that we should do everything we can to help someone if they are in need…. If you love a band, tell them you love them. If you don’t like a band, you don’t have to tell them that you think they are shite; we’re all human and we’re just trying to get by doing what we love. I know that was something Scott and I struggled with. I decided a long time ago to only talk about things I love. There’s enough negativity in the world at the moment without me telling you what I don’t like.”

Storme Whitby-Grubb, Frightened Rabbit’s manager during the releases of The Midnight Organ Fight and 2010’s The Winter of Mixed Drinks, shared many personal conversations with Scott about her own fight with depression but says talking alone won’t solve the problems. Instead, she says, very real professional help is needed.

“He talked about it,” says Whitby-Grubb. “He wrote about it for 12 or 15 years. So did Chester [Bennington]. People talk about it but it doesn’t make it any less severe. It doesn’t make it any less dangerous. It’s not Everyday Joe’s job to be the receiving end or the listener. There’s a reason that therapists go to school for a really long time or why psychiatrists study the brain for 15 years. It’s a very complex, very deep-rooted problem that needs medical and critical help to solve. Talking about it is huge but it isn’t enough. You have to have a support network with professionals.”

Grant Hutchison agrees and says he’s now passionate to speak out about these very subjectsto elevate the greater conversation around mental health and raise very real support for those in need.

“I really, really want to spread the message of understanding mental health and mental illness, because I didn’t for a very long time,” he says. “I don’t suffer from it in the way that Scott did. In that way it’s really hard to empathize with people when you haven’t gone through it yourself. You can’t understand just how crippling it is, how serious it is.

“If you’re going to talk about physical health and physical illness, then mental health and mental illness need to go alongside that. It should be treated in the same way in terms of how serious it is and how much you can do to help yourself and others. It should have the same support financially from governments and health services as physical illness because certainly in the Western world, it’s a bit of an epidemic.”

An Ongoing Legacy

“You have to talk about his impact in the present because his music is something that people will still find and realize and he’ll continue to help people who won’t even know it yet,” says Grant. “That’s something that’s still incredible about this situation. Yes, I’ve lost my brother and longest and closest friend, but my nieces and nephew will have the ability to get to know their Uncle Scott and so will my future children as well. They’ll be able to pick up an album or read an interview and see who he was.”

Plenty of Scott’s colleagues are doing their part to further that powerful legacy, one that reminded us all that we were not alone, that there was always reason for hope, that our current sorrow doesn’t have the last word.

“Scott put so much music/art/laughter out into this world and made so many people happy,” says Graham. “The world was a better place with Scott in it and I wish I could have told him that more. It’s our job to keeping telling people about all the amazing things he gave us and what a beautiful person he was.”

Many friends of the band are doing just that. A variety of artists like Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Julien Baker, The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, The National’s Aaron Dessner, and more recently came together for a tribute/benefit concert at Rough Trade in Brooklyn, with a tribute album for charity also in the works.

“We want Scott’s legacy to be something that’s seen with positivity and love and is shared by everyone who has experienced it and shared with people who don’t know him and don’t know us,” says Grant. “He’s not an icon of suicide. We want it to be one of hope and compassion and love.

“Sharing his songs and words with people is all anyone can do to keep that legacy going, to keep the message that he was trying to spread going,” he continues. “Even in his darkest songs there was always a glimmer of hope. A lot of people have managed to grasp onto that and turned their life around because of that. It’s not just Scott. Lots of other artists have encouraged people to do the same, but Scott did it so effortlessly and brilliantly. Keeping that message going is something people can still do with ease.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 65 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online.]




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