A year ago this week, Scott Hutchison passed away. His legacy to fans is a suite of personal, beyond-relatable lyrics and unique artwork. A big void has been left by this frightened rabbit and to my friends who were also Scott’s friends, I hope you are able to fill this week with the best memories. I love you all.
Recorded and released in 2014 after oft-lauded Pedestrian Verse, Owl John was borne from the need for time out; writing music on the Isle of Mull and lyrics in LA; places on maps worlds apart but pulled together beautifully by perhaps the only man who could. Scott himself moved from Scotland to LA during the making of this record, a move driven by a love the album goes on to explore in heart-wrenching detail. You cannot help but be absorbed further into his journey, literal and metaphorical. Owl John is Andy Monaghan, Simon Liddell and Scott, who wondered if Owl John was a really “shit name”.
This part of 2014 was a period of change for me. I rarely share overtly personal details, but it was then that I found out my mother had cancer (*sticks fingers up to cancer*) and I made a decision to break up a family: my family. Despite there being three of us in a two bedroom home, I isolated myself a lot. I bought a new CD that summer to listen to in the car, always driving the long way home from work just to make the space between walking through the door and walking back out of it that bit smaller.
Not for the first time in the last twelve months, I’m going to listen to it again: older, slightly wiser, and very grateful. Note: I mistyped ‘wiser’ as ‘wider’, which is probably also true but fuck it, cake is nice and apparently rum has calories – who knew!
Searing chords and a tribal drumbeat fill the air around me as I turn the volume up to twenty-five for this long, instrumental awakening. The voice, the Selkirk twang, unapologetically present throughout the record that could well have saved his band. This opener, ‘Cold Creeps’, is a dark reminder that there was deep complexity to this soul whilst ‘Two’, having the same ‘get the front row jumping’ drive as if it were ‘Swim Until You Can’t See Land’, ends with a take on a Gaelic sermon. I’m once again taken back to an earlier Frightened Rabbit EP, State Hospital, particularly ‘Wedding Gloves’, featuring the divine, fellow potty-mouth Aidan Moffat; it has that same feel of stepping away from crowd-pleasing and big-label production.
‘Songs About Roses’: this is a satin-gloved smack in the face to “vacant leaders”, “singers who have nothing to say” and “actors pretending to grieve”. The world is being told we don’t need fake or false, “all that we ask for is truth” – I can’t think of a song he has penned which didn’t answer his own plea. This is the point on the record at which I relate to the time in my life that I mentioned above: we faked it for too long.
‘Los Angeles, Be Kind’ barely lets you breathe with its familiar all-too-real-ness… “we can live we each other, it just takes time”… a line most of us will have experienced circling our inner dialogue as we try and help the helplessness between us and another.
These songs, for me, are difficult and painful and perfect.
“You can’t just leave me here, buried deep beneath ten tons of silence, you won’t believe how quickly peace turns into bloody violence.”
The opening lines of ‘Ten Tons of Silence’ pick at the wounds of all of us who have sat or stood or curled up a bit broken. ‘Don’t Take Off The Gloves’ is knowing you’re at the end of that something that once was everything, much in the way ‘My Backwards Walk’ sings the pain of our inability to leave what is already gone. I didn’t listen to this song much more until May last year and it’s still hard.
‘A Good Reason To Grow Old’ is both sublime and harrowing. At a point in time, Scott found that reason; at another, the reasons just weren’t shouting loud enough. My little person is my good reason, why I climbed out of a shallow hole.
Scott John Hutchison was a brother, an uncle, a son, and a beautiful friend to many. He is one of the finest writers of this generation and spoke often of putting his experience, his pain out there – and once it’s out, it belongs to others. His pain was often so clear; perhaps we were all too in need of him, too wanting of the next healing words without truly questioning if it could be packaged up, sold in HMV, compartmentalised so easily. Bird was bored of flying yet, still, it sang.
I’ll end this short, damp-eyed reflection with a live video of him performing ‘Good Reason..’ and some of the words of hope we should all, in his memory, hold very close.
Raise a glass to the house in the clouds.
A Good Reason To Grow Old – Owl John
Rapture and love brought me dancing
Lit up every last heartbroken light
In the ecstasy of everything, the death I have wanted expired
Bitterness and lust caught me laughing
Asked why my expression had changed
After years of such company they’d never seen the look on my face
With my head in my hands, I resolved to die alone
Now I’ve finally found a good reason to grow old
I was ready to drown in the afterlife, not anymore
Now I’ve finally found a good reason to grow old
Words by Lisa Whiteman