Does Frightened Rabbit exist? Guitarist Simon Liddell and bassist Billy Kennedy, sitting in a Glasgow café, turn to one another for a moment then shake their heads. “No, it doesn’t exist without Scott at all,” says Kennedy. “Scott is Frightened Rabbit.”
That present tense is telling. Scott Hutchison, the singer and chief songwriter of the Scottish indie-rock band, took his own life last year, at the age of 36, yet does not feel entirely absent. Online forums continue to discuss the consoling effect of his work on those suffering from heartache and depression. Bands offer lustral covers of his songs in concert. Songs which have, if anything, grown in power and intensity since his death.
Grant Hutchison, the band’s drummer and Scott’s younger brother, feels that the music no longer belongs to them. It is in the lives of others. Head Rolls Off, perhaps their best-loved song, contains a lyric, “When my blood stops/Someone else’s will have not”. The band, right now, are living inside that line; working out how to carry the legacy, while moving forward with their own lives.
“It’s a difficult balance,” says Grant. “Are we keeping the band alive? Are we keeping Scott alive?”
The four surviving members of Frightened Rabbit, which feels like a weird and horrible, if accurate, way to describe them, have gathered today to talk about the forthcoming album Tiny Changes. Named for a line in Head Rolls Off, it sees various artists cover, in its entirety, their classic 2008 LP The Midnight Organ Fight.
Scott was the driving force behind the covers album, and had heard all the songs before his death; the band are therefore keen that it should not be seen as a tribute to a life cut short, but to the fruits of that life: an exquisite body of work.
“I try to keep looking at it as a celebration,” says guitarist Andy Monaghan. “It has taken on a different energy, I guess, but I don’t want to dwell on that. It’s not a memorial. It’s a celebration of what the band had become, and the relationships with the artists who are on there.”
Among those artists are The Twilight Sad, the band closest to Frightened Rabbit since the beginnings of their careers. They cover Floating On The Forth, in which Scott articulated both a desire to end his life and his decision not to do so.
James Graham, who sings with The Twilight Sad, felt a sense of duty in taking on the track. “Who else could have touched that? It scares me that we did that song. But I felt that we, as his friends, could step up and do it.” The song’s final line, which in the original is sung with a sort of desperate euphoria, is, “I think I’ll save suicide for another year.” In Graham’s version that line becomes a refrain, emphasising the optimism and hope of his friend’s choice to live. “Then,” he says, “what happened happened …”
Following two troubling posts on Twitter, Scott Hutchison left the Dakota hotel in South Queensferry at 1am on May 9, 2018. CCTV footage showed a figure walking in the direction of the Forth Road Bridge. Scott’s body was discovered on the evening of May 10 in the water at a nearby marina. Floating In The Forth now seemed like a prophecy.
“I still love the song,” says Grant, “but I’ll probably never listen to it again.”
He recalls the first time his brother let him hear it. “That was like a gut punch. But it was such a beautiful song. I remember thinking, ‘Should this go on the album? Is that okay?’ And I remember saying, ‘What’s mum going to think?’ But that happened with every future album as well, particularly the last one.” This was 2016’s Painting Of A Panic Attack. “Scott having come a lot closer to taking his own life over the years, that was far more worrying than when I first heard Midnight Organ Fight because it was a lot more real.”
Scott had an alcohol dependency, according to Grant, which was related to his depression. He would drink to forget how he felt. That last album contained a song titled I Wish I Was Sober.
“By the time the last record was written,” says Grant, “I knew in my head that this was how it would end. I said that to my girlfriend at the time, that this is going to happen.”
“You had braced yourself for his death?” I ask.
“Yeah, over a period of maybe a year, a year and a half. There was lots of signs. I don’t want to go too far into the personal stuff, but in terms of the family and how we all coped, I think I was more prepared. I hadn’t made my peace with it, because it’s still an incredibly difficult and shocking thing to happen. But I kind of knew that was how he would say goodbye. I knew it wouldn’t be a case of us growing old and one of us going to the other’s funeral when we were 70, 80 years old.”
Grant was wary of saying to his brother, “Don’t do this.” The worry was that any direct plea might be counterproductive, adding to the burden of pain and stress. It sounds like trying to defuse a bomb. You don’t want to cut the wrong wire.
“Exactly. That’s it. His depression and and anxiety was bad enough without me going, ‘I need you to stay.’ It’s a horrible thing to say, but some people just don’t want to be here. I did so many things over the years that probably did stop it happening.” These included encouraging his brother to have therapy, and to consider cancelling shows and tours to ease the pressure. “But that’s weirdly where a lot of guilt can come in, too, because you think, ‘Did I stop him doing it and put him through another two years of pain?’”
Although Grant was the younger brother, the dynamic of their relationship meant he acted like the elder: a steadying and responsible presence. This went back to when they were little kids. Scott was so anxious of sleeping alone at night that Grant’s bed was moved into his room. Frightened Rabbit was Scott’s nickname as a child, given to him by their mother.
Grant is good at compartmentalising his life, he says, but struggles when it comes to Scott. He finds it hard to separate the singer from the brother, uncle, son. An attempt to do so was partly behind his decision, a few years ago, to take a short break from Frightened Rabbit. His thinking: “Okay, if I can’t be in a band with you then I still want you as a brother.”
There was distance between them for a time, but, Grant says, the closeness did return. In the month before Scott’s death, they played a short tour of small venues as part of their Mastersystem side-project, travelling by van, performing to 30 people in Birmingham, 100 or so in Manchester. “It was a load of fun and no pressure. It felt like going back to where we’d started.”
One reason why Frightened Rabbit are so important to so many people is because of the feeling in the room when they played live. They weaponised empathy. The joy and force of the music, juxtaposed with the sadness and candour of the lyrics, created a sense of a crowd and band with their arms around one another.
For the Hutchisons, too, gigs seemed to be the place where those distinctions between brother and bandmate collapsed. The only distance that mattered, in those moments, was the ten feet between Grant’s drum stool and Scott’s mic stand. That space belonged to them, and they were linked, through it, by blood and the beat. “Even when things were not good between us, that space was always there, and we always connected,” Grant recalls. “The energy. The feeling. The majority of the time, when our relationship was strong, those nights were indescribable.”
Grant wants to be able to enjoy listening to the music of Frightened Rabbit again. “I’ve got two nieces and a nephew through my older brother, and I hope to one day myself have kids, and I want Scott to be a big part of their lives.”
He would like to be able to play the songs to those children and say: “This was your uncle. This is what he sounded like. This is what he did with his life.”
The songs they hear may include material which has not, so far, been released. Scott, working with Andy Monaghan, had recorded demos for the next Frightened Rabbit album, and the vocals are good enough to use. When the band are ready, they will finish the songs and put them out.
They know it will be hard, though, to be in the studio without Scott there. Without his creative energy and his laughter. When a famous musician dies there is often a well-intentioned tendency to romanticise them as a tragic figure. This article might be considered part of that, but ought it to be resisted? Simon Liddell nods: “I don’t think Scott’s legacy or memory should be shrouded in darkness.”
His legacy, of course, will be the music. Since his death, The Twilight Sad have been performing the Frightened Rabbit song Keep Yourself Warm in concert. This ritual is intended as a moment of shared catharsis for band and audience. For James Graham what made his friend special as a songwriter was his emotional honesty and ability to write about heartbreak in a way that wasn’t simply confessional but allowed listeners to feel that their own darkness was being expressed.
“Scott’s voice will always be with us. His words will always be with us,” he says. “I’m not going to stop shouting from the rooftops or screaming from small stages about how amazing he was. I think it’s important that we remember him through the beautiful things that he put into the world.”
A version of this article was published in The Guardian.
See https://maketinychanges.co.uk for more information on the mental health charity set up by the Hutchison family. In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.