Scott Hutchison talks to us about all things Mastersystem
Feature and photography by Graeme J. Baty
I caught up with Scott Hutchison from Mastersystem and Frightened Rabbit before their Cluny gig in Newcastle. I’ve been fairly blown away by the surprise album and just had to find out a bit more about the record, lyrical themes and the band’s plans.
It’s really nice to get to speak to Scott, his songs have helped me recently with my own depression battle and Mastersystem album came out at a really dark period in my life, I instinctively and instantly connected to it without necessarily understanding why. Mastersystem are much more than the sum of their parts. They are a breath of fresh air. I’m quietly confident it’ll make my top ten albums of the year. Any less of my waffle and more questions!
I suppose the obvious question to ask is how did this project come about?
Well, it was brought to myself and Grant by Justin Lockey two summers ago while we were opening up for Editors in Berlin. It was one of those things where you have a lot of conversations like that with fellow musicians where you like we should do something together. The thing I realised is that if you have that conversation with Justin then he’s gonna make it happen! He’s a bit of a workaholic and he’s got about 5 different things on the go at any one time. So a few months later at the start of 2017, I got a bunch of tracks and I absolutely loved them. It was like here’s a bunch of instrumentals, go make them into songs in your own time, there’s no rush. I was still in the midst of a Frightened Rabbit tour so I gave it a couple more months then I began writing and it came together pretty quickly after that.
So aye it’s been a swift project, which is kinda the best way to do a sideproject really. That’s the kind of ethos of it really, let’s not overthink this, it’s big dumb guitar tracks and I took the same approach with the lyrics. Somethings with other songs I can spend months to perfect them lyrically. What I did essentially over a couple of months I took a total of about a week to put the lyrics together, I tried to do it quickly, kinda off the cuff gut instinct approach and it seemed to fit.
I’m quite blown away by the power and heaviness of the album. It feels like an escape from other projects, yet with a pleasing familiarity. Is this a deliberate approach to the sound? How would you compare Mastersystem to other projects?
Yeah, it gives it a good reason to exist because it’s really quite different from what we usually do. Also, I didn’t play any guitar on this record so I was listening to someone else’s song and I really enjoyed that detachment where I could just be the vocalist.
Can you tell us a bit about the recording and writing process? Did you get together to write and record or was it more of a studio project?
Well the ‘demos’ that I got where to my ears pretty fully formed, they had some rough drums on them which Grant re-did, but that was the last thing. It was like making an album in reverse as Grant was the last thing to go on it. We were all available at different times, I went down to Doncaster for two sessions, for a total of 6 days recording. Some of those tracks it was pretty much the first time I sang them, so it was that kind of spontaneity as opposed to overthinking things.
It’s interesting it’s definitely changed my thoughts towards writing and recording, maybe that kind of ‘off the cuffness’ is something that keeps the music exciting and alive rather than studiously picking through a track to try and perfect it. I know Justin has the same process in Editors. With Grant over the years, we’ve kind of tamed him a lot. We’ve brought in a lot of electronic sounds in the studio and the way that we used to play when we started out, where it was just thrashing about he’s not been able to do much of that in recent years as the sound has calmed down a lot. He loved getting back into that animal style drumming.
It was a proper release for us as well, a between album project so it’s really good pallet cleanser, which will probably affect how we approach the next Frightened Rabbit album, it’s exciting.
Where did the name come from? Is it Sega related?!
Well yeah, it is, but it’s one word! So far we’ve not had any angry emails from Sega saying cease and desist. The thing is there is a certain amount of regression to what we were all listening to in high school, so it takes us back to what we were listening to early Pumpkins, Weezer, Dinosaur Jr. and all the Seattle grunge stuff, that’s where the heart of the record lies but we wanted to bring it forward, certainly lyrically I wanted to have that kind of teenage angst but with adult problems in the lyrics.
Approaching the vocals for this I was almost able to get into a different sort of character there’s a lot of heart and soft feeling in Frighten Rabbit songs and I think this is more aggressive. You wouldn’t really know it listening to it but I was thinking of some of my favourite vocalists and performers like early Idlewild; Roddy Woomble, Iggy Pop and Nick Cave. Where there’s that aggression, swagger and confidence which I don’t really do a lot of in the other band, so there’s definitely a lot of lyrics that wouldn’t make it into a Frightened Rabbit song but I felt able to put it into those songs because the tone is so different.
Lyrically Dance Music seems quite dark, introspective and unafraid to use foul language to get a point across. I’m quite curious as this year I’ve been battling depression and find myself looking deeper into lyrics (particularly Frightened Rabbit, Twilight Sad albums) to find comfort. Is this a deliberate attempt to look at accepting one’s inner demons and behaviour?
Yeah, it’s something I’ve been battling for a while, I guess the thing is before I realised what was going on I was sort of relishing in it, it becomes such an integral part of my character and I was like well I right these sad songs and it helps me creatively and then it gets to the point where like ‘No!! Fuck that!’, this is no way to live and these songs definitely came from a point where I probably started writing in earnest at the end of the Frightened Rabbit tour cycle and when you’re cast back into normal life and you have to try to find a way to fit in again and it’s a really difficult place to be, so a lot of this album is about questioning where about I’m supposed to be? What’s the fucking point? How do I reshape myself as an adult after this fairly careful and catered for existence? That’s what a lot of this record refers to, that kind dumped back down to earth, yeah I’ve got to sort my shit out now.
What can we expect on setlists? All Mastersystem material or will other songs creep in?
Last night was the first show on the tour and everyone seemed pretty psyched about it. We just played the album from start to finish then fucked off (laughs). To me, I think if we’d stuck in a couple of Frightened Rabbit tunes in would sort of devalue the whole process. We also played with different setlist orders but it works better how we put it together for the album. I’ve also got to put in a bit more chat in-between songs so that people don’t feel like they’re only just getting into it and then it’s over. Last night we managed about 50 minutes which is pretty good going for a 35-minute album!
It’s exciting it’s completely a different experience for all of us, just thrash out this album, no encores when were done were done and then have a chat with people afterwards. I’d never played this venue before a couple of months ago but I’m back twice in two months is pretty great, I love it here!
Is this a one-off or will there be more to come from Mastersystem?
That’s all up in the air, I mean we put out this record because it was quick and all the release schedule was sort of a surprise, we wanted to keep it under wraps until it was almost out. So we’re kind of seeing if there’s any appetite for it elsewhere in the world, maybe there could be a US tour or something like that and yeah if people want to see us again later in the year then we could do that, but at the moment there are no plans. We’ve all got day jobs to be getting on with as well so we don’t want to impinge too much on that.
But hopefully not the last (of Mastersystem), knowing James and Justin they could have another bunch of tracks ready by the end of the year we could just stick to the same set of rules it’s just fucking guitar music lets not add any bells ‘n’ whistles and we could put it together really quickly so yeah, I don’t think it’ll be the last you’ll hear of us and hopefully not the last album either!