Grant Hutchison On The Frightened Rabbit Tribute Compilation Tiny Changes
In April of last year, Frightened Rabbit’s landmark, breakthrough sophomore album The Midnight Organ Fight turned 10. It was cause for celebration: This was the album on which the band came into its own, featuring some of Scott Hutchison’s most enduring songwriting, the album that fans would latch onto in their times of need and which would set the course for all of Frightened Rabbit’s music to come.
The last time I saw Scott, it was after a concert in New York in February of last year, during a small tour where Frightened Rabbit were marking the occasion by playing the album in full each show. And that tone of celebration was clear that night. Everyone seemed happy to be revisiting a 10-year-old album. There was talk of the tour, and talk of what was next — a new band in Mastersystem, new Frightened Rabbit music in the works. There was also talk of further Midnight Organ Fight anniversary business, not a reissue but a reimagining on which artists closely associated with Frightened Rabbit would offer their own interpretations of the tracks.
After Scott’s tragic death last May, that project was put on hold for a while. And now that it’s making its way out into the world, it’s inevitably met with a different kind of weight — not a bunch of friends getting together to nod to an album that holds such an intimate place in so many fans’ hearts, but other musicians coming together to pay tribute to Scott and the songs he left behind.
I’m sure it’s different for each fan, friend, or family member of Frightened Rabbit. For me, I haven’t been able to go back and listen to this music for much of the past year. It happens in glancing moments, the ones in which I feel a more pressing need to acknowledge the passing of a friend I’d looked up to in the last couple years of his life. In some ways, that makes Tiny Changes — the name of the compilation and also a recurring phrase now used in tribute to Scott, taken from a central lyric “Head Rolls Off” — even heavier of a listen. To hear Julien Baker’s intense reading of “The Modern Leper,” or Daughter’s spacier rendition of “Poke,” let alone the Twilight Sad’s crushing performance of “Floating In The Forth,” and to think of the context in which they recorded these songs and how the context in which they are being heard has irrevocably shifted … it’s almost more difficult than hearing Scott’s voice itself.
But I don’t think that’s what the remaining members of Frightened Rabbit want us to take away from Tiny Changes. It’s still, after everything, meant as a celebration — something to remind us of how important this album and these songs and all the other work Scott offered up remain to us. To remind us of how different things were 11 years ago now, and everything else Scott gave in the interim. These songs meant a lot to many of us in that time, and they’ll continue doing so.
With Tiny Changes coming out later this week, I spent some time talking with Scott’s brother Grant, who served as drummer in Frightened Rabbit through the years, about the process of putting together this collection, Scott’s involvement and how it changed after his death. Inevitably, we also found our way to all the other lingering questions — how the band has grappled with their own music after losing Scott, what they intend to do with the unfinished music he left behind, and where to go from there.
STEREOGUM: This project was gestating for a while, as a planned 10-year celebration of The Midnight Organ Fight. How did the idea first come around to compile it this way instead of the usual expanded anthology version or something?
GRANT HUTCHISON: It was just an idea of what we would want to hear as fans of another band, you know? Even the way you just described that anthology thing, or that expanded version. Someone mentioned different colored vinyl and we were just like, “Man, there’s already three different colors out there.” How many more can you do? It just seemed kind of easy.
It’s an album that means so much to people and means so much to us as well. It kinda seemed like it’d be a disservice to just put on a couple extra tracks. Also, people put on tracks that didn’t make it onto the record — it’s like, you just fucking pissed on that record by putting them on there. They weren’t good enough the first time around, why would you release it again with these three or four tracks at the end. Same with demos. I don’t really believe demos should be heard. They’re demos for a reason.
So all these other options that were spoken about, and are generally done, we weren’t excited about. That album did a lot for us personally, it did a lot for us as a band, it did a lot for people who heard it 10 years ago and a lot for people since. We wanted to do something more special. We thought, we’ve got a lot of good friends in music. Everyone on [the compilation] has played a part in our personal life and our careers. We’re telling a story of an album, and the best way to do that is to have the people who have shared it with you over the years tell their side almost, you know? Their interpretation of that album, it’s as important. When you release an album, it’s not yours anymore. Once it’s out there, it belongs to everyone else. This was a nice way to hear what the people we toured with, our peers, what it meant to them.
STEREOGUM: That was the next thing I was going to ask about. The fact that the tracklist represents an extended friend group.
HUTCHISON: I guess we’re always quite modest with our expectations. [Laughs] “Who’s going to have time to do this? Aaron Dessner’s not.” But as the idea spread it was like, “Well, why not?” Ben Gibbard, Craig Finn, Right On Dynamite, they were all the bands who were around at that time — and, specifically with that album, were a very big part of it. We always knew it would be this core group of people from all over.
STEREOGUM: When Scott died, did that change the nature of this album? In the process of putting it together, I mean, not in the perception of it now. Last year, this thing was already coming together. Did you have to stop and think about reframing it, getting more people together … kinda ask, “What do we do with this stuff now?”
HUTCHISON: Absolutely. It was a pretty swift decision to put it back on the shelf for a little while. Everything was done. Scott heard every track. There was no reaching out to more people, all the covers were done. I think we all knew, certainly within the band, that we were still going to release it, because it was something Scott was a huge part of organizing, something he was really excited about as well. We knew it was going to happen at some point, but we just needed some personal space. Knowing whether it’s 10 years or 11 years later, it’s not really going to make a big difference.
I guess the one big thing logistically in terms of releasing it is that the artwork wasn’t truly finished. It might sound like a small thing, but that was such a big part of Scott’s input into the band. He wasn’t just the songwriting aspect of Frightened Rabbit, he was the visual — it was all him. When we decided to come back to this, that was the only thing we needed work or discussion on. We worked really closely with this artist Dave Thomas, who’s done a bunch of work for Fat Cat.
We decided not to do too much mock-up stuff, “We’ll make it look like what Scott would’ve made it look like”-type stuff. That was when Dave came in with the idea of just having everyone write something about it. That was talked about before, but that was going to be alongside the artwork, and then we just decided to make that the whole thing. It was something that kept it about the record, kept it about the songs, kept it about people’s relationship to those songs. Which is the whole reason this exists.
STEREOGUM: Daughter’s version of “Poke” totally took me aback. I thought it was really beautiful and creative. Were there particular songs you guys were surprised by, with how someone interpreted it, or even with realizations like, “Wow, we got Biffy to do this?”
HUTCHISON: Those exact things. That version of “Poke” took us all — not by surprise, we knew they’d do a good version, but I think it would’ve been quite easy for them to not stray too far from it. Especially “Poke.” It would be so easy to do the same but just have Elena sing on it. I thought it was really bold for them to go where they did with it. It’s so beautiful. Our version, it’s Scott and a guitar. When we recorded it, we wanted people to feel like they were just sat there with him and have that real personal connection to the song. But [Daughter’s] version, yeah, it’s absolutely beautiful, and we were all taken aback by it.
As you said as well, the fact that Biffy Clyro — I just smile when I listen to that cover. It’s so perfect. We wouldn’t have wanted them to do anything different. We kinda had people coming back and asking what we were after, and we were always like, “We’re asking you because of the music you make. We trust you to do it.” We didn’t give anyone any direction, really. We let people do what they wanted. We listened to every song, in the same way everyone else has now, not knowing what to expect.
I think, also, Julien’s cover — it’s another one that really strikes me. Listening to her voice always gets me in the chest, you know? Hearing her do that, with those lyrics … I haven’t listened to our Midnight Organ Fight in, I don’t know how long. I heard [those songs] every night on tour. Even being sung in a different way — it’s not that it brings new meaning to them, I don’t think it does that. But it gives fresh perspective on it. Especially, some having female voices rather than a male, that gives it another angle. You might see it differently. I think they’re all amazing, but those three, they just kinda hit me.
STEREOGUM: There’s certain Frightened Rabbit songs I haven’t really been able to go back to in the last year.
HUTCHISON: Of course.
STEREOGUM: One of them was “Floating In The Forth,” which I hadn’t listened to until hearing the Twilight Sad’s version here. It’s another that’s slightly reinvented, just the tone of it. It’s really moving what they did with it, especially given their long history and friendship with Frightened Rabbit.
I imagine there’s no one answer to this … to put a project like this out into the world, you want it to be a celebration. But for you and the other members of the band or friends in the music world around you, how difficult has it been to revisit some of this material now?
HUTCHISON: It’s been really, really hard. You can’t get away from the fact that we should be doing this as a group of five and not a group of four. If we were releasing a tribute album, in some ways that might be easier. Because we could sit and talk about the point of doing it as being the legacy and keeping Scott’s memory alive. To bring awareness for what he was going through. But that’s not what this record was meant to be about.
So when this was first spoken about, and even up until the point of Scott’s death, we still wanted it to be a positive thing. But it can never be purely a celebration, even though it was meant to be. We want people to focus on the songs and the album and go back to the original. But those songs … every Frightened Rabbit song has probably changed for fans now. What you said, you’ve not been able to go back to some of them. That’ll be the case for so many people. That means everyone’s perspective on the music has shifted, and there’s no control over that.
That’s the same with this release. Yeah, it’s a celebration of the songwriting and Scott and how amazing of a person and songwriter he was, but that’s not what it was meant to be, you know? He should’ve been sitting on this call with me, or we should’ve been in New York doing this interview with you, together. That’s hard.
There’s a question that’s come up a few times: What is Frightened Rabbit, you know? Whether that’s come up in my own head or whether we’ve been asked directly … it’s a real difficult one to think about. All I know is Frightened Rabbit was Scott. Without him, what is it now? I guess it goes back to that point I made about an album. It’s not within your control anymore, as to how it’s perceived or how people listen to it. Once it’s out there, it’s out there — and I think it’s sort of the same with the band now. It sort of belongs to everyone. In the same way as people over the years have been passing our albums on or telling people about us, we hope for that to continue. For more people doing that. Because we won’t be out on the road to reach people.
I guess it’s brought up that: This thing that was 12 years of my life, and not much less for the rest of the band, what is that now? That’s been the hardest thing to come to terms with. With any other illness, for example, something happens and you sort of figure out how you’re going to go forward. You tie up all the loose ends and carry on with whatever it is you’re going to do. This is just so different from that. It’s a difficult conflict to get your head around.
It was just over a year ago that Scott died. There’s still a lot to go through. Our personal issues on that. But I think this release, it’s given the band a reason to get back together again. Which is something that was quite hard for a while, because it just shone a light on what had happened and the fact that Scott wasn’t there. That’s slowly going away. That’s a weird feeling to have with the people you’re closest to, after all the time you’ve spent together over the last 10 years. It’s not a feeling of not wanting to sit in a room with them, it’s just the pain that was there was too much. But it’s been a positive thing, to bring us back together.
STEREOGUM: Scott had been working on the next album, and there was material that was suitable to use. Is that a whole unfinished album’s worth, or a couple songs?
HUTCHISON: The amount of material is certainly an album’s worth. It’s a mixed bag of instrumental and some with vocals. But, you know, Scott’s lyrics didn’t usually change dramatically before — and I’m including the band in this — before other people heard them. He wasn’t usually one for having rough lyrics, he would tend to work on them on his own to a good standard. It was rare for him to be in the studio when we were properly recording and changing things up. There might been little changes if he felt something didn’t work, but generally the demo vocals would get redone but were usually very, very close to being done in terms of lyrical content.
So we’ve got enough to make an album. Scott had listened to every demo we had and he had compiled three columns of “Yes,” “Maybe,” “No,” in terms of how good he thought they were. We’ve got his assessment of what he thought were workable songs, and we can discard all the “No” ones, and work on some of the “Maybe” ones, or just stick with the ones he thought were definitely worth it.
I think, for me, to not do that, wouldn’t be right. I had this conversation with someone the other day who actually went as far as to say Scott would probably be pissed off if we didn’t get off our asses and finish what he started. Also, these songs will exist long after us on some kind of hard drive somewhere. And if someone finds it and they’re demos and they get released in that form, that doesn’t feel like it would be OK. At least this way, we’ll have control over the release, we’ll work on them to a point where we’re all happy with them and feel like Scott would’ve been happy with them in terms of recording. We’ll never be able to, and we should never try, to emulate what he would’ve done in that respect, but certainly getting them recorded and properly mastered and released professionally is definitely the way to do it, you know? We wouldn’t want to go, “Oh, here’s what we had lying around, we haven’t touched them since Scott died.” That wouldn’t interest me or the band.
STEREOGUM: When the four of you are comfortable enough to revisit and finish that stuff, does that point feel like it’s the final bit of closure for Frightened Rabbit?
HUTCHISON: It does seem like it would give some sort of closure over Frightened Rabbit. People have been asking whether there would be new music, and we’ve said a few times, yes, there will be at some point. When we’re ready. It does feel like to do that would put that question to bed. And get some songs that we all think are good songs out there.
With this covers record, although it wasn’t at the forefront of our minds for most of last year, it feels like a massive relief to finally get it out. That’ll be the same when it comes to going back to the demos. The longer we sit on them and put it off, the harder it might become, the less attached we might feel to it. I think it’ll be a good thing for us to do, so we can musically, professionally, and personally move on from that part of our life.
STEREOGUM: For you, it’s not just the band you formed your identity around as an adult. It’s your brother, it’s this whole entity you guys built together. Maybe this is the kind of thing people never get an answer to, or at least not a year later … right now it’s the covers album, and the demos, and tribute concerts. Further down the line, have you started to figure out what it looks like for you? The balance of keeping Scott’s memory alive, but what comes after that. Do you envision going to another band, or leaving this behind as one chapter of your life?
HUTCHISON: That’s hard. I’ve played a little bit with this artist Gretta Ray, which has been great. It’s been good because it’s not been incredibly busy and there’s not been a lot of commitment required in that. I’m currently working on a cider business that I’m going to set up for myself, to import and sell cider.
I don’t see myself joining another band and starting all over again. I haven’t forgotten how fucking difficult it was at the beginning. That was great. If I was 20 again, I would do it all again. But I’m not. Going and doing that in your mid-30s approaching your 40s, going back to the point of starting a new band … and, yes, there’d be some interest and it wouldn’t be the same as trying to start again. But I think that connection I have to music and to drums was a shared one with Scott. I didn’t do it to the same level with anyone else.
That relationship we had inside and outside of the band was a bit blurred. That’s something I’ve spoken about through counseling, with various people about those blurred lines, and that makes it difficult for me to move on or to find any closure over anything, because our life was so entwined professionally, privately, personally. To work with someone else, I’m not sure how it’d feel. Me playing the drums with someone who’s already written all these songs, you can take a step back from that and that’s why I’ve enjoyed playing with Gretta. But in terms of going to create with someone else and work through that whole process, that seems to me like … it doesn’t appeal to me.
I absolutely loved doing it with Scott. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have been a professional musician. I don’t think I would’ve been in a band good enough to do what we did together. And there’s an argument to say that he might not have, either, you know? I don’t want to discount my input in Frightened Rabbit. But he would’ve been writing songs for people and I Imagine would’ve made some kind of living out of his art. But for me, he was the reason I was in a successful band. And to start back in and go back through that, it just doesn’t appeal to me that much.
The reason I loved playing the bigger shows that we did was because of all the work we put in to get there. It’s not just that I’m scared of going back to a van when I’m used to a bus. It’s not as simple as that. The story we built over all those years, I’m quite happy with that being that chapter of my life. And I’m lucky that at 35 I’m still young enough and in the position to start something new.
Allowing myself to come to terms with the loss of my brother is something I’ve probably not dealt with as much as I could or should have, or will over the next few years. It’s obviously all been very focused on “Scott, the singer from Frightened Rabbit.” And we’ve had this covers record, and the charity — all the success of that, is because of the band. I think it’s time, now, or once the covers record thing is done, to concentrate on … the person I knew for 34 years of my life. Because that’s not who you see on Instagram or Twitter. That’s something I probably need to start addressing. Not start — I have, I have. But it’s the loss of the band and Scott as Frightened Rabbit that comes up all the time. And it’s getting my head around what else I’ve lost.
Tiny Changes: A Celebration Of The Midnight Organ Fight is out 7/12. Pre-order it here.