After 10 years as part of Scottish indie quartet Frightened Rabbit, Scott Hutchison needed a change. His solution: Owl John, a musical side-project produced by Frightened Rabbit’s Andy Monaghan and Simon Liddell of Olympic Swimmers. For two weeks, Hutchinson, Monaghan, and Liddell spent their days recording and their nights drinking whisky. If you’re a Frightened Rabbit fan, don’t worry—Owl John retains the brutal vocals and raw songwriting that made Hutchison such a compelling frontman.
Here, you can watch Owl John’s first-ever music for their song “Hate Music.”
ILANA KAPLAN: What made you decide to start this project?
SCOTT HUTCHISON: Last year was a heavy work year. I think everyone in the band needed a break. Everyone just needed to do something else. I went in there and made the record. I really wanted to do something to refresh the palate and get psyched up about. It helped me to get my head out of that project—that band that I’d been working on for 10 years.
I had thought about this project for a while, but I never felt like I would have the amount of time necessary to make it. It was actually the idea of the label to make it rather than me. I thought we were going to get off tour and go straight back into writing another album, and the guy at the label knew things weren’t really quite right. He basically was like, “We’ll pay for this record. Go away, make a record and indulge yourself.” He gave me the time. Otherwise, I don’t think it would have happened. He could have easily said, “We need another Frightened Rabbit record, and you need to start now.” I don’t think that would have been productive, and I don’t think anyone would have had enthusiasm if we didn’t have two or three months away to work on new stuff. It had to come from them, and I think for the benefit of everyone it happened.
KAPLAN: How did you choose the name Owl John?
HUTCHISON: I’ve always wanted to add the word “Owl” to something, and my middle name is John. I don’t think I’ve got a very good name for a band or project. I didn’t just want to put Scott Hutchison on the cover because it’s more than that. It was more than just me in the project.
KAPLAN: How does Owl John differ from Frightened Rabbit?
HUTCHISON: I think there are songs on this record that could sound like they came from a Frightened Rabbit record, and that’s natural. I think that happens from having written and arranged the material from Frightened Rabbit. It crept in, but really the process was very different. We didn’t go into the studio with a particular sound in mind or influence and there weren’t any songs written. This whole album was conceived in those two weeks. I think that our music still has a more intimate and claustrophobic feel. I think it’s more interesting, since we were able to do whatever the fuck we wanted. That’s the truth with a lot of albums, but there’s a pressure associated when you have an expectation and when you have a fanbase that is waiting. No one was waiting for this record. For that reason, we felt like being in the studio. I think it’s more experimental as a result.
KAPLAN: Can you tell me a little bit about the song and video?
HUTCHISON: In the last year, I felt very trapped. My mental and physical health were both suffering because of over-touring. I was committed to a tour, and I had to play the shows, but I didn’t actually want to. It was damaging me in a lot of ways. The song is about that period in time where I had no choice but to keep performing, being in this band, and entertaining. I was really at that last reserve during the last month or so of touring. I think the video is about the wish for an escape—to get away from the things that hold you down. Although it isn’t referred to directly in the music video, this guy is escaping on his horse and getting away from the things that are bothering him.
KAPLAN: Yikes! I can totally understand that. How do you think Frightened Rabbit fans will react to Owl John?
HUTCHISON: Well, I hope they like it, but at the same time, the nice thing about this album is that the aim of making it was to feel more excited about getting back into Frightened Rabbit. Frightened Rabbit has always been my day job, and I was never interested in leaving that behind. I think Frightened Rabbit fans will find familiar aspects of the band within this album. I don’t really care how it does.
OWL JOHN’S SELF-TITLED DEBUT RECORD WILL BE RELEASED AUGUST 5.