I often worry about musicians like Scott Hutchison – the delicate, folk songwriter type. I shouldn't, but the sad, sad songs about broken hearts and lost ways just bring out the maternal instincts in me. The Scotsman reassured me that he really is fine in our early April chat, plus provided insight into a few of his other creative illustration projects. Hutchinson honed his fine arts skills during university, until his music career consumed his time. He’s illustrating again, though, both for his online shop and for a poetry collection.
NUVO: I just re-listened to a portion of your interview on You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes. You said at the beginning that people always ask, “The water on my face onstage, is it sweat or is it tears?” I think of the emotional output of performing such heavy songs night after night. It's more of a one-time affair for the audience, but I wonder for you, performing nightly such emotional subject matter – what do you need to do to prep for a performance? Does it impact you at all? Are there songs you stay away from? Or songs that have changed for you over the years?
Scott Hutchison: All of the above! It's an interesting process, because there would never be a song that I couldn't perform for that reason. By the time it's kind of come around, a lot of the original feeling kind of has disappeared for me, or certainly I've kind of come to terms with it. The other interesting thing I've found, in the process of playing those songs again and again, it serves two purposes. It does hammer the feeling further away, and it can also bring a great sense of perspective on things. Even doing interviews and talking about material – the best kind of songs, you don't really fully understand them when they come around. It maybe takes a year or so when you can kind of look back and go, “Oh, okay, that's kind of what that was about. I get it.” I still get songs that are ten or plus years old where every time I perform them it's like a little movie plays in my head of the original instance of it. That's now just a nice thing. It's not a painful thing. Songs, for me, are like a filing system. I can make quite messy things feel very neat and ordered, by putting the things in songs, then compiling them into an album. All of that sort of becomes much more standardized, rather than making no sense to me whatsoever. There's never a song I wouldn't play for fear of breaking down, but I get a little chill sometimes.
NUVO: Have you ever been surprised at the way an individual or an entire group of fans has reacted to a song? You've remarked that “The Modern Leper” is interpreted as a drug addiction song occasionally, and you respond, “No, no, no.”
Hutchinson: Yeah, definitely not!
NUVO: Have there ever been songs that have been interpreted en masse in a certain way that's been surprising?
Hutchison: I think that was the one the struck me the most. I enjoy different interpretations. I can't really think of any instance at this point where there's been a whole new meaning brought on by an audience. I do think there's certain songs that I thought were so sad that were then made joyful by a live setting, and by people losing themselves in it. There's one song; I don't know if it's misinterpreted, or if it's just because it's a pretty little song. It's on our second album and is called “Poke,” and is one of the saddest songs that I think I've ever written. I mean, I could look out at any given night and see couples in each others arms. One time in Ames, Iowa there were two people right in front of me making out to that song. I'm like, “Do you not hear what's going on in this?!” That one has always surprised me. It's definitely not about togetherness. It's about love, but it's not about pure love and absolute happiness – for people to bring that into their lives and make that their own as a pair, or whatever relationship they find themselves in, to bring that into that relationship in a positive way always kind of blows my mind. And I fear for them! They're clearly [mad]. Those are my kind of people.
NUVO: I'm really interested in how different modes of creativity are interrelated. I was thinking, when I was browsing your illustrated prints, what albums you listen to while you're creating, and what makes them good listens for visual work.
Hutchison: What I've come to enjoy about illustration – which has changed for me since I was actually studying it – is a mode of repetition and pattern, the extreme detail in things. … I think I always kind of tend to find myself drawn to repetitive cycle music, like a Phillip Glass or Steve Reich or some kind of krautrock noise where it's kind of a meditative process. That definitely reflects how I feel about drawing now. Much more so than music, you can get lost in that. I'm considering a lot more when I'm writing music. Drawing to something like Mogwai, it kind of allows you to immersive yourself in that whole moment, and it becomes a meditative process, because it can be quite repetitive. Once you've constructed the bones of your illustration it's about filling in detail, which can be quite mindless or mindful. Because you just have this one task, which is to fill in line or color in a pattern. I love that about drawing now. It's almost the only way to completely immerse myself or lose my thought process.
NUVO: Tell me about accompanying Francis [Daulerio's] work on the poetry collection If and When We Wake with illustrations.
Hutchison: Francis got in touch, I don't think expecting to even get a reply. It was the right time for me; we had just finished up our last record and toured it. I was wanting to get back in touch with that sort of side of things. I do need a motivation to get back into it. I loved his work. The other thing that relates totally to what I was saying – I find myself reading his poems and they are very quiet and meditative. Some poems are loud and his are very within the head. They read like a whispered thought. I really enjoyed that space that he created. So after immersing myself in his work, I was sold. It fit with what I like to draw anyway. It was amazing, because I told him, 'If there's anything you don't like, tell me.” But everything I sent, he was extremely excited, and said it really tied in but was adding another dimension. It was a pleasure to be a part of someone else's creative process and be allowed into that. For me, that was a purse pleasure project and something that I would love to do again, whenever he gets his next book together.
NUVO: I know you're in the United States now, living in New York. Since being away from Scotland and living for a period of years in the United States, is there anything about the Scottish approach to writing music that you've crystallized, or seen in contrast to American music?
Hutchison: I think there is an overarching optimism in a lot of areas of the United States. I like that. I like the kind of positivity that comes with a lot of life in a lot of ways. There's a mode of communication that is very open, very fluid, especially in relationships. That is not the case in Scotland. I think we can be quite closed, and I think that's why I started writing in the first place. This was actually a replacement for perhaps a more normal mode of conversation. Normally, I would express feelings to someone's face; I struggle with that. I think that's a common thing in this country [of Scotland]. We keep our lives kind of hidden; we let things brew inside of us. Whereas, I think the United States is much more open about how it feels – about everything! I don't think that either way is better or worse. I've opened up a bit since moving there and living with an American girl who has forced me out of my shell in a lot of ways. It's been a great thing. I don't know how that will end up affecting the writing, but I'm pleased to be a more adjusted human.