introduction by tom johnson
words by scott hutchison & justin lockey
There’s a supposition that side-projects/supergroups are nothing more than cash cows; the act of capitalising on a couple of different pools of fan groups as a way of grabbing a quick pay-day in between the more methodical ventures. While this is probably an accurate reflection in some cases, it’s probably also probably true to say that a side-project can be a sizeable and risky undertaking, a departure from the structured norm that led you to where you are.
Mastersystem is a new project from Frightened Rabbit’s Hutchison brothers, Scott and Grant, and fellow brethren Justin Lockey (Editors) and James Lockey (Minor Victories). Their debut album, Dance Music, is released today, and while it might have come together relatively quickly it certainly falls in to the latter half of those two paths outlined above. Or perhaps, it creates it’s own path altogether, forging its way, ramshackled and unkempt through an industry that each of the four members have more than paid their dues to.
Gnarly, thrashy, full of winded lungs, Dance Music hits harder than any Frabbits record, and also takes both Lockey’s in to new territories. Separating the record’s two core aspects, Scott set to work on the lyrics only, with the instrumentation presented to him, already alive and breathing. The result is a weighty, sorrowful, and sometimes joyous reflection of life in your mid-thirties; a snapshot of post-millennial life with all its peaks and troughs and graves, and so much more besides.
The record is out today; you can stream it in full right here, and scroll a little further down the page to read a track-by-track guide to each song on Dance Music, courtesy of Scott and Justin. Check it out right now:
SH: Quick note to start us off here: I can only really speak about the lyrical content on this album because I didn’t play a note of guitar on ‘Dance Music’. All of the tracks came to me pretty much fully formed when the Lockey bruvs sent the first few tracks about a year ago and I didn’t feel the need to mess with what was already a really exciting set of instrumentals. This one was in that first batch. Justin and James, in spite of now being highbrow artistes, still retain a very strong Doncaster accent. Everything’s “proper this” and “proper that”. That’s proper mint that, our kid. I thought it was only right to build a tiny bit of that dialect into the music they had made. At the time of writing the words for those first five tracks, I had just reached the tail end of a rather busy year or so of touring with Frightened Rabbit. It’s that feeling of being plonked back into normal life after months of not having to deal with it all. How do I give my days structure? Where am I supposed to BE? It’s not a complaint as such, because I feel very fortunate to be a full time working musician, but it can be difficult to see or feel your roots at times.
JL: Aye, this one was actually made up of a track that James wrote that didn’t work out so I cannibalised the drums and made a new tune out of it whilst dicking around with some pedals one afternoon. It was initially called ‘james’ shit track’ but then it turned into something else and then when Scott came to Yorkshire to get his chips round it, it turned from a messy fuck about into something resembling a proper tune. And a proper tune it turned out to be in the end, album opener and all that.
SH: I like coming up with Morrissey titles. It’s a bit of a pastime of mine, even though (or possibly because) I don’t really like The Smiths. Yeah, I fucking said it, stroll on. We are going to see a theme emerging throughout this album, so forgive me if I rattle on about closely related subjects. Being in a band hasn’t made me a great adult. It’s given me so many wonderful gifts, but logical thinking and common sense didn’t come with the territory for me. I often feel I’m falling short of the national standard of what a grown up is supposed to be and I know there’s still time to claw it back a bit but… will I bother?
JL: I’m with Scott on this to be honest, never really been into The Smiths, don’t know why as I make a living playing miserable music, so it feels like I should be into them by default. They remind me of people who wore suede blazers at school and banged on about how cool France is and philosophy. Wasn’t really into that. This was the first tune I wrote for this record, and it’s part just ripping the fuck off parts of ‘In Utero’ by Nirvana and ‘Seamonsters’ by The Wedding Present. Two of my favourite records of all time.
SH: This one is simply a thank you note. To anyone who has put up with my bullshit and stuck with me as a friend or partner or family member. This is turning into pure self-flagellation now, so I’ll temper it by saying I don’t think I’m a total waste of space, but it’s worth thanking the people around you who make you a better human. The ones who call you out when you’ve done a mischief, those who teach you to be empathetic when it is unfortunately not your first instinct. Acknowledgement of who you are cannot be achieved without acknowledging those who shape your life and attitudes. I’m not just using this song as a blanket “cheers” to everyone by the way. That would be horrendously lazy and insincere. Fancy a coffee next week Tom?
JL: The last one I wrote for the record, which was tentatively titled ‘Ultra Fast Fucker’. It’s my favourite chorus on the record and grant slays the drums on it like a total boss.
SH: This one is notable for me as it’s the first time I’ve used the word “baby” in a song. I don’t have a problem with anyone else using it per se, I just never had the carefree lifestyle required to slip it in there. But wait, it’s not just any old baby, it’s cleverly aligned with the notion of TEETHING. Do you see what I did there? I like how this album gave me the opportunity to go into character at times. Add some swagger to my hunched walk, put a bit of bravado in the fecklessness. I was trying (and certainly failing) to channel a bit of Iggy with a splash of Nick Cave on this one. That attitude is just not something that comes naturally to me, as you may have deciphered from the previous paragraphs, but it’s fun to pretend to be a badass from time to time.
JL: Teething is probably one of the best pieces of music I’ve been involved in. It’s way too long but it’s worth it for the kick off at the end. I didn’t have a fucking clue what Scott was gonna do to it vocally because it just drones on and on… but he brought a ton of melodies and it worked.. think this was the first one me and James got up in the studio and thought ‘this is gonna be a good record’.
SH: I don’t trust happiness. I remember a feeling of unease even as a wee boy when the seas were calm and all was quiet and content. In my mind, contentment surely must be followed swiftly by turmoil and that’s what makes me uneasy. I think too many people are pretending to be happy these days. We pretend to be in love too, because it’s what you do isn’t it? Show everyone how much you mean to each other whilst forgetting that you only need to show the person standing right in front of you. We pretend we’re having an amazing time, even when we’re going through a few days of relentless diarrhoea. I say “we” because I’m guilty of this too. Don’t look to other people’s lives for confirmation that you’re doing yours right. Theirs will usually appear to be better than yours.
JL: I wrote this around the same time as Notes on a life… right at the very beginning of all this… it was a lot longer because I was being all ‘long songs are cool, go fuck yourself’ at the time but then Scott sang on it and we butchered it down to what it is now. Glad we did. Hazel Wilde of Lanterns on The Lake also provides backing vocals for this. She’s ace.
SH: This title was actually the first band name we used before “Mastersystem” was stolen from a large corporation and repurposed for the scuzzy indie rock biz. I think this is my favourite track on the album. It sums it all up for me. Yes, I feel a bit old and fucked these days, but there’s a reason for that. The four of us have been chipping away at various musical/artistic ventures for well over a decade, which although it hardly makes us Sonic Youth, is still a reasonable whack of the skittles in this day and age.
JL: I feel a bit old and fucked these days too. But not too old to whip up a cheeky uptempo number. This is my favourite vocally on the record and I reckon it sums the whole record up. Tried a solo kinda thing on the drop down too, which kinda worked. The bass is really fucking loud though. And that’s alright.
SH: This one was written just as Harvey Weinstein’s rotten core was being exposed, along with the mouldy cores of many other well-known and not-so-well-known men. It’s a tough thing to talk about publicly for many reasons, but for starters I think it’s time for men to listen a lot more instead of talking all the fucking time. Secondly, no male is blameless. If you think you are exempt from it all then you’re a shitting idiot. It’s about trying harder to be genuinely thoughtful and good, thinking before you act or speak and once again LISTENING AND LEARNING. I am not by any means a shining example of modern man, by the way. But we’re here now, so let’s make improvements.
JL: What happens when four fella’s grew up listening to Smashing Pumpkins? This track happens. We’re nowhere in the same galaxy technically as musicians but fuck it. Love the chorus on this and Grants outrageous fucking drum fill is a proper moment.
SH: I am writing this from a bed with the curtains drawn on the sunniest day in Glasgow for quite some time. It’s so easy to slip into this mode, I love it and I hate it. I’m prone to depression. It’s not something I try to hide anymore, but being open about it doesn’t mean I don’t continue to have days where the idea of going outside borders on terrifying. I sometimes feel I could stay like this for weeks if I didn’t have shit to do. I think of Brian Wilson in his beddy days and feel envy. It’s no way to live though. I will probably head out after I’ve done this, honest. Might just watch one more episode of The Bridge.
JL: James came up with this bunch of riffs masquerading as a song… at which I instantly shook my head at him, but then the more we got into it the more it made sense. We argued a bit about it and then Scott sang on it and turned it into something else. The drums are fucking great and powerful on this and it’s the closest I’ll ever get to being in The Posies.
SH: This one instantly appealed to my melody bone. The melody bone is not situated where you may think it is, I believe it’s somewhere in my chest, perhaps circling the heart if not twirling away inside of it. When Justin sent the instrumental tracks over to me, they had fairly utilitarian titles. Ultra Fuzzy Fucker, Melodic Fast Fucker and A Tune For Scott 3. This one came in and was simply named “End” and that’s what it turned out to be. It’s got what it takes to close out an album: slightly indulgent in length, a classic move for any rock closer. It has all the big poses that you’ve witnessed so far on the album, just in a more “epic” format. Major key warmth, wide open lyrical spaces, and a damn fine drum performance by the wee man too. Almost collapses into chaos, burns itself on the sun like that twat from the past. I loved being part of this album and am really grateful that James and Justin invited me into the Mastersystem. Thanks chaps, it’s a proper belter.
JL: I think every album I loved growing up had a good long noodly end of record closer. I miss that, I know sometimes it’s just self congratulation and back slapping disguised in a bunch of circular chord patterns but this one is my favourite on the record. Melodically it’s probably closest to what Scott does in Frightened Rabbit… but me and James didn’t give a Fuck because they’re one of our favourite bands anyway. So all in all it’s a win win. Scott did the vocals in about 10 minutes and then the record was finished and all was good with the world. Well happy.