Frat’s entertainment

fratellis coverFOR someone who gives so much during a live performance and on record for his band, Jon Fratelli is one laid-back dude in conversation.

You’d think The Fratellis’ lead vocalist and guitarist – born plain John Lawler – would be buzzing at the moment, his band having just released their third album and back out on the road.

What’s more, there’s been quite a fair bit of press and social media interest in latest release We Need Medicine. But Jon would have us believe he knows nothing about all that.

I asked him about the initial reaction to the band’s new LP a few weeks ago, and he said: “I have no idea, I’ve spent my life completely out of the loop … out of every loop in fact.

“I’d forgotten when the record was coming out, actually. I knew roughly, but I’m usually far happier to wait until we’re playing shows and see what the reaction is then.

“I trust that more than anything else. Even fans’ reactions online I wouldn’t read. I’ll wait until we play, then there’s no way of doubting the reaction, be it good or bad.”

fratellis_333-1024x682You could argue that Jon’s reaction is some kind of safety mechanism after what has been a quite extreme reaction to previous releases, both from this band and his solo records.

That ranges from the mesmerising reviews for 2006 debut album Costello Music – best known for sing-a-long hit Chelsea Dagger – to a more low-key reaction to 2008 follow-up Here We Stand and his solo material.

He added: “I’ve probably gone through all of the extremes, like with our first record we had a ridiculous amount of really quick sales and good feedback in such a short space of time.

“I’ve had that and then I’ve released records where not a soul buys them. You end up having to work out the best way to deal with that. And I’d rather not know. I’m far better to just wait until we play a show.”

So will We Need Medicine be the LP that finally sees the Glaswegian three-piece – completed by bassist Barry Fratelli (Barry Wallace), and drummer/backing vocalist Mince Fratelli (Gordon McRory) – move on in the public eye after Costello Music?

Costello Music: The Fratellis' debut was a revelation

Costello Music: The Fratellis’ debut was a revelation

Jon said: “In the nicest possible way I couldn’t really care less. It’s so far out of your control that it isn’t really worth caring about.

“All we’ve done with this record is to make something that we liked at the time. It’s almost like going back to where you are when you make your first record.

“When you make that first record you can only possibly be making it for your own amusement, because you have no fan base and haven’t sold any records so no one actually knows who you are.

“With this record we were able to get back to circumstances that we were really just making it for our own entertainment. And I hope it shows!”

The new album certainly carries a joyous feel, from raucous opener Halloween Blues onwards.

Jon’s vocals invite similarities with Arctic Monkeys front-man Alex Turner, tempered by a feel of US rock influences like Bruce Springsteen too.

Then there’s a bit of 1970s glam bands like Wizzard in there – that retro mix of brass, piano and guitar seeing them stand out from all the other so-called guitar bands.

But Jon’s non-committal, saying: “Anything would be completely coincidental. I guess it’s not trendy these days to have those instruments as prominent as that.

Standing Up: Second LP Here We Stand failed to keep The Fratellis in the limelight

Standing Up: Second LP Here We Stand failed to keep The Fratellis in the limelight

“I guess it just shows what happens if you take all those other things out of the equation – like record labels, management and all that goes with it when it becomes a business rather than a band just making music.

“We could spend endless hours trying to be something else other than us. We could be the world’s most experimental band if we wanted, but it would be so hard to do that.

“You just have to let yourself be what it is you want to be, and we’re just a rock’n’roll band. And I don’t find that confining at all.

“It’s actually a bit of a challenge to stay within that rock’n’roll rule book for want of a better phrase, but still make it interesting to yourself and anybody else who listens.”

So is this the closest you’ve got so far to what you set out to be at the start? Or is it just where you are right now?

“It’s probably half and half. With our first record, the songs were maybe written in the space of a month, and it was genuinely a good month – the sun was out a lot and I was in a pretty good mood.

“Almost everything on that record was written in a month and recorded within four weeks. But that was eight weeks defining your whole life.

“It’s a strange one but that’s just where you find yourself at that point. But I don’t worry about it and I definitely don’t fight it any more.”

There’s a lot of power on this album, not least seeing as there are only three Fratellis.

Side Project: Jon's Codeine Velvet Club off-shoot, with Lou Hickey

Side Project: Jon’s Codeine Velvet Club off-shoot, with Lou Hickey

“I wouldn’t really describe us as a three–piece. We’re a three-piece by default, originally a four-piece that got whittled down to three.

“I’m not a huge fan of that three-piece sound. It’s not enough for me. It would never satisfy me for long, but I think this record is probably the first that’s taken us away from that.”

But Jon is a bit of a multi-instrumentalist, isn’t he?

“I’d much prefer someone else played piano. I can handle it, but there’s people that can play it far better than me, and there’s a piano player who’s been with us three or four years now.

“That to me is probably for me my favourite kind of rock’n’roll, for me it’s never had to be all about guitars.

“When people call you a guitar band, I’m not really sure what a guitar band is. We’re just a bunch of guys not paying too much attention to what people think we should be doing, just doing what the hell we feel like doing.”

There’s an element of American rock about the band on We Need Medicine too, a stadium rock feel you suspect might go down well stateside – as perhaps proven by the amount of sell-outs on their recent US tour.

Jon added: “The funny thing is that while maybe British bands popularised it, in origin rock’n’roll is undeniably American, and I always thought we had some of that.

“I think maybe there were bits of that on the first record, and possibly the production masked it, making us seem very glam-influenced.

“And to be honest that’s maybe my least favourite era of music. Songwriting-wise I loved it, but not that sound.

Solo Album: Jon Fratelli's 2011 release Psycho Jukebox

Solo Album: Jon Fratelli’s 2011 release Psycho Jukebox

“So much in that era seemed like really great little ’50s rock’n’roll songs, but the production changed it.

“With our first record it probably seemed like we had gone down that glam path, but you couldn’t really find three less glam guys if you tried!”

This year has proved to be a second coming for The Fratellis, who in the summer of 2009 switched to various side projects before reuniting last June.

Jon himself carved out a solo career and formed his own band, Codeine Velvet Club, during that hiatus. But then came the decision to reform. So was it nice to get back with his fellow Fratellis?

“It’s just been nice to rediscover the simplicity of the whole thing. I guess all anybody that ever plays an instrument or paints a picture or writes a book ever wants is for somebody to show it to or play it to or for someone to listen.

“For some reason down the line we lost that connection of how it was meant to be – just playing to people. And this last year it’s been nice to rediscover that.

“Going out and playing guitar with your friends on a stage in front of people is not a bad way to spend your time really, is it?

“It’s been nice to do that, and we’ve managed to keep that feeling for the last year, something I’m ferociously holding on to. It’s made life so much simpler.”

So did the solo and side-projects remind you of where you wanted to be?

“It’s never to be under-estimated how important it is to have an audience and how difficult it is to find one.

fratellis cdbig“The Fratellis built one and had forgotten how difficult it was – it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears, going back to the same towns, the same cities, same countries, month after month.

“It’s almost lunacy to throw that away, and it’s nice to rediscover that.”

You’ve played a few festivals in Europe this year, has that sharpened your resolve?

“Well, if all else fails, if your records don’t sell and you can’t get on the radio, if you can’t get in newspapers and magazines, if you can plug in a guitar, go on a stage and play to people, then you’ve always got that.

“We know how to do that, and I guess I sleep soundly at night now knowing that if all else fails, we can get on a stage and sell ourselves that way.

“We can make a record we want to make and hand it over, and the whole thing hinges on so many things you can’t control. But getting on a stage and playing is where we get that control back.”

New Single: Seven Nights Seven Days from We Need Medicine, although the blogger would like it to be known that he never ever condones clown imagery

New Single: Seven Nights Seven Days from We Need Medicine, although the blogger would like it to be known that he never ever condones clown imagery

Will it be nice to finish off in your home city, Glasgow (02 Academy, November 29)?

“We almost always seem to end up there. At first we thought it was great, then it became normal, now it’s just a gig that you get to go back to your own bed after.

“But this time the European dates start just a couple of days later, and I’ve also stopped trying to predict what night’s going to be the best night.

“We used to look down the dates and think that one’ll be great. But that’s completely out of your control. And I like that.

“If a certain alchemy happens on certain nights between performers and audiences and venues in cities or towns and who even knows when or where it’s gonna be, it keeps the interest.”

So (with their Friday, November 22 date at 53 Degrees in mind) do you have specific memories of past Preston performances?

“I actually played there on my own and think I remember more about that than when the Fratellis were there.

“Last time we were going through a strange phase which probably led to us breaking up in the first place. Not a lot of that period holds that good a memory.

“Because of that, I definitely have it in mind that we need to redeem ourselves at certain places.”

So for those who might just know Chelsea Dagger and very little else, what can they expect at 53 Degrees and for the rest of the UK tour and beyond?

“I guess the only thing I could tell them to expect is that they’ll be seeing a band that if they’re not dead by the end of the gig they haven’t given their everything.

“Generally, I’m dead at the end of every gig. At the very, very least, they’ll get everything we’ve got. And that’s kind of as much as we can do.

“There’s nothing fancy there. We have to get by on that.”

And will Jon know how well the new album’s doing by then?

“Well … I’ll be the last to know.”

* The above is a longer/revised version of a Malcolm Wyatt feature that appeared in the Lancashire Evening Post on Thursday, November 21, 2013, arranged with the help of James at Sonic PR

* For tour details and the latest from The Fratellis, head here

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About writewyattuk

A freelance writer and family man being swept along on a wave of advanced technology, but somehow clinging on to reality. It's only a matter of time ... A highly-motivated scribbler with a background in journalism, business and life itself. Away from the features, interviews and reviews you see here, I tackle novels, short stories, copywriting, ghost-writing, plus TV, radio and film scripts for adults and children. I'm also available for assignments and write/research for magazines, newspapers, press releases and webpages on a vast range of subjects. You can also follow me on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/writewyattuk/ and on Twitter via @writewyattuk. Legally speaking, all content of this blog (unless otherwise stated) is the intellectual property of Malcolm Wyatt and may only be reproduced with permission.
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