The Fratellis interview: 'our life is a complete comedy'

Henry Lewis caught up with John Fratelli to talk the BRITs, indoctrination and favourite shapes.

Henry Lewis

Date published: 28th Feb 2018

Image: The Fratellis (credit)

There isn't an indie disco that is complete without a rousing rendition of The Fratellis' 'Chelsea Dagger', the second single from the Glasgow three piece who stole hearts and minds with their raucous riffs and infectious choruses in the midst of the 2000s indie explosion.

The album it appeared on, 2006's Costello Music, is so true to that era in each and every way and was easily one of the finest indie records to come from a period that also championed The View, The Pigeon Detectives, Franz Ferdinand and a hell of a lot more. Their debut peaked at number two in the UK charts and the band toured the record internationally, playing shows in Europe, the United States and Japan, and won the 2007 BRIT Award for Best British Breakthrough Act.

Since then, The Fratellis have been less high profile, but by no means less prolific. He We Stand, the follow up to Costello Music dropped in 2008 and ten years later Jon, Barry and Mince Fratelli are all set to release album number five, and with it embark on another tour of the UK to thousands of adoring fans. 

Things are looking extremely positive with regard to the new record, In Your Own Sweet Time which comes out in March - its lead single 'Starcrossed losers' is receiving plenty of spins on BBC radio while tastemaker Eddy Temple Morris made his track of the week on Virgin Radio.

Ahead of the new album, and a live date at Liverpool's The Olympia on Thursday 22nd March, we caught up with lead singer Jon Fratelli to talk the BRITs, indoctrination and favourite shapes.

How are things in the world of the Fratellis?

Much the same as they always are, not so bad.

Are you all married and fathers now, what's the set up?

Ah yeah the whole real life thing now.

And when in the Fratellis' career did the whole real life thing start?

Good question, I have a terrible memory (laughs) I think it was a similar time. We pretend we've grown up, but we're just playing the game.

When you get back onto the tour bus and get back on the road with the lads, is it a nice break from reality?

To me it's fine, I have a lot of freedom anyway so it's not too different but Barry has got three kids so it might be a change for him. Mine is all grown up now so I have a similar kind of life really.

In lots of TV stuff I've seen you in, there is a lot of Beatles - did you spoonfeed the work of the fab four to your kid growing up?

Not at all but it happens on its own. I fell in love with my Dad's record collection just because it was there and because I couldn't afford to buy my own records. His vinyl collection was great and always on. You kind of have no choice, if you grow up in a certain part of the world you support a certain football because you're indoctrinated but it's not on purpose, it's never done on purpose. But my son, he took my record collection and ran with it. His taste is way more varied than mine will ever be, but it's mostly all good.

Has he taught you anything, any new bands?

Not really, he's more like me where he dips into the past. We share an itunes account and he'll download like ten albums a day bit they're all old, its just because he's grown up in a house with that sort of music anyway, but he's less interested in modern stuff than I am.

The opening track of your second album called My Friend John, begins with a question that always used to make me laugh when I was listening to it - "if you were a shape, what shape would you be". Where on earth did that come from?

I think I remember, before Facebook we had a webpage with a forum on it and for some reason, there was an idea to get fans to ask us questions and we were at a festival, I think we had just played T in the Park and it was the last day we had to answer all these questions. We got one of the roadies to ask these questions from the cards, and one of them was "if you were a shape, what shape would you be?". The answer, Barry's answer, was a rhombus and I like that one but for some reason we only included the first bit. It just made us laugh and we thought it would be a nice way to start a record.

There were a lot of good guitar bands around at the time - is that something you felt a big part of, or did you not pay a lot of attention to it?

We never gave it any thought. You're too busy doing your own thing, so it never really came up for me. It was helpful for us in the first place and it definitely helped us to get a record deal, but I really didn't pay too much attention. I don't own a radio I don't really listen to modern music so I was always out of the loop, and now I'm so far out of the loop I can't even see the loop. It was never in my universe for some reason.

Do you look at the state of the music scene now and realise that there is no way that so many indie rock bands would be playing on radio1 or appearing at BRITs?

The timing was good, I get that. I don't know. Because I don't hear what's going on out there, if you say that's not the way it is now I'd have to take your word for it.

So what keeps you busy outside of making music then?

That's the thing. That's really all I do, nothing has changed since I was 18 and I've never found anything else a like more than writing songs. Once I've finished one record, I'm onto the next one and that takes up all my time but I wouldn't change it. I've tried from time to time to find other things to do and instantly got bored by them. I do this for fun, and I would do it if nobody paid me and if nobody listened.

That's the thing though, people are still listening. You're being playlisted all the time, playing huge shows etc.

And that's really helpful, it's really nice. 

It must be massively rewarding too?

It's a fantastic life for people like us and it's not taken lightly either. There's a lot of people who would want to do this. It's hard to put it into any other words than 'it's a perfect life' and that's not a smug thing to say because our life is a compete comedy - we get to swan around playing guitar.

It was the BRITs not too long ago, so I was having a look at your BRIT moment from 2007 I think it was, if anything - what do you remember from it?

I really don't have any memory of it - if anything you just feel like an imposter when you're there. We weren't even going to go, but we'd been told a few days before that we were going to win and the label were saying 'please go' they were begging really and they couldn't understand why we didn't want to go. It wasn't a protest but we just felt it probably wasn't the place for us, but it was fine. I wouldn't change it. 

If you had a camera in my house and got to see what I get up to of a day, you would be disgusted at how little I do and how much time I spend doing nothing so those sort of environments don't really come naturally to us.

You can definitely tell, but it's very endearing.

We reacted the only way guys like us can react.

When you were doing a lot of TV around the time of your first album, Jonathan Ross, Soccer AM - how did you find it?

It was just one of those things that someone told you to do and we were like "they know more than me" so why not. We're still the same so if there is a record to be put out and a label wants to do it, you help them you know, as much as you can. They send you here there or wherever so you help them.

And you're last album was recorded in L.A right?

Yeah that's right, we've done the last few there and did the first one there. The producer we use is out there so it makes sense.

You did the first record there too?

Yeah, it was the first place I had been outside of Scotland at that point so it was definitely a culture shock. I hated it for the first week then I loved it. Sunshine and heat all day every day which is quite nice and so I go back a couple of times of a year to just hang out.

I always imagine L.A to be absolutely crazy - you must have seen some mad stuff out there?

West Hollywood is a crazy place but it's a hell of a lot of fun to drop in and watch the weirdness. People have a go at them for being fake but I don't find them fake at all, they're putting on an act as much as the rest of us. There's is just breezier and happier but God it's sunny all the time so why wouldn't they be. Over here when you get a few days in the sun everybody is smiling at each other in the street - youknow? L.A has that whole thing which is why I kind of like it. 

Before we go, you must very excited to get back on the road?

We know that we're in a very privileged position and its almost like if you're in that position you have a duty to do it. It's kind of a deal you have when you sign up to this whole thing. You see the media having a go at guys in their 70s telling them to stop - they don't realise that you don't retire, it retires you. Eventually someone taps you on the shoulder and tells you to stop and only then do you call it a day.

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