Frat’s your lot, counting the Costello of massive early Music sales...
For someone who gives so much during a live performance and on record for his band, Jon Fratelli is one laid-back dude.
You’d think The Fratellis’ vocalist and guitarist (born John Lawler) would be buzzing, his band having just released their comeback album and about to start a UK tour.
What’s more, there’s been a fair bit of press and social media interest in new release We Need Medicine. But Jon would have us believe he knows nothing about that.
Asked about the LP’s initial reaction, he said: “I have no idea, I’ve spent my life completely out of the loop…out of every loop in fact.
“I’m usually far happier to wait until we’re playing shows and see what the reaction is. I trust that more. Even fans’ reactions online I wouldn’t read.
“I’ll wait ‘til we play, then there’s no way of doubting the reaction, be it good or bad.”
Maybe Jon’s reaction is understandable after extreme reactions to past releases, from stellar reviews for 2006 debut Costello Music to a more low-key reaction to 2008’s Here We Stand and solo work.
“I’ve probably gone through all the extremes.
“With our first record we had a ridiculous amount of quick sales and good feedback in a short space of time.
“Then I’ve released records where not a soul buys them.
“You end up working out the best way to deal with that.
“And I’d rather not know.”
So will We Need Medicine be the LP that finally sees this Scots trio – completed by bassist Barry Fratelli (Barry Wallace) and drummer Mince Fratelli (Gordon McRory) – move on from Costello Music?
Jon said: “In the nicest possible way I couldn’t really care less.
“It’s so far out of your control it isn’t really worth caring about.
“All we’ve done is make something we liked at the time.
“It’s like going back to where you are when you make your first record, when you haven’t sold any records and no one knows who you are.
“With this record we’re just making it for our own entertainment. And I hope it shows!”
The new album carries a joyous feel, from raucous Bo Diddly-esque opener Halloween Blues onwards. Imagine Arctic Monkeys crossed with Bruce Springsteen and Wizzard.
And that added 1970s’ retro mix of brass, piano and guitar further distances them from those other so-called guitar bands.
Not bad for a three-piece.
But Jon’s non-committal: “Anything would be completely coincidental.
“I guess it’s not trendy these days to have those instruments as prominent as that.
“It shows what happens if you take all the other things out of the equation like record labels, management, when it becomes a business rather than a band just making music.
“You have to let yourself be what you want to be. We’re just a rock’n’roll band, and I don’t find that confining.”
“I wouldn’t describe us as a three–piece either.
“We’re a three-piece by default, a four-piece that got whittled down. I’m not a huge fan of that three-piece sound.
“It’s not enough for me. This record is probably the first that’s taken us away from that.
“We’re just a bunch of guys not paying too much attention to what people think we should be, doing what the hell we feel like doing.”
There’s a stadium rock element on We Need Medicine you suspect goes down well stateside – as perhaps proven by the amount of sell-outs on that leg of the tour.
Jon added: “While maybe British bands popularised it, rock’n’roll is undeniably American, and I always thought we had some of that. Maybe there were bits on the first record, and possibly the production masked it, making us seem glam-influenced.
“That’s maybe my least favourite era.
“So much seemed like really great little ‘50s rock’n’roll songs, but the production changed it.
“And you couldn’t really find three less glam guys if you tried!”
This year proved to be a second coming for the band after three years away, Jon going solo and also forming Codeine Velvet Club.
So is it nice to be back with The Fratellis?
“It’s been nice to rediscover the simplicity of the whole thing.
“All anybody that ever plays an instrument or paints a picture or writes a book ever wants is for somebody to show it to, play it to, or for someone to listen.
“For some reason down the line we lost that connection. This last year it’s been nice to rediscover that.
“Going out playing guitar with your friends on a stage in front of people is not a bad way to spend your time.
“We’ve managed to keep that feeling, something I’m ferociously holding on to.
“It’s never to be under-estimated how important it is to have an audience and how difficult it is to find one.
“The Fratellis built one and forgot it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears, going back to the same towns, same cities, same countries, month after month. It’s almost lunacy to throw that away.
“If all else fails, if your records don’t sell and you can’t get on the radio, can’t get in newspapers and magazines, you can plug in a guitar, go on a stage and play to people.
“I sleep soundly at night knowing if all else fails, we can get on a stage and sell ourselves that way.
“We can make a record, hand it over, and the whole thing hinges on so many things you can’t control.
“But getting on a stage and playing we get that control back.”
Will it be nice to finish the UK dates back in Glasgow? “I’ve stopped trying to predict what night’s going to be the best.
“That’s completely out of your control.
“I like that.
“A certain alchemy happens certain nights between performers, audiences and venues in cities or towns, and who knows when or where it’s going to be?”
Do you have specific memories of past Preston performances?
“I played there on my own and 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 we need to redeem ourselves at certain places.”
For those who might just know sing-along hit Chelsea Dagger and little else, what can they expect at 53 Degrees on November 22?
“The only thing I could tell them is they’ll see a band that if they’re not dead by the end of the gig they haven’t given everything.
“Generally, I’m dead at the end of every gig.
“At the very least, they’ll get everything we’ve got.
“That’s as much as we can do. Nothing fancy.
“We have to get by on that.”
And will Jon know how well the album’s doing by then?
“I’ll be the last to know!”
For 53 Degrees ticket details head to http://www.53degrees.net/ And for more on The Fratellis, try http://thefratellis.com
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