"It's the same old fantasy, but fantasy suits me down to the ground..." - hmv.com talks to The Fratellis
You may or may not own a record by The Fratellis, but the chances are that you know at least one of their songs; 'Chelsea Dagger', featured on the Glasgow band's 2006 debut Costello Music, has been adopted as an unofficial anthem for fans of sports teams the world over, from the Celtic team supported by the band's frontman Jon Fratelli to the Chicago Blackhawks ice hockey team and, obviously, Chelsea FC.
The band temporarily split following the release of their sophomore album Here We Stand, but reunited four years later and have since delivered two more albums, 2013's comeback LP We Need Medicine an its 2015 follow-up Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied.
This week they're back with their fifth full-length offering, In Your Own Sweet Time, which arrives on the shelves in stores today. Ahead of the album's release, we caught up with Jon Fratelli to talk about the enduring legacy of their biggest hit, why he thinks his life must seem incredibly dull, and what we can expect from the new record...
So the last time we saw you out in public, as it were, was at the back end of 2016 when you did a tour celebrating the 10th anniversary of Costello Music, how was that? Did it feel weird going back and playing your first album in its entirety?
“No, not really. I mean we've been playing those songs in all that time. It's not really in my nature to be nostalgic, so the whole idea of celebrating something from the past makes no sense to me, but it makes sense to other people so I was totally happy to go out and do that because they'd been asking for it, and it wasn't a chore at all. It doesn't necessarily come as naturally to play some of those songs ten years later, because the way that you play changes, but I was happy to give people what they seemed to want.”
'Chelsea Dagger' in particular seems to be one of those songs that has transcended the usual metrics of popularity and made its way to the terraces of football stadiums all over the world, were you surprised when that started to happen?
“I can't really remember in any detail, because by now it's really just a fact, you know? It's out there and it's being used, I'm not precious about it in the slightest, it was just another song. I spend all my days just playing around with music and sometimes something just comes up that, for whatever reason, catches peoples' attention.”
“It depends on your viewpoint, to certain people it would really annoy the life out of them, for me it's neither annoyed me or been something that I'm really happy with either, it's just one of those things. It's out there, it's happening and you don't argue with it. And it's been helpful, there's no getting around the fact even having one song that is well-known in that way can be really helpful.”
So when did you actually start working on the new record? Was it after that anniversary tour had wrapped up?
“No, it was before that. We start working on each record as soon as we finish the one we made previously, so we made this record in June last year and then I started working on the next one. Really that's where the excitement is, for me personally, is thinking about what comes next. So we had been working on these songs from probably the summer before last.”
How does the writing process work for you? Do you write a lot of stuff and then pick the best ones?
“I find that if you're going to have a record with ten songs on it, for example, then you'd usually need to write about two and a half songs for each of the ones that gets used. Just to make sure that you have a record where you like everything on it and to make sure that you're not just throwing things in there to make up the numbers. But really it comes down to the fact that my life is incredibly dull, all I've ever done with it is sat around the house and played with instruments. To me that's not dull, I just mean that other people might be like 'that guy doesn't seem to do much else with his time', but it's probably the most enjoyable way I think of spending it.”
Was there any particular track that set the direction for the rest of the album?
“The first song written for the record ended up being the first song on the record, 'Stand Up Tragedy', it seemed like a good place to start and that's kind of why it was put on there first. There were certain elements of that which kind of suggested where other songs on the record might go, it had a particular feel to it that did kind of inform what came afterwards. But amongst people that know me I have a notoriously short attention span, I can only hold it for three or four songs before I'm bored, so to hold it for a whole record would be beyond me, I think.”
When you started out, did you have an idea of how you wanted this album to build on, or move on from, what did last time out?
“No, it's far simpler than that. What entertains you one day doesn't necessarily entertain you the next day, and all I'm trying to do is entertain myself on a day-to-day basis. It's really as straightforward as that.”
Tony Hoffer returned to produce your last album for the first time since your debut and you've worked with him again on the new one, what is it that makes him a good fit for you?
“He's far more clever then we are, so that's really helpful. The list of reasons why he's the perfect guy for us is really long, but in the most basic way he seems to really like what we do, and that's not a bad place start. Sometimes he can like what we do more than I do, and he brings a set of ideas that I certainly couldn't. I'm happy with my role, which is to write songs up to a certain point and then bring somebody else in who, like I said, is way more clever than me and can take them on to somewhere else.”
Do the other guys in the band get involved in the writing side of things?
“It's a tricky one to answer, because the answer is no, they don't, and the reason for it is because I don't seem to let them! The reason that's tricky is because on paper that can come across in the wrong kind of way, but the writing part is where I get my kicks. I don't really consider myself a singer or a guitar player, those are just things I do incidentally, it's the writing of songs where I get my kicks and maybe I'm greedily keeping it for myself.”
“But also the other thing is that we love each other, but we don't really spend that much time together outside the band, so when I'm off on my own, as I said earlier, all I do with my time is just play music.”
So you come in with a batch of stuff that's written up to a point...
“And by that point it's too late for them!”
Your last album took a couple of runs to get right, in terms of the recording, did things go more smoothly this time?
“Oh, far more smoothly. I think the thing was that this band has been split in two, in that we were a band for two records, we split up, and then we got back together about three or four years later. At that point I really didn't have a particularly clear idea of what it was that I even liked, let alone an idea of what it is that we should do, and I think on the last record we were getting closer to a point where I liked what we were doing. This new record is the closest we've ever come to being able to put the record on, listen to it and say 'I can't pick many holes in this'. And it's your job to pick holes in it, you know? So I think we seem far more comfortable in our own skin.”
“I struggle with the idea of people talking about making records, or any creative endeavour, as being a struggle. If it's a struggle, you probably shouldn't do it, you know? It should be the most enjoyable thing in your life, and if it's not then maybe you shouldn't do it.”
Maybe they just feel like they're battling to get something right, or make it as good as it can be?
“Yeah, I mean if that's the case then maybe I'm using the world struggle and imagining people sort of agonising over it.”
So are there any recurring themes in the lyrics on the new record?
“No, it's the same old fantasy, but fantasy suits me down to the ground. Again, it probably comes from me having quite a dull everyday life, so I'm interested in creating environments that, to me, are slightly surreal. But in terms of communicating anything, I can't imagine we're trying to communicate a single thing in terms of selling things to anybody, there are enough opinions out there already without me giving mine.”
You've got a couple of festival slots lined up already for this year, besides them what are your touring plans looking like for the new album?
“We're doing the UK and then the US, and then we do the festivals and that takes up to August. Usually we do the same on every album, we'll do here, the US, maybe Japan. And then it just rolls on, one block of gigs tends to just roll into the next.”
Are you a band that enjoys being on the road more than being in the studio?
“They feel completely different. As long as you accept that they're completely different beasts then it becomes easier. When you play in front of an audience you get instant feedback, and I'm not talking about adulation, you get instant feedback to the music that you're making. I like that, because you know from one night to the next whether you're doing a good enough job or not. But recording, for me, I find that an exciting prospect because I'm just excited for what comes next.”
And after that, are you already looking to the next album?
“Yeah, because if I didn't I'd be twiddling my thumbs a lot, and up until now I still haven't found anything in my life that brings me as much pleasure. If we could release them faster we would, the music industry seems to facilitate the really slow release of these things, we made a record in June last year and it comes out in March this year. Nine months seems like a long time. The flip side to that is it gives me time to start working on the next one.”
You've done side projects and solo stuff, is all your focus on the band for the time being?
“Yeah, I feel like I can get everything I want out of that. But, as chance would have it, as soon as we finished making the band's record I made a record of my own. What'll happen with that I've no idea, I made it for fun, but I feel like I can do everything that I'd want to do with the band.”
In Your Own Sweet Time is avilable in hmv stores now, you can also order your copy online here.