“if I can’t excite myself with music then there’s not a whole lot else that does excite me” — Interview with Jon Fratelli
As Glaswegian indie rock trio The Fratellis get ready to release their fifth studio album, frontman Jon Fratelli (pictured centre) takes the time to speak with Wired Noise’s R.A. Hagan.
How is life treating you this afternoon?
As kindly as always [laughs]. We could do with some sunshine here in Glasgow, but other than that I can’t complain.
I sincerely think that ‘In Your Own Sweet Time’ is the best Fratellis album to date.
I would agree. It’s the closest we’ve come so far to making a record that we can sit back and not find really many faults with it. We really can’t find anything. So yeah, it’s the closest we’ve come to being there.
How proud of this album are you?
Yeah, I mean, I think we did our job this time. I hope never to make a record that you think absolutely can’t be improved on, because then you stop making records. It’s nice to get close, I think.
Are there any songs on ‘In Your Own Sweet Time’ that stand out to you as some of the best that you’ve ever written?
Yeah, there’s a couple, yeah. I think ‘Starcrossed Losers’ — at this point I don’t think I could’ve done anything any better than that. But really, we only recorded 12 songs for this record, which is the lowest amount we’ve ever done. Usually we would do 15 or 16 in the same amount of time and then pick like 10 or 11 for the record. But we only recorded 12 songs because we only wanted to record the songs that everybody completely agreed on, like these are really, really strong. Just so that we never had anything that was just filling the space. I mean, there’s really nothing on there that we dislike because we never recorded anything that we dislike.
Lyrically, there seems to be a lot of references to various forms of culture over the album. In ‘Starcrossed Losers’ you mention Romeo and Juliet and the song ‘Advaita Shuffle’ talks about the Hindu philosophy. As well as that, there seems to be a lot of genre exploration on the album. What were you listening to, or reading, or watching that inspired the writing of this album?
I wasn’t listening to any music. I tend now not to listen to anything when I’m in the middle of playing about with my own stuff, which is kind of all the time, which means I really don’t listen to that much music now. But anything lyrically or musically that you’re stealing from multiple different places, it’s not necessairly that you’re reading or watching anything intently, you just pick these things up. By using so many diverse themes and images, it’s really just to keep my life interesting [laughs]. It’s really that. I’m just trying to keep myself entertained on a kind of day-to-day basis and that’s more the case, rather than sort of intensely reading. I mean I haven’t read a book in a couple of years now, I think [laughs], at least not all the way through. So yeah, you grab these things as you move along and they seem to get stored somewhere and then they come up in songs, I mean the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ thing, I have absolutely no idea why that came up. I just sat down to write lyrics for that song and that was the story that sort of told itself. It’s really not a whole lot of explanation for it.
When I first heard ‘The Next Time We Wed’ it sounded like it had a disco-inspired sound. As a songwriter, is it great now to be able to write songs in that sort of style as opposed to the frantic, young indie rock sound you were known for 10 years ago?
Yeah, well, again it’s just kicking us back to the whole subject of keeping yourself entertained. That’s all it really is for me. The thing is, what entertains you on one day isn’t the same thing that might entertain you on the next day and that probably comes from having a particularly short attention span. I’m just trying to just keep myself engaged, really. So really what style you use to do that is really kind of unimportant as long as it excites you. It’s really just all a bit of that, I’m just trying to be excited. I need a reason to get out of bed in the morning and if I can’t excite myself with music then there’s not a whole lot else that does excite me. So it’s really just a bit of that, a combination of short attention span and creating my own entertainment.
It seemed that no sooner had you finished ‘Eyes Wide Tongue Tied’, you were already in the studio writing ‘In Your Own Sweet Time’. Do you ever rest?
No, and I’ve already started making the next record. I’m not sure if people would be disgusted, but I get the feeling if you had a couple of little cameras positioned around my house and people got to see what my sort of day-to-day life was like, it’d look really dull [laughs]. People would really wonder, like ‘My God, that guy seems to spend a lot of time sitting in a chair looking out the window’ and it’s true. But apart from that, I’ve really only found the one thing that sort of gets my blood moving. I kind’ve for a little while tried to find other things to do and always failed, so I’m kind of stuck with music [laughs] and because of that when we finished the record back in May and June of last year, that gives you like eight months of free time and I always felt I’d like more music. I think you take a rest from something that you dislike, I haven’t taken a holiday in a long time because I have nothing to take a holiday from. I think you take a rest if it’s something that’s a little bit of a chore, if it’s something that you love, I can’t imagine you’d ever need to have a rest from it. You know, you do it until somebody taps you on the shoulder and says ‘time’s up’.
Do you still enjoy touring? You’ve been doing it for so long!
I enjoy the touring. Do I necessarily enjoy living out of a suitcase and being stuck on a tour bus for four weeks sometimes? I’d have to say no. Having said that, it’s not a hard life. You don’t really have to do anything, transport moves, my life don’t move. I seem to spend a lot of time lying down. It’s probably more accurate to divide touring and travelling, do I love touring? Yeah. Do I love travelling? Not always.
Speaking of touring, how did it feel in 2016 when you were touring for ‘Costello Music’’s 10th anniversary? I can imagine it must’ve been amazing to see thousands of people showing up every night to hear that album live.
It really doesn’t feel too different to the tour we had done before that. We never really sort of stop, everything just sort of rolls on. And we play at least seven, sometimes eight songs from that record every night that we play, so it’s not like we were going back and relearning stuff. We had to relearn a couple of them that we don’t play anymore but really that tour was for fans. There’s no other reason to do it, you do it because it might make some people happy. To me, definitely it really didn’t seem much different to any tour that we’d do.
A few weeks ago you did an acoustic session with Paste, and it seemed to be very well-received. Have you ever considered doing an acoustic tour because I think it’d be quite an interesting twist on a lot of your songs.
I really don’t enjoy playing acoustically is the honest answer. I think it’s a strange thing, especially to promote an album. You know, you spend quite a lot of time fashioning a record, that then you have to strip down so it can be heard in a way that you didn’t want it to be heard in the first place. Which kind of makes no sense to me. We’ve been doing acoustic things since the very beginning, but I have to confess that there’s never been once where I’ve thought ‘oh, maybe this isn’t so bad’. I’ve always just felt like I don’t want to hear these songs in this way. I want to hear them the way that I want to hear them and the way I want to hear them is how we play them as a band, or how we play them on an album. Yeah, it’s not really my cup of tea [laughs].
‘In Your Own Sweet Time’ is out tomorrow, Friday 16th. Are you nervous or are you excited for the world to finally hear it?
Yeah, I don’t really seem to do nervous. I think our job was done on the final day we recorded, like to me that’s always the way it is, on that last day when the last note’s played we’ve sort of done our part and then you hand it over to a record label and let them do their part. To me, once it’s made, after that it’s kind of in the lap of the gods, you know? It’s for other people to decide on what they think of it. It’s really nice when people like it, it’s really helpful [laughs] but, especially when we finish one record and move onto the next one almost straight away, I’m kind of off in a different direction by that point. I guess where we do get to see, because I don’t keep up-to-date with anything online — my Dad knows more about my career than I do — he tells me about stuff that I had no idea about. But when we play the first few shows after our record has just come out, that’s when we get to see whether the people like it or not. If they don’t like it, you’ll see it on their faces. That’s really the first chance we get to see whether people have liked it.
Speaking of finishing recording, as I was preparing for this interview, I read elsewhere that you’ve actually re-recorded your second solo album, ‘Bright Night Flowers’?
Yeah, I did that over the summer. Still needs [to be] mixed, and then I guess at some point, if somebody wants to release it, it’ll find its way out there. Really, sometimes you just feel like doing it. The Fratellis takes up all of my time and I get to pretty much, musically, now do whatever I want with it. I’ve no real need to go off and find other places to make music. I’d written four or five songs when I was writing the band’s record, that didn’t fit the band but I really liked, and I realised they would suit another four or five songs that I had recorded about seven or eight years ago. So, it’s done, pretty much finished and might see the light of day. Then again, I might decide still not to release it, you know?
Throughout March, I’ve been trying to listen to one album that I haven’t heard a day. Do you have any albums that you hold close to you that you’d care to recommend?
[laughs] I don’t know if you would like my taste.
It’s worth a try!
That’s a good question. The first [Bob] Dylan record that I bought was in 1997. Was an album called ‘Time Out of Mind’, which I think it won a Grammy for best album that year. As an actual album, it’s probably [Bob] Dylan’s best. If you’re not a [Bob] Dylan fan, you might hate it [laughs]. It’s just a really, odd-sounding, but really sort of dreamy, night time record. You know, if you’re in a sort of sleepy mood and you’re in the mood to lie in your bed with some headphones on, that would be my recommendation. But most people hate my taste, so I wouldn’t be offended!
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, I’m looking forward to seeing you at Manchester Academy next Friday (23rd March)!
Great! Appreciate it!
‘In Your Own Sweet Time’ is released tomorrow, Friday 16th March, and will be followed by a UK tour. Check the dates out down below, and stay tuned for our reviews of ‘In Your Own Sweet Time’ and their upcoming show at Manchester Academy on the 23rd March!