A chat with Jon Fratelli, Jon Fratelli interview, Codeine Velvet Club, The Fratellis
Jon Fratelli

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We’re not sure if Jon Fratelli, lead singer and guitarist for Scottish trio the Fratellis, has seen “The Hurt Locker,” but we’re guessing that he could relate to Staff Sergeant William James’ character. After a lengthy tour schedule promoting the Fratellis’ second album, Jon only needed a few days off the road before getting the urge to record again. With the Fratellis on hiatus, he teamed up with newcomer Lou Hickey, who’s a friend of Fratelli’s wife, and together they made the gorgeous Codeine Velvet Club, a swinging ode to ‘60s Hollywood and all its, ahem, splendor. Bullz-Eye caught up with the soft spoken Fratelli at the tail end of a brief US tour to talk about letting the brain do what it wants, his lovely Codeine partner in crime, and why South by Southwest is fun, but not four days fun

Bullz-Eye: So what is it with musicians taking a long-overdue break from their day jobs, only to form another band a few days later because they’re bored?

Jon Fratelli: (Chuckles) Yeah, that probably says a lot about me. I don’t know, I guess I never really thought of it. I’ve always made music, regardless of what name it comes up [under]. I don’t really have time to take a break; I’m just happy to be playing guitar.

BE: Are you going to be the Scottish equivalent of Jack White? Do you have three or four side bands in your future?

JF: I hope not. That’d be quite unoriginal, wouldn’t it? As great as Jack White is… you just make the music at that particular time, and you either stick to that for the rest of your life or you move on. I guess I’ll probably move on.

BE: How difficult was it to write music in a style so far removed from what you usually write? Did it take some effort, or was it like putting on a new suit?

"South by Southwest is one day too long. You get to Friday and you think, ‘That should be it.’ You get to Saturday, and you’re like, ‘I’m sick of music. Fucking hate music.’"

JF: Well, I had written a couple of the songs before really trying to [write in a particular style]. The song “Hollywood,” I had written, and it was quite obviously different to what I had written before. And that sort of decides it, you know. When your brain comes up with a couple of things, then you just let it do what it wants. Once I decided to go in a certain [direction], it was interesting to have to keep to it. Usually, I don’t have much of an attention span, so it was good to decide, “This is what it’s going to be,” and keep to that, without getting too distracted.

BE: I read that you wrote “I Would Send You Roses” for Roger Daltrey.

JF: Yeah, well, that’s kinda true. The Fratellis had done one or two things with him back home. The last thing we did was we played the Albert Hall, and he came on and sang with us. And it was really great, and he really enjoyed it. And he mentioned backstage, “I love your songs. Could you write some songs, and I’ll sing them, and you guys be the band, just like tonight?” And I’m not gonna let that one go. So I went home and wrote “I Would Send You Roses” and a couple of other things. And then I think he decided to go off on a solo tour of the States. So it didn’t quite happen, but it left me with a couple of songs to use. I’m kinda glad that something’s getting done with [those songs].

BE: I thought it was strange when I read that, because Roger Daltrey hasn’t made a solo album since 1992.

JF: Yeah, but it definitely happened. And like I said, it’s not the sort of offer you get every day, is it? Roger Daltrey asking you to write a bunch of songs. And some of them are still there, if he wants. [“Roses”] is always the song we play last in the live set. It’s pretty great.

BE: Have the other two Fratellis heard the Codeine Velvet Club album?

JF: You know, I don’t know.

Jon Fratelli

BE: You didn’t send them a copy?

JF: No. But they know where it is. They can find things.

BE: I wondered if they had heard it, and gave you grief for not holding to such and such song for the next Fratellis album.

JF: They can try, but they wouldn’t get very far.

BE: Let’s talk about the Stone Roses cover (“I Am the Resurrection”). Now, I don’t think that any song is too good to be covered, but you had you know that you were taunting the music gods by covering a song from the first Stone Roses album, right?

JF: Yeah, I guess so.

BE: Or was that the point?

JF: It actually wasn’t the point. The point was to take something…in all the things I’ve ever done, in covers, I’ve never wanted to do something that we should be doing. There’s only one thing the Fratellis have done, “Solid Gold Easy Action” for “Hot Fuzz.” And they basically wanted a carbon copy of the original, so we’d done that. But all the other times, with covers, we were never interested in something that we should have done. With [Codeine Velvet Club], I was looking for something really English. I had looked at the Smiths and the Stone Roses as being really English, and not just British, but really English. Because the style of this album, you couldn’t describe as being English, since it’s sort of a vague Hollywood idea. So I liked the idea of taking something really English and transporting it across the world to somewhere that it doesn’t really belong. But you know, it was done in really good faith. We weren’t being offhand-ish about it. We actually worked pretty hard on the arrangement. I haven’t heard it in a while; we’re not playing it, so I’ll have to go back and play it and find out if it works or not.

BE: I quite like it, actually.

JF: Well, you know, we weren’t trying to offend anybody. We play “Gimme Shelter” live, it’s like a re-think of “Gimme Shelter.” There is a certain cheekiness that comes into it, that you shouldn’t really be taking on these songs. Maybe we’re trying to prove ourselves, I don’t know what that is. Psychologically, something’s going on there, covering famous songs.

BE: I’m always amused at how upset and pious people get when their favorite songs are covered, so I thought it was pretty cool that you took on the Stone Roses.

JF: Well, you know, some are going to hate it, some are going to like it.

BE: What has it been like opening up for Metric?

JF: It’s been great! I’m always surprised at how many people [in America] come and watch the support bands. It’s not always the case in the UK, actually. But I’ve got to be honest, I’d never heard of [Metric] before, but that’s no insult to them, because I don’t really listen to much music of today, I guess. But it’s been great. You’re still at that stage where you’re trying to convert people, and hopefully you get nine or ten at each show, and they come back.

BE: Do you have a full band with you on this tour?

"I couldn’t believe anybody was there to see us at Lollapalooza. I wouldn’t see Bob Dylan at 11 in the morning."

JF: We do. There are seven or eight of us onstage, and when it really works, it really works. Musically, it’s the best band I’ve ever been in, and the most exciting. But at the same time, it’s a hell of a lot of fun up there, when you have that many instruments going on. It costs a hell of a lot of fucking money to tour with.

BE: That’s why I asked, because I didn’t know how much label support you had.

JF: (Laughs) Well, I guess you could gauge that by the fact that we’re all here. Yeah, they must like [the record].

BE: Were you in Austin for South by Southwest?

JF: Yeah, we were.

BE: How was that?

JF: It was like Austin usually is – it’s one day too long. You get to Friday and you think, “That should be it.” You get to Saturday, and you’re like, “I’m sick of music. Fucking hate music.” Everywhere you go…it’s like being in a washing machine of music, because you can’t escape it. But the first three days were great, and we had some really great shows. This one particular show, before we went out, we read the itinerary, and thought, “Shit, that’s gonna be bad.” It was at a place called Rusty Spurs, and it’s a gay cowboy bar.

BE: Nice.

JF: And we thought, “Oh, great.” And that was probably the best show. You know what it’s like? It’s just manic. But definitely a day too long.

BE: Tell us Americans about Lou Hickey. From here, she appears to be a Neko Case in waiting.

JF: A Neko Case? Who’s that?

BE: She’s a Canadian singer. She’s also in the New Pornographers.

JF: Ah, right.

BE: That’s a good thing. It’s a good comparison.

Jon FratelliJF: The thing I liked about Lou when I first met her – and if she heard me say this, she might think of it the wrong way, but she really shouldn’t because it’s a compliment – she doesn’t sing perfectly. There are, especially with female singers, a lot of perfect singers, and it’s really, really dull. You know those girls who can do those vocal acrobatics?

BE: Yes. They make me nuts.

JF: And they forget about having some character. Lou’s vocals have character, and I like the fact that they’re not perfect. She’s charming. Middle-aged men tend to like her, and she should let them. We always tell her that she should let them like her a bit more. Great songwriter as well.

BE: I saw you at Lollapalooza in 2007. Be honest with me: how hung over were you when you took the stage?

JF: Not so hung over that we couldn’t play, but you know, I don’t really believe in hangovers. Alcohol was made for hangovers. You just keep going.

BE: I remember you saying, “We’ll get better as we go along.”

JF: I think it was just the sound out there that wasn’t that great. It was also just early.

BE: It was 11 in the morning. You were the first band to play, to rope everybody in.

JF: I couldn’t believe anybody was there. I wouldn’t see Bob Dylan at 11 in the morning.

BE: What is the band from your native Scotland that didn’t get the love that you think they deserved?

JF: Um, (long pause) you know, I’m not sure if there is one. Because all of the bands that should have gotten successful…even last year, Glasvegas got it, and they had been around Glasgow as long as we had, so I was glad when they finally made it. But I can’t think of anyone else new.

BE: I wasn’t thinking of new bands. I meant all time.

JF: You guys know the Alex Harvey Band? Alex Harvey was…I’m trying to think of the American equivalent. There must be one, but…he was the craziest, most talented performer I think I’ve ever seen. Just general craziness that never quite made it. If you ever get a chance to check them out, you should. (Note: to get a glimpse of Harvey’s craziness, click here.)

BE: I’m a big fan of the band Attic Lights.

JF: Oh, yeah. They’re friends of mine, actually.

BE: I love their record, and I can’t believe it didn’t even come out in the States. And I don’t think it even did well in the UK either, which to me is just a crime.

JF: Unfortunately, I’m not sure the label knew what to do with the record. Those guys and me work out of the same studio. I’m not actually sure what they’re doing now. It might even be that they’ve broken up. I hope not.

BE: I don’t think so, because one of them posted on Facebook that they’re working on new material.

JF: Oh, good. I haven’t seen them for a little while. That’s funny you should bring them up, because I thought that record (Friday Night Lights) was great. A friend of mine made the record as well. It’s the same guy that engineered the Codeine record. It’s a great sounding record, and I have no idea why it didn’t [sell].

BE: Any time I talk to someone from Scotland, I ask them about Attic Lights. I think I just do it as an excuse to pimp the band at any opportunity.

JF: They are great, and I’ll tell you what: when it came to America, there were people that really wanted them to come. As far as I know, there was interest in them doing it. I’m not sure what happened there. Yeah, definitely unlucky.

BE: How long are you in the States?

JF: We’ve been here for two weeks now, and we go home on Sunday, but I think we’re back over the summer, after the album comes out.

BE: Well, best of luck with the record. I’ve been playing the daylights out of it.

JF: Thanks, nice talking to you. Cheers.

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