BIG INTERVIEW The Fratellis: ‘I’ve chosen to spend my life in music, and I’ve never found anything to beat that.’

The Fratellis headline Eklectica Festival 2018 on the Isle of Wight
The Fratellis headline Eklectica Festival 2018 on the Isle of Wight

When The Fratellis emerged from the Glasgow rock scene in the mid-noughties, their cutting guitar anthems, stacked with choruses a mile wide, struck an instant chord with the public.

Debut album Costello Music went triple platinum in the UK, spawning a brace of top 10 singles in Chelsea Dagger and Whistle For The Choir, and they won the Brit Award for Best Breakthrough Act in 2007. The trio, who all took the surname Fratelli after the criminal family in the film The Goonies, were on top.

Follow-up Here We Stand in 2008 went gold, but a mere year later the band went on ‘indefinite hiatus.’

The band reformed in 2012, and they trotted out two more albums to a dedicated fanbase, but last year’s In Your Own Sweet Time found them back in the top five for the first time in a decade.

The band is about to headline the closing night at Eklectica Festival on the Isle of Wight, which is now in its second year.

‘It’s been pretty great,’ says frontman Jon Fratelli. ‘I think this record, up to this point is more successful than anything we’ve done since 2008, and you know, that’s nice. It’s helpful, and we’ve noticed that with the shows being busier or sold out more than usual – it’s a nice place to be.’

So does he care about chart positions and the like?

‘It’s a tricky thing to talk about, if I say I don’t care, I come off like an idiot. It’s not that I don’t care, but if that’s your measure or barometer of anything, then it’s not a clever place to be. 

‘But when you do find that people do like what you‘ve done, it’s far better than them hating it. Particularly when it’s something that you like, because it doesn’t always go without saying that you’ll make something where you stand back and go: “I like that”. We’ve made albums before that I haven’t necessarily liked, so when you get both things, where you like it and other people like it, there’s no better place to be.’

For Sweet Time, the band worked again with LA-based producer Tony Hoffer.

The Fratellis perform at Victorious Festival, 2015. Picture by Allan Hutchings

The Fratellis perform at Victorious Festival, 2015. Picture by Allan Hutchings

‘He made our first record, and he made a couple of records with me, and he did the last couple. At this point we can’t really imagine working with anybody else, he’s really the perfect guy for us.

‘He can take what we do on to a level that we can’t take it, and as time goes on, the more we work together, that relationship becomes second nature and you trust each other a lot more.

‘I wrote the songs, we get out there and from that point on, we let him lead us where we need to go. I used to think that I needed to be in charge of everything, but we produced our second album and it was a calamity. That’s when I realised, I don’t want all of this it’s too much work. Some people can do that, they can take on all that stuff and give it all their attention, but I can’t so it’s nice to realise that what I really want to do is write the songs.’

As Jon describes The Fratellis’ approach to making music, it sounds almost zen-like.

‘With each record, we’re sort of constantly working towards a point where we make something and we can stand back and say: “Wow, we can’t do any better than this”.

‘And I hope we never get there, because I’m not sure what the incentive would be to carry on after that, but that’s kind of the goal - even if if it’s slowly, to get to that point.’

And they only took 12 songs to Tony for them to work on – the 12 songs that are on the album.

‘There were more songs kicking about, but we just chose to spend all our time on these ones so that the 11 or 12 songs we really liked would come out as good as possible.

‘We’d usually record 16 or 17 songs and then choose the ones we want from that, but I think we’re going to carry this way of working on to the next record where you can put everything into the songs that are so obvious you can’t leave them out, and I preferred working that way. Listening to that record, I think it shows that the time was put into them.’

In 2016, to mark its tenth anniversary, the band toured Costello Music in full.

‘To be honest, we haven’t stopped playing those songs – we play at least seven maybe eight songs from that album each night anyway, so it was just a case of adding another four songs that we haven’t played in a while.

‘It wasn’t really my idea, but I was happy to do it. We’re in the business of hopefully trying to give people what they want. And if people wanted us to go out and play that record in full, which they obviously did because we suddenly had way more people at shows than we did the year before, then it worked. I’m all for giving people what they want.’

Does he think it had a positive knock-on effect for new album?

‘I think it probably did. It can be tricky these days to make music that stands out, and there are less places for bands who play music like ours to have their music seen and heard. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the very next year when we have an album out, that it does better than it has in a while and we’re playing to more people.’

During The Fratellis’ break, Jon released an album as Codeine Velvet Club and one under his own name, but he says he’s happy where he is for now.

‘The good thing about The Fratellis, especially now, is that I get to satisfy all of my musical needs with this band, which is a really fortunate position to be in, so there’s not really any need to be doing anything else.

‘That doesn’t mean that it won’t happen in the future, and it probably will, but I don’t need to split something up with the band and on my own. I can get my kicks with The Fratellis and that’s a nice place to be.’

And whatever it was that caused the friction back in 2009 is going to stay there.

‘We just couldn’t have a relationship for some reason at that some point. Reflecting on it, it’s ridiculous, we had no real reason to not be able to get on, but we couldn’t and I’m really happy that we were able to get past on that – now we get on famously.

‘We get along better now way better than we ever did. I can’t even imagine what we would argue over. We used to be those guys, but we’re just not any more. We’re older, wiser, tireder, lazier! Unless it’s really necessary, you’re happy to let it go.’

In Your Own Sweet Time was released back in March, and the band is still very much in its touring cycle, but as Jon says: ‘For me, as soon as we finish one record, I get started on the next one, and that really comes from the the fact that I have nothing else to do with my life.

‘This is the one thing I have ever found that can hold my attention, and because we do get quite long spaces between tours and between work, it gives me time to inevitably work on new stuff. It wouldn’t surprise me if we release something fairly quickly, because I have no life! I mean it in a nice way – I could do other things, I guess, but since the age of 17-18 I’ve chosen to spend my life in music, and I’ve never found anything to beat that.’

Eklectica Festival is at Robin Hill on The Isle of Wight from September 7-9. The Fratellis headline Sunday night. Adult full weekend tickets with camping cost £75. Saturday or Sunday tickets are £30 each. Go to eklectica.live