The mid-2000’s saw a lot of groups like the Fratellis. Pop-punk had moved away from the American skater-dominated styling of Blink-182 and Sum-41. Pop-punk had become Party-punk, a more refined sound dominated by British (or British-sounding) acts like Franz Ferdinand, The Strokes, The Killers, The Jets, Ceasars and Arctic Monkeys. Even bands like Queens of the Stone Age and The Foo Fighters wrote quite a few songs that invoked images of British-style hooligan rock, opposed to the glam-rock or post-grunge style they usually portrayed.
This phenomenon, a sort of renewed mainstream interest in the musical culture of the UK is not isolated. It’s happened many times before – American acts look to their UK counterparts for inspiration all the time, and vice versa. This results in a mash-up of western culture that really makes the music a lot more interesting to listen to.
Don’t get me wrong. Costello Music, the debut record from The Fratellis wasn’t the second coming of Ok Computer. Not even close. Pitchfork at the time didn’t even put them on the same level as the Monkees. However, this record perfectly fit in with the time it is released. Drunken freshmen and high-school stoners craved this brand of stained, smelly, hoarse and blasted frat-rock and it was exactly the market that the Fratellis cornered in 2006. It also happened to be exactly what mainstream rock wanted at the time. Placements of tunes like “Flathead” in iPod commercials and “Chelsea Dagger” in Rock Band 2 created a following that can’t be touched in today’s marketplace unless the band or song becomes a YouTube sensation.
“Chelsea Dagger” is a real special case in so much that it is still extremely relevant to this day. The second single from Costello Music and the most successful song of The Fratellis entire career has become an anthem for sports fans world-wide. From Stanford Bridge to the University of North Dakota people have yelled, cheered and chugged beer to this pub-rock anthem for almost 10 years now. This puts it on-par with other overplayed crowd-pleasers like “We Are The Champions,” “Seven Nation Army” and “Whoomp! (There It Is).” There’s nothing anybody can do or say to stop this. “Chelsea Dagger” is now directly associated with championships. For fans and athletes alike, some of the greatest moments in peoples lives are provided a soundtrack by The Fratellis.
I had the opportunity to speak to Jon Fratelli earlier this month to discuss this, the genesis of the group, and their newest record Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied.
Playback : Why Toronto to start this tour off in earnest?
Jon : We’ve always had great shows here. And I can’t say that for everywhere. Of all the places we’ve gone, Toronto has always been a consistently good show.
Playback : Tell me about the new record, you got back together with Tony Hofner for this – the producer from Costello Music.
Jon : He’s just the perfect guy for us, and as you said we’ve been working with him since the first record and it was plainly obvious from the get go that we didn’t want somebody to just come in and take it out of our hands.
When I asked him I really didn’t have to say much, he just said, “Jon, just stop… I’ll do it, no questions asked”.
Sometimes it’s easier to have somebody that you know you can just hand the record over to somebody who really cares. On top of which, he’s only going to make a record that he wants to hear as somebody who likes us. This was probably the first time where we just completely handed something over and just said, “Okay … you make it just tell me what you want.”
I just wrote the songs. Some of the songs picked themselves as they were just so perfect for the record, but really we just let him choose the songs and ultimately put the record together. I liked working that way.
Playback : Tell me about the songs – they were all written for this record specifically?
Jon : Yeah – they were all written for this. The first two songs on the record were part of a bunch that we tried to record towards the beginning of last year, but the rest of them were written last summer. But as soon as Tony was on board, that’s when the songs arrived. It just got easy. You’re not going to give him a bunch of songs to make that don’t suit what he does – it just makes no sence. Soon as you know that he’s going to do it you know what kind of songs you’re going to write – and they just turn up.
Playback : Working with Tony brought you back to the beginning – relying on your sound from almost 10 years ago – tell me about the genesis of the group. How’d you meet Barry and Mince?
Jon : We all had ads up on a ‘Musicians Wanted’ board and we all answered each other’s ad. Barry answered mine, and I was putting mine up when I saw Mince’s.
It’s hard to say that we clicked right away. In so many ways we were a bit of an odd couple. But for whatever reason that worked. It’s not like we had some sort of idea of what was going to happen but we knew that one way or another we knew that we would work together.
Playback : ..and your first show was in 2005 at O’Henry’s
Jon : Well, one thing that we definatly were was a bit stubburn in a way. It’s usually this was in a lot of cities where if you want to play you’ve got to do a promoters night and you’ve got to front a lot of the cash and stuff and we just didn’t want to do that. So we just rented little rooms in the backs of pubs. These were still my favourite gigs. So much fun. And it’s just real easy – playing in front of like, 40 people making 10 pound each, which was more money than I’d ever made playing before.
Playback : Personally, musically, where did you come from? What made you put that advert up?
Jon : Um.. sort of desperation. Actually, that wasn’t really true – I wasn’t even trying to be in a band. The reason I had put that advert up was because there was a record label in Glasgow that was apart of Sony (One Records) that was quite a big deal at the time and someone there had heard what I was doing. Basically I was just writing a whole bunch of songs and sending them to people the old fashioned way. Every time I got a wage each month it was to spend on stamps and envelopes – somehow this got to somebody. Anyway, they met me and thought I was a band, cause I used to do it myself. So long story short they loved this but they were expecting a full band. So it was ultimately a complete accident. So I put the Fratellis together, they came and saw us, and they hated us – like, that’s not what we had in mind.
Really, it was pretty obvious off the top that we weren’t going to be able to play the songs I had written for myself – so I wrote a whole other bunch of songs that suited these three random people.
From there it grew quite quickly.
Playback : Yeah, within the year you were on the radio and signed to Island Records and in 2007 was Costello Music. You debuted at #2 on the UK charts, you won a BRIT award, you went on tour with Kaspian for a day then did your own tour for ages. You had live DVD’s, you’re a part of Rock Band 2, this is a pretty meteoric rise from putting up an advert on a musicians message board.
Jon : It was. I’m not sure if that’s typical or not.
Playback : That’s pretty atypical if you ask me. Very few musicians see that kind of success that early if at all.
Jon : Not wanting to sound cliche, but we might have just been in the right place at the right time.
Playback : For sure. You guys absolutely tapped into this vein of what people wanted to hear at that time.
Jon : …but also tumbled over the cliff.
Playback : I was going to get to that point – how did you all deal with that interally or personally? How did you deal with that sudden influx of fame?
Jon : I just remember being tired all the time. It would have been great to try and enjoy some of it a bit more. I think we gave it a good go – we had a good try to enjoy as much as possible – but I would’ve liked to enjoy it soberly.
A lot happened. I don’t really know if I was necessarily cut out for it, and I’m probably still not cut out for it. I do this cause this is the thing I know how to do. You know you sort of only have one skill sometimes?
Playback : A welder welds, a carpenter works with wood…
Jon : Exactly. Sometimes you just gotta do what you’re doing and you’ll get lucky if somebody pays you for it.
Now it’s easy cause I can see it for what it is – it’s just a lot of fun, really – but we took it really seriously at the time. And that makes you tired. If you take sometime too seriously it takes all your energy sometimes and you’ve none left for anything else.
That could probably sum up that entire time, I was just taking things too seriously. I would’ve liked to have more fun than we did.
Playback : I gotta ask you about the Chicago Blackhawks.
Jon : Ha! I honestly don’t know anything about that.
Playback : Have you ever played hockey before?
Jon : Honestly, its’ fine. I’m just glad someone out there is enjoying that song (“Chelsea Dagger”). That song really isn’t ours anymore, and it never really was.
To be honest with you I never really liked song. I don’t even think it was that great or interesting. But… it gets used.
The other side of that is I know it gets us a leg up. We get to go and play in lots of places that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise. And that it still gets air means that we have even more places to go – and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Playback : Do you find yourself resenting the song itself just because it’s, from a songwriting perspective, not what you feel to be your best work. But for some reason, it’s your most popular?
Jon : There’s the thing right there. You can argue with that and you can suffer and that would be pointless. So I just don’t argue with it anymore and… it’s just fine. It’s okay. It’s too late now to reel it back in. That’s what people are going to associate with us, and that’s fine. Again, none of this is to be taken too seriously. People can go and find other things from us if they want. It’s out there, availible. But yeah, it has opened doors.
On top of all that, it’s made my life financially very comfortable. I know it’s not something some people like me talking about but it’s given me a whole lot of freedom – to have some choice. Turns out, that’s probably all I ever really wanted.