Interview: Jon Fratelli

Countless songs have “Do do do” hooks. “Chelsea Dagger”’s is one of the most infectious. The song by The Fratellis, which charmed listeners with its panache in 2006, was adopted as a sports anthem after it climbed the UK charts. Since its explosion, The Fratellis have been prolific, putting out another sly, showy, yet sincere record every few years. Jon Fratelli, the group’s lead vocalist, has released some striking songs on his own, as well. In 2011, he made his solo debut with Psycho Jukebox, an album that painted him as the smirking troubadour that Fratellis fans were familiar with. Now he’s following it up with Bright Night Flowers, a bouquet of haunting ballads that will be released in February.

Recently, we had the chance to chat with Fratelli over the phone. We talked about Bright Night Flowers single “Evangeline,” dreams of crocodiles, heartbreak, and more.

TYF: First of all, what made you decide to record your second solo album? 

Jon Fratelli: In a lot of ways, I didn’t really decide to. I kind of made a solo record by accident. When I was writing songs for the last Fratellis record, I found that I had four or five other songs that I really liked, but that wouldn’t fit with the band. I also realized that I had three or four songs from four or five years ago that I’d been waiting for the right time [to do something with], and before I knew it I had nine or ten of those, and then I was just too curious to not record them. So really, I just wanted to be able to sit there on my own and listen to all those songs that hadn’t been worked on properly. The idea of even releasing it didn’t come till a lot later, and I would have been quite happy had it not been released. That’s what I mean by, “In lots of ways, this is kind of an accidental record.”

TYF: The cover of the record depicts a bowling alley. Why did you choose this image?

Fratelli: Generally for the same reasons that I’ve ever chosen any artwork that we’ve ever had, which is to say that I’m the least visual person and I don’t visualize very well and I have almost no ability to see artwork and decide whether I even like it or not. So a friend of mine had this shot, and in fact, it took me a while to even notice that it was a bowling alley. I think I just noticed the colors more than anything else. But when it comes to choosing artwork with me, I generally go for the very first one that I see that I dislike the least. It probably comes down to color more than anything else. I don’t know what that artwork does for people who see music in color. I don’t necessarily see music in color, but music definitely evokes certain colors [for me], and for some reason, these songs felt blue and dark colors, so that’s probably why that particular shot jumped out to me.

TYF: I definitely noticed the colors first, as well. I didn’t realize it was a bowling alley until this morning, actually. 

Fratelli: It doesn’t seem that obvious to me, except once you’ve noticed it, it seems really obvious. I think it was really just the color [that intrigued me].


TYF: “Evangeline” is one of your singles from the album. Where did you get the name from? 

Fratelli: You know, I wish I knew. ‘Cause you’re continually writing down different phrases or lines, or anything that suddenly catches your attention… I’m guessing I saw it as somebody’s name. Who that would be, [I don’t know.] I don’t know any Evangelines. I can’t even think of any famous Evangelines. You could see 1000 words in a day and 999 of them will pass you by, and one word, for whatever reason, catches your attention, you know?

TYF: Yup, for sure. And another one of the singles is, “Dreams Don’t Remember Your Name.” On that note, what are some of the most interesting dreams you’ve ever had?

Fratelli: Some of them I probably wouldn’t want to share because, you know, I’m not sure if people would understand. I’ve certainly had repetitive ones ever since I was a kid, like most people. I seem to have lots of crocodile dreams. They pop up quite regularly, crocodiles. I think these things are quite common, right? Especially if they’re dreams you had in childhood. My more outlandish ones… I probably shouldn’t share those.


TYF: Describing the themes of the album, you said, “Heartbreak and emotional pain can also be playful when you know that they’re not to be taken too seriously.” What other advice would you give readers about dealing with heartbreak in general? 

Fratelli: Really, the only thing I can think of is that it’s not an abomination. It’s not something that shouldn’t be happening, you know, because you have no way of knowing what bliss is unless you experience the opposite of bliss. Can you imagine a life that was just 24 hours a day, seven days a week, total bliss? No; that would be particularly dull. (Laughs) We all think we want that, but we don’t really want that. We would be so bored. And heartbreak is the opposite of bliss, so it’s something to dive into the middle of and be curious about rather than to run away from.

TYF: For sure. And my favorite song on your first solo album, Psycho Jukebox, is “Rhythm Doesn’t Make You a Dancer.” I’ve always wondered what the lyrics were about. Would you like to elaborate on that? 

Fratelli: If I could remember the song, then I would. I guess I kind of know the general melody. Other than that, I cannot remember anything to do with it, which really is just because as soon as an album’s finished, almost instantly, as long as I’m happy with it, I’m disinterested in it. When a fan asks, “What’s your favorite song?”, my answer’s always the same: the next one, the one I haven’t written yet. That song… Even as I’m talking, I’m trying to bring it to mind, but I cannot remember. But that title, “Rhythm Doesn’t Make You a Dancer”… It probably speaks for itself, you know. It’s probably open to any interpretation you want to give it.


TYF: And on that note, are you already working on new music for The Fratellis or for a solo album? 

Fratelli: Yeah. It really just comes from never having found anything else to do with my time. I’m fortunate enough to have lots of free time. The band will come out with another album this summer, and I’ve noticed in the last couple of weeks that I’ve started to write songs that probably, again, wouldn’t fit with the band but would be an extension of Bright Night Flowers, so that’s already started to happen. It just depends how lazy I am. I go through periods, like most people, where I’m productive, and periods where I really become the world’s laziest man. So it just depends on how many lazy periods I have.

TYF: The name “The Fratellis” comes from The Goonies. On that note, what are some of your favorite films? 

Fratelli: My favorite films aren’t films that I necessarily think are the best films ever made. They’re just, for some reason, the ones that I could watch again and again. Probably if I had one favorite, which is always a tricky thing, it would be Midnight In Paris, the Woody Allen film. I loved that movie, and I must’ve watched it 15, 20 times, and could happily watch it forever and be quite happy.

TYF: I read that you also used to play in an Oasis and Blur cover band. As a massive Blur fan, I’ve got ask you, “What’s your favorite Blur song?”

Fratelli: Well, it’s half true. I guess I would’ve been, like, 17 and still in high school, and at that time, in the UK, Oasis and Blur were everywhere; you couldn’t escape them. And if you wanted to play in bars and stuff, you had to play those songs. The truth is, at that age, me and the people I played with could just about do a passable version of Oasis songs, but the Blur songs took a little bit more skill than we had. So we never played any Blur songs. But my favorite Blur song is… Is it called “Out of Time”?. I never knew if that was what it was called.

TYF: “Out of Time,” yup.

Fratelli: Yeah. I love that song.

TYF: It’s a fantastic one. Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?

Fratelli: Not the first. I remember being about 16, and the summer between the school year and then the next school year starting, I started to furiously write songs—and I’d write terrible songs, which continued for quite a long time. (Laughs) So [I don’t necessarily remember] the first one, but I do remember that that summer was the point when whether I wanted to or not, I desperately needed to try and create something for myself.

TYF: Finally, is there anything else you’d like to say to the readers or the fans before we wrap up? 

Fratelli: I’m definitely not in the business of giving anyone the hard sell—”Hey, you should buy this record, because it’s the greates thing ever.” I have absolutely no interest in doing that. It’s just not my style. I can’t even say that people who like The Fratellis will like this record, because they’re really not that similar to each other. But I have to imagine that there are some of them out there that this kind of music is gonna sing to them. And if it does, I like the fact that that creates this little community—and it’s a sort of socialist community because I’m not at the top of it; I’m just part of it in the same way that anyone who listens is part of it. And I like the idea that the music is out there and it does create this little community.


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