I used to live with a Scotsman. He wasn’t the tidiest of fellows, but was ultimately a loveable sort; lumbering, not always as alert as he could’ve been, but a gentle giant who came in rather handy when potential scraps flared. Dunno what he’s up to now – moved back home, had a kid maybe – but the point is: my experience of the Scottish, even when keeping as close a kind of company as I’d ever want to, has always been positive.
And the point in relation to The Fratellis? Well, I wanted Jon, guitarist and singer in the Brit-winning Glasgow trio (completed by drummer Mince and bassist Barry) to be my banana skin. “Want time with The Fratellis?” their label asks. “Sure,” says I, sharpening my daggers. Although their album of 2006, Costello Music, is one of the most commercially successful debuts of the new millennium, to me it meant: horrible types I’d never choose to associate with squealing along to hackneyed tales of chasing dames and downing booze, congregating outside football stadiums bleating “Duh duh duh, duh duh duh, duh duh du-du-du-du-duh”. Gave my copy away to someone who didn’t want it. Winced when new single ‘Mistress Mabel’ – released this week – first met my ears. Cackled wildly when preparing my questions for Jon, unaware of my DiSband motives while watching the telly at home. And then.
The guy only turns out to be a perfectly decent chap in conversation. Knives out? Hardly, and those that are, they’re blunted into uselessness. Half a DiSband, then, ahead of the release of The Fratellis’ second LP, Here We Stand.
The Fratellis (l-r): Barry, Jon, Mince
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Hi Jon. When this chat was arranged I’d assumed you’d be holed up at your label, doing a series of interviews?
The office? Nah, nah – we try not to go there. I’m watching a repeat of Minder, which is pretty cool. I’d forgotten how good it was.
I rarely caught it at the time, and when I did it was when dad was working nights, so I could stay up a bit later than usual…
It’s great! I used to watch it when I was younger too, with my dad. If you got to stay up late to watch it you felt fucking privileged.
Completely. But we’d best talk Here We Stand. It must feel great to be playing new material after doing the old songs to death?
Yeah totally – when we stopped touring last year we almost straight away went in to do the second album, as we were desperate to play some new stuff. We’d been playing the same songs for 18 months, and by the end of that we felt we were scraping the barrel, y’know.
I think I know what you mean, but I guess it’s good to have that demand, at least?
Oh fuck aye, but it’s a strange relationship… oh, Dennis Waterman’s just beaten up Gordon Kaye. Y’know, Rene from ‘Allo ‘Allo. He’s battered him. But that relationship – we really appreciate that people want to come and see us, but we really wanted to give them something else, and a little desperation did begin to set in: “Oh fuck it, we need to play the new stuff”. We’re not happy resting upon what we’ve got.
And if Here We Stand proves to be a commercial flop after the debut’s success, where would that leave the band?
I don’t know, because I had no idea we’d be successful the first time around. If you don’t work for the label, or if you’re not involved in that side of the business, you don’t ever really know how successful you are, do you? All you know is that you’ve made an album that you like, and you want people to listen to it. I had no idea that the first album would do what it did, but I’ve a feeling about this new one – I feel that I’ve a lot more time for it than I ever had for the first album, just in terms of me wanting to listen to it, y’know.
Because the material’s that bit fresher?
Not even that. I remember getting our first album back and skipping a few tracks straight away – “Aww shite, I can’t listen to that one”. But I’ve not done that this time, and this time we’ve absolutely got the album we wanted, which is the whole appeal for us. This time we’ve got what we wanted rather than an album that’s sort of what we wanted, but a little of what a producer wanted, too.
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You think the first record was hurried to exploit the sing-along popularity of acts like Kaiser Chiefs?
I think that, the sing-along aspect, is there on the new album, and it definitely wasn’t a rush getting the first album out. It’s just that there were certain ways that some of the songs came out on it, and they really weren’t meant to go that way. That’s the thing when you’ve got a producer with you. Also, it was our first album, so you figure this guy’s made loads of albums, and we’ve made none, so he probably knows what he’s doing. But then you realise quite quickly afterwards, when it’s too late to change anything, that you should just trust your own ears, whether you’ve made one album or ten albums. You’ve got to trust in what you think is right. This time we’ve had all the control.
Doing things the way you did first time around gave you mass appeal, though…
The mass-appeal things, they’re just to do with the melodies man – people will remember melodies more than they remember lyrics, and they’ll stick in the head a lot quicker. Those melodies are still there, and they probably always will be.
Since the last album made number two, you must hoping Here We Stand charts a place higher, no?
Aww, I could not give a fuck man, ‘cause Coldplay’s album is coming out the same week as ours! But it’s cool with us, as those sorts of things only really matters to the record label – last time around loads of bands were going to number one, but ours stuck around for fucking months. That means a lot more, and since we’ve found out about the Coldplay thing it’s been good as it’s stopped people talking about us getting to number one. You know what labels are like – they’ll release something and make sure it gets to number one, and I don’t want to get involved in that. That can drag you fucking down. There’s no pressure on us at all, and this now means that other people can stop banging on about us getting number one, because it didn’t matter last time around. We still had a successful album, and we’re a lot prouder of the fact it stuck around rather than go to number one for a week and then disappear. Number one is just something to go on a sticker you put on the front of a CD, it doesn’t really mean anything, not to us at least.
So you’re more relaxed this time around? The pressure’s off?
If we are relaxed right now it’s because we know we’ve made a great album, one that we’re really proud of, and we can puff our chests out a bit. It’s an album we feel we believe in, and when you accept that this whole place becomes a much nicer place to be.
‘Mistress Mabel’, the new single – especially representative of the album?
I don’t know if it does sound particularly representative – I never get in an argument about singles, and never have in my life, but the label picks them. They’ve an idea of what’ll get played on the radio, and what will sell your album the best, and it’s working. It doesn’t mean… Well, it’s not the best song on the album by any stretch, but it’s still good, and wouldn’t be on the album at all if we didn’t like it. Y’know, I don’t think I’ve ever actually bought a single in my life.
Really? Not when you were younger?
Well, maybe then aye. I bought some seven-inches, but not that many, and as a result I’ve never really been into them. The album is gonna shout for itself, y’know.
And the many thousands who bought, and loved, the debut – is there anything on the new album that’s likely to surprise them?
I think there might be, and there are a few tracks that I do really love, songs that people are gonna scream at us about; they’ll wonder why we haven’t just given them ‘Henrietta’ again. To be honest with you, these songs are the ones that the biggest deal has been made over at the gigs we’ve played – I thought there’d be moans, but we’ve had the opposite. So sometimes you’ve got to trust people, respect that they don’t just want the same thing all of the time. Some people will just want the same thing, but that’s fine – they can still get the first album. It’s not going anywhere! When you’re in a band, the last thing you want to do is the same thing all the time. In a way it’s a shame that ‘…Mable’ is out first, as it might give you the impression that the new album is all the same thing. But then again I guess that’s why the label’s put it out.
It’s the loudest echo of your older material?
Totally. But the album will speak for itself.
And if the critics don’t take to it? The debut got its share of knocks – something you’re bothered by?
No, because all of the bands that are our idols have been hated by the press at some point – Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, they didn’t have an easy time all of the time. It’s only twenty years later that they’re banged on about as brilliant in the press. I read this old NME, from just before Led Zeppelin IV came out, and it had their bands for the year: this’ll be big, these guys will be big, y’know. I’d never heard of any of them! But it added: we predict that the big fucking dinosaur of Led Zeppelin will crumble this year. And then IV came out that year! So if we get a hard time, we’re in good company.
Video: 'Mistress Mabel'
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You never take criticism personally then?
Oh no – you expect to get criticised. I like the backs-to-the-wall mentality, as I think it can bring the best out in people. Y’know, when you think you’ve got to come out fighting…
But not literally? You’ve never wanted to punch someone out for what they’ve said about your band?
No, no – I tend not to read too many articles on our band. I imagine if you read a lot, and it affected you, it could just ruin your life. You’d be trying to second-guess yourself all the time. I’m not really one for being that bothered. Y’know, it’s taken us a long time to get here, and now we are here we’re determined to enjoy it and to come out on top. You’re definitely steeled a little bit when you do come from under the radar. Y’know, I’ve been playing guitar since I was 17, so I’ve had years of trying to get to this point. But that’s a good thing – it makes the negative things people have to say about you seem entirely inconsequential.
You won a Brit Award last year, in a public vote, essentially fingers up to the critics who panned you. That must’ve felt great.
It actually did mean a lot, it really meant a lot. People can be a bit glib about these things, saying it’s just a stupid Brit Award or whatever, but people voted for us over other acts, and that… Well, that was a fucking great night.
You remember it? I’d have assumed a few things might’ve rather gone to your heads…
Aw, I can remember it in flashes. When got on stage, Mince was steaming. He took his bottle of beer up with him when we collected our award, and went backstage without it. When he realised he’d forgotten it, he just walked back out there, on live TV, to pick up his bottle of brew. Man, we did feel vindicated then, because people had voted for us to win.
And do you want to be back there again, picking up more awards?
Yeah, because we’re a very ambitious band, albeit in quite a quiet way. Good things happen to good bands who make good albums – that’s always the way it’s been, and I think this album is fucking great man. It’s everything that we wanted to do, and I’ve such a good feeling about it. So hopefully everything will go great, but you never really know. You don’t ever really have a clue. I can remember a tour we’d done just after the album had come out. We finished, and our driver was off to drive Amy Winehouse around. This was just before her last album came out, and while people knew of her it hadn’t gone stupid. Now look at her! Three months later: fucking bang, she’s the biggest female singer on the planet. I mean, that shows you never know.
True that. It’s the surprises that keep things interesting.
I like life when you don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ve had so many exciting things happen to us, and they’ve been all the better because we’ve not known they were going to happen. All we know is that the bit’s between our teeth again, and that’s all we’ve ever needed.
Okay Jon, thanks for your time. I’ll leave you to Minder…
Oh, Minder’s finished. It’s The Professionals now. Quite some decent daytime viewing on ITV4.
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Here We Stand is released June 9 via Island. Find The Fratellis on MySpace here.