Songwriter Interviews

The Fratellis

by Carl Wiser

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The Fratellis are one in a handful of survivors of the great indie rock renaissance of the mid-naughties. In 2006, their single "Chelsea Dagger" - the one with that glorious sing-a-long chorus - was inescapable. Its parent album Costello Music was followed in 2008 by Here We Stand, which contained the rollicking rocker "Mistress Mabel."

But while stadium crowds and pub patrons were reveling to their riffs, the group went on a five-year hiatus ("a really good word for having split up," Jon says). After various side projects and a solo album from frontman Jon Fratelli, the band is back with their third album We Need Medicine and a UK tour. Unlike their contemporaries the Arctic Monkeys, who have adapted their sound to the evolving music scene, The Fratellis are still producing the same memorable Rock'n'Roll that is chanted in football stands on both sides of the Atlantic.

They return in 2013 to a British music scene that is almost unrecognizable: R&B has replaced their brand of rip-roaring rock on the Top-40, and distorted guitar hasn't recognizably contributed to the UK charts for some years. No matter. If anything, the band has mined even older musical traditions to update their sound; the rockabilly rhythms of the album's lead single "Seven Nights, Seven Days" would sit comfortably on a Johnny Cash record.

Only time will tell if they can emulate the success of their 2006 debut, but in this chat, Jon makes it clear that trends are not his concern.

Carl Wiser (Songfacts): We Need Medicine was released after a five-year split. How does the album compare to the band's previous releases?

Jon Fratelli: There's probably a thread that connects this and our first record, though given that we made them seven years apart there's also a lot of differences I think. In some ways I hope it compares but mostly I'm happy to move on.

Songfacts: Where did the title for the album come from?

Jon: Just from the idea that life is absurd. The lyric from the title track just shines a light on that.

Songfacts: How does the songwriting process work for you guys, and how has it changed over the years?

Jon: It's pretty much how it's always been. I come in with songs that I think will suit the band; mostly I'm just trying to keep myself entertained.

Songfacts: What was the inspiration for the song "Seven Nights Seven Days"?

Jon: The character in that song sounds like he's in a desperate place and needs some hope from somewhere. I guess we've all felt like that at times.

Songfacts: The video for that song evokes a simultaneously depressing and uplifting angle on life and love. Tell us a little about the clown imagery and how the video came about.

Jon: It's really just trying to convey the idea of someone who finds themselves in the wrong time, trying desperately to perform for people who don't understand him. Clowns being "old fashioned" as a form of entertainment seemed to tell that story well.

Songfacts: In your song "Moriarty's Last Stand," is this Jack Kerouac's Dean Moriarty or Sherlock Holmes' archenemy?

Jon: I've forgotten... probably Dean Moriarty, which is funny as I'm not a fan of that book!

Songfacts: You have a number of songs titled after names. Do you think you have a natural instinct for storytelling and characters, or are these songs usually based on real life experiences?

Jon: I have no life experience so I have no choice but to make these things up. I figure the world has heard enough of people telling their own story; fiction is very underrated.

Like the Ramones, these guys aren't really Fratellis - the name comes from the evil clan in the 1985 movie The Goonies. Rounding out the band are Barry Fratelli on bass and Mince Fratelli on drums.
Songfacts: Please tell us about one of the tracks on the new album that you're particularly proud of.

Jon: "Shotgun Shoes" started life as fifteen random verses I wrote each morning as a way to wake my brain up. I like how it ended up taking on another life.

Songfacts: You supported the Police back in 2007. What did you learn from that experience?

Jon: That it's not that easy to connect with people as the support band in a football stadium! In saying that, we had a very good time and the band were as nice as could be.

Songfacts: In 2008, you told The Guardian: "Mistress Mabel is absolutely the worst lyrics I've ever written." Do you still feel that way?

Jon: Of course.

Songfacts: The band's website, as well as the cover art for the album, gives a playful nod toward the comic book industry. What's the story there?

Jon: When it comes to artwork, we can go one of three ways:
1) A picture of us – which is a terrible idea.

2) Something abstract – which doesn't suit our personality.

3) Something that gets straight to the point. I'm a fan of getting straight to the point.

Songfacts: For your upcoming US and European tour, what venues and locations are you guys most looking forward to visiting?

Jon: We're genuinely delighted to be playing anywhere where people want to see us play. It's a nice place to be where you can travel and play guitar with your friends for people who seem to like you.

Richard Law and Heather Pugh. October 7, 2013. Get tour dates and more info at
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Comments: 1

  • Erika from WisconsinI am so glad you asked the Moriarty question....I've long wondered that myself!
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