BROOKLYN, NY- It was raining when Scottish rockers The Fratellis rolled into Brooklyn, New York. I should just stop here and say, in full disclosure, I’ve been listening to The Fratellis since 2007 after Costello Music dropped. While living in Los Angeles one night and losing a battle with insomnia at 3am, I decided an iTunes adventure was necessary. There was a suggestion box: “Since you liked Biffy Clyro you might like…” I clicked on the preview link and was directed to a song called “Chelsea Dagger”. As soon as I heard THAT hook, I immediately downloaded the entire album, which became one of my favorite albums.
Almost eleven *cough, cough* years and four albums later (their latest offering, “In Your Own Sweet Time”, is amazing), they are still a mainstay on my favorite playlists and a must-listen on road trips. I believe their tracks are timeless because every time I make it out to a Fratellis show, I never know what demographics will show up and I’m always happily surprised by the diversity of the fans that do. The Brooklyn Steel show was no exception. This photo below is going in Jame’s high school yearbook (yes, the champion being raised above the crowd) and I took it while sandwiched between one very well-educated 60-year-old Scottish man and an Estonian couple who came in from Connecticut to catch the show.
Which brings me back to the interview — When I arrived at Brooklyn Steel I was welcomed and immediately put at ease by Nigel, one of the nicest and most accommodating tour managers I’ve met in ages. (Thank you, Nigel!) A few days before, Jon had taken ill and had to cancel the show in Detroit, so it wasn’t a total surprise when I was told the day before that Jon was still a bit sick and wouldn’t be at the interview.
I’d come completely prepared to interview bass player extraordinaire Barry Fratelli (a.k.a Barry Wallace) and/or Mince Fratelli (a.k.a Gordon McRory) their magnificent drummer. I’d done my research and was feeling good about the questions I’d prepared, so when Nigel showed me through a door and I walked into a tiny, yet comfortable room with just Jon sitting patiently on a couch, I was beyond surprised. There was a brief moment of panic with the immediate realization I had come completely unprepared for an interview with just Jon. But if you’ve stayed with me this long, you will hopefully be forgiving of what comes next: an actual completely off-the-cuff chat with the absolutely lovely Jon Fratelli (a.k.a. Jon Lawler, a Scottish musician and songwriter best known for his work with the band The Fratellis).
BC : Recording now. Ok, first question. What’s the significance of “Runaround Sue”? I’ve noticed you seem to end your sets with that song a lot.
Jon Fratelli : Oh yeah. The first time I ever heard that was … I would have been about seven, and I don’t think this happened over here, I think this was just a UK thing. There was a group called “Jive Bunny.” They had, like, two number one hits in a row and then disappeared. They were basically just a bunch of DJs who mashed together like a sort of techno-beat behind it … all these songs from the fifties, so it’s like Chubby Checker and the Fat Boys and Runaround Sue was on, and it was just like [singing]. And I heard that melody when I was just like seven and I thought, “Oh my god, like, that’s deep.”
I was obsessed with just that part, so I would tape it off the radio and go back and just listen for that tiny-bit little thing. So I always loved that song. The idea of turning it into, sort of, a punk rock-and-roll thing, who knows, I just liked that song since I was a kid. I just had a suspicion that a crowd would like it. It’s easy to sing along to.
BC : And it’s a good bouncy. It’s a logical bouncy.
BC : What’s your favorite song to play live?
Jon Fratelli : The last four or five nights, [it’s] the slow songs. I’m starting to feel it at this point. It changes, and an audience is completely keyed to that because you just do not know what you’re gonna get each night from an audience. And it’s really all about them. And you can be surprised in the most surprising of places. When that thing happens between whoever is on stage and an audience, every song’s great, and then other nights it doesn’t quite catch fire in the same way for some reason. Generally, I’d say that this is the same for most people… the newer songs, the songs we enjoy playing the most. Although, I have to confess that last night was the night when all the newer songs lost a little bit of their shine for me, which isn’t surprising because I’ve a tiny attention span. So, it’s a bit of a lottery as to what’s the most fun to play. On a night when you’re really struggling, the last song is my favorite song.
BC : [Laughs] Fair enough. Fair enough. I was watching some of the youtube clips online and you were going through the album, and each having like a little anecdote for each one-
Jon Fratelli : Trying to have one! Because, even though I’m supposed to be the one to ask I have no idea.
BC : I was gonna ask you, any recall for “Sugartown”? Is it still a total blank?
Jon Fratelli : It’s all a blank, everything’s a blank.
BC : Really?
Jon Fratelli : Everything is … and I find it quite trustworthy that it’s a blank. You know, like — I have no idea, but it happened. It’s like if somebody … there was a song … my son and I were talking a few weeks ago. I go through periods of complete explosions of … I can’t even say of a falling-in-love of music because it’s not enough. There isn’t an adjective in the world to describe it, where it’s a hundred orgasm’s worth of … all at once, of utter, musical heaven. And it’ll last for three or four days, and anyway I kept listening to one song during that three or four day period, I kept listening to over and over to the point that my son came upstairs and said, “Could you please play something else now?” And I think it was “Whiter Shade of Pale,” and I found this version of Gary Brooker doing it. You should try and find it online if you like that song- He did this … I think it was from like a festival in Europe somewhere, I can’t remember the year. But if you were to youtube: “Procol Harum Whiter Shade of Pale live,” you’ll see it, because he’s older now when he does it. And he did it with a full orchestra- And he … in it, is just, I don’t have the words to describe how good he is in it.
And I just went over and over again, and my son said — he was quite articulate — he said, “Would you swap every song you’ve ever written, just for that song if you could write … If you wrote one song in your lifetime would you swap everything you have done for that, and instantly I said: “Absolutely.” … umm, did we start with this?
BC : I honestly can’t remember. I went down the rabbit hole with you.
Jon Fratelli : Did you ask about “Sugartown”, is that what it is?
BC : Yes! Thank you!
Jon Fratelli : You’re just glad when nice songs turn up.
BC : Yes, it’s a beautiful song. I was going through the clips and then listening to the songs after each one, and I was like, “This is really lovely, I’d love to know the story behind this one.”
Jon Fratelli : And I don’t have one.
BC : Ha! It’s all good. Thank you for the song. There seems to be a sort of self-deprecating theme that goes on in a lot of the lyrics and I wanted to know if that was, like, a Fratelli thing, or if it was just like a cultural thing in general?
Jon Fratelli : Well, I find life is to be laughed at all the time, because it’s a complete comedy. You know, especially if you can find the comedy in what seems to be tragedy. There’s comedy there if you can find it. The comedy for me, in tragedy, is always, “Hey, you’re taking this too seriously. This clearly is not meant to be taken seriously, and I don’t mean … I mean everything, it’s one big sitcom. And I know that some people will really dislike that, because we like to hold on to our things, you know — “No, this is serious!” Nothing’s serious.
BC : I’m the girl that laughs at a funeral, so, yeah.
Jon Fratelli : I used to laugh at funerals all the time, I was always getting into trouble in school for laughing at things you were not supposed to laugh at. So, you know, some people would come in and say, you know, “Our old teacher has sadly passed away today,” and there would be me in the class, like, desperately trying not to laugh. And not because I thought it was funny, I think I find the seriousness too funny. We bow our heads and you look somber and I find that funny and I don’t know why.
BC : I totally get it. It’s like we should celebrate the life…
Jon Fratelli : Because it’s glorious and joyous. Even … I mean two days ago we couldn’t play a show in Detroit because I couldn’t even stand on my own two feet. And I found it hilarious, but I couldn’t do it in front of people because, you know, I had canceled the show and was trying to explain to people why, you know, to our band and crew why I couldn’t play. Yet, I really just wanted them all to go away so I could laugh about it.
BC : I have one last question. How does one go from Gordon to Mince? How do you get that name?
Jon Fratelli : Well, the even stranger part of the story is … I found his name on a “musicians wanted” board, or a “musicians for hire” board when I was putting this band together and I was looking for a guitarist because I’m not really a guitarist. I know the guitar just by default, and we already had a drummer and a bass player, so I thought we needed a second guitarist. There was a note or something from a guy saying, “Hi, my name’s Graham I like this, this, this and this,” and I forget what he said he liked, but at the bottom he said, “Only people interested in conquering the world need apply.” In one way I thought, “this guy’s a dick.” But, I quite like this.
So I phoned the number, and he had put “Call Graham.” So I phoned this number, this sort of very gruff voice answered and I said, “Can I speak to Graham please,” and this voice said, “Oh, there’s no Graham here son,” and the phone went down. And I looked at the number, “Did I phone the right number?” Try again. “Can I speak to Graham please?” “There’s definitely no Graham here son. There’s a Gordon.” And I said, “Okay, can I speak to Gordon then?” And this other voice comes on the phone, I said “Are you the guy who put up the ad? He says, “Oh, yeah that was me.” “You’re not called Graham?” He says, “No, I’m called Mince.” I said, “Your Dad said you were called Gordon, and you said you were called Graham.” And he says, “I’m in another band at the moment, so I don’t want them to know that I was looking around for something else.”
So, it was Graham, and then Gordon, and then Mince. How does Mince come about? The story I’ve heard is that he went on. like, a boy scouts’ camp, and they ate mince for tea and he threw it up, like when he was a kid, so he became “Mince.”
BC : And that is how you become Mince.
Jon Fratelli : We thought it was short for “Mincent,” but it’s not short for Mincent – And his name is as enigmatic as he is. He is to this day a complete enigma. We don’t understand him.
BC : A riddle wrapped inside a mystery.
Jon Fratelli : Even to himself, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
And neither would we.
If you haven’t checked out The Fratellis latest album, “In Your Own Sweet Time,” you are missing out. Please feast your ears on the track that’s been on repeat on my iPod all week. My suggestion is to start with “I’ve Been Blind”. Hopefully you’ll follow it up with the rest of the album.