Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Pure Sex And Heavy Psyched: The Sensational Rise Of The Fratellis

It is a measure of how far the Fratellis have come , and how quickly, that when I arrive at their hotel in Bloomsbury, London, at noon on a wet Wednesday in winter, the band’s road manager, Gideon, is involved in a stern discussion about Champagne. This is not a matter of rock’n’roll excess, or even record company largesse – though the Glasgow three-piece have had much to celebrate over the last three months. (Their debut album, Costello Music, entered the charts at number two, and they recently played two sold out nights at Glasgow’s Barrowland ballroom.)
Specifically, Gideon’s point is that the two bottles of bubbly the band were promised as compensation for having their morning’s rest disturbed by hotel staff have failed to materialise. Never mind that the disturbance happened because two of the band were unable to work out how to illuminate the “Do Not Disturb” sign; this is a matter of principle. Champagne was promised; Champagne must be delivered. The hotel manager mumbles something about putting the bottles in the band’s rooms. “Yes,” says Gideon, “but we’re checking out now. So if you get the bottles now, they’ll take them with them.” At this point, the hotelier’s face is a picture of agonised tolerance.
The Fratellis, it’s true, do not look like men who are used to debating the finer points of viticulture. But such is the momentum of their career that they must be in danger of developing a taste for sparkling wine. Gideon, it turns out, used to work for Whitesnake, so we may assume that he has talked his way out of tighter corners than this. “He’s brilliant,” says Jon, the Fratellis’ tousle-haired songwriter. “Even the smallest little thing, like the taxi driver taking a wrong turn; he pure lets them know that it’s not acceptable. ‘Do you know who you’ve got in the back?’”
In truth, the Fratellis’ rise has been so swift that cabbies could be forgiven for not recognising them. Indeed, when we walk through Bloomsbury towards the British Museum, they turn some heads, but there is no overt Fratellimania.
But if they haven’t quite cracked open the public consciousness, there is every chance that they will, and soon. In Glasgow, it has already happened. Those Barrowland shows sold out in record time, and the atmosphere at the shows left the group speechless. “Unless you’ve got a great command of the English language you run out of words,” says Jon (the group have all adopted Fratelli as a surname, in the manner of the Ramones). “I don’t know what words you would use – it was pretty special.”
“Pure sex,” says Barry, the bass player, adding that as a punter at the Barrowland, he used to fantasise about what it would be like to be on the other side of the lights. “I thought: how cool would it be just to be up there, playing?”
“It’s beyond explanation sometimes,” adds Jon, “that people love us that much. I always just figured that we would love us that much, and that people would like us. They wouldn’t get as excited as we do. But they’re actually more excited. It’s still a big mystery to me.”
The band met when working at the shows in Glasgow: “I can say the shows to you,” says Jon. “With English people you’ve got to say ‘the fairground’. And the fairground just sounds pants.”
They moved around, doing stints on Andy’s Waltzers. “I always just ended up on the stalls,” says Jon. “You got less hassle at the stalls. I wasn’t very good at dealing with bams who were up for fighting. There were always loons that were just there to fight. I suppose it sounds like a romantic thing, but it wasn’t really. It was scummy.”
They played their first show in February 2005, at O’Henry’s pub in Glasgow. “We weren’t really interested in doing what you usually do in Glasgow which is to go on a bill of four bands and give all your ticket money away to promoters,” says Jon. “We found a basement in a little pub that held 70 people and put on our own nights. It was brilliant, man. It wasn’t about money – it was about leaving with a bit of dignity.”
“It was great,” says Barry. “At the end of the night we made £25 each and some beers. You’d never get that from playing at King Tuts.”
They recorded their album at Sunset Sound studios in Los Angeles, with producer Tony Hoffer, who has also worked with Beck and – more significantly for the Fratellis’ sound – Supergrass. They were in studio 3, which is full of vintage gear. “It makes you feel a bit more like you’re part of something you were interested in,” says Jon, “like when the Who and the Doors and Zeppelin recorded there. Dylan recorded there. When you’re using vintage gear, it’s got a lot of dust on it, and it ends up on your stuff.”
“It smells legendary, man,” says the amiable drummer, Mince.
“I think that’s cos we kept blocking the bogs,” says Jon.
“It was the hot dogs from the 7-11,” says Barry. “They didn’t agree with me.”
Other highlights from that trip included standing beside the actor James Woods at a urinal, seeing Chandler from Friends, and crossing the street at the same time as the porn star Ron Jeremy. On their first night out, Mince and Barry bumped into the stars of the dope-smoking movie Harold and Kumar Get The Munchies. “I was heavy psyched man,” says Mince, “and I ended up pished.”
In true Spinal Tap-style, the band hired a black Mustang convertible to get around LA. Mince was the designated driver, but was, by his own admission “always smashed”.
“Driving was a two man operation,” says Barry. “I had to keep reminding him which side of the road to drive on, and navigating. I had more stress than him. He just had to operate the car.” Mince also had some objections to his room. “The curtains were white, so it was bright as f***. I had to sleep in the walk-in wardrobe.”
The campaign takes another step up soon when the group embark on an arena tour with Kasabian, but they are impatient to make another album. The new material will be less obviously commercial, says Jon. “When you make your first album you’re not sure how it’s going to go, you err on the side of ‘let’s try and write some hits’. The songs that were picked were the most obvious ones. I can’t do the first album again in any shape or form, or I’ll go nuts. I’m desperate to make a second album. I’d rather make loads of albums – like three albums a year.”
Barry cautions that this is unlikely to happen, now that the group are signed to a major label. “Maybe we just need to break the mould,” says Jon. “Just do it. I just feel like going, ‘Here’s the deal, we’re going to make a couple of albums a year and a couple of tours and that’s what you’ll get out of us’. And see what they say. What d’you reckon? Type a memo and laminate it?”