More than one-hit wonders

In advance of their Mitchelstown gig, the Fratellis tell Ed Power how the band have had a life beyond ‘Chelsea Dagger’

JON LAWLER is a terrible salesman. “With our new album we have got things at least half right,” laughs the Fratellis singer. “I know that’s not the best pitch in the world — ‘Buy our album, it’s half good’. I’m not very good at promoting myself.”

The Glasgow native cuts a careworn figure. A life in music has taken its toll. In 2006, the Fratellis had a global hit with ‘Chelsea Dagger’, a stomping anthem that has lived on as a terrace chant. But he found success overwhelming and, amid increasing levels of off-stage acrimony, the Fratellis split in 2009. Since then, life has not always been easy.

“I tried other avenues,” says Lawler. “For whatever reason none seemed to resonate. You have to be able to admit to yourself that building an audience isn’t an easy thing.”

After the Fratellis he had put together the soul-infused Codeine Velvet Club. When that project flopped he started to think about his old band. Maybe the differences behind the break-up weren’t so irreconcilable after all.

“I don’t know if it is the same for everyone in the entertainment industry but, in my experience, the people involved are the least qualified in the world to get on with each other. We must have fallen into that category. We had pretty much separated for good.”

Last year he reached out to his former bandmates and was surprised they were open to the possibility of a reunion. Older, a little wiser, they decided to make peace. The Fratellis were in business once again. “After a while you forgot why you stopped getting along,” he says. “We couldn’t see a good reason any more as to why we couldn’t go out and play gigs. It just didn’t make sense. What was to stop us performing together and enjoying ourselves?”

But would the public still take an interest? Lawler worried their fanbase might have shrank to nothing, that the comeback would be an embarrassment. “We needed to find out if anybody cared. To our surprise, people did seem to care. The reunion came about very easily, in the end. We put on gigs and people came.”

The Fratellis played their first gig in 2005 and were snapped up by Universal Records. Working with Beck and Air producer Tony Hoffer, their 2006 debut Costello Music was an international hit, winning the group a Brit Award for best newcomers. They toured with Kasabian, were proclaimed ‘best new band in Britain’ in the UK music press and charted globally with ‘Chelsea Dagger’.

The song has had a lucrative afterlife. It is widely featured in advertisements and as background music on television. In America, it has become the theme tune of a multitude of sporting franchises. Lawler recently fielded calls from journalists in Chicago, where the Blackhawks ice hockey team has adopted ‘Chelsea Dagger’ as its official song.

“They won the Stanley Cup and there was a big deal about it,” he says. “I have no problem with them using it, even though I don’t understand sports at all. It isn’t my thing. ‘Chelsea Dagger’ has given me a freedom to make music I want to make. There is a trade off there.”

He has developed a complicated relationship with the track, he says. He doesn’t really feel as if it belongs to him any more.

“Apart from collecting the royalties, we don’t have a connection with it. We do it at gigs nowadays and it is as if we are playing someone else’s song. It has taken on a life of its own.”

After a successful comeback tour, the trio started to think about a new record. They didn’t want to become a glorified karaoke act. They needed to keep moving forward.

“It’s what you do, isn’t it?” says Lawler. “You tour and then you go and record an album. We recorded it between November and February. It feels like such a long time ago already. We didn’t work with anybody externally. I don’t leave the house often enough to know anyone. We are best left to our own devices, I think. It’s going to come out later in the year.”

They’ve tried new songs at concerts. The tunes have gone down well but the audience is clearly there for the old stuff. Lawler has no problem with that. He understands the power of nostalgia, even for material that is merely seven years old.

“It’s the same for everyone, isn’t it?” he shrugs. “The public will inevitably respond to your older songs. People are obsessed with a band’s first album. They connect with it, associate it with a time and place in their lives. You have to come to terms with that and not let it get in the way of you moving on musically or feeling engaged in what you are doing. That is the position we are in now.”

Lawler feels the Fratellis were naive starting out. Today, he would like to think they are older and wiser. “If you haven’t learned anything there would be no point. What we’ve learned exactly, I have absolutely no idea. But every time you do a record, you accumulate a little bit of knowledge. I don’t know where we will end up ultimately. You just have to keep moving forward, trying to do things that excite you.”

*The Fratellis headline Indiependence, Mitchelstown, Aug 2


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