The Fratellis - Scottish Mafia
A truculent relationship with the press hasn’t stopped Glaswegians The Fratellis from selling records and touring like there’s no tomorrow, discovers 3D’s Scott Henderson (a fellow Scotsman).
Bassman Barry Wallace of The Fratellis is snowed-in back home in Scotland and craving sunshine. Taking time out from his busy schedule of watching CSI and miscellaneous daytime television, Barry tells us he can’t wait to get to Australia, even though he’s been enjoying his first Christmas and New Year’s break in three years. “That’s the thing,” says the typically matter-of-fact Scotsman, “you spend so much time on tour pissing and moaning that you want a break and as soon as you get a couple of weeks off you’re just gagging to get away and do it again.”
In the four years since The Fratellis formed, the band have released two albums, sold a couple million of them, toured the US and the UK six times, won BRIT awards, graced all the festivals under the sun and played on stage with Pete Townsend: not bad by any standards. Despite their success and undeniable popularity with the people who actually buy music, it still feels like we haven’t scratched the surface of what is to come from the three-piece comprised of Barry, Jon Lawler (guitar) and Gordon McRory (drums). The band’s relationship with the media hasn’t always helped. That’s not to say they have a bad relationship; but take time to read reviews of Costello Music and Here We Stand and you’ll notice an undercurrent of passive aggressiveness that usually begins with the label ‘poor man’s Arctic Monkeys’.
“It’s definitely a case of that,” agrees Barry, who is candid without a hint of bitterness, but a sense of genuine detached observation. “I was going to say I don’t know how it started but I do know. I don’t like the idea that someone else has got a say in what you’re doing and how other people perceive your band. We started off with a kind of attitude toward the press and it has kinda backfired against us in the end. It got to a point that the press got pissed off with us because we could sell out records and tours and they didn’t have to put us on the cover.
“In our entire career as The Fratellis we’ve been on the cover of one magazine and it was Q magazine, and that was only last year with the second album. Before that we sold one and half million copies of our record without being flavour of the month in any press other than NME, who called us ‘the best new band in Britain’, but they say that to everybody. I quite like the fact that we got to where we did without the help of the press and I definitely think they resent the fact we managed to do that without them.”
It is always weird talking about ‘the press’ in the third person when you are a journalist yourself. But there is a pack mentality in the press that you can see as an independent journalist and for whatever reason The Fratellis do seem to have gotten a raw deal. Certainly releasing their debut album in the height of Arctic Monkey’s mania wouldn’t have helped. Either way, there can be no arguing that the boys haven’t worked bloody hard to get to where they are now.
“There’s two ways you can do it,” begins Barry’s guide to staying sane on tour. “You can either drink every night to get through it or you can go away and read a book. We generally have blowouts at the start and by the end of it we’re worn out retirees. Everybody finds their own way of doing it. I like to see as many places as I can when we get out on tour. You might as well, it could all end tomorrow – you should enjoy every minute of it, that’s my philosophy when it comes to touring. But try asking at the end of a five-week tour of America when I’m desperate to get home.”
The last time I saw The Fratellis live was on one such US tour in 2007 after Costello Music had already sold over a million copies worldwide. It was in Austin, Texas at South By South West and the boys were playing a free gig in one of the many bars on Sixth Street. The crowd, tired from the hot Texan humidity, notably picked up once the trio rocked out their best-known tracks at the time, Henrietta, Flathead and Creepin Up The Downstairs – The Fratellis know how to get people having a good time. There’s a streak of Scottish fun-loving folkishness that perforates their sound, accompanied on this occasion – like many – by a group of Scottish lads all clad in kilts, jumping up and down and singing their support as if they’d died and gone to Caledonian heaven.
Barry, for his part, is pretty amused by the whole phenomenon. “It’s endearing to a point but when you get to certain places, some of your gigs end up like a stag do, you know- I wouldn’t knock it, but I can see why in certain places, some audiences are kinda intimidated by that, the whole Scottishness of ‘let’s get pissed and go mad’ angle. I definitely think we are one of the only races in the world that can pull something like that off and not look as if we’re trying to kill each other trying to do it.”
We spend a lot of our conversation talking about festivals (“You don’t want to turn into Stereophonics and play every festival in every year.”) before drifting easily onto Costello Music (“fucking great album, I’m very proud of it”) and Here We Stand, which Barry says was much more about “capture how we actually ended up sounding” having truly become a band in the interim two and half years touring. Will there be a third album in 2009-
“Er, no, I seriously doubt it,” says Barry, explaining their plan to wind down and take the rest of the year off before adding wistfully that he’s excited to hear what The Fratellis might sound like in another year’s time. “If you’re lucky enough to put out a third, second or even first album you should really show people what you can do other than just staying the same. We’d get piss-bored doing that and I’m pretty sure the people buying the records would too.”
WHO: The Fratellis
WHAT: Play the Big O at Manning Bar
WHEN: Friday 27 February