After experiencing mega success with their 2006 debut album, Costello Music, The Fratellis called it quits in 2009. Four years and several side projects later, they regrouped to record their third studio album, We Need Medicine. Before their show at U Street Music Hall, the DC leg of their almost sold-out North American tour, I sat down with bass guitarist, Baz Fratelli, to talk about the band’s past and present.
Maddy Wolpow-Gindi: After spending some time apart, what’s it like to be on tour again?
Baz Fratelli: It’s lovely. Touring anywhere is nice but we didn’t think we were going to get to come back to America quite so soon. So to get to do that fairly quickly, and most of the shows have sold out, it’s very special.
MWG: I was just going to bring that up; I saw that most of them are sold out, that’s really impressive. Were you expecting that sort of response? What did that feel like?
BF: I’d like to say we weren’t expecting it but, I don’t know, we thought maybe one or two would sell out, we always do.
MWG: Yeah, I kind of hold you guys to be sort of a cult band, there’s already a line in front and the doors don’t open for another 2 hours.
BF: Is there really? I probably shouldn’t go over there then.
MWG: Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.
BF: No I think it’s only 7 out of the 9 shows sold out.
MWG: Still, that’s like 80% which is pretty impressive.
BF: Thank you.
MWG: So everyone seems to be calling this your “comeback tour” or “comeback album”, was that the intention? Or was it just sort of an accident that this happened?
BF: I think comeback sounds a bit daft. Of course it is a comeback album because it’s the first thing we’ve done since we broke up. But I don’t like calling it a comeback, it’s just the next thing that we’ve done. You know we got back together, played some shows, and then the next logical step was to try and do a new record, which I guess is the “comeback record”. It’s just great—lots of bands split up and they either don’t get back together or they get back together and it’s just all about nostalgia, you know without trying to do something new. But we were very lucky that everyone seemed to be anticipating what we were going to do.
MWG: I think the album rings true to you guys, I enjoyed it and will be enjoying it soon at the show tonight.
BF: Thank you very much.
MWG: At what point did you all decide to go by the last name Fratelli and why?
BF: Everyone thinks it’s like this really curious thing that we did and I suppose it ended up being like that, but I’ll tell you the truth. It was like when I met Jon, I didn’t know his second name so I put him in my phone as “Jon Fratelli” and he put me in as “Baz Fratelli” and after that someone said “ah, it’s like The Ramones” and we were like “yeah, yeah” but really it’s just an accident.
MWG: You’ve played everything from music festivals to bars to venues like this. What’s your ideal performance space?
BF: It’s a funny one because they’ve all got their own strengths and manners and bad things about them. Like sometimes little venues are too loud because we’re quite a loud band and you know like tonight I’ve got a strong feeling I’m going to have a splitting headache after the show. But that’s okay because we’re a loud band, you know, and we’ve got a very loud drummer that we can’t turn down. I guess I like playing in 1000-1500 capacity like places. Last night at Webster Hall in New York, that seemed like the perfect size too. But that being said, we’ve played to 90,000 people before and that was great too.
MWG: If you hadn’t become huge successes as musicians, what do you think you’d be doing with your life right now?
BF: I don’t know. I always wanted to be a musician so I guess I never really went to, well, I went to college a couple of times but I didn’t connect to a career because I always had faith that one band was going to pick off and it did and that was very lucky. I guess I would like to be like a photographer or something else creative.
MWG: So stick with the arts?
BF: I guess so, I can’t really do anything else. I used to be a casino croupier.
MWG: That’s interesting. How long did you spend doing that?
BF: About 5 years, but it’s not really a job, you just play cards.
MWG: What is your preshow ritual?
BF: I smoke a lot of cigarettes, which I know I shouldn’t do. But to be honest I like a lot my peace and quiet to get myself into the zone. Normally if someone is chatting to me, I don’t listen to them. Honestly, I usually wander around.
MWG: Do you listen to any specific music?
BF: No. I wish I did. I wish I had a song that was like “Let’s do this.” Honestly I usually wander around on my own a little bit and just kind of get my head into it and then do it.
MWG: What is the strangest display of affection you’ve ever gotten from a fan?
BF: There have been a few, but there was one girl from London. Well, she wasn’t from London but she came to a show and she had a photo album that she had made for us. Which is nice, you know. She just wanted us to look at it with her, and we were like, “Oh, that’s lovely, we’ll look at it after.” and she was like, “No. Look at it now.”
MWG: Was it pictures of the band? Or just pictures of her?
BF: No, it was pictures she had taken of us and just pictures we didn’t know she was taking and well I guess you could call that a strange display of affection. But she’s very lovely, if not a bit nuts.
MWG: I just have one last one, something we always like to ask people on our shows. If you could tour with anyone dead or alive, who would it be?
BF: That’s a really good question but a very hard question. It depends because we would want to be the headline band; but if we had to open for someone, Nirvana. I don’t think it would get much better. Nirvana in 1992, there you go.
For most, The Fratellis are a blast from the past. Their catchy “Flathead” took the world by storm when it was featured in an early marketing campaign by Apple—remember those dancing silhouettes and flashing neon backgrounds? At their concert, they played the same addicting dance-on-your-own music featured in the Apple commercial that had first launched them into fame.
The room was packed with loyal fans singing along to the band’s trademark songs that brought out the drunken Scot in all of us. To the band, it may not have felt like they were playing for nostalgia’s sake, but I think that’s why the crowd was there. Although there was nothing cutting-edge about the show, The Fratellis satisfied a thirst we’ve had since they disbanded four years ago. They played music that was true to them, didn’t try to be something they weren’t, and certainly didn’t treat this as a “comeback.” From the iPod obsessed eighth grader inside all of us, it was a relief to escape from the indie-folk of today’s youth and be transported back to some good old sing-along rock.