Five albums in with his band, The Fratellis, singer-guitarist John Lawler has still avoided writing any songs about himself or the people in his life.
“Even when I sing songs that seem to be in the first person, when I revert to ‘I,’ … it’s still a complete fiction,” said Lawler, who goes by Jon Fratelli, from his home in Glasgow a week before the band was to tour in the U.S. To Lawler, all songs are fiction to one degree or another. All stories are changed by their storytellers. “These things are there to be played with. On the one hand, they’re fiction, but then so is everybody else.”
Sonically, the Fratellis’ new record, In Your Own Sweet Time, is not like their previous ones. While early hits like “Chelsea Dagger” and “Flathead” put the band on the map with dance-rock swagger and sing-along choruses that were equally suited for iPod commercials and sporting events, the band was rooted in blues and garage rock. For the most part, In Your Own Sweet Timeis considerably glossier, with major chord melodies and multi-part harmonies.
The poppier sound was not a conscious decision, however, Lawler said.
“I think even when people think that they’ve done something consciously or on purpose, they really haven’t. You’re excited by a certain thing at a certain time, and that’s the music that comes out,” he said. “For this record, for whatever reason, there was just a lot of colorful melody going on, but there’s absolutely no explanation for it. And, if there was an explanation, I would be sort of disinterested in trying to find it. Because it’s just nice for these things just to float by. … There is a sweetness to the melodies on this record, but I haven’t tried to figure out why in case I scare it away.”
In Your Own Sweet Time may be more texturally kaleidoscopic, but there’s no direct correlation to the state of the lives of the three band members, who include drummer Gordon McRory (Mince Fratelli) and bassist Barry Wallace (Barry Fratelli).
Even during times when Lawler would describe himself as being unhappy (he has recently talked about living with depression), the band’s music has never reflected that.
“[I] certainly have no desire to make music that might bring people down. I’ve always felt that pop music is celebratory,” he said. “I’ll always be attracted to that sort of explosive enthusiasm and happiness that comes with pop music or rock and roll. To me that’s its function. The record was made in a good spirit; let’s put it that way.”
Lawler is the band’s primary songwriter, and he does most of the work alone at home. He likes his private space and the solitary pursuit of the craft—“it’s how I get my kicks.” He doesn’t use the word “recluse,” but acknowledges that he relishes being alone. It’s why he loves the slower pace of life whenever he visits the U.S. West Coast.
“I’m a slow guy—I move slowly, I think slowly,” he said. “So places where everything’s spaced out really well, and you have lots of space to yourself … that’s my kind of place.
Writing songs is Lawler’s favorite thing to do, and he doesn’t do much of anything else. He’s already two-thirds of the way into writing the band’s next album, and he has had time to rewrite and re-record several songs of his long-gestating second solo album, which he initially planned to release while the band was broken up between 2009 and 2012.
By the time the Fratellis enter the studio, the trio already knows what it will be recording and the few bits on which they have to work. It was no different for the new album. Lawler, Wallace and McRory like to work quickly.
“We don’t really have the temperament, I don’t think. I certainly don’t have the temperament to spend three months in a studio,” Lawler said. “I’d go crazy. I would lose the thread really quickly, and become quite lost. We did four or five weeks, and that to me is lots of time to make a good record.”
Album openers “Stand Up Tragedy” and “Starcrossed Losers” feature The 1975-esque reverb, string sections and cascading harmonies. Midtempo “Sugartown” is a poppy exercise in scale-climbing. The synths and disco beat on “The Next Time We Wed” amplifies the color, while “I’ve Been Blind” is reminiscent of ‘80s bands like The Cure.
“Laughing Gas,” a more traditional, yet sped-up, Fratellis track, is what Lawler considers his most lyrically concise story—written from someone else’s point of view, of course. It’s a reminder not to take life too seriously.
The back half of the album has two songs that don’t fit the mold of the others and lean heavily toward blues rock. “Adviata Shuffle” features slide guitar over an industrial structure and seven-minute album closer, “I Am That,” makes good use of Indian or Eastern strings over dense Madchester instrumentation.
“To me, all songs write themselves,” Lawler said. “Some feel more spontaneous than others when you write them, and some take a lot of time to do. And then others you do in half an hour. And even though [“I Am That”] is quite long, that really was written in half an hour.”
Even though the song came quickly, the band kept returning to it to make sure they got it right. While the others on the record took three to four days to complete and record, that one took nine days.
“If you’re gonna do this kind of song, you go over the top,” he said. “So, we really tried to make sure that we overplayed it so that it wasn’t being subtle. … It’sprobably the most care we’ve taken over one song.”
Follow Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.