Jon Fratelli Discusses "Bright Night Flowers," Second Solo Album in 8 Years
You probably know him as the frontman of The Fratellis, a Scottish rock band synonymous with punchy pub tunes and catchy sing-a-long anthems like “Flathead” and “Chelsea Dagger.” What you may not know is that The Fratellis’ lead singer, Jon Fratelli, is a prolific solo artist with a new album—Bright Night Flowers—releasing this Friday, February 15.
Bright Night Flowers is Jon’s second solo album, recorded over 8 years after his first album, Psycho Jukebox, came out in 2011. A lot can happen in eight years—both personally and professionally—and Jon will be the first to admit that the trajectory from Psycho Jukebox to Bright Night Flowers encapsulates those differences. "The truth is that [Psycho Jukebox] was a record that was made not for the best of reasons, so there’s a huge difference between the two. [Bright Night Flowers] was made, as far as I’m concerned, for the best reason that it could be, which is sheer curiosity. The other record—it had a reason to be made, and it wasn’t a very good reason, and I think that’s something that you can smell. So to me there’s a massive difference [between the two].”
So what role, exactly, did curiosity play in the creation and development of Bright Night Flowers?
It began with a few songs that Jon had written back in 2017 while he was working with The Fratellis on their latest album, In Your Own Sweet Time. In Your Own Sweet Time was released in April of 2018, and Bright Night Flowers was recorded immediately after in the summer of 2018. It was a whirlwind of a year for Jon, but he didn’t exactly set out to create two records at the same time. “When I was writing songs for the last Fratellis record, I found myself at the same time writing about 4 or 5 other songs that I really liked. They were so different from what the band would do, but there was something about them that really just made me curious. The fact that I recorded them, at that point, had nothing to do with wanting to make a solo record—I just wanted to hear them,” Jon explains. “I had an idea of how they would and should sound, and I knew that there was quite a lot [of work] that was needed [to record them]. But I needed to do it, and then just sit down and say ‘Okay, that’s exactly what I thought they might sound like.’ Which is kind of an expensive experiment,” Jon laughs, “but that’s really all that was; and before I knew it, there really was this entire record.”
The simple “experiment” of recording songs that piqued his curiosity produced a work that, in effect, created its own community—an concept that Jon loves. “As soon as one person listens to it, you start a little community, and I like that. I like that it creates that community, and I like the fact that it might seem from the outside like the person who made the music is at the head of the community, but they’re not—that’s a complete lie. You’re as much just a part of that little community as anyone that listens to it.”
What kind of music can the Bright Night Flowers community expect to hear on the album? It’s certainly a more stripped down, melodic sound, bereft of the anthemic and high-energy tunes so often associated with The Fratellis. It was also written entirely on the piano, though of course with other instrumentation added in during recording. Although the album has been described as “country Gothic” by some, Jon takes issue with that verbiage. “The country Gothic description didn’t come from me. The fact that I describe it as playful would be as much of a description as you would get from me,” he clarifies.
Nevertheless, Jon does acknowledge the strong country undercurrent of Bright Night Flowers. “Country is pretty much, for me, the most natural style that I find myself writing in. So many songs that The Fratellis have have started as a country strum, and so many of the songs that we do can be played as a straight country song. It comes from a kind of laziness, I guess,” he chuckles. “You know, I’m not really a ‘rock’ guy, I live life at an incredibly slow pace. So many of these songs were written just lazing on the sofa with a guitar. And when you’re lazing on the sofa with a guitar, you’re playing really slow, and something that isn’t really that taxing.”
While Jon may not be among the first to describe Bright Night Flowers as country Gothic, he does go so far as to say that it’s playful - which is surprising, given the contrasting elements of heartbreak and loss that many of the songs personify. So how does Jon reconcile these two seemingly conflicting ideas?
“Heartbreak and devastation - they can be playful,” he argues. “It depends what game you want to play. If you want to play the heartbreak game, as opposed to the blissfully happy game…at the end of the day, they’re both still games. And I understand that that’s not a common view that most people hold, to describe these things as games, but it’s how I see it. That particular period of writing those songs, I decided to play the bittersweet heartbreak game; today on this day, I’m not playing that game, but that’s what I was splaying at that particular time, and that’s why I would describe it as playful. Because you know, we generally don’t want the heartbreak, we don’t want the sort of dark side of life. But it’s completely necessary, and it can be as much fun to play that game as it is to play the happy game.”
It’s hard to tell if Jon is playing me or not when I ask him what fans can expect to see from Jon Fratelli as a solo artist in the future. “This could be the last record I make, given that I didn’t plan to release the record; it’s quite possible this will be it. I have so much freedom with The Fratellis to basically do whatever I feel like doing, I have no need to look elsewhere. I kind of like the idea of taking it as far as it can go…but it could be that I never make another record again, and I’m completely fine with that.”
You can explore these themes of heartbreak, loss, and playfulness for yourself on Friday, February 15th, when you can purchase or stream your very own copy of Bright Night Flowers. Take advantage of it while you can - this may (or may not?) be Jon Fratelli’s last record as a soloist.