The Fratellis frontman talks to The Villanovan

Jeff Yerger

on Lawlor, a.k.a Jon Fratelli, is a soft-spoken man from Scotland who loves nothing more than to write and play his music.

 His original band, The Fratellis, is a loud rock ‘n’ roll band that has found great success in the United States and Europe in recent years. 

They’ve sold millions of albums worldwide, and their last release, “Here We Stand,” reached gold status in the U.K. 

Not bad for a small trio who started out playing pubs in Glasgow only about five years ago.

Now, as the new decade begins, the Fratellis are on hiatus, taking a well-deserved break from what once was a hectic touring schedule. 

However, Lawlor is the only member of the band who has refused to put down his instrument. 

Recently, Lawlor, along with Scottish diva Lou Hickey, formed a new band called the Codeine Velvet Club. 

This new band has all the spunk of The Fratellis but is much grander in stature, evoking the big-band sound of old Hollywood. 

The Codeine Velvet Club all started when Lawlor and Hickey met in Glasgow. 

Hickey was looking to record an album, and she asked Lawlor to write a few songs for her, one of which became the first single “Vanity Kills.” 

“I liked the song,” Lawlor tells The Villanovan over the phone on a rainy, Scotland-like afternoon, saying that there was “something about it that I could see it go in different directions.”

 Lawlor and Hickey loved the song so much that they continued to write songs very quickly, and the operation snowballed on them, eventually becoming a whole new band.

“We just wanted to make something lush and fairly inventive,” Lawlor says of the songwriting process for the album. 

The two artists seemed to like the idea of creating something that had a very old-Hollywood sound to it, and Hickey’s voice was perfect for the task. 

“She was sort of in the best possible way imperfect vocally,” Lawlor explains with his shy but charming Scottish drawl. “She’s not a vocal acrobat. She has an old voice, not a very modern sounding voice.”

 It’s a very experienced voice for such a young woman, and it complements Lawlor’s voice well, especially when you hear the contrast between his lower growls and her belted-out high notes.

 It’s great to hear the playful interaction between Hickey and Lawlor as they go back and forth with vocal duties on most of the songs, something that Lawlor says you don’t hear a lot of anymore these days.

Although this album is a drastic change from what Lawlor is used to, songs like “Begging Bowl Blues” and the rowdy “Little Sister” bring to mind that happy-go-lucky Fratellis spirit. 

“That was one that I had written while still finishing off the tour with The Fratellis,” Lawlor says of the song “Little Sister. “I changed it a lot, because we had the New Orleans big band. With The Fratellis it would’ve been more of a guitar thing. I’m really glad Lou sang it. I would’ve struggled with the high notes,” he says.

The album also includes a cover of a beloved Stone Roses song, “I Am The Resurrection.” 

“We were looking for a song that sounds very British,” Lawlor says of the decision to include the cover for the album. “And you can’t really get more British than the Stone Roses.” 

At first, he admits that he and Hickey were a little afraid of butchering the song, but the two singers were happy with the finished product. 

“The song resembled what we were doing on the album,” he says. “It was done in good taste.”

 Lawlor mentions that one of the tracks on the album, “Nevada,” holds a special place in his heart. “I wrote  it  when I was in Hollywood coming back from Nevada,” he says.  “I had gone to Vegas and I didn’t like it very much, it was strange. I thought it would be something like ‘Oceans 11,’ and I was sort of quite happy and wrote that song driving back in my car.” 

While Lawlor usually writes songs alone, he does point out that “Nevada” was the first true collaborative song he’s ever written, involving the whole band in the production. 

“I could listen to that song over and over again and never get sick of playing it,” Lawlor says.

Lawlor seemed to be really ecstatic over his new band that’s embarking on this new endeavor with him. 

The group has been playing various shows around the U.K., and the reception has gone quite well for them, especially in their home country. 

“This is the most fun I’ve had playing live in a band, ever,” Lawlor says, though it would be hard to believe after seeing the Fratellis play over the last couple of years. 

Perhaps this new band has actually surprised Lawlor, surpassing his expectations. 

“We just put a bunch of musicians together to play the record,” he says.  “Over time this band has become more like a rock ‘n’ roll band than it did when it started.” 

He also goes on to say that there is a sort of good feeling around the band, and that on stage it really shows. 

While the Codeine Velvet Club may be Lawlor’s newest passion, he still hasn’t forgotten about his old Scottish mates in The Fratellis. 

“We just spent three to four years in each other’s pockets, so you just naturally know when to get away from each other,” Lawlor says of his old band, whose other members are enjoying their break in other parts of the world, including Thailand. 

“We don’t get to see each other that much,” he says, though he’s quick to note that he’s constantly writing new material and that he’s got “something else in mind.” 

He’s not unwilling to look to the future of the band, saying, “I guess it could become a Fratellis record.”

For now, the Codeine Velvet Club is what fills Lawlor’s time these days. They have a busy year ahead of them. 

Their debut album will be released in the United States on April 6, and after that they will be doing various shows on the West Coast, including a short stint opening for Metric. 

The album is exciting enough on its own, but Lawlor promises that the live show will be even better. The brass section travels along with them, recreating the sound on the record. 

They will even dress to impress, donning suits for every show, resembling Lawlor’s heroes: the Beatles.

 “If you get the chance to catch us live over here, you should definitely try because it’s a whole different thing from the record,” Lawlor says of his new band. 

Surely, there’s no telling what this band can achieve. Their sound is unique, and their album is a load of fun. 

Although they don’t have an official headlining tour in the United States just yet, the band has hopes of playing under the lights of NYC, or just about anywhere for that matter. 

“We just like playing,” Lawlor says, before adding with quick Scottish wit, “We’ll even come to play in your back garden.”