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Interview: Franz Ferdinand

4th February 2009

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Oppressively low ceilings bear down over my head as the I enter Franz Ferdinand’s hotel of choice to meet.

Franz FerdinandWaiting in the foyer I take in the towers of stainless steel cowering beneath shuddering waterfalls while deep red walls fight slate and black features for attention. Is this Franz’s way of thoroughly following through with a theme?

After all, the new album, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, pursues an ominous night of debauchery, leaving you blurry eyed and bewildered in the light of dawn. Add to that the cover art work accompanying it - an Arthur Fellig-esque crime scene in which Franz don dark suits and cast suspicious roles. In fact, as the minutes pass by I am beginning to feel suspicious and seedy, but before a retreat to the cell-like toilets to hide I’m ushered into a purple velvet-lined room where Franz perch on throne-like seats. Which gets me wondering, in the four years since their eponymous debut and the Russian constructivism of their second record, You Could Have It So Much Better, how have Franz evolved into the four brooding men in black that sit before us?

“We changed the visual aesthetic this time round because the look of those first records reflected the sound of those records,” says frontman Alex Kapranos as he leans forward on his elbows. The scrunching of his leather jacket seems deafening in the silence, but his eyes remain deadly focused. “The bold geometry - the jerky, rhythmic movements of the records look like that to me [but] this record has a different feel to us, a dirtier night time vibe which looks like that cover.”

The band also spent their time off growing up. Kapranos went to Vancouver to produce The Cribs’ third album, Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever, while guitarist Nick McCarthy laid low in South America, drummer Paul Thomson raised a family and bassist Bob Hardy toyed in the film industry. All this experience went towards influencing the concept behind Tonight and rediscovering themselves. Musically as well, they began absorbing everything and anything that their ears were subjected to.

“If you look back, there’s always been musicians looking for wider influences and we certainly have been on this record,” Kapranos pronounces as Thomson straightens up to speak. “Now, in my life, I feel like I listen to a wider variety of music,” states the moustachioed drummer. “And I tend to not to dwell on what genre it is or the geography of the music. I think it’s something to do with getting older and feeling less like you belong to a peer group.”

“Especially the way we listen to music now,” Hardy interrupts. “With MP3 players and the iPod you’ll have Daft Punk next to Dolly Parton and not even think twice. They’re just good songs.”

Kapranos contemplates this, his bottom jaw slacked slightly. “It’s definitely different,” he mutters, chewing the thought over. “I remember when records were the only way of listening to music really. It was so different and difficult to find new music. To find those wider influences you’d have to go to a specialist store and order something and wait for it to come six weeks later. It’s definitely easier now.”

Perhaps it was this search for wider inspiration that led the band to use a variety of producers – namely Brian Higgins, known for his work with Girls Aloud, Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford and London-based electro DJ Erol Alkan – before settling on Dan Carey (Kylie, Hot Chip) to help guide the direction of Tonight. And perhaps this search too led to the use of a human skeleton to replace the percussion section in the sultry ‘No You Girls’.

“Just for percussion,” reassures Kapranos, while Thomson is quick to assure us they got it from an auction and not a grave robbing spree. “We did an interview in Paris recently,” Kapranos continues. “And the journalist said, ‘Oh you were using a skeleton on a song, did you go to the graveyard and dig it up?’ No!” They all start laughing, relaxing the atmosphere somewhat and Thomson carries on with the story. “But then he was like, ‘Yeah me and my friends used to do that when we were young. We wouldn’t take it though.” He feigns a perplexed face to represent the Parisian journalist before Kapranos takes on the role. “‘Yeah, we used to like, knock the coffin over, not touch it. We weren’t sick’.” And this sends them all into fits of laughter once again.

It’s easy to mistake these fresh-faced young Scots for the boys they were when they formed in 2002, but when they explain themselves you can hear their experience coming through in their confident speech. Rarely pausing for ums and ahs, you know that Franz have come a long way since Franz Ferdinand and you can also tell in the way they approach their music now – lyrically and instrumentally.

Referring to ‘What She Came For’, where Kapranos chants: “I got a question for ya, where’d you get your name from…where do you see yourself in five minutes time?” he says: “[A journalist] asked if it was one big come-on, and I said ‘No, it’s about talking to guys like you.’ Well no, I didn’t actually, I just said, ‘Whatever’. But it is about talking to guys like him. You might find that sometimes you do interviews with people and questions get repetitive, but you can’t be a prick about it. People are asking those questions because they want to know the answers to them, you know? So if someone does ask you where you get your name from, you tell them, don’t be a dick about it.”

And when it came to conceiving this record, Kapranos explains the thought process to creating its vigour. “It’s supposed to represent the dynamic of a night out. ‘Lucid Dreams’ sort of has that climax, that moment where it really comes up and then the come down is through ‘Dream Again’ and into ‘Katherine Kiss Me’. But with both of those songs, when we were recording them, obviously with the lyrics, but the music as well, we wanted to give them a dream-like quality - but different types of dreams. ‘Lucid Dreams’ is that fervoured, frantic, Saturday nightmare. Whereas ‘Dream Again’ is a much more positive, relaxing, happy dream.” ‘Katherine Kiss Me’ and ‘No You Girls’ also parody each other. “Both songs are about the same sort of event, about kissing somebody for the first time. The two songs are trying to show how we recall big emotional events in our lives in different ways depending on the circumstances in which we recall them, or who we’re telling them to. So, ‘No You Girls’ is sung how you’d tell an anecdote to your friends if you’re in the pub - where you’d exaggerate something and become the hero of the story. Whereas ‘Katherine Kiss Me’ is recalling the same event, but remembering how it actually was, how emotionally fragile and vulnerable you felt and maybe it wasn’t quite as rewarding as you’d hoped it would be.”

Moving on Kapranos tells us how they’ve changed the way they approach song writing now. “When we started off we would write in a more conventional, sit-down-with-an-acoustic-guitar-and-get-through-the-songs sort of way. But this time we tried writing in a different way, a bit more modular, where [we’d] work on a section.

Like, you’ll have a collection of melodies and construct songs and rhythms from that, as well as working in a conventional way. You can construct songs in a more abstract way and to do it you have to lose any preciousness for the songs that you’re writing and be able to say, ‘Right this melody works really well in that song, but if we lost the rest of [it] and put it here it’d be magnificent’, and to do that you have to be able to say, ‘Well, the rest of this is not as good as this’.”

Taking a leaf out of the Warhol line of attack, Thomson tells us about how they tried to construct a factory vibe in McCarthy’s flat. “Alex would work on ideas in the living room and I’d be working on beats in the kitchen and when it turned three o clock and we’d take it down to the studio in Govan and try to pool some ideas into working in a band set-up.”

Once they were done with recording it was time to get some feedback, so Franz played an Edinburgh show to debut a lot of new material, but it didn’t get great praise from the Scottish press. “I think that was unfair,” Kapranos mumbles. “The audience were brilliant at that gig [but] technically, we had one of the worst gigs we’d had in years. My guitar blew up, a cable snapped…” “My keyboard played five octaves higher than it should have done,” McCarthy cuts in, breaking his steadfast silence and surprising me with his presence.

“Things have happened like that,” Thomson continues. “You don’t tend to get too spooked, but when your entire family is watching you play and all your friends - it’s in those situations that it definitely spooks you. So I’m not gonna lie and say we’re not affected, but I think we pulled it back. To use a football analogy, we considered a goal quite early on, but…” “We came back in the second half!” Kapranos completes with a defiant grin before they all collapse into giggles again.

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