Franz Ferdinand are a band reborn
Alex Kapranos talks about a new album, scoffing fish n’ chips in Galway, and why he wrote a song about the NHS
Franz Ferdinand: they have just released their fifth studio album Always Ascending. “We had an absolute ball making it. I think it is a fun record”
In 2016, Franz Ferdinand’s lead guitarist, Nick McCarthy, packed his trunk and waved goodbye to the circus, choosing to spend time with his young family rather than face another gruelling album and tour cycle.
The multi-million selling band faced their first major existential crisis since their foundation in 2002. “After Nick left, Bob, Paul and I sat down and discussed why we do this in the first place,” reveals singer and front man Alex Kapranos. “We asked ourselves what was the point of going on. Well, I want to write and perform songs. That’s what I enjoy most. We realised that if we kept that mentality we couldn’t go far wrong.”
Franz Ferdinand have just released their fifth studio album, Always Ascending, produced by Philippe Zdar of French house duo Cassius. Rather than a band falling apart it’s the sound of old and new friends having an absolute blast.
“We hope when you listen to it you know it is Franz Ferdinand in the first few seconds,” says Kapranos. “We had an absolute ball making it. I think it is a fun record. My favourite writers and artists are those who talk about the darkest subjects but still see the humour. The most powerful humour comes from the absurdity of darkness and situations that terrify us.”
Franz Ferdinand kick off a world tour with live dates in Galway and Dublin this weekend. By now they’re seasoned veterans of the live and festival circuit who’ve plenty of fond memories of touring this country.
“Any time we played Dublin or did a festival it always felt too brief a visit, so we did a little tour and went to Limerick, Galway and Cork,” Kapranos says.
“When I think about it now, the progression of that tour was crazy. We started it in the Roisín Dubh in Galway, and ended it playing to 18,000 people in an arena in Madrid using exactly the same gear.”
Kapranos is particularly looking forward to playing Galway as the city was also instrumental for the new line up of the band.
“I was over at the Galway Film Festival with Stuart [Braithwaite] from Mogwai and Niall McCann, the director of a movie we did about Glasgow musicians called Lost in France. Emma Pollack and loads of others who were in the film were there, so I told the guys I was looking for a new member for the band.
“Everybody told me to check out Julian [Corrie]. If I hadn’t been in Galway that day Julian might never have joined the band, so it’s really nice to be starting the tour there.
“It is also a great excuse to go to McDonagh’s because they do quite possibly the best fish n’ chips I’ve had in my life. Guinness, fish n’ chips and oysters on the side at the same time. Let’s just say I’m very excited about it.”
Kapranos loves to eat. Indeed, he even moonlighted as a food columnist for the Guardian in the mid-noughties and wrote a book entitled Sound Bites: Eating on Tour with Franz Ferdinand years before the relatively recent explosion in food blogging and contemporary foodie culture.
“It was a totally different environment,” says Kapranos. “It was just before good phone cameras and people being able to take decent pictures of what they were having for dinner, which revolutionised food blogging. I was more interested in writing about where in the world I was rather than the food to be honest. The food was just a device to talk about who I was with, and where we were.”
Franz Ferdinand are very happy on the road. “Oh my God, I absolutely love it,” Kapronos gushes. “I’m a jammy bugger. I never take it for granted. Also, I love being onstage and performing. I first started writing songs when I was 14. I was lucky enough to be able to find out what my thing is. Admittedly, it took me 18 years to reach that point, but I’m never, ever going to moan about it. Not everyone gets this opportunity.”
In Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011, Lizzy Goodman documents the explosion of guitar bands in the early noughties on both sides of the Atlantic. One of its intriguing revelations is that Franz Ferdinand became such hot property they were the subject of an intense bidding war, which Laurence Bell of Domino Records won after remortgaging his house. “We didn’t know about that until after we signed with Domino,” Kapranos says. “Laurence took a massive risk with us. When I first met Laurence I made an instant connection. I felt like I could really trust him. Now we’re still working with each other 15 years later. When you’re in a band you risk everything to do something you love. When I met Laurence I knew he felt the same way. I loved him then and I love him now.”
Judging by what Bell reveals in Meet Me in the Bathroom, the feeling appears to be mutual. “They were so good there was no way that people wouldn’t like them,” Bell says. “To what extent I really didn’t have any idea. I thought, ‘oh they’ll be, like, somewhere in between Pavement and the Strokes.’ I thought we’d sell, you know, up to half a million records. We ended up selling four million records. On the first album.”
In 2016 Franz Ferdinand contributed a song called Demagogue to writer Dave Eggers’ 30 Days, 30 songs project in the run-up to the US presidential election, which Kapronos calls the most overtly political song they’ve ever written. On Always Ascending they broach the ubiquity of social media and the disintegration of the NHS in songs such as Academy Award and Huck and Jim.
“What is happening with the NHS is heartbreaking,” says Kapranos. “I’m an asthmatic, and my life was saved three times as a kid. If it wasn’t for the NHS I wouldn’t have made it. I was dragged into hospital and put on a nebuliser in the back of an ambulance.
“I also had orbital celeritous, which was an infection on my brain. The NHS saved my life. It must be protected as a measure of our civilisation. A civilisation looks after the weak, the sick and the poor. To me these are the measures of its success, not how rich a tiny per cent of the population can get at the top.
“America is losing its status as a civilisation, and we’re losing ours through the back door in selling off the NHS to Virgin. It’s atrocious and it shocks me.”
In addition to the air-guitar anthem Take Me Out, Franz Ferdinand are widely known for their sense of style. A few weeks ago the online magazine Noisey ran a feature on the noughties rock scene. Former NME editor Conor McNicolls claimed, “I ran NME as a very visual paper. I basically said, ‘I’m not interested in putting anybody into the magazine who doesn’t have good hair and good shoes’. It doesn’t matter how good the music is, I can’t get excited about a band that doesn’t look good. When Franz Ferdinand turned up at the end of 2002, they had f***ing great hair and brilliant shoes.”
Kapranos attempts to put this in perspective. “You can have the greatest shoes in the world, but if you haven’t great tunes nobody gives a shit. You have to have good songs. I guess he [McNicolls] saw it from a publisher’s perspective of finding something to stick on the cover. Personally I think American bands pretend they don’t give a shit about how they dress, but on this side of the pond people embrace it much more.
“I definitely have a Roxy Music mentality. I like a little bit of glamour in my music.”
Noughties indie superstars: then and now
The NYC trailblazers changed everything in the summer of 2001 with the release of Is This It a few weeks before 9/11. They’ve struggled to match the early form of their debut or Room on Fire, and appear to be on yet another extended hiatus, as Julian Casablancas and Albert Hammond Jr both have new releases cued up.
The White Stripes
John Peel said they were the most exciting act he’d seen since Hendrix. While Jack White remains active with the imminent release of a new solo album, Meg has seemingly vanished from music and public life.
James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem became the painfully hip dance-punk act of the new millennium. After splitting in 2011, they reformed in 2015. Last year they released their fourth album American Dream.
Once labelled “the British Strokes”, Carl Barat contributed to the Shane MacGowan 60th birthday celebrations in the National Concert Hall. The band recently announced that they would open a hotel-cum-studio in Margate soon called the Albion Rooms.
- Franz Ferdinand play Leisureland, Galway, on Saturday, February 10th, and the Olympia Theatre, Dublin, on Sunday, February 11th