story / Noelia Estrada
photos / Andy Knowles
Franz Ferdinand have had a lot of descriptors thrown their way: “high-brow,” “posh,” “cerebral,” “art rockers, ” but pompous they are not. I sat down with the exceedingly gracious and friendly
Alex Kapranos and Paul Thomson to discuss their upcoming album, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions, which feels like a revitalization of what we’ve come to expect from the Scottish quartet: a boisterous and cheeky shindig of a record that will no doubt have the kids dancing once again. Leave it to Franz Ferdinand to weave post-war period psychology books and a crumbling rock in the North Sea of England into a rip roaring good time.
We also discuss what the lads have been up to these past four years (spoiler alert: It involves puppets).
I was able to listen to the album multiple times. You don’t always get to and albums beg for at least a few listens so I’m glad I was able to do that.
PAUL THOMSON: It’s like, “form an opinion, NOW!”
I read somewhere that when you first started out, Paul once said, “Hopefully the name ‘Franz Ferdinand’ will make people think of the band, instead of the Archduke.” I did a Google search on Franz Ferdinand and you’ve got at least a whole page before him, so congrats! Is that weird for you?
AK: Yeah, it’s a bit weird isn’t it? It’s funny for us because Franz Ferdinand the historical figure, for every school kid his name was part of the syllabus of history, so yeah.
PT: I’ve still never Googled Franz Ferdinand.
Well you’ve got him beat by a whole page.
PT: I’m totally joking, of course I’ve Googled Franz Ferdinand [Laughs].
So the last third of the album is my favorite.
AK: Oh really? It’s funny because I think it says a lot about your personality. We still think of it as sides. Like Side 2 is very different from Side 1. We put “Bullet” at the beginning of Side 2 as a sort of cheeky non sequitur so you’ll think the album is going in one direction but it’s really going in another.
Interesting. This is your fourth studio album, but you’ve been away for the last 4 years or so. What have you been up to?
AK: Oh god, what haven’t we been up to? What you been up to, Paul?
PT: This and that [Laughs].
AK: We started working on this album two years ago. While we were working on it, we decided not to talk anybody about it. We didn’t want to feel in any way observed or scrutinized. It becomes hyperbole and it taints people’s perception of it when they actually come across the finished product.
Especially since it’s going to change as time goes on.
AK: And it always does. The first recording we did, we went down to the studio when we had about seven songs and the way we were playing it then it was very different. We hadn’t played together in a while and we were really enjoying playing slow and heavy and it was almost like, well in our heads, what swans might sound like or something like that. Very slow and very heavy. And if we’d gone around telling people at that time, “Yeah we’re cutting a record that sounds like swans,” they’d hear this record and be like, “What the fuck were they talking about?”
Did it feel good to take a break? Not that you weren’t doing anything but a break from touring at least?
AK: Definitely. Nick [McCarthy, guitarist/keyboardist] did a bit of stuff as well. He made a record with Box Codax. He actually scored a kind of theatrical show. It was a one-man puppet show version of The Tempest, which sounds atrocious but it was actually amazing.
That sounds amazing.
AK: I think we all wanted to do things that were slightly different from what we do with Franz to make ourselves feel refreshed and stimulated. I produced a couple of records. I did a record by a band called Citizens and a record by a guy called RM Hubbert. Both very different from each other and very different from Franz. I enjoy the production side of things so it was good to work with other stimulating creative minds.
Because the theme of this issue is based on “Legends,” I want to ask what albums you consider to be legendary.
AK: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel. Love that record. I think most people that listen to it probably have a similar emotional response to it that I have. It’s such a raw, emotional record.
PT: Clear Spot by Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band. Off Fairwell Alderbaran by Judy Henske and Jerry Yester is one I keep coming back to. They did this psychedelic folk album on Straight Records, which is Frank Zappa’s label in ’69 or something like that.
Do you guys still listen to those records?
AK: Oh yeah
I read somewhere that you guys started out rehearsing in an abandoned warehouse and would host rave-like parties with live art and music. Do you miss those days?
PT: We’re still having them!
AK: Yeah, yeah. There’s still room in life for that. Just because you’re in a band that plays a certain type of venue doesn’t mean you can’t play another type of venue as well. Just before we played Coachella this year, we played in this place called Vacation in San Francisco. It’s a little clothes shop in the Tenderloin and downstairs they have a basement which is about twice the size of this room.
PT: Yeah, do you know who was supposed to play there last night?
PT: [Says name of famous female rock star], but she didn’t turn up. She got thrown out of her hotel for going ‘round to the other guests and asking them if she could borrow their clothes so she could cover up her track marks.
AK: Really? Oh dear.
Do you feel you guys have hit a stride in terms of your artistic liberty? Are you more confident in your abilities as musicians or do you still get nervous that people may not like what you’re putting out there?
AK: I think as we were making it we felt very liberated and probably partly due to the fact that we had removed ourselves from any critical gaze from the outside world. And also because we felt close to each other again. We made sure that our relationship as friends was as strong as it possibly could be because that has to be at the core of it. You’re a bunch of friends and if that’s not working then there’s no point in making music together.
What about the title of the record, where’d that come from?
AK: It’s from the track “Right Action,” which is one these songs that has a set of discovered phrases or expressions that are sort of laid over each other to have an impact. The verses came about from this postcard I found that has the words, “Come home. Practically all is nearly forgiven,” written on it. And the rest of the verses are written in that similar style where they’re as concise as a postcard message. Like, “Sometimes, wish you were here, weather permitting.” But they’re also ambiguous in their intent and the mood of the characters and how they relate to each other. And the choruses were supposed to be a response to that. I’d come across this expression that I didn’t invent, it’s from somewhere else, but “Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action” seemed to be a great response to how you deal with the ambiguity of an emotion.
Is it important to you guys for people to know that you don’t take yourselves so seriously?
AK: Totally. I think taking yourself too seriously is the greatest and most common sin of musicians. Of course you do need a certain amount of ego to be able to get on a stage and presume that the rest of the world wants to listen to the music that you’ve made but that doesn’t mean you have to take yourself too seriously.
“Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions” is out NOW on Domino Records.
FALL TOUR DATES
OCT 15 – Nashville, TN – Cannery Ballroom
OCT 16 – Columbus, OH – Newport Music Hall
OCT 17 – North Bethesda, MD – Music Center at Strathmore
OCT 19 – Upper Darby, PA – Tower Theatre
OCT 20 – Boston, MA – Orpheum Theatre
OCT 22 – New York, NY – Hammerstein Ballroom
OCT 23 – Montreal, QC – Metropolis
OCT 24 – Toronto, ON – Kool Haus