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10 Years of Filter: Issue #17 Cover Story: Franz Ferdinand

By Staff on June 29, 2012


10 Years of Filter: Issue #17 Cover Story: Franz Ferdinand

2012 marks FILTER Magazine’s tenth year in print. To celebrate, we are looking back at some of our favorite magazine features, from July 2002’s Issue #1 all the way up to this coming November’s Issue #50.

Below you will find Issue #17’s cover story, in full, where we dissected the mostly-Scottish lads of Franz Ferdinand, from their outrageous childhood memories to their outsider-dom to what they’re doing differently in their sophomore album.

Who Shot Franz Ferdinand? (Issue 17, Fall 2005)
By Mikel Jollett
Direction from Franz Ferdinand
Photography by Steven Dewall and Franz Ferdinand 

What’s wrong with a little destruction?

“How does one achieve eternal bliss? By saying dada. How does one become famous? By saying dada. With a noble gesture and delicate propriety. Till one goes crazy. Till one loses consciousness. How can one get rid of everything that smacks of journalism, worms, everything nice and right, blinkered, moralistic, europeanised, enervated? By saying dada.” 
- Hugo Ball, Dada Manifesto, Zurich, 1916 

I HAVE NO IDEA HOW WE GET INTO SUCH THINGS. Where were we and exactly what was the idea again? Oh yeah, the thin man on the couch, the one in the striped red shirt, bouncing up and down, speaking so fast, as if caught amidst a foot-race between his mind and his mouth, each struggling to out-pace the other. His name is Alex Kapranos. He has an idea.

“What if the entire article is a series of Venn diagrams? I don’t think there are enough Venn diagrams in the world. I remember learning them in math class and I quite enjoyed them.” He laughs. Paul, Nick, and Bob laugh too. I wonder briefly if it was such a good idea that we allow Franz Ferdinand to come up with the concept of their own article. It smacks of laziness.

But then they’re good at this sort of thing and anyway, how many times can you read that they played their first gigs at an abandoned mansion during art expositions? That Alex Kapranos once volunteered to search for landmines in Kosovo? That the idea behind their first record was to make “music for girls to dance to?” That Paul switched from guitar to drums on the condition that the drum kit not block the audience from seeing his face? That they’re Scottish (but not exclusively), stylish (but not pretentious), smart (but not elitist)… ad infinitum.

Next door, an engineer is mixing synth sounds for the new record (You Could Have It So Much Better… with Franz Ferdinand) so our chat is punctuated by an electric pulse, a sound which approximates a door opening on a spaceship.

There’s Bob Hardy (the cherubic bass player) reclining on the couch with his arms crossed over his chest. There’s Nick McCarthy (polite, guitarist) sitting on the chair with a hangover. There’s Paul Thomson (springy, jocular, drums) leaning forward on his feet, crouched in the chair next to Nick.

A sense of mischief hangs in the air (a permanent one, I think, for these guys) as eyes move from face to face wondering if the concept can work.

“You can do so much with Venn diagrams,” Alex offers.

He is convinced. As you may know by now, their band is in the habit of embracing the absurd, playing with ideas of Dadaism, which was essentially an art movement bent on destroying art, on recognizing the world of chaos. Marcel Duchamp once placed a urinal in an art gallery. He did it to make a point. “I’m an artist because I say I’m one,” was his rallying cry. He also sold balloons of his breath and painted a mustache and a goatee on the Mona Lisa, penning an inscription on it which read: “L.H.O.O.Q.” which, when spoken aloud quickly in French, sounded like the sentence: “She has a nice ass.”

“When you do a string of interviews, just one after the other and all the questions are the same, you find yourself throwing in the odd red herring.” It’s the same on the other side. When you read 100 interviews and all the questions are the same, the answers the same, there is a tendency to just want to toss it out. Enough already, you get the idea, you know this band, you know their general story. Their first record broke an entire scene. Their second is forthcoming. Answer the main thing: What are they like, and is their record good?

“I believe the best bands are created by the dynamic of the individuals in them. It is that strange clash, that meshing of personalities overlapping. Like a Venn diagram.”

OK, agreed, so who are these people, what sort of stories would they say are emblematic of their personalities? And anyway, how do they look in diagram form?

1. The Oddly Dangerous World of Children

ALEX KAPRANOS: I was just thinking about the time I blew up my hand with a bullet. I used to go on holiday with my parents to Greece and stay at my grandparents’ house. My grandfather had a gun and he used to shoot – well, God knows what he used to shoot, really – but he used to shoot things anyway. My parents kept it locked away so we couldn’t get our hands on it. One day, I saw a cartridge had fallen down between the cracks in the floorboards. And I’d never really seen one up close, so I dug it out with a stick. I was like, “Fucking hell, it’s a bullet. How good is that?” And I remember showing it to my wee brother, but he’d never seen one before – he thought they were made of paper – and he didn’t believe me. So, to prove to him that it was a bullet, I opened it up and put all the gunpowder out. I was going to set fire to it. I was trying to throw matches onto it, striking them and dropping them on to it. But he just wasn’t convinced and he got bored and left. So, you know how you get into that state where you want to prove something to yourself? I had a whole bunch of matches in my hand and I lit them all at once and whacked them into the pile of gunpowder and, uh, blew up my hand.

I couldn’t say anything for about five seconds. I looked down at my hand and there was all this blackened skin and bare, pink flesh and I thought, “Oh shit, I’m in trouble now.” That’s all that went through my head, “I’m really in trouble. I’m really, really in trouble.” I remember my dad coming around the corner, just this totally ridiculous comic scene, my dad said, "What was that?" And I was standing there with my hand behind my back. And I’m like, “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know what it was.” Meanwhile, my hand was killing me – but I just didn’t want to be in trouble. So he said, “Show me your hand.” So I showed him my left hand. And he was like, “No, show me your other hand.” So I showed it to him. Then his started panicking. I hadn’t been panicking at all. I was just worried about being in trouble. But when he saw the mangled mess of my fingers, he screamed, “Ahhhhh!” So then I started screaming too.

He dragged me into the house and ran my hand under the tap. But he also forgot that my grandfather hadn’t got the pipes buried underground that led from the mains up to the house. And this was like three or four in the afternoon, so these pipes had been sitting all day in the sun. As he turned on the tap, all this steam came out, all this boiling hot water and all the blackened skin just peeled away. So I started screaming, then he started screaming, then my mom started screaming. Then my dad was like, “Oh no, all the doctors are on strike.” And I can’t believe something like that could happen, I mean, only in Greece – it’s crazy, for fuck’s sake. The doctors are on strike? In the end I got taken to this chemist guy who lived nearby. He put this false skin on it. I remember for the rest of the holiday in Greece, I had to walk around with this plastic bag tied around my hand. And my grandmother, who’s Greek, and doesn’t speak any English, took great pleasure in going to all her pals and introducing me and saying, “Look, this is my idiot grandson, look at his hand, it’s in a plastic bag. He blew it up with a bullet.”

PAUL THOMSON: I remembered the most random thing yesterday. I was a child and trying to be cute at the D.I.Y. store. You know how on your weekends, when you’re a kid, you don’t wanna waste it walking around a D.I.Y. store with your mom and dad? So I was sort of bored and I kicked this display. And somebody over the P.A. shouted, “Paul!” Very loud. Just like that. I was just about to fall over. It couldn’t have been meant for me. It must have been some sort of bizarre coincidence that somebody just happened to shout, “Paul!” But I was 6 years old, and I thought I’d been set up.

NICK MCCARTHY: I had a more teenage thing I was thinking of. I lived near the mountains and we went up there because we heard you could pick up these magic mushrooms. We went with a friend of my brother’s, because he had a car. And he was, like, already 25 or so. We were 15. So we drove up there and ate the mushrooms. It was winter, so we were driving back and we were nearly home and this guy, he was just a mental driver, was going around a corner and slammed on the brakes and just went right into the side of a house. And my whole face went flying right through the windshield. That’s where I got this [he points to a scar on his face]. So I got cut, and he totally panicked, put the car in reverse – and we were half in the house – so the tires spun, like, “Reeeeeeeeert.” We went back out into the road and his car was totally fucked. We all started screaming at him. He wasn’t actually tripping but, God, we were. So he went the wrong way down the road and decided we could park it in my driveway. By that time, I realized my head was pouring blood.

I didn’t know it was happening until I turned around to some of my friends and they screamed, “Waaaaaaah!” All I knew was that the car was steaming when we parked it. I couldn’t go into the house because I knew my parents would flip. So we went around the corner and tried to stop a car to get someone to drive me to the hospital. We stopped this woman and she was totally timid, she didn’t want to take me. So finally she said, “OK, I’ll take you, but not any of your friends.” So she took me to the next village and it was right in front of this doctor’s, so I got out, she drove away and the doctor was not home. I had to run around to find this other doctor in this village and I was tripping with blood pouring down my face. I run to the next doctor’s place and he wasn’t there but it was open at least and they got me to the hospital.

The guy that was driving us through the mountains that day killed himself in a car accident three weeks later.

BOB HARDY: The magic carpet at the national museum of film was great when I was a kid. I used to go on that quite a lot. It’s a blue screen and a mat and you sit on it and you can fly over the world. They’d put images behind you so that when you watched yourself you looked like you were flying. If you were wearing blue jeans, then you didn’t have any legs. That’s my story.

2. “We were all always outsiders.”

ALEX: We were all always outsiders. Paul was the Glasgow kid in Edinburgh, Nick was the English guy in Bavaria, I was the half-Greek, half-English guy growing up in Scotland and Bob was always the working class kid at a really posh school. I think if you ever find yourself in that sort of situation, you’re faced with a choice of either being defiant about it or being completely submissive about it. And if you choose defiance, it sets you up for the rest of your life. You’re more likely to do the unpredictable.

BOB: I grew up in Yorkshire, the North of England. People there see themselves as their own unique identity: Northern English. What’s the sort of identity of Yorkshire? It’s really normal. Just very kind of plain speaking. Working class. Very industrial. It was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution. A lot of cotton mills and that sort of thing. Some areas are quite depressed since the mines all closed. David Hockney and Alan Bennett, the Brontes, all come from there.

PAUL: I’m from Scotland: Glasgow and Edinburgh, way up in the north. My mom’s side is from Ireland. I was born in Glasgow and all my family’s from Glasgow, but then my dad got a job in Edinburgh and he was commuting, so we moved. So I kind of grew up in Edinburg, but I always felt I was from Glasgow because all my relations were from there. I had their accent which is different.  People from Edinburgh see people from Glasgow as being dirty and smelly and unkempt, whereas people from Glasgow see people from Edinburgh as being stingy and snobs. So I would always say I was from Edinburgh. You know, play it up. I used to mimic all my relations, the way they talked. Like, “Nee, nee, nee, neeeeeee.”

NICK: I was born in Lancaster then moved to Germany when I was two and a half. I grew up in and around Munich. I went to German schools. I learned to speak German in kindergarten. We always spoke English at home. I always thought English was cooler. It was the outsider thing, really. Being in Germany, and I’m English… you know, fuck you. We won. It was always pretty cool.

I think Germans always think that being English is pretty cool. So it was good. I was always not only between these two languages, but between these two cultures as well. I feel like I don’t know any of them. I never grew up with my English culture and people couldn’t believe, like, “What? You don’t know that?” People sent English things over, to keep our Englishness, things like corned beef and good videos. But I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. The jokes didn’t translate.

I always wanted to go back to Britain to see what it was like. Then my girlfriend got a place at the art school in Glasgow and that’s how I met these guys. The thing is, now that I’m back in Britain, I’m the German guy.

ALEX: My father’s Greek. My mother’s from the northeast of England. I spent the first part of my life in England and when I was about 9, I moved up to Scotland and went to school. And that was a big shock because there’s generally more of an antagonistic feeling towards the English among the Scots than there is the other way around. I remember this primary school teacher I had in particular, this woman called Mrs. Cummings, she didn’t like the English at all. She used to make a point all the time of making me read things aloud in class then ridiculing my accent. She made me say things like, “iron.” She was from up north and she used to call it an “aye-rrrun.” She would say, “The English boy is calling it an iron. The correct pronunciation of the word is ‘aye-rrrun.’” Then make me sit back down again. To do that in front of a class of other kids was like, “Wow. You’re the outsider. Straight off.” There’s no question about it. It’s funny though, because I thought, “Whatever, I’m just going to keep my accent.” But I never resented being in Scotland. I just resented that attitude. The thing is, I never really saw myself as being English either, because I had the whole Greek thing as well. I always used to go over to Greece as a kid and hang out with my Greek family. They were so different from British family – a lot more tactile, a lot more demonstrative. My English family were very cool, but very reserved. As everyone knows, the Mediterranean temperament I think I was always aware of them and then being in Scotland, from a very early age, I decided that national identity was very important.

3. You Could Have It So Much Better…

ALEX: “The Fallen” is probably the wordiest song we’ve ever written. It’s about as far removed from a pop single as you can get. The song is about a character who we all know who we used to hang out with. He’d been ostracized by a wider social circle because of his behavior at a particular time. The song was about how I was disappointed by the hypocrisy of the people within this wider social circle for sending him to Coventry for his behavior. These people were supposed to be liberal and understanding, but in their attitudes proved to be intensely boring and conservative, and also intolerant and unforgiving. So the song on one level is about that, and on another level, it’s about some fun things that happened with this character, just relating events that were a bit of a laugh, then imagining this character coming back as Christ and what he would do if he was Christ and comparing the judgmental attitude of the people and how they would have placed the same judgment on Christ if he had come back.

It’s ancient ideas that people don’t explore enough. The hatred of the self-righteous, of the Pharisees. You don’t have to be a Christian to understand those themes.

I think with the first record, though we were happy with the way it happened, there were certain things that we didn’t capture that we tried to get down with this one: the rawness, the raucousness, the energy that you have in a live performance. I think a lot of people that came to our gigs, they realized that the live shows were often quite different from what they heard on the record. “You Could Have it So Much Better” and “Evil in a Heathen” as well, have this rawness, that energy that we have as these four guys standing together playing their instruments.

ALEX: Sometimes a song evolves. Sometimes it happens immediately. I remember Bob saying that he felt like he was going mad with the bass line. You have a starting point where you have an idea and then the realization of that idea is a great distance from it. So we can sit around the four of us and say, “OK, we know how this is going to go. Now we actually have to put that into practice.” That’s always a slog, that’s the difficult bit. It’s very easy to come up with an idea. You just sit down and think it.

But I think the idea of seamlessness is best when it isn’t forced. I hate listening to a record and thinking, “Oh, somebody’s just trying to prove how fucking smart they are here.” I love the idea that you listen to something that is intensely complex and ambitious and you just hear a really good tune.

ALEX: I love music that is the most extreme of avant-garde outsider music that’s trying to be pop music as well. Some of the bands that I admire the most always have that sentiment about them. That they can push the boundaries further, that they can hit harder than anyone before, and yet make people dance at the local night club. So you find bands like Roxy Music did that or the Specials did that or David Bowie did that endlessly. Kraftwerk did that. For them to get a song to number one in the charts, that’s astonishing really.

BOB: That’s sort of the idea we started with – that good art is about complex ideas made simple.

ALEX: Yeah, I think it is simpler than people realize. I think the best music, the best art, the best literature, is quite simple, quite direct. It isn’t cloaked in verbosity. I feel like so much bad art and bad music is usually the creators trying to cloak it in a certain amount of dialog.

But dialog is, frankly, irrelevant. F