This Time, Same As Before: Getting Back To Basics With Franz Ferdinand
By Bailey Pennick; Photos by Andy Knowles on August 23, 2013
When the members of Franz Ferdinand decided to come back and record their fourth full-length album, the last thing they wanted was an all-out war on their hands. After almost a decade together, the Glasgow dance-rock quartet knew they needed to take a minute (or a year or two) to step back and remember why they wanted to be a band in the first place. So how do you ensure a peaceful reunion while creativity is low and tensions are high? Well, head to the Orkney Islands of course.
“To get things started again, Bob [Hardy] and I agreed to meet on neutral territory…which was Orkney,” says frontman Alex Kapranos in the back of a tour bus five miles off the beaten path of CA Route 62. “Neither of us had ever been to Orkney before so there was no rumble.”
The absence of home turf (and Jerome Robbins fight-choreography) brought the four lads--Nick McCarthy, Paul Thomson, Hardy and Kapranos--back together musically, but more importantly as friends. Hardy can’t help but smile while reminiscing about the moment that the group decided to get off of the industry treadmill for a spell. “It didn’t feel like we were all waiting for an album to be made. It was like when you just started getting together with a band and no one else cared!”
For Franz Ferdinand's first new LP since 2009's Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, the group wanted to get back to basics. "We wanted to kind of get a classic songbook together for this record," explains Kapranos with a new sense of enthusiasm in his voice. "Like 'The Kinks Songbook' or 'The Smiths Songbook.' You know, those kinds of song books that all kids get when they are learning how to play guitar? Just a collection of really solid songs."
After two back-to-back album cycles full of recording-press-touring-repeat, the Scots knew they wanted to approach their new album in the same way as they did their self-titled debut. “We demoed a bunch of songs for ourselves over a year ago, but all the songs were finished before we started recording,” Hardy elaborates before the band’s small April gig at Pappy & Harriet’s--a beacon of hope, and the exact location where world class music and delicious bbq collide in the heart of Pioneertown, CA. “That’s something that we did with the first album as well, but for the last two albums we were always kind of on the fly, writing and recording.”
Kapranos folds his arms and casts aside the worn-out paperback he’s been carrying around since dinner. “With the last record, we kind of deliberately tried to improvise in the studio…but you know what? I hate that!” Hardy wholeheartedly agrees. “Yeah, I hate it more than you do!”
With a solid base intact, the true recording magic can begin, adds Kapranos. “It’s all sorts of fun trying to figure out what sounds you’re going to stick on [top of a song]. You end up not laboring over the sounds if you’ve got a good song, because what’s fun is immediately obvious—you don’t have to overthink it.”
The result of the much-needed space, fully formed songs and a surge of collaborative energy is Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. Clocking in at just over half an hour, Franz Ferdinand's forthcoming LP sees the group moving away from the dark and colder tone of Tonight and back into the warm and fun-loving arms of killer guitar riffs and seductive vocals. "The last album was the one for angry break-up songs; this one doesn’t really have much of that," assures Kapranos. To prove his point, the dapper frontman, sporting a leather jacket (complete with Easy Rider–approved fringe), directs me to "Fresh Strawberries"—a track written outside of McCarthy's London home, that shows the group's growth technically and thematically.
"We’ve never really done this type of harmonic stuff before. 'Fresh Strawberries' is full of multiple harmonies and counter-melodies within the vocals and in the chorus. It’s quite complex and intertwining," says Kapranos proudly, noting that this track (coined by the band as "a song for optimistic pessimists") didn't always have those sweet melodies. "We did try and record it in different ways. We tried to give it more of a beat or something? We even tried to record it and make it more…I guess Franz Ferdinand-y. It just didn’t work."
Letting go of trying to make all their music fit into the confined box of "Franz Ferdinand-y" is what brought the four drifting members of Franz Ferdinand back together as one unified band. "The space gave us some time to really care about the music again," Hardy says of the rebuilding process. "And it was ours. It didn't belong to anyone else." "It just feels right now,” chimes in Kapranos. “From where we are now with this record and with each other, everything just feels right. I'm just really glad to be with these guys and playing these songs."
After a cacophony of awwws from the room, the band's tour manager steps in to say that the opening act was finishing up, Franz was to take the stage soon. Outside in the open air of the desert, everything is quiet on the Franz Ferdinand front, and the only rumble happening is the crowd's anticipation for one of the best live acts around to take the stage as confident with their new material as with old favorites. Before leaving the black behemoth in the makeshift parking lot for their set, Kapranos pauses to think about how far they've had to go to come back to being themselves.
"When we first started out as a band, a guy at a certain record label came to talk to us and said 'You guys, you could be the new blank' and then said Radiohead or Coldplay or whatever was big at the time. And immediately we were like, 'Right, not interested.' We never wanted to be compared to anybody else. We are the first of us.” F