Franz Ferdinand are a post-punk-influenced quartet from Glasgow, Scotland. Since their first single from their first album, "Take Me Out" rocketed them to stardom in 2004, FF have fashioned a distinctive arty rock-disco sound and Russian Constructivist-styled visual aesthetic. Before the release of their third LP, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, drummer Paul Thomson and bassist Bob Hardy talked the state of Franz.
Interview: 5 January 2009
How ridiculous was the reaction to "Take Me Out"?
Bob Hardy: "No one can predict what happened with our first-ever single would happen. It was crazy! We didn't get a band together because we thought we were going to be rockstars. We got a band together so we could play our friends' parties."
Paul Thomson: "It exceeded everybody's expectations, especially ours. But, when all that crazy s**t was happening, because we were traveling, in this little bubble, it didn't really penetrate it. Not until we stopped."
BH: "That's when it dawned on us what we'd just gone through. I don't know how much we'd really changed, deep down, it was more that our circumstances had changed, radically."
PT: "We had to take stock of our lives. We'd gone through this crazy period of three years, really, and by the end of it, personally speaking, I had kids, and everything had changed. But it wasn't until we stopped to look at it that we were like: 'f**k!'”
What was the strangest place you found yourself in that time?
BH: "I think it might've been Usher's [post-MTV Awards] party in Rome, when he came out cuddling two tiger cubs."
PT: "F**kin' hell! Things like that you're like: 'am I allowed to be at this party?'"
BH: "Or like when we were walking down the Red Carpet at the Grammys, when we had Hulk Hogan in front of us and James Brown behind us."
PT: "And obviously no one had a clue who we were. They were more interested in the fact The Nanny was nearby."
BH: "It didn’t even seem real when it was happening."
PT: "Do you ever think you're going to wake up, and it’s all been a dream? And you’re still stuck in school, sleeping at your desk?"
So you definitely took time off to 'take stock'?
BH: “We took a year off, and then when we got back together in the rehearsal space, it was really weird. It was exciting, too; like starting the band from scratch. Which was what didn’t happen last time. We wrote the second record when we were on tour from the first, then went straight into the studio. This time there was a definite stop and a definite start."
PT: “With that you can take it into a different direction. If we’d just gone straight into the third record, it would’ve just been a continuation of the first and the second.”
How did you want to make this record different?
PT: "We didnae have any set ideas. But we did have a slightly different approach in making this record in that, for a start, we've got our own studio. It's quite an unusual building: this old Town Hall, on the outside of the city. We weren't initially going to record there, but eventually we ended up doing just that. We decided we'd try and utilize its space, and use the main hall for the natural acoustics. Whereas, most records are recorded in studios that aren't built for musicians. They're built for engineers. So they know where things are."
BH: "Their concerns aren't the 'atmosphere,' or whatever, just that everything's easy to plug in, and wire, and mic up. It's really quite clinical. Like you're making a record in a hospital."
PT: "But we wanted the character of the room to be on there."
BH: "For example, the door to the library had this horrible squeak on it. So all the demos had this 'eeeeeeeeehhhh' on them; from this hideous noise of a closing door dying a tortured death."
(Band members spend a minute perfecting their door-squeaking impressions)
PT: "When we were rehearsing for this tour, on the last day, as I shut the door it didn’t make a noise. I was like: 'did somebody oil that door?'"
BH: "Our live sound engineer had come up to visit us, and he noticed it, and just popped a bit of olive oil on it. And solved it just like that. A little bit of me died that day."
So, having your own studio allowed you to experiment more?
PT: "Yeah, we'd go into this concrete storage room underneath the stage and play the same thing for an hour, with the tapes rolling. Eventually, something would happen; we'd reach this point where we almost hypnotized ourselves. It's the same thing as dancin'. When you start out on the dancefloor, you feel a bit self-conscious, but six minutes later, if it's a good DJ, you're just not focused on anything, your mind’s completely drifted away."
BH: "We've always written songs like that: found an interesting idea and played it in a loop for an hour. But, by the time it came to recording, we'd only ever just play the three-minute song. This time, we thought: let's just play, then we'll cherrypick the best bits."
But you never try and 'trance out' live?
BH: “Well, a lot of our songs do have improvised elements in them, nowadays. When we were beginning, we were very militant about not doing that, like: 'No guitar solos! No mindless noodling!' Six years later, and when we're doing 'Outsiders' it's like ten minutes long.”
PT: "Now we're like, fucking, Them or something."
I once heard that you were assembling a compilation of mid-’90s Glasgow indie bands. So, uh, are you?
PT: "I was thinking of doing it, because nobody else is going to. There was such a great DIY scene in Glasgow, where you'd send off to get your 500 7" singles pressed at the cheap plant in the Czech Republic, Xerox the sleeves, plastic bag it. And there were just so many good bands in Glasgow. That's why I moved there from Edinburgh, where I grew up. At that point, [FF frontman] Alex [Kapranos] was putting on gigs at The 13th Note: [pre-Franz outfit] Yummy Fur, Lung Leg, Mogwai's first show, Stuart Murdoch before he was Belle & Sebastian. I remember when Belle & Sebastian did the launch party for Tigermilk, and they were just giving it away for free."
BH: "And now they’re going for like 300 quid on eBay, to these mad fans in Japan."
PT: "It feels weird for me to be talkin' about Yummy Fur these days. When people ask me about them I always think: 'wait, do I know you?' I thought the only people who ever heard us were our friends."