You wouldn’t think it to hear them now, but a few years ago Franz Ferdinand were on the verge of ending it all. After the massive international success of ‘Take Me Out’, the Glaswegian art school lads took off on nearly a decade of back-to-back touring and recording. The punishing schedule, as guitarist, keyboardist and co-songwriter Nick McCarthy puts it, very nearly did them in.
“We toured our arses off for eight years and we all felt quite empty at the end of that. We took a year off and weren’t really sure if we even wanted to continue – I couldn’t even play music for a year,” McCarthy says ruefully.
Thankfully, three years off have recharged their batteries, and our favourite purveyors of wry lyrics and angular indie are back with their fourth effort, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action – their best work since their 2003 debut. The sense of fun is back – Franz Ferdinand have returned to the dance floor, cracking jokes and throwing some tongue-in-cheek shapes.
“Slowly it came back,” McCarthy says, “and we started meeting up again, remembering, ‘Oh yeah, this is why we started the band, we’ve got something special, the four of us in a room together, it just clicks!’ Our thinking was, if we have fun making it, then hopefully it’ll be fun to listen to. I don’t think you can really plan it, but we’ve done a few recordings before where it was really hard work, and we’ve listened to it and thought, ‘This is shit, what have we done to it?’ I suppose it’s a reflection of how we feel.”
McCarthy and his band mates are in London when we chat, getting ready to play two songs at Beck’s ‘Song Reader: Live’ show, joining the likes of Jarvis Cocker, Beth Orton, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Beck himself to play songs off Beck’s sheet-music-only album. Franz Ferdinand are playing ‘Saint Dude’ and ‘Leave Your Razors At The Door’, which McCarthy says he thought fitting considering Glasgow’s well-earned reputation for razor fights. McCarthy doesn’t live in Glasgow now (the rest of his group still do), but he still gets back to his home of eight years to indulge in its two greatest attributes – the small art scene and the boozing.
During their time off, the band members weren’t exactly idle. McCarthy put out music for side project Box Codax with his wife Manuela Gernedel and friend Alexander Ragnew, while frontman Alex Kapranos produced for bands like Citizens!. Slowly, Kapranos and McCarthy started sending each other material again, until they all got back in a room and realised what they’d been missing.
“It was good to do other things,” McCarthy says, “but you realise it’s not that simple when you’re in a room with other people; there’s always someone with a different idea or who doesn’t get it. But when we’re in a room together, we all seem to have the same goal, and it just flows – so we figured we should just try and capture those ‘special moments’ between the four of us on the record.”
“Alex and I wrote the songs first on acoustic, because we wanted to write songs you could play acoustically, like a sing-along around the campfire sort of thing, and then concentrate on grooves and beats and the arrangements. We thought at the heart of things we should have a really good song, and then work around that. We go through a few different versions of each song, write it quickly and then go through and work out where everything goes, and if it’s not working then we toss it out, because we don’t want to get back in a bad place.”
Franz Ferdinand are well known for trying out several versions of their songs – take, for instance, ‘Lucid Dreams’ off Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. An intriguing (and amazing) psych-rock demo that ended with an extended electro breakdown was leaked before the album dropped, but the eventual single was a snappy four minutes that sounded much more ‘Franz Ferdinand’. They’re also a band known for literary and art world references – especially from the Russian avant-garde. ‘Love And Destroy’ is based on a scene from the cult Russian satire The Master And Margarita; ‘Take Me Out’ references the artwork One-Sixth Part Of The World by Alexander Rodchenko.
For ‘Right Action’, the lead single and opening track off their new album, Kapranos picked up inspiration from Karel Reisz’s 1960 social-realist film Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, and a series of odd coincidences.
“Alex found a postcard and it turned out it was addressed to the director of one of his favourite films, and it said something quite weird: ‘Come home, practically nearly all is forgiven’. So that went into the lyrics, as did a reference to the film. Then one time in London we went to visit the house the postcard was addressed to and we were like, ‘weurgh, this is weird!’ There were so many weird coincidences in that song.”
‘The Universe Expanded’ plays out more cosmic themes, with Kapranos singing that he doesn’t mind that his hypothetical relationship has ended badly, because “I’ll meet you coming backwards / When the universe has expanded”. So with a decade of work and four albums under their belt, would Franz Ferdinand ever consider, in the future, looking backwards and doing a tour playing one of their albums end-to-end?
McCarthy hems and haws. “I don’t feel like I’m really ready for that nostalgic stuff yet, I’m still moving forward – I hope. I’ll let you know when we stop progressing and going forward.”
When the universe starts coming backwards?
BY NICK JARVIS