Scotland The Great - Franz Ferdinand
Tonight’s the night
Mark Robertson met Franz Ferdinand at their musical lair in the belly of Govan town hall and found a band energised, rejuvenated and extolling the virtues of a good barney
You’ve basically built an entire studio complex in the bowels of this beautiful old building in Govan?
Bob Hardy, bass Yeah, its a great place. Nick [McCarthy, guitars and keyboards] found it. David MacKenzie the filmmaker has his office down here. There’s a great buzz. The building ended up being intrinsic to the recording process.
There’s plenty new ideas on the new album. Did working with producer Dan Carey (Hot Chip, Kylie, CSS) help facilitate those kind of experiments?
BH He’d essentially become like a fifth member of the band for that time.
Paul Thompson, drums Sometimes in the studio you have a daft idea that the producer will say ‘maybe we’ll come back to it’ but Dan was like, ‘Yeah, lets do it’. It takes a certain determination to see things through like that. At times it can be frustrating and unconventional, and there’s no telling what the result is going to be like, but I think that’s where recording becomes exciting.
After the success of the first two records it seems like the luxury of time has been a huge benefit to you.
AK It’s having time to create a little world that’s the natural environment for us – like we did at the Chateau before. It’s like a childlike desire, you’re eight years old, you have to build a tree house and have this little world that’s yours. Too much time and you get over-indulgent, and the process of this record was about a year and a half from start to finish, which is pretty much the time it took from first rehearsals to finishing the first record. We could have made a record within three months of finishing touring the second record but it would have been a pretty tired and uninspired affair.
Being away from each other would benefit you then?
AK Yeah, definitely. It’s like sharing a flat with someone, or going out for a long time. You become accustomed to their personalities and if you get too close sometimes the irrelevant nature overpowers the parts that attracted you in the first place, so it’s important to have a break – and appreciate that you can hang out with your friends making music.
There’s a real sense of energy on the new one, the antithesis of all these bands trying to make ‘important’ music.
AK A lot of bands are trying to be U2 and with the greatest respect to U2, we don’t want to be them. I think sometimes bands think about their careers too much. They look at the trajectory of other bands and are like ‘OK, we’ve done the cool NME-type stuff, we’ve played a few arenas, now what’s the next stage? Oh yeah, U2 and REM right?’ and I don’t think that you can think like that. It should be “Let’s just see what happens”. That’s the excitement of the adventure. It’s a creative process. The plan is: don’t have one.
You don’t seem to go in for that, ‘no internet leaks of songs’ and ‘keep it all under wraps’ kind of approach. You’ve performed most of these songs live already, right?
AK Yeah. Denying that music is an evolution is just strange. I love the idea that this evolution can be caught and documented on cell phones at gigs round Scotland for the last year and a half. The songs have changed dramtically at points and I like that.
Have you ever been party to tall poppy syndrome, where people think you’re great until you’re successful?
BH I’ve not seen it but I’m sure it’s there, more in the music scene. I’m sure when you see a contemporary get success you’re thinking ‘Why them?’ and that’s understandable, but I guess the rule is don’t be a tosser and people won’t think of you as one. People in Glasgow have always been positive, though, and it’s something we appreciate and makes us glad that we come back and still hang around here.
You spent time with Girls Aloud producers Brian Higgins and Xenomania. Even though you didn’t get any recordings out of it was the experience insightful?
AK I was always kind of interested to see how Xenomania worked. Their idea of writing in a modular way – sometimes you sketch down ideas, record melodies or improvise as we sit around on the session. It’s not a conventional style they use, but if there’s a way of saying the way they write …
NM Calculating, maybe?
That’s the nature of it, though, they have a demographic to write to. I don’t think you’d sit down and say ‘Today we’re going to write down a jazz fusion song’. You just see what comes, no?
AK Absolutely. They have a target and know what they’re writing for whereas we write and that’s the adventure. The surprise is the reward.
Have there ever been moments writing when you’ve gone ‘No, that’s too Franz Ferdinand’?
AK Yeah, definitely.
BH That was one of the big things.
AK You have to. Certain rules went down that weren’t liked. Nick and I had a huge barney in front of Brian Higgins over the whole high-hat scoop drum beat [the signature beat that held down much of their debut] as daft as it sounds…
NM We were just bored of things we had done before and just thought ‘We can’t do that anymore, it’s too much.’
AK When you hear your sound elsewhere, when stuff becomes ubiquitous, then it’s definitely time to drop it.
That explains why the album is so adventurous rhythmically. It’s very dynamic and big.
AK That was really important to us. There are so many records I listen to now, that are this huge barrage of crushed noise based on a false idea that it makes the record sound louder. It’s the volume on your fucking stereo that does that! When you do that you lose the dynamics.
It seemed comfortable though. Natural.
PT I read something somewhere saying the album sounded forced. That’s the most fun we’ve ever had making a record.
What do you like most about the record?
BH Just the overall vibe, the feeling of the songs.
PT I love the fact that it reminds me of the 18 months we spent making it, which were the best times I’ve had in the band.
NM I think it’s very enveloping and gets you like that. Warm somehow. That’s what I like. It’s dark, but warm. A dark blanket.
How complex will it be to reproduce the finished album live?
NM We’ve played nearly all of them live but there’s some versions, like ‘Lucid Dreams’ we’ve never played in that extended version. [The song breaks down into a four minute analogue keyboard jam].
BH We won’t try and reproduce it faithfully, we’ll make things work best live.
AK We hope to keep [‘Lucid Dreams’] the way we recorded it, which was live and improvised. Sometimes when bands get into electronica then everything is just playing back off the computer, it’s like ‘What’s the fucking point of you guys being on stage?’ Surely the point of playing live is the spontaneity? Undoubtedly there’s going to be electronics on stage but there has to be the scope. Things will evolve.
Tonight: Franz Ferdinand is out Mon 26 Jan.