Interview: Franz Ferdinand bassist Bob Hardy
A discussion on flat parties, sabbaticals and the latest Franz album
List music writer Malcolm Jack once put on an impromptu Franz gig in his flat. Ten years on, he and Bob Hardy chat about the new album, and what's been happening in the decade since their debut album
'It’s kind of like a holiday with your pals,' muses Franz Ferdinand bassist Bob Hardy, of the Glasgow artisan guitar pop artistes’ rationale for taking a good long break prior to making their latest album, following three records in quick succession up to 2009’s Tonight. 'If you went for a three-week holiday together,' he continues, “you’d probably have to avoid each other for a bit after you got back before you went for a drink again. It was kind of like that, but compounded.'
And so Franz reconvene again for their fourth set Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, and by goodness do they sound glad to see each other. It’s comfortably the most energised, exciting and plain enjoyable thing they’ve done since their Mercury Prize-winning self-titled 2004 debut. 'When we did come back we felt fresh again,' says Hardy, 'and I think that translated into the music.' Over the phone from a hotel room in Paris, he talks flat party gigs, fresh starts, why he should be allowed to walk his dog in Pollok Park without a leash and peeing in the dark at the Barrowland.
A spring morning in Paris, that has to be quite pleasant?
Ehm, I’ve got a bit of a hangover, so it’s not quite as pleasant as you’d think.
Ten years ago, you played a gig in my bedroom at a flat party, after your Hogmanay show at Princes Street Gardens was cancelled due to bad weather. Can you believe that was 10 years ago now?
When I do the maths I can, but if feels like yesterday (laughs). It was a good night. I remember we used an electronic drum kit – Paul was doing the Eastenders theme on it.
How have the last 10 years been for you? Done anything interesting?
This and that (laughs). Yourself? I guess when we played in your bedroom, we hadn’t really done that many gigs to that point, we hadn’t done that much touring. Maybe we’d supported Belle & Sebastian around the UK. But since then we’ve done a lot of touring, played gigs all over the world. So yeah, quite a change I guess.
Things very quickly blew up for Franz Ferdinand after that – within two or three months you were all over the TV and the radio. That flat show became a little part of the Franz legend in a way. You were a band who had a bit of a DIY ethos, with gigs at the Chateau (a music, exhibition and party space in a crumbling Glasgow tenement). You didn’t exactly see Erasure, who were meant to be headlining Princes Street Gardens that night, doing a flat party instead, did you?
I think that’s part of the thing when you first start out as a band. If we’d been touring for 12 months leading up to that gig, we’d probably have been exhausted. But we were feeling fresh, and literally hadn’t done more than 50 or 60 gigs by that point. So it was like 'yeah, of course we’ll do a party gig'. Whereas Erasure had been going for years, so they’d probably done all that before.
So if it all happened again now, you’re saying you’d just be grateful for a night off then?
Nah, I imagine we’d still do something similar to be honest, if the same thing happened again.
I remember reading an interview with you all in a magazine a few weeks later, where Alex (Kapranos, Franz Ferdinand singer/guitarist) said doing that party show was 'probably better' than playing for 20,000 people or whatever it was in Princes Street Gardens. Which was obviously hugely flattering, even if I’m not sure I entirely believed him.
I think that’s probably true, though. If we had played Princes Street Gardens, it would have been the biggest thing we’d ever done at that point by a mile. And I was absolutely fucking terrified of that – because at that point I could barely even play the bass. For weeks before that gig I was absolutely terrified. And then playing your flat was a total release – like, 'this is more our kind of style, this is enjoyable.'
You’re now in the midst of a European tour, and it’s effectively round two for the new album. How have the shows been so far?
Yeah, three shows in and it’s going great so far. I think the break was kind of welcome to be honest. The album came out in August, and we obviously did a lot of work leading up to that – recording, interviews, festivals and stuff. And then the album came out and we toured. Then we stopped early December. Having three months off, to suddenly come on the road again, it’s like going on holiday. All the work’s done, the album’s out there, people have heard it. Now we’re just kind of playing the songs, it’s great.
On Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, almost every song feels like it could be a single, which is I suppose kind of the name of the game with a good Franz Ferdinand album?
Yeah. That’s something when we first started writing songs, that was the thing we wanted to do. We had a whole year where we pretty much didn’t see each other and just kind of did our own thing. When we did come back we felt fresh again, and I think that translated into the music.
There does seem to be a sense of rediscovery about Right Thoughts... – you can feel a quite palpable sense of excitement in certain songs. For me, particularly on ‘Stand On The Horizon’. That’s exactly the sort of song I hope and expect to hear Franz Ferdinand writing after a decade now – instantly identifiable as a Franz song, but with that slightly more mature, reflective edge to it than some of the more instantly gratifying pop songs in your catalogue. Does that stand out for you on the album as well?
I think that song in particular is something we all in the band are proud of. It’s the song on the record we all enjoy playing most live.
And something that jumps out on that song for me, and I suppose the album in general, is the guitars. Especially in light of the more synthy stuff that was going on on Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, it feels like Alex and Nick (McCarthy, guitarist/keyboardist) have rediscovered their guitar muse in a way. Would you agree with that?
I would agree with that. There are synthesisers on the record, but kind of the essence of the record is us playing the four of us in a room again, and that generally means two guitars, bass and drums.
What did you get up to personally in that year long breather between the last two albums? What did you do when you weren’t being in Franz Ferdinand every day?
I did some painting, and hung out with friends, had a real life, did normal stuff. Nothing particularly unusual. The other guys were doing bits of music here and there – Alex produced a couple of albums, including the RM Hubbert one. He was doing a lot of music things. Nick was doing music things here and there. Paul (Thomson, drummer) was recording a Correcto album and various things. I was just living a normal life.
How was it to all be gathered together again all of a sudden?
We didn’t plunge in at the deep end. We wrote and recorded the album, which is kind of a bit of gradual process. It wasn’t as if we were carefree and skipping around Glasgow one day, then suddenly in the midst of a world tour. First we had to sit down and write a record. Which was nice actually. It was the most fun we’ve had writing a record ever. Enjoyment wise, you could maybe compare it to the first record – but then when we did the first record, we all had jobs and I was at art school still. It was a social thing that we did in the evenings. Whereas this one, we could do it any time of day we wanted, and we’d kind of meet up and work on stuff. After having that break, it was just nice to meet up and hang out with the guys in the band again.
It must have grown incredibly intense with your first three albums, the constant cycles of recording and touring. Did you find you were able to all relate to each other a little more successfully after some time apart?
Yeah, if you’re in that close company with three other guys that amount of time, like with our first three records, I think you need a break from each other. Then you remember what it was that was enjoyable about being a band in the first place, because all the crap’s been left behind, all the airports and hangovers and jetlag – the only downsides to being in a band are forgotten and you kind of get on with the reason that you’re doing it in the first place.
Where do you all call home when you’re not touring?
I still live in Glasgow. Alex is in Scotland still, just a little bit south of Glasgow, and Nick lives in London and a little bit in Germany as well. But Glasgow was where the band was born, and we continue to call ourselves a Glasgow band.
Why do you choose to still call Glasgow home, when you could presumably live any number of other places in the world right now if you wanted to?
I don’t know, I just like it. I grew up in Yorkshire, that’s where I went to school, grew up etc. I moved here for art school in 1999. I guess it was sort of the music scene along with the art school that made me want to come. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. I lived in London for a bit, when we’re on tour and stuff it’s sort of like the hub city. But it’s not really the same as Glasgow.
I suppose of all the Glasgow bands that have had success in the last 20 odd years, most of them have chosen to remain here even after things have taken off for them?
It’s not the 1970s is it? The internet and stuff like that means you can live wherever you want these days.
And I suppose you get your fix of seeing the world, trying other cities when you’re on tour?
Exactly – my working life is spent away from Glasgow, and it’s nice to have it as an idea of home and come back to it.
You presented a photo exhibition in Glasgow recently at the Grand Central Hotel – a display of 325 photos of yourself in hotel rooms around the word whilst on tour over the last several years. How did that come together, and how did you enjoy the experience?
It was pretty exhausting! I hadn’t done an exhibition since I graduated. Alex Frost, a friend of mine who is another Glasgow artist, I asked him for some advice about space and stuff like that, and he’d seen the photographs and suggested I should do it in a hotel room, which was an amazing idea. Luckily I had a contact, a friend of a friend who is sort of a manager at the Grand Central Hotel. I had a meeting with her and we put it together. It was really, really enjoyable, a completely different speed from doing a gig where the performance is what it’s all about, whereas doing an exhibition is all in the preparation. On the evening of the show, everything is done and it’s just about socialising. It’s a weird turnaround really. But I really enjoyed doing it, the hotel were amazing, let me do whatever I wanted, really helped out.
Are you still continuing with your hotel snaps project? Have you done one for your current hotel room in Paris for instance?
It’s got to the point now where I have to – my OCD couldn’t handle it if I didn’t. I’m checking out in three or four hours, so I’ll do it before then.
How does your current room compare to the other three hundred and something you’ve snapped so far?
Pretty good, pretty nice. It’s got a comfy chair.
Do you have a favourite hotel in the world? And a least favourite?
My favourite hotel in the world is probably the W in Montreal. We were at the end of a long spate of touring in the US, we’d been on the bus for days. I have fond memories of coming into the room, putting my bags down and just being like “my God, I’ve got my own personal space.” The worst hotel? Way back in the early days, we were doing CD:UK – remember that TV show from years ago? Domino put us up in a hotel nearby the studio in London and it was absolutely horrible. It was some kind of pay by the hour thing, absolutely disgusting. It was a curtain between toilet and room, and we were sharing rooms as well, so I was sharing with our tour manager, single beds. I’d come back for a nap – exhausted from touring, or just partying – in the middle of the afternoon, and it turned out to be basically just a hotel where people go to have affairs, or consort with prostitutes. There was this couple next door having really loud sex. I just wanted to nap. That was awful.
Franz Ferdinand obviously have a strong association with the Glasgow School of Art – have you had a chance to visit the new Reid building and the new Vic Bar yet?
I haven’t had a chance no, but I’ve been walking past it while it’s been constructed. It’s got me intrigued. It’s got a lot of fond memories and stuff, of the Vic Bar, we played there a few times. I was very pleased when I heard they were keeping the original shell of the building. In my mind, the fact they’d done that meant I could accept whatever they were doing inside the building. A social space, the social aspect for me is the whole point of an art school. The actual bit of paper you get at the end is worthless – it’s all about the people you meet, the conversations you have. It’s essential to have a union space. It’s a very special place for us.
On the subject of how Glasgow Franz Ferdinand are keeping it these days – you’ve been doing your civic duty by coming out quite strongly in opposition to Glasgow City Council’s 'draconian' – as you put it – restrictions on the usage of Glasgow parks. What’s your objection there?
Most of the rules in the thing are quite sensible – it was just the dog walking thing. I’ve got a dog, my recreation is going to Pollok Park with my dog. That’s what I do when I’m not on tour – that’s my main thing. And they had this thing where you can’t take your dog off the lead. That’s insane! I understand the motivation behind it – there’s scary dogs, that might be scary to children. But that’s a different issue – that’s a rule about dogs. Having a dog under control, that should be an assumed thing – if you’ve got a dog you should be able to control it, and trust it’s not going to go and eat a child. If you’d let me prep I’d have spent a few days getting a speech together.
Finally, and again on a Glasgow tip – Franz Ferdinand are playing the famous Barrowland this tour, which will be your biggest show in the city in quite a few years. Do you feel a certain hand of history on your shoulder when you play there?
It’s the best venue in Glasgow. It’s one of the best venues in the world. You talk to other touring bands from the States or other parts of Europe and it’s definitely one of these key venues. People have great times there, the crowds are always amazing. We actually used to rehearse there – there used to be rehearsal rooms underneath it, I don’t know if there still are. I assume they’re still there. When we were starting out we sometimes used to get a rehearsal space there. That was great – especially on a night when there wasn’t a gig on. The loos you used were the actual Barrowlands toilets. You could go for a pee at like 11 o’clock, and it was pitch black, and there was no one there. It was fucking creepy. You could sense how much had gone on in that place.
Franz Ferdinand play the Barrowland, Glasgow, Tue 25 Mar.