Interview: Franz Ferdinand

Adapted from an interview conducted for The Yorker, at Manchester Academy, on 6 March 2009.

The coveted Mercury Prize win that greeted Franz Ferdinand’s 2004 debut heralded the arrival of a band whose mainstream fanbase was matched by critical acclaim. Five years and a couple of albums later, we caught up with bassist Bob Hardy and drummer Paul Thomson.

Hours before their show at Manchester’s Academy, the pair were in high spirits. Having appeared live occasionally in the build up to Tonight: Franz Ferdinand’s release, the previous night had seen their “best gig in 18 months,” played to a sell-out crowd at their home town Glasgow’s famous Barrowland Ballroom. The quickfire live sets the band specialises in currently include an equal mix of the band’s older guitar-led tracks and more electronic newer efforts.

Original speculation about Tonight’s style was always misinformed; Thomson notes with frustration that long before an album gets released, “the press want clues to what it’s going to sound like, you mention that you’re listening to a lot of Afrobeat at the moment, and all of a sudden it’s like: “they’re going to make an Afrobeat record!” Really, Afrobeat’s just a tiny fraction of what influences us; the closest we get to it is on that one in 6/8 time [‘Send Him Away’].”

The removal of a lead guitar in some of the new songs demonstrates a subtle shift rather than a sonic revolution in their style, giving the album a punchier, more rhythmic foundation. Its immediacy isn’t only testified to by the music, but also by the album cover, which appears to show Franz Ferdinand enacting the aftermath of a mob shooting in 1950’s USA. “The songs are about that bright flash, capturing a moment at night when someone shouts ‘something’s happened!’” observes Hardy, “we were already interested in Weegee, so we did a day of promos in his style, never intending to use them for an album cover, but they came out so well.”

In spite of the recurring nocturnal theme, Hardy is quick to reject reviewers’ claims that Tonight is a concept album: “that’s just far-fetched. When we finished the record, we didn’t even have a title; Paul noticed how so many of the songs are set at night, so we went with that title. Also, we can use the concept album idea to bullshit our way through interviews and it can be great.”

He laughs when he says this, but there is reason for nervousness when it comes to interviewing the band at the moment. New album track ‘What She Came For’ is a biting attack on repetitive interviews, its lyrics saturated with the mundane questions of the – I note with trepidation – uninspired student interview (“where’d you get your name from?” and “where d’you see yourself in five minutes time?” to name a couple). Certain quirks of their recent production methods, which they mentioned in earlier interviews, have become “like coming up with a great joke, before everyone starts repeating it to you ad nauseum for the next year”.

The human skeleton used by the band as an additional drum set on upcoming single ‘No You Girls’ has become something of band folklore, but Hardy is quick to downplay it (though “it was funny at the time”). Likewise, he brings up their idea of swinging a microphone at distance over an amp to capture the Doppler Effect in their guitar sounds on ‘What She Came For’, as a point of repetitive interest for some (but certainly not him).

Both Thomson and Hardy are much more eager to talk about the future than the past year’s more trivial points. The band having had the same set up “for a while now,” Thomson “wouldn’t mind a complete revolution”. It’s not that he wants to alienate longstanding fans, though: “it’s always going to be the same four personalities writing – even if we made a Gamelan polka record it’d sound like us.”

Whether Franz Ferdinand’s future lies in subtle change or a grand revolution, their supporters will eagerly await developments. Even the band doesn’t know what they’ll do next, but they’re not grumbling about it. Says Hardy: “that’s the exciting thing about the future, after all…”

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