Franz Ferdinand: Today, Top of the Pops. Tomorrow, the world

Franz Ferdinand set out to make music that would get girls dancing. But their ambition doesn't end there, hears Alexia Loundras
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Alex Kapranos, Franz Ferdinand's frontman, looks thoughtful. Huddled around a small table in a Primrose Hill pub, the remaining three members of the year's most promising new band - Bob Hardy, Nick McCarthy and Paul Thomson - look over at him expectantly. "My mum and dad have gone weird on me," he confesses. "They keep trying to chat about trendy New York bands and say things like: 'So Alex, I hear you have a bit of post-punk going on'. They don't know what the hell post-punk is!"

Kapranos' experience clearly strikes a chord with the others. Guitarist McCarthy - the band's Adonis and failed judo champion, emotionally scarred having lost to a girl at age 11 - nods passionately in agreement; while drummer Thomson, whippet-like and sporting a rather suspect moustache, reveals that his folks too have been acting rather odd. "Yeah, my mum and dad are a lot nicer to me now," he says surprised, his thick Scottish accent almost smothering his words. "Over Christmas there was no talk about when I was going to get myself a job like there was last year, and they keep telling me they love me."

This apparent change in the behaviour of their families really shouldn't come as any shock to the Franz Ferdinand boys. After all, their parents aren't the only o nes who have taken an almost unhealthy interest in the Glasgow-based band. The underground gigs which they put on at the top floor of a derelict Art Deco warehouse overlooking Glasgow's River Clyde - decadently christened the Chateau - were notorious. They attracted a slew of record industry types who, smitten with the band's electric disco-laced garage, tried to woo them into their fold with offers of meals in expensive restaurants and limo rides, not to mention hefty record deals - offers that Franz Ferdinand flatly refused.

Despite the major-label frenzy, the band signed to Lawrence Bell's small but respected independent label, Domino. As Kapranos puts it, this was mainly thanks to Bell's "real enthusiasm and genuine love for music"; a passion he backed with the personal touch: "Lawrence had a totally different attitude from all the other labels. He never said he'd buy us some big fancy meal - he cooked us dinner instead. We liked him and we liked his ideals."

By the time Franz Ferdinand released their debut single, September's "Darts of Pleasure", the music press already had the band in their sights and, in a flurry of hype, hailed them as the saviours of British rock. By November, Jools Holland had also come calling and invited them to play on his BBC2 music show. Franz Ferdinand kick-started this year as NME cover stars and now the record-buying public have embraced the band. The quartet's second single - "Take Me Out", released on 12 January - smashed into the charts at No 3, further fuelling the already heightened anticipation for their eponymous debut album, due early February. Quite some achievement - particularly for a band who just 18 months earlier only started writing music on a whim.

Franz Ferdinand were a happy accident of sorts, conceived in Glasgow's vibrant art scene. The cherubic, fresh-faced bass-player, Hardy - who, at 23, is four years younger than his bandmates - came from West Yorkshire to study painting at Glasgow School of Art. Which, incidentally, was also where Thomson, the band's only true Scotsman, worked. Kapranos - aristocratic cheekbones, angular haircut - had already been living in the city for years, having moved there in the Nineties to study English after growing up near Sunderland. The art school formed the hub of Glasgow's social scene, which is how - through girlfriends and friends of friends - the three met. At that stage, the founding members of Franz Ferdinand didn't have a burning ambition to play in a band: "When you're little you dream of going on Top of the Pops, but only in the same way you dream of being a train driver or an astronaut," Kapranos say, stretching out in his chair and proudly displaying his West Yorkshire Police uniform sweater ("borrowed" from Hardy's dad). "But playing music did seem like a bit of a laugh."

The impetus for forming the group came when he inherited an unwanted bass from his mate, Mick Cooke of Scots troubadours Belle And Sebastian, on the grounds that he do something useful with it. Suitably inspired, Kapranos set out to convince Hardy and Thomson to join his new band. After a disagreement over the essence of Art, in which Kapranos persuasively argued that "Art is just expression and there are many different ways to express yourself," painter Hardy was strong-armed into laying down his brushes to take up the bass instead. Hardy still insists, with deadpan sincerity (and a little glint in his eye), that he remains a reluctant participant. Thomson was more enthusiastic and joined the band on the somewhat vain condition that he wouldn't be hidden by the drum kit. But it was not until Kapranos met Blackpool-born, Munich-bred McCarthy over a school-boy scuffle for some vodka at a party one night, that the line-up was complete. Fresh out of the Munich Conservatoire, and desperate to put his finely tuned musical skills to some use, McCarthy happily admitted to trying to steal Kapranos' bottle. A fight was averted and a band was born.

"It was almost as though fate was bringing us together," sighs Kapranos. That's as may be, but it was the lads' shared commitment to "making music to make girls dance" that actually cemented the band.

"I like what a glib statement that is," says Kapranos about what amounts to Franz Ferdinand's sonic manifesto. "It almost means nothing but it sums up how we were feeling at the time; what we were kicking against as a band." The group had noticed two things: the first was that bands didn't seem to be making music - real rhythmic music not just collections of chords - that got people dancing. The second was that there never seemed to be any girls at gigs. "It seemed ridiculous that you would go to a club to dance and a gig to either stand around with your arms folded or mosh about, throwing yourself violently into others," he adds. "Bands were just playing to other blokes in bands, knowingly cross-referencing each other's music, but never playing any tunes. We wanted to change that - we wanted to make people dance."

And that they've done - right from the start. Even before Hardy and Kapranos came to hear of a racehorse called The Archduke, which started a long conversational tangent about another Archduke - the First World War catalyst - that eventually spawned their band's name ("imagine being someone whose death brought such an amazing change in the world... And what an amazing name!" says Kapranos briefly reliving the moment), Franz Ferdinand had made serious headway into their lofty more girls/more dancing ambitions. They played their very first gig as the token boy band at an all-female art exhibition. There were many girls present. And they danced.

"Music should be primal," says Kapranos. "It should force a subconscious reaction - you should feel it with your body. When you hear it, dancing should be as impulsive as feeling fear at the sound of a roar or getting that funny feeling down your back when someone scratches a blackboard." McCarthy shudders at the thought. Kapranos continues, quickly spitting out his words almost before he'd thought of them: "But with the best music, you feel emotions as well as sounds - the music just brings them out."

Moody, powerful and blessed with blissfully hyperactive time signatures, Franz Ferdinand's debut album is a ferocious, shape-changing beast. "Auf Acshe" is drenched in Joy Division-esque sadness - all haunting minor keys and driving melodic basslines; a wry ode to art-house cinema, "The Dark of the Matinée" alternates from slow and seductive to infectiously kaleidoscopic, while the synth-swamped "Darts of Pleasure" writhes with the sexy abandon of a love-sick Iggy Pop. Like a frenetic fusion of The Stooges, The Fall, Chic and The Beatles, Franz Ferdinand's stalking rhythms invade the body while underlying tides of emotion - carried by Kapranos' snarling, glacial voice - occupy the mind. "We wanted to do something different, something exciting," says Thomson.

But far from sounding like an unholy clash of influences, Franz Ferdinand have pooled together their collective musical experiences - which cover everything from freeform jazz and Prince, to post-punk heavyweights Josef K and "strange electronica" - to create an exhilarating and intoxicating blend of electro-fused Sixties pop and psychedelic disco-rock, spiced with melody and lashings of dance-floor energy. "If you're going to create something new, you're going to have to take inspiration from everywhere. You can't just draw from one narrow niche," says Kapranos explaining his band's eclectic aural pallet. "All four of us have different personalities and each of us adds something else into the mix, which probably accounts for our band's catholic tastes. We take everything from everywhere and pour it into our own."

It's this belief that each member is inherently essential and their contribution equal - this all-for-one-one-for-all gang mentality - that makes Franz Ferdinand tick. It also goes some way in explaining why it was so important to Kapranos that Hardy came in on the group: "I wanted us to do this together - we're friends. That's what makes the strongest groups - not virtuosity but the way individuals relate to each other," he explains.

"The most exciting bands have this space that they live in, far removed from anything else," says Kapranos. "I think we've also ended up in a situation like that. It's like we exist in this funny little world where we peek out on the rest of existence. And this is why we work so well." Having got this far, the band intend to be here for the long haul. "We'd like to usurp the name of Franz Ferdinand," Kapranos says, laying out the battle plan. "When people hear that name, they won't think of some archduke whose death sparked the First World War - they'll think of this daft bunch of guys that met in Glasgow and formed a band. It's a big one, but you've gotta have dreams!"

"Alternatively," Thomson interrupts, "we'd quite like to get on CD:UK."

The single 'Take Me Out' is out on Domino; 'Franz Ferdinand' is released on 9 February; Franz Ferdinand play the 'NME' Brats Tour, which starts on Sunday at Northumbria University

Comments