Hot Press remembers the day we introduced Alex & Co. to Oscar Wilde...
Born To Be Wilde (2004)
A year ago they were being paid fifty quid a gig, now they’re one of the biggest rock ‘n’ roll bands on the planet and about to take the Oxegen main stage by storm. A pun loving Stuart Clark discovers how Franz Ferdinand have become Top of the Fops.
Remember that masked bloke who pissed the Magicians’ Circle off by demonstrating how all their tricks are done on Sky? Well, today I’m going to don my balaclava and reveal the hidden secrets of rock journalism.
You may think that deciding what to do with Franz Ferdinand when they’re in Dublin tomorrow requires alchemic powers, but actually it’s a simple case of going round to the International Bar and not leaving until you’ve come up with some drunkenly harebrained scheme. Had you managed to penetrate this inner sanctum of hackdom that day, here’s what you’d have heard (identities have been hidden to protect the not particularly bright)…
ASSISTANT EDITOR X: Where the fuck are we going to take them?
ART DIRECTOR Y: Buggered if I know.
Don’t mind if I do.
(Bellows rudely at barman) Two Babychams mate and make it snappy!
Aren’t the bubbles great?
How about the Oscar Wilde statue down near Dail Eireann?
What if they don’t like him?
Floppy fringes, pencil moustaches, songs about men… they’re bound to.
We could use some really corny headline like ‘Born To Be Wilde’…
…and a sub about how they’re ‘Top of the Fops’.
Come on, let’s go tell Stokesy!
So, that’s how HP’s finest, a group of top Scottish popsters and approximately 20 mitching schoolkids who want to know “Was that you on Top Of The Pops last night?” came to be gathered in the south-west corner of Merrion Square.
Any concerns that Franz Ferdinand might veto our wonderful concept are allayed when, upon spying dear old Oscar, Alex Kapranos proclaims: “I love him! My dad used to read me his stuff and the most recent play I saw was The Importance Of Being Earnest. Can I climb up on him?”
I’d say he’d be delighted. The last time Hot Press hooked up with Kapranos & Co. they were waiting to see if ‘Take Me Out’ would leapfrog over Michelle McManus – not an easy task – and claim top spot in the UK singles chart. It didn’t, but since then they’ve had the consolation of their Franz Ferdinand album selling over 400,000 copies in Ireland and Blighty, and doing what Pulp, Primal Scream, Supergrass, Suede and, er, Westlife have never done, which is go top 40 in America.
“They rock with life-changing intensity,” gush The San Francisco Times; “Smooth funk with plenty of Beatlesque élan” purr the Seattle Examiner; and “The hottest Scottish party band since the Bay City Rollers”, rant the Washington Post, totally losing the run of themselves.
The hype has brought them the inevitable gaggle – or should that be whoop? – of celebrity fans with Elijah Wood, Brad Pitt and Robin Williams all in the crowd when they swung through California recently. Then there are the A-List admirers who’ve been too busy to check them out yet.
“David Bowie’s producer, Tony Visconti, sent us an email saying, ‘Just to let you know David and I have been listening to the album and we’re really into it’,” beams Kapranos who was also taken by surprise a few days later when Franz Ferdinand showcased at the South By South West industryfest in Austin.
“It was totally sold-out, there were fights outside the venue to get in and they had to call the fire brigade,” he resumes. “We did a couple of tours on the East Coast and then on the West Coast and every show was stuffed. Just as importantly, the audiences were very receptive, very energetic and singing along to all the songs, which we weren’t expecting ‘cause the album had only been out there a few weeks.”
Despite Alex’s insistence that “the flash rock star thing doesn’t really interest us,” it’s obvious that he’s enjoying some of the associated trappings.
“The first time we were in LA they put us in the Hyatt, which is where they filmed Derek Smalls and David St. Hubbins talking about Saucy Jack in the final scene of Spinal Tap. We were sat there by the pool with our cocktails thinking, ‘Fucking hell, this is like being on holiday!’”
I’m sorry, but making out that touring is ‘fun’ goes directly against the teachings of St. Thom of Yorke who suffers every day of his life so that we can enjoy boringly depressive music.
“We’ll probably write a concept album about the evils of the music industry in a couple of years time, but even the promo stuff we’ve been doing has been really enjoyable.”
What, there are journalists and radio people who aren’t in the employ of Satan?
“We did a session on a really cool programme in Los Angeles called Morning Becomes Eclectic, which goes out every morning on some station called KC-something-or-rather. We were expecting the DJ to ask, ‘Which one of you is Franz?’ but no, he was asking us questions about really obscure Glasgow bands like Josef K and The Fire Engines. They put all their sessions on the ‘net, so anyone with an MP3 player, get searching!”
Let us save you time by establishing that the radio station in question is KCRW, their web address is www.kcrw.com/show/mb and the session includes insanely iPodable versions of ‘Cheating On You’, ‘Jacqueline’, ‘Tell Her Tonight’, ‘Take Me Out’, ‘Shopping For Blood’, ‘Michael’ and ‘Matinee’.
“Somebody was telling me that radio has turned into a bit of a free speech battleground in the US, with the government trying to get people like Howard Stern, who’s huge there, off the air,” Kapranos resumes. “In most countries there’s a middle-ground, but in America you’re either a complete pro-war conservative or a ‘let’s kick Bush out’ liberal. There was a guy at KC-thingy who runs a site called isupportourfakepresident.com. They’re encouraging young people to vote and do something about the lunatic who’s currently running their lives. You think that’s brilliant and then you go to New York where, never mind smoking, you’re not allowed to dance in half the clubs.”
Ah yes, the 1926 NYC Cabaret Law which has been revived by police wanting to crack down on nighteries that don’t meet with their approval or – as some owners are alleging – demands for substantial backhanders.
“You could turn up in a head-to-toe PVC jumpsuit with matching gas-mask and no one would bat an eyelid, but put a cigarette in your mouth, and everybody starts calling you a freak. Like you say, it’s a very contradictory place.”
New York may be a no go area for chain-smoking moshers, but it does provide some excellent shopping opportunities. Renowned Platinum Am-Ex flasher that he is, I trust Alex bought some quality swag home with him.
“My key purchase was these sparkly, light blue shoes I’m wearing now. I got them from a place on Orchard Street in the Lower East Side where they have all these extravagant shops for pimps. They had the most extreme shoes I’ve ever seen in my life. I also bought a load of really cheap ‘70s retro t-shirts which you’d pay a fortune for here.”
So they’re planning on becoming the new Thrills?
“No offence to The Thrills, but urrrrrgh, what a horrible thought!”
I’m not a vindictive man, but I have to say I laughed heartily when The Face went down the drain, and with it their fascist insistency on bands conforming to whatever they deemed to be hip. Rant, moan, splutter…
“I wouldn’t necessarily share your hatred of The Face – a lot of the stuff they printed was tongue in cheek – but I do think there’s a backlash against manufactured shit like Fame Academy and Pop Idol and the equally manufactured alt.rock sound that’s become almost generic. You need to be able to see that there are real people behind the music, not marketing men pulling the strings according to market share and demographic. Too many bands nowadays are the musical equivalent of Burger King or ICI.”
Anything else that gets the Kapanos goat?
“Yeah, lab assistants who go on stage with a laptop.”
Bobby Gillespie came out with a great line about that in Hot Press, which was: “If I wanted to see some cunt sending emails, I’d go to an internet café!”
“That’s brilliant,” he laughs. “I went to this really cool clicks and cuts gig in Glasgow and had to leave half-way through because it was like being in a computer science class. The crowd were all there watching this guy move his mouse!”
Chris Martin went across to America a fresh-faced youngster and a year later was living it up Hollywood stylee with Gwyneth Paltrow. Does Alex Kapranos have any hopes in that regard?
“Absolutely not! Going out with a film star. My God, that’d be so much hard work. Anyway, I’m quite happily girlfriended at the moment. It’s hard to see each other and stay in contact with what’s happening right now, but there are guys on oil rigs who’ve been doing it for years so I’m not going to moan about it.”
Talking of macho professions like working on the rigs, Alex didn’t always aspire to being a fey, but quite clearly heterosexual rock star.
“When I was about five or six years old, I wanted to be a soldier,” he confesses. “The best thing there was. I saw myself running through battlefields, shooting and killing. Fabulous. Shooting people seemed like great fun. On my own, in the backyard, I replayed complete scenes from documentaries on the Falkland War. I jumped from walls, dug holes… I only realised how utterly terrible it must’ve been when I saw a soldier on TV who’d trod on a landmine and lost the lower part of his leg. Making music suddenly seemed a whole lot safer.”
Sky Sports addict that I am, my Saturday mornings were considerably brightened when on consecutive weeks you had Snow Patrol and Franz Ferdinand trying to beat the Soccer AM goalie. I hope Alex did a better job of scoring his penalty than Gary ‘Waddle’ Lightbody?
“No, I missed which I’m blaming on the shiny new shoes I had on. I wasn’t as far off target as the new Northern Ireland manager, Lawrie Sanchez, who sliced his penalty into one of the cameraman. I went for positioning rather than power but put it about a foot wide.”
Most people have it the other way around, but I think Morrissey owes Franz Ferdinand a huge debt for making literacy, wit and style things that are desirable in music again. You Are The Quarry is a cracking album but without the change of climate, I doubt if it would’ve gone top 10.
“Did you know we were interviewing him yesterday?” Kapranos says with barely concealed excitement. “One of the conditions of him talking to the NME, who he’s boycotted for 12 years because they called him a racist, was that we do it rather than one of their journalists. You’re right, he does seem very positive about the present climate. There was a period when somebody like Morrissey was rejected in a way because of his aspirations and the things he wanted to do with his music. Maybe he was a little more lyrically ambitious than some other bands who seemed to ‘dumb down’ before going into the studio.”
On a scale of 1 to 10, how big a Smiths fan is he?
“Eleven-and-three-quarters! I didn’t have the quiff and flower shop coming out of my arse pocket like some people, but seeing them do ‘This Charming Man’ on Top Of The Pops was an epiphanal moment that quite literally changed my life.”
What was the $64,000 question that had Mozzer reeling on the ropes and gasping for air?
“Probably the hardest question to ask because we had their editor sitting beside us was, ‘How did you feel when the NME turned on you, and was there a certain hypocrisy in them criticising you for using the iconography of the Union Jack and then, a year later, praising Oasis who had Union Jacks on their guitars?’ He just shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘To be honest, I knew my time was up and was expecting it.’
“It was such a surreal moment,” Alex reflects. “I guess we were all a little bit nervous about meeting him, but he was fantastic and met all expectations.”
Glad to hear it. Talking of surreal moments, I thought I’d slipped through into a parallel universe when I saw a giant picture of Terry Wogan peering out from behind them on the ‘Matinee’ video. Did they have to ask Tel’s permission to use his visual likeness?
“Yes, we did. I had the bizarre experience of explaining to Terry Wogan by email that not only did we want to use his picture, but it was also going to be in the style of an old Soviet propaganda poster – Wogan as Stalin! It’s to his immense credit that he saw the humour in it and said, ‘Work away.’
“The reason that line – ‘I’m on BBC Two now telling Terry Wogan how I made it/and what I made is unclear now’ – is in the song is because when I was a kid I used to daydream about doing something so wonderful and worthwhile that he’d ask me onto to the show to talk about it. I could have written a book or starred in a film, it didn’t really matter as long as he wanted me as a guest.”
Spot the child with issues. Okay, I’m going to ask Alex the same question I asked Snow Patrol recently – can he name a dodgier Glasgow boozer than the New Monaco Inn, which Alabama 3 took me into and has no windows, nailed down furniture, plastic glasses and bouncers on the toilets?
“The new Monaco Inn? That’s literally ten yards away from The Jail where we rehearse. There’s another one opposite The Chateau, The Sou’wester, which believe it or not is even worse. It was built in the late-’50s and hasn’t had a new piece of furniture or lick of paint since.”
How does Glasgow compare to where Alex is from, Sunderland, in the roughness stakes?
“They have the same propensity for random violence, but one thing you get in the North-East that you don’t get so much in Glasgow is hard lads wandering about in the middle of winter with shirt-sleeves on. Even when there’s sleet and driving rain, they wouldn’t do anything as poofy as wear a jacket.”
Which makes me think that they wouldn’t be overly impressed with the sort of clobber that Franz Ferdinand wear.
“Dress in any slightly eccentric or outlandish way in either city and you’ll get a hard time over it,” Kapranos acknowledges. “I used to get dog’s abuse when I had big sideburns and a quiff, but no one ever felt strongly enough about it to give me a smack. It’s obvious if you look like that that you want to be noticed, so you can’t complain if some of the attention’s negative. Be a dick about it and you probably will get into a fight.”
As I’m sure you’re already aware, Franz Ferdinand play what is only their third Irish gig – the previous ones were supporting Interpol in The Village and headlining The Ambassador – on the Saturday night at Oxegen. Given their superstar status on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s surprising that they’re only sixth on the Main Stage bill.
“We actually asked to go on early so we could be off our faces for the rest of the night.”
“No,” he laughs, “but after being paid fifty quid last year to play a tiny tent at T In The Park, we’re delighted to be on the Main Stage at any time of the day. We may even get a full ton this time!”
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