As the masses prepare to descend on Punchestown, we dispatch Hannah Hamilton to assess the festival fitness of one of this year's Oxegen buzz bands, Franz Ferdinand.
"I always wanted a cockatoo,” says Franz Ferdinand drummer Paul Thomson. He’s responding to my warning that our phone conversation may be permeated by the high pitched squawk of my housemate’s pet, Percy, who tends to become particularly vocal just when you don’t want him to.
“But if did get one, I think my cats would turn it into mincemeat. They’d probably enjoy it, but then I wouldn’t get to enjoy the cockatoo. I’d just have to dispose of the body. There are enough bird carcasses in the kitchen already most mornings – not exactly what you want to see when you sit down to breakfast!”
Paul has just spent a rare night in his own bed, and is in fine form despite being unapologetically dragged out of it by Hot Press. We had been due to intellectually probe his bandmate Alex Kapranos this morning, but a bout of tonsillitis hindered proceedings, forcing Paul to step into the hot seat so Alex can save what’s left of his ailing voice for the band’s appearance at Madrid’s Metrorock festival tomorrow.
Franz are well into festival mode at this stage, having played a string of dates across Europe and in the US, including Coachella and Rock AM, and should be well limbered up by the time they hit Irish shores for Oxegen. So do they have any tales of debauchery from the tour bus so far?
“Not really,” ponders Paul, surprising himself somewhat. “There’s nothing to report back! It all seems so ordinary for us now. What’s actually amazing is when you get back home and you have to lead a normal life. It’s a total novelty. Even doing stuff like gardening, which I’ve never done in my life, is really exciting.”
So much for a rock ‘n roll lifestyle, then. Still, Hot Press finds it very hard to believe that tending one's herbaceous border can be more enjoyable than getting invited to go bowling with Jack White.
”Ah yes!” he remembers. “That was a great laugh. We did the Big Day Out in Australia – it’s a great festival with a fantastic line-up and you all get to travel with the bands across Australia and New Zealand. It’s more like a touring circus. The White Stripes and The Stooges all played. One night when we were in Melbourne, Jack invited us and a few other folks out bowling. He’s quite into it, so much so that he’s even got his own bowling ball. We had a lane and The Mars Volta had a lane beside us. The Greenhornes were there as well, and they played a small set. It was like The Raconteurs but without Brendan Benson – Jack was jamming along with the rhythm section of the Greenhornes and he had this almost telepathic communication going with them. I didn’t realise that they were actually in a band until afterwards!”
One of the Franz’s biggest festival appearances this year will be at the Carling Weekender alongside labelmates the Arctic Monkeys.
“They’re a great band,” he enthuses. “Their music and the observations in their lyrics really belie their age. I like the way they do things too. Because they’re on Domino, it’s the same people that work for them as work for us. They don’t communicate to the label in the same way we do, it’s like they’re kids in this little gang. They were supposed to turn up for this day of promo in Paris and they were like, ‘Fuck that, it sounds rubbish’, so they ran away, leaving all the promo people completely distraught! They’re doing it on their own terms. Sometimes I’m a bit jealous. We do everything on our own terms as well, but we’re also very polite. As for Andy Nicholson quitting, I guess it just wasn’t for him. If I can relate it to my experience, especially with the first record, it’s difficult to know when to say 'no'. It’s good to have the confidence to do that because otherwise you just work yourself into the ground. Everyone’s exhausted and you end up having a blow up, like our big fight in Paris. You’re travelling with these four people and you lose the last of your privacy. It can be very stressful. So whatever he feels like doing, good on him.”
While the Arctic Monkeys are already showing signs of cracking under the strain, Franz Ferdinand continue to go from strength to strength. On their recent American tour with Death Cab For Cutie and The Cribs, they even found time to squeeze in several brief studio sojourns (in some curious locations, I might add) to lay down ideas for their impending album.
“We had a couple of days in the studio in Sao Paolo and worked with some local musicians there. We wanted a brass feel for a song, so they came in and played a horn part. We did a bit of recording in Benton Harbour in Michigan. The town is run by the House Of David (a religious sect) and the whole place was like a shell – there was nothing there. It’s the most desolate place I’ve ever seen. Obviously rents are very cheap, so a friend of ours who used to work with Steve Albini at Electrical Audio in Chicago managed to build a studio there for next to nothing. Because there’s nothing there, there are no distractions. There’s a dilapidated fairground but that’s it. We re-recorded ‘Eleanor’ for the next single there and did a bit of new stuff. It’s good to do bits and pieces while you’re travelling because then you can sit on it for a while and come back to it and go, ‘Oh no, that’s awful’ or whatever.”
The band are determined not to risk repeating the trick they pulled with You Could Have It So Much Better, aiming instead to recreate a similar atmosphere to their debut album.
“With the last record, we didn’t feel like we had the right to stop and rest before we recorded,” Paul says. “We were riding this wave and it wasn’t something we wanted to stop, so we didn’t have a break. There were just a few weeks between finishing touring and heading back up to the studio in Scotland. We had to amass everything we’d been working on in rehearsals and soundchecks while doing the first record, and writing new stuff on the spot as well. It was a little rushed, but we wanted to get it out as soon as we could. With this album, we want to implement an embargo on music making for three months so we can see where we are, then start kicking about with a group of friends again and make a record in a similar way to the first one. Spend a bit more time on it this time. I think ultimately we want to make more of a pop record. The first record is sharper sounding pop, and the immediacy of pop music is what we love. All of us want it to be more of a reflection of all the music we listen to, which covers so much ground. I really like our second album, but I imagine that after we’ve recorded eight, it’ll pale slightly.”
Twenty-four hours later, and a “big purple golf ball”-tonsilled but remarkably healthy-sounding Alex Kapranos is on the phone to Hot Press from backstage at Metrorock.
“That’s enough about my internal organs!” he laughs, after recounting his illness and apologising profusely for neglecting yesterday’s call, before launching into an in-depth explanation of the direction the new album’s taking.
“We're going back to a much more essential and dance-orientated sort of thing,” he says, backing up Paul’s claims. “I don’t mean electronic, but definitely going back to the beat and the bassline as being the core of what we’re doing. More dance-able, maybe. With the last record, because we’d been touring so much and we’d got to a certain stage as a live band, we were playing these big gigs as a rock band. We felt we wanted to do an album that was like how we played live, so it ended up being quite rock ‘n roll. I think the next one’s going to be more pop, but pop in the way we see it – a weird version of pop! We came up with an idea recently. We were asked to do some music for a film that was going to be set 30 years in the future. I loved the idea of playing music as it would be then, and it got me thinking about bands and how they sound years after they start out – it’s usually kind of similar to how they sounded when they started out anyway, although often not quite as good! So I thought, instead of making music as it would sound in 30 years, make it how it could sound in 30 years. You’re getting into this utopian ideal of what music should sound like in the future, so that’s what we’d like to do for the next record – taking sounds that already exist and making something that you would hope won’t be heard for the next three decades.”
Work on the new album is scheduled to commence next year in the band’s hometown of Glasgow. In the meantime, there’s the remainder of festival season to contend with.
“When we’re touring, festivals are something I really look forward to,” Alex says, “because when you’re on the road you don’t get to see anybody else play. Festivals are a good chance to check out other bands. It was a strange transition to go through when we started touring, having been in a position where I went to gigs all the time to playing gigs all the time and not being able to go to as many as I used to! So I always look forward to the festivals. We played Coachella recently and I got to see Gnarls Barkley's set, which was really good, but Madonna was phenomenal. She still holds an electric guitar in a way that guys in bands think girls hold an electric guitar, if you know what I mean – like she cannae play it. She’s got such charisma though and I love those songs. She was a real highlight.”
As for their Irish appearance this summer, Alex insists that he’s really looking forward to playing Oxegen: “I remember when we played it two years ago, it was the filthiest most miserable day a festival could ever be held on. There was water collecting in the awnings above the stage and flying off in the wind and absolutely drenching the audience. I remember standing on the side of the stage saying, ‘God, these guys must be miserable, it’s going to be such a bad gig’. But then we walked on and the audience was amazing. They were so full of life and energy that it made for a fantastic gig, so I thought if they can be like that in the worst possible weather then it’s gonna be a good gig whatever happens. Unless they all faint with sunstroke!”
Speaking of sunstroke, blistering heat was something the band had to contend with on their recent tour of South America, where they played a series of headlinine shows to some of the most rapturous crowds they’ve ever experienced.
“South America was one of the best experiences of our lives touring,” enthuses Alex. “The very fact that you get to go to South America is incredibly fortunate.It’s such a wonderful part of the world, it’s not only beautiful but it’s teeming with excitement and life. I love audiences that give back a lot of energy when you’re playing. It makes you perform better. The gigs, particularly the one in Rio, felt almost on the verge of anarchy, like it could explode and anything could go wrong. The music was stirring the crowd to a level of uncontrollable energy and you had no idea what was going to happen next. Once you hit the first chord, the whole place erupted.”
If they thought that was incredible, then the 60,000 capacity stadiums they played with Bono and the boys defied comprehension.
“We’d already played with U2 earlier in the year in Spain and I remember the first time we went on that stage in front of all of those people – you do get a sensation of being incredibly small. You can’t see the people at the back of the stadium; they’re just a vague blur of dots. But you know they’re out there and they’re looking. But again, you hit the first chord and then something surges through you – it’s a mixture of adrenalin and excitement and energy that comes back at you from the crowd. We were lucky when we did the South American dates because I think most of the people going down to see U2 had never heard of this little band called Franz Ferdinand from Scotland, but they were loving it and dancing and clapping along. It was a great experience. The fellas from U2 were great as well. Often when bands go on tour they can be treated arrogantly by a big band that they’re supporting. You don’t get that at all with the fellas in U2. They come back and chat with you like you’re anybody. There’s no snobbery. And there’s a really good atmosphere backstage, they couldn’t have been more hospitable.”
One of the more ghastly aspects of travelling through South America was the grub. A keen foodie (not that you’d know it from his skinny frame), one of Alex’s biggest treats when on tour is sampling the local gastronomic delights. However, doing just that in Argentina, he got a mouthful of something particularly unpleasant.
“I ate bulls’ testicles,” he spits, audibly recoiling at the memory. “They were probably the most disgusting things I’ve ever tasted in my whole life. No, definitely the most disgusting. I only managed a quarter of one. It tasted absolutely foul. It tasted like ‘chewing on a bag of green pennies’ – you know when you leave a penny out and it goes all green? I say that because an ex-girlfriend of mine used to describe the nasty aftertaste of oral sex in that way and as I was chewing on this thing I thought, ‘My God! That’s exactly the taste she described!’ Now I know what she went through. I think that all men who are interested in receiving oral sex from their partners should have a bite of a bull’s bollocks so they can have a taste of what they’re inflicting on others! Disgusting.”
The end of the festival season will see the band putting away their passports and taking a proper break for the first time since their debut album broke. For drummer Paul, the three month hiatus will be spent changing nappies, mixing SMA and losing sleep when he becomes a father for the first time. Alex meanwhile will be making further forays into the literary world via his food column in The Guardian (‘Sound Bites’, in which you can find more info on the Argentine bulls’ testicles) which is to be collated, bound and published, hitting the shelves around the end of October.
“I’m just finishing it off at the moment,” he says. “I’ve been writing some new stuff for it and editing the old stuff between rehearsals. It’s been quite hectic! I’m just sending the last pages off today in fact. Andy Knowles who plays with us on tour is doing the illustrations, they look really good. It’s so wonderful and so exciting! The way I feel about it is the same as I felt when I first heard that we were going to have a record coming out a few years ago – desperately excited, but best not to think about it too hard because it will hurt your brain! It’s something so exceptional and out of the ordinary, beyond anything I’ve ever hoped for or expected. I’m just trying not to think about it too much in case it goes wrong!”
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**View the corresponding photo gallery here**
A flyover near the old Harland & Wolff shipyard was the starting point for a remarkable three months that has seen Franz Ferdinand challenging U2 and Coldplay for the title of ‘Biggest Band In The World'. Daredevil photographic exploits completed, Hot Press jumped on their tour bus and got the lowdown on Snoop, Bono, Kanye West, Natasha Bedingfield and nights of debauchery with the Scissor Sisters.Read More
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