Band interviews are difficult for both interviewer and band. Intimacy is far easier achieved face-to-face. Egos are better massaged one-by-one, not en masse. For a new band, like Franz Ferdinand, it is even more difficult. This the first time they are touring extensively; this is the first time that they have been together 24-7; and this is when small individual peculiarities turn into great emotional annoyances. One got the impression with Franz Ferdinand that they were still in the process of learning about each other. Indeed, I sometimes felt that they were listening to each other’s answers more intently than I was. Did I sense any tension? No, but they are interesting enough to expect some soon enough.
For the irony is that interpersonal tension within a band can aid creativity. Resentment, mistrust, contempt, and envy, these negative emotions have assisted groups as diverse as The Beatles, The Smiths, The Fall, Joy Division and Kraftwerk by energising their members towards greatness. The individual egos that go up to make the collective ego must give everything, including their all-too-human foibles, in order to make music of substance. But, you might ask, with all this tension how do they hold the band together? Answer: by displacement, repression and an overriding love of whatever it is that the band represents. With this in mind, enjoy reading my interview with Franz Ferdinand conducted after their gig at the ICA.
Alex Kapranos (singer, guitarist, songwriter) is the slightly reluctant alpha male of Franz Ferdinand. Although he doesn’t dominate the band, he does steer them somewhat, using his cheerful articulacy to convince the others. I asked him about the effect all the praise has had (NME and Guardian had given them single of the week this week):
“After a while, you take [criticism] in a detached way. Like I heard Woody Allen doesn’t read his own press. And you can tell he doesn’t. He’s the same Woody Allen all the way through his career. If a journalist comes up and says ‘that was great’ or ‘it wasn’t so good tonight’ it doesn’t mean anything more than if an old friend says something. You get to the stage where you think, ‘okay, well, that’s your own opinion.'”
Favourite Woody Allen film?
“I hate to say it, but probably Sleeper. ”
Sleeper, 1973. An early funny one. The tale of Miles Monroe, a health food shop owner who wakes up 200 years later to discover that red meat is actually good for you. Appropriate for cholesterol-loving Scots.
Bob Hardy (bass player), is from Bradford and went to art school in Glasgow. He will tell you that he is a painter first and a bass player second, although his painting career is on hold at the moment. Whether he will ever paint again is a moot point. The number of people who combine successful art with successful music is almost zero.
As Alex says: “Bob never intended to be a musician. It’s my fault.”
Bob (ever the deadpan) replies: “I’m only here to keep him company.”
I ask if he’s had any exhibitions recently and Alex speaks up: “He’s had a couple.”
Bob: “I’ve had shows, but not for a wee while ’cause I’ve been busy recently doing this. I’m intending to get back to it soon . . . or when I have time.”
What is the high point of his life so far?
“Probably just after you’re coming off stage. Like playing tonight, that’s quite a high point. But also making good paintings does give you a bit of a buzz and it’s [chuckle] more for your own ego because you’re the only person there.”
Paul Thomson (drums) is the only member of the band to have actually been born in Scotland. There is something about him which says: DRUMMER. Not in a derogatory way, but behind his manic eyes I discerned a rhythmic pulse throbbing in his brain. I ask him to tell me his life’s trajectory and he sketches it in the air. Imagine a ski jump reversed, but in order to show how high it’s going he stands up and almost touches the ceiling. This is where he wants to take the band. So, how high do you think you are going to go?
“As high as the heavens,” says Paul.
And what is the ultimate ambition of Franz Ferdinand?
Paul: “To just explode from sheer joy if that’s possible”
Paul, I sense, is the Scottish heart of the band. Keeping the blood pumping. He was born in Glasgow, whereas the others just gravitated there. Take Nick:
“I was born in England, but was brought up in Germany – Munich – and that’s where I went to school. I was there all my life, so I’ve absolutely no clue what goes on in British culture. I only came back one and half years ago. After three or four months I met these guys. These characters.”
Nick McCarthy (backing singer, guitarist, songwriter), fizzes somewhat, his eyes darting enthusiastically: “The low point for me was the first three months in Glasgow. It was absolutely terrible. Stupidly I didn’t bring any money with me. I couldn’t get a job.”
Why did you pick Glasgow?
Nick: Because I heard it was the European city of culture.
Paul: It was European city of culture in 1990. You missed the boat!
Nick: I think it’s European city of sport this year.
Bob: I heard it was European city of violence.
On a lighter note. What do Franz Ferdinand love?
Bob: Malt whiskey . . . clean sheets . . . bubble baths . . . cities. Saturday mornings, when it’s raining on the window. I like when the leaves change colour and fall off the trees.
Alex: Yeah, Nick likes mountains. I like people.
What do Franz Ferdinand hate?
Alex: Snakes, alligators. Any kind of reptile. I stood on a snake once.
Bob: But alligators are worse.
Alex: Snakes are too crafty, they’re too fast. There is something tangible about alligators and crocodiles.
Bob: But alligators can go fifty miles an hour
Alex: Well, snakes can run 2000 miles an hour.
Bob: Ah, but they don’t run though do they?
Alex: Exactly, they slither. I hate slithering people and slithering snakes. Ultimately, I hate spinelessness.
Franz Ferdinand on Franz Ferdinand:
Alex: As a band we’re incredibly focused on what we’re doing. We’re four very [someone sneezes] individuals.
Bob: Very cold individuals?
Alex: No, very close individuals. We are able to absorb what’s going on around us. But at the same time we’re not going to let it dictate to us what we’re going to do.
What are your ambitions?
Alex: I think we’re quite ambitious. I know it ‘s going to be good but I can’t predict how it’s going to be good. I think some bands when they get together they know that they’ve got a lifespan of six months – I don’t want to jinx it – but this combination of personalities is a pretty strong one.
What separates you from your peers?
Alex: We’re not scared of good tunes. Some bands will come up with a really nice melody in rehearsal room and think: ‘ooh, we can’t play that it’s a bit too tuney.’ We’re not scared of words. We enjoy good lyrics. Direct lyrics. There’s too many bands who are hazy about what they’re doing. Also, when we have ideas we’re not scared to follow them through, which I think is different some of our peers, certainly some of them in Glasgow.
What is the difference between Franz Ferdinand as a band and Franz Ferdinand as individuals?
Alex: Well it’s a group and groups have group dynamic. Franz Ferdinand as individuals are four very strong personalities. As a group we are one thing . . . There is no band leader, we’re quite democratic. There is no one person who will dictate to the rest of the band what to do. It comes down to guts: if something’s right then you know it’s right. As a group we’re very intuitive, we trust each other’s reactions and we know pretty much how the others will react. If something’s right then our guts tell us.