As far as arrivals go, there haven’t been many quite like the one Franz Ferdinand made with their self-titled debut album back in 2004. Fourteen years later, and they’ve never let themselves be buoyed by the expectation that album built, or get too attached to the sound they created with it.
For the Scottish five-piece, pushing the envelope has become as much a part of their career as their breakout single. And as vocalist Alex Kapranos explains it, with a slightly different lineup and a clear, new vision, their fifth album Always Ascending is a new beginning for the band.
“I feel that the last Franz Ferdinand record summed up the end of a decade. We’d been together for ten years as a band and that felt like a very neat encapsulation, a bookend. Now we’re at the start of a new one.
“It is a rebirth, and it isn’t in some ways. I still think if you were to get the record and put the needle on any of the grooves it’d still sound like a Franz Ferdinand record right away, but maybe Franz Ferdinand in a slightly different universe,” Kapranos says.
A slightly different universe where Franz Ferdinand still utilise the energy and suggestive lyricism of their earlier work, only this time the sound is refreshed with a contemporary edge. Though the synth-heavy sound and sonic experimentation wasn’t always the end game.
“The sound actually came much later on. What we did when we started off was we decided that we wanted to have a songbook – a really great collection of songs that you could play in any style that you wanted, and then from that we’d explore the sonic template and try and go in directions that maybe we hadn’t before,” Kapranos says. “If the song’s good, you can destroy how it sounds and make something completely new and that was the starting point.”
Ultimately, it all comes back to basics – Franz Ferdinand just wanted to create a great album.
“The goal that you always go to when you start making a record is that you want a classic album, you want to make something that’s going to stay with people for the rest of their lives.
“But also equally, part of the joy of writing a record is discovering what you create. I’m always wary of bands when they describe the preconceived line of creativity that they had at the start of making a record, because usually the creative process isn’t like that. You have an idea and that leads you to another idea and that leads you to another idea which is a surprise and completely removed from the first idea that you had,” Kapranos says.
The Franz Ferdinand we find on Always Ascending are still that same rock’n’roll-meets-disco-groove band at heart, only this time there’s something different about their dancefloor bangers. To help them achieve that sound they called in French producer Phillipe Zdar of electronic duo Cassius. They met when Zdar was working on The Beastie Boys’ Hot Sauce Committee Part Two and have wanted to work together ever since.
“Even though he’s a master of dancefloor and has a real sense for electronic music, it’s how music makes you feel that really matters to him, and that’s something we really bonded over. Its this idea that the point of making music is to make people feel something,” Kapranos says.
“Everything he does is on instinct – how it makes you feel, how you feel it in your guts and in your heart, and that’s essential for music, that’s how we react to music and why we listen to it.”
It’s fair to say that following the Mercury Prize win of their debut album, the music industry expected Franz Ferdinand to follow it up with something of a cohesive, traditional ‘Statement Album’. But the band remained unfazed, and five albums in they’re still not making music for anyone else.
“When we created that sound in the first place it didn’t exist, and when we created this sound right now it didn’t exist, and that’s the joy of it. You don’t make, or you shouldn’t make, a record worrying about how people are going to react to it, you should make a record that you know is going to make them feel, because it makes you feel good.”
This new sound has been self-described as both futuristic and naturalistic, but when you break it down to its bare bones, this is the sound of a band getting back to their roots while continuing to look forward.
“We wanted to make something futuristic, reaching for a new sound, for something we’ve never done before. We’re not trying to make a record that you’d hear in 200 years time, but we were making the record in 2017 and we were trying to make the sound of 2018 – it’s the short-term future, the sound that you haven’t heard yet.
“We wanted to embrace technology but also on the naturalistic side keep the performance feeling human, and for us that meant not trying to edit out the emotion, you can embrace the future and embrace technology without deleting your character in the process. What you hear is the sound of four people playing in a room together.”
Almost two decades on and Kapranos still speaks of creating music like it’s this new, novel concept he’s still discovering. Even with all the success and all the accolades, he still feels lucky to be making music every day.
“It’s realising how fortunate you are. I always think back to when I was in my late teens, the bank rather ridiculously gave me a chequebook, and I bounced a 50-pound check every day for a few weeks and got loads of debt and ended up having to work in a hamburger restaurant. I remember mopping up the spew in the toilets, saying to myself, ‘If you ever get to do the thing that you want to do, and you ever find yourself getting complacent, think back to this moment.’
“Bob [Hardy, bass] and I had the idea for the band when I was a commis chef and he was a dishwasher in the kitchen in Glasgow and we were talking about this band that we were going to get together – that’s nearly 18 years ago. I would’ve loved to have been able to stop time and go into that kitchen and whisper in our ears what was going to happen, just to see our reactions.”
From humble beginnings in Glasgow to stadiums and festivals the world over, the goal has always been the same – try something new and see where it takes you. That’s something that isn’t changing anytime soon for Kapranos.
“We were experimenting when we started the band, and every record we’ve tried to do something different from what we’ve done before, so I’ve never felt scared to experiment.
“The most exciting thing about starting a new decade is, you don’t really know what’s going to happen. Sometimes it can be wonderful and enjoyable and a pleasant surprise, and sometimes it can be horrific. We’ll just have to wait and see, but the most exciting thing is you don’t know.”