Interview: Franz Ferdinand
Republished from The Mind's Construction magazine. Originally conducted on 10 September 2003. Plus two questionnaires with Alex Kapranos.
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 gets 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.
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 your life so far?
Bob: “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 whisky . . . 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.
Alex Kapranos’s Mind’s Construction
Character is destiny. You are fascinating enough to be questionnaired by The Mind’s Construction. Starting with where and when you were born, could you briefly describe your life up to this point?
Born: Almondsbury, England, late 20th century.
Greek father, English mother. Summers spent in Greece as a child. Moved to Scotland aged eight. Loathed team sports, loved reading and cycling. Asthmatic and allergic to peanuts. Started writing music in early teens.
Went to school in Sunderland, Edinburgh, then Glasgow. Generally disliked it. Studied Divinity at Aberdeen, then English literature at Strathclyde.
Have worked as a chef, barman, music promoter, driver, welder and lecturer.
There is no progress. Yet time relentlessly pursues you in one direction or another. If you were plotting your life’s trajectory on a graph, what would the line look like?
An outline of the Loch Ness Monster.
Keep that line in mind. Describe the zenith. Relate the nadir.
Zenith. Not reached it yet.
Nadir. Four years ago; abandoned, jobless and homeless.
Consciousness is a mere ripple on the surface of the lake that is our mind. Tell me last dream you can remember having.
A swashbuckling adventure, jumping thousands of feet between pillars, sword-fighting with Satan as a dashing, cunning, but sporting foe.
Truth is felt by instinct, a process which saves time and trouble. Choose – instinctively – from these:
Satisfied Fool or Dissatisfied Socrates?
Skimmed Milk or Full Fat?
Boys or Girls?
Standing Up or Sitting Down?
Mum or Dad?
Bookmarks or Folded Corners?
(If you had to be) Blind or Deaf?
Poetry or prose?
Atheist or Believer?
Does the mind rule the body or the body rule the mind?
Animal, Mineral or Plant?
There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face. What are the differences between your external appearance and your internal make-up?
English looks, but Greek temperament.
10 Essential Questions: Alex Kapranos
Conducted for issue zero of The Mind’s Construction c.2004.
1. Who are you?
Alex Kapranos, singer in a pop group.
2. No, really, who are you?
Some guy from Glasgow.
3. What are you up to at the moment?
Sitting naked and hungover in a San Francisco hotel room, beginning to recall the mayhem of the night before.
4. What three rules would make up your manifesto?
1.Trust 2. Your 3. Guts
5. If you were the dictator of a modern industrial country, what would you abolish? What laws would you implement?
I’d pass a law preventing celebrities from standing for election and abolish private healthcare and education.
6. What are your lyrics about?
People around me and what they do.
7. What is your opinion on the contemporary music scene? What do you like/dislike?
It seems healthy, promising. I like real bands that aren’t afraid to play pop music. I hate musicians who are wilfully obscure. I also hate performers who are more interested in the trappings of fame than performing.
8. What distinguishes you from your peers?
I don’t know haircut?
9. Where do you see yourself in five years time?
I have always tried to not look much further than five weeks into the future.
10. Any regrets?
Getting into a couple of fights last night.