Album of the Week: Franz Ferdinand, 'Always Ascending'

by

Franz Ferdinand, 'Always Ascending'
Franz Ferdinand, 'Always Ascending' (Domino Records)
Play/Pause
Listen:
Album of the Week: Franz Ferdinand, 'Always Ascending'
Download MP3
| 00:01:01

Franz Ferdinand has emerged as one of the mainstays from the indie rock boom that happened in the first decade of the new millennium. After their last album, Alex Kapranos and the band took a musical detour to work with cult band Sparks. The project, called FFS, seemed to have reignited the recipe of a great Franz Ferdinand album, and "Always Ascending" is one of their most consistent works to date.

The title track is a clever musical reference that could be seen as a reflection of the band's career. They are always evolving without a resolution while they continue to write and record danceable rock tracks that easily stand up to the test of time.

Around the announcement of the new album, I chatted with Alex Kapranos. Here is what he had to say about the making of "Always Ascending."

DAVID SAFAR: You're listening to The Current, and we're now on the phone with Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand. Alex, how's it going?

ALEX KAPRANOS: Not too bad, thank you. Not too bad.

DAVID: Where are we connecting with you from today?

ALEX: I'm in Los Angeles at the moment.

DAVID: How is the West Coast?

ALEX: The West Coast, you know, it has what the West Coast is famous for: it's a bright, clear, sunny December day that feels like the best summer days we could have in Scotland.

DAVID: Do you look forward to coming back to the United States and specifically, bathing in the warm weather of Southern California?

ALEX: I love coming to the States. I've been coming to the States for 14 years. Yeah, I really enjoy it, and I have more and more friends over here, and it's great to catch up with people and to hang out and to see new places and new people, too.

DAVID: When you're away from home, what do you miss most about Scotland?

ALEX: I guess my friends and my family. My family's mainly still in Scotland as well.

The sense of humor; there's a very specific kind of sense of humor that you find in Glasgow that you usually don't find so much elsewhere, maybe Berlin's got a similar sense of humor as well. But I guess I miss that.

And the scenery as well. Glasgow and the surrounding countryside round about there, there's a beautiful, green lushness to it, which always puts me in a good mood when I get back there.

DAVID: I've never been to Scotland. Tell me about this sense of humor you're talking about: is it sarcasm? Is it a dryness? What is it?

ALEX: It's definitely dry. I think to the outside ear, it could possibly seem a little cruel, but it's not. It's quite a self-effacing sense of humor. I think the purpose of it is essentially so nobody takes themselves too seriously.

DAVID: I think we have a little bit of that in Minnesota. Do you think that gets into your music in Franz Ferdinand? Do you think it finds its way in?

ALEX: Oh, definitely, it comes through, and the whole band, as well. You know, we had a couple of guys join the band recently, and when we were looking, we went straight back to Glasgow to find new members because I think anybody who joins the band has to be tuned in to our way of thinking, really, and it was good to go back to Glasgow to find that.

DAVID: Let's talk about that — between albums, Nick McCarthy left the band. What's that process like for you as a group who have been together for a long time.

ALEX: You know, it was actually pretty easy. We knew that Nick was going to leave before we went on tour with the FFS record that we made with Sparks. Nick's got a couple of young kids, and he was finding it harder and harder to go away on tour and leave them behind. And so it meant that that last tour, we could really enjoy it knowing he was going to spend time with his family at t he end of it.

And now we have Julian [Corrie] and Dino [Bardot] who've joined the band, and it's really good fun. The band feels amazing live, and we're having a really good laugh.

DAVID: You brought up another thing that happened between albums. You made an album as FFS with the band Sparks. How did that come together, and had you been listening to Sparks before making that album?

ALEX: Well, it happened kind of by accident, really. We first met with Sparks — they came to a couple of our shows right back in the beginning for us, back in 2004, they were into the band and had come down to check us out. In fact, then, we had spoken about collaborating on some music together. And with one thing or another, it hadn't happened. Things had been a bit crazy for us at that time.

And then — 10 years later — I was walking down the street in San Francisco looking for a dentist because I'd broken a tooth. I was lost, and Ron and Russell spotted me over the road and came over. Ron tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Alex? What are you doing in San Francisco?"

I said, "Oh! I'm looking for a dentist."

We got chatting; we went to their show that night. And afterwards, we said, "We should maybe send some music to each other."

So we started like a pen-pal relationship type thing, sending songs to each other. Before we knew, we had an album, released the album and went on tour together with the rather appropriately named "FFS." (laughs)

DAVID: What you just described there is a common experience in the digital age, which is artists sending each other music. Was that the first time you had done that?

ALEX: No, I'd done it before. I'd collaborated with an L.A.-based artist called Boom Bip. We'd worked on a song together. I guess I've done it with mixes before and that kind of thing. But I like it. It's a fun way to work.

Actually, right at the very beginning of the band, I know when I was working, Bob [Hardy] was a student at the art school, we would send each other lyric ideas, just when we were busy doing things, and sometimes, some songs like "The Dark of the Matin—e" started that way with these email conversations. So yeah, it's a cool way to work.

DAVID: What's the way you prefer working together today as a band? Is it getting into the studio and writing that way, or is there some other process you use?

ALEX: The way that we worked for this record is … my place, I've got a house, it's about an hour's drive south of Glasgow, and it's got enough bedrooms for all of the band to stay there. So we were living there, pretty much all of last year. So there's a studio on the side of the house, but we wouldn't write in the studio, we would sit in the living room and sit around a table and talk about ideas and work on things — we'd sort of work on songs in a very casual sort of way. And then take it into the studio and then sort of learn to play the songs. That's how so many of the songs on this record came together.

DAVID: When you're living together like that, are there moments where it feels like you're breaking from reality?

ALEX: It feels like we've created our own reality. I guess that's what you do as a band anyway: you create your own universe, you populate it with your own characters, your own personalities. That's what we did. Because that location's quite rural, it sort of helps to do that. You don't have the distractions round about you. It's almost like you're completely in a void. You could step out the back door of that place and walk for 15 miles and not see another human being. It's kind of cool that way. Mind, if you walk in the other direction, in five minutes, you'll be at a pub, so that's also quite cool.

DAVID: The fifth studio album for Franz Ferdinand is coming out on Feb. 9; it's called Always Ascending. For this album, at what point did you decide to work with one of the members of Cassius to produce the album, that's the French duo.

ALEX: Yeah, Philippe Zdar. Philippe produced the record. I've been a fan of Cassius since 1999, when I first heard them. I love Philippe's style, I love how fresh and contemporary it always sounds, he's always pushing himself forward. But also how human and emotional it is, and to get that in dance music is really cool.

I first spoke to Philippe about five years ago when he was working on the Beastie Boys record, about maybe doing something in the future. And when it came to make this record, we knew we wanted to make a record for the dance floor, but still as a raw rock and roll band at the heart of it. And I couldn't think of anybody who could do a better job of doing that than Philippe; he was our first choice, and we're so happy to have worked with him. He's a really great character, and this record, the sonics are beautiful. He really has this beautiful, beautiful touch to what he does.

DAVID: We're looking forward to hearing more of the album when it's released, and you're coming to play First Avenue on April 27. Do you have any memories of Minneapolis that come to mind when you're embarking on a tour and you know you're stopping here in the Twin Cities?

ALEX: Oh my god, I cannot wait! I love First Avenue as well. The equivalent venue in Glasgow is the Glasgow Barrowlands. They're both these iconic venues that bands dream of playing when they go on tour. Yeah, I love going there.

And I remember one of the first tours that we did, we hired bicycles — we didn't hire them, we bought bikes! We bought some old Schwinns in Minneapolis and I went cycling all over the Twin Cities. It's a great way — you see, if you're a band on tour, get yourself a bike, stick it in the back of the bus, and it's the best way to see whichever country you happen to find yourself in.

I love Minneapolis, people have always been really welcoming there. I've been to some great parties there. I've had really good times. I love it.

DAVID: We're looking forward to having you back. You mentioned tour dreams; are there any tour dreams you have yet to realize?

ALEX: We were recently talking about going to India. There's a big festival over there, and there was talk about going over there sometime, and I've never been to India before. That would be pretty cool.

DAVID: We hope you get to realize those dreams on this tour. We're going to listen to the title track from the new album from Franz Ferdinand, it's "Always Ascending." Can you tell us a little bit about this song?

ALEX: Sure. We chose it as the title track because we felt it kind of represented the sound and the mood of the record. It's quite an uplifting song. But the lyrics, the starting point for the lyrics is describing what's happening with the music and using that as a metaphor. It was written with this chord progression that never resolves, and it feels like it's literally always moving upwards. There's a tone in there which you hear in the background called a Shepard tone; it's like an aural illusion. You know those paintings by MC Escher that look like a staircase that's always moving upwards? That's the sound of a Shepard tone; it sounds like it's constantly moving upwards. So the lyrics are singing about that and the music is doing that too as you're listening to it.

DAVID: Alex, thanks so much for chatting with us today. This is Franz Ferdinand with "Always Ascending" on The Current.

Audio transcribed and produced by Luke Taylor

Resources


Franz Ferdinand - official site

Related Stories


comments powered by Disqus