Thursday, January 29, 2009

Franz Ferdinand interview

My Franz Ferdinand interview is this week's Drum Media cover story (live photos by the handsome Daniel Boud: ON THE EVE OF THE RELEASE OF THE NEW FRANZ FERDINAND ALBUM, GUITARIST NICK MCCARTHY EXPLAINS TO ROB TOWNSEND WHY IT WAS TIME FOR A CHANGE

“In the beginning we didn’t know what the hell we were going to do. We knew what we didn’t want to do. We didn’t want to play all that angular guitar shit that is everywhere these days. It’s kinda boring.”

Franz Ferdinand guitarist Nick McCarthy sits in Sydney’s Intercontinental Hotel. Sipping orange juice and gazing out of the window at a majestic view of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, he looks weary after the previous night’s gig at the Enmore Theatre. However, when we begin to discuss his band’s new record, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, his demeanour instantly becomes one of excitement. “About halfway through we realised we really wanted to do a dance record,” he beams. “We were trying things out and we realised we wanted to make a dirty dancehall record and get a really massive bass-end. The bass has come to the foreground and is doing a lot of the rhythm.” It’s true, while Franz Ferdinand’s angular pop was always nicely dancey, their third release sees them take it one step further. “That old way worked but we couldn’t do that anymore. I hardly play guitar at all on this record. There are a lot of synths and a clavinet [the instrument Stevie Wonder uses on Superstition]. It’s cool. You don’t have to play it like Superstition. It’s got a great rhythm to it. That helped us to get a new dancey side. We had to find a new way of playing dance music for ourselves.”

The result of such a desire to branch out creatively is an eclectic mix of songs, from the synth-heavy opener Ulysses, through the R&B of What She Came For and the acid-house freak-out of Lucid Dreams to acoustic album-closer Katherine Kiss Me. “I think each song has got a specific theme to it. We always joke that that our favourite record is something like The Best Of Queen or whatever. So that’s kinda the record we wanted to do, like a collection of singles, with each one having a different feel to it. Send Him Away has a very Afro-Caribbean rhythm and then Turn It On is just raucous. At the other end, Dream Again is one for lying in bed.”

While this third outing is recognisably a Franz Ferdinand record – the big, infectious choruses are still there as is the moderately smutty subject-matter – one wonders whether at any stage during its creation they thought they might be pushing the envelope just that bit too far. After all, the barmy Lucid Dreams, at eight minutes long, is a different beast entirely to 2004’s accessible mega-hit Take Me Out. Did McCarthy ever worry that fans simply wouldn’t get it? He sips his drink again and looks thoughtfully into the mid-distance. After pondering for an age, he defiantly says: “Nah!” He bursts into uproarious laughter before adding: “Of course we write music for people to listen to, but we have to be excited by it ourselves. I think it’s a big mistake to write things because you think people might like it.”
Considering how the Brits have forged a comfortable career with their familiar brand of jaunty guitar pop, I suggest that pushing themselves creatively on their third album is an admirable thing to do. McCarthy shrugs. “All my favourite bands do that. You just get bored of stuff don’t you? That’s natural isn’t it?” It goes deeper than a whim to try something different though. The truth is that the quartet simply had to tread in this slightly different direction if they wanted to rediscover the spring in their steps. A couple of years ago, life was not fun for Franz Ferdinand. “At the end of our 2006 tour, we were fucked emotionally. We were just standing onstage, tired of playing the same songs and not feeling anything from the audience. They were giving it all to us but we were just empty shells. Anything you do too much stops being good. We just overdid it and we needed a bit of a break. So we took a few months off and then came back and started writing.”

Shunning the home-comforts of a conventional studio, and in keeping with their desire to do something different, they holed up in a crumbling Victorian town hall in the rough part of Glasgow. “There were three rooms and this massive theatre which had been empty for 30 years. It looked great and felt great,” McCarthy says of the old building which was last used as a drug rehabilitation centre. “We recorded a lot of the vocals on the stage of this theatre. Late at night we’d turn off all of the lights and you could imagine all the ghosts coming out of the cracks and listening to the music.” While the guitarist admits to liking “total pop slickness,” and jokes about how the band weren’t totally slumming it as they would drive to the makeshift studio in their Porsches, recording in the dilapidated building agreed with their preferred way of working. “I just like being in control and doing my own thing rather than asking someone: ‘Is it alright if I put that microphone there?’ In a studio I always feel a bit intimidated. In our place you could do whatever you wanted. It felt relaxed.”The fun that the band had in their new HQ shines through on the long-player, but McCarthy suggests that, while it was a blast to record in such an interesting environment, it’s still all about the strength of the songs. “We put a lot of effort into the sound but the recording side is secondary really to what the song is. If you record a great song badly, it’s still great.”

They took embryonic versions of their new songs on tour to try them out in front of a live audience. Rather than filling big venues, they road-tested them at secret gigs in sweaty little pubs and social clubs around Scotland. “We played them live and changed them again if we didn’t think they were working. Some of the gigs were the size of this [average sized hotel] room. Even if there were only ten people in the room, it was exciting to play new songs. We’d come back from the gigs and think: ‘That one’s not really working.’ Then we did a tour of the UK, and after that we changed them again.”

With a new repertoire of tunes at their disposal, being on stage is fun again for the Brits and, with the new album about to be unleashed, McCarthy can’t wait for fans to get to know the new offerings. “I’m really looking forward to what people are going to say about it, and how they are going to react when they actually know the songs. Big fans will have listened to them online and you can see the odd person singing along, but the full impact of an album is when people know it when we play it live. We want to get that reaction.”

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