INTERVIEW: Franz Ferdinand | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by David Edwards

Greenwich Village, New York City, 2011. Phillipe Cerboneschi – aka Phillipe Zdar, one half of French synth-poppy house duo Cassius – is holed up with the Beastie Boys in Electric Lady studios, grinding out a remix of what would become the group’s final album to date; Hot Sauce Committee Part Two.

Meanwhile somewhere in the UK, Glasgow’s Franz Ferdinand are lining up producers they’re keen to work with on what would become their next album, 2013’s electronica-dusted Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. To the disappointment of bassist Bob Hardy, Zdar was otherwise indisposed.

“We listened to his recent work and all his records sounded so exciting, his bass is always incredible and really pops. While we were writing the new songs, he was working with the Beastie Boys.”

A formative member with Alex Kapranos, Hardy alongside fellow Franz Ferdinanders Paul Thompson and Nick McCarthy helped define the sound of the last two decades with their special brew arty dance-rock.

While Kapranos himself ended up delivering stellar production on the next album – taking the reins overseeing Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor, Norwegian DJ Todd Terje and more – the group were determined to nail Zdar down next time round.

“When we made the list Philippe was at the top really, so we got in touch with him again. We took him to Scotland, played him through what we’d been working on and he seemed into it. It was just perfect timing; he had a gap in his schedule and we were ready to go.”

Encouraging an even deeper dive into electronica than was taken with Right Thoughts…, Zdar’s reputation for pushing both boundaries and mixing desks to their limits sees new album Always Ascending infused with a more dance-oriented sound.

“Dance music is at the heart of it. We’re still a live band so we didn’t use a click track or do very much in post like moving stuff around, or editing something else in. It brings the human experience of a band as well as the live push-and-pull.”

In October 2017 the album’s release date was revealed, the title track was let loose as a lead single and world tour dates were announced (which included an appearance at Newcastle’s own O2 Academy on Friday 16th February) . For Hardy, touring has its own part to play in the creative process, even informing the future direction of the band.

The arrangements and cues are taken from electronica and house, but at the same time all the songs are about the human experience

“When you’re in the studio for over a year you’re really excited to get out and play, then as the tour comes to an end and you’ve played the album all over the world, it’s nice to get back in the studio. Ideas for songs pop up when you’re on the road and it’s sometimes difficult to find the headspace for writing. You think about parts of the set you’re enjoying the most and things the audience really respond to, or you might really like a bit of a song and think; what if we pushed that a bit further?”

Hailed by Kapranos as the band’s most positive record, Always Ascending combines the raw Franz aesthetic with lush electronic experimentation judiciously curated by Zdar, producing a futuristic yet simultaneously naturalistic sound.

“You’d listen to it and know it was Franz Ferdinand – I think that’s inescapable when Alex is singing, Paul is on drums and I’m on bass – but it’s like a new version of us just pushed a bit further than we have been in the past. The arrangements and cues are taken from electronica and house, but at the same time all the songs are about the human experience.”

When longstanding guitarist (and classically trained musician) Nick McCarthy left last year to concentrate on his family, the group swiftly announced their new line-up, blooming from four to five-piece with Dino Bardot on guitar and Julian Corrie taking keyboards, synth and guitar.

“Stuart Braithwaite [Mogwai] and Paul Savage [The Delgado’s] are friends of ours, and independently of each other they said, ‘Julian is a great guy, have you thought about asking him to join?’ So, we went for dinner, played with him and it just kind of felt like a band again. Things happened quickly from there. We made the record with Julian and Dino joined as a live member of the band. Right now, we’re raring to get out on the road again. We did a great tour of America last summer.”

Speaking of America, in 2016 the band released Demagogue, a song unleashed as part of the 30 Days, 50 Songs programme protesting against Donald Trump and his candidacy.

“While we hadn’t done anything as overtly political before, we’re all as individuals interested in politics quite a bit and that comes out whether we’re in the studio or writing. There’s a certain thing right now where no one knows where this is all going, and that can get into the music without being overtly stated. It’s part of everyone’s life at the moment and kind of inescapable.”

On the brink of a new tour in a seemingly increasingly turbulent world, Hardy is a firm believer that any troubles we carry should be left squarely at the venue door. “When you first listen to music as a kid it’s all about escape; going to concerts you didn’t give a shit. Music should be about escape and getting away, when you go and put all that aside for a little while and just enjoy doing human shit and being alive.”

Franz Ferdinand play O2 Academy, Newcastle on Friday 16th February. Always Ascending is released on 9th February via Domino Records.


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