With their distinctive brand of joyously sleazy art pop, the Glasgow-based Franz Ferdinand are quickly becoming the U.K.'s most intriguing export. Songs like the multi-tiered single "Take Me Out" are laden with jagged guitars and toe-tapping disco rhythms, as well as sharp wordplay that is rich with romantic yearning and complex sexual politics.
Having just inked a major licensing deal -- said to be worth over $1 million -- that will see Epic Records teaming up with legendary U.K. indie Domino, Franz Ferdinand now have their sights set on the U.S. The band has already begun receiving rapturous responses in North America -- including a packed showcase at last week's South by Southwest music conference -- despite the fact that their debut has only just seen domestic release.
"The audiences in America have been fantastic," says the band's loquacious frontman Alex Kapranos, "very enthusiastic. The most amazing show was in Montreal. We were singing 'Jacqueline,' and the introduction is quite quiet but people were singing along. It was an amazing sensation, sent a tingle down my spine, hearing all these people singing along with this song I wrote a year and a half ago sitting in the front room of my flat in Glasgow."
Kapranos credits the band's rising popularity outside of its home country to the power of the Internet, which he views as a boon to music, as opposed to a profit-draining menace. "Downloading is a great way to find out about music," he says. "I'm not going to criticize somebody for loving music. People come up to me and say, 'I downloaded your album, and I can't wait to go out and buy it.'"
It makes sense that an Internet-based community would appeal to Franz Ferdinand, who adopted a populist stance from the start by articulating their mission as creating "music for girls to dance to." And while many American bands would recoil at the idea of being viewed as a pop band, Franz Ferdinand are not only proud of the label, they're determined to change people's minds about the meaning of the term. Their rapid rise at home -- both "Take Me Out" and Franz Ferdinand crashed onto the upper reaches of the U.K. charts -- served to validate the band's vision of itself as a pop group in the tradition of such leftfield acts as the Smiths and New Order, bringing adventurous ideas and challenging concepts to a mainstream audience through the undeniable power of catchy tunes.
"To me, pop music is music that moves you without engaging the brain," Kapranos explains, "and then allows you to engage the brain afterwards. You dance and you feel the passion, and then you can sort through the grander ideas which the music suggests.
"A friend of mine said that he'd been playing our album and his three-year-old daughter was dancing around the room, singing along, making up her own words, jumping around and stuff. To me, that is fantastic. That's the best indication that we've done something right. A three-year-old doesn't intellectualize music, doesn't hear it within any social contexts, and has no idea what's cool and what's not cool. All a three-year-old knows is 'This is fun to dance around to' and 'I like the tune.' That's what music should be -- that's the essence."