Franz Ferdinand made one of the greatest debuts of all time back in 2004 with their self-titled LP – 11 tracks of flawless disco-punk that could've been a lesser band's greatest-hits package. They've never been daunted by the mixed blessing of having started so strong – not even now, as they plan to release another debut of sorts, February 9th's strong Always Ascending. It's their first album without departed guitarist Nick McCarthy, and with new member Julian Corrie, who adds dashes of electronics into the mix. "It's still us," says frontman Alex Kapranos, "but it's maybe trying to do some new things."
For the latest episode of the Rolling Stone Music Now podcast, Kapranos and bassist Bob Hardy joined the show's host, Brian Hiatt, to discuss the making of their new album, the changes in the band, their place in the rock revival of the 2000s, and much more – including their review of Justin Timberlake's "Supplies." To hear the entire discussion, see below or download and subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.
The new album's producer, Phillipe Zdar, had a strict prohibition against over-focusing on any one song. "We had this rule, actually, when we were making this record," says Kapranos, "that nobody would mention singles, that you wouldn't talk about singles, because as Philippe puts it, 'All the other songs become jealous if you say what the single is.' Which is such a good attitude, and so to choose a single, what we do is really play the record to our friends or our family and the ones they respond to ... it kind of becomes obvious at that point that people like that song."
A line on the new song "Lois Lane" that refers to the bleakness of an "over-30s single night" was based on a real experience. "When I was about 24 I was staying at this flat in Glasgow," says Kapranos, "and I had a flatmate who was a bit older than me. He had a friend who was a bit older and he had a 30th birthday – and as a joke we all went round to the over-30s singles night in the hotel around the corner. And it just seemed like the most depressing thing in the world to me at the age of 24, the idea of being over 30! Never mind single. Yeah. I'm over 30 now. A long way over 30."
Another new song, "Huck and Jim," includes a Franz Ferdinand take on trap hi-hats. "We thought like, 'Ah, that's really cool, but I've never heard a band playing that. It's always programmed,' so [drummer Paul Thomson] was playing with that a lot on this record and, and you hear it in 'Huck and Jim.' That's our weird, white way of trying to play something like that." The song includes the memorable image of "sipping 40s with Huck and Jim," which Kapranos explains as follows: "The first line of that chorus is, 'We're going to America / going to tell them about the NHS,' and the song just sounded the most American thing we've ever done sonically. We love the NHS and it's being dismantled in the U.K., and it's what I talk about with a lot of my American friends, the idea of health care and the idea that it's the heart of civilization. And then I wanted to pick a character from history or literature or my experience that sums up America and the first figure that popped in my head was Huckleberry [Finn] – and then I realized that, 'Well, that book's not just about him, but it's about him and Jim.' Yeah, those two figures sum up America in quite a few ways."
Kapranos is looking forward to a long creative career. "I think it was a lot of harder in the Fifties and Sixties to be over the age of 22 and still playing in the band," he says. "Now quite a few folk have aged before us. If you look at somebody like Bowie making that incredible record just before his 70th birthday when he died, it's obvious to anybody that you can maintain a high level of creative impetus throughout your life."
Franz never saw themselves as a world-conquering stadium band. "I know when we got a band together, nobody mentioned conquering anything," Kapranos says. "That was never the desire. To get to that kind of level of playing stadiums and that being your life, you really have to want to do it and I don't [know] if we really have the obsession with that to get there."
Kapranos is only faintly aware of the current boom in 2000s nostalgia, and never saw themselves as part of that era's so-called rock revival, anyway. "I'm just managing to get my head around the Nineties revival, not the 2000s," he says. "I guess if there were any sort of parallels, we were closer to bands like the Rapture and LCD Soundsystem, where they were coming from. But you know, we toured with Interpol. That was our first tour, opening up for Interpol in the U.K. They're cool guys. There's a connection there."
They've never grown to dislike their first hit, "Take Me Out." "You hear stories about bands resenting songs that they've written in the past, because they've become popular," says Kapranos, "and, to me, that just seems absurd. If you're sick of playing the song, just don't play the song anymore and don't moan about it. You know? It's a good song to play. I like it." The main thing he recalls about its creation is a technical problem: "When we first wrote it, we couldn't get the tempo right. The verses sounded better played a little bit faster and the chorus sounded better played a little slower and we could never quite work it out. And then one day I had this idea that, 'Ah, right, guys. We're going to take all of the verses, put them at the beginning of the song, and then we're going to slow it down and play all the choruses,' which is kind of the wrong way to do it, but it kind of works in that song."