Franz Ferdinand season has returned: After a four-year break, the Scottish crew has spent the past month touring the U.S. in support of its fourth album, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. Each night is a raucous celebration of the band’s decade-long career, racing through brand-new cuts and old hits like 2004’s “Take Me Out” and “This Fire.” “We’re really, really enjoying it,” says frontman Alex Kapranos, relaxing backstage before playing New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom. “It feels like we’re properly connecting with America as a nation again.”
Kapranos, 41, spent the afternoon before the gig getting lost in a good book. “I’m reading a collection of short stories by a guy called Etgar Keret, an Israeli writer,” he says. “It’s called The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God. So I rode up to Central Park and read my book. What a great thing to be able to do when you’re a guy from Glasgow who plays in a rock & roll band!”
We spoke about the band’s early days, why they almost broke up before the new album and more. Read on for a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
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What do you remember about the first time you toured in America?
Our first trip was over to New York. It was almost exactly 10 years ago, before the first record came out. We played Pianos first, then we played a place where they used to have a girl dressed up as a mermaid swimming in a tank. I think it closed down about a month after we played there. And then we played the Mercury Lounge. I particularly remember Pianos. There was some legislation Giuliani had put that said no more than three people were allowed to dance at a time [without a cabaret license]. For a band that was supposed to be playing music that made people dance, it seemed a little bit absurd. So I just remember saying after every song, “Thank you for not dancing!” [Laughs]
Do you remember if you thought back then that the band would still be going in 2013?
I had no idea. There’s no way you can predict how you’re going to get on with other people, you know? I mean, I’m really chuffed that we’re still together and that we’re still friends, more than anything else. I think staying friends is more of an achievement than continuing to make records.
You’ve said that you weren’t sure if you wanted to keep the band going after the last album [2009’s Tonight].
Yeah. I only wanted to keep the band going if we were friends and getting on well and it was a pleasure to make the music. So I met up with Bob [Hardy, Franz Ferdinand’s bassist] and we talked through it all. It was more the relationship between me and Bob that needed to be worked out. It was Bob and I that kind of formed the band in the first place, so that had to be right.
Why had you drifted apart?
There’s no great mystery to it. We just stopped talking to each other in the way that we should have done. You know, I interviewed [guitarist] Wilko Johnson recently, and the thing I came away with was how much he regretted not making up with Lee Brilleaux, the singer of Dr. Feelgood. It was exactly the same thing. They just stopped talking to each other, and these stupid resentments ended up splitting up one of the best bands that ever came out of England. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen with us.
How did you end up making the new album?
We wrote it as if we were writing a set of EPs or singles – we’d write three or four songs, maybe get a gig together and play them live, then go and record them quite quickly. The principle always was not to go into the studio until we had songs. I like the idea of a good song. I know that sounds stupid and dumb and obvious, but it often gets forgotten about. Like, we did a cover of Grimes’ song “Oblivion” on a radio station in France recently. That’s such a great song. But I’ve read some right nonsense talking about that song as if it’s revolutionary. The sonics are great, they’re really cool and they’re original – but the heart of that song’s popularity is the fact that it’s a great song! Lyrically, it’s powerful, and it has a beautiful melody that’s quite simple. That’s why I wanted to cover it.
Is songwriting easy for you?
It’s something I enjoy, so it’s not a chore. There’s usually two stages. There’s an effortless stage where the idea just comes out. Then there’s a lot of editing and whittling away. I remember reading about Raymond Carver and how he worked with his editor [Gordon Lish]. There are two versions of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, the edited version and the unedited version. Personally, I prefer the edited version. There’s a starkness and a leanness to the text, which I really love, and I think that’s what you find in good pop music. That’s something that really appeals to me. There’s almost a masochistic pleasure in cutting away something which you created yourself.
One of the most striking lyrics on the new album is “Don’t play pop music, you know I hate pop music.” Do you really?
It’s more about context than anything else. It’s playing with the idea of being an unreliable narrator as well. I don’t know why there’s always this presumption that the singer and the voice of the song are the same thing. You never presume that Agatha Christie’s a murderess, you know? But when I wrote that, I’d been to a couple of funerals, and I’d been reading about [François] Mitterand’s funeral and about how his wife and mistress and mistress’ daughter were all there at the same time. What an amazing opportunity to address all these people! And the first thing I thought was, “Oh, right, as I’m disappearing through the hole, don’t play pop music.” I’m being flippant. But often funerals – especially younger people’s funerals – seem to turn into opportunities for them to inflict their terrible music on their friends for one last time.
So what would you like to have played at your funeral, then?
Chopin’s death march is a pretty amazing bit of music. I don’t know. I haven’t actually thought about it too much.
Sorry, that question was kind of morbid.
No, no. That’s the thing. I don’t mind talking about it. I think it’s a sickness in our modern society, not being able to talk about death. You know, my grandmother died in January in Greece, and she had a very traditional Greek Orthodox funeral, with an open casket, and of course it was traumatic and it was a terrible moment. But there’s something that I really appreciated about the nature of the service itself – it was complete closure. You realize that this is final.
Now that you’ve reached the 10-year mark, do you think you’ll be back here on another tour in 2023?
Who knows? I’m pretty certain I’m still going to be making music in some form or another myself, because I always have done – if I’m still around, you know. That’s the other thing you can’t predict. So, yeah. If I’m still here, I might do so.