Franz Ferdinand having fun again after long hiatus
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs at the second weekend of the 2013 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club on Saturday, April 20, 2013 in Indio, Calif. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP)
Published Thursday, August 29, 2013 4:45PM EDT
TORONTO -- Making 2009's "Tonight" was an exhausting process for stylish Scottish quartet Franz Ferdinand, one that left them unsure whether to continue making music. And to hear frontman Alex Kapranos tell it, knowing that the coolly received disc could have ended the band is exactly what inspired them to start again.
"It felt incredibly liberating," a cheerful Kapranos said down the line from his home near Glasgow this week.
"What was liberating was facing up to your own demise and accepting that you could choose it if you wanted to. That was a really great sensation. You know, realizing that you weren't under obligation to anybody, whether it be labels, or your contemporaries, or fans, or ... each other within the band. There's no obligation and no expectation.
"And therefore, if you are going to make more music, then you're truly choosing to do it because you want to do it. And yeah, that's a marvellous feeling."
And largely a foreign one for the now-veteran band. Unfettered by pressure, they delivered their most freewheeling effort in years this week: "Right Thoughts Right Words Right Action."
So far, the group's fourth LP -- a slightly more idiosyncratic-than-usual collection of their barbed, debonair dance -- has critics reaching back to their eponymous debut for comparisons. Of course, that crackerjack 2004 set near-immediately established Franz Ferdinand as an international force: a band at once arty and accessible, positioned at the intersection of stiffly starched post-punk and loose-limbed disco.
The record included a Top 10 single (the still-undeniable "Take Me Out") and racked up plaques around the world -- gold in Canada, platinum in the U.S. -- as well as a series of frankly surreal opportunities for a band that seemed too arch, too self-aware and perhaps too strange to take up long-term residency in the upper echelons of the pop charts. As just one example, a year after the record was out, the band was performing "Take Me Out" at the Grammys as a medley alongside Maroon 5, the Black Eyed Peas and Gwen Stefani.
They were hustled into the studio quickly for 2005's follow-up, "You Could Have it So Much Better." With the band's performances still a hot ticket globally, they kept touring, and touring, and touring. It led to a deep fatigue that still seemed to hover overhead by early 2009, when the band released "Tonight" -- a record that was also the product of arduous and seemingly endless studio tweaking. (Kapranos doesn't have ill feelings toward that album now, but says it almost demanded that the listener be in a "misanthropic" frame of mind: "It wasn't a particularly friendly record.")
Forty-one years old now, Kapranos looks back on the way the band handled its big break and wonders whether he and his bandmates were too determined to capitalize after enduring some particularly lean years in the industry.
"I think a lot of it comes with the fact that at least three of us in the band had a few years playing with bands in Glasgow that had really bad breaks," said Kapranos, a warm and witty presence during the interview.
"We were lucky if we had a gig in Sheffield that we drove to in the back of a rusty old van along the waterway in the fog, and got there and played for 12 people, once a month. That was our idea of touring and certainly the demand for the bands we'd been in before. So certainly when the opportunities did come to us with Franz Ferdinand, we were like: 'C'mon! What are we waiting for? You know, we can't miss this! It's incredible!'
"I still love performing, and I've never played a gig before in my life and felt I don't want to be onstage," he adds. "It's the little bits in between, the travelling, the not sleeping properly, that's the stuff that exhausts you physically, emotionally and creatively. And that's dangerous."
So, what's changed?
"Something that we've learned to do is say no," he says, laughing. "It's a completely obvious thing."
And it paid dividends. Following touring for "Tonight," Kapranos says he and his bandmates essentially withdrew from view and took a break from one another, as well.
When they eventually reassembled, they felt refreshed -- and it shows. "Right Thoughts Right Words Right Action" opens with its hip-swivelling title track and those bright colours are exuberantly threaded throughout. But the record also finds Franz Ferdinand exploring some moodier-than-usual tones, from the stately "Stand on the Horizon" to the bleeping, brooding "The Universe Expanded."
If those left turns feel unexpected, Kapranos might be pleased. He says as the band reassembled post-"Tonight" and reflected on whether to continue, he looked back and started to wonder whether the band's eccentric edge might have been dulled over the years.
"We were actually an odd, quirky group of individuals and the music that we made reflected that," Kapranos said of the band's debut. "I think by choosing to remove ourselves from the public eye, I think we were giving ourselves space for that quirkiness to come out, and not to force it, but to allow it to exist.
"Because I think when you feel constantly under observation or that there are expectations on you, some of that quirkiness is more likely to be rubbed off. I like a bit of personality. I like a bit of character. It's good to have that there.
"To me, this sounds like a Franz Ferdinand record," he adds, before chuckling. "But that's probably pretty odd, really."