After a gap of four years Franz Ferdinand return this week (26 August) with their fourth album Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. In our brand new issue, Q327 which came out this week too, we speak to the whole band about their return, but in the meantime frontman Alex Kapranos (left) discusses the making of the new record, life in the public eye, paradoxes and much more in this week's Q&a.
How the devil are you? "I'm good man."
It's been a while since we've had a new Franz Ferdinand album, what kept you? "What kept us? Aye, well it just felt like the right thing to do. In fact we toured for a while the last record for a while, we did our own things for a little bit and then in the summer of 2011 Bob [Hardy, bassist] and I met up on Orkney and that's when we decided to make a new record, and it took about a year-and-a-half from that point. That seemed like a pretty natural amount of time to me."
So you don't feel like this is the "long-awaited" comeback? "When you talk about it from an outside perspective it might seem like a gap, but from our perspective - where we were - it seemed very natural. We didn't rush it. I guess more importantly we were working to our agenda. Maybe that was a deliberate decision - actually is was, there's no maybe about it, it was a deliberate decision. We withdrew ourselves from the public eye as much as we could. We didn't talk about the recording process but at the same time when we did gigs we weren't afraid of playing new songs. It's cool to concentrate on the creative side and not talk about it. It's quite a healthy thing to do."
Novelists often say you can talk yourself out of a good idea... "Ah, that's brilliant a expression, it sums it up really well. It's true if you over analyse an idea you destroy it and if you're talking about yourself you feel self-conscious and self-aware. You can never be fluid and free in your thinking if you're self-conscious."
How useful was it to go and do other things - in your case producing Citizens!'s album - and not be Franz Ferdinand for a while? "I didn't feel it was something that was necessarily, it was something I wanted to do. I guess though after that period away it made us appreciate what was so good about being in Franz Ferdinand. More it was the questions we had for each other. When I met with Bob in Orkney we spoke about the band: What was it that we liked about it and what didn't we like? What kind of record did we want to make and how we could enjoy making it?"
Were there any manifestos or maxims guiding you, like the first album's mission statement to "make records that girls can dance to"? "Yeah, there were certain rules we were working to. We wanted bigger lyrical ideas. We spoke about how we'd approach recording, if we were going to make a song there had to be an idea to it. The lyric and the music evolved at the same time and one would influence the other. We wouldn't go any where near a recording the song until we had a really strong idea for it. That sounds like a really, really obvious stuff but I've seen people go into the studio without that and it makes a massive difference to what comes out at the other end."
It terms of you recording this album, you worked in a series of different studios with different producers. Was that because you could only record when you had an idea ready, rather than booking out one long stint to get the album done? "That came about from the chat Bob and I had in Orkney. If we were only going to go into the studio with songs, then we were going to go in for a brief a period as possible. When you go in like that it feels like a holiday, a treat. It's a special thing! You're in and you're out and it feels fresh, there's no stagnation. Whereas if you go in to start the album and then finish it 12 weeks later it becomes a form of institutionalisation. I hear it on other bands' records and I don't want to hear it on mine. When we went in to make this record the most we ever spent in the studio in one go was a little over a week-and-a-half, usually it was four days at a time. Because we were recording like that it gave us the opportunity to hang out with other people. We deliberately didn't go with one of those 'career producers' who often produce very fine sounding albums but they're a little cold. I sometimes listen to those albums and it sounds like it's trying to reach the corners of a stadium rather than the corners of somebody's heart or soul. I really wanted to go into the studio with people I wanted to hang out with, our peers who had a quirkiness about them. Going in the studio with Alexis [Taylor] and Joe [Goddard, both from Hot Chip] was brilliant. They're hugely imaginative guys but they don't really have the approach of a hardcore professional production team. The same with Bjorn [Yttling], he's a quirky guy and loves really novel ideas, so does Todd Terje. These were guys who are a little bit more out there. A little bit more original."
Interestingly, although record is driven by big ideas, there isn't an over-arching thematic concept binding it. "No, there are probably a few narrative themes that come out just because it's us making a record at a certain point in our lives, but there wasn't any theme to tie it all together. I don't think we were writing it for a particular sound as well. The cohesion comes from the personality of the band. The songs are different from each other and the production varies quite a lot. In a way it sounds like a band's compilation record. It's the character of the band that joins them all together, rather than this particular production technique or approach. Because we were recording for only a few days at a time, we'd do one or two songs and then go away and work on other things, and only come back when we'd written another two or three. So when it came to putting the record together we'd pick songs that we felt fitted together on the album. It felt like making a compilation from a set of EPs rather than going into a studio and starting at A and finishing at B."
Is that perhaps best demonstrated by the fact the album starts with the positive Right Action, but the closes with, Goodbye Lovers And Friends, which is is a real punch in the heart? [laughs] "The order in which the album comes together definitely has an arc. I see it as a Side A and a Side B. It starts out on this incredibly upbeat, optimistic song and then ends on this farewell as you go into the hole at the end of life. With Right Action the choruses are the answer to verses which are all have uneasy paradoxes. It's a positive reply, not an answer, a reply. So as the song evolves it reverses. When it starts it's the positivity of the reply which leads, but then it's the unease of the paradox which dominates."
It feels quite balanced though. Do you feel it's quite human in that sense, the ups and the downs of life? "Every single song on the album is like that. The album could have been called Paradox, every emotional encounter we come across is a paradox. I don't think I've ever been in any single emotional encounter in my life where there's been one overwhelming pure emotion, where there hasn't been a qualifying emotion underlying it; contrasting or warping it in some way. Some are more dominant than others at different times, but it's those paradoxes that make life."
Looking towards the live side of things, haven't you broke some sort of rule by not having staging an arena comeback? You've been playing pub backrooms and indie clubs lately... "It might have baffled our management a little bit, but I really love it. If I'm really frank with you, there was a period a few years ago where I was bored of the size of it all. I didn't want to be a famous guy in a band. I didn't want to be in the public eye at all [laughs]. I still wanted to make music, still wanted to write and have ideas, but it just felt too much like celebrity and I'd never really aspired to that. So all this sort of stuff we're doing at the moment feels very good and very natural. I'm loving it!"
It's a cliché, but you enjoy seeing the 'whites' of your audiences' eyes? "We'll do bigger shows in again in the future. We're playing festivals this summer, we did Coachella this year, but just because you're playing Coachella it doesn't mean you can't play in a basement in San Francisco in front of a hundred people two days beforehand. You can move between one and the other. Maybe I've come to terms with it a little bit more. I guess this is another cliché too, but the more and more I was in the public eye the more and more I found myself becoming reclusive in my personal life. But now I feel good. We've got a record out and I'm happy to talk about it. It's been good, it feels better."
Do you feel there's a sense people want to talk more about music in again. The roles of being a musician and just being famous seems to be separating again? "Yes. The idle gossip seems to be going. It's funny I really enjoy Twitter, because you talk directly to fans and you can get some very direct questions but usually they want to know more about the music itself and issues relating to that or ideas triggered by a lyric. I much rather talk about that than the gossip."
You're getting right thoughts, right words and right actions? "Yes. That's very good!" [laughs] Paul Stokes @Stokesie