Alex Kapranos on 20 Years of Franz Ferdinand
We delve into Franz Ferdinand's Hits to the Head tracklist and ask Alex Kapranos 20 questions relating to each of its 20 tracks, some more tenuous than others...
01 Darts of Pleasure
On the same day Darts of Pleasure was released, Black Eyed Peas topped the charts. You performed with them at the 2005 Grammys. Were you a fan?
Well, I really liked that song, Let's Get It Started. They were coming from a totally different universe from us, but a good song is a good song. will.i.am was a very friendly guy, I remember him saying "I want to sample Take Me Out", I think he gave me his email address but I never wrote to him because I don't think I wanted to be sampled.
I remember Nick [McCarthy, ex-guitarist] went for a pee and discovered [Taboo] sitting in the loo with his trousers round his ankles, and after hearing that story I was never quite able to look at them in the same way.
02 Take Me Out
Take Me Out has appeared on countless ‘greatest of all time’ lists. What song would be on your ‘greatest of all time’ list?
I am going to choose just one at random – He's Frank by The Monochrome Set. I always loved The Monochrome Set, particularly that era. Just really smart lyrics, unusual guitar lines, great delivery.
03 The Dark of the Matinée
On The Dark of the Matinée you were dreaming of telling Terry Wogan how you’d made it. Did you ever meet Sir Terry? And how did you deal with your success at the time?
I never did meet Terry Wogan. When we made the video there was an image of him that we used, so we had to ask his permission. Apparently initially he was a bit pissed off because I said 'So I'm on BBC Two now, telling Terry Wogan how', and he was pissed off because he said he was never on BBC Two, he was always on BBC One and Radio Two. And I was like... a bit of poetic licence.
Having to deal with fame at the time? I tried to ignore it for a long time, I tried to laugh at it and I tried to hide from it. I remember Christmas 2004 having to get Christmas presents for my family. I went into Argyle Street wearing a pair of glasses that had fake lenses in and combed my hair back and wore a big blue puffer jacket thinking nobody would see me. I just got people coming up to me going, 'you're that guy fae Franz Ferdinand, how come you're wearing they specs?'
Who’s your favourite famous Michael?
He's not necessarily my favourite Michael, but he's just come into my head, it's quite an absurd one. It's because of the way the word Michael is said within the context of the artform, and it's Michael Knight from Knight Rider. I just have a distinct memory of KITT the car saying 'Michael'. Amazing theme tune as well.
05 This Fire
Glasgow has been dealt a tough hand lately, especially when it comes to the fires at the Glasgow School of Art. What does losing venues like this mean to you?
The art school fire was an absolute catastrophe, especially the second one which was so all-destroying. The art school was essential for us as a band when we were starting out. Bob was studying at the art school, Paul was a life model at the art school, Nick and I both had girlfriends who were at the art school, so it was central to our social lives. When I was on the dole, I used to go to my girlfriend's lectures and sit in on them, so I knew the place really well. Yeah, I was devastated, it's a terrible loss. Even in simple terms of architecture, it was an absolutely beautiful building and I have great memories of walking along the corridor they used to call the chicken run, which had this astonishing view over the valley in which Glasgow was set and seeing all the hills around about it. A really, really special place.
06 Do You Want To
The video for Do You Want To aired every hour on MTV2 the day it came out – the way we consume music has changed a lot since then. What do you think of Spotify?
I have mixed thoughts on it. I love how instantaneously music is available. I think that's wonderful, and as a consumer that's revolutionary and something that we can never return from. But the quality's pretty terrible... [it's like] the difference between looking at a photograph from an inkjet printer and looking through a telescope at the real thing.
But worst of all, fuck it man, musicians need to get paid. Daniel Ek is a multi-billionaire and there are musicians starting out who can't afford to pay their rent. It's an extremely fucked up and wrong situation.
07 Walk Away
Shortly after the release of Walk Away, Boris Johnson became the Shadow Minister for Higher Education. Do you think he's doing a good job as PM?
What a thought, eh? Fucking hell! A malevolent comedy is how I would describe it because he plays the role of buffoon, like Satan wearing a clown's mask. Boris Johnson has managed to hoodwink ordinary people in the United Kingdom into believing that he represents them when he doesn't care for them at all. He purely wants to exploit them and line the pockets of himself and his pals.
08 The Fallen
What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you on stage in 20 years of performing – have you ever fallen?
Aaaah, The Fallen, I've got you, I love these questions! I have fallen on stage a couple of times. We were headlining this festival in Korea. Korean summers can be extremely humid, the stage was sodden wet and I went to do a high kick and ended up flat on my back. But continued playing whatever riff as if nothing had happened, so I felt like I pulled it off with aplomb.
But the most embarrassing thing was really early on. We were opening up for PJ Harvey in Nice in a Roman amphitheatre, and again, a rather energetic move on my part, I jumped up and did the splits in the air and struck my guitar. As I did so, the tight trousers, which Hedi Slimane had made for me... well the seams weren't as well sewn as they could have been, and it was at a stage in tour where I hadn't had access to a washing machine for a while so wasn't wearing any underwear. Everything fell out, shall we say?
I saw you at the SECC in 2005 but missed fan-favourite Outsiders as I had to catch a train. At that show I bought a pair of Franz Ferdinand knickers – how did you end up selling underwear as merch?
I can't remember whose idea that was, it just seemed like a good idea at the time. I remember they weren't really for guys, I remember them being pretty small sizes. I think that was a deliberate move because they knew we would probably have just worn them rather than washing our own. I do remember going on Frank Skinner's show and being interviewed à la Terry Wogan and towards the end of the interview him standing up and pulling his trousers down – he was wearing a pair! He must have been suffering the whole time he was wearing them.
10 Lucid Dreams
You've worked with some amazing producers over the years, including Dan Carey who produced Tonight: Franz Ferdinand featuring Lucid Dreams. You're also known for your production work – what was it like working on the recent Los Bitchos record?
I really enjoyed working with them. When I first saw them, I loved what they did because they immediately referenced a lot of music that I like. I've loved cumbia for a long time. Serra [Petale], the main songwriter in the band, she's half-Turkish. She's really drawn to Turkish psychedelia, and there's a big crossover in terms of melody with the Greek music that I grew up with.
Also, they were really good fun to hang out with and I only ever produce records if I think I'm going to enjoy hanging out with the people and enjoy making the records. It's been like that for all the records I've produced, for The Cribs, Citizens!, RM Hubbert, Los Bitchos, it's always just been a good laugh.
In the same year Ulysses was released, the Ulysses space probe did its final scan of the sun. On a tenuous Space theme, what do you think of Elon Musk’s plans for space travel?
I don't really care to be totally honest. It's just obscenely rich people indulging their fantasies and I don't consider it in any way advancing the human cause to any degree. I think if that was his real motivation, there are a lot of better things that he could be doing. This is purely the indulgences of the absurdly wealthy and I have no interest.
12 No You Girls
You played the last ever T in the Park at Balado, opening with No You Girls. How did TRNSMT compare when you played in 2018?
It's funny, TRNSMT actually reminded me more of how T in the Park was at the very beginning in the mid-90s when it was in Strathclyde Park. I've got very, very good memories of Balado and T in the Park and playing there and just going there as well, so obviously my view of TRNSMT is going to be a little bit coloured by that. They're both really good festivals in their respective environments... It was the anarchy of T in the Park that I really liked, though, it was very appealing.
13 Right Action
You played a whole host of festivals in 2012, debuting Right Action. You also paid homage to Donna Summer on that tour, throwing in a snippet of I Feel Love. What’s your favourite cover?
Oh yeah! My favourite cover is Tainted Love, what an amazing song. Maybe because it's my favourite song to sing at karaoke, I just love it. I've loved it since I was a kid and I've never stopped loving it. I like both the Soft Cell version and the Gloria Jones version. It's a song that is so robust and so well written, and so strikingly simple in many ways as well that it can be covered in a multitude of different styles and will always be strong.
14 Evil Eye
The video for Evil Eye is filled with gruesome B-movie horror imagery. What’s your favourite scary movie?
Visually, it's Suspiria, the original [Dario] Argento version, just in terms of the vividness of the colours and the inventiveness of the imagery. I love the slightly shocking nature of it and the music is astonishing. But my favourite scary movie is probably American Werewolf in London. I remember seeing it when I was a kid and it gave me nightmares for months afterwards... So that's probably the most terrified I've ever been from a movie, even though there are theoretically scarier films.
15 Love Illumination
A month before you released Love Illumination, Daft Punk returned with Random Access Memories. Were you a fan?
I always liked the whole French touch movement... and Daft Punk never disappointed me. I was quite amused by the Giorgio Moroder song... it almost felt like Giorgio Moroder didn't understand why he was cool, but that kind of made him more cool in a way. But yeah, good record, sound of the summer, right?
16 Stand on the Horizon
A couple of months after Stand on the Horizon was released, the Scottish independence referendum took place. What are your thoughts on a possible indyref2?
We took quite a part in that campaign. We played at the Usher Hall, I remember playing in support of the whole Yes movement. The last few years have been a real deflation, from that point onwards there were just like so many negative results: the indyref, then Brexit, then Trump, Boris Johnson, it just seemed like one after the other of disappointments. But Trump got kicked out, I remain an optimist and I still remain an optimist for Scotland's future.
17 Always Ascending
Always Ascending was your first single with Dino Bardot (1990s) and Julian Corrie (Miaoux Miaoux) – who are some of your other favourite Scottish artists?
There's one in my mind at the moment just because I saw them recently, and that's Broken Chanter. Audrey [Tait, new Franz drummer] plays in Broken Chanter, I was down in London and they were playing at Paper Dress Vintage; really beautiful songs and a great band, and it was nice to be in London and hear some Glasgow patter on the stage. It put me in a really good mood. And Medicine Cabinet, I think there's something very exciting going on there. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens with them.
And I have to mention [some of my contemporaries from the 90s], bands like Trout, they were the stars of the scene in The 13th Note when I used to put on bands there. Urusei Yatsura, Bis, the Stanleys, the Girlfriends, Glen or Glenda, Pink Kross, Lung Leg, there were so many brilliant bands at that time... the Savilles, Super Slinky, really, really wonderful bands... they all had a big impact on me and my life, I'm very thankful and grateful for the inspiration they gave me.
18 Glimpse of Love
Glimpse of Love is essentially an anti-misogyny song, with lyrics lifted from sidebar tabloid headlines. Are tabloids getting any better?
Oh, possibly worse. I accidentally stumbled on a disgusting website recently and it's exactly the same, the grotesque objectification of women in that context is still happening, it's still rife... it feels very disparate at the moment. There are the people who are switched on and know how to stand up for people's rights etc, and then there are people who just don't really care, and the gulf between them just seems to be getting wider and wider. I find that extremely depressing.
I also think it's been getting worse via social media. Unfortunately, a lot of that has weirdly twisted into an almost self-inflicted form of objectification. Both for women, men and everybody in between. But yes, that's obvious. Whether I can address that in a song or not, I don't know. It really saddens me.
The music video for Curious is loads of fun. Why was now the time for a properly choreographed video?
It's something that we wanted to do for a long time... Paul [Thomson, ex-drummer] always hated dancing and so I think me and Bob went wild. We did it with our friend Andy [Knowles] and, how some of our best videos have come about, we literally just sat around talking about what we'd love to see in a video and we made a video that looked like that.
[Julian] was so good. I knew he was a wee bit nervous beforehand, I think Dino was as well. But rather than being lame about it, or not putting any effort in, everybody totally embraced it. I was intimidated as well, because I've never done anything like that before, but because everybody totally went for it, it really worked, we really enjoyed it.
20 Billy Goodbye
Does this Greatest Hits album and other new single Billy Goodbye hint at the end for Franz Ferdinand, or is it more the closing of a chapter?
Oh, no, no, now we're starting work on volume two! We've been talking about doing [this] for a while, but I was speaking to Laurence [Bell] who runs Domino and he kept on saying, 'you know you can only really fit about 20 songs on a double LP', so there's always been this thing, 'well if we don't do it now...'
We would've done it earlier, but everything got fucked up because of you-know-what, like everybody's lives have been. But yeah, I'm happy to get it out and we're working on the next record already, and I'm looking forward to volume two.