Franz Ferdinand on their rebirth and new album

It's been 14 years since Franz Ferdinand burst into the mainstream with Take Me Out. Now the acclaimed Glasgow band are back with their fifth album and two new members. The Skinny sits down with them to ask how they've stayed at the top for so long

Feature by Chris McCall | 02 Feb 2018

It's been more than four years since Franz Ferdinand released their last full-length album but the band has been far from quiet in that time. There was a collaboration with Sparks in 2015 – the well-received FFS – followed by the 2016 stand-alone single Demagogue, which predicted the rise of Trump with uncanny accuracy. If that wasn't enough, the group lost a founding member that same year in Nick McCarthy; the stylish guitarist announced he could not commit to another world tour with a young family to support. 

Lesser bands may have called a hiatus or pondered a solo project or two. Franz Ferdinand instead chose to press the reset button. It was time for FF Mk II. Recognisably the same while still refreshingly different. Two new members filled McCarthy's berth. Julian Corrie, a musical polymath otherwise known as Miaoux Miaoux, was first to sign up. He was followed by Dino Bardot, sometime member of the 1990s and The Yummy Fur. Both are well known in Franz's home city of Glasgow.

Given the band's success since forming in 2002, they weren't short on offers. "When we first started looking for someone people would call me up," frontman Alex Kapranos tells The Skinny over tea in a Glasgow hotel. "The guys from Midlake, who I worked with last year, were offering suggestions. Then there was a guy from LA, and a guy from Germany. But we're a band from Glasgow. It came down to recommendations from friends. I was at a screening of Lost in France, with Stuart Braithwaite, Emma Pollock and Paul Savage. Elisabeth Elektra, Stuart's girlfriend, had recently worked with Julian, and all of them individually recommended him. So I gave him a shout, we met for a curry at Mother India's Cafe, had a few drinks, we got on, and eventually went to the studio and it sounded... good! You just know. I've been in bands where it just hasn't worked."

Corrie, sitting alongside his new bandmate, agrees there was a spark from the off. A respected producer in his own right, it's unlikely he would have joined a group to be little more than a hired hand. "My background is in electronic music, and I guess when I joined the band I wanted to bring a little bit of that with me," he explains. "The very first song I heard when I went to the studio was Always Ascending. I thought it sounded great." That song – an infectious, synth heavy stomper – is the lead single and title track of their new album. It represents a departure from the sharply hewn indie rock that made them famous, but still feels at home in their growing back catalogue. Could this change of direction have happened without the addition of new members?

"When Bob [Hardy, bass], Paul [Thomson, drums] and I started work on this record we were taking it in a certain direction," explains Kapranos. "We were experimenting with the kind of sounds you can hear on the finished album. But that's what drew us to Julian – we wouldn't have been able to get those sounds if he hadn't come along to help out. He is a master of that stuff. We introduced something key to the sound of this record straight away with Always Ascending. It was the first track we had written and arranged as you would with a piece of dance music. It was done with a sequencer and then we took it away and learned how to play it as a band."

Corrie laughs off suggestions he was brought on board as a great disruptor to the classic Franz sound. "I guess in any situation, where someone new comes in, there will be a bit of mixing up," he says. "I think I wanted to come in and be myself – I didn't want to come in and think I had to behave in a certain way. I was obviously aware of the band's work. It did feel like a very collaborative thing. I think that was the idea from the start – come in with your ideas, what you know how to do, and we'll see what happens. And it really works."

The record was written and recorded initially at Kapranos' home studio near Dumfries, before the group teamed up with acclaimed dance producer Philippe Zdar. The Parisian has worked with an impressive list of heavyweights, including Phoenix, Cut Copy, The Rapture and Pharrell Williams, and his energy in the studio clearly rubbed off on Franz. "Philippe works super fast," says Kaparanos. "There's no fannying about. Different producers react in different ways to how you perform as a band in the studio. Some are more interested in sculpting the sound, others are more intuitive. One thing that can kill a band in the studio is the fact you have no audience. There's no response. When you perform live you react to the crowd's reaction. Some producers are just looking at the mixing desk – but Philippe, it's like playing to a Barrowlands audience concentrated in one human being."

When they first rose to prominence in 2003, Franz famously said they wanted to make music for girls to dance to. Now, with a synth expert in Corrie on board, and the skills of a French super-producer to call on, they could push towards a new electro sound like never before. "The reaction I'm getting from most folk is that it sounds like a Franz Ferdinand album but that it also sounds very different, which is exactly what I wanted to do," the frontman adds.

The day The Skinny sits down with Kapranos and Corrie just so happens to be the 14th anniversary of the release of Take Me Out, the single that launched the band to international stardom. Franz were an integral part of the indie rock revival of the early 2000s, but not being based in London meant they could remain separate from it. Few of the bands they shared column inches with back then are still around today. When asked what the secret to their longevity is, Kapranos offers a straightforward answer. "I think we're making something that is worth listening to," he says. "I like being in a band. It's a good laugh. Bob and Paul are my pals. We're in it together. Getting the band together was not a device to launch my solo career. We were hanging out playing gigs in our pals' flats, that's why we got it together and that's why it is still going, I guess."

Corrie, who has the perspective of viewing the band's rise from the outside, believes a desire to reinvent is crucial. "I think what sustains bands is curiosity," he adds. "And there's a lot of that with these guys. People who are making music, art, or whatever, follow that thread. If you simply start thinking: 'this is what I do', you can lose that. The acceptance to try new things has been great."

An often overlooked element of Franz's success is the support of their label, Domino. Few artists remain with the same record company throughout their career. In the 21st century it has become rarer still. Co-founder Laurence Bell signed the then four-piece in May 2003 and that relationship endures today. Kapranos dismisses any suggestion the band has ever considered moving elsewhere. "With Domino, it's a personal rather than a business relationship," he says.

"It's about the relationship between the band and all the people at the label who have been there for years. I remember meeting Laurence in Mono in 2003 and then I saw him again two weeks ago – he's the same guy. You build up a mutual respect and understanding. We're very fortunate as not all bands have that. Our debut album was licensed to Epic in the US as Domino is very small in the States. But my god – there were some nice people there but the atmosphere at a major label is really, really different – there's a lot of competitive sport references."

2018 promises to be a busy year for Franz Ferdinand. They already have 60 shows booked for the months ahead, with more to be added soon. Among them are a homecoming show in Glasgow and a main stage slot at the city's TRNSMT festival this summer. The week after speaking to The Skinny, the band heads to Tokyo. "It's very exciting," grins Corrie. Welcome to Franz Ferdinand Mk II.

Always Ascending is released on 9 Feb via Domino; Franz Ferdinand play the O2 Academy, Glasgow, 17 Feb; TRNSMT Festival, Glasgow, 8 Jul