“I feel at the moment that I have a massive backlog of stuff that I need to get out so yeah, I’m frustrated.”
Ever since their breakout single, “Take Me Out,” hit MTV and the rotation at stations around the world in 2004, Glasgow’s Franz Ferdinand have been one of the premiere indie rock bands of the 21st Century.
Since that gem off of their self-titled debut was released, the band has put out four more studio albums, a couple of live records, seven EPs, and a bunch of other recordings. This past April, they finally released their first standalone greatest hits compilation, Hits To The Head, and they’re currently on tour in support of it. As part of the expedition, Franz Ferdinand will perform at the House Of Blues in Boston on August 15. Local indie rock trio Vundabar will open up the show at 8pm.
I spoke ahead of the show with lead vocalist and guitarist Alex Kapranos about putting the compilation together, two new singles the band released with the record, having a bunch of different jobs, putting together abstract furniture, and figuring out how to release new material going forward.
Who had the idea to create and release Hits To The Head and how did you go about choosing the songs for it? Was it just looking to see which ones were most successful on the charts or did you go into the vault at all?
I guess it depends on what you mean by a hit. There’s the obvious songs like “No You Girls” and “Take Me Out,” they both got a lot of play on the radio in various countries. Then there are other songs like “Outsiders” which was never actually a single but it’s always been a huge hit whenever we’ve played it live. It’s kind of a combination, for the most part it’s the obvious songs that people know because they’ve heard them on the radio but for me the way I was thinking about it more than anything else was, If we were headlining a festival what are the songs we would play? What are the songs that really connect with people and also really get them going as well?
I wanted it to be an upbeat album, an album that can lift your spirits, put you in a good mood and feel pretty celebratory. Once we started thinking about it like that it was pretty obvious which songs were going to go on it.
That makes sense. There are two new singles off of the compilation which are “Billy Goodbye” and “Curious.” “Billy Goodbye” is a great example of the upbeat vibe you just mentioned with the accompanying music video for it being shot in black & white as the band performs in the middle of a dance party along with various cutscenes. What would you say is the vision behind the song and what was the experience like making the music video for it?
The experience of making the video was good. We made it with our friend Diane Martel and we’ve made a few videos with her actually. We did the “Evil Eye” video, another one for “Feel The Love Go” and the first one we did was for “Do You Want To.” Diane is a really good friend of ours, we like hanging out with her because there’s always a good laugh. There’s a lot of references to various films in the video and that kind of thing while bringing a bit of chaos into the world.
The original idea for the video didn’t quite make it, it was supposed to be seen from the perspective of somebody who is wishing goodbye to their friends as they’re disappearing in the casket. It was going to be filmed as if it was a wake but you’re awake for the wake, walking around and being amongst everyone and at the end your friends all help you into your casket. Somehow we fucked that up and made the video that we did instead.
The original idea would have been interesting with the wake and the upbeat tone of the song counteracting with each other. The video is pretty cool regardless.
Yeah, that’s the thing. It was supposed to be a wake and I told Diane that it would be a wake but with fucked up people you’d imagine seeing at one. I don’t know what happened with the casting but the people we had for the video were great. They were lovely people but they looked like they belonged at a fashion shoot more than they did at a wake. I was imagining something a little bit different but that’s often when you get the best things, isn’t it? You start off with a particular idea, it ends up going somewhere else instead and you just go with it rather than being too rigid like you originally intended.
The music video for “Curious” seems to be a bit of the opposite than the other video by having fluorescent lights and you & the rest of the band doing choreographed dancing by yourselves. Was this consciously done as a polar opposite to the music video for “Billy Goodbye” or was there another goal in mind?
Like so many artists, when you make something new it’s also a reaction to the thing you’ve just done. That was definitely the case with the video for “Curious”, we wanted something that was actually just us doing a performance. It kind of came up in a conversation that Bob [Hardy] and I were having with our friend Andy Knowles. Andy is an artist, he went to the same art school in Glasgow as Bob and he’s done a few things, he was even in the band for a little while. The conversation was about how we’ve always wanted to make people dance to our music but we’ve rarely danced in our videos.
It’s not expected of bands to dance, you’re expected to shuffle around the stage a little and maybe leap into the audience but never actually dance. We started to wonder if we could and once we set a challenge for ourselves we set out to do so. It was a little terrifying in the way that doing anything for the first time can be both a little terrifying and beautifully exciting. We worked with a great chap, Anders Hayward, who worked out the choreography and Andy did an incredible job of filming because he’s a great artist. There’s a couple film references as well which I’m sure many people got once they saw it.
Before becoming a full-time musician you worked as a chef, barman, music promoter, driver, welder and an IT lecturer. What would you say was the weirdest job you had before pursuing a career in music?
I’ve had many weird jobs. Probably the weirdest one was when I had to dress up as a chainsaw-wielding psychopath wearing a muzzle and an orange prison suit. It was this thing called “Terror Under The Arches” in Glasgow, it was bit like a ghost train but people walk around and there’s no train as various ghouls and things jump out. I had a real chainsaw but there was no chain on it so I would start the engine, people would gather in this room which looked a little something like Silence Of The Lambs and I would jump out while literally wielding a chainsaw and chasing people out. It paid me six pounds an hour which at the time was phenomenal to me, it was really good (laughs).
That’s awesome. You also craft abstract furniture in your own carpentry workshop, how did you get into that hobby and what do you enjoy the most about it?
It’s more the abstraction that I’m interested in, it’s the case of taking form and abstracting it beyond recognition sometimes. Even the process becomes one of theory as much as the practice itself. When I was a kid, my grandfather was a cabinet maker so I grew up with the smell of sawdust and glue and maybe I’m just addicted to that.
That could be the case, I think it’s a cool hobby that you have.
Yeah, it’s just an excuse to sniff glue.
Can we expect a new Franz Ferdinand album in the near future to follow up Hits To The Head or do you plan on doing what some other acts have been doing with releasing singles and having a smaller output?
It’s interesting isn’t it? We’re currently debating that just now because we have been recording, there’s a bunch of songs we’ve recorded and we’re going to record more after this current tour. What’s astonishing in the digital age in which we live is you can write something in the morning, record it in the afternoon and release it to the world digitally in the evening if you want to. It’s an extremely speedy process but if you want to release an album, stick it out on vinyl and do it the way that records have always been put out, which I love, you have a fucking wait time of nine months or something like that because of the vinyl backlog. People want Adele records as a decoration rather than having something to listen to; nothing against Adele, she’s a great artist, but that’s where the backlog is coming from. That’s the debate at the moment—do we release it digitally so it’s released quickly? Or do we wait the nine months which is basically a year?
For me as an artist it’s massively frustrating, but I might ask the fans. Maybe I’ll make a social media post to see their opinion and I’m curious to see what people think because while I do love the object of an LP, you got to keep moving as an artist. I feel at the moment that I have a massive backlog of stuff that I need to get out so yeah, I’m frustrated.
I totally get that, you don’t want to be in a place where you feel stagnant.
Exactly. Imagine if I was still a chef, I plated something up as this beautiful meal and I had to wait nine months before someone could eat the fucking thing. It’s insane and that’s how I feel about making the music. When you make it you want to get it out there, you don’t want to sit on it. It’s just perverse.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.