Glasgow’s rock quartet Franz Ferdinand, responsible for imprinting the auditory canals of millions of people worldwide with their trademark disco rock sound, have come to Iceland (and the inevitable Blue Lagoon) for the first time. The Grapevine spoke to guitarist Nicolas McCarthy, a media darling in denial of his stardom, and drummer Paul Thomson, a Glaswegian so true to his roots in terms of humour and accent he could have easily sprung from an old Bill Forsyth film. Their new album, You Could Have It So Much Better, recorded at singer Alex Kapranos’ house in Scotland and finished off in New York in between touring, is due October 3rd.
While the two seemed not to have made up their minds on how to describe the sound of their new baby, sitting down in the grass beside a football field in Hafnarfjörður, it turned out they definitely had made up their mind about Icelandic football – one day before the fateful Iceland-Croatia game.
Paul: I think their [Iceland’s] football team is just part-time. They played last season, in the UEFA cup, fairly early on, I think it was just to qualify – and they got beaten.
Grapevine: (Wincing.) There is a lot of talk about your new record being so different from your debut, more rough songs and mellow ones as well, but to me the new single (Do You Want To) does not really sound that different.
Nick: The single isn’t representative of the whole album. That’s the ONE song that leans on the old album.
Paul: It makes an easy transition from the last album.
Nick: Yeah. But the rest to me sounds much looser, much… what would you call it?
Paul: It’s less uptight and less…aeehNick: It’s warmer.
Paul: Warmer.Grapevine: Warmer?
Nick: There’s a bit more life to it.Paul: It seems quite subconscious, and more human as well.
Nick: It’s not as angular. I think there is definitely a different feel to this album.
Paul: There’s a variety of different feels!
Grapevine: This time, you used a lot of vintage gear, old synthesizers, guitars, amps and mixer – and a different producer, Richard Costey, who has formerly worked for bands like Muse, Bloc Party, Doves, Rage against the Machine and Audioslave. Is the way of recording the reason for the different feel on this album?
Paul: That’s definitely possible. In terms of production, it was more of a collaborative effort; it was not so much force as with the first record, but “throw your hands in”. Also, the mixing process was a lot different. We used pro-tools and pitchers only and Rich just sat on our computer, and we told him what to do, and he used this old desk that travels with him, and we could catch whatever feeling we wanted.
Grapevine: Alex has been talking about Dylan’s song-writing techniques inspiring you. Is your song-writing getting more sophisticated or professional?
Nick: Sophisticated, maybe. I don’t think songwriting changes that much, I think the band has changed more than the way we are writing songs. We are a better band, we played more concerts.
Paul: But we’re not professional.
Nick: Yeah, I don’t really like that expression at all. It sounds like a swearword! But, yeah, sophisticated, maybe… but it’s not all polished or anything, either, and I think it’s more the opposite, really, it’s definitely more rough, there’s more of an edge to this one than to the last.
Paul: We didn’t try to smooth out anything on the record, we were just trying to… just leave it! – Just leave it for a reason.
Nick: This time we wanted to make it sound like we’re the band, the way we play live, and that’s what’s so exciting about it, for us, anyway.
Grapevine: Concerning Franz Ferdinand’s trademark disco-rock sound, would you agree that you were the band who re-introduced the high-hat to rock?
Nick: When we started off I REALLY couldn’t believe why everybody used the ride like that [hammering in the air].
Paul: The initial drum-set was just snare and high-hat and much bigger stuff couldn’t be used because we couldn’t fit all the gear in the back of Alex’s car – and us in it as well. But there’s only one song on the new record where I don’t use any samples whatsoever, and I actually ripped it off of a band called the Fire Engines, a post punk group from Edinburgh, and he [the drummer Russel Burn] doesn’t use any high-hat, he uses the tambourine instead.
Grapevine: Going from drums to style: I heard that you are planning to move to California.
Nick: Really?!?!! [amused] Great, yeah, I’d love to move to California, yeah…! Well, it’s new to me, but…
Paul: There’s no fucking way I’m gonna move to California!! I moved to London, but that was when the band developed, now I want to go back to Glasgow for a little while longer… We’ve toured the world three times over now, I just wanna go home! – But I think I could move here [to Iceland]. And I’m more used to this kind of temperature as well.
Nick: I’m WARMing to this kind of temperature!
Grapevine: Back to the music-business in Britain: Would you consider yourself to be part of a particular music scene?
Paul: We are coming from Glasgow. If you come from that sort of background, all bands no matter in what level they are support each other and we all share equipment and help each other out, and it’s very much a scene, but there’s no specific sound, there is no one sound like in… California, again, where everybody seems to be sort of taking cues from the Beach Boys. It’s not like that in Glasgow where all the bands are completely different.
Nick: But every band from Liverpool sounds the same as well.
Grapevine: So what plans do you have for the future? Are you parting with your routine of touring 18 months, then recording a new album?
Paul: We all got other projects, other groups, I’ve got a record label that I’d like to set up, and then maybe do some other stuff together, like soundtrack music.
Nick: Yeah, I’d like to do a soundtrack some time.
Paul: And get to see other bands. Usually, when we want to see other bands it’s when we play festivals in Europe.
Nick: To London, to play at Top of The Pops, and then we are going to Japan, then back to London.
Paul: And then a couple of weeks ahead it’s the States, the tour for the new record.
Nick: Really, is it? But it’s not even out!
Paul: It doesn’t matter so much if you start a tour without playing as many songs from the new record as we’d like to, we can kind of work them out as we go along.
Nick: [giving in to wise old Paul] Yeah, yeah, that’s right.
Franz Ferdinand’s second album, You Could Have It So Much Better, was released in September on Domino Records.