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Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos on Donald Trump, the NHS, Always Ascending and coming to Birmingham

By Kirsten Rawlins | Entertainment | Published:

Their second album soared to number one in the charts - and within three years of forming, the band had a trio of top 10 singles in the UK.

New direction – Franz Ferdinand are marrying rock and dance

Now Franz Ferdinand are back with a brand new sound, hoping to marry the energy of dancefloor anthems with the raw power of rock bands.

And it's not just their music that's different, as the group now have two new members after founding guitarist Nick McCarthy left in 2016.

But frontman Alex Kapranos says Nick's departure had a positive impact on the band, making them question what they were doing - and whether they wanted to continue.

"We had that conversation - fortunately it was a short conversation," says 45-year-old vocalist and musician Alex.

"Just by asking that question it was quite an invigorating experience, because we didn’t feel like we were doing it just to carry on as normal.

"It was almost like renewing our vows.

"We knew Nick’s departure was coming for a long time."

New addition to Franz Ferdinand Julian Corrie, who plays keys, guitar, synthesiser and provides backing vocals, joined in August 2016; enabling the then-four-piece to work on the group's latest album Always Ascending.

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Once this had been recorded in the studio, Dino Bardot (on guitar and backing vocals) also joined the band.

The pair have given the Glaswegian-based band a new edge; as well as allowing Alex to personally develop as a singer and breathe new life into older songs when playing them live.

"It means I don’t have to cover everything vocally all the time. Though Paul does a bit of backing and so did Nick," adds Alex.

Franz Ferdinand - Take Me Out (Official Video)

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"But Julian has a really high, falsetto voice which is just beautiful, and Dino has a vocal range similar to mine. So it means we can do harmonies.

"It also means some of the songs we previously put down in the studio can now be done to the full extent live.

"Matinee and No You Girls are examples of this. The arrangement live is now closer to the record.

"I’m actually also singing more now, rather than playing the guitar so much.

"When I’m concentrating on playing the guitar, I sort of end up playing notes on my voice rather than performing. I’m now able to convey more emotion, make it more three-dimensional and develop it.

"I’ve got such confidence in Dino and Julian, I don’t feel like I have to play guitar all the time; they’ve got it covered.

"It also means that now, on some of the older songs, they can play guitar while I concentrate more on the vocals. Lucid Dreams is an example of this - it sounds so much better live now."

In creating the band's new album - which was released last Friday - Alex says Franz Ferdinand are aiming to achieve something 'very different', drawing from a huge variety of inspirations ranging from metal icons Black Sabbath to dance legend Romanthony.

"We always wanted to be a dance band. We wanted to make people dance, but wanted to find a different way of doing it," explains Alex.

"But when you listen to the new album, you can still tell it’s a Franz Ferdinand album - even though we’re doing something very different.

"It’s what I expect from bands I appreciate; I want to hear them being unafraid and unashamed. So we wanted to do that ourselves.

"I think we draw from a lifetime of inspiration, but some things rise to the surface more than others.

"Just before we went into the studio, we went to see Black Sabbath's second-last gig on that final tour they did. My girlfriend and I are both massive fans of Geezer Butler. It was so great going to see them.

"Another is Romanthony, he was a Chicago house guy. He’s someone we would listen to with our producer.

"We wanted to achieve what the Chicago house records do, but be able to play them live.

Franz Ferdinand - Ulysses (Official Video)

"We were also influenced by bands such as The B-52s and Violent Femmes.

"So we thought, ‘how can you marry these bands’ sounds with the power of the dancefloor?’.

"Our last record was a good bookend to the previous decade, and it feels like this new album is signalling the start of the next decade to come.

"It’s really cool - we have no idea what’s in store. It’s exciting.

"It suggests a number of different paths. We’re not sure when we’re going, but we’re excited to find out."

And though the new album sounds different from the band's rock roots, Alex says the reaction from the fans has been 'amazing', adding that they 'couldn't have wished for more'.

With this new direction firmly in mind, Alex says he and the group went about writing and composing the songs on Always Ascending in a wide variety of ways - from making stories featuring fictional characters, to reacting to world affairs, and recalling historic tragedies.

"Whenever we write anything in life, we are reacting to things in our personal lives, as well as things that are going on around us," says Alex.

"But not always: this time we sat down and created fictional characters. It was the first time we’d ever done that.

"That’s the case on Lois Lane, where we had the idea to put these two made-up characters together. It was really fun, like writing a story.

"Lazy Boy, though - it can go to the ridiculous like that. I wrote that from lying in bed thinking how lazy I am.

"Then there’s Huck and Jim. I thought ‘if we’re going to the US, what would I sing about?’. Then I thought about the health service.

"Trump was in power at the time and wanted to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

"I just wanted to say ‘no guys, look after your sick’. We need to take care of people, provide housing for people and look after our poor.

Franz Ferdinand - Always Ascending (Official Video)

"This then got me thinking about our healthcare system - I love the NHS. I owe them my life, after numerous asthma attacks as a child, and having suffered from orbital cellulitis at the age of about 15.

"My family couldn’t have afforded private healthcare and, at that age, I just expected to be cared for by the system.

"We’re supposed to be living in a civilised society, after all.

"Yet we can see the government trying to dissolve the NHS - but they’re doing it in a sneaky way, hoping we won’t notice. But we do.

"Everyone deserves to be cared for equally, regardless of money.

"I’m not a protest singer - I just don’t have that way of articulating myself into concise passages.

"It’s probably also because I’ve got a problem with telling people what to do. I’d rather just give people a gentle nudge in a certain direction."

Alex has previously hinted that title track on Always Ascending was actually related to a real-life event which saw people 'literally ascending and leaving the Earth'. He revealed to The Ticket that the song actually has a very sombre, dark side to it - as it is, in fact, related to an airship tragedy which took place in the 1930s. 'Terrifying' footage of the accident inspired the band to use an unusual technique for the number's intro.

"Always Ascending came from a musical idea of always moving upwards," explains Alex.

"We included the Shepard tone, which was suggested to me by a friend. This style plays two tones which are offset with each other at the same time, making it sound like an upward movement.

"It reminded me of some terrible footage of a historical accident I had seen involving an airship in the 1930s.

"It failed as it was coming in to anchor, with young lads holding on to it. A great gust of wind came and blew the ship into the air and though most let go, three or four were left holding on as they flew hundreds of feet into the air, before they slowly fell off.

"It was terrifying just to watch.

"We all know what it’s like - as a kid, it’s so hard to hold on to a rope; whether it be in the sports hall or on the playground.

Franz Ferdinand - Feel The Love Go (Official Video)

"It must have been so difficult and just terrifying. They would have been in absolute fear. That feeling of weightlessness, with the fear overwhelming you. And just wanting to let go, but being unable to.

"That’s what the beginning of that song is all about. Just wanting to let go, but not being able."

Back in 2016, the band was involved in the 30 Days 30 Songs initiative against Trump with the contribution of their song Demagogue. But surprisingly, Alex says the band had actually written and recorded the song before even knowing about the campaign.

"We were simply reacting to what happened," says Alex.

"I remember looking at what was happening across the Atlantic and thinking ‘this guy is dangerous’. He is a demagogue.

"He plays on people’s fears and promises rewards. He’s like a carnival conman. A confidence trickster.

"The song was very pertinent at the time. We were writing about him back when he was a candidate for the Republican Party.

"So when I later heard about the campaign during the presidential election, I said ‘can we put it in?’.

"The potential energy of that movement with so many artists involved was really cool."

Franz Ferdinand plays Birmingham on Tuesday, in a set which Alex promises will feature both old favourites and new material.

"I can’t wait to come back to the Midlands. Shows there are always great, with great audiences and a lot of love," adds Alex.

"Our set will be all about the bangers, with new ones and old ones, and a couple of heartbreakers.

"We are not the kind of band to sit on your bum and stroke your beard to. We want people to get up and dance.

"Hopefully everyone leave the show in a better mood than when they arrived."

Kirsten Rawlins

By Kirsten Rawlins
@kirsten_Star

Online Entertainment Editor for the Express & Star and Shropshire Star. E-mail me kirsten.rawlins@expressandstar.co.uk, or phone 01902 319368

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