‘This feels like a new band, it almost is’: the return of Franz Ferdinand
- Credit: David Edwards
After 15 years with the same line-up, Scottish rockers Franz Ferdinand have reinvented themselves after the departure of Nick McCarthy. Now the new-look band is heading to the region with new album, Always Ascending.
Forget everything you think you know about Franz Ferdinand. Their new album Always Ascending is nothing short of a rebirth. The album's 10 songs are a recasting of the indie-rock favourites, bursting with fresh ideas and vigorous sonic experimentation.
'We wanted this to sound like nothing we made before,' says the band's bassist Bob Hardy.
But it is not just musically a rebirth, it also marks a new-look band. After almost 15 years with the same line-up, the Scottish rockers experienced huge upheaval after the departure of founding member, guitarist and keyboardist, Nick McCarthy, who quit the group to spend more time with his family following their 2015 FFS collaboration with US group Sparks.
Hardy recalls a frank conversation with Kapranos and drummer Paul Thomson in the Scottish countryside after McCarthy broke the news. The remaining trio considered splitting, or even reforming as a new band, he reveals, before agreeing the motivation was there to work on new music.
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'We started writing without being 100% sure whether it would end up being a Franz Ferdinand record,' he says. 'We were a hypothetical band at that point. We couldn't go on stage, we couldn't play any shows, we couldn't play our old material.
'We were turning down offers to play shows and festivals because we literally weren't really a band at that point.'
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However deciding to continue Julian Corrie, a much-loved figure in the Glasgow music scene, who Hardy and co knew from his work under his Miaoux Miaoux moniker, joined.
'The stuff we had been writing at that point was leaning to the electronic side of Franz more and that was the world Julian came from, and so he just fitted right in smoothly and things started moving quite quickly,' says Hardy.
And working with acclaimed but reclusive producer Philippe Zdar (Cassius, Phoenix, Beastie Boys) proved to be a bonding exercise for their new-look line-up on the album written over the preceding year somewhere in the west of Scotland.
'We all lived in the one place together,' explains Hardy. 'Us and the dog. It's remote and that's what we needed. We weren't just writing an album. We were creating a band. We started from zero: no expectations. It was liberating. From zero, we created this new universe to inhabit: nebulous at first, gradually taking form, until it felt like it had always existed.'
Other characters appeared too. Dino Bardot (previously of the indie-rock trios 1990s) has joined the line-up as they start touring again, and Sam Potter, late of Late Of The Pier, hung out with the band in the early stages of the album.
'Sam's an inspiring guy. We had great conversations. He knows how to take an idea and break it so you can see the better idea hidden within it,' adds Bob.
Alex Kapranos bills the album as 'simultaneously futuristic and naturalistic' and Hardy explains how, although they were keen to embrace the arrival of Corrie's fizzing synths and dancier arrangements, there was also an awareness of retaining rawness.
'When we went into the studio, we didn't want to start playing to a click and importing the songs onto a grid and taking all the humanity away from it,' he adds.
'Although the record occupies a dancier part of music, it's still very human and it comes from a live band playing. You get the push and pull of a live drummer, the increases in tempo, the slow downs, the slight mistakes are still in there and that's the naturalistic element coupled with electronic sounds.'
Fans in this region will be able to experience it first hand when the band plays the Cambridge Corn Exchange fresh from releasing the album this week.
Their last release came in October 2016 when they released anti-Trump anthem Demagogue.
'He pleases my fears...it feels so good to be dumb', sang frontman Alex Kapranos on the track which was released as part of the 30 Days, 30 Songs campaign aiming to counter voter apathy as Hillary Clinton went head-to-head with Donald Trump.
Not only was it the first direct foray into politics from the art rockers - who shot to fame in 2002 with their Mercury Prize-winning, eponymous debut - but it was also the first purely Franz music in three years.
'We've never done anything as political as Demagogue before,' says Bob Hardy. 'We recorded and released that song very quickly when we were anticipating that, post-election, Trump would just disappear into his hole and that song would just be irrelevant,' he adds.
The arrival of Corrie - who has not toured outside of the UK before - and Bardot has also given the band's remaining original members a new excitement for playing live.
'It's quite infectious because you kind of realise what an amazing thing it is to do when someone's doing it for the first time,' Hardy says. 'We're looking forward to seeing people reacting to the news songs live.'
• Franz Ferdinand play Cambridge Corn Exchange on February 23, 7.30pm, £30.50, 01223 357851, cornex.co.uk• Always Ascending is out February 9.