Scottish dance-rock darlings Franz Ferdinand are about to release Always Ascending, their first album in almost five years, but they haven’t exactly been off the scene. Along with collaborating with Sparks in the supergroup FFS in 2015, they released the prescient protest tune “Demagogue” in October 2016, less than a month before the presidential election, as part of the 30 Songs, 30 Days campaign for a “Trump-free America.” The scathing track, which references “those tiny vulgar fingers on the nuclear bomb,” isn’t included on the new album, but it hits harder than ever in 2018.
“[Donald Trump] wasn’t president at the time; it was during the campaign,” bassist Bob Hardy tells Yahoo Entertainment. “But every day we’d be in the studio, and every morning it was just dominating the news, whatever crazy, bats*** thing he’d said. It was our conversation in the studio.”
“It felt like, ‘There’s this crazy thing happening here, this demagogue is trying to take over the most powerful position in the world. Why is nobody saying something about it? We’ve gotto,’” says frontman Alex Kapranos. “We’d never really done an overtly political song like that before, I guess because we’d never been faced with such an overtly political catastrophe like this before. We weren’t trying to make any predictions. It was just more like pointing out the obvious: This guy’s a demagogue, he plays on people’s fears, he’s a manipulator, he’s not very smart. But he’s cunning, and he represents essentially everything I don’t like in human beings, like greed, selfishness, cruelty, bigotry. And it’s dangerous.”
“You basically elected your worst person,” Hardy notes grimly.
Franz Ferdinand Exclusive Interview
The Scottish indie rockers discuss their hotly anticipated fifth album, ‘Always Ascending.’
Franz Ferdinand were one of the few non-American participants on 30 Days, 30 Songs, but they still felt they needed to say something; in fact, they wrote “Demagogue” before they even knew about the project. “It’s an interesting one, because we’re not American citizens; we can’t vote here,” admits Kapranos. “But your choice of president has an impact on the rest of the world. And it’s affected my life. It’s affected the lives of everybody I know. And it can be terrifying. So we wrote a song about that.” He also mentions that the Brexit situation in his own Britain was weighing on his mind at the time. “It’s very much in parallel. It’s funny, like you see characters like Nigel Farage in the United Kingdom, and there are distinct parallels there. And again, it’s that sort of demagogic behavior: They’re playing on people’s fears and frightening them into the worst of the inherent bigotry they might have. Brexit has been so divisive in the United Kingdom — terribly, terribly divisive.”
However, Kapranos and Hardy say they’re neither optimistic nor pessimistic (they jokingly describe themselves as “accept-imists”), and Always Ascending, which comes out Feb. 9 but is already shaping up to be one of the best albums of 2018, eschews politics for good times and banging beats; it’s their most danceable and electronic effort yet, and it is exactly what the planet needs now.
“There’s always been an electronic element to our songs,” says Kapranos, noting that when Franz Ferdinand started, they were influenced by 99 Records and Liquid Liquid and their peers were indie-dance bands like the Rapture, Radio 4, and Interpol. “And so, we wanted to sort of have that element in there, and we really wanted to make a dance record. Right from the beginning, we’ve wanted to make dance music, but from the perspective from a raw, rock ‘n’ roll band. And so I think with this record, we’ve really taken that as far as we possibly can.”
The slight change in direction can be partially attributed to the band’s recent lineup changes, namely the departure of founding member Nick McCarthy (who wanted to focus on his growing family) and the addition of new members Julian Corrie (also known as solo synthpop artist Miaoux Miaoux) and Dino Bardot (formerly of the powerpop trio 1990s). “We were talking about changing the sound and experimenting with the sound. … I think it becomes an opportunity when you have something like a change in lineup,” explains Kapranos. “You have to ask yourself really fundamental questions, like, ‘Are we going to continue doing this? And if so, how are we going to do it?’ And when you ask yourselves those questions, it really reaffirms things.”
Kapranos and Hardy remain the core of the group and share a strong bond, having worked together in a Glasgow restaurant before Hardy even knew how to play an instrument. (“That was a slight hurdle. Easily surpassed,” Kapranos chuckles.) “Alex got me a job as a dishwasher,” Hardy recalls. “And then we were working in the kitchen together … and we’d just listen to music and talk about music. That’s pretty much all we did, really. That and bringing cassettes to play on the system in the kitchen.”
“And we’d talk about an imaginary band, what we would do if we got a band together and how it would be, and how you would be onstage. And so, before we played any notes, we had a pretty good idea of what a band would be like,” says Kapranos.
Eventually Kapranos inherited a spare bass guitar (“Thank God it wasn’t an oboe!”) from Mick Cooke of fellow Glaswegians Belle and Sebastian. “So that night, I said to Bob, ‘Come ’round to the flat. I’ve got a bottle of whiskey and a bass. Let’s make some music!’ And here we are today.” Adds Hardy, humbly: “The thing about the bass is, I think it’s the instrument you can actually start and get away with, because it’s only got four strings.”
Franz’s star ascended (no pun intended quickly after that) — incredibly, within two years they were signed to Domino Records and releasing the instant indie classic “Take Me Out.” And almost 15 years later, they’re still ascending, evolving their sound and their subject matter. Hardy says it’s “kind of like being back in the kitchen. But in a different kitchen, talking about, ‘Are we going keep on going?’ We started writing songs [for the new album] not really having a [complete] band. It was almost like an imaginary band, you know, just us.”
“I think if we just started writing and the songs were total stinkers, of course we wouldn’t have continued,” Kapranos confesses. “But fortunately, they’re the best songs we’ve written, so it’s cool.”