Even if Franz Ferdinand never make it as big as many people expect, they’ve already accomplished what they set out to do.
They got people to dance.
What makes that impressive is that the Scottish rock band was able to do it in the seen-it-all-before, stand-there-with-your-arms-crossed, jaded-audience capital of the world: Los Angeles.
“People said to us after the Troubadour show, ‘All these hipsters out here, they don’t dance, and they were dancing at your gig!’ ” singer Alex Kapranos recalled fondly. “It’s the same in Glasgow, and that’s part of the reason we wanted to get a band together.
“We’d go to shows and you’d see all the hipsters standing there with their arms folded, stroking their chins or whatever,” he continued. “Yet after the gig you’d go to a club and the same guys who went to the gig would be in the club and they would dance and there’d be girls there, and we thought, ‘We’re going to have to address this.’ ”
And they did, but it wasn’t as simple as just rounding up some friends and saying, “Let’s start a band.” The birth of Franz Ferdinand would come about through a series of chance encounters and fortunate twists of fate:
- Kapranos’ friend Mick Cooke of Glaswegian twee-pop band Belle & Sebastian thrust a bass guitar upon him and told him to “do something useful with it,” so Kapranos gave it to friend Bob Hardy and taught him how to play.
- One night when Kapranos and Hardy were at a house party, a stranger started drinking the vodka Kapranos had brought. A heated fistfight broke out that calmed down only when Kapranos asked the bottle-bogarting brawler, “You don’t happen to play drums, do you?” Nick McCarthy lied and said yes. Later he would be moved to guitar — which he actually knows how to play.
- After renting out a warehouse for rehearsal and christening it the Chateau, the band started throwing huge parties and quickly established a reputation throughout the Scottish scene. When neighbors had the place shut down, the group’s momentum was at stake, but as fate would have it, Kapranos happened to run into someone who knew about an abandoned jail. Even bigger parties ensued.
- While having a drink at a London pub on tour, Franz Ferdinand stumbled upon a key ingredient necessary to move from party band to recording act. A stranger they’d struck up a conversation with turned out to be producer Tore Johansson (Cardigans, Tom Jones). He would convince them to come to Sweden with him and let him record their debut album.
The resulting self-titled LP draws on influences like Gang of Four and the Pixies while throwing in dashes of Merseybeat and funk blues. Unlike many modern dance-rock bands, Franz Ferdinand create ass-shakin’ music without the electronic crutch of drum machines and synthesizers.
“808s and sequencers … that’s not what makes dance music powerful,” Kapranos insisted, his voice rising in frustration as he contemplated bands that require far too many power strips. “It’s the dynamics of dance music, it’s the power, it’s the arrangement. It’s basically the human thought that goes on behind the music, not the machines that make the music. … It’s being brave enough to be radical in your arrangements and radical in your approach to everything that you do.”
And sometimes that means writing a song that sounds like two different tracks smashed together. The band’s first U.S. single, “Take Me Out,” starts off as a relatively mellow romantic plea before devolving into a pounding stomp about a minute later. The jerky rhythm slows and then bursts into a funky, head-bobbing groove that frames the bright, sing-along dancefloor number that follows.
“When we were writing the song, what is now the beginning section of the song was supposed to be the verse, and what’s the second part of the song, the basis of it was supposed to be the chorus,” Kapranos explained. “But we found that … if we played the chorus at the right speed, the verse sounded too slow, and if you played the verse at the right speed, then vice versa. So … instead of playing them both together at the same speed, we just separated the two bits.”
The Franz Frankenstein approach seems to have worked — the song is quickly climbing the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart and Radio & Records‘ Alternative Chart. But no matter how well the band does on the radio or with critics, Kapranos insists it would mean nothing to him and his mates if people weren’t responding to the music physically.
“The most important thing music can do is move you primally,” he said. “The whole point of music is for some human beings to provoke a reaction in other human beings, and as long as you remember that, I don’t think you can go wrong.”
Franz Ferdinand tour dates, according to their publicist:
- 6/4 – San Francisco, CA @ Grand Ballroom
- 6/5 – Hollywood, CA @ The Avalon
- 6/8 – Seattle, WA @ Showbox
- 6/9 – Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater
- 6/11 – Minneapolis, MN @ Fine Line Music Cafe
- 6/12 – Chicago, IL @ Metro/ Smart Bar
- 6/13 – Detroit, MI @ Majestic Theater
- 6/14 – Toronto, ON @ Phoenix Concert Theatre
- 6/16 – Boston, MA @ Avalon
- 6/17 – New York, NY @ Webster Hall
- 6/18 – Brooklyn, NY @ Volume
- 6/19 – Philadelphia, PA @ Making Time/ Shampoo
- 6/20 – Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
- 6/22 – Atlanta, GA @ Cotton Club