One minute you’re scaling a wall constructed of interlinked 10-speed bicycles. The next, you’re inside an ostentatious art gallery with three of your best friends, crashing what might be the most pompous soirée the world’s ever known.
After dragging a svelte, nude woman drenched in black paint across a mammoth canvas, you find yourself surrounded by an assortment of freakish eccentrics: stale gents with wandering eyes magnified by thick monocles, withered women donning rejected runway fashions and disapproving scowls, chesty models with vacuous, cocaine-addled stares, rotund effeminate men in leather jumpsuits with dainty scarves concealing sweat-drenched tufts of chest hair, and that strange blond dude from “Gummo.” You’re throwing glasses brimming with champagne to the ground and jars teeming with pastel-colored narcotics against the wall when, all of a sudden, a man in a designer suit shows up soaked in flame.
No, you’re not trapped in Luis Buñuel’s nightmare; you’re at New York’s Skylight Studios, on the set of Franz Ferdinand’s video for “Do You Want To.”
Sure, the Scottish rockers have been here since 7 a.m., working on three hours of solid shuteye. And yes, they’ll be here well into the wee hours of the morning, with director Diane Martel (Nas’ “Bridging the Gap,” the Bravery’s “Fearless”) barking orders at them all the while. But frontman Alex Kapranos cannot tell a lie: He’s got the greatest job ever, and he knows it.
“You get to throw drinks about and break stuff and set guys on fire,” he said, smiling devilishly. “Lighting a man on fire’s been a dream of ours for a long time that we finally realized today. So, it’s been quite a good day.”
Being a rock star also means you’re free to change your mind from time to time if the need arises. For example, you can name your forthcoming second disc, even if you’d vowed not to — a promise you had made years ago, soon after forming this rock band of yours. That’s just what Kapranos and the rest of Franz did last week during a casual band meeting.
“We were sitting around, putting together the running order for all the songs on the album, and one of us said, ‘Ah, it’s a shame we didn’t give the album a title,’ ” Kapranos said; Franz had wanted this second album, set to hit stores October 4, to remain eponymous, just like the band’s debut disc. “And we thought, ‘Well, we haven’t released it yet. Why not give it [a] title?’ So, that’s what we did. The album has got a title now, which is You Could Have It So Much Better … With Franz Ferdinand. We changed our minds. We’re allowed to do whatever the f— we want when we want.”
Kapranos said the disc will feature 13 tracks, including “Outsiders,” “Walk Away,” “The Fallen,” “Evil and a Heathen,” “Fade Together,” “This Boy” and “I’m Your Villain.” “Eleanor, Put Your Boots Back On” — buzzed about as a presumed reference to the frontman’s girlfriend, Eleanor Friedberger of the Fiery Furnaces (see “Fiery Furnaces Make LP With Grandma — And Get Lauded In Song By Franz Ferdinand?” ) — will also appear on the album. And the LP’s first single, “Do You Want To,” is the reason they’ve spent all day in this Manhattan studio.
With tape rolling, Kapranos dances rigidly in front of the camera as a gaggle of partygoers behind him drink ginger ale from champagne glasses and down sweets. A woman with Dolly Parton-esque cleavage, a miniscule denim skirt and a cowboy hat holds a tray of edibles, from which drummer Paul Thomson picks a few snacks that he takes small bites of before chucking them behind his back recklessly. Bassist Bob Hardy and guitarist Nick McCarthy snatch glasses of faux bubbly out of the hands of elderly women and hurl the glasses towards the ceiling.
Franz Ferdinand, all wearing black jeans, black and red striped shirts, and white and black leather jackets adorned with traditional Japanese art, said both the song and the video were inspired by a social gathering they’d been invited to in Glasgow, Scotland, this past December.
“This party was at an art gallery, and the night was pretty much exactly like what’s happening in the video, scene for scene,” Kapranos said. “We all sat down together one night and wrote down everything we could remember from that night, so what you’ll see in the video is a recreation of that special night.”
Except for the part in the video where a guy is set on fire and then violently shakes hands with a mannequin. That, the singer explained, is the band’s homage to a certain other U.K. act’s classic album, Wish You Were Here.
“Pink Floyd were always sort of the enemy for a band like us,” Kapranos explained. “They always seemed to be the pompous prog rockers. But Rich Costey [who produced You Could Have It So Much Better] played us a bit of their stuff while we were recording, and they’ve got some pretty good tunes. I got into it. I managed to sort of discard all of my prejudice about them and dig it.”
Franz invited more than 50 fans to serve as extras during one of the video’s closing scenes: Kapranos leads the group in a tight, synchronized march through a hallway imbued with orange light. All hold their hands out in front of them with their index fingers pointed out and their thumb extended up, like a flesh gun.
Kapranos loves the camera, and the camera loves him. His eyebrows constantly flutter up and down as he mouths the chorus of the song (“Well do ya, do ya, do ya wanna/ Well do ya, do ya, do ya, do ya wanna, wanna go”), full of swagger and attitude, doing his best Mick Jagger impression. Meanwhile, Thomson peels away a letter from the word “count,” which is duct-taped to the makeshift gallery’s wall, laughing naughtily to himself at the four-letter word he’s left behind. Martel’s eyes light up, and she starts to giggle at the spectacle.
“Diane’s got such a positive attitude, and we came up with loads of ridiculous ideas, like setting a guy on fire,” Kapranos said of the video’s director. “Most directors would turn around and say, ‘No, that’s a stupid idea. We can’t do it.’ Diane said, ‘Yeah, how can we make that happen.’ It’s been a once in a lifetime experience.”
Between scenes, the band asked to clear up some rumors, including rumblings that drummer Thomson played guitar on some of You Could Have It So Much Better‘s tracks. While the kitman is a proficient guitarist, he didn’t get to display his skills on the LP; Kapranos said Thomson might strap on a guitar for certain songs during Franz’s live sets starting this September, when the band hits the road for a North American tour (see Franz Ferdinand Announce Fall Tour Dates” ). If he does, Franz drum tech Andy Knowles, who also gigs with the Fiery Furnaces, will take his place.
“He didn’t play a single note of guitar [on the album]” the singer said of Thomson. “I don’t know who starts these rumors, but you get these things going about. We were talking about getting Paul to play some guitar live, and I think that would be a really great idea. But we don’t know that for certain yet.”
Franz Ferdinand did spill the beans about the behind-the-scenes role Thomson played in the making of the “Do You Want To” video: choreographer.
“Paul’s been working on all of the choreography,” Kapranos revealed. “He’s the secret dance weapon of the band. When he was a child, he used to be a tap dancer. He was even in a West End production of ‘Oliver,’ and played the Artful Dodger. I wish I could have seen that. He gets really embarrassed about this because he thinks it’s uncool, but I think it’s really cool. We did the video for ‘The Dark at the Matinée’ — he choreographed all the dance moves for that one, and he’s done the same for this video. He likes to pretend it didn’t happen. He’s nice and modest.”