Live Wire: A conference call with Franz Ferdinand

By David Frazier  /  Contributing reporter

Fri, Nov 15, 2013 - Page 11

A decade ago, Franz Ferdinand was still a relatively unknown band stirring the scene around a Glasgow art college and throwing illegal parties in abandoned buildings. They released their first album in 2004, the eponymously-titled Franz Ferdinand. It won them the UK’s top music award, the Mercury Prize, and launched a career that has taken them to the world’s biggest festival stages and a decade of indie rock stardom. On Nov. 29, they will perform in Taiwan for the first time.

This gig comes as part of Franz Ferdinand’s world tour for their fourth album, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, which was released in August. More so than either of the last two records, it sounds like a direct follow up to the first record, and has been both hailed and criticized on that basis. Plying away at the same dance-rock format, the album features a slew of interesting collaborations, including with Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor, Bjorn Yttling from Peter Bjorn & John and DJ Todd Terje.

Last week, in the offices of Sony Music Taiwan, I was patched through to a phone somewhere in Scotland, with Franz Ferdinand drummer Paul Thomson on the other end. This was actually the third attempt to reach him. The first interview had been rescheduled, and on the second attempt, I was left sitting in a Sony Music conference room for an hour with the phone ringing and no one picking up. The call was timed to be late morning in the UK. I couldn’t help wondering where Thomson had been. As it turned out, Halloween went late.

Taipei Times: Could you tell me a little bit about the new album? It has been four years since the last one.

Paul Thomson: Right, I guess there was a period when it was assumed we went away. But we were always working on music. It’s just that we weren’t talking to anybody about it. Now that we’ve released the record, we feel that we were ready to talk about it. Before, there was nothing to talk about.

TT: The album is called Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. Where do the ideas behind that title come from? Confucianism? Scientology?

PT: Oh no. You can nix Scientology for a start. It’s open to interpretation, although it has nothing to do with Scientology, or any religion for that matter. It’s just sort of a positive mantra that happened to be one of the lyrics on the first track on the record. We went through the lyrics looking for a title and felt that summed up the writing and recording process, and how we felt, and where we are as a group, and as individuals.

TT: On the album cover, all the words are inscribed inside arrows. The arrows for Right Thoughts, Right Words and Right Action are pointing one direction, and the arrow for Franz Ferdinand is pointing in the other direction. Is there anything to be read into that?

PT: I guess you could. The arrows are pointing to the right, and we are pointing to the left. I guess that sums up our politics. Or, or maybe although we believe our actions are the right ones, they’re actually the wrong ones.

With this record, the cover concept — Alex wrote it down on a napkin, Spinal Tap style, and I sat with a scalpel and cut all the sheets out and all the letters.

TT: You did it yourself?

PT: Yeah. And the back image as well. We took a photo at the Right Action video shoot of the hands linking. It’s the kind of image that pops up in a lot of political posters. Basically it just symbolizes unity. So I took the photograph, then Xeroxed it about 10 times and then cut it out, and cut the text out as well. It was really good fun to do. I thought the previous record looked a bit too Photoshop, so that’s what I did. I just sat for about two months and cut things out.

TT: It definitely comes across as more personal.

PT: I think the record as a whole is more personal and comes across as the personalities of all four of us.

TT: What songs started you out in the recording?

PT: The first track and the last track, Right Action and Goodbye Lovers and Friends, are the first songs that were written and demoed. Alex, you know, played them to the whole band. But Goodbye Lovers and Friends was the last one we finished, because we had recorded multiple versions of it, then we spliced them all together.

TT: I also want to ask you about one of your early arty projects. In 2004, Franz Ferdinand appeared in a much discussed erotic movie called Nine Songs.

PT: Oh God, yeah.

TT: How did that come about?

PT: The director Michael Winterbottom just said he was making this film and wanted to film one of our concerts. That was it. They just brought this film crew there. We never knew it was about this couple that come to the show, and they go to a bunch of other shows, and they have sex. I have not seen the film, but as far as I know, that’s the premise. They go to a lot of gigs and have sex.

I am not a massive fan of Michael Winterbottom’s films, to be honest. Also, the main actor in Nine Songs [Kieran O’Brien] was also [the title character] on a kids TV show when I was growing up, Gruey. I didn’t want to see Gruey’s [bits and pieces], so I’ll probably pass on that one.

TT: How about the new music videos? For the song Evil Eye, the video uses a bunch of B-movie chop socky horror cliches, and the director, Diane Martel, has also done videos for Miley Cyrus and other people in the pop side of the industry. How was it working with her?

PT: We did the Do You Want To video with her on the second record and became friends. There were also some personal problems in the band after the third record, and with her being a close friend of the four of us, she kind of intervened and helped us sort out our problems like men. This time, she offered to do a video specifically for that song. So we sat around and she threw a thousand ideas at us, all these little visual gags that you see in the video. And we said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that. Or, no, I’m not doing that.’ But when we were with Diane, we become very suggestible. That’s how I end up in a bathtub full of vomit, because I’m not doing that for anybody else.

■ Franz Ferdinand will perform on Nov. 26 at 8pm at Legacy, 1, Sec 1, Bade Rd, (台北市八德路一段1號). Tickets are NT$3000 or $2600 in advance through www.books.com.tw.