April 13, 2006

A Chat With Franz Ferdinand

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Before playing a solid set last Sunday at Barton Hall, Franz Ferdinand’s Nick McCarthy, who plays guitar and organ and sings, sat down with Daze to discuss his music, his city, and the inexplicable success of his band.

Daze: You are by far the biggest celebrity we’ve interviewed, so we’re nervous to be in the presence of rock stars.

Nick McCarthy (Guitars, Vocals, Organ): I’m flattered. We’ve had some time on this campus, and we really really love it. We came in from Camden, and this is a much nicer place. We were wondering why they have signs in our dressing rooms about military garb and how to cut your hair.

Daze: They also house the military groups in here. Watch out, they might come for you next.

NM: Yeah, we’ll be careful [laughs].

Daze: One thing that’s on my mind, Nick, is how four art and music school students go from playing abandoned Glasgow mansions to playing sold-out tours around the world.

NM: [Laughs]. You tell me! You know, we don’t know what happened either. We just played music that we liked, put on parties and people liked it, and a few months later record companies came up to Glasgow to see what we were all about and then we got signed. We put out records, we traveled, travelled, travelled a lot, and now we’re here. You’ve got to play to people.

Daze: So it was just being at the right place at the right time with the right sound?

NM: Yeah, I guess so. You know, we all met my chance. I was there because my girlfriend got into the art school and I’d figure I’d go have a look, since I’ve been in Germany all my life. I only knew them three months before we started getting heard. I just finished studying and I had nothing to lose. I’ve always liked playing in bands, I was hoping to find jazz musicians since I studied jazz bass in school, but the scene was so different.

Daze: What do you think it is about Glasgow that is so conducive to great music?

NM: One thing, it’s really cheap, and that always attracts artists and all sorts of interesting people since you don’t have to work that much. Then there’s all this great industrial space, which all the bands coming from Detroit remind me of. All this empty space and nothing else to do. And a lot of bands come out of the art school. That scene has loads of bands, it’s just an interesting modern school where people talk about new ideas. Bands out of art schools always sound better than music school bands. The parties at music school all the worst their – amazing musicians who have no idea about contemporary music. It’s a total bore. So I found these guys.

Daze: Do you have to actively try to maintain your Glasgow roots where you were kicked out of illegal industrial venues?

NM: Well, you’ve always got to try to keep up your edge. You don’t want to look cheesy, but since it’s the four of us, we stay quite grounded.

Daze: Yeah, man. We still want to dance!

NM: [Laughs] But you do want to progress as well, of course. I don’t want to keep playing the same music.

Daze: How would you describe the progression in your music?

NM: We started off just writing songs. Now it’s a bit darker, a bit less dancable, but a little more like four guys playing music in a room together, working and living it. Now we’re doing big orchestrations, the total other way. We’re using really old cool keyboards. And we worked with horn players in Brazil playing our music, and they were just amazing to record with. Now we’re recording up near Chicago, we’re putting down the band first and then we’re gonna put down lots of layers. We’ve never done that before. We play all the instruments, but it’s more cello, keyboards, flutes, horns, and other effects too. You don’t really hear it too overtly – like the Beatles, it’s all very subtle.

Daze: What do you think about upstate New York?

NM: We’ve never been here before, but we really love it. We went for a walk down Cascadilla Creek to the main part of town, and it was beautiful. People just lounging outside in cafes. Seems like a really lovely place, and the campus is just beautiful up on the hill here. I went to the art museum, saw a few Rembrandts.

Daze: Does having a college audience change things at all?

NM: Well, even that is really different. We were just at Duke, right when those lacrosse players raped that girl, it was really awkward. But overall, it’s been great touring with Death Cab For Cutie

Daze: How do you feel about playing with them?

NM: Well, it’s a really different sound. But that makes it a little festival – their fans are open to us, our fans our open to them. We’re trying to win them over, playing to people who don’t necessarily show up to hear us. There are some guys who never change their mind, but some of them slowly get into it.

Daze: Well, although your tagline is “music that girls can dance to,” the lyrics seem to be really personal sometimes. How do you keep both in perspective?

NM: We like music to work on a lot of levels. We listen to the music first, and then the lyrics. We want it to be catchy, but there’s a lot behind that. When you suddenly realize that the lyrics are really great too, it really takes you. We focus as much on the words as we do on the lyrics – it’s fun to sit around and play with words, too.

Daze: You certainly write about relationships in insightful ways.

NM: Sure, but sometimes somebody comes out with lyrics and we all respond: “Ah, oh no! We can’t say that and still be taken seriously!” [laughs]. The great thing with us is that everyone has their role and we play off each other’s strengths. I’m a little more musical, which here is a dirty word. But Alex is a lot more intuitive. Paul is the most amazing drummer I’ve come across, such a metronome. Bob is the one that keeps us up on all the new music that keeps us thinking.

Daze: Sounds like you’ve found the right people. Oh, it’s been quite an honor talking to you.

(NOTE: Nick then asked us what we were doing after the show and we exchanged numbers. He actually gave us a call later, but being underage meant that we completely missed them at the Royal Palms later that night.)

Archived article by Elliot Singer
Sun Arts and Entertainment Editor and Jonnie Lieberman
Associate Editor