hmv.com talks to... - March 11, 2022

"I’ve always been fond of a Greatest Hits, I think it’s a good thing for a band to do..." - hmv.com talks to Franz Ferdinand
by James
James
by James hmv London, Bio "Like the legend of the Phoenix, I've just eaten a whole packet of chocolate HobNobs..." Editor, hmv.com

"I’ve always been fond of a Greatest Hits, I think it’s a good thing for a band to do..." - hmv.com talks to Franz Ferdinand

Since the arrival of the eponymous debut album in 2004, Glasgow's arch indie-rock outfit Franz Ferdinand have delivered five studio albums, a couple of live LPs and an album of remixes, as well as a collaboration with eccentric pop duo Sparks under the name FFS and a contribution to the Late Night Tales series of compilations.

What they haven't done, up until now, is release a Greatest Hits abum, but that changes this week as the band unleash their first ever 'best of' compilation Hits to the Head, which arrives in stores this week and compiles 20 of the finest tunes todate, as well as a couple of brand new songs for good measure.

Ahead of its release we caught up with the band's frontman Alex Kapranos for a chat about combing through their back catalogue, their touring plans and what we can expect from Franz Ferdinand in the near future...

 

So this will be your first ‘Greatest Hits’ record – why did you decide that now was the time? Obviously the last couple of years have been reflective ones for a lot of people, did that contribute to the decision to do it now?

“We’d actually decided to do it before the first lockdown, before the pandemic, we’ve been talking about it for while, we knew we’d have to do one at some point. And I’ve always been fond of a Greatest Hits, I think it’s a good thing for a band to do, like a retrospective. I’ve always thought if it from the context of vinyl, particularly, and even more so nowadays, in the age often playlist I think it sort of forces me more into vinyl. So from that perspective, if you’re doing a double LP then really you’ve got a limit of about 20 songs that you can get on there before you start losing quality. And with two new songs as well, we were going to have to leave too many off if we didn’t do it now, so it seemed like the best time to do it. But it feels nice to be sticking out there. No we can start working on Volume 2...”

 

Not sure if you’re joking there or not…

“I’m saying it as a joke but I’m also kind of not joking either. The point of doing something something like this is understanding the past so that you can see where you are in the present and move into the future. Like most artists, I guess, that’s how I feel, I’m moving forward. So I’m kind of joking about starting Volume 2, but I’m serious as well, because although I’m talking about this Greatest Hits record where my head is at is the new material, the new songs I’m writing and what we’re going to do next.”

 

How did you find the experience of going back through your catalogue – are you someone who enjoys listening to your own music?

“Does anybody enjoy listening to their own music?! I haven’t even met a musician who would sit and listen to their own music for pleasure. The pleasure comes in the writing and recording, the making of it and also of course the performing of it as well. But to listen back to to your own recordings seems a little bit perverse to me. I do know there are some gargantuan egos out there in the world though, so maybe there are a couple, I don’t know!

“In a way, I think it’s probably the first time I’ve listened back to a lot of those songs since we recorded them. I mean I’d have listened to them all while we were putting each record together for mastering, for EQ and balancing and all of that stuff. I don’t like looking at the past, so I was a bit trepidatious about it, but I ended up really enjoying it. I enjoyed listening back to all the old songs, it brought back a lot of good memories about the writing and the recording of them. It put me in a good mood, and I think as a whole it’s a really good record. Which is fortunate.”

 

You’ve been around a while now, there must be songs that drop out of the set list and never really make it back, were there any songs that you sort of rediscovered or reappraised as a result of doing this?

“You’re right, there are songs that dip in and out of the set list, but the way that we approached this was to include all the bangers that you’d always want to play, some definitely more than others. There’s a song on there called ‘Lucid Dreams’, for example, which was never really a big hit and wasn’t even a proper single when we released it, I don’t think. We’d stopped playing it for a while actually, but then when we were touring – in 2017 or 2018, I think it was – we did a gig in Vancouver and there was this guy in the audience who just kept shouting ‘PLAY LUCID DREAMS’ in between every song. And we couldn’t play it! This guy was absolutely distraught. So we went back and rediscovered that song then and started playing it live again. So yeah, maybe there are a couple of others we should have put in. F*** it, it’s done now.


Did you set any criteria for selecting which songs to include on the album, beyond the obvious hits?

“Yes, the criteria for me was: Do I like them? Would I play them in the headline set at a festival? They were my two main criteria, it was that simple, really.”

 

Who gets to have final say? Is Franz Ferdinand a democracy or a dictatorship?

“All bands function under the façade of democracy, but they’re really all dictatorships. Everyone knows that.”

 

Have you done any remixing or remastering of the old songs in the process of all this?

“Generally we tried not to f*** with it as much as possible. It was tempting. The were songs I did think about doing that with. One was ‘Outside’, because there have been so many different versions of that song throughout the years, and also ‘Ulysses’, because I’ve always thought that the live version of that song sounds so much heavier than the recording. But those recordings are documents of the time, I guess. Maybe I should just put out the live version of ‘Ulysses’, actually. That’s a good idea.”

But what we did do was mastering. Different records are mastered to different levels of loudness and compression and EQ, so it was just a case of making the songs all sound like they were on the same record. I’m sometimes a bit disappointed with remastered albums, actually. I remember when they did that with [The Stooges album] Raw Power and it was just so loud and over-compressed, I felt it lost some of the dynamic range that made it good in the first place. I’m quite anti the whole loudness thing in records, in mastering. I prefer a bit of headspace, and if I want something loud I’ll just turn it up on my hi-fi or my headphones. I don’t want it to be turned up before I do the turning up, if you know what I mean.”

 

Is mastering something you get quite hands-on with?

“I’m really hands-on with every step of the process. I think we’ve always been like that as a band, it’s a complete project, it’s not just standing on a stage and posing. It’s every step of it from the lived experience that you write about, to the artwork, to every letter of the lyric, the typeset you use or the compressor you use on a snare drum. It’s all your thing, it’s what gives you your identity, and I think if you sort of pass over bits of that and give it to someone else then it becomes someone else’s identity. Collectively it has to come from you.

“I’m not saying I do the mastering myself, by the way, I’m just there going to the engineer ‘Don’t over-compress it!’ And I wouldn’t mix a record by myself either, but I’ll be very much there explaining that we’re going for this sort of thing, or that the key to the hook in this song is in the hi-hat, or in that funny little keyboard thing that you’re probably thinking of taking out, or whatever. It’s just about understanding what it is that you want to get out there and not compromising on that. I’m not a mastering engineer and you want to get somebody who does that stuff every day and is really good at it.”


We see you’ve been doing some extra-curricular production work as well with RM Hubbert – is that something you’d like to expand on and do more of?

“Yeah, I really do. Ah, I’m glad you know about RM Hubbert! Yeah, I have done stuff over the years, I did The Cribs record and more recently actually with Los Bitchos. I loved working with that band, they were so inventive and we had a lot of fun putting that record together. I went to see them play at The Scala the other night and it was great to see how people were going crazy and really loving that record.

“It’s a very different kind of artistic satisfaction that you get, I guess it’s like being a director compared to being an actor. You’re a bit more behind the scenes and it’s a bit like you’re playing the characters as instruments rather than playing the instruments themselves. So much of it is about bringing something out of a person that they maybe wouldn’t normally do if you weren’t there. That’s what I feel the best producers who have worked on our records have been like. When we worked with Philippe Zdar on the last record, he was like that. All the technical stuff, that’s like knowing how to spell if you’re going to write a novel, it’s kind of irrelevant. The real art is bringing those performances out of people and I really enjoy that.”


You’ve included a couple of new songs on the album too – are these brand new or unreleased tracks that have been around for a while? At what point did they come along?

“They were both written during lockdown. I was writing a whole bunch of songs and we chose the two that we thought fitted on the record best at that time. We recorded them at my studio in Scotland. When I was listening back to the whole thing recently I thought ‘Yeah, they really do belong there’. If you play ‘Billy Goodbye’ next to ‘Darts of Pleasure’ they really do feel like they come from the same band, despite being made 18 years apart or whatever it is.

“So yeah they’re new, and I’ve never written specifically for anything so they weren’t written for this record as such, but no they weren’t things that were just hanging about for ages.”

 

What about more Franz Ferdinand albums, is that something we can expect in the near future?

“Yeah, we have been writing a lot and we’ve recorded a fair bit as well. It’s funny, I was talking to Lawrence from Domino yesterday about releases and there’s apparently a nine-month backlog for vinyl now, it’s so massive. Part of me thinks I should just retire and open up a record pressing plant, but I’m a sh*t businessman so that wouldn’t be a very good idea. But if there are any businesspeople paying attention to this, that’s what you should do. Open a pressing plant. That’s what this country needs.”


You’ve done a few other bits with Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai and stuff like that, any other side projects on the horizon?

“I’ve really enjoyed that, we’ve done various collaborations over the years like with Sparks, Jane Birkin, Debbie Harry, ESG. Now I think back, maybe there’s another record to be made out of all of that stuff. Those sort of things never get big releases but some of them are really interesting. 

"But at the moment, now is the time to make another record. The band feels really like its firing well and I’m very excited to that. Maybe when we’ve put some of this new stuff out well look into that. Although I did really enjoy the thing with Clara Luciani, so something else like that could be cool as well.”

 

So you have a Hits to the Head tour coming up, where is that going to take you? Anywhere new or any shows you’re particularly looking forward to?

“It’s funny, because it’s a while now since we’ve been able to play anywhere due to the pandemic, but playing in the UK is going to be great. We’re playing the Ally Pally and the Hydro in Glasgow and I’m really looking forward to those shows, because it’s been so long since we played in the UK it’s almost got a sort of exotic air about it now! But we’re also going to Mexico, New York, Berlin and Paris as well, and I can’t say I’m not looking forward to those gigs either because I am. Just getting away and getting on the road again as well, that’s really exciting.”

“It’s tragic that we’ve had to cancel the shows in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the whole of that situation feels like such a tragedy. On our last tour we did pay in Kyiv and in Odessa, so seeing the imagery of the destruction there is very upsetting. It does make you think and consider the things that you’re doing in these places that you’re going to, you do wonder if these places are going to even be there next time. F***ed up times.”

 

 

Hits to the Head is available in hmv stores now - you can also find it here in our online store.

 

More Articles

View All