Incendiary Interview Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand

Anyway I'm shit at crosswords. I just think, so what? They are too insular a pastime for me. I always preferred Scrabble because it's much more social


It had been a very confusing Friday afternoon at Haldern pop festival. In the intervals between the acts we had been sending fraught messages to the band's press officer to set up an interview with Franz Ferdinand. After a lot of texting and counter-texting, we found ourselves in a dingy caravan backstage with Franz singer (and long term Incendiary ally) Alex Kapranos. Despite completing a full day's set of interviews, he seems chirpy enough. If anything, it is your correspondent who feels ill at ease in these surroundings.


IN: Lordy, Alex, I used to live in a caravan like this when I first moved to Holland.


AK: How on earth did you end up in one of these Richard?


IN: Well, after packing in my job in England, I decided to pursue a career as an artist in Holland. I had nowhere to live at first, so I found myself renting a caravan on a site for a while.


AK: It is funny how things work out. I remember when I was touring with Yummy Fur. We had just played this gig in Rotterdam, and the van broke down, completely, on the way to the ferry. We had absolutely nothing between us, no money for the phone even. And we were incredibly lucky that night, because one of the guys in the band remembered he had an uncle who had a welding business somewhere near Rotterdam, so we somehow contacted him and spent the night in his scrap yard. I just remember thinking, things have to get better than this...


However, I'd rather have the opportunity to do what I want regardless of the money. There was also a time after I'd got my degree in information technology where I was working in an office, and my job there was simply to check and file the day's computer print-out. It was very much akin to Sisyphus rolling that stone. Day after day I would do the same thing. And you had to keep telling yourself that there was much more to life. The things that I did outside of your work had to assume the most importance. Like yourself, I don't think that work, regardless of the position you hold in a job, is the most important thing in one's life.  


IN: And now you are in a position that is at the total opposite end of the spectrum to those days. I suppose that leads me onto a question I had in mind for this interview. Do you feel that this whole Franz Ferdinand "phenomenon", with all the attendant razzmatazz is now at odds with your musical ambitions? Is it fair to say that the music has got lost in the furore surrounding you?


AK: Well, no, not really. All the emphasis that is put in articles about us as personalities, what we wear and so on, well, we can't escape this anyway. Because it is still us. And we are the people who create and shape the music. Of course, the music is an important part of our identity. And I would say that there is a great deal of "us" as people in the music. After all this music is about our experiences. Having said that I would hate it if people felt that we created and marketed a product. That is not the aim or the desire of the band at all.


IN: This new album. Has the musical goal altered between this LP and the previous one? 


AK: Well, I have to say that I an really, really happy with the way that the new album has turned out. It is very different in scope than the last one. The subjects of the songs are still about people we know and drawn from direct personal experience. I would also say that the new album is more three dimensional than the last one. We've tried to be more delicate in places, there's a few songs that are just acoustic or piano, you know, like some of the early b-sides we did Richard, then there's other stuff that's much more rocky, the rockiest and most intense material we've ever done. So we definitely feel there's been a progression since the first album. You know, with that first record, we set out to have a band that didn't sound like anything else around at the time, and I feel we achieved that. But we want to progress, we are not interested in standing still. There's no real artistic merit in it. I get really annoyed with artists who stand still once they find something that sells; a good example of that is Roy Lichtenstein. His early pop art is just fantastic, but I feel that he just becomes stale as he keeps repeating the same idea.


Going back to musical artists, the best example of someone who didn't stand still is David Bowie. I'm sure you know those releases from the 1970s as well as I do, that incredible run that lasted almost ten years. There's something like Low, an album that is light years away from something like Ziggy Stardust and they are only five years apart. All those albums are very different, but very good. I don't think we'd want to fall into just repeating ourselves, a good example of that is Roxy Music, after those first three albums, which are so inventive: to get to Avalon, which is so boring...


IN: I take it that this second album syndrome has been on your mind then...


AK: Well, actually, there are lots of examples of great second albums. We've just talked about Roxy Music, and their second album, For Your Pleasure, is just fantastic.


IN: Heaven up Here by Echo and the Bunnymen...


AK: I know that this isn't current orthodoxy, but actually I find the second Oasis album better than the first. The song writing certainly steps up a gear I feel.


IN: I like the first better I have to say Alex.


AK: Well, the first has songs on they had practised and played a while before they were famous, but to write songs of that quality while they were in the midst of all that adulation is an achievement I feel is really good.


A natural pause occurs. Alex, who throughout the interview has been talking with a verve and a passion I haven't seen since I first met him, seems somewhat thrown by my next question.


IN: We are playing this game in our tent, "guess the band name from the cryptic clues". Which artist is otherwise known as "Talking Horse Victorious Joan".


AK: (somewhat baffled) I really don't know Richard. God, what a question.


IN: Do you want to know?


AK: (after a minute with his head in his hands) Well, you are going to tell me anyway I suppose


IN: Edwin Collins.


AK: Really? God, who would have bothered to think that up? Anyway I'm shit at crosswords. I just think, so what? They are too insular a pastime for me. I always preferred Scrabble because it's much more social and thee's also an element of competition. I find that crosswords are, by their nature, too much in love with words for words' sake. And I am afraid I can't see the point in that.


IN: That rather reminds me of one of the characters in Aldous Huxley's Chrome Yellow; Denis. He is in love with words – to his own detriment romantically, so it turns out.


AK: That's precisely it. Have you read Nick Cohn's Wapbabaloobabalapbamboom? Cohn detests pompous and pretentious verse. He contrasts bad lyrics to the Little Richard line throughout as a yardstick, a verse which implies so much and means so little, really.


I wrote a song where the same thing happened, The Fallen. I was trying to write a song about a friend's conversion to Christianity, so it was about quite a complicated subject, and I ended up writing a chorus with "la-la-la" in it. It fitted so well – it sounds stupid to say it but it made sense in that particular context, and it sounded really good! It's very strange...


IN: I suppose that's the eternal quest, balance in music. Is this something that inspires you musically, this idea of balance between the lyrical and musical form of expression?


AK: You know, it's very true when they say that a good riff is worth a thousand words... To me it is both words and music, and it is definitely better if you can combine both successfully. I love direct, emotional music, when it triggers stuff in you. Just listen to Dylan, he's a master of rhythm. If you listen to something like the Ballad of a Thin Man, and take the menace of that song's music, it empowers his lyrics so much. I love Dylan's releases from the mid-sixties, the electric period. I like his earlier stuff, but I find it a bit too similar, a bit too smug at times to be honest. I also quite like John Wesley Harding too...


IN: This all reminds me of Jerry Lee Lewis and Great Balls of Fire, that's my favourite record in the context of this discussion. It is such a brilliantly simple message about love and lust, but I don't think you get better lyrics to describe that particular message than "Kiss me baby/Mmmm feels gooood! Hold me baby/I'd like to love you like a lover should"...


AK: Yeah! Exactly! It's a fantastic record!


There's a knock on the caravan door. Instinctively I jump, remembering that the last time I'd heard such a knock was when I was overdue on my very own caravan's rent. However the knocker this time turns out to be the German record company representative/press co-ordinator/general backstagewhateveritistheydotokeepthewheelsofthemusicindustryturning representative. He is in need of Alex for flesh pressing duties that are far more important than mine. Once the rep. has established that I have precisely two minutes, Alex politely winds up our chat with an ultimatum of sorts. 


AK: I hope you'll be watching us, Richard; we're airing a lot of new songs tonight.


IN: Well, of course, I've really come to see you, plus British Sea Power of course and Kaisers Orchestra.


AK: Ah Sea Power.. (Alex looks through the dirty, plastic window, seemingly in contemplation of the rain-lashed field outside). I wonder how they're doing, I haven't seen those lads in ages. We played football against them once...


This brings to mind an intriguing picture of Britains two foremost art-rock bands kicking a ball around. You could just imagine them wearing 1920s strips too. I wonder if the Sea Power's plastic owl refereed...


Once again there is a knock. Alex compliantly stumbles out of the door, to be met by the rep, and a reeling Bob Hardy, Franz's bassist, whose head has obviously been caned by too much polite enquiry about the state of Franz Ferdinand. It starts to rain again, and I wander to the main stage where Kaiser Chiefs are wrapping up a well-received set in the gloaming. I place a small bet with myself that this rain will miraculously clear in time for the 'Nand's performance. And you know what? It does. The orange carpet is duly hoovered and they perform a brilliant set, full of vim and vigour. No surprises there then. But there again, (as I say to myself) Franz Ferdinand is not a band that leaves these things to chance.


Words: Richard Foster.