Franz Ferdinand: Creative rewards of taking a break

Franz Ferdinand
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Franz Ferdinand are touring again with a new album and stopping off in Leeds. Duncan Seaman spoke to bass player Bob Hardy.

IT’S a scenario that will be familiar to many bands who’ve managed to sustain a career in the music industry.

At some point in the regular cycle of writing, recording, promoting and touring, the pressures of spending most of your waking hours with the same three or four people will test the bonds of friendship to their limits.

So it was for Franz Ferdinand, the Glasgow-formed indie pop band who, after six years of multi-million-selling, award-winning success, seemed to have hit a wall at the end of globe-trotting their third album, Tonight.

“We were exhausted, I think,” admits Bob Hardy, 
the band’s 33-year-old bass player who was born in Dewsbury and raised in Bradford.

“The previous three albums had run into each other, recording-wise and touring-wise. Living in close confines with a group of people, we needed a break.”

Thus followed a period apart. As Hardy explains: “When you’ve come off the road where you’ve been living in each other’s pockets, you don’t get home and the next day phone up people you’ve been in a band with for the last two or three years.”

He and Alex Kapranos, 
the band’s frontman, might have “seen each other a couple of times at social things” but, Hardy says: “None of us was really hanging out a lot. Alex did some producing, Paul [Thomson] and Nick [McCarthy] were doing musical stuff. We needed our own space.”

The impasse was famously broken by what Kapranos has called the “Orkney summit” where he and Hardy – old friends since their days at Glasgow School of Art a decade earlier – met in 2010.

“We went up there to have a chat about what we wanted to do with the band,” recalls Hardy.

“If we wanted to make a record, how would we do it. We talked about the strengths of the previous records and the weaknesses and if we took it forward how we would do that.

“There’s a lot of things you don’t talk about on the road, you’re concentrating on that day’s gig or what you’re doing in the studio. You don’t talk about the negative things in the middle of something. Out of the band world we could talk about everything – how the band works, people’s roles, who was happy and who was not. We found a way around issues we might have. It sounds very modern but we’re four British blokes, we don’t talk about emotions. There was a 10-year build-up of grievances.”

Their only intention for what turned out to be Franz Ferdinand’s fourth album, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions, was to “make sure it was fun to make – that was the essential thing.

“Make sure the music was good and we had lyrics that thematically the ideas were strong and the performances were strong. The way we sought to do that was having the space within the process to go away and reflect.”

So the band worked in short bursts of two or three songs at a time. “It kept it fresh and we got a chance to get on with our real lives in tandem, as well as Franz Ferdinand, which was something we had struggled to do.”

Most of the album was recorded in Sweden, a place of which the band had happy memories from sessions for their eponymous debut album released in 2004.

“It’s a great country,” says Hardy. “The people have a similar mindset to British people. We went to work with Bjorn Yttling [from the band Peter Bjorn and John]. His circle of friends is very similar socially to our group of friends – musicians and artists. They hang out, drink, have parties. It was nice to find an equivalent scene in Stockholm.”

After the electronic experiments of Tonight, what’s most notable about Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions is that guitars are very much back at the heart of the Franz Ferdinand sound. “There are quite a few synths on this record but they’re not totally in your face,” says Hardy. “They don’t lead the songs.”

Over the course of Franz Ferdinand’s career, he notes, “when the four of us are performing it’s generally for the most part two guitars bass and drums”. The “most extreme example” on this record, Hardy says, is the song Bullet “which has nothing else apart from guitars”.

Indeed the new songs have fitted comfortably into their live shows. “I’ve enjoyed playing them,” says Hardy. “The new songs felt like the highlight of the set for us.

“The crowds have reacted, they seem into it. It’s nice to build a set around new material, mixing it in with things from our previous records. You would not want to go on the road and not play new songs.”

As for his personal highlight of the last ten years, Hardy chooses the show they did with comedian Stewart Lee at Edinburgh Festival in 2010.

“It was two days after my 30th birthday and we were Stewart Lee’s backing band,” he fondly recalls. “We’re massive fans of his. I grew up listening to his radio shows with Richard Herring. He asked us to play at his book launch. It was pretty surreal for me personally. We had a great time.”

This year is mapped out with tours of the UK (including Leeds), Europe and the USA, with some festival dates soon to be announced. “We’re busy until the autumn,” says Hardy, “But we’ve got a couple of weeks off in between. We’ve agreed to work on new stuff in our downtime. It should be a good year.

“We’re excited to do a UK tour – we’ve not done one for a while,” he adds, “and it’ll be good to be back in Yorkshire.”

March 26, O2 Academy Leeds, Cookridge Street, Leeds, 6.30pm, £22.50. www.ticketweb.co.uk