Published Aug 27, 2013After years of endless touring and releasing three full-length albums, Franz Ferdinand took a much-needed year off from each other. Since then, the Scottish four-piece has reconnected, rediscovered their friendship and recorded a new album, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. We spoke to songwriter/guitarist Nick McCarthy about the time he spent apart from the band, getting back together to write campfire songs and why he wants to take a hammer to Bjorn Yttling's Swedish studio.
Was there any discussion about a new album when you guys finished touring?
It was open-ended. I think we all kind of fell into a big hole after touring for so long. We had all been partying too hard and played music all the time. We just weren't sure. We never said what we were going to do, but we just wanted to stay at home. It was important to stay in one place for a little while. I think I spent at least half a year lying in bed! So we took a year off, I had a kid and we all did some other music and produced other records.
How was it to go off and do your own musical things?
It was great; we kind of do other stuff on the side anyway, when we get a chance. But then we kind of realized that we had a pretty good band. Like, we had some really special chemistry and it's not often where you can put four people in a room and it just works.
When did you decide to start writing music again?
I think about a year after the tour. I moved from Glasgow to London because I couldn't deal with the weather anymore, my bones were freezing. But [lead singer Alex Kapranos] started spending quite a bit of time down there as well, and then we just looked at each other and thought, "Let's give it a go."
How was it when you got back together to write music?
After a year off, we wrote a bunch of songs and after a month, we decided to record them. So we went into a studio to record and it was terrible! You could hear that we had been hibernating for a while and it sounded like we were singing in armchairs. We had to change, we had to stand up. We just really, really wanted to write some good songs, simple as that.
You toured a bit last year. Were you still writing and recording songs at that point?
Yeah, we wanted to be done with recording by that point, but we weren't finished. It was really good, though, because it woke us up. When you play live, it really brings you together and the energy goes up at least 50 percent. We played a few of those songs live as well, so we got to see how they felt and change things.
Did you approach things differently this time?
On the last album we did a lot of jamming, which was really good, but we'd jam parts and make a song out of it afterwards. This time, we wanted to kind of write the song as acoustic campfire songs, so we can play them acoustically and then arrange them for the band. It kept things focused and it doesn't leave it open-ended. When you have a song, you just organize and arrange the bits and it ends. When you just jam into eternity, it gets really draining and boring.
Did you actually play them around a campfire?
Ha, no! We just went to each other's flats. I have a piano at home and we just played it there or we'd record the ideas on our phones, send it to each other. [We] did that for half a year. If it was a nice day, we'd sit in the park because we were in London, not Glasgow.
Is it really that different between London and Glasgow?
It's unbelievable! I mean, I love Glasgow, but you can't go outside. You get one day of the year where it's really warm, everyone runs out, gets really red and gets really drunk, there's loads of fights, and then it's winter again. London is like the South of France for me, it made me much happier.
I heard that you and Alex came up with the idea for "Right Action" from a postcard. How did that happen?
Yeah, Alex went to a flea market and he got this postcard that looked good on the front, but then he turned it around and, on it, said the lyrics to the song. "Come home, practically all, is nearly forgiven." It's such a weird thing to write, it kind of means don't come home otherwise you'll get into trouble. We thought it was a pretty funny line so we made a few more lines like that. There was an address on the postcard and it turned out to be to this director, Karel Reisz, who we were fans of. So we went to the address and checked it out. We felt like stalkers and, funny enough, there was another fan of Reisz's there, seeing his place. This postcard had a life of its own.
But you pretty much stole this person's words.
Yeah, we need to figure out how to pay him back… the address is in the song!
Are all your songs narratives like this, then, or are there more personal lyrics?
They're stories, really. It's very honest, but it's not describing your inner self. I always find it a bit boring when people sing about themselves too much. It's more like how we feel about the world and stories about people we've met.
How was it to record with Bjorn Yttling (of Peter, Bjorn and John)?
That was the most organized collaboration we did for this album, everything else was just off-the-cuff and quick, but we went to Sweden to record with him in his studio. At one point, he made this remark, "You want to do a new record? So, you want something along the lines of Dr. Feelgood playing Daft Punk songs?" We were like, "Yeah, that sounds really good – let's do that!"
How was his studio space compared to your own (Sausage Studios in London)?
It was unbelievable. I couldn't believe, for such a young guy, that he'd have such a beautiful studio. It was so good that I wanted to break things. Maybe next time we play in Sweden, I'll buy myself a hammer and do that!
Do you feel like there's a change in sound on this record, one that possibly harkens back to your earlier work?
It was slightly weird, this was the first time we felt like purists, as a band. I think the other two records were really good, but they were done while we were on the move. We were still going and never relaxed. Maybe we should do this more often, sit down and stay at home for a bit. That's how we wrote the first one, we all had jobs and were in one place. I think this record was recorded in a similar way as the first. Also, I think this time we felt like we were really good friends again. After a year off, I realized I really liked these guys!
Did you not like them?
Well, after spending every day of my life with them for eight years, it starts to wear thin a bit, just like any relationship. Little things get on your nerves, like the way they'd make a cup of tea or whatever, really stupid stuff. We'd fall out every now and then, but we're back at a point where we can make fun of each other and go out. We want to hang out and it doesn't feel like this big machine that's moving us. When we're touring, there's a lot of people and it's a big thing, which is good when you've got something to say and something to show, but we had pretty much run dry. We needed some inspiration again and it started to get really funny hanging out again. That's what you hear on the record. This record feels like we're inviting everyone along for the ride. If you want to join us, come along!