Franz Ferdinand's Paul Thomson: Four-on-the-floor is never going to die
With retro-tinged singles like "Take Me Out," Franz Ferdinand got the indie kids dancing 10 years ago. After winning the Mercury Prize for their self-titled debut, the Glaswegian quartet quickly capitalized with the underrated You Could Have It So Much Better, and toured relentlessly. But their last two albums signaled a retreat, and a four-year gap led to their new full-length, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. The new material recalls the pulsing, rhythmic sounds of their early work, while also reflecting a more modern flair.
Ahead of their show at the Skyway Theatre tonight, Gimme Noise spoke with drummer Paul Thomson. Thomson detailed the recording sessions for the new album, how his DJ experience affects his approach to the rhythm of their songs, and his fanciful memories of playing an undersold Target Center early in the band's career.
Gimme Noise: After releasing your first two albums in rapid succession, you took four years in between each of your last two records. What was the motivation behind slowing things down so drastically?
Paul Thomson: It seemed like most of that time we were on tour, and the world is quite large. And after touring, we needed a break, so we took some time off before we started writing again. But we took some time off so we could actually have some sort of normal life experiences to draw from, instead of living this artificial existence on the road all the time. We're even getting to that stage now -- it becomes mind numbing after a while. You need to get home for a bit and see your friends and stuff like that.
The new album was recorded at Alex's studio in Scotland and Nick's London studio -- what were the sessions like, and did the change in location affect the tone and tenor of the songs in any way?
Not so much --mainly it was our working practices being different that kind of affected the songs, because we'd only play and record for four days or so at a time and then take a week off. You don't want to overwork things, because we've been doing it for long enough now that we know where our limits lie. We know when we're getting to the point of diminishing returns. It's good to work on something and then leave it be for a little while, instead of overworking it. And also just knowing when something is finished as well, and to stop tinkering with it. Like the third record was kind of blighted by endless tinkering.
How did having such tremendous success straight away affect the band initially, and did that swelling spotlight ever prove to be difficult for you to handle?
I guess people start treating you differently -- people that you've never met before treat you differently, which is weird. I never quite get used to that. Just meeting people that know your name and you don't know theirs -- you've never met them before, but they know who you are, it's just a really weird thing to deal with. So there's a lot of that.
But at least you can get some free pints out of the deal I suppose, yeah?
Oh yeah [laughs]. But when the four of us are just making music together, and there's just the four of us in a room then none of that ever factors into it. It doesn't make any difference, because there's no one else there. We might have changed as human beings as we've grown up a bit, but we're still the same with each other. We're probably better now.
When you guys were coming up, how did the flourishing Glaswegian music scene influence or inform the band's sound and your approach to the industry?
Well, it was more in terms of attitude, really. In Glasgow's indie music scene, people just kind of tended to do it for themselves. And when we started out, we were doing it for ourselves because there wasn't anybody else there. I think I might have given a demo to a friend of mine whose band was based in London, and he passed it on to their manager, who now manages us. And it all really started to go off from there, really. But we still have this Glasgow sensibility about us, where we like being removed from London in terms of the music we make.
How does your lengthy DJ experience affect your approach to providing the rhythm to Franz Ferdinand's songs?
I guess since I DJ a lot of house and stuff like that, and four albums in and we're still doing four-on-the-floor, mid-tempo music. But you know, four-on-the-floor is never going to die.
Thank God for that.
There is a distinctive, elegant artiness that is present on all of your album covers -- and even extends to your videos as well. What are the band's aims within that stylish sense of graphic design on your sleeves and your fashionable videos?
It's just a reflection of the stuff that we're into. It's more than just music that influences us. Just like most people, really -- I don't think there's anybody that just listens to music and doesn't appreciate other art forms. And when you finally get the opportunity to share what you do with a wider audience, it's all part of the fun that you get to create your visual identity as well, be it your videos or your album sleeves.
This album sleeve, most of it I kind of put together by hand. I spent a week cutting things out with a scalpel, and to me, doing that was as rewarding as making the music.
Have you always been that hands on with the album sleeve design?
No, it was more me this time around. I've never been as involved in the past, apart from just discussing things with the band. In the past it's been Bob and Alex who have done the sleeves mainly. And we've worked with a graphic designer that we've been with since the start named Matt Cooper, who's a really talented guy.
So, what does the title of the new record mean to you, personally?
What does it mean to me? As much as it means to you [laughs]. It's always a trip to hear what different people's interpretations of it is. The actual origin of it, and kind of where it came from, is out there and people have worked it out. But there's no right or wrong answer, really. And I think that goes for most of the lyrics of the record as well. The themes are sort of fairly broad, and I think anybody can relate to them, really.
Were you ever worried that the title was a bit too wordy for the record label folks?
I thought it was quite snappy, really! It sounds like a good advertising slogan.
You guys have now been in Franz Ferdinand for over 10 years now. How do you look back on all those years together, and what do you envision for the band going forward?
I think we're all sort of focused on the band going forward, really. We're not particularly nostalgic. We just want to keep making music and keep shaking things up a bit and progress musically. We're already sort of focused on what the next record is going to sound like, or at least what the next release is going to sound like. We feel like we're back on track a little bit.
We're all feeling a bit frazzled with all of the promos we've been doing in the last couple of months. You feel a bit winded talking about yourself non-stop, endlessly day after day. I can barely even remember making the last record now, I can just remember the last time that I spoke about it -- which was like yesterday.
I know everyone here in Minneapolis are all really excited to see you guys again. You've really played some memorable shows here over the years -- have you developed an affinity for the city in your times here?
I actually asked for this phoner by name, because I'm down with Minneapolis. You've got lots of stuff going on there, and we all look forward to playing there. One time we played in a venue there that was far too big for us [Target Center in 2005], and it was totally oversubscribed and they put these big drapes over the seats that hadn't sold -- this was a tour for our second record. And we went to this vintage bike shop -- I can't remember which one it was now --and we all bought a bunch of bikes. I can remember being on the top floor of this venue doing laps in tandem with Bob, and it was really good fun. So I've got really fond memories of that.
I remember that show. It's actually where our basketball team plays.
I thought it was a sports hall, yeah. It was a real fuck up by our agent, because he had booked this big U.S. tour before we finished making the record -- we were still mixing the second record -- so, by the time we were playing these enormous venues the record hadn't come out yet. So, the turnout was pretty poor for some of the shows being the size that they were. That wasn't their fault, that was our agent's fault.
I remember there being a crazy lightning storm that night as well.
Yeah, yeah there was. I love the weather that you get up in the Midwest, with the electrical storms and stuff like that. It's quite exciting, because we don't get weather as dramatic as that.
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