Franz Ferdinand is back and feeling better than ever.
The Glasgow, Scotland-based band recently released its excellent fifth album, Always Ascending, five years after Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, not counting the detour album, FFS, with ’80s synth cult heroes Sparks in 2015. Now a five-piece after losing founding guitarist Nick McCarthy (so he could stay at home and raise his kids), new guitarist Dino Bardot and guitarist/keyboard player Julian Corrie has reinvigorated the band, known for combining post-punk, Brit-pop, and disco into catchy earworms and a tight, electrifying live show.
Instead of going on extending hiatus following the touring cycle for Right Thoughts..., the band took some time off to record the new album and assimilate their new bandmates. The new-energy Bardot and Corrie brought new purpose and life to an act that has made a career on producing fast-paced, hook-filled alternative radio hits.
Quickly anointed by the U.K. press as the newest saviors of guitar rock in the early-aughts, the band shot up the charts on the strength of a series of subperb singles and innovative videos — the most popular being “Take Me Out,” which still receives airplay on modern rock stations in the U.S. and indie-dance nights everywhere. A sign of the zeitgeist, their debut, self-titled album won the acclaimed Mercury Music Prize in 2004, given to the best U.K. album, beating out Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone, and Snow Patrol, and joining luminaries PJ Harvey, Poritshead, and Pulp as victors.
And while many guitar-based bands of the mid-aughts have fallen into the annals of music history, Franz Ferdinand has carved out a respectable career, putting out five good-to-great albums that still incite audiences into a frenzy on an upbeat danceable rhythm, expert songcraft, and witty lyrics by lead singer Alex Kapranos.
Where many U.K. bands prefer to stay close to home, touring easier-to-access European cities and festivals, part of Franz’s success came in not shying away from the U.S., where they still pack mid-sized concert halls and theaters. The group will swing through Texas next week, with stops in Dallas on May 7 at House of Blues, Houston on May 8 at White Oak Music Hall, and in Austin on May 9 at Emo’s.
CultureMap caught up with Franz bassist Bob Hardy while on a tour stop in Milwaukee to discuss the new album, the new line-up, and rediscovering the fun of being on the road.
CultureMap: How is touring different now from back in the day?
Bob Hardy: When you’ve been to places for the first time, you get that kind of buzz. Like going to Austin for the first time, it was incredible. When you’ve been to Austin a few times, you are happy to be there but its more geared towards the performance.
CM: What is the difference between playing the U.K. or Europe compared to U.S. audiences?
BH: This is such a big country, it’s like you’re touring a continent. You can go from town to town and people have driven three hours from surrounding areas to see you. It feels very special. There are people there who want to come and watch you play. It reminds me of when I was a teenager when bands from America would come to the U.K. and it felt like such a special thing that they had come so far to play there. It felt so magical. I quite like that it’s like that with us, that we have come from Scotland. It seems exotic.
CM: What’s it like to tour this country in such strange times politically?
BH: The people we meet aren’t any different from when we were here under George W. Bush or Obama or Trump. The people are all cool. But I like being here and see it all happen at the time that it’s happening. In the U.K., news starts getting into gear around mid-day and here, it happens as soon as you wake up.
CM: You’re touring behind your fifth album. What does your setlist look like these days?
BH: It’s a mixture of all five of the band’s records. We still play hits from the first record and the previous ones and eight or nine from the latest record. We kind of mix it up. One of the nice things about touring a lot is you have a way to throw in more obscure songs, so it keeps it fresh. And those who go see the band, they often request specific songs, and it’s nice to have those requests and put them into a setlist.
CM: The new album is a bit of a departure — you were always a danceable band in the past, but it seems like you really embraced synths and electronic sounds on this album. Was that a conscious decision?
BH: There’s always been synthesizers on Franz Ferdinand records, even back to our first single. This time around, we were chatting about the direction we wanted to take and we’ve always seen ourselves as being a live band that plays dance music, those dynamics and sonics. We thought we’d push that more this time. In the past, we hadn’t given ourselves a lot of time, but this time we gave ourselves 12 months in the studio, messing around with synths and other sounds.
CM: Does the new line-up add anything to the live show?
BH: Often in the studio, there will be extra sounds or guitar parts that when we came round to doing a live show, we couldn’t play them. When we were rehearsing for these shows, we were able to take old recordings and add keyboard lines and guitar lines back into the live show. On the new material, it's just having a broader palette and what you’re capable of on-stage, it adds a lot to the sonics of a show like this.
Personality-wise, having five members is fresh to us. Getting on with touring as a five-piece and coming to new places as a five-piece, in a way it feels like you’re coming there for the first time and introducing the crowd to the new line-up. Julian had done a little touring, but not outside the U.K., so it’s exciting to go to new places like Texas because there’s modular synth shops in Austin and things like that. It’s nice, it feels fresh.
CM: What do you miss about home when you’re in the middle of a long North American tour?
BH: I miss my dog and making my own food and doing dishes. It’s a big part of being home, so it’s something you don’t get a chance to do when you’re on the road. And, my friends from home that you don’t see for a while. Of course, with the internet, I talk to them as much as I do as when I’m home.
Franz Ferdinand performs in Dallas on Monday, May 7 at House of Blues; Houston on Tuesday, May 8 at White Oak Music Hall; and Austin on Wednesday, May 9 at Emo's. Indie-rock band Priests will open. Tickets are available on the Franz Ferdinand website.