Franz Ferdinand singer Alex Kapranos looks pretty sharp for a man who, not 12 hours earlier, was in the middle of a sweaty club gig as part of a barnstorming promo ride for the group’s third album. Drummer Paul Thomson isn’t quite as chipper, although that can be attributed to a metabolism that doesn’t process caffeine quite as efficiently. He perks up. Eventually.
After two albums in 18 months, it’s been three years since the group’s last album. So, what took so long? “Making this new record was different. The time it took wasn’t so much a luxury as a necessity,” sighs Kapranos.
“The adrenalin just runs out,” offers Thomson.
There’s been a substantial amount of fan speculation on the sound and direction of Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. Were the spiky, dual-tempo arrangements thrown in the bin? Was it going to have African influences? Or had it all gone Jamaican dub?
“There are elements to truth to all those things,” Kapranos says. “We listened to African music and Dan Carey, our producer, comes from a dub background. But it’s still a Franz Ferdinand record. I mean, I listen to Dizzy Gillespie, but it doesn’t mean we’re going to make a be-bop record.”
Well, maybe, but Domino — FF’s U.K. label — is going to put out a special version of the album mixed in a dub style. Kapranos and Thomas say it’s an experiment. The version of the album that most people will hear, starting Tuesday, features experiments of its own, including the use of a long-forgotten Soviet-era synthesizer called a Polyvox.
“It was another case of reverse engineering where the Soviets went, ‘Right, we can build our own version of these (things)’ — and would get it kind of wrong,” explain Kapranos. “But their ‘kind of wrong’ is ‘kind of good.’ And it’s true with the Polyvox. There was an electronic engineer in Kiev, I think, and he wanted to build a Moog (a U.S.-built synth). He knew the theory of how a Moog was built and had heard what they sounded like but had never seen one.
So he built this machine that looks like the control panel of a Soviet tank, with big knobs and dials Cyrillic labels everywhere. And it sounds … kind of vaguely like a Moog — but not really. It just sounds … cool.”
The whole FF story is coming up on my Ongoing History of New Music the first week of February.