Off the back of the positive critical and commercial success of their FFS collaboration with Sparks, Franz Ferdinand’s drumming machine Paul Thomson is enjoying the home comforts again after an extensive UK, European and North American tour, speaking over coffee about first gigs, swinging with (or without) Sparks and what it is to be an ‘unsigned’ band.
With those in music circles comparing Glasgow newbies White’s Future Pleasures as the best debut single since Franz’s own Take me Out, this gave room for Paul to cast his mind back to a small bedroom in the city’s Sauchiehall St, the scene of the band’s first gig.
“It was the Champions League final and people showed up late. Some friends of ours had organized an art showing in a flat, with the art in one bedroom and we played in the next. We only did 4 songs but because folk turned up late we played the same set twice. They all ended up on the first record. Michael, Auf Asche, Jacqueline and Tell Her Tonight. I was working in Directory Enquiries at the time so I came straight from work.”
As a then seasoned member of the Glasgow music scene, it wasn’t as if the forming of Franz felt like it was instantly going to reach the heights they eventually have.
“We just new it was a good band. I’d been doing it for years in bands like Pro Forma and The Yummy Fur. Usually what happens is you get someone to put your record out and go and tour for a week to promote it and try and get out of signing on (the dole) for that week. Go on tour and kip on floors and get drunk, and that’s your holiday basically.”
Although it wasn’t long after the bedroom gig that things seemed to step up a gear from just playing gigs to the Art school community that they hung around with.
“I guess when people outside our social circle started coming to gigs then you’re sort of thinking that we might be onto something. With people who we don’t know hearing about us through not much effort on our part. We were just kinda doing it for our social group really because it’s what you do in Glasgow. Play shows and your friends come down.”
Paul credits Alex (Kapranos) with being the one who really motivated him and the rest of the band with the belief that something could happen.
“Alex taught IT to refugees and elderly people – teaching them how to work a computer. When we started out he had a proper job and a flat and a mortgage and all that. He had kind of given up on music because he didn’t think it was ever going to happen and then he really sort of pushed us when this came together. Whereas my life was, I was kind of living one day to the next, I was homeless and sleeping on Alex’s floor in the hall.”
“He was like, this was my last chance at this. Whereas I was so caught up in the now I didn’t have a long term plan. It wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for his determination and drive.”
The very fact as well that they were playing together and “being kind of fairly honest about it all”, rather than actively pursue a record deal, also seemed not to hinder the band in ways it might have others, hell bent on success.
“We never saw ourselves as an ‘unsigned’ band, because of the bands we had been in previously we did it all ourselves. I thought that’s what it was going to be like for us. We would pull all the money from gigs and pay for recording our single and put it out ourselves, like 500 7 inches. That was the plan anyway. I guess because of that background that’s why we went with Domino, because it was an indie label.”
Paul recalls how, with the band generating the attention of the major labels, Domino Records came in to snap them up, although not without the odd hiccup on their part.
“Serge their manager met up with me and said that we were on the same level as Pulp and The Stone Roses and I was like ‘Fuck off, London wanker’. He came up and saw us rehearse and it was quite nerve racking, just playing all the songs you’ve got to one person who has travelled all the way from London.
I remember he said, ‘Yeh we will go out for a drink afterwards, Alan Mcgee is DJing at a club night in The 13th Note and I’ve got us in.’
At this point we were like, me and Alex have worked there for like six years.”
And even with the deal in place, it still took a while it to sink it that they could be on the cusp of something big.
“I remember us taking pictures of ourselves holding our guitars on our way to practice, standing next to the posters Domino carpet bombed Glasgow with.”
As for other (Glasgow) bands who are following in their footsteps, Paul had some choice words to say how he feels the music scene has changed since Franz started to make their mark.
“No bands are getting signed now. There’s nothing worse than seeing ‘THE BEST UNSIGNED BAND IN BRITAIN’ labelled on a band. I mean, if they are that good why are they still unsigned?”
“They are as well doing their own thing, you don’t have to get signed anymore, there’s nothing in it for the artist, your better just doing it your way. In Glasgow people can get by, working part time and then spending the rest of it making music or art. The weather kind of helps as well, there’s no point in being outside. It’s always been like that.”
With the band now having played just about every venue in Glasgow, from abandoned jails and warehouse spaces to the SECC, there’s one venue not on the list that may surprise a few people, in the form of a certain King Tuts Wah Wah Hut.
“We were a total reaction against King Tuts from the start. Because they had a sort of pay to play policy it was all geared towards unsigned talent. We weren’t trying to get signed, we were just doing our own thing. We just did it ourselves cause it was more fun that way. Tuts to us was the establishment.”
It sums them up that they asked our management about doing a show for their 20th anniversary recently, when they started asking all the bands that ever played Tuts and we thought, wait a minute, we never even played there. To me that sort of highlights the entitled arrogance of the place.”
That aside, Paul turned his attention back to the here and now, and the band’s recent partnership with Sparks. Probing him on a previous assertion that Franz were like an “open, modern marriage”, I wondered if the move from a 4-some to a 6-some reflected a desire to spice up proceedings, with a casual reference to bit of marital swinging.
“No offence to Sparks, but if I was going to swing it wouldn’t be with two elderly gentlemen from Los Angeles.”
He went on to suggest that their work together has come to an end, even he regards the album as an accomplishment for the band.
“It was just different having to accommodate two totally different people from different backgrounds. So for us it was time to draw a line in the sand after the last tour date. Have you heard our Christmas single? I don’t think anyone has.”
So what’s next for Franz Ferdinand then?
Again, off the back of a remarkably successful 2015, and with 4 studio albums and over 3 million albums sold to date, the band aren’t for calling it a day anytime soon.
“I guess we are just going to write and demo as much as we can. We still think of ourselves as contemporary even if no one else does.”