Alex Kapranos is lead singer and guitarist of the chart-topping, Mercury Prize-winning rock band Franz Ferdinand. The band is currently on a world tour promoting their soon-to-drop album, “Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action.” Alex talks to Rico about being boys at the girls’ party, the historical scope of his ambitions, and being amused by Americans rediscovering their own musical heritage.
Rico Gagliano: So, as always, I hear your singles and I want to dance. It’s been four years since your last album came out. Since then, one of the big music genres that has risen has been electronic dance music. How do you feel your dance rock band now fits into this sort of danceable music world at this point?
Alex Kapranos: Yeah, I feel it fits in the way that it always has done, because while I feel it’s wonderful that America has finally discovered house music 30 years after it was invented in Detroit.
Rico Gagliano: We’re a little slow on the uptake.
Alex Kapranos: But you know, it was a big part of our lives when we were getting the band together. It was our experience out at clubs as much as rock ‘n’ roll shows which formed our sound.
Rico Gagliano: But I’m also wondering about the audiences have you seen, you know, do people come to rock shows to dance anymore? Is a rock show a place to listen?
Alex Kapranos: It’s funny, it’s like a mixture, isn’t it? Our audiences tend to have a good level of energy there, and people tend to sort of go up and down, but you dance in a different way at a rock show. Everybody is facing forward, for a start. Mind you, if you go and see a celebrity DJ nowadays, you get the same thing, everybody’s facing the DJ booth.
Rico Gagliano: Yeah, that’s true.
Alex Kapranos: So maybe there isn’t that much difference after all.
Rico Gagliano: You’re certainly playing theaters that have seats though…
Alex Kapranos: Yeah. We try not to actually. I don’t really like playing seated venues.
Rico Gagliano: For that reason?
Alex Kapranos: For that reason. I like to see people moving about, and in fact the last time we played in Mexico City, we played in a seated venue and it cost us a hell of a lot of cash, because the audience destroyed the first few front rows of seats.
Rico Gagliano: That’s amazing.
Alex Kapranos: It’s crazy. That’s what you want, because it’s such a powerful sensation when you’ve got all these thousands and people and all that energy in the room. Oh God, incredible, you can’t beat it.
Rico Gagliano: The band has been together now 12 years. First of all, did you intend music to be your life when you started this?
Alex Kapranos: Well, I guess music’s always been my life since I was about 14 and I first started writing songs. With this band, we got together to play at a party that was as the art school, and all female show. We thought it would be funny to be the boy band at the girl art show, and we had four songs that time.
We played them once, and then we played them again. And that was, we didn’t really think about it in the long term at all. We were caught up in the moment of it and didn’t think about what we were doing there.
Rico Gagliano: Well this is my question: Once it became your career, what about that 12-year ride most surprised you?
Alex Kapranos: Right, I guess it was surprising to find myself in all these places around the world. And it wasn’t a surprise, it was a shock really, because it went completely global. It went worldwide.
Rico Gagliano: You were like #3. That album debuted at #3 or something?
Alex Kapranos: Yeah, it was, but because all these opportunities came up, and I think we tried to do everything. We would never take a day off, or we would always- We can’t take a day off, we can go play in Austin, and then we can go play in Bogota, and then a gig in Paris after that. And so it totally wore us out. I felt really exhausted after a couple of years of doing that.
Rico Gagliano: Does that explain the four year hiatus?
Alex Kapranos: Yeah, it’s great, but if you’re gonna keep creating, and if you’re gonna keep writing, then you have to draw on more experience than being in a band and in a tour bus.
Rico Gagliano: Well speaking of this actually, this leads to my next question. We are kind of a food-centric show in a lot of ways. So I have to ask you about a project you undertook in 2006. You had a guardian column called Sound Bites, where you kind of documented what you ate on tour. First of all, why did you give up that plum gig, that’s a great.
Alex Kapranos: Well,I stopped writing the column after a while because when people talked to me about the band, they wanted to talk about the food more than the band itself, or more than music.Because everybody loves talking about food, and there’s only so much you can say about music.
Then it’d be like, “So what have you been eating today Alex?” And there’s “Oh, you know, let’s talk about music.” And also the other thing is I don’t think I have the self-discipline that you need to be a journalist and a writer as well as being in a band.
Rico Gagliano: I thought you were going to say the discipline to eat constantly or something, to maintain.
Alex Kapranos: No I meant more the writing side of things. It’s funny though, I still eat almost every day.
Rico Gagliano: That’s crazy. You keep that up?
Alex Kapranos: I’ve kept that hobby going.
Rico Gagliano: Wow. All right, so we have two questions that we ask everyone on this show, and one of them is, what’s a question that you’re tired of being asked?
Alex Kapranos: Oh, right. I guess just because I’ve been asked so often, “Where does the band name come from, Franz Ferdinand?”
Rico Gagliano: Oh yes. Now you have to kind of tell for those who don’t know.
Alex Kapranos: I’ve set myself up, haven’t I?
Rico Gagliano: It’s crazy how that works.
Alex Kapranos: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It came about like, Franz Ferdinand, it’s such a familiar name to everybody that went to school in the U.K. – The Archduke, his assassination triggered World War I.
Rico Gagliano: It’s such a kind of violent name for a band that is fairly upbeat.
Alex Kapranos: Yeah, it is quite an explosive name I guess. But for me, what particularly drew me to it was his assassination was a pivotal point, a point where the 20th century really began. And I think it should be the aspiration for every band to be one of those pivotal points.
Rico Gagliano: Do you think you’ve lived up to it? To the name?
Alex Kapranos: It’s not for me to judge. I would hate to sort of make any claim to that sort of thing, it would be pretty arrogant, wouldn’t it?
Rico Gagliano: Here’s our second question. It’s more of an order. Tell us something we don’t know. And this can be about anything, yourself, the band.
Alex Kapranos: Well, where I live, it’s actually vaguely related to food. I have a studio called Black Pudding in Scotland, quite rural, and I’m really into trees. Mainly apple trees and fruit trees. I tried to plant trees.The best thing about planting trees is you’re probably not going to be there to enjoy them when they’re at their best.
Rico Gagliano: It’s a very optimistic gesture.
Alex Kapranos: You’re presuming that there’s gonna be people there in 80 years’ time, who might get to enjoy them.
Rico Gagliano: See, I told you your band was upbeat.
Alex Kapranos: Yeah, we’re definitely optimistic.