If Always Ascending, the new album from Franz Ferdinand, is not the band’s first foray into working with synthesisers it does suggest an upping of the ante as far as the electronic element of their sound is concerned.
“We’ve always had synths on the albums, perhaps this record pushes that slightly more and maybe there’s more of a dance sensibility across the board,” says the band’s Yorkshire-born bass player Bob Hardy, reflecting on Franz Ferdinand’s current direction of travel.
They’ve not forgotten their roots, however he quickly points out. “It’s still like a live band, it’s still a very human-sounding record, I think.”
The most noticeable change for many will be that the once four-piece band is now a quintet. Following the departure of original member Nick McCarthy in 2016, Hardy and his long-time bandmates Alex Kapranos and Paul Thomson decided to swell their ranks with a new guitarist, Dino Bardot, and keyboard player Julian Corrie.
Hardy says they knew at the end touring FFS, the album they made with Russell and Ron Mael of Sparks, at the end of 2015 that McCarthy “wasn’t going to come and do another Franz record”. At that point Franz Ferdinand’s future was in doubt.
“We had to make a choice if we were going to keep going. We all wanted to make a record so we started writing in earnest even though we didn’t necessarily have a band or know if it would actually become an album that would be released.
“We just started writing and we kind of enjoyed the process, there were good songs coming out. We still knew that we needed to find somebody else, though. At the beginning of 2016 we were getting offers for gigs and various things that we had to turn down, we literally didn’t have a band to play our music.
“We worked away and then our friends knew we were looking for someone else and a few people independently recommended Julian Corrie to play keys. He was recommended by our friend Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai and Emma Pollock and Paul Savage from The Delgados. We’d been aware of his music – he’d released a couple of albums under the name Miaoux Miaoux on [the Glasgow label] Chemikal Underground – so we met with him, went for some food and a few drinks then he came down to the studio and we played him what we’d been working on and then played some music together and it clicked very quickly and it felt like a band immediately.
“We have a lot in common, our reference points are from the same world, musically and elsewhere in popular culture, so he was a very easy fit and it felt very natural. He’s adept at electronic music, which is what Miaoux Miaoux, his project, was, he’s a great whizz on synthesisers and the production aspects of music, that fitted in with what we’d been writing up to that point, we’d been using more electronic sounds and more sequenced parts and he fitted in very nicely.”
The lyrics for the album’s title track were inspired by an actual event, involving a US airship disaster, that took place in 1914. Hardy says the title actually stemmed from a reference to the music. “It came from a chord sequence at the beginning, there are six chords that repeat but never go back to the tonic, the main chord in the key, so it feels like they’re constantly ascending and that was something that informed what the song was going to be about.
At the beginning when we got the band together we weren’t anticipating anything beyond pressing 500 copies of a 7-inch and selling them at gigs.Bob Hardy
“Then there was the story that Alex had seen this news footage of the airship, so that was the song. Then when it came to choose the album title it was just a title that felt very positive and reflected where we felt we were as a band. Working with Julian and enjoying the process so much as we had done in the recording it felt like the beginning of something. Always Ascending, it’s a nice, bold title for an album.”
Hardy looks back on the collaboration with art-pop legends Sparks with fondness. “It was really enjoyable,” he says. “It was something that we’d been talking about doing for a long time with Sparks and we found time in our schedule to made it happen and the whole thing was great fun.
“I think because there were no expectations, no one knew what it was going to be, we just enjoyed it. Every single gig the hairs on the back of your neck stood up. It was just very special, it was only going to happen for a very brief period of time so everyone savoured it.”
Sixteen years into Franz Ferdinand’s existence, Hardy recognises the band’s ambitions have shifted. “At the beginning when we got the band together we weren’t anticipating anything beyond pressing 500 copies of a 7-inch and selling them at gigs. We fulfilled that ambition quite quickly then it just becomes trying to make something that you like and that is sincere. I think that’s always the goal.”
When Hardy, who was born in Dewsbury and raised in Bradford, first met the pair were studying at Glasgow School of Art. Hardy says he hasn’t found time for painting for “quite a while”, nonetheless he keeps notebooks and takes “a lot of photographs”, some of which have been exhibited. “It’s something in the back of my mind that I’m always thinking about, I follow what is going on in contemporary art. Someday I would like to return to making paintings but in what form that takes I’ve no idea.”
He finds it important to maintain a life outside the band. “You do that as much as you can,” he says. “I think when you’re on the road you learn over the years how to survive being away all the time and having this very surreal life of just hotel rooms, airports and venues and gigs. You find your own coping mechanisms, like reading and following the news, also maintaining friendships at home is quite important.”
Always Ascending is released on February 9. Franz Ferdinand play at O2 Academy Leeds on February 19. franzferdinand.com