Photo: David Edwards/ Supplied

We Spoke To Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos About Every Single One Of The Band’s Australian Tours

In the summer of guyliner, metrosexuals and George Dubya, a triumphant sound rang out from the highlands of Scotland to issue in a new rock revolution. Franz Ferdinand – and, specifically, their 2004 debut album of the same name – would go on to define not only the middle of the 2000s but the decade as a whole. The Glaswegians arrived with all the fervour of your usual NME hype machine, but with an angular perspective on indie rock that brought guitars back to the nightclub for a gleaming, almost-indescribable moment of proper reckless-abandon bliss. Whether they were taking you out, asking if you wanted to or dancing with Michael, there was a time when it felt like the Glaswegian four-piece were everywhere that you looked.

This was especially the case in Australia, where they quickly became platinum sellers and eventually became festival mainstays. With the band taking a look back on 20 years since their formation, releasing their new greatest-hits compilation Hits to the Head, frontman Alex Kapranos jumped on a video call with Music Feeds from London to share some treasured memories from across every Australian tour that Franz Ferdinand has undertaken. Get ready for some big days out, some splendid encounters and Darlinghurst nights in the stories to come.

2004 – Splendour in the Grass

Music Feeds: Your first tour of Australia was no small feat – you were a marquee act on a massive festival bill, a line-up that’s considered one of the best in Splendour’s history. Was it overwhelming to be in such a position so early on in your career?

Alex Kapranos: I mean, it was bizarre more than anything. It was definitely not something we were expecting when we put the album out. I know it would seem intimidating from the outside, but to us, it was just the greatest thing. Literally, five months earlier, we were all on the pension and working part-time jobs in Glasgow – we’d basically just play gigs on weekends where our friends were the entire audience. That’s the scene we came from – we’d put on these parties in Glasgow in illegally-squatted buildings. That’s all we did, and then less than a year later we’re on the other side of the world. It was hard to comprehend, but the entire time we were in Australia I was just thinking “Wow, this is magic.”

MF: Did you have much of an idea of what to expect from Splendour in the Grass before you arrived?

AK: We’d heard a little about the festival itself – even by that point, only a few years in, a lot of bands and artists from the UK were already talking about it. Of all the shows on the tour, it was the one we were most looking forward to. I have such good memories of that show. As soon as we walked out, there were people as far back as we could see. Later on, when we played ‘Take Me Out’, the entire audience seemed to be bouncing as one – like, this entire movement together; up and down, up and down. It was absolutely incredible.

MF: Australia was one of the first places outside of Scotland and the UK to really run with ‘Take Me Out’. Do you remember where you were when you found out it had won the Hottest 100?

AK: I would have been on tour, but I couldn’t tell you where. [laughs] It was crazy… we knew there seemed to be some kind of connection going on down there with our music, which we were so surprised by. If you’re a band from Glasgow and, for example, you play some shows in London… that’s pretty easy to get your head around. You can start building up word of mouth, get a bit of a following, y’know? That wasn’t really something we could do with Australia – but there was this whole music scene, completely disconnected from our own, where everyone was getting into us and there were all these people waiting to see us play. It was so surprising, but to have that validation in such a way with the Hottest 100 was really cool.

The more I’ve gotten to know my Aussie pals in the years of touring there, learning more about the mentality of the country and the people from it… I think I can see why we connected the way that we did now. I think, personality-wise, we were on the same wave length and we had the same energy. It was just right for that time and that place, which is something we’re still so thankful for.

2006 – Big Day Out

MF: When you were touring in support of You Could Have It So Much Better, were you and the band operating from a sense of having something to prove following the success of the self-titled album?

AK: Certainly we did when we were making that record – there was a real interest in all of us pushing the ideas a little further, and taking what we’d done on the first album into some different directions. At the same time, we didn’t want to lose sight of enjoying ourselves – just enjoying being in a band. So that sense of proving ourselves was more to do with making records than playing festivals. When it came to festivals, we just loved having the chance to be a part of it all.

MF: It was another huge line-up, too – The White Stripes, Iggy and the Stooges…

AK: Kings of Leon, Sleater-Kinney, LCD Soundsystem… it was an immense line-up! I have very, very good memories of that tour, and being in Australia at that time. I came down before the festival tour began, and I rented an apartment in Darlinghurst. I spent about ten days down there with my girlfriend at the time, and it was so good. We went to a pawnbroker and bought a couple of bikes, and we cycled all around the city – around the beaches, down to the bays. It was incredible. That trip was when I really connected with Australia. We were both like, “Man, we need to move here!”

MF: Really? So there’s an alternate universe in which Franz Ferdinand became a Glasgow-via-Sydney band?

AK: Sydney, at that time, felt very cool. Like, Kings Cross and that area still felt pretty wild – which is something I really liked about it. At the same time, the city was absolutely beautiful. You could literally step a few hundred yards and go from the wild side of the city to the Botanical Gardens. I would find myself pinching myself – like, “am I really getting to experience this?” It was really, really something else.

MF: What were things like behind the scenes at that Big Day Out?

AK: The tour was incredible. It was a very good vibe backstage. Iggy [Pop], Jack [White] and the Kings of Leon boys were so encouraging and supportive. Of course, being an Aussie, you already know about this – the nature of that tour, and all the bands being close together. There was a real camaraderie going on. It’s something that you just don’t get in Europe. I guess we had the whole Lollapalooza thing years ago in the States, but you don’t really get it anywhere else. We really loved it.

MF: Franz recorded some songs on that tour as well, right?

AK: Yeah! We had a few days in Melbourne and we went to a studio. I forget the name of it, but it was on the back of Acland Street. [Author’s note: The studio was Hothouse Audio in St. Kilda.] I remember it had this amazing Neve desk console, and we recorded three songs or something there. One of them was ‘L. Wells’, which is still one of my favourite songs we’ve done. I wrote it in Sydney, we recorded it in Melbourne and then it became the B-side of ‘The Fallen’ when we released it as a single.

It became one of the big songs live about that time, too. We’d always play it. So yeah, good memories of Melbourne as well. That scene in Melbourne around Acland Street was really cool. We were hanging out with Cut Copy a lot – they’d opened up for us around the States in 2004, so we knew a few people from the Melbourne scene. It really felt like it was happening at that time. A lot of things going on – just the way we like it.

2008/2009 – Falls Festival

MF: This was an interesting prospect – playing over the new year period, seeing out one year and welcoming in another. Were you playing at midnight?

AK: I’m trying to remember when we played. I don’t think that we did. What I do remember particularly well were these announcements going around the festival before we played. Where we were that night was this beautiful national park, which had all this forest around it. Some kid who’d gone to the festival had gotten lost, and lots of people were sending out all these alerts. People were worried for ages – everybody was looking for him, and I remember all the announcements going out. It turned out that he walked onto the festival site the next day or something like that. He’d literally been sitting under a tree smoking a bong the whole time. [laughs]

MF: You’re kidding…

AK: [laughs] Yeah, yeah! I remember that was a pretty frantic tour, as well. There was a lot of last-minute flying to get to each show on time. It was still a cool time, though – I remember seeing in the new year, fireworks and all. I remember the dressing room backstage, too – it was one of those mad UFO kind of things. [laughs] It was a pretty cool experience.

MF: You were gearing up to release Tonight: Franz Ferdinand around this point, which was obviously quite the departure from the first two albums. Were you hoping to challenge the audience that would have just been there to see you play ‘Take Me Out’ and ‘Do You Want To’?

AK: I felt that at that point, when when we first arrived, we felt that we didn’t really sound like anybody else. Anytime we would do something new, we wanted it to be done in our own way. That’s just the way things go, right? Like, what do you do when other bands start doing something similar to what you’ve been doing, it’s time to change it up. You want to be original, y’know? You’ve got to push it somewhere forward. For yourself, as an artist, you want to be doing something that’s going to a new place.

I even sing about it in ‘Ulysses’: The chorus goes “I found a new way.” [laughs] It’s definitely something I see in Hits To The Head – we go to lots of different places over the course of the years. Yet, in all of the songs, you can tell it’s Franz Ferdinand straight away. As soon as you put any of the songs on, you know it’s Franz Ferdinand. But yeah, I think it wouldn’t have been particularly rewarding to just repeat the same formula again and again.

2010 – Future Music Festival

MF: The three festivals you previously played all made sense for Franz to play. This one was pretty peculiar, though – it’s not every day you guys are on the same bill as The Prodigy and David Guetta. It must have been a weird environment to play within.

AK: I mean, it was and it wasn’t. It’s funny… I guess we took so much from the club world and from dance music in our arrangements – the way we played, and the way we structured the songs. There was always a dance element to the band. Sure, maybe we didn’t have that much in common with David Guetta [laughs]. But if I think about the Prodigy, and particularly the way The Prodigy were playing live at that point, they actually kind of had as much in common with a rock band as we had in common with a dance act. They had a live drummer, and the way Keith [Flint] and the other guys were performing on stage… it felt like a punk band. So yeah, I wouldn’t say it was a challenge. It was a good place to be. It’s good to take yourself outside your comfort zone. I enjoyed that tour – quite a lot, actually. We felt a good connection with the audience, as well.

MF: That’s great they responded so well – it could really go either way in that sort of scenario.

AK: Yeah, it was cool. I mean, when folks go to festivals like that, they’re going there to have a good time. If you give them that energy, they’re gonna give it back. There’s no way I was gonna play that sort of festival and be some kind of, like, surly apologist. [laughs] Just standing around on stage, saying shit like, “Do you even want to be here?” It was great. I loved it. Of course, it was different, but it was still really good.

MF: Have Franz ever played any other dance/EDM style festivals – say, in Europe?

AK: There definitely been a few. There’s one in East Germany, that’s awesome… fuck, what was it called again? It’s in this amazing old industrial spot, and there’s all real machinery kicking about. That’s mainly a dance festival. In Europe, though, you generally tend to find the festivals are much more kind of mixed, I would say – at least as far as the lineups go. If you play like something like T In The Park in Scotland, for example, you have your dance area, and you have like your stages where you’re more likely to get live bands. I don’t know, the whole thing’s a little bit more mixed up now – which can only be a good thing.

2013 – ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action; headlining tour

MF: Interestingly, this was the first Franz Ferdinand tour of Australia that wasn’t tied in with another festival. Did it feel a little less hectic, in that respect?

AK: Yeah, definitely. It was a good tour. I remember paying a lot of attention to how far we’d come. We first came out to Australia in 2004, and then almost 10 years later, we’re coming out again. I remember thinking to myself on that first tour, “I can’t believe that people want to see our band.” On this tour, I started thinking to myself, “Damn, I can’t believe people still want to see our band.” [laughs] When I think about the lifetimes of most of the bands I know, and most of my contemporaries and friends, that kind of following might only last for a few months – maybe a couple years if you’re really, really lucky. It was amazing to be going back to Australia and still getting that thrill. I’ve always looked forward to going to Australia – especially by that time because my sister married an Aussie. My Aussie connections had grown a bit deeper by that point.

MF: No kidding! Was the wedding in Australia?

AK: It wasn’t! It was actually in Greece. My old man is Greek, so lots of us came over for the wedding. It was amazing, actually. It literally went on for days. [laughs]

MF: Like Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, there was another shift of direction on Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. What’s your relationship with that record now?

AK: I really enjoyed making that record. It was a lot of fun. It got me the opportunity to work with some good guys, as well. Again, we were sort of stepping into the dance world a little bit more. We recorded ‘Evil Eye’ and ‘Stand on the Rise’ with Todd Terry, and I really liked what he was doing at that time. The guys from Hot Chip, Alexis [Taylor] and Joe [Goddard], too, worked with us on the song ‘Right Action’. I particularly remember enjoying playing ‘Evil Eye’ and ‘Love Illumination’ from that record at our live shows. They really became something pretty good in the live environment – maybe even better than the album versions.

2018 – Splendour in the Grass and co-headlining sideshows with MGMT

MF: Your most recent visit to Australia was a full-circle moment of returning to Splendour – almost 15 years after you first played it. What was that experience like?

AK: That was good! It’s funny, because it felt, in a way, nothing like the original Splendour – because it’s obviously much, much bigger now, and the location was different. That being said, the vibe was still very similar. Even though it was much larger in scale, you could tell it was coming from the same place as the festival we played on our first time out here. There are two acts I remember meeting at that festival very fondly – one of them was Amyl & The Sniffers.

MF: That’s awesome – had they gotten much of a following in Scotland by that point?

AK: Yeah, yeah! I’d seen Amyl play a gig in London, and I absolutely loved it. We arrived at the festival, and there they all were, just sat at a table backstage. I made my way over and introduced myself, and I told them that I really liked their band. I sat down and got chatting with them and we really got on with each other. After about 10 minutes, this guy came along and sat down nearby, and they all just went totally quiet. They were just wide-eyed, y’know – they couldn’t say anything.

I got to talking to him as well, and again we just got on instantly. He got up to go get drinks, and I turn back to the band and say, “That guy was nice, wasn’t he?” That’s when they all lean in and were like, “That was Murray! From the Wiggles!” [laughs] They were completely star-struck.

MF: So you had no idea you’d just been chatting to one of the most famous people in Australia?

AK: Not a clue! [laughs] I truly didn’t know who The Wiggles were. I guess I just missed it? I don’t have any kids, and it obviously wasn’t really a thing for my generation. He was just this guy I was having a beer with at Splendour. [laughs] Amyl told me that they all grew up watching him play the guitar, and that made them want to play music themselves. That’s so good. Like, to think of how inspirational a character like that is… that’s amazing. I did totally get that vibe, that this guy was just a good human being. You need those characters in your life, y’know? The ones that will push you just a little bit further into doing something.

MF: Have you had any surreal moments of being star-struck in your own right?

AK: I remember the year that we were performing at the Grammys, they had us walking the red carpet on our way into the ceremony…actually, it wasn’t a red carpet, technically. It was a green carpet! [laughs] Anyway, there we are getting our photos taken… and we’re in line behind James Brown and in front of Hulk Hogan. [laughs] That was utterly, utterly bizarre.

MF: You’ve mentioned bonding with bands and artists backstage at festivals a couple of times now. Did you have much of a relationship with MGMT in the lead-up to playing these shows together?

AK: I’d kind of had a connection with them because I was staying in Brooklyn for a while in the mid-to-late 2000s. They used to rehearse in a room close to where I was living, where my girlfriend’s band used to rehearse. I knew a couple of the guys from that scene, and I knew they had a band that they were getting together, and it seemed pretty cool. I remember bumping into them but didn’t really know them that well. Weirdly, the first time I really hung out with them was in Paris.

MF: What happened in Paris?

AK: We’d both been playing gigs on the same night in different venues, and we all ended up in the same club afterwards. There was some secret room upstairs in this club, and I just remember a bunch of us jammed together for hours, surrounded by the kids from the Paris scene. It felt like old school Paris – everyone was still smoking indoors! [laughs] It was amazing. Those guys were cool; they had a good vibe to them.

MF: How were the shows in Australia, after such a memorable night?

AK: They were really good shows! Although our first records came out a few years apart from one another, I think our audiences are very similar. I remember doing a split tour with Death Cab for Cutie a few years ago… like, I love that band, and they’re really really great guys, but I wouldn’t say that our audiences had a complete crossover. There was definitely some, but it wasn’t complete. With MGMT, it felt that everybody that came was there for the entire thing; for both bands. That felt really good to all of us.

Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Hits to the Head’ is out now via Domino Records.

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