Franz Ferdinand Explain Why Self-Production Was the ‘Right Action’ for New Album
Glaswegian four-piece Franz Ferdinand burst onto the alternative music scene in a big way with their 2004 self-titled debut. They followed it up with two successful and similar-sounding albums that didn't quite improve their commercial or critical standing but didn't exactly hurt them, either. With their fourth LP, 'Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action,' due out Aug. 27, the band seems to have regained some of the sincerity and effortless qualities that made early tunes like 'Take Me Out' and 'This Fire' so enjoyable. Diffuser.fm chatted with guitarist Nick McCarthy about the relaxed recording atmosphere and process of self-producing 'Right Thoughts' in Franz's U.K. studio.
The prelude to this album had been a little nontraditional, as you've been playing shows and debuting songs for well over a year. What was the catalyst for this approach?
We wanted to not overdo the recording process, where you go to the studio for weeks on end and "get into the zone" or whatever. We are very much a live band, and that's what we wanted to catch on this record. We wanted to catch the essence of the four of us at our best, and we do our best when we are playing concerts. So we'd play a few concerts and then go back into the studio for one or two weeks and record two songs and then write two more and play them acoustically and then schedule some gigs again and try them out.
We did play a lot of gigs last year, but gigs wake you up as a band. You can be in the studio for a long time, and you kind of grow a beard and drink a lot of beer, and you get a little boring. But when you play a gig, you get out of that, and it all makes sense. You play not only the new songs, but old songs as well, and realize once again what you are about, what feels good for us.
This album sounds more like the first album than your two follow-ups. Do you think that might be because you're playing the songs live, alongside the older ones, before they're recorded and hearing how they relate to your older music?
Maybe that as well, yeah. It felt the most like we were during the first record. We don't really compare the records to each other, though. But it does feel really honest, and the first record felt really honest as well. The second two, I don't know, we were very much a touring band when we made those, and we were doing everything on the run, pretty much. The whole machine was going.
For this album, we were taking some time off, and we'd work on it a few hours a day, more like we used to do when we all had jobs and met up in the evening. I have a kid, so I was looking after my kid during the day and then return to the music in the evening. It was really good. It kept it from seeming like a job.
I'm really happy with the record and the way it sounds. When we were doing these really massive shows on the second and third record, we started getting into a mega-rock sound, with big distorted guitars. On this we've come back to a really skinny, stripped-down dance thing. I sort of prefer that, in a way.
With that kind of recording method, is that why you guys decided to self-produce the album? I imagine it would be hard to hire someone to record you when you were working just a few hours a day, with extended touring gaps.
I mean, I don't want to make it sound like we were [saying], "Oh, we'll finish it whenever." We did have a schedule and an end-date in sight. We'd do one or two weeks at home and then one week in the studio, but that allowed us to be like, "Alright, we've finished this song. Tomorrow we're going to record it." And if you record yourself and have your own equipment and studio, it's very easy to do that.
A lot of musicians dream of having their own studio. We don't own an ultra-professional recording studio. My place is a garage in London. And Alex's is an old studio of an artist in the countryside. It's got carpets and nice feel to it. We just bought a few really nice microphones.
Engineering or recording a record isn't a skill that a lot of bands have. Is that something you just picked up over the years?
I think so, yeah. We've always been looking over the producer's shoulders and really interested in it. Producing is not that big of a deal, really. It's just learning how to keep an eye on things and look over the song. Like, not getting caught up in vocal performances or worrying about how the guitar solo or drum solo has to be. It's all about the song. You have to step back a bit and think about more than your specific part.
I always figured that's the hardest part, to not be so close to the music.
Yeah, it is, especially if you're a really good musician. You can be very precious about your parts. But we've always changed instruments and are a band of writers, really. We've never been that great at our instruments, but we have been good at constructing songs. We're not big virtuosos on our instruments. But that's okay.
You guys just performed a Letterman concert, which is an honor. Anything else you have coming up that you are particularly excited about?
Well, we just were shooting an amazing new music video. It's for 'Evil Eye,' our next single that will come out in a month and a half. It's pretty out there. We did a day of filming yesterday, and it was a lot of fun. We've done videos before, but nothing like this one. We're going back to film more later. And just playing shows in different parts of the world that we haven't been to. The funnest thing is really just playing new songs. That's what keeps it moving for us.