As matches made in heaven go, Franz Ferdinand and Green Day are nowhere near the top of the list. In one corner you’ve got four styling Scots whose original stated mission, back in 2002, was to get white-belted hipsters bum-rushing the dance floor. In the other are three guyliner-adorned, aging punk rockers whose core audience is 13-year-old Hot Topic shoppers.
But reached at a San Diego tour stop, Franz Ferdinand drummer Paul Thomson says there’s a good reason why his band was eager to sign on as the opening act for Green Day’s current arena tour. As is confirmed by its latest album, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, the Glasgow-based quartet is convinced you don’t get anywhere without trying new things.
“It’s always good to come out of your comfort zone,” Thomson says, reached at a San Diego tour stop. “They asked us personally to do this tour, and we figure we might have a crossover appeal that’s there to be exploited. Plus, we only play 30 minutes and then we’re off-stage by 8 o’clock. So that’s when we get our drink on, which is pretty great.”
If anything unites Green Day and Franz Ferdinand, it’s that both have got to a point in their careers where they are willing to take chances. While Billie Joe Armstrong and company have developed a quite frankly sick fascination with rock operas, Thomson and his bandmates—singer-guitarist Alex Kapranos, bassist Bob Hardy, and guitarist Nick McCarthy—have gone a decidedly less-pompous route on Tonight. As on their eponymous 2002 debut, Franz Ferdinand’s main goal is still to get well-dressed hipsters shaking what they’ve got. But where the group used to rely on a guitars-bass-and-drums attack, they’ve added new weapons to their arsenal.
Forget that Kapranos has never sounded more sexy and soulful than he does on “Ulysses”: what really stands out is the buzz-bomb synths that swoop out of nowhere around the half-minute mark. The drum ’n’ bass–heavy “Send Him Away” starts out as a Fab Four pop song and ends up like something late-’90s Tricky might have dreamed up between bong hits, and the deliciously atmospheric “Twilight Omens” plays out like the sadly underappreciated Lakuna taking a kick at Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. Overall, no one is going to mistake Franz Ferdinand for Does It Offend You, Yeah?, but the band has at least served official notice that it’s more adventurous than the Ramones.
What Thomson might like best about Tonight, though, is that it’s changed the way Franz Ferdinand operates as a live unit. Citing the techno-strafed “Lucid Dreams” as a prime example, he notes that the record’s extended electronica coda has given the group creative licence to embrace its inner improvisers on-stage.
“When we recorded that song, we really didn’t have any idea of how we were going to play it live,” he admits. “As we’ve gotten more familiar with the technology we’ve been using, the large electronic section in the second part of the song has been steadily evolving into something different. It’s turned into this extended sort of Kraut jam that’s totally fun to play.”
It was just as much of a joy to write. Even though 2005’s You Could Have It So Much Better hit the top 10 in America and landed at number one in the U.K., more than one critic argued there was something rushed-sounding about the disc. Tonight was an entirely different deal. Rather than head right into the studio after a gruelling tour, the members of Franz Ferdinand took time to decompress.
They also made things considerably less stressful for themselves on the recording front by converting a derelict building in Glasgow into a studio, thereby giving themselves as much time and space as they needed to experiment. And, experiment they did.
“A lot of the tracks were written by us endlessly playing the same groove,” Thomson reveals. “We would then go back and edit the best four bars out of what we’d done. Sometimes we would play the same thing continually up to an hour, which is good in that you stop thinking about what you’re doing and let your body take over for you as you zone out. It’s almost like you go into a trance-inducing, meditative state. It was like dancing to techno where, after about 20 minutes, you start hearing voices in the music. That’s the kind of stuff I love.”
Franz Ferdinand plays Malkin Bowl on Sunday (September 6).