FRANZ FERDINAND: Scotland’s Finest Conquer America!
THEY’RE ARTY SCOTTISH HIPSTERS WHO REFER TO THEMSELVES AS A “WEE GANG”AND WRITE SONGS ABOUT HORNY BOYS CAVORITING IN DANCE CLUBS. YOU’D THINKTHEY’D BE ABOUT AS POPULAR IN THE AMERICAN-ROCK LOCKER ROOM AS THE CASTOF QUEER EYE . BUT WITH THEIR SURPRISE RADIO HIT “TAKE ME OUT,” FRANZ FERDINAND DARE TO CHARM THE BACKWARD-BASEBALL-CAP MASSES.
Philadelphia-in all of its busted, blue-collar glory-has been calledmany things in its two-century-plus history, but “cool” has never beenone of them. Making Time, a semi-monthly party held at Shampoo, a(barely) converted warehouse, wants to change all of that. Located justpast a highway in the gentrifying Northern Liberties neighborhood, it’sa sprawling structure with five DJ booths, several bars, and anopen-air hot tub. On this early, spring-like evening in mid-June, theclub is already packed with painfully stylish girls wearing cat’s-eyeglasses, as well as the usually dour recovering hardcore boys deckedout in ripped blazers and skinny ties.
Making Time would be a scene on any weekend, but tonight has adifferent buzz because Scotland’s art-pop fops Franz Ferdinand areperforming in lieu of the usual Duran Duran and Dead Can Dance records.Despite the commotion that comes with having a Top 40 album and asummer pop anthem (“Take Me Out”), Franz are quite relaxed here (backhome in Glasgow, they’ve thrown numerous, similar parties in offbeatlocations). And that’s what is so appealing about the band: They strikethe rare balance between cooler-than-you underground and a desire tomake Abercrombie teens scream.
“We’re non-elitist music,” says Alex Kapranos, the band’s rail-thinfrontman, outside the warehouse. “We’re not gonna say you’re too thickto listen to our music, or you’re too much of a teenybopper. It’s soboring, bands who try to alienate the audience just to prove theirintellectual status-like, ‘We’re playing something so smart you can’tunderstand it, therefore we’re smarter than you.'”
By this point, plenty of people are understanding Franz Ferdinandquite well. As they performed at a Manhattan Virgin Megastore just afew days before, a passel of delirious teens crammed up against amakeshift stage, while a cluster of suits from Epic Records-the majorlabel that reportedly paid a million dollars to distribute the band inthe U.S.-conspicuously high-fived nearby.
On paper, these four snazzily dressed boys couldn’t be lessstereotypically rock’n’roll. “We’re total English gentlemen!” saysguitarist Nick McCarthy. “Always refer to us as a gentlemen’s band.”Kapranos, 29, is a former divinity student with a posh accent and ahistory as a chef. He also favors glittery shoes. McCarthy, 29, hasstudied big-band orchestration. Bassist Bob Hardy, 24, is a cherubicart-school graduate who never played an instrument until the group’sfirst practice. Drummer Paul Thomson, 28, is a former nude model whois, according to a member of another Scottish band, the “best-hung” manin Scotland (well, that’s a bit rock’n’roll). Still, they’veunexpectedly connected in a country that doesn’t like its rock starsovertly fey, even if they’re really straight (like Franz).
“We wanted to kick out against the machismo of the rock scene-thisanodyne, passionless approach to music,” says Kapranos weeks later, onthe phone from Japan, where the band is playing a few gigs after theU.K.’s massive Glastonbury Festival. “All the sexual tension-what makeslife and music spicy and exciting-was missing.”
“From the very first time I saw them they struck me as almost adream band,” says Laurence Bell, president of Domino, the influentialU.K. indie label. “They had an incredible presence and chemistry andthey looked great-the guitarist was wearing a cape and the drummer waswearing a vintage sailor’s suit. They projected a total sense of joyand abandon, like they were having fun and you were invited.”
Franz’s self-titled debut album-a cracking collection of waggish newwave and angular pop (the Strokes with better belts and beats)-has, atpress time, spent five weeks in the Top 40 and sold more than 500,000copies. It’s moved 500,000 copies in the U.K. as well, and “Take MeOut” went as high as No. 3 on the British charts. The song’s Dadaistvideo, featuring machine-like caricatures of the band, has been inheavy rotation on MTV.
“It’s funny how one hook can completely take over a building,” saysTom Calderone, executive vice president of music and talent programmingfor MTV and MTV2. “We knew there was an enormous buzz about the band,but once we saw them at South by Southwest [music festival], it wasjust, ‘Thank you-good night!’ I think there’s something fresh andunique about these guys.”
Kapranos, especially, has taken full advantage of the band’s successto blithely live out his fantasies. In the last year, he has helpedguest-edit the Arts supplement of London’s Guardian newspaper;interviewed boyhood idol Morrissey for NME; started assembling acompilation of art-rock faves Sparks; dated Eleanor Friedberger of theFiery Furnaces; and reportedly been heavily hit on by Kate Moss.
“There are a hell of a lot of worse things you could be doing,” hesays with a smile. “One thing I don’t like in bands is preciousness,wanting to be treated like a star. I mean, God, most contemporarycelebrities-I would hate to lead their lives. They must be goingmental, knowing it’s going to collapse at any second.”
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