Franz Ferdinand: It feels like a new band... people's roles aren't set in stone any more
After almost 15 years with the same line-up, Scottish rockers Franz Ferdinand were forced to recruit new faces after guitarist Nick McCarthy departed. Bassist Bob Hardy tells Joe Nerssessian how it felt like starting out from scratch
In October 2016, as the world watched America's pivotal election approach, Scotland's Franz Ferdinand released anti-Trump anthem Demagogue. "He pleases my fears ... it feels so good to be dumb", sang frontman Alex Kapranos on the track, which was released as part of the 30 Days, 30 Songs campaign, aiming to counter voter apathy as Hillary Clinton went head-to-head with Donald Trump.
Not only was it the first direct foray into politics from the art rockers, who shot to fame in 2002 with their Mercury Prize-winning, eponymous debut, but it was also the first purely Franz music in three years.
"We've never done anything as political as Demagogue before," says the band's bassist, Bob Hardy. "We recorded and released that song very quickly when we were anticipating that, post-election, Trump would just disappear into his hole and that song would just be irrelevant," he adds, chuckling with slight sobriety.
Its release came during huge upheaval for the band as they regrouped after the departure of founding member, guitarist and keyboardist Nick McCarthy, who quit the group to spend more time with his family following their 2015 FFS collaboration with US group Sparks.
Hardy recalls a frank conversation with Kapranos and drummer Paul Thomson in the Scottish countryside after McCarthy broke the news. The remaining trio considered splitting, or even reforming as a new band, he reveals, before agreeing the motivation was there to work on new music.
"We started writing without being 100% sure whether it would end up being a Franz Ferdinand record," he says. "We were a hypothetical band at that point. We couldn't go on stage, we couldn't play any shows, we couldn't play our old material.
"We turned down offers to play shows and festivals because at one point we literally weren't really a band."
New blood was needed and first to arrive in the new-look Franz Ferdinand was producer and musician Julian Corrie, who Hardy and Co knew from his work under his Miaoux Miaoux moniker.
"The stuff we had been writing at that point was leaning to the electronic side of Franz more, and that was the world Julian came from, and so he just fitted right in smoothly and things started moving quite quickly," says Hardy.
Corrie joined them in Scotland, where they began recording what would become their upcoming record, Always Ascending, due out next month.
Kapranos billed the album as "simultaneously futuristic and naturalistic" and Hardy explains how, although they were keen to embrace the arrival of Corrie's fizzing synths and dancier arrangements, there was also an awareness of retaining rawness.
"When we went into the studio, we didn't want to start playing to a click and importing the songs onto a grid and taking all the humanity away from it," he adds.
"Although the record occupies a dancier part of music, it's still very human and it comes from a live band playing. You get the push and pull of a live drummer, the increases in tempo, the slowdowns ... the slight mistakes are still in there and that's the naturalistic element coupled with electronic sounds."
Part of that was also down to Corrie, Hardy continues. The multi-instrumentalist recorded his parts live by "replicating a robot".
The band also brought in guitarist Dino Bardot, a member of former fellow Scottish indie-rockers 1990s, and are forging a new identity as a five-piece.
After 15 years of the same line-up, dynamics are bound to change, Hardy admits.
"We're a five-piece so it feels like a new band in many ways - it almost is," he says.
"There's different personalities and it means set roles we may have had before have been thrown up in the air a little bit and it becomes fluid, you know? People's roles aren't set in stone any more and there's a certain freedom to it, I guess, when you forge a new identity like that."
The arrival of Corrie, who has not toured outside of the UK before, and Bardot has also given the band's remaining original members a reminder of their good fortune.
"It's quite infectious because you kind of realise what an amazing thing it is to do when someone's doing it for the first time," Hardy says.
"It was exciting. It felt like back in the beginning, when we were putting things together for the first time."
Preparations for their tour are well under way. The band embark on a lengthy worldwide tour starting in London on the eve of Always Ascending's release, with the 14 UK dates sandwiched around a Saturday night homecoming show in Glasgow.
"We're looking forward to seeing people reacting to the new songs live," says Hardy.
"Saturday night in Glasgow is gonna be great - I always look forward to going home for a gig, but to be honest every show in the UK feels like that.
"Manchester feels like a second home - it was our first show we ever played outside of Glasgow, when we supported Interpol, and since then it's always been crazy."
The band will return to the Scottish city in July as headliners of the new TRNSMT festival, which launched in 2017 and takes place on Glasgow Green.
"There's something quite special about a festival in a city," Hardy says. "It has this weird energy because you're already in the middle of a town and you put a festival in the middle of it and it just ramps it up."
But first comes the record, and the bassist is philosophical about its release following a tumultuous couple of years for one of the few survivors of the noughties guitar scene. "We can make the best record we can and be as sincere and honest about it as we can but after it's out, we have to let it go. We just let it go and it's gone and it's out there," he says.
Always Ascending is out February 9. Franz Ferdinand tour the UK in February including stops in Cambridge, Brighton, Newcastle and Nottingham