L to R: Alex Kapranos, Paul Thomson, Robert Hardy and Nick McCarthy
Franz Ferdinand has developed a reputation for assaulting the senses with jagged guitars, adrenaline-fueled rhythms and rallying call-to-arms vocals. Yet there's an experimental aspect to the Glasgow, Scotland-based band that transcends their 2004 hit, “Take Me Out.” Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, their third release, shows new sides of the group while maintaining their raw core.
“We took our time — about a year-and-a-half — to make this record,” Alex Kapranos, lead guitarist and vocalist, says from Las Vegas while on a promotional tour. “They do all seem different because as we've gone on, we've become more involved in the production and creation of a sound. Also, we wanted to evolve and create a new sonic identity for the record. The previous ones were really upbeat; especially the last one was about 140 bpms. We really pulled the tempo back for this one to between 95 to 110.” Joining Kapranos in the quartet are guitarist/keyboardist Nick McCarthy, bass player Bob Hardy and drummer Paul Thomson.
The foundation for the band's growth was finding an ideal location for rehearsing and tracking. Kapranos recalls, “About February of 2007, we found this old empty building in Glasgow that used to be a town hall and later a drug-rehabilitation unit. It was an unusual and challenging space, and a lot of fun because it was such a sprawling building with a lot of different rooms and acoustic qualities.” Those sonic characteristics encouraged the group to jam for hours and “get lost in the music,” Kapranos says, drawing the ire of neighbors. In response, the band boarded up windows in the main room, which Kapranos believes also affected the album's sound and vibe.
The group dubbed the building “The Chateau” and found it extremely conducive to experimentation, from employing high-fidelity equipment and techniques to simply grabbing direct sounds. A good example of the latter was tracking in a room with a concrete floor, brick walls and iron girders. “That room sounded totally fantastic for rocking out,” Kapranos comments, “and for a few of the songs, we would just put out a single microphone or a stereo set in front of the band with the bass, drums and amplifiers really close together — then just play.” Conversely, another room had hanging fabric and a thick carpet for a more muted sound.
Engineer Paul Savage worked with the band initially, and at the beginning of 2008, Kapranos and McCarthy met producer Dan Carey and began collaborating with him. Carey, best known as a producer of dance music — Kylie Minogue, Sia, Fatboy Slim — brought his own engineer, Alexis Smith, to work with Savage. Asked about the general approach to recording the basics on Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, Carey says, “We wanted to commit to things as we recorded, so we decided not to record anything ‘flat,’ with a view to processing later on in the mix. We never took DI signals of guitars, and we were extreme with amp settings. We decided it was more important to capture the intensity than it was to get a perfect sound.”
Carey and the engineers tracked on the producer's RADAR system, using Shadow Hills preamps and comps, along with a Skibbe Electronics 5-9c “Red Stripe” all-tube compressor that Kapranos says he really liked for vocals. Mics included some well-known and more obscure models, including Wunder Audio CM7s (vocals and toms), early '60s Russian-made Lomo 19as (drum kit, guitar amps), Coles 4038 and 4040 (guitar), Sennheiser 441 (vocals) and 421 (guitar), Shure SM7 (snare), Electro-Voice RE20 (snare), Royer 121 (bass) and a Yamaha on kick drum. Everything went through the band's vintage Flickinger board, renowned for being favored by RB artist/producers such as Sly Stone, George Clinton and the late Ike Turner. Kapranos bought the board in Chicago a while ago and had it refurbished in Seattle by engineer/producer/musician Phil Taylor.
Carey usually does his own mixing top to bottom; however, for this album he and the band opted to bring in some new perspectives. “With this record,” Carey says, “I became pretty attached to certain ideas. This was good for some tracks, but being so close to it, it was great when we sent things to Mike Fraser [in Vancouver] and Tom Elmhirst [in London]. The tracks sounded fresh when they came back.”
Most importantly, though, Franz Ferdinand's dynamic energy was retained. Carey notes, “Sonically, there are a few tensions in the band, which is key to their sound. For example, when Alex and Nick play rhythm guitar, they play with very different styles. If Alex is playing with very regular down strokes like a hi-hat rhythm, Nick will balance that by playing much more crazy and loose.”
Kapranos was especially excited about how “Send Him Away” came out. “Whenever I hear it, I can really picture the four of us performing in the room together and it's a magical moment.”