Franz Ferdinand’s Bob Hardy talks about life as a five piece, Trump and playing Hong Kong
- The band, formed in 2002, last played Hong Kong at Clockenflap in 2013
- After the departure of guitarist Nick McCarthy, they were joined by Julian Corrie and Dino Bardot
The Franz Ferdinand that will perform in Hong Kong this week will look very different to the band who headlined the city’s Clockenflap festival five years ago. The British indie rockers will return to the city on Friday, performing at Southorn Stadium in Wan Chai during their first Asia tour as a five-piece.
The band, formed in 2002 in Glasgow, Scotland, have become one of the most consistent and enduringly popular British bands of the 21st century since releasing their eponymous Grammy-nominated debut album in 2004.
Subsequent releases saw them gradually shift more towards a dance-rock sound and shed their sharp-suited image for a more kitsch, retro look, leading them to this year’s Always Ascending, which brings the band’s electronic influences to the forefront.
After former guitarist Nick McCarthy announced his departure in 2016, the remaining members – frontman Alex Kapranos, bassist Bob Hardy and drummer Paul Thomson – started writing songs for their fifth studio album, Always Ascending, as a trio. Halfway through, they began to record with Julian Corrie, the English electronic producer better known as Miaoux Miaoux, while Scottish musician and the band’s long-time friend Dino Bardot then rounded out the line-up on guitar when the group was ready to perform live.
According to founding member Hardy, his new bandmates couldn’t be a better fit. “As a three piece we weren’t capable of playing what we were writing,” the 38-year-old says over the phone from his home in London. “When Julian came to the studio for the first time, we played him what we’d been writing and recording. Then we sat down to play a song and immediately it just clicked. He’s an incredible musician who can pick things up very quickly, so it felt incredibly natural, like we’d been playing together for years.”
As for Bardot, Hardy adds: “Because we’d known him for so long it was easy; he just plugged his guitar in.”
Although Corrie only came in towards the end of writing, his extensive knowledge of synthesisers would lead the direction of the record. Compared to the sporadic smattering of synths heard on previous albums, Always Ascending sees the group throwing themselves headfirst into a kaleidoscope of electronica, sounding like a sleeker, more experimental version of the same bunch who released the punch-drunk guitar anthem Take Me Out more than 14 years ago.
Opening the record, the title track combines Franz’s characteristically sharp guitar rhythms with oscillating disco keyboards for dizzying effect.The electronica was always there, says Corrie; Always Ascending just brought it to the fore.
“Franz has always used synths and I think them being categorised as an ‘indie’ band from the start has always been a bit reductive,” the keyboardist said in a separate interview this year. “With me joining and having an interest in synths and electronics, it helped bring [out] that element.”
After the previous record Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions in 2014, the band teamed up with the quirky US pop-rock duo Sparks, best known for 1974 disco hit This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us, to record an album and tour as the short-lived supergroup FFS in 2015. While that collaboration is over, as Corrie has confirmed, the transatlantic partnership between the two acts may have pushed Franz Ferdinand to turn their gaze towards Stateside politics for their next chapter.
Franz Ferdinand’s return as themselves in October 2016 was marked by the single Demagogue, released as part of an ongoing musical project organised to protest the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. The track, which mockingly describes Trump as “a punch to the face [who] knows all of the words”, has not yet found its way to live set lists, but signposted Franz as a band increasingly engaged with the world around them.
A limited number of these badges are available for free at our USA shows. First come first served. pic.twitter.com/1noFO5BZx8
— Franz Ferdinand (@Franz_Ferdinand) May 25, 2017
While on tour in the US last year, the band handed out free badges that read “Franz Ferdinand told me about the NHS [National Health Service]”, highlighting the challenges of gaining access to affordable health care in the States. Meanwhile, the song Huck & Jim, from their latest album, comments on the differences between British and American politics.
Hardy says: “The world seems to be getting worse and that’s something we’re observing as individuals and talking about a lot among ourselves – we’re all engaged in what’s going on in the world there’s certain things you never thought would happen.”
Next to Kapranos’ eccentricity and rock star extroversion, Hardy is laid back and quietly confident (his brief Wikipedia bio describes him as “a painter and vegan” who “likes grammar”). However, recent world events have rattled the bassist, who says the band will use its platform for protest again.
“We’re going to be doing some more writing next year. Demagogue was a response to what was immediately happening,” he says. “The day he won was one of the lowest points for decades. We were in the studio at the time were just shell shocked. People being more politically engaged since [Trump] won is a great thing, but I don’t think it was a price worth paying. I’d rather we had some sane world leaders so it wouldn’t be necessary for people to be up in arms constantly over what’s going on.”
Despite his misgivings over the state of the world, Hardy was excited for the band’s tour throughout Asia, kicking off tonight [Nov 21] in Singapore and wrapping up in Shenzhen on December 9.
“It’s definitely a different dynamic now we’re a five piece – the scope of what we’re able to do is significantly bigger. Also, having new people along on the road and being on the first world tour with them has felt like being in a different band, it feels new again. We’re going back to places we’ve been to before with a different line-up which almost feels like we’re there for the first time with this band.”
Due to “family stuff”, Hardy couldn’t join his bandmates during their Clockenflap visit, but he has happy memories of the band’s Hong Kong debut in 2006 when the band performed at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Wan Chai.
Three albums later and Franz Ferdinand are ready to embrace the city for what will be, for two of its members at least, the first time, and, for the other members, a welcome return. “When you go somewhere as infrequently as we go to Hong Kong, the show is always feels very special as we don’t play there very often,” Hardy says. “I’ll just enjoy being in the moment and getting to play.”
Franz Ferdinand, Nov 23, 7pm, Southorn Stadium, 111 Johnston Rd, Wan Chai.