FFS - Franz Ferdinand and Sparks on Their Debut Together
Collaborations Do Work
Nov 03, 2015
Issue #54 - August/September 2015 - CHVRCHES
FFS—an acronym meaning "For Fuck's Sake" in text lingo—is what many people probably thought when they heard that Scottish indie rockers Franz Ferdinand and Los Angeles art-pop legends Sparks were attempting to join together in one band under that moniker. Or at least that's what Franz Ferdinand vocalist and songwriter Alex Kapranos suspects, a possibility that seems to please him to no end. Appropriately, that same defiant spirit runs through much of FFS' self-titled release, a mischievous 12-song set that successfully combines the preening theatricality and winking humor of Sparks' Ron and Russell Mael with the muscular riffs and youthful swagger of Franz Ferdinand. But there's no good reason to believe that combining two bands—one whose members weren't even born when the others began their career—should work at all. In fact, it should be a total disaster.
No song on the album captures the absurdity of their pairing better than the provocatively titled "Collaborations Don't Work," a multi-part anthem that counts down all of the reasons this project should have ended in ruin, from bruised egos to overly deferential attitudes and creative territorial disputes. With no rules in place, how would they balance the egos of six people? How would they develop the sort of working relationship where neither camp would be too quick to assert their own ideas nor too hesitant to step on each other's toes?
"I guess both of us lost that really quickly, possibly as a result of that song," says Kapranos. "The very early draft of that song was the first thing that Ron sent over to us, and I remember we wrote the section about not being a collaborator, kind of equating being a collaborator with collaborating with the Nazis. I remember sending that over to Nick [McCarthy, Franz Ferdinand guitarist] and saying, 'I don't know how they're going to respond to this. They're either going to have a similar sense of humor to us and find it funny, or they're going to be incredibly offended and never talk to us again.' Fortunately, it was the former, and right from the start it was clear that, while we both loved each other's music, we weren't going to be fawning or deferential or precious about what we were doing."
That flair for absurdist humor is perhaps the one constant that runs through the totality of Sparks' 44 years of music, a body of work including 23 albums and dizzying shifts through glam rock, disco, synth-pop, and (more recently) chamber music. By the time the Mael brothers met the members of Franz Ferdinand shortly after the latter's debut album became an international sensation in 2004, they were drifting away from making pop music at all.
"Sparks of late have been working outside the traditional three-to-four minute pop song structure, as we've worked on two movie musicals," says Ron Mael, the band's pencil moustache-wearing keyboard player. "So working in this way, 'traditional' not in the sense of the sensibility of FFS, but 'traditional' in working in pop song structures and with a band setup, was something we might not have done at this time had this opportunity not arisen."
What started out as a conversation over a casual cup of coffee during a Franz Ferdinand tour stop in Los Angeles in 2004 soon turned to talk of making a split single, where each band would cover one of the other's songs. Then Franz Ferdinand became one of the most acclaimed bands in indie rock, hardly having time to see their own families let alone collaborate with the Mael brothers. Nine years would pass until they would revisit the topic after Kapranos bumped into the Maels in San Francisco. For the next year and a half, they'd exchange demos over email, crafting a set of songs without ever being in the same room together. By the time they reached London's RAK Studios, two bands had become one. After 15 days, they had their self-titled debut.
As unlikely as it seems, the two bands were able to merge in a way that retained and balanced their respective idiosyncrasies to create a truly explosive hybrid. As FFS take their show on the road for a series of hotly anticipated shows, it's enough to make you question whether maybe collaboration really does work.
"Through the songwriting, recording, and the first eight dates of a long tour, it has," says Ron Mael. "Check back with us after 40 dates!"
[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar's August/September 2015 Issue, which is still on newsstands now. This is its debut online.]
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