FFS | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, February 23rd, 2024  


Franz Ferdinand + Sparks = BFFs

Jun 08, 2015 FFS
Bookmark and Share

When one musician meets another, it’s traditional to end any conversation with a casual “let’s work together sometime.” But, as Sparks’ Ron Mael explains, when he and his brother/bandmate Russell Mael told Franz Ferdinand that they’d like to join forces, they actually meant it—even if it would take eleven years for their offer to come to fruition. Hectic work schedules would keep the Scottish band and Los Angeles-based brothers apart. A toothache would bring them together.

“I was walking down the street in San Francisco looking for a dentist,” Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos recalls during our phone conversation. “I couldn’t find the building. My sense of direction is so bad! I heard this voice behind me say, ‘Hey Alex, is that you?’ Oh, it’s Ron and Russell.”

Encouraged by their fateful meeting in a city that neither band calls home, the two camps began exchanging emails, quickly finding creative common ground. The Maels sent over album anchor “Collaborations Don’t Work,” and Franz Ferdinand returned with what would go on to become jittery anthem, “Police Encounters.” Characters began to emerge. An entitled dictator’s son. An empty-headed socialite named Johnny Delusional. The man without a tan—the ultimate mysterious lady’s man. Their sound also began to combine, Sparks’ ornate orchestral inclinations and Franz Ferdinand’s guitar-driven cool smearing together into a high-octane, dance pop hybrid.

“We haven’t done a lot of collaborations,” Ron Mael admits. “It isn’t always by choice. Part of it is just feeling ill at ease in a room with somebody strumming and playing, and worrying about what that person is thinking. This situation eliminated any of that, because it’s on a computer. You know they’re there, and you really don’t want to make a fool out of yourself. But there isn’t the embarrassment of looking somebody in the eyes and realizing, ‘oh, they didn’t like that.’ You can be freer to do things because if it does fall flat on its face, it’s not going to be someone laughing in your face, they’re just writing ‘ha ha ha’ on a computer.”

The plan had simply been to experiment and see what might emerge. But the musicians (alongside Franz Ferdinand members Nick McCarthy, Bob Hardy, and Paul Thomson) soon realized that they had created enough material for an album. They weren’t Franz Ferdinand. They weren’t Sparks. They were a completely new band, FFS. The name, chosen by Thomson, seemed to perfectly sum up their equal split.

“Collaborations might work,” jokes Russell Mael. “Both bands are strong and have their own identities. But you’re having to give up a little bit of your world to join in with this new world that you’re hopefully going to create together with both bands. We haven’t done it to this extent before, for certain. I don’t think there are really examples of two full bands ever doing it exactly…It’s a pretty big undertaking and commitment. And we think it’s rare.”

Having only spent a few scant weeks recording together in London, FFS are still testing their partnership and figuring out how to translate it from the studio to the stage. Shortly before their debut live performance, on UK talk show Later…With Jools Holland, the band realized that they hadn’t even worked out where all six members would stand on stage. They find it funny that as seasoned musicians they’re going through growing pains all over again (“The first live thing we did was televised for posterity!” Russell Mael cracks), but the Mael brothers and Kapranos admit that it’s a ride they’re enjoying.

“I think that all of us like to be put in slightly uncomfortable positions,” Ron Mael muses. “A level of discomfort is a valuable thing creatively. Nobody wants to feel ill at ease. But both bands know that a certain amount of that feeling is good, because the outcome can be something that you wouldn’t do if you felt truly safe and comfortable. Just the unknown is something. Also the unknown that you would find working with another band is different than the unknown that you would find when you’re working by yourself. Both bands are always trying to find those areas. But it broadens what that can be.”

“I think Ron is totally right,” adds Alex Kapranos. “Neither of us as bands wants to be safe and comfortable. Because if you’re safe and comfortable, you’re likely to be complacent. And if you’re complacent, you make boring music. And neither of us wants to do that.”



Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published


Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.