Franz Ferdinand Lives!

The Glasgow rockers with a memorable name may have gotten big early, but they’re not interested in becoming history just yet.

Over the last century, we’ve had to remember the name Franz Ferdinand twice. The first time around, historians were referencing the Archduke of Austria, whose assassination in 1914 would ultimately lead to World War I. More recently, the discussion was centered on a Scottish band whose 2004 single “Take Me Out” became a ubiquitous hit and a watershed moment of the early-aughts rock revival.

Many of Franz Ferdinand’s peers have subsequently disbanded or faded away, but the Glaswegians have carried on. The February release of Always Ascending marked the band’s fifth album, although drummer Paul Thomson concedes Franz Ferdinand still encounters people who thought the group had called it quits long ago.

“When our first record came out, we were in the middle of this hype storm,” he says. “We were massively uncomfortable with it at the time. It took us years to get used to the idea that we were professional musicians, let alone rock stars. Still, there are times when we’ll see someone at the airport that will ask us if we’re in a band. We tell them we’re Franz Ferdinand and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize you were still going.’ I think that says more about them than it does about us. They probably just stopped listening to music.”

For those who haven’t receded into a musical hibernation, there’s all the evidence in the world to prove that Franz Ferdinand aren’t simply “still going,” but continuing to push themselves in new directions. While their first two albums relied on the punk-tinged brand of jubilant, hook-heavy rock featured on “Take Me Out,” later releases have subsequently explored a more dance-focused sound. These efforts have rewarded Franz Ferdinand with five Grammy nominations and the 2004 Mercury Prize, as well as venues that continue to be filled with fans — although Thomson has noticed some are new to the party.

“There are a lot of really young people coming to the shows,” he says. “People are coming who maybe just got into us.”

These latecomers are a case study in how fans learn about music these days. Thomson says the band often hears from people who first discovered Franz Ferdinand while playing Guitar Hero or who heard the band’s music in Madden NFL 2005. Others may find the group thanks to their propensity for covering a wide array of songs. Earlier this year, they decided to pay homage to their Canadian hosts by taking on Drake’s “Passionfruit” during a performance at the House of Strombo.

Apparently, the effort had some early detractors, including lead singer Alex Kapranos.

“Alex didn’t want to sing that song,” Thomson explains. “He hated the sentiment behind the lyrics. It became a big, long discussion, with Bob [Hardy, the bassist] arguing in Drake’s defense. It sounded like Love Unlimited Orchestra when we played it. Since the show was recorded in Toronto, we thought it would be fitting. However, when we got there, we found out that we were the fourth artist to cover a Drake track.”

It wasn’t their only recent foray into hip-hop, either.

As the group’s drummer, Thomson has long constructed his percussion for songs by first programming them and then figuring out how to replicate it live.

“When I just sit and play,” he says, “my arms tend to fall into the same patterns, so it’s good to try and challenge yourself a little bit and do something that your body might not necessarily let you do unless you taught it.”

One day, Thomson was toying around with an AKAI MPC sampler when he stumbled upon the method by which many beatmakers create the rhythm of trap hi-hats. He would later incorporate his discovery into the Always Ascending track “Huck and Jim.”

“I found this trick that they all do, which is when you go from fourths to 16ths to 64ths on the hats just by pressing a button,” he explains. “I started to wonder if I could do that physically. We wanted the song to sound like our very wrong interpretation of a trap record.”

Embracing their peculiarities has always served Franz Ferdinand well. Alongside Belle and Sebastian and CHVRCHES, they are the pride of Glasgow’s modern music scene. Just as the band looked forward to tackling a cut from Drake, Thomson also notes that there is a distinguished history of bands happy to stick seemingly disparate elements together and hope the result is something magical.

“That’s what I like about the whole French house scene,” Thomson says. “Look at Daft Punk: They pillaged from ’70s rock and Eddie Van Halen guitar solos and would mix that with a Detroit club track from the early nineties. It shouldn’t work, but it does. When you put those two ideas together, it’s hilarious but it’s also exciting. That’s what excites us about making music: trying to copy things and getting them really wrong.

“The beauty,” he adds, “ is that in the end, it becomes yours.”

Franz Ferdinand, Thursday, May 17, 8 p.m., at the Fox, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. $38; 510-302-2250 or

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Related Stories