Skip to main content

Home Music Music News

Alex Kapranos: “BBC Radio 1 has all the joy of an American Candy store”

As Franz Ferdinand gear up to release their greatest hits, frontman Alex Kapranos tells us about 20 years at the top and what he makes of indie sleaze

By Nick Reilly

Franz Ferdinand pose for a press shot
Franz Ferdinand, 2022 (Picture: David Edwards)

“Alan Partridge was right!”, says Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos. An unlikely defence, but one that seems entirely appropriate when talking about greatest hits records, you see.

The Franz Ferdinand frontman is chatting to Rolling Stone UK as the indie titans gear up to release ‘Hits To The Head’, their own greatest hits collection which provides an all-encompassing look back at over twenty years at the top.

And, just like Steve Coogan’s iconic comedy creation defended The Best of The Beatles, Kapranos says that greatest hits records can be the perfect entry into a band’s storied career for newcomers.

You can read our full chat with Kapranos below, including his sage opinions on the #IndieSleaze phenomenon and whether we’ll ever see Franz Ferdinand restart their supergroup with pop oddity icons Sparks.

Hello, Alex Kapranos! Why is now the right time for a best of Franz Ferdinand?

It would’ve gone out two years ago but then the pandemic happened. It certainly felt like the right time in terms of what we had released y’know, we always talked about one and always thought about it in the context of a double album. You can only really fit 20 songs on a double LP without losing quality and we thought now’s the time!

Was it tough to whittle 20 years of work down to just 20 songs?

I do like having parameters to work with, I think that’s very healthy creatively and just with life in general you know? It was good having to choose them and some of were so obvious, like you’re not going to do it without ‘Dark Of The Matinee’ or ‘Ulysses, ‘No You Girls’ or ‘Michael’ and those kinds of songs. But then were others, like ‘Lazy Boy’ from the last record, that really connected with people. That could have easily been on there too. My criteria were do I like the song and would I play the song if I was headlining a festival? If the answer was yes, then they were in there!

You’ve got two new songs too, in the form of ‘Billy Goodbye’ and ‘Curious’. What do they say about Franz Ferdinand in the here and now?

As with many of these songs on these record, I just really like writing them. I know it sounds really daft, but it’s just the way it is. I love writing songs and it’s the thing I’ve done since I was 15. But I do like how they sound very different from other periods of the band, yet they sound very much like Franz Ferdinand. They sound like they belong on the record. I’d hate to put out a song where you think ‘Why the fuck’s that on the record?’, I’d want people to think of course they belong on the record! But at the same time I don’t want to do a song where people think ‘F**k, it’s eighteen years later and they’ve done exactly the same thing’. We’re reaching to do something new all the time, but it’s important to know your identity and let that come through so it sounds like a Franz Ferdinand song.

Greatest Hits collections, rather unfairly, tend to be maligned sometimes…

You’re right and I think I used to be a snob about them. When I’d see them in someone’s record collection I would go ‘Oh right! You just like the singles? I like the deep cuts.’ But now, I have a love for them, because they were such a big part of my life when I was a kid. My parents had them, partly because they didn’t have a shed load of money to spend on records, but partly because the singles were all they wanted. And that’s fine.

“My mum didn’t want to sit and listen to the second side of ‘Low’, but I really did. Both sides of Bowie are great, and if that’s all you want then fuck it”

I’ve always had an egalitarian approach to the way you put the music into the world, but once it’s out there you have no control over how people listen to it. I love the idea that for some people singles are all they want. I’m like that on some records! I’ve got the Shangri-La’s greatest hits, that’s all I need and it’s fine! The ones my parents had too, they were introductions to another world for me as a kid. ‘Changes’ made me want to go out and buy all of Bowie’s records. My mum didn’t want to sit and listen to the second side of ‘Low’, but I really did. Both sides of Bowie are great, and if that’s all you want then fuck it.

It’s like that Alan Partridge joke about his favourite Beatles album being their Best Of…

It’s funny because you can laugh at the Middle England bourgeoisie of Alan, but he’s also right! In a way, you’ve got to laugh at the people who laugh at him! They’re the snobs. Everyone laughs at Alan Partridge because he’s such a stuck up snob, but he’s right! The Beatles’ Red and Blue albums are much better than The White Album.

What’s the secret to the longevity that has got you to this point?

Oh gosh, what is it?! I think you’ve just got to keep writing and recording good songs. It sounds stupid and obvious. You have to love it too, and I love being in a band. I love writing songs, I love being on stage and I’ve been to reunion gigs where I’ve looked at bands and thought ‘Oh my god you guys fucking hate this! Why are you on stage?”

If you get to that stage then you should just stop it, because people can tell. If I don’t want to be there, I hope I can tell. That’s the secret, just wanting to be there.

Have you seen the indie sleaze revival? It feels like a new generation are looking back affectionally at the mid-noughties indie scene and rediscovering it. You were a massive part of that…

I’m aware of it and what I find strange is that it seems to be a different set of labels being put on a group of musicians who were previously dismissed as being landfill indie. But I think there’s something, both of those terms reveal something true about the nature of that period of music. The pejorative is true because there was an over-exposure of that music and maybe a period where if there was any four c***s in a band with tight jeans on, they’d get played on Radio 1! There was terrible s***e that came out in the late 2000s and I think that turned people against it.

But what came after that, in the decade that has just gone, I did see that some journalists would refer to it as “new poptimism”, the move towards a love affair with the extreme pop end of things. I understood why people were drawn to it, but as the decade went on it became more and more anodyne and sexless.

We’re at a stage where I do sometimes listen to Radio 1 and think ‘F*****g hell, this has got all the sex and joy of one of those American Candy stores on Oxford Street.’ Just awful, truly truly awful. I think there is a desire for something a bit dirtier and a bit more real with the stink of sex about it. I totally understand that and I empathise with that.

You made a record with Sparks in 2015 as FFS. Any plans to do more with those guys?

Throughout my career I’ve tried to do things that were surprises, I love the idea of doing something where people will go ‘What the fuck! I wasn’t expecting that.’ Even recently, doing the choreography in the video for ‘Curious’. That’s how it felt when we made the record with Sparks, like this is going to be a good surprise. I think to come back and go ‘SURPRISE! AGAIN!’, it doesn’t appeal to me. I wish those guys all the best, and I’m glad there has been a reappraisal of their career, because I really felt that before we made that FFS record, they were a criminally overlooked and neglected band and I’m really happy that the FFS project brought the critical eye back on them and made people appreciate their strengths as artists.

Is it harder for outsiders to break through now?

Yeah, I think there’s something in that. Something that Sparks and our band have in common is that were outsiders, oddities working on the outside and living on the outside and creatively on the outside, who stumbled into the mainstream. Both of us were in the Top Of The Pops era too, Sparks with ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us’ and us with ‘Take Me Out’. They’re both really f*****g weird songs and I’m trying to think of artists what are making really fucking weird songs that are coming into the mainstream and there’s not a lot coming to mind. It feels like the out-there is being kept out there, which I don’t like. When the outsiders come in and maraud the mainstream, they’re my favourite moments.