Franz Ferdinand On Releasing A Greatest Hits LP In The Streaming Era: “They’re Our Songs; We Know Which Ones Are The Best Ones!”
Alex Kapranos and Bob Hardy discuss the Scottish dance-punk band's new career-spanning comp Hits To The Head
Greatest hits records are scarce these days. Since streaming became the dominant mode of modern music consumption, listeners have often opted to make their own versions. Playlists are ubiquitous, and people can listen to virtually anything they want to hear (or, in some cases, whatever the nebulous algorithm wants them to hear). Despite this prospective obsolescence, Franz Ferdinand are scheduled to release their own greatest hits compilation, Hits To The Head, this March.
Known as one of the definitive post-punk revival bands of the aughts, Franz Ferdinand have a slew of famous hits: “Take Me Out,” “This Fire,” “Do You Want To,” “No You Girls.” With a catalog spanning nearly two decades and five studio albums, the Glaswegian indie rockers have a wealth of material to pull from. The curation process for Hits To The Head, though, marked the first time the band had listened to their own records in a long time.
“It was really interesting compiling the record because you have to listen to it a lot to master it,” vocalist-guitarist Alex Kapranos said. “I presume it’s the same for most musicians, but when I make a record, when it’s done, I never listen to it again, unless it comes on in a café or a shop. Then you just walk out as quickly as possible. It was the first time I had actually listened closely to those recordings in quite a while.”
Bassist Bob Hardy echoed this sentiment and explained that, in a peculiar way, it renewed faith in the band. “Over the pandemic, when we were locked down for so long, there were a few occasions where we’d listen to albums with fans online,” Hardy said. “I forget all of the records, but we did it with Tonight. That was the first time I had sat down and listened to some of the records from start to finish since we’d made them. That reminded me, like, ‘There’s some good stuff here! This is quite good!'”
We caught up with Kapranos and Hardy over Zoom to discuss Hits To The Head, their feelings about greatest hits records in the streaming age, how they represented particular albums in this compilation, how the pair of new songs on the album reflect the band’s future direction, and more. Below, you can read our conversation with them.
Why did you feel that now was the right time to make this greatest hits compilation?
ALEX KAPRANOS: It just felt right. It’s something we’ve been talking about for quite a while, but we couldn’t make it too long, just in terms of how many songs you could fit on two LPs. Any more and you would run out of space, so it seemed like the right time to do it. We’ve been speaking to Domino for a long time about it, and it feels like a good thing to do.
In terms of having enough space to include all these songs, was that a determining factor in trying to figure out what songs to include and what songs to exclude?
KAPRANOS: It was kind of obvious for the most part, the songs that were going to go on it. There were a few that we were like, “Maybe we should put that on,” but, again, there wasn’t space. There were other singles, like “Bullet” and “Fresh Strawberries.” So maybe if we’d done it a couple of years ago, they would have been on there, as well.
BOB HARDY: I guess it was informed by songs that we included at festival sets and still play live. Because we tour so much, that’s informed how we perceive our back catalog and which songs are our favorites.
KAPRANOS: And you just know which ones are the bangers, so stick them on!
With “Lucid Dreams,” you went with the non-album version, the Mike Fraser mix. Why did you decide to go with that?
KAPRANOS: That’s the way we play it live.
HARDY: Recently, we put it back into the set after quite a few years of not playing it. The version we chose was the original version that we put out before the album Tonight.
KAPRANOS: I remember why we put it in the set, as well. When we started touring Always Ascending, just before the album came out, we played a gig in Vancouver, and there was some guy down in the front. Between every song, he was banging on the stage, going “LUCID DREAMS! LUCID DREAMS!” And then when we finished the set, he was still banging on the stage.
HARDY: We were in the dressing room, and the venue staff were clearing up, and he was by himself with all the plastic cups, going “LUCID DREAMS!” The following day, we learned how to play it.
KAPRANOS: I was like, “Maybe we should listen to that song again.” It’s funny because you go back and listen to it and go, “Oh yeah, that’s pretty good.”
HARDY: Over the years, people have said, “How come you don’t play ‘Lucid Dreams’?” I think the version we were playing, the album version, we really didn’t feel it when we were doing it live in the last nine years. So we were like, “Well, let’s have a listen to it.” When we went back to the actual core pop song of it, we were like, “This is pretty fun! It’s really fun to play.”
How do you feel about the potential obsolescence of greatest hits albums in the streaming age?
KAPRANOS: I have a number of reasons why I like the idea of greatest hits albums and why I think they’re still relevant. One of them is that I love them myself. I always liked them when I was a kid. My parents always had them. They were my introduction to music. The second one is the renaissance of vinyl. You can make a playlist of anything that you want on Spotify, but I’ve always loved listening to vinyl, I still love listening to vinyl, and I know a huge proportion of our fans like vinyl, as well. Also, it’s in the nature of the choice itself. Anybody can put together a selection of songs that are their favorites, but it will never be as good as the selection that we make because our taste is best. [Laughs] They’re our songs; we know which ones are the best ones!
That’s the funny thing, as well. Now that the tracklist’s gone out, I’ve seen fans go, “How come you didn’t put that one on? Why didn’t you put that one on? Why didn’t you put ‘Jeremy Fraser’ on?” But that’s the thing. Another album I’d love to do is a rarities album. There are a lot of songs we’ve put out that are B-sides on EPs. I think of songs like “L. Wells” or “Shopping For Blood” or something like that. I definitely think we should have an album like that at some point. We’ll have to speak to Domino about that first.
Now that you’ve gone back through all your records, will you be more mindful of your career trajectory and how your songwriting is evolving over the years?
KAPRANOS: At the moment, I’m not thinking about that at all. We were in the studio just a couple of days ago. That’s where my mind is at the moment; it’s not really in the past. I feel like putting this out is a way that I can concentrate on the present and the future. By having that out of the way, I can go, “There’s the retrospective for everybody else to consider,” whereas I’m considering the present and future. For us as artists, that’s what we’re doing.
When you go and see a retrospective of a living artist or an artist who’s still working, what’s good about it is you see the arc that’s leading up to the present day, to the moment that our retrospective is put together. That’s really what’s happening with this album, as well, and particularly because there are new songs on it. I think “Billy Goodbye” is a very classic Franz Ferdinand song, but maybe “Curious” is an indication of where things could go in the future. It’s a little different from other things, and that’s what you should see at the end of a retrospective.
It seems some albums got more representation than others. There are two Always Ascending songs, but there are four Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action songs. What was the decision-making process behind representing certain albums?
KAPRANOS: I didn’t really think about that!
HARDY: I didn’t really think about it, either. I think part of that might have come from the fact that Always Ascending is the most recent release. I always find that when we tour, it’s always the last album we did that gets the least represented. Sometimes we go back to the one before last that was misrepresented on the last tour, obviously not when you’re doing the actual album tour. When you tour a record, you might play all of those songs from that album with some additional ones. But it’s the one after that, like when you go to festivals. It’s some kind of psychological block.
KAPRANOS: But it is true. It’s like, “Well, that’s what we did last, but now we’re doing something new. But, oh, remember that cool stuff that we did before?” Like, we’d forgotten about that.
HARDY: It feels fresh again.
KAPRANOS: I think you’ve hit something there. I reckon if we’d done this compilation after the next album we’re going to do, there probably would’ve been five songs from Always Ascending because that’s where our minds would have been.
How do you guys think that each Franz Ferdinand record establishes its own sonic identity?
KAPRANOS: It’s interesting because they definitely do. When I was listening to the songs from Tonight, I hear little things. Like, I remember being obsessed with making a snare sound a particular way, and that really sounds like that on that album. Or the energy of the second album was totally frantic because of the way that we’d been playing when we were touring. And you’re right. All of the albums have very distinct sonic identities, but when you listen to it as a whole in the context of the retrospective, I don’t know if you notice that so much. It feels more cohesive.
HARDY: Also, the characteristics of each album, like the frantic nature of the second record, when you’re making them, you have no idea that that’s a thing, either. I can only see that in retrospect. It’s after you’ve finished it and really had some time to breathe where you can identify it and go, “Oh, this is why we did that.”
KAPRANOS: You know when you look back on photographs of yourself from 15 years ago or photographs of your parents when they were young and the kind of clothes that they were wearing? You go, “Man, look at that. Everybody was wearing lumberjack shirts at that particular time.” Or, “Look at my parents wearing polyester flares.” At the time, you don’t think about that. It’s just what your life is and what you’re doing. It’s the same as a musician, as well. You’re so caught up in it. A lot of it is just instinctive and not particularly considered. It’s just such a natural evolution of what your identity is. You don’t necessarily notice it. There are a thousand tiny decisions which make up the whole identity. You can’t really sum it up.
You mentioned that you had envisioned Hits To The Head as vinyl. What are your feelings on the backlog and delays associated with vinyl?
KAPRANOS: I feel that if there are any venture capitalists reading this, I would invest heavily in a vinyl pressing plant. I think that’s what we need right now. I don’t know much about economics, but I’ve heard about supply and demand. And there seems to be a lot of demand for vinyl right now, so I would get to supplying it if I was a big capitalist. So get out there.
It’s frustrating. I’d love to be able to click my fingers and put a record out, but we’ll see how it evolves. I love that people are excited about records because I’m excited about records. I like listening to records. I think that interest can only be a good thing. I’ve seen a few things online about people griping, like “Adele’s record is causing problems” or “people are buying rereleases of Rumours by Fleetwood Mac” or whatever. I don’t want to judge other people’s tastes in music. If that’s what you want to listen to on vinyl, fine, you go for it. If there’s more interest in vinyl, then I can only see that as a good thing in the long run. It’ll mean that there will be more pressing plants. That’s the way I’m optimistically trying to view it.
Hits To The Head is out 3/11 on Domino.