International Clash Day: Interview with Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand

International Clash Day, Interviews
Owen Murphy
photo by David Edwards

Since forming in 2002, Franz Ferdinand have been bringing post-punk to the dance floor -- something The Clash became known for with their genre-breaking sound. KEXP chatted with frontman Alex Kapranos for International Clash Day

Franz Ferdinand has a new album titled Always Ascending out this Friday, February 9th via Domino Records. KEXP will launch a continued interview with Kapranos later this week.


KEXP: Alex, I was thinking about your band, Franz Ferdinand... It feels to me like there's kind-of a logical continuation of what The Clash was endeavoring to create, a kind of dance-able, meaningful rock with an edge, and I feel like you guys are similar in that regard. So the question then is: What in what you do in terms of making music is meaningful to you?

Alex Kapranos: You know, I really appreciate you saying that because I feel what I admired about The Clash was from the generation that they came from -- they didn't feel as restricted within their genre as maybe some of their contemporaries did. I love the way that they drew initially from reggae. They pulled all sorts of sounds, and lyrical influences, and their attitude from reggae, but also later on with songs like "Rock the Casbah" from what was happening on the dance floor. Now, in the age of streaming music where you can access songs instantly and people have less of a reverence for the constraints of genres it doesn't seem particularly shocking to us, but back then the idea of a punk rock band mixing a bit of disco in there? That upset quite a few people and I love them for doing that. I totally respect them and you know, a true artist sees the good in every genre, sees the good all around them and I really believe they are a great example of that.

...Yeah, I think it's impossible to be in a band after the age of a band like The Clash and not have them have some form of impact on what you do.

The song for me that kind of exemplifies what you're talking about -- and there are a number you could pick -- but "This Is Radio Clash" is the one that stands out to me because it's multi-genre, almost genre-bending. They're discovering New York, it's hip hop, it's punk rock, it's all these amazing things. Do you have a favorite song of theirs that captures that spirit to you?

I love that song. I love that song. I love the attitude of that song. You know we were talking about reggae earlier -- I think it's probably more lyrically than anything else, but "White Man In Hammersmith Palais." The way he describes the scene and the mix of the guy playing the Motown, and the roots beats, and the mixture of people in the room at that time -- that's incredibly evocative and incredibly powerful, and I love that. I love that song. I love that lyric.

As someone who makes great music, are there lessons to be learned from what The Clash did and then do you potentially use those lessons to create what you do?

Yeah, I think it's impossible to be in a band after the age of a band like The Clash and not have them have some form of impact on what you do. You know they're there. They're part of the canon. They're so influential. I'm trying to think how they affected us -- I love their attitude. They had a strong independence about them. They also had a real -- at a time when British punk rock can be quite parochial and inward-looking, they weren't afraid to look over the Atlantic and to look to the States for inspiration, which was quite at odds with some of their contemporaries. I appreciate that about them. Above all, with The Clash, you can see a progression in their work. When you listen to that first Clash record it's so raw. Really, really, raw. As they progressed they kept their identity and they kept their attitude, but they developed a sophistication of their music as well. An adventurousness in their music and I think any artist needs to respect that. It needs to be something you aim towards yourself - how to be able to progress with dignity and integrity.

You have a new album out, Always Ascending. That's an interesting phrase. We'll talk about that in a second if you don't mind, but first off you talked about them [The Clash] pushing themselves. How did you push yourselves artistically?

Again, it's the feeling that you've got to do something where you're not repeating yourself, but you feel that you're not losing your sense of who you are. There are many different ways. You can push yourself sonically. You can push yourself to play instruments you haven't done before, but there are lots and lots of boring technical stuff that I'm really loathe to talk about. As a composer, you use scales, or chord progressions, or ways of writing that you haven't done before just so you don't repeat yourself. Also subject matters. Subject matter is 'write about things you haven't written before.' Push yourself to bring new experiences into your songs because when you do that, it feels fresh to you, and if it feels fresh to you it's likely to feel fresh to other people as well.

" have to make sure that your voice is loud, and your voice is clear, and you maintain your integrity. Like the Clash really showed us how to do."

The Clash stood for a number of things including racial equity. In terms of social justice, and what is a really odd political time right now, what's important to you?

It's terrifying. I feel that the age that we are in feels like a regressive age. The difference between the age that we're in now and the age of The Clash is that The Clash felt they were in an age where they were progressing, that they were leaving behind and they could see the future and the future was always a better place than what had been before. The age we're in now is truly regressive. I'm not just talking about American politics. I'm talking about politics in the UK, within Europe, within all places in the world -- within the Philippines -- and I find it terrifying. I find it terrifying, but I do not find it overwhelming because you just have to say "stay strong" and you have to make sure that your voice is loud, and your voice is clear, and you maintain your integrity. Like the Clash really showed us how to do.

KEXP is celebrating International Clash Day all day long, both online and on the air; click here to see more KEXP interviews and articles.

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