After the great success of its first two albums, Franz Ferdinand (2004) and You Could Have It So Much Better (2005), Glaswegian rock band Franz Ferdinand could have made its fans very happy by delivering in their much-anticipated third album simply more, well, Franz Ferdinand.
There was no obvious reason to move away from the tight, driving post-punk sound that had carried the band from their start in small, crowded clubs in 2002 to the top of the charts, the stage of many major awards shows, and the large concert venues where they typically tour today.
But Franz Ferdinand lead singer/guitarist Alex Kapranos, a musician every bit as energetic and restless as he appears on stage, says that as the band re-convened after a touring break to make the album, it became clear that the only way forward was to forge a sound that would be “different from everything we've ever done before."
That new sound can be heard on Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, a concept album that evokes in its lyrics and music the feel of a late night club crawl. Which explains the unusually prescriptive listening advice on the band’s MySpace page: “You can listen to it during the day, but it's better at night.”
Kapranos credits the album’s hard-earned new sound to years of exploratory songwriting and live-performance testing; to the band’s first-time collaboration with “mad mixer” producer Dan Carey; and to liberating new on-the-road and in-studio writing, recording, and editing workflows anchored by Logic Pro and GarageBand.
It is written: GarageBand to Logic
For much of his musical career, Kapranos had written songs the old-fashioned way, playing and singing into a tape recorder. He was teased but ultimately turned off by most of the digital tools he’d experienced in various studios.
“When it comes to recording, I don’t want to be a technical person,” says Kapranos. “The studio should be a creative place. So I like a system that is really straightforward, visually appealing, and simple. GarageBand reminded me of the old four-track tape recorders I always used to use to write songs, so I started using it for jotting down musical ideas.”
Some of his GarageBand demos actually made their way onto Tonight, including vocals used in several tracks and a bass line for “Ulysses.” “We ended up using parts of the demo for the song ‘Twilight Omens’ in the album itself,” says Kapranos. “I recorded that in GarageBand through the little condenser microphone on my MacBook Pro. The sound of the keyboard reflecting off the bare floorboards in my flat gave it a really ethereal spooky sound.”
Although Kapranos continues to use GarageBand for immediate idea capture, he decided to broaden his tool set for writing and mixing by moving up to Logic Pro, encouraged by conversations with fellow musician Kevin Barnes from the band “of Montreal.”
“Kevin described how in Logic he could hit the caps lock key and use the computer keyboard as a piano keyboard,” says Kapranos. “I thought, Wow, without even plugging in a USB cable I could just sit in a plane, a tour bus, a dressing room, or backstage during sound check and, if I’ve got an idea for a tune, stick it down right there. I want as little as possible to get between the idea and capturing the idea, and Logic seemed perfect for that.”
On the Road
Kapranos uses Logic chiefly for writing and arranging on the road, and for creating remixes. For mobile writing and recording, he uses Logic running on a MacBook Pro with a radically minimal kit. “When I’m actually putting things down I’ll use the Apogee Duet," he says. "It sounds great, but it's also small enough to fit into my hand luggage with a little travel guitar. With just the tiny guitar, the Duet, and my MacBook Pro, there’s so much less to carry around.”
After he has his basic song idea, Logic becomes even more helpful. “When I want to get an arrangement together, Logic is brilliant for that, and very, very straightforward," he says. "It lets you get to a rough demo really quickly.”
Recently, Kapranos has used his minimal system to create a series of remixes for other bands. “I’ve never been able to properly work on the road, but I’ve done all of these in dressing rooms and hotel rooms entirely on the MacBook Pro, using the really excellent Logic plug-ins, like Compressor and Channel EQ.”
Kapranos, who likes to leverage old analog gear such as the Polyvox Russian synthesizers used on the new album, is nevertheless a major fan of Logic’s software instruments. “I love the sounds I’ve been getting out of Sculpture. I much prefer a soft synthesizer that isn’t trying to recreate a synthesizer from the past. I want something that’s going to be fresh to me, something that I’ve never seen before so I can use it to create sounds for people that they’ve never heard before.”
In the Studio
Kapranos and the band found a perfect partner in trying to create that unprecedented sound in longtime Logic producer Dan Carey. They recorded in the band’s studio, a converted Victorian-era town hall in Glasgow and also in Carey’s studio in London.
“Alex and I felt that a lot of records are made in quite a safe way at the moment, where options are always left open,” says Carey. “For example, by always recording your sounds in as dry a way as possible so that effects can be applied later if somebody changes their mind. In the old days, musicians used to have to produce the sound they wanted in the studio and record that. And if they didn’t like it, they’d do it again. We kind of agreed with that, and that’s what we did.”
Again reaching backwards to move their sound forward, the band and Carey decided to record the songs for Tonight using the old-school technique of exhaustive repeated complete takes in studio. “We wanted to keep it kind of extreme, with that intense, locked-in feel a band has when it’s playing in a rehearsal studio,” says Carey. “So we’d play each section of a song for hours until that intensity set in.”