After a long day’s work at the coffee shop, I was rewarded with the supreme pleasure of skyping with Paul Thomson, drummer of Franz Ferdinand, and now the collaborative pop group with LA’s duo Sparks— FFS. We talked everything from Ferdinand’s “coincidental” run in with Sparks in our very neighborhood to the whirlwind of doing a world tour after only two weeks of rehearsing.
TBB: The long awaited collaboration between Franz Ferdinand and Sparks has finally happened. Congratulations. From what I hear, this all began because both groups were fans of each other – Sparks loving “Take Me Out” which was big on the radio at that time and Franz being a big fan of Sparks’ LP “Propaganda.” How did the idea of collaborating begin being thrown around?
Paul: After we met, Sparks came to a show and they were like, “hey we’ve written you this song, ‘Piss Off’”, and we never got around to recording it because things had been so crazy for like 10 years or whatever. Then Alex bumped into them
TBB: What do you make of them running into each other and seeing what you are now?
Paul: It was obviously supposed to happen.
TBB: How do you feel about coming back to the Bay Area — the place that really gave you all the push to really make a go of FFS?
Paul: We’ve always had amazing shows in San Francisco and Oakland and have made a lot of friends there. The California tours are always great. The tour started in Glasgow where we’re from and it’s finishing in California where Sparks are from— so it’s a nice kinda full circle.
TBB: So you guys have been playing together for a little bit now, how’s the live show coming along?
Paul: It’s good, yeah. We really didn’t know what it was going to be at first you know like we rehearsed for like two weeks to play our first show in Glasgow and then it wasn’t until like half way through the show that we realized that actually this is totally fine, we’ve nailed this — but any sort of stagecraft wasn’t rehearsed, we all just kinda made it up as we went and the show just kinda developed into something — it’s a really fun show. It’s all developed not through some particularly hard brain work or anything like that – it’s all been fairly natural — we get on really well with them.
TBB: What is the secret formula that allows for vibing so well together?
Paul: We meet in the middle in terms of our sense of humor. We’re kinda into the same things— art, cinema, popular culture. As long as you’ve got that in common, that’s all you really need.
TBB: What are some of those things in terms of cinema and pop culture?
Paul: Ron studied film and graphic design before he decided to make music with his brother and that has always sort of present in their music — be it in their record sleeves or videos or even in the lyrical references as well. We’ll choose as raw material for a song actual situations where there’s a story. All of Sparks’ songs tend to be story-based, almost like a film, so we kinda have that in common as well.
TBB: With songs like “Man Without a Tan” and “Dictator’s Son,” I’ve noticed that you guys definitely write from a sense of quirky humor — you must get a kick out that.
Paul: Yeah, the humor within Franz Ferdinand is slightly more low key and kinda private jokes between all of us in the studio and weirdly it seems to translate into a larger audience. It all went into the creation of this record.
TBB: Any inside jokes that made it into this album?
Paul: The first song, “Piss Off,” was written for FFS ten years ago. The first song that we decided was going to be a collaboration, Ron wrote the bulk of the song “Collaborations Don’t Work” which we thought was pretty funny and so then we wrote these two passages for them which were inserted in kind of like a retort. We were saying we’re not collaborators and we thought they might get offended at that, you know we didn’t really know them at that stage but they were not, they loved it and so the process continued after that and turned out to be this massive suite.
TBB: Lyrical content partially defines a band. How did you go about deciding on what your content would be?
Paul: There were a few songs where Alex would write the lyrics and then send them over to Ron to do a demo, which is something we’ve never done before— writing a song with someone else’s lyrics. There were different methods for writing songs really. Sparks’ lyrics are really amazing— naturally smart and humorous— and that was something that we aspire to as well.
TBB: Is there one song on the record that best encapsulates your sound?
Paul: Maybe “Collaborations Don’t Work” because that was the song that started the whole collaboration. All six members of the group sing on it. We each have a line and we all contributed something to that song. It was sort of pasted together all these different little bits. We didn’t actually figure out how to play it live until after we recorded it, so that was the one that we were most surprised that we managed to pull off. We’ve been playing it in Europe and it seems to go down like a storm.
TBB: That’s pretty ironic actually. What line did you contribute?
Paul: “And then I draw out drama, bring the Dalhi Lama.” Usually I deliver that line after Ron’s delivered his line. Usually Ron doesn’t sing so he gets a massive cheer.
TBB: Tough act to follow. Do you have a favorite song?
Paul: Dictator’s Son, I think it’s like track 3 or 4 on the record. It came together really quickly. The recorded version bears no resemblance whatsoever to the demo version. It’s exciting when things like that happen— a song just takes on a life of it’s own.
TBB: Definitely — I love that song, of course you would know a dictator’s son by dental floss, Hugo Boss and BLTs. Speaking of songs evolving, tell me about your time in the studio witnessing this completely new sound emerge.
Paul: We hadn’t played together as a band up until two weeks before we went into the studio to figure out how we were actually going to record. We decided that since Sparks is a two piece, a piano player and a singer, and we are a fully functional four piece with a rhythm section, we thought the best idea would be to record it as a group all in a room together, but we didn’t know if it was going to work until we actually tried it. The first day that we got together in the studio it came together pretty quickly and that was quite a buzz for us.
TBB: So how’s the tour been so far?
Paul: It’s been good. Doing a lot of European festivals and a few of our own shows as well. We did a show in Japan too. You know, we never expected to be touring after we put the record together. We didn’t think that it was going to go that far but there were offers so we just decided to do it and it’s been really fun. The show has really developed and it’s just great fun hanging out with them as well.
TBB: I could only imagine the shenanigans. Is there anything you want people to know before they come out and see you guys or listen to your music for the first time?
Paul: The best way to approach the record is to not treat as a collaboration or a supergroup. We all totally balk at the term “supergroup”. Just treat it like a good pop record, that’s what we were setting out to do— a sort of odd pop record. We’re really looking forward to coming to Oakland.
FFS, The Intelligence
October 15, 2015