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Sparks, Franz Ferdinand frontmen preview collaborative album, 'FFS'

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Eleven years ago, Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos turned on a record by the art-pop/rock duo Sparks and was immediately electrified. So much so that he started brainstorming ideas for a collaboration. But those plans were put on hold once Franz Ferdinand’s indie-rock-dance-track-crossover single, “Take Me Out” off their self-titled debut, took off that same year. Between separate tours and album releases on each outfit’s part, it would take 11 years and one serendipitous trip the dentist in San Francisco for the Scottish rockers to circle back to the Mael brothers. Both happened to be performing in California in 2013 when Ron and Russell ran into Kapranos on his way to fix a broken tooth.

“We just happened to be walking down the street in San Francisco when Alex was walking down the same street in San Francisco, he was headed to the dentist because he had broken one of his teeth,” Russell recalls. “We were like, ‘Is that you, Alex?’ and he said, ‘It is.’ We said, ‘Hey, what about that project? The idea we had to do something together almost 10 years prior?'” 

That music is finally seeing the light of day. On June 9, the group will release their first album together, under the moniker FFS. The record is a 12-track collection that perfectly mixes Franz Ferdinand’s knack for taut rock jams with Spark’s ornate flourishes (particularly Russell’s soaring falsetto). 

EW caught up with the respective frontmen, Russell Mael and Kapranos, to discuss the origins of FFS, what to expect from the album, and why you shouldn’t call them a supergroup.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you originally envision a full collaborative album? What was the scale of “project” when you first mentioned it to each other?

Alex Kapranos: We didn’t really have a fixed idea. In the back of my head it was probably a split single—we would do one of their songs or they would do one of our songs. And I think if we had done it back in 2004 that’s probably what it would have been. But what happened this time is that we started sending songs back and forth to each other and before we knew it we had quite a large body of work and we thought, “Well this feels like an album. Lets make an album together.”

The album is just both bands’ names joined together, FFS. Should we look at this as the self-titled collection of a new supergroup or as a one-off project?

Russell Mael: There should be no assumptions. 

KapranosI wouldn’t use the name supergroup—that’s not something we feel any affinity with. When I think of supergroups I think of those groups in the late ‘60s and ‘70s where you’ve got one member of one band and one from another, etcetera. This is really something quite different, its two completely different entities coming together to form something new. But we are taking it seriously, it’s not just some kind of side-project. This is what we’re doing at the moment. All along, with the project we had no idea what was going to happen next—that’s kind of what was exciting about it, you couldn’t really tell what the future held. That’s how I feel about it now—I can’t really tell where it’s going to go. We’re going to go on tour, but beyond that I don’t really know. 

Suddenly, you each went from two bands with one lead singer to having one band with two lead singers, how did you balance the vocals?

Kapranos: We had no idea if it was going to work or not. The first time I got a tease of it—the first song we worked on was the song that became “Police Encounters” and Nick and I sent over the music for that to Ron and Russell and they sent it back with Russell’s vocals on it, then I sang and listened back and thought, “My god, that really works.” I think it works because our voices are quite different, we’re not really fighting for the same territory. 

Mael: What we were really proud of was how the two voices kind of seamlessly intertwined on the album and it was never really a case of, “Here’s one song, this is Alex,” or “This is one song, its Russell singing.” The challenge was seeing how both voices could be seamless on the album—both voices sounding as a new voice in a certain respect. 

In the same respect, what was the new songwriting process?

Kapranos: It was something we’d never really done before. We wrote 6,000 miles apart, just sending songs via email and working on each song as they were sent back and forth. And it would work in different ways for different songs. Sometimes it was a complete song that was sent over, sometimes it would be a piece of music—different things for different songs, but truly it was collaborative. But writing 6,000 miles apart, again, is something I’ve never done before. If I’ve ever written a song with someone before its always been in the same room and while that’s something I’m quite comfortable with, I think from what Ron said, he’s not very comfortable with that idea. So it ended up working very well for us. 

Were there any specific influences for the collection?

Mael: We never really discussed where it was all heading, but in retrospect you can kind of see there are certain characters that have certain things in common with each other throughout the album but it was never really discussed or intentionally. 

Kapranos: We wanted to make something new. We didn’t want it to be a repetition of anything that either band had done before. We didn’t want it to sound like a Franz Ferdinand record with Russell singing on it, or a Sparks record with me singing on it, or the guys playing on it. So we wanted to make a new band identity—that’s what we were working toward all along. 

When you guys tour, do you plan to incorporate Franz Ferdinand or Sparks songs into the set?

Kapranos: The main focus is on the main record, that’s what we want to be playing. But we’d like to cover a few songs as well—some couple of Franz Ferdinand songs, a few Sparks songs, as well. And that’s the way we see it as well because its not going to sound like Sparks playing those songs or Franz Ferdinand playing those songs. So there will be slightly versions, I think it would be daft not to play them. 

You’re suddenly going to have a few more people on stage as well to get used to. 

Mael: We got our first taste about a week or so ago in London. We did the Jools Holland show and playing live on national television there, it was really exciting and harrowing that our first live performance would be done in that sort of way where you had to be fully up to speed. 

Kapranos: We didn’t really work that out until we got to the studio and it was like, “Oh god there’s six of us how is this going to go?” And I don’t think we got it right for the Jools Holland performance but we’ll sort it out. But then again, back in February I joined Sparks onstage at the Ace Hotel when they were playing songs from Kimono My House and they had a 38-piece orchestra, so after seeing that you work out that you can actually get quite a few people up there. We’ll be fine with six. 

Any particular song you’re most excited for people to hear?

Kapranos: “Police Encounters,” sounded really cool for the Jools Holland performance, it was fun to do live. I’ve been enjoying playing “Call Girl” as well. Some of the songs that are maybe a little different, like “Little Guy From The Suburbs”—that’s quite different from anything we’ve done before and anything that Sparks has done before. It just has a whole different atmosphere and vibe to it. So I want to do that live because it is so different and the new is always what’s most appealing to a band. And also “So Desu Ne” because its so electronic based. 

Tour dates are listed below.

June 16: Art School, Glasgow, Scotland 

June 19: Free Music Festival, Montendre, France

June 20: Aluna Festival, Ruoms, France

June 22: Inmusic Festival, Zagreb, Jarun       

June 24: Ancienne Belgique, Brussels, Belgium

June 26: Bataclan, Paris, France (sold out)

June 29: The Troxy, London, UK

July 1: Gloria, Cologne, Germany

July 2: Melkweg, Amsterdam, Netherlands (sold out)

July 4: Bobital L’Armor A Sons Festival, Dinan, France

July 5: Transbordeur, Lyon, France

July 7: Goa Boa Festival, Genova, France

July 8: Summer Odyssee, Zurich, Switzerland

July 10: Pohoda Festival, Trencin, Slovakia

July 11: Cruilla Festival, Barcelona, Spain

July 16: Zanne Festival, Catania, Italy

July 18: Super Bock Super Rock, Lisbon, Portugal

July 19: Benicassim Festival, Spain

August 20: For Noise Festival, Lausanne, Switzerland

August 21: Pukkelpop Festival, Hasselt, Belgium

August 22: Lowlands Festival, Biddinghuizen, Netherlands

August 24: Festival Theater, Edinburgh, Scotland (sold out)

August 28: Rock En Seine Festival, Paris, France

September 3: Home Festival, Treviso, Italy

September 5: We Are Next Festival, Rovereto, Italy

September 10: Tivoli, Copenhagen, Denmark

September 12: Lollapalooza, Berlin, Germany