Franz Ferdinand stays indie -- Rock's latest ''It-band'' remains true to its roots on new album
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A tiny, pigtailed Japanese girl stands desperately at the head of the line, her Kewpie face streaked with tears. The Franz Ferdinand record signing is officially over, and sunburned fans have already begun to disappear back into the crowd, clutching their autographed albums, T-shirts, and festival posters, happily comparing the pixelated images on their camera phones. Someone — a sympathetic security guard, or maybe a soft-hearted label employee — suddenly relents and sends her through, and she shoots forward, clinching each band member in turn. When she reaches singer Alex Kapranos, she grips his shoulders in her small hands and touches her forehead to his, whispering some giddy secret. He smiles winningly, returns her grip, and leans down to listen. When she finally releases him, it is with the beatific grin of a pilgrim.

This scenario will play out countless times over the two days that LTT spends with the band at England’s V Festival; they will call out Kapranos’ name through the chain-link fence as he heads for the Porta Potties behind the tour bus; sidle up to him after an acoustic radio set; waylay him by the snack table; and no matter what, he will take their demos and listen to their stories, and never cut them short. ”It annoys me when you see bands moaning about this life that they get to lead,” he says later. ”’Oh God, not another gig, not another country’…for God’s sake, shut up, you spent most of your life wanting to do this stuff, enjoy it!”

Frankly, though, enjoyment is something this band may have to pencil in on their schedules at a later date. Right now, they’ve got a new album to sell (You Could Have It So Much Better…, out Oct. 4), and each of the two days — the festival runs simultaneously at two locations in rural England — is filled with roughly six hours of press: British and American print magazines, every possible permutation of international MTV affiliates, signings, chats with daytime television personalities, live radio sets…and that’s not counting rehearsal and performing (both nights, they’ll play to a crowd of roughly 60,000). On Saturday, Kapranos is struck with a crippling headache almost immediately after the show, and the majority of the band is bunked down on the bus by 11 p.m., the call sheets for the next day already set out by their tour manager, a gruff Australian expat named Glen.

Managers and tour buses and call sheets are still fairly recent phenomena for Franz Ferdinand; a little more than two years ago, they were just four good-timey art-school types knocking around Glasgow and jamming together in a ramshackle warehouse facetiously dubbed the Chateau. Good buzz led them to Domino USA, a fledgling offshoot of the respected U.K. label, which released their Darts of Pleasure EP in November 2003. Fast-forward through several key touring spots (opening bills for Interpol and Hot Hot Heat, among others), a proper full-length (eventually taken over by major label Epic), and one mammoth rock-radio hit (”Take Me Out”), and — voilà! — stardom, or at least its approximate equivalent. In the U.K., that means hardly a week passes without mention of their musical progress in NME; less circumspect publications consider their private lives fair game as well. And Stateside, if opening this year’s Grammys means being the least-known act of a five-act medley — Maroon 5, the Black Eyed Peas, Gwen Stefani and Eve, and Los Lonely Boys also participated — it still means, well, opening the Grammys. (The group would go home empty-handed that night, but then again, they already had their MTV, Mercury, and Brit Awards prizes for comfort.)

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