It’s not the money. It’s not the sex. It’s definitely not the amphetamines. No, for Bob Hardy, the biggest perk of being in a globally famous rock band is the freedom to avoid what he doesn’t want to do – namely, get out of bed in the morning.
A similar luxury, however, does not extend to conversations with the media. And like rising early, talking to me is not something the 35-year-old appears to relish. Speaking from Scotland on the last Friday in September, each of Hardy’s answers ends with a silence that contains an implicit Are we done yet? Unfortunately, the implied response of each subsequent question is Sorry, man, not yet.
Of course, his casual disinterest when it comes to, say, recounting how it felt to play alongside the Black Eyed Peas is the opposite of personal; that’s just how some people get when you stand between them and the thing they love most.
So, we can’t really blame him. After all, he is Bob, the bassist of Franz Ferdinand. The voice questioning him on the other end of the phone is in this case my own, but he’s been dealing with various transmutations of it for ten years, and I’m sure the questions haven’t changed all that much. At this point, the man would just rather, understandably, be napping.
What has changed is the role he’s soon to be playing on tour: For the next few weeks, he’ll be Bob, the bassist of FFS. The recently minted supergroup combines the members of Franz Ferdinand with Ron and Russel Mael of decades-spanning cult psych-pop duo Sparks. Rumblings about this partnership first surfaced following the release of Franz Ferdinand’s multi-platinum 2004 debut, but it didn’t really get legs until 2013 when frontman Alex Kapranos just happened to run into the one and only brothers Mael on the streets of San Francisco.
The result is FFS, an operatic and whimsical album that’s gutsier and weirder than anything in Franz Ferdinand’s catalogue, but by no means an affront to the sensibilities of those for whom Franz Ferdinand is mostly regarded as a historical figure from the year 2005.
Sparks’ contributions to the album are welcome and quite evident, if only by process of elimination for the Sparks uninitiated, myself included. The melodies are arching and momentous, with less of the staggered bursts of hurried pop that comprised the charm of Franz Ferdinand’s last decade, although the latter is still there.
It makes sense that Franz Ferdinand would be deferential to Sparks’ wild, Ziggy Stardust-esque style: As Hardy informs me, he and the rest of Franz Ferdinand have been fans of the duo from its golden years through its post-millennial “we’ve been doing this for way too long to think about stopping” period.
The partnership stands out as a subject that excites Hardy, however unintentionally, and that much should give us the sense that something novel could be expected at an FFS show.
You’ve had the opportunity to develop a somewhat unique perspective on the world. What countries have surprised you the most?
It’s always surprising when you travel far from home and see different audiences. We’ve played Uruguay twice now, Paraguay, Peru, Chili. It’s all been really fun; very different crowds.
Crowds in Japan are so attentive. When there’s a quiet moment in songs, you can really hear the silence. They’re so focused. We were playing with Spiritualized at Summer Sonic in Tokyo, and it was almost a religious moment when there were any breaks in the music. They just seem to care quite a bit over there.
At the 2005 Grammy’s, you performed “Take Me Out” as part of a medley with Los Lonely Boys, Maroon 5, The Black Eyed Peas, and Gwen Stefani. With some distance, what’s it like to look back at that point in the band’s career?
It was surreal, I guess. During the middle of it, you don’t really process it. It was all so quick. I remember at one point Led Zeppelin was sitting behind us. Kanye did the “Jesus Walks” thing. It was amazing – like being in an alternate universe, really. At one point, we were on the red carpet and Hulk Hogan was standing right behind us. I’d never been anywhere like that before.
That sounds like a Halloween party, except in real life.
Exactly. It was like an awesome Halloween party where everyone’s spent months making their costumes.
Is the position you’re in now more desirable – still being a band that headlines festivals, but perhaps one that can lead a more normal life?
I don’t regret the craziness, but it’s nice these days. It’s more sustainable. That was a really busy period of time, and now I have more time to think and do projects like the FFS thing with mental space to think about it.
What’s home life like now for you?
Me? [Laughs] I live in Glasgow. Things are pretty normal. It’s pretty hard to make it sound exciting. Usually I go home and read and play guitar. Being a guy in your mid-thirties in a band is different than when you’re in your twenties – when you get off stage and there’s the after-party and there’s alcohol. Now it’s more like I go home and take it easy.
As has been discussed elsewhere, the idea for this record reaches back to 2004. Why was this the right time to make FFS?
Partly, it was because we had just bumped into them by chance in San Fransisco. Alex bumped into them on the street and they were like, “Hey, let’s make an album together.” Things started moving quite quickly after that. I think it was about 18 months later that we had an album ready.
Were you at all intimidated at the prospect of working with Sparks?
We’d met them a few times over the years, and we knew they were very nice, very approachable, and chatty. Someone like me, who learned to play music just to be in this band – and not being the most accomplished musician – it was a little intimidating to work with them because they’re just so good. So, I just had to make sure I practiced and knew what I was doing. When we actually got into practice sessions, though, it definitely clicked, so any worries I had were pretty needless.
As a listener, what was your own personal history with the duo?
The first stuff I listened to was This Town Aint Big Enough. It’s funny, when we first started as a band, we actually attempted a Sparks cover and abandoned it because it was too hard, but now we actually play it in the FFS set.
Their 2003 record was incredible. I’m quite a big fan of their musical legacy. We all go way back with Sparks. I think one of Alex’s first records was Sparks.
Does FFS feel like a different band than Franz Ferdinand or an extension of it?
We approached the project making decisions as if FFS was a brand new band. The decision-making was done by all six of us, so it sort of changed in that way.
The live shows are different for me as a bass player. In Franz Ferdinand, the songs are more focused on me, but with different arrangements, the bass sort of drops out more.
Two frontmen also makes for a different experience. It’s nice as the bass player to sort of sit back and watch that happen. It lets me enjoy it, too.
Ron’s a keyboardist and so he structures a lot of songs around the keyboard, which is way different than we do things as Franz Ferdinand.
Where does the “FF” end and the “Sparks” begin, or vice versa.
We tried to make everything as collaborative as possible, but each song was approached in a different way. We sort of went over the music and the rhythm, and they would add vocals and more melody, and vice versa. It’s kind of different from song to song. They have a very distinctive sound.
What’s the most lavish luxury that rock stardom has brought into your everyday life?
Not having to get up in the morning if I don’t want to.
Who out there right now do you think is doing something original or creative musically?
There’s a band called Ought that I really like at the moment. There’s another band call The Growlers, and one from Dublin called Girl Band. They all tick a lot of my boxes. I look for sort of stream-of-consciousness lyrics. There’s another band called Life Without Buildings that I really like too.
How does it feel to beat the Franz Ferdinand whose death triggered World War I in a Google search?
Are we still winning? I saw in January that we might have started losing that. I really don’t think about it ever at all.
There’s a British soap opera called “Coronation Street”. I don’t know if you’ve heard about it, but in 2005, there’s a scene where kids are learning about him and someone says “Hey, I thought that was a band!” I thought that was pretty cool.
Is that good or bad for history?
I’d say it’s neutral for history.
Additional contributions by Philip Runco.