Movies, music, TV, arts and entertainment, straight from Southern California.
Hosted by John Horn
Airs Temporarily on hiatus so that our staff can help out our colleagues in the KPCC newsroom and on our other shows.
Arts & Entertainment

FFS brings Franz Ferdinand and Sparks together for smart pop

The band FFS, a collaboration between Franz Ferdinand and Sparks.
The band FFS, a collaboration between Franz Ferdinand and Sparks.

Listen to story

Download this story 4MB

New supergroup FFS is an unlikely pop group union of Scottish alt-rockers Franz Ferdinand and the avant-garde Los Angeles music duo Sparks.

The band's drummer Paul Thomson came up with the name, Franz Ferdinand singer Alex Kapranos tells the Frame.

"It's one of those names that just made sense immediately as soon as we heard it. Because yes, it's the initials of the band, and everybody knows it stands for something else as well," Kapranos says.

The project brings two generations together, as while Franz Ferdinand is a more modern group, Sparks has been around since the early 1970s. The band hyped their collaboration with a video, "The Domino Effect."

It uses sound from one of their songs, "The Power Couple," with the lines "We must make a good impression; we must make a great impression." The lyrics are a little tongue-in-cheek for a new group, with Kapranos saying the lyrics used in that video are taken a bit out of context from the song they originated from.

The band playfully addresses the nature of teaming up with the song "Collaborations Don't Work." The song includes a refrain of "I'm going to do it all by myself."

"This is one of the initial songs that we came up with, and we thought we would start off with the pitfalls of a process like this, where there are two bands actually coming together to work on something, and get that out of the way in one song," says Sparks' Ron Mael.

The song was the first one Male sent over to Franz Ferdinand.

"When me and the other guys in Franz Ferdinand first heard it, we thought this was pretty funny," Kapranos says. "It was a good way to start off a collaboration — to say that collaborations don't work. I guess we responded to it. So we said, 'Well, in that case, I ain't no collaborator.' And fortunately, we shared the same sense of humor. And maybe, collaborations might work sometimes."

The groups collaborating from 6,000 miles ended up being a blessing in disguise, Mael says.

"Because the fear of sitting in a room with someone else and really being able to see quickly what they really think about what you're doing is sometimes a paralyzing thing," Mael says. "And so to have somebody 6,000 miles away, where you can kind of care less about what you're doing and not get an immediate response, is something that's liberating to the creative process."

Kapranos says it was a new experience for Franz Ferdinand, but they liked it.

"While Nick and I in our band, we all tend to write in the room together, it was great doing it this way. It felt very new and very stimulating," Kapranos says.

The band came out of a genuine desire to collaborate, though Mael joked that their tour together was going to be the band's "pension tour."

"What happened was we had met each other about 11 years ago," Kapranos says. "Franz Ferdinand had been playing in Los Angeles, and we'd met up socially, and we'd talked just vaguely about maybe playing together at some point — maybe doing some music together. And Ron and Russell [of Sparks] sent over the song 'Piss Off,' but both of our bands had really crazy schedules at that time, and for one reason or another, it didn't happen."

Their collaboration got another shot in the arm after a chance meeting.

"A couple years ago, I happened to be walking down the street in San Francisco — looking for a dentist, as you do in San — and heard this voice behind me saying 'Alex, is that you?'" Kapranos says. "And it was Ron and Russell from Sparks. And they were playing a show that night, and [I] went down to the show, and after the show, we started talking. We said, 'Yeah, whatever happened to that collaboration we we were going to do?'"

The groups started to send songs back and forth, and eventually they had enough that they decided to make an album. It was born out of a friendship and shared respect for one another.

"Our initial moment of discovering Franz Ferdinand was at the time that 'Take Me Out' first came out," says Mael.

"And it was one of those singles that really is inspiring, that you see the possibilities of what pop music can be, and that the restrictions that are kind of necessary for doing pop music can kind of be pushed to the extremes. And so that was kind of our first impression at that time, but obviously, through the years, we've followed them musically, and it's a really impressive body of work," Mael says.

"And we felt something very similar about Sparks as well," Kapranos says. "They were a big inspiration for us as a band. We didn't want to sound like them, but we certainly took a lot from the way that they approached pop music."

One of the things Kapranos says they were inspired by from Sparks was a genuine love of pop music.

"You can love the medium of pop music, but feel that you can still push it and do unusual things within that medium. That's what I always felt Sparks did. They were always an unpredictable band that seemed to sit somewhere outside the patterns of their contemporaries," Kapranos says.

"I think both bands share a real respect for pop music, and feel that it's an equal of any other kind of genre of music, and that, in a certain way, it's kind of immoral to be disrespectful of pop music," Mael says.

One aspect of the collaboration was that they have songs that are told from one character's perspective, even when there are multiple vocalists singing the song.

"It really was an accidental discovery, because the way that the voices were going to work within FFS was kind of the one unanswered question at the beginning," Mael says.

The lineups of the bands didn't have much overlap, so Mael says he knew they could work together instrumentally to create something new.

"But both vocalists are so readily identifiable, and to be able to sell lyrics that would mean something and not be, in a certain sense, singing to each other, that was something that was an unknown. But it's something that seemed to work in the album," Mael says.

Kapranos says that he and Sparks' Russell Mael (Ron's brother) have significantly different voices, but the songs they collaborated on often called for them to sing in unison.

"And you get this weird effect, where the two combine together to make this kind of third voice which has characteristics of both, and is kind of recognizable as both, but has this new characteristic all of its own," Kapranos says.

The bands have said that the project isn't just a one-off, and they hope to collaborate more down the road, but that right now they're more focused in getting on the road with touring. They just did their first live performance on BBC Two's "Later... with Jools Holland" as they embark on a European tour. They're hoping to come to the United States next.

The band’s debut self-titled album is in stores.

Get more stories like this

Delivered every Thursday, The Frame weekly email features the latest in Movies, music, TV, arts and entertainment.