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Prior to forming Franz Ferdinand, singer/guitarist Alex Kapranos played in bands such as the Karelia and Yummy Fur (the latter of which also featured drummer Paul Thomson). In late 2001, and bassist Bob Hardy began working on music together when they met Nick McCarthy, a classically trained pianist and double bass player who originally played drums for the group despite no prior experience as a drummer. The trio had rehearsed at McCarthy's house for a while when they started playing with Thomson, who felt like playing guitar instead of drums. Eventually, McCarthy and Thomson switched instruments and the band switched practice spaces, moving to an abandoned warehouse that they named the Chateau. Taking their name from the Austro-Hungarian Archduke whose murder sparked World War I (and hoping they'd have a similarly world-changing effect on music), Franz Ferdinand rehearsed at the Chateau and held rave-like events incorporating music and art (Hardy graduated from the Glasgow School of Art, and Thomson also posed as a life model there). The band needed a new rehearsal space once their illicit art parties were discovered by the police, and they found one in a Victorian courthouse and jail.
By mid-2002, Franz Ferdinand had recorded an EP's worth of material that they intended to release themselves, but word of mouth about the band spread and they signed to Domino in May 2003. Soon after, the band decamped to Malmö, Sweden to work with producer Tore Johansson at Gula Studios. Their spiky debut single "Darts of Pleasure" arrived that September and reached number 44 on the U.K. Singles chart. Franz Ferdinand spent the rest of the year supporting groups such as Hot Hot Heat and Interpol, and in November the Darts of Pleasure EP became their first U.S. release. The following January, the band's second single Take Me Out became a top five hit in the U.K., propelling them to greater popularity and laying the groundwork for their debut album. Arriving in February 2004, Franz Ferdinand fleshed out the wiry fusion of post-punk and disco of the band's singles. It hit number three on the U.K. Albums chart and spawned the additional hit singles "The Dark of the Matinée" and "Michael." In September 2004, the album won the Mercury Prize over such artists as the Streets, Basement Jaxx, and Keane. Franz Ferdinand also fared well internationally, becoming a top 20 hit in Australia and several European countries. In the U.S., the band's consistent touring and frequent airplay of "Take Me Out" boosted the album to number 32 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart and, ultimately, sales of over a million copies.
In 2005, the accolades for the band and their debut album continued to roll in: Kapranos and company won the Brit Awards for Best British Group and Best British Rock Act, while Franz Ferdinand earned a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Album and "Take Me Out" was nominated for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. By that time, Franz Ferdinand was already working on their second album with producer Rich Costey in Glasgow and New York City. Released in September 2005, You Could Have It So Much Better broadened the band's sound with piano ballads and Beatlesque pop. The album was another success, becoming the group's first number one album and notching four top 30 singles in the U.K., and was a top ten hit internationally. In the U.S., it peaked at number eight and was certified gold. You Could Have It So Much Better also received critical acclaim as well as nominations for several Brit Awards and Grammy Awards, including Best Alternative Album and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group for its lead single "Do You Want To." The band rounded out the year by collaborating with Jane Birkin on a cover of Serge Gainsbourg's "Sorry Angel" for the tribute album Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited.
Though Franz Ferdinand began writing songs for their third album in 2005, they scrapped them for a fresh set that they planned to make into a "dirty pop" concept album. Opting for a dance- and pop-influenced direction, the band worked with producer Dan Carey, who counted Kylie Minogue, CSS, Hot Chip, and Lily Allen among his clients. Recorded in Carey's London studio as well as the old town hall of Govan, Scotland, February 2009's Tonight traced the ups and downs of a night out with songs that nodded to dub, new wave, and dance music. Featuring the singles "Ulysses" and "No You Girls," the album debuted at number two in the U.K. and number nine in the U.S., and reached the top ten in Japan, Australia, and several other countries. That June, the band released Blood, an album featuring dub-inspired remixes of Tonight's songs. In 2010, Franz Ferdinand contributed a version of "The Lobster Quadrille" to the Alice in Wonderland soundtrack and worked with Marion Cotillard on "The Eyes of Mars," a song that appeared in a Dior advertising campaign. That year, Kapranos and McCarthy also appeared on Edwyn Collins' album Losing Sleep. For 2011's Record Store Day, Franz Ferdinand issued the Covers EP, which featured versions of Tonight songs by artists including LCD Soundsystem, ESG, and Peaches.
While making their fourth album, Franz Ferdinand took their time, beginning the writing process in 2010 and debuting new songs during a string of 2012 shows. The band worked in studios in Glasgow, London and Stockholm with a large cast of contributors, including Hot Chip's Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor, Peter Björn & John's Björn Yttling, Veronica Falls' Roxanne Clifford, and DJ Todd Terje. Arriving in August 2013, Right Thoughts Right Words Right Action merged the dance and indie sounds of the band's previous albums with an optimistic outlook. Once again, the album was a top ten hit in many countries -- it reached number two in the band's homeland of Scotland and number six in the U.K. -- and peaked at number 24 in the U.S. Meanwhile, the single "Right Action" hit number 39 on the U.K. Indie chart and number 28 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart in the U.S. Franz Ferdinand then collaborated with Sparks as FFS and released their self-titled album in June 2015. The following year, McCarthy left the band. Also in 2016, Franz Ferdinand contributed "Demagogue" to the 30 Days, 50 Songs project against the candidacy of Donald Trump in that year's U.S. presidential election, while Kapranos appeared in the Glasgow music scene documentary Lost in France.
In 2017, Franz Ferdinand added guitarist Dino Bardot (another former member of Yummy Fur as well as 1990s) and Miaoux Miaoux keyboardist Julian Corrie to the fold and made their live debut as a quintet. The band also went into the studio that year with producer Philippe Zdar to record their fifth album, February 2018's Always Ascending. Leaning further into Franz Ferdinand's dance inclinations, it was another Top Ten hit in Scotland and the U.K. and peaked at 59 in the U.S. Thomson left the band in 2021, with Audrey Tait stepping in behind the drumkit. In March 2022, Franz Ferdinand released the best-of Hits to the Head, which was inspired by classic greatest-hits collections like Changesbowie, and featured two new songs, "Curious" and "Billy Goodbye." ~ Heather Phares