“When I was recording this, I felt a sense of escapism,” Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos tells NME about his new duet with acclaimed French singer-songwriter Clara Luciani – a cover of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood‘s swooning classic ‘Summer Wine’.
“It felt like a world that was very far removed from the one I was used to, stuck inside in lockdown rainy Scotland. It was a soundscape to a landscape that I wasn’t experiencing.”
Lord knows we could all use a little bit of that at the moment. For a taste of another world, Kapranos and Luciani took a break from the humdrum of quarantine life and decamped to the studio of the late great producer and Cassius member Philippe Zdar to lay down their unique take on their “karaoke favourite” and record a fitting pop-noir video with Ryder The Eagle.
To mark the release, NME caught up with Kapranos to talk about this meeting of minds, the legacy of Zdar, and what’s next for Franz.
How did you come to work with Clara?
“Back in October, Clara was playing a couple of nights at The Olympia in Paris. She asked me to come up and sing a song with her. We talked about how much we love Lee and Nancy, and how we didn’t just want to do a straight-up cover. Clara translated the chorus she sings in French, and she has such a poetic way with language. It has a different dynamic to the original. During lockdown, we found ourselves at a similar stage where we weren’t really feeling specifically inspired to write new music so we decided to record our version of ‘Summer Wine’.”
Why did you choose this song to cover?
“I’ve always loved this song. There’s a real darkness to that period of Lee and Nancy. Lee Hazlewood’s writing just has that darkness to it. We’re both into that subset of the genre of death ballads that you got in the ‘60s. It’s a song where you can play the roles with a lot of mystery and seduction. Performing it on stage was very exciting.”
You’ve described it as perfect for karaoke?
“When you do karaoke, you’ve got to do a song that you feel comfortable and natural with. I’m sure we’ve all made the mistake of getting up to do a karaoke song that we love, but the range is completely outside of our own. I remember once getting up and trying to sing ‘Heart Of Glass’ by Blondie. It was absolutely awful.”
Having caught Clara Luciani at Festival Beauregard last year, it seems bizarre that she’s not more popular outside of France.
“In Britain, we’ve always been terrible for not listening to very good music if it’s not sung in English. Clara is an incredible performer, and in France she’s quite a big deal. Like yourself, I first saw her at a festival last year. I went along to her set and absolutely loved it. It sounds like she’s come from a different lineage and tradition. It sounds like she’s come from that French chanteuse tradition. In her DNA there’s the history of Françoise Hardy, France Gall, Serge Gainsbourg, Sylvie Vartan – that kind of background. She also loves Nico & The Velvet Underground, and the music that she’s playing obviously has a very contemporary element to it.
“There were a lot of ingredients which really appealed to me. She’s just got such an incredible voice – one of the best I’ve heard in years. It’s just very pure and unwavering, which is quite at odds in the way that a lot of pop singers sing in the wake of all those shit Simon Cowell shows and The Voice. Everything’s over-emotive and insincere, but Clara has this very emotional way of singing which is powerful because it’s pure and understated.”
Is this a one-off or could you record more together?
“We were talking about maybe doing something else as well. She’s over in France at the moment working on her new album and I’m back in Scotland working on some stuff, but we’re definitely open to doing more together. We’ll see.”
Are you recording more collaborations or are you focussed on new Franz Ferdinand material?
“I’m focussing more on Franz Ferdinand now. After we shot the video in Paris, I stayed over for another couple of days and went back to Philippe Zdar’s studio Motorbass and worked on a bit of stuff. It’s frustrating because I haven’t been able to get in a room with the other guys in the band. We speak all the time, but we’ve not been together since before lockdown.”
Is Zdar’s studio as special as you’d imagine?
“His personality and character are very much still alive in that place. He had a very specific sense of good taste in everything he touched. Whether it was food, furniture or choice of compressor for a track. Being there, there are so many memories. When I first went back to the studio after he died it was a shock, and very distressing to feel the emptiness of the place without his personality and his noise. He was a loud guy. When he came into a room, you knew he was there.”
But you feel comfortable again there now?
“Working there again was actually very good. I felt close to him. The guys that are running the studio are very respectful to him. There are certain rituals that are still observed – like the morning cup of coffee, the whiskey sour in the evening, the single cigarette at certain times of recording. Every time you do any of these things, you’re reminded of him. It has to be a good balance between dedication, hard work, and having a really fucking good time. Philippe had that really nailed – the discipline of the day and then saying, ‘This is the moment’.”
What can you tell us about the sound of what Franz are working on?
“I made a rule with myself after our third album that I would never say too much about it beforehand. What happens is that when you write and develop songs, it’s not a straight path. I did an interview before our third album [2009’s ‘Tonight‘] where I described it as ‘extremely pop’ – but then we totally veered away from that. All I’ll say is that we have songs and I really enjoy playing them!”
The last Franz album [2018’s ‘Always Ascending‘] was quite electronic and dance-y. Will you be exploring that further?
“I think it’s true to all of our music – I love the idea of dance music that’s made by humans. The core and heart of what we do is performance. When the lockdown allows out, we’ll be back in a room. I don’t want to say too much about the sonics until it’s recorded.”
Lyrically, what’s inspiring you?
“It’s funny because the new Franz song that I was working on in Paris was written before lockdown and was quite confrontational. I changed it afterwards and the lyric became more peaceful and searching for resolution. I’m probably not alone in feeling that. We’re all searching for positive resolution. Things are pretty fucked up at the moment.”
‘Summer Wine’ by Alex Kapranos and Clara Luciani is out now.