A generation may separate ‘70s/‘80s art rock turned new wave experimenters Sparks and post millennial indie rock/dance pop revivalists Franz Ferdinand, but toss them together in the brand new supergroup FFS, and it’s nothing short of a mutual admiration society anchored in idiosyncratic heaven. Naturally it’s no surprise to learn the younger Glasgow guys in Franz grew up on the Los Angeles-based/UK-revered Sparks sound, though when they both crossed paths in L.A. about a decade ago, even the elder statesmen were instantly sold.
After keeping in touch and occasionally swapping song sketches online ever since, it became apparent an entire album’s worth of material was stacking up, and upon hunkering down in the studio for 15 brisk days, everyone proved equally eager to hit the road. Here’s the whole story from FFS/Franz drummer Paul Thomson, along with antidotes about the band’s longtime relationship with Chicago in anticipation of an October 8 stop at the intimate Vic Theatre.
“We did a lot of festivals over the summer, so the set times were limited to like an hour, but now that we have our own shows, we’ll play like the whole FFS record and then some cover versions of Sparks songs and cover versions of Franz Ferdinand songs.”
Both bands have actually been in talks for over ten years, but what took everyone so long to finally come together?
Paul Thomson: I guess both groups were busy doing their own thing. It didn’t [officially] become FFS until after we recorded the record. The seeds were sort of sewn in 2004, and after [Sparks] heard we were fans, they brought us a couple of songs. Eventually we were sort of emailing song ideas back and forth, but we weren’t working intentionally on it. Whenever we had some spare time, we would go into the studio and work on an idea for a song, but then we wouldn’t do anything else for a month. We didn’t really tell anybody about it and it just sort of happened gradually. It wasn’t until we had enough songs that we could probably record an album that we approached [longtime record label] Domino to see if they’d be interested and they were like “yeah, record it and we’ll put a record out.”
How would you describe the FFS album to those who’ve yet to hear it?
Thomson: It’s a good, kind of left field pop record played by a group as a collaboration between two bands. Think of it on its own terms.
So the combination of all you guys is all definitely your own group?
Thomson: Yeah that’s what it feels like, but we didn’t know that was going to be the case. Even halfway through the talking process, we hadn’t come up with a name or what we were gonna call the record. We were gonna call it “Franz Ferdinand Versus Sparks” and then we came up with the FFS thing and said “well that works.” We already sound like we’re already in same band anyway because all get on really well. We have the same sense of humor and obsessions about the same types of things. We talk about films and music and art and television and politics and stupid f***-ing meanings. It’s what you do with your friends.
Is the tour going to only feature the new project or are you going to mix in songs from the past?
Thomson: We did a lot of festivals over the summer, so the set times were limited to like an hour, but now that we have our own shows, we’ll play like the whole FFS record and then some cover versions of Sparks songs and cover versions of Franz Ferdinand songs.
How difficult was that decision process with so many songs between both acts?
Thomson: It was an email conversation. I just basically put together a massive list of Sparks songs I would like to play and we whittled it down from a long list to a short list. It’s kind of weird with Sparks because in UK, one of their biggest songs was “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us.” They played that on “Top Of The Pops” in ‘74 or ’75 and it was a massive song and moment in popular culture in the UK. When you played on “Top Of The Pops,” you sold millions of records, but in America, it seems like they were more popular in the early ‘80s with songs like “Cool Places.” We just picked the songs we wanted to play the most and ones that would connect with an audience. The audience is probably going to be 50/50 Sparks fans and Franz Ferdinand fans, so we try to keep it as immediate as possible.
What are your most memorable experiences both staying and performing in Chicago?
Thomson: Chicago’s an amazing city. It’s one of the few cities that as soon as I think about it, it just feels like you’re home and you could live there. I love the people there. If you made me have to choose one city in the world based on the music, then I would choose Chicago. It’s just a melting pot of all good music basically from soul to blues to house music [and so much more]…We’ve played the Aragon Ballroom quite a lot, which is an amazing looking place, and I don’t know if everybody’s aware, but there’s this huge pipe organ that takes up the entire basement! We also did Lollapalooza the year of that enormous storm when they evacuated like 70,000 people into the car parks. We thought the gig was off, but after everybody was back in safely, the show turned out to be awesome.
Do you think this will be an ongoing collaboration or just a one off?
Thomson: I don’t really know yet because we didn’t expect to get this far with it. When we were mixing the record, we didn’t think about playing shows, but eventually realized “of course we’ve got to play shows.” We have a lot of material that we wrote together that hasn’t been recorded.
What do you think Sparks will take away from Franz and Franz will take away from Sparks when you go back to recording individually?
Thomson: It’s been great watching them be so enthusiastic about what they do. They’re still very much at a creative peak in their late ‘60s, so I would love to still be creating stuff that I thought was worth it when I get to that age. As for what they all take from us, I have no idea. You’d have to ask them!
FFS (Franz Ferdinand and Sparks) perform at the Vic Theatre on Thursday, October 8. For additional details, visit www.jamusa.com.