The Glasgow School
Glasgow, Scotland, is a well-respected center of music and culture, having birthed such native sons/daughters as Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai, the Pastels, Bis, the Delgados, and Teenage Fanclub. None of these bands sound alike; the only thing they really have in common is critical acclaim and rabid cult followings.
Where do Scot stars Franz Ferdinand fit in? Well, in some ways, they don't. Their self-titled debut sold multiplatinum worldwide. Their follow-up, You Could Have It So Much Better, will probably sell more by itself than the aforementioned bands' entire combined catalogs after it's released October 4. But in sound and pedigree, Franz Ferdinand is a Glaswegian band to the core.
Consider their roots. Vocalist Alex Kapranos and drummer Paul Thomson spent years on the fringes of the Glasgow scene, hanging around such hallowed dives as Nice 'n' Sleazy and the 13th Note. Kapranos and Thomson were also in a later incarnation of the Yummy Fur, a nervous, raucous band that specialized in catchy chants rife with sarcasm and sexual ambiguity. Neither was a songwriter in that band, but consider how the Yummy Fur approach carries over to "Michael," from Franz Ferdinand's self-titled debut, and the new single "Do You Want To": Both are absolutely drenched in libido and innuendo.
Examine the trademark Franz Ferdinand sound, anchored by a jittery, shambling, four-square beat. This rhythm can be traced directly to Postcard Records, a cheeky, early-'80s indie label whose flagship bands, Josef K and Orange Juice, crossed the Byrds with wannabe-disco beats. Franz Ferdinand has acknowledged the debt, citing both bands as primary influences -- and FF's success has allowed its label, Domino Records, to rerelease archival goodies by OJ and Edinburgh's similarly minded Fire Engines.
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So how has Franz Ferdinand succeeded where its progenitors did not? Perhaps the world has finally caught up to the classic Scottish indie sound. Or perhaps they just sound better-built for stardom -- confident, brash, and world-beating. So Much Better shouldn't slow them down an iota. The album takes the catchiest parts of their debut and adds elements of the Fall ("Evil and a Heathen") and Village Green-era Kinks and Blur ("Eleanor Put Your Boots On," surely about you-know-who from the Fiery Furnaces). Next month, they're playing Madison Square Garden, and since they're skipping South Florida on their current tour, that might be your best chance to see them. -- Mike Appelstein
Grabbing Katrina's Tail
Katrina Leskanich, former lead singer of the '80s band Katrina and the Waves, whose one hit, "Walking on Sunshine," became a Top 10 smash in the summer of 1985, knew something was up when she checked her website one day in late August and saw it was suddenly getting thousands of hits.
"Before I was up to speed on what was happening in the States," says the 45-year-old singer, who now lives in London, "I noticed I was getting a lot of airplay on BBC Radio 2, for some reason. And so I thought, 'Well, I guess this is what happens when you get played on the biggest station in the U.K.' But then I kept watching the numbers come in, and something just didn't seem right. I smelled a rat."
What Leskanich was getting, in a word, was tail. Tail, in this case, refers to the phenomenon of long-forgotten -- or, in some cases, barely heard -- music suddenly experiencing a surge of popularity thanks to a news or pop-culture event that somehow links to it.
When news of Hurricane Katrina first broke -- and before anyone knew the devastation it would ultimately cause -- radio DJs began dredging up "Walking on Sunshine" just so they could come out of the news with a clever segue like "Speaking of Katrina's waves..."
All too soon, however, the humor value was kaput, and "Walking on Sunshine" became the most inappropriate song anyone could link to the new Katrina, which had thousands of people walking through water.
Leskanich, who had just completed recording her first solo album and was already planning an October 17 release, is being careful not to appear she's capitalizing on the connection.
"We put a link to the Red Cross on my home page [katrinasweb.com] because we felt quite sorry for people coming in and seeing little ol' me there when they're trying to find out what's happening with the other Katrina," she says.
She hopes to come to New Orleans after the rebuilding and sing "Walking on Sunshine" again, when the song's upbeat spirit will have a new poignancy.
"It's nice to be associated with a song as positive as that," the good Katrina says. "And I hope people won't hear it now and feel a sinking in their hearts. It's created some sleepless nights for me, to think that my name may now have a negative association for people -- for probably the rest of my life." -- Jimmy Magahern
Dropping Some BT
Formed in 1988 by the formidably talented -- and when he weighed 450 pounds, just plain formidable -- John Popper, Blues Traveler has been around the jam-rock block. Popper's motorcycle accident in '92 left him playing harmonica from a wheelchair for months, which was followed in '94 by the band's wildly popular Top 40 hit "Run-Around" and the death of the band's original bassist in 1999. Since his angioplasty, Popper has lost a couple of bills in weight and the band has regrouped, adding new members like keyboardist Ben Wilson and dropping a few underappreciated albums. This month saw the release of ¡Bastardos!, BT's tenth record. Wilson talked with Outtakes about traveling with Traveler:
Outtakes: What did you think about Blues Traveler before you joined in 2000?
Ben Wilson: Like the rest of the country, I was sick of hearing "Run-Around" every time I turned on the radio. I was ready for Blues Traveler to go away for a while [laughs]. I heard that they were just a smoking live band, and obviously John was a killer harmonica player. I guess I thought they were kind of a cool, hippie-rock jam-band like everybody else.
How did [producer and former member of Wilco] Jay Bennett get involved with ¡Bastardos!?
I was the Jay Bennett connection, but I wasn't friends with him, I just had a lot of respect for the way Wilco changed once he got into the band. I thought this was a guy who would help us use the studio less to capture what we do live and more as an instrument. His ideas were kinda fresh and different and at the same time not so far away from us that we couldn't kind of visualize what they would sound like.
What's the idea behind the ¡Bastardos! theme? The CD art reminds me of a Sergio Leone spaghetti Western.
Sergio Leone -- that's exactly what it is. We had seen a bunch of old Mexican photos around Austin, and we liked the idea of us being banditos -- it's kind of ridiculous but fun. And also the idea that we're bastardos -- we're doing what we wanna do, and screw you. There's been a feeling among the band, especially with the limited success of [2003's] Truth Be Told, that if we're only gonna sell such-and-such number of records and have the outcome that we did, let's just make records that we love. That's what ¡Bastardos! is all about. -- Jonathan Zwickel
Blues Traveler and American Minor play at 8 p.m. Friday, September 30, and Saturday, October 1, at the Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $24.99 or $40 for a two-day pass. Call 954-564-1074.
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