For many people, turning 40 is one of those landmark birthdays — a cause to stop and reflect on goals met and challenges yet to come.
Not so for Franz Ferdinand singer Alex Kapranos.
“I had my landmark birthday when I was 21,” said Kapranos, 41, who joins the Scottish dance-rock quartet for a show at Newport Music Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 16. “When I was a teenager I was reading about all these people that had done so much by their 21st birthday and then died. So I’d set this date in my head, and I remember I reached it and had achieved absolutely f--- all. It was the biggest disappointment of my life. Not only had I not achieved anything, but also I didn’t die [laughs]. It was this terrible, terrible let down, and every birthday since has been trivial in comparison.”
The fact Kapranos found success somewhat later in life (he was already in his early 30s when the band’s breakout song “Take Me Out” wormed its way into the public consciousness in 2004) has certainly had its benefits though, and he credits the added maturity with helping him survive the crush of attention that enveloped the band for much of the aughts. Even so, there were numerous times the endless promotional and media requests sapped the frontman’s enthusiasm for the industry, leaving him feeling like an empty husk.
“I think it’s extremely unnatural for human beings to talk about themselves continuously … and I had to explain the same sliver of my personality over and over again,” he said. “It brings the same disorienting sense of numbness you have if you repeat a word again and again until it loses its meaning and just becomes a strange sound. If you do that enough about yourself your personality becomes unrecognizable. You become a strange repeated sound.”
For this reason, Kapranos elected to take some time away from the band following the release of its 2009 album, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, saying, “I think it’s good for your own sanity to detach yourself from time to time because being in a band is an artificial existence and if you keep it going too long it’s not good for the soul.”
The frontman spent some of his away time engaged in solitary pursuits: He read, took long bicycle rides and “bobbled about” (“You know, whatever you call it when you don’t have something else you have to do,” he explained). Occasionally he’d daydream of leaving the band altogether, though never with any degree of seriousness, and even now he can’t imagine pursuing a career outside music.
“I started writing songs when I was about 14 and I’ve never really stopped,” he said. “If I was going to stop writing songs I imagine I’d have to lose my hands and ears.”
While early tunes were born largely of unrequited love and romantic frustration — “That was my only option at that age,” Kapranos said, and laughed — the songs on the band’s latest, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, often tread darker territory at odds with the more upbeat musical backdrop.
“We move forward into emptiness,” Kapranos sings on one tune, an astronaut adrift in the blackness of space.
“I feel that’s probably the ultimate paradox within the band because you have this music I hope is generally uplifting, but we don’t write cheery pop lyrics,” he said. “I love that paradox. It’s what turns me on. But I still want you to feel that elevation you can only get from music. I still want you to feel the blood moving through your veins. ”