Franz Ferdinand on making Take Me Out: ‘We thought it would be funny to spoof Queen’

‘I had been watching Enemy at the Gates, a film about two snipers – one Russian, one German – trying to take each other out. I thought it was a good metaphor for a romantic situation’

Alex Kapranos, singer, songwriter

Take Me Out was one of the earliest songs we wrote, when they were coming easily, almost effortlessly. I shared a flat in Glasgow with Nick McCarthy and we had the sort of little keyboard you get for Christmas when you’re 14. Nick played over its automatic accompaniment and came up with what turned out to be the first three chords of the verse of Take Me Out.

The night before, I had watched Enemy at the Gates, about two snipers – one Russian, one German – trying to take each other out during the battle of Stalingrad. It struck me as a really good metaphor for a romantic situation: you know the other person feels something, but you’re both afraid to make a move. I wrote the lyrics about the craving to release that tension – “Take me out” being a plea to end it. After I sang some words over Nick’s melody, he came up with the chorus by playing a different chord progression over the keyboard’s bluegrass setting. I was mucking about on the guitar when the main riff just popped out.

The “I know I won’t be leaving here with you” section formed a bridge between the verse and chorus, but when we rehearsed it with the band, it didn’t sound right. The tempo of the chorus was much slower than the verse, so I suggested playing all the verses at the beginning, but slower, then the choruses. It sounded great.

The short staccato bursts of sound – where you hit a cymbal and hold it to stop it resonating – came about because Bob Hardy, our bass-player, had read an article about “sports rock”, the music played at sports games in the US. We thought it would be funny to spoof the sounds you got on Queen records or the beginning of Eye of the Tiger.

The first time we played the whole song in the rehearsal room, I joked: “This would sound really good on the radio.” But I was thinking of a session on John Peel or something – if we were lucky. When you come up with a song like that, the dreamer in you is thinking: “One day, we’ll play this in Mexico City.” But the realist thinks, “We’ll press up 500 copies and sell 35”, which is what had happened with all the other bands I’d been in. When we recorded it, Tore Johansson, the producer, hated it and kept asking: “Why are we recording this? The other songs are so much better.”

Franz Ferdinand at the Mercury Music awards in 2014.
Franz Ferdinand at the Mercury Music awards in 2014. Photograph: Tabatha Fireman/Redferns

Tore Johansson, producer

I don’t remember hating Take Me Out! But I certainly didn’t like the famous guitar riff. It was a good hook but I thought it sounded like a bagpipe melody. Otherwise, Take Me Out was great on the demo and already had the marvellous intro in a different tempo. Before working with them, I saw the band live and told them I liked the Talking Heads vibe some songs had and suggested we explore that. I think that got me the job of producing them, but I didn’t have to change much. I’d been much more creative when I produced the Cardigans. Franz had the concept ready.

The main thing I added was an aggressive sound. I wanted to give listeners the loudness of a live gig. We recorded at Gula Studion in my home town, Malmö in Sweden, which had a great 1970s console and a big sounding room. It was nice to be home but it had also been hard to find a similar studio in the UK for the same money. We recorded as live as possible, without a click track to keep us in tempo. Very few musicians can play well to a click track, and natural tempo changes in a song can be great. We used Pro Tools editing to fix mistakes. I cleaned up all the instruments and made them very tight with the drums to give the song that mechanical feel.

They were easy to record, as Paul Thomson is a fantastic drummer. I couldn’t understand his thick Scottish accent so the others had to translate. The whole band were leaning on his drumming, especially poor Bob on bass, who was a non-musician friend they had dragged in. He was learning how to play during the recording! I had absolutely no idea the song would become so big. I thought it was going to work on alternative radio in the UK. So I was shocked when it was played on mainstream radio in the US. It must have been the “bagpipes”.

• Franz Ferdinand’s greatest hits album, Hits to the Head, is out now.


Interviews by Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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