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Franz Ferdinand Hits High Note

Nick McCarthy of the group Franz Ferdinand performs at the Pyramid venue in Portsmouth, England, May 4, 2004. Franz Ferdinand, named after the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire whose assassination started World War I, have only released one album with a mere 11 tracks. But they sell out all their shows and reviewers have lavished praise on the newbie foursome from Glasgow.
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The impromptu show was supposed to be a secret. So why were hundreds of extra people lined up to see Franz Ferdinand outside a small club in Yorkshire, England?

Alex Kapranos, lead singer of the group that's generating megawatt buzz, didn't know how word got out, but he didn't want to let down his fans. So he and Nick McCarthy took their instruments out on the street and gave a bare bones Franz Ferdinand performance.

"It was a great time and the show inside was even better," Kapranos, 29, said in a phone interview, his velvety Scottish accent coming rapid-fire. "People threw underwear on the stage. It was a little puzzling at first."

Franz Ferdinand, named after the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire whose assassination started World War I, has only released one album with a mere 11 tracks. But they sell out all their shows and reviewers have lavished praise on the newbie foursome from Glasgow.

A Time magazine critic said the record was so good he nearly cried with joy. Entertainment Weekly called them "danceable and ferociously melodic." The group's self-titled CD has sold more than 174,000 copies Stateside since its March 9 release, and it is currently number 37 on Billboard's Top 200 chart.

"The first time I saw them I was dumbfounded by how good they were," said Spin magazine columnist Sarah Lewitinn, adding that their upbeat mix of punk and rock with a hint of disco is a welcome change from mellow Radiohead clones. "When they're on stage they have this incredible chemistry between them."

Kapranos fully embraces the idea of music and motion.

"I would go to see shows and everyone would be standing around with their hands on their chins, being very academic about it," Kapranos said. "We want our music to do what music was intended to do: make you move."

Kapranos is not afraid to be called "pop," and he welcomes comparisons to other bands. "I think we get compared to The Strokes a lot, but not in terms of sound. I think our similarities lie in the fact that we are just ordinary people who got together and made music on our own terms, outside of the music industry standard. We didn't have choreographers or stylists or anything like that."

The guys were living a sort of roustabout lifestyle before signing with England's Domino records in June of 2003. Kapranos and bassist Bob Hardy, now 23, were friends through an art school in Glasgow.

Kapranos suggested to Hardy that he learn how to play the bass. At first Hardy balked since he had never played an instrument before. By the end of the night he was thumping along to Kapranos' guitar.

Later on, McCarthy, now 28, and Kapranos met due to a scuffle over a bottle of vodka at party. Kapranos managed to diffuse the situation when he asked if McCarthy happened to play drums. Mutual friend Paul Thomson, now 27, joined soon after on guitar. Later, Thomson and McCarthy switched instruments.

The group moved onto a floor in an old warehouse in Glasgow. After cleaning up the dust and chasing out the pigeons it became a sort of makeshift music venue as well as an illegal bar.

Noise complaints from other tenants drew the police one night to break up a party. Unfortunately, the raid went down when 400 people were there and Franz Ferdinand was performing covered in fake blood.

"I don't even know why we had the fake blood," Kapranos says with a laugh. "But the cops were calling in for backup. I think they were scared, as if they had stumbled upon some sort of fight club. I wanted to tell them there was no need for that since they had a room full of the softest people in Glasgow."

The band relocated to an abandoned jail, and the runaway European success of their first album soon followed. The single "Take Me Out" hit number three on Britain's pop chart. Word spread to the States, which led to a $1 million deal with Epic records.

That's a lot of hype and a lot of money surrounding a new band whose members were everything from chefs to art models before putting out the record. Now that they're touring, the band says they've mellowed out a bit, spending most of their days rehearsing or exploring whatever town they've landed in.

Kapranos doesn't seem too worried about all the attention. As long as they get to tour and perform, that's enough for him.

"We love that people are into our music and want to talk about it. I think in the world of indie music there's this sort of false modesty," he said. "But we like to perform and if you don't like to perform, you might as well stay in your bloody bedroom."