Interview Nick McCarthy: ‘It’s Nice To Do My Own Thing’

The Franz Ferdinand guitarist opens up to DIY about his other collective, Box Codax.

Behind every great band, there’s a great side project… or words to that effect? Nick McCarthy, the scissor-kicking guitarist with the sparkly red guitar from Franz Ferdinand, opens up to DIY about his other collective Box Codax with Alexander Ragnew and his wife Manuela and discusses making music, movies, Metronomy and more.

Hi Nick. Congratulations on the album, ‘Hellabuster’, which makes for a great listen – it’s very eclectic! You’ve called the album a ‘coming of age’ record, so could you tell us why you would describe it this way?
A lot of lyrics are about different times in the life of this guy Hellabuster, which is our lead singer Alexander when he writes. It’s about different parts of his life – love and catastrophe mostly! There’s lots of different kind of styles and pastiches on the album – from an extreme disco song, for instance, to a French chanson. It was written over a couple years, so in a way, it’s like a Greatest Hits to me.

On the subject of Alexander, he kinda reminds us of Bobby from Boney M as he sings in his German accent. What does he bring to the music making?
His voice has character. It is quite funny and sad. He’s not studied singing, but who has? We in Franz Ferdinand are a bit like that too. He has an amazing person. He is very funny and writes extremely funny and sad lyrics. I really love his lyrics and that’s why I love doing things with him.

So he’s the primary lyricist in Box Codax, and you do the music?
Yes, it’s quite a traditional Gilbert and Sullivan team. Like with Broadway, there’s a guy who writes the scores and music and there’s a guy who writes the lyrics. It’s exactly like that as he can’t play so I write the music. It was exactly the same on the first record. Manuela started writing some songs and lyrics and can also play guitar so she is also involved in writing some of the melody.

What is it like making music with your wife? Is there much squabbling over the breakfast table or kitchen sink about which chord sounds better here, or which word fits better there?
[Laughs] Well, that can happen! It took a while to get into it! We used to quarrel a lot and it can get personal very quickly. But we work really well! She comes up with melody and lyrics and I do everything around it.

Did she play music before she met you?
I think she played bass in a band once, so a little bit. She’s one of those people who loves to listen to the radio and sings along and knows all the hits. She’s got a really beautiful voice and that’ll do for me!

She does have a beautiful voice! Now, regarding yourself, you’ve played around in lots of bands and you have both a background in both classical and jazz music back in Germany. So how has that all influenced the Box Codax sound, which tips its hat to everything from Talking Heads to a Bach Harpsichord recital?
Well, I suppose I can play pretty much everything except I can’t play the drums very well, so I get friends in to do that. I love jumping from one style to another and playing in completely different bands. When I was in Munich, I played in a jazz band, an orchestra and also in a punk band at the same time and I have always enjoyed just jumping around. I also played in a Led Zeppelin-esque band, so I guess that’s where all this has come from! I also used to live together with this guy who was a huge film fan and he had a lot of music only from films. Like French and German and horror film classics that he’d listen to on a tape recorder. He was a really good pianist as well so we would jam all these film songs that I really liked like Morricone or he was a very big Bond fan or Halloween and listened to a lot of stuff from the 70s and 80s.

It’s interesting you mention film because with a lot of the songs on the album, you’ve made some pretty cool videos, especially the Choco Pudding song. Do you ever write with a vision in mind?
Not with a video in mind, but I might think of a film that I’ve seen before. I do that a lot when I write – like I imagine I’m someone else – like I imagine I’m David Bowie or someone! [Laughs] It’s quite good fun to imagine you’re your idol. It makes you feel good! When I write film music, I imagine I’m in the film or that I’m watching the film at least, like a Jean Paul Bermondo one or something.

Are those videos your ideas?
I’ve met so many artists that I really like so I like them to do what they want. I trust everyone that did it personally so I trusted them to get on with it. If I know a person, I trust them. If I don’t know a person, it can go very wrong. It’s a great way of doing it. Bob, our bassist, did Choco Pudding and he came up with a lot of ideas for our videos with Franz Ferdinand.

You mention Franz Ferdinand, so how different is the songwriting relationship in the band compared with this very traditional writing relationship you speak of in Box Codax?
Well, the Franz Ferdinand songs I write with Alex and we write a lot of the songs together, but Alex is a brilliant guitarist, so it’s definitely different. I don’t write many lyrics in Franz Ferdinand. I write maybe one song per album and a few B sides. Franz Ferdinand is more like a band.

It’s more symbiotic and you play off each other, then?
Yeah, exactly! Box Codax is nice for me. It’s great when you write with other people but it’s nice to do my own thing as well because I’m just doing the music – and it’s all up to me. But also if you’re alone, you can’t get as much energy sometimes as when you’re writing with people. As a band, when you have four people together, you get something that’s extremely strong.

Another person you’ve worked with on the record is Joe from Metronomy who’s on production duties. What was the best thing about working with him?
He’s got an amazing ear for melody and production. The sound of it is so beautiful. I’m a massive fan of his. He’s probably one of the only new artists that I like pretty much everything they do. I’m totally fascinated by his take on melody and those are things I want to do myself. He did a remix for us on the first album and that’s how I got to know him. I met him on Brighton Beach once and I stayed in contact with him. He played drums on two of the songs – Choco Pudding and Sandy Moffat.

And that’s the one skill you lack!
Exactly! And Paul from Franz played drums on some of the songs.

Now to move off Box Codax onto the other band you speak of, another thing on our minds over at DIY is what you made of NME’s recent reappraisal of the third Franz album, ‘Tonight’. How do you feel about the press indecision towards the band, whether or not they think you guys are cool and journalists making comments like the album is better than they first thought?
[Laughs] I haven’t even seen this! It’s quite weird, isn’t it? I wonder why they’d do that! I don’t really care in that I don’t read reviews. Obviously, it’s nice to hear they’ve written something nice about it but for me, it’s the concerts that make it… nah, that’s not really true either! I don’t know! It’s nice of them, isn’t it? [Laughs]

Around the same time, they also had a list of 10 life affirming key changes and included ‘Ulysses’ in it.
That’s interesting. Well, I think it’s a good album!

It’s a great album.
You can maybe feel in the UK that it wasn’t as welcomed as everywhere else in the world. We went around the world and we played some massive places and had an amazing reception for the third album. So it’s a bit weird!

And Debbie Harry’s a fan, as she did a cover of ‘Live Alone’ along with some other artists. How did that come about?
It was amazing! I couldn’t believe it. None of us could believe it. Domino came up with the idea to do a Cover record for Record Store Day and they wanted a lot of Divas to do the covers. We thought it was a great idea and then we met up with Debbie Harry for a bit to do it. We seemed to get on. I got on with her… I don’t know what she thought of me! [Laughs]

Finally, Nick, sorry to do this to you, but the inevitable last question is when can we expect the new Franz Ferdinand album?
[Laughs] I don’t know!

To be confirmed?

Box Codax’ second album ‘Hellabuster’ is out now via Gomma Records.

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