“Last time round we didn’t even mix our recordings”, says Nick McCarthy, recalling the making of Box Codax’ decidedly unpolished 2006 debut “Only An Orchard Away”. “I had absolutely nothing but my computer and a little synth I borrowed from Alex” (Kapranos, his band mate in Franz Ferdinand). All the vocals were done on the sort of clip-on mic that TV presenters wear on their collars. “It was,” McCarthy admits, “pretty extreme.”
Few who heard their first record would have expected this loose outfit that convenes in the ultra-rare and highly irregular gaps between Franz Ferdinand’s activities to outgrow the limited ambitions of a side project, let alone to create such a glittering ball of sheer pop invention as their second album “Hellabuster”, from the opening title track, which switches time signatures like a werewolf going through mood swings, via the glamourous Moroder disco beach romance “Seven Silvers”, the eerie falsetto harmonies of “Radical Plains”, the soundtrack to a chemically enhanced kids’ party that is “Choco Pudding”, the crime mystery in a wrinkly raincoat vibes evoked by “Pour Moi”, the giddy games arcade hysteria of “I Won’t Come Back”, followed by “Charade”, which is all pent-up desire in a self-catering holiday apartment, “Nothing More Than Anything” with its Spanish guitars and drunken waltzes colliding with “Sandy Moffat”, a punk song seemingly accompanied by the Church of Jonathan Richman School Choir, “Inanimate Inamorato”, a lament for a “timid inanimate friend”, the cinematic solipsism of “My Room” and the android-on-half-empty-batteries reggae-disco of “No Trains”, all the way to “Dawning”, the wistful sibling to “Seven Silvers”.
“We always wanted to record these songs properly,” McCarthy explains, “I wanted to get to a point where you can really delve into the album without wondering why we had recorded it in such a slapdash way. I wanted people to be able to really listen to it.”
Another part of the secret behind the transformation of Box Codax from a rickety vehicle of carelessly wasted nearly-there pop songs into a well-oiled (if internally melancholy) hit machine lies in their expansion from a two- to a three-piece: On “Hellabuster”, Alexander Ragnew, charismatic German poet and gloomy mystery man (“He loves his weltschmerz”) shares vocal and lyrical duties with Austrian-born, London-based artist Manuela Gernedel. Ragnew’s unapologetically strong accent sounds like an extreme version of a seventies Kevin Ayers doing his best Nico impression, contrasting with Gernedel’s ethereally detached delivery. “I love her voice,” Nick McCarthy declares. “That’s why I married her.” So we’ve cleared that up as well then. “Even though, funnily enough, I do some singing too”, he adds, “I never really wanted to, but it sounded pretty good, so we left it in.”
Apart from Gernedel’s Sandy Moffat, McCarthy wrote the music to all of the songs on “Hellabuster”, exploring some of his less rock-related musical passions that have hardly had the chance to shine through in the works of Franz Ferdinand: “I learnt those kind of film theme type chord sequences from a friend in Rosenheim (the Bavarian town where he grew up). He could play all these film hits like “My Name Is Noboby” on the piano, it was insane. Actually, I even like Bavarian folk music now that I’ve moved out of there. But that’s all in straight major keys, and I do love those lop-sided chords in film soundtracks.”
Large chunks of “Hellabuster” where produced in Nick and Manuela’s former hometown Glasgow, where the many talents of Pabs Debussy aka Franz Ferdinand drummer Paul Thomson were in easy reach. Pabs provided beats and programming on “Seven Silvers”, “I Won’t Come Back”, “Hellabuster” and “Nothing More Than Anything”. More recording on the latter three numbers as well as “Sandy Moffat” and “Choco Pudding” was done at Joseph Mount of Metronomy’s home studio. Jonas Imbery and Mathias Modica from Munich-based label Gomma Records had their hands in “Seven Silvers” and “Pour Moi”, while for the songs that required an extra dose of rock (“Hellabuster”, “I Won’t Come Back”) none other than AC/DC’s long-serving engineer Mike Fraser took control of the mixing desk.
For each of the songs on “Hellabuster” a video will be made by one of the band’s many artistically inclined friends (Franz bass player Bob Hardy’s already finished take on “Choco Pudding” proving an early culinary highlight). What started as the casual collaboration of two guys who only ever showed the backs of their heads in publicity shots has grown into a kind of collective project. Whether this expanded version of Box Codax will ever make it to a stage, Nick McCarthy cannot tell: “We might have to get a big band in. We’ve never played live before. Only once we stumbled into some sort of Jesus freak party by mistake. We were completely drunk, and they had this band set-up, so we just got up onstage and played.”
Which somehow sounds like just the perfect setting for a Box Codax show. As Ragnew sings in “My Room”: “We’re exchanging smiles and anticipating good fun”, because “in the dark we do the things we never dared to do.” And the Jesus freaks scattered, terrified.
02. Seven Silvers
03. Radical Plains
04. Choco Pudding
05. Pour Moi
06. I Won’t Come Back
08. Nothing More Than Anything
09. Sandy Moffat
10. Inanimate Inamorato
11. My Room
12. No Trains
The album Box Codax “Hellabuster” (Gomma) is going to be released May 6, 2011.