Wednesday, October 20, 2010 ~ 0 Comments

Catching Up with Franz Nicolay

Franz Nicolay has been a busy man, indeed. When we last heard from the multitalented Mr. Nicolay, he was on the road with Against Me! and readying songs for his second full-length solo outing, Luck and Courage  (out now via Team Science; stream the album at He returns to the stage this fall and embarks on a tour with Two Cow Garage in November.

"This Is Not a Pipe" (from Luck and Courage)

Franz was kind enough to respond to a second round of questions for Modern Suburbanite.

First, is it fair to call Luck and Courage a “concept album”? Is it meant as a linear narrative?

It is not. It's allusive and intertwined, but not a linear story. In my head, it's parallel stories: of two characters who can't, or won't, make their relationship work. And, of course, one can always feel the end of a relationship coming, like a change in the weather, or a gathering sickness. And so there's a metaphoric mirror-narrative of this plague-ridden country. But the overall theme is one of domesticity vs. wanderlust. Most bluntly in "Anchorage." An anchorage, of course, is where you anchor your boat. But it's a traveling song.

Listening to the opening track, I get a tremendous sense of movement- the drums, the urgency in your voice, and the overall sound. In a way, it reminds me of “America” by Simon and Garfunkel- that “nation of two” of Vonnegut’s that you’ve talked about. Did you set out to write these songs as this sort of narrative, or did it evolve over time?

It evolved that way. These things present themselves. The opening track literally came to me in a dream, word for word, and I got up and wrote it out. So who knows how things congeal. It's funny, you're the second person who's asked me about Simon and Garfunkel - this other guy compared "Luck & Courage," the title track, to "59th Street Bridge," which I guess mostly has to do with the groove of it; and something about having a lot of words but still being melodic. But the first track, it's so open-ended in its narrative that there was obviously more to tell. The characters aren't communicating much to each other, much less us.

Was the relationship between Felix and Adelita an outgrowth of the “Old Testament” mindset you had previously mentioned, or did it come out of something new?

It presented itself as a way of personalizing what I was already thinking, about the way life can make you pay for your past. Or at least, you have to make a reckoning with it before you can craft a new future.

There’s something that feels really optimistic about this record, especially the bookends (“Felix & Adelita” and “Luck & Courage”), despite the dark content. Was that juxtaposition intentional, or did it present itself as a “happy accident”?

 Well, from a dumb technical standpoint, most of the songs are in major keys, which is not something I often do. But there is a conscious emotional narrative built into the sequencing - the first four songs are a kind of introduction of the characters and their context; the middle third is quite dark; and "Anchorage" and "Gene Autry" are the relief. It's one of the reasons I left "Rock, Rinse, Repeat" off the record - good song, but it's got nothing to do with the arc of "Luck & Courage." It's free-standing.

You seem to be tipping your hat more and more to classic country, both in arrangements and in lyrical content. Is there a “Franz Nicolay Goes West” record in the future?

I found last year that all I wanted to listen to was country music. I was sick to death of rock and roll, and I love me some punk rock but the nature (and strength) of that is it doesn't lead to particularly nuanced songwriting. And one of the great strengths of country music is its ability to deal with, for lack of a better phrase, grown-up life: parenting, bankruptcy, work, property, and so on. Musically, one of the things I always love doing is toying with a template; that is, trying to work creatively within a genre format (Tin Pan Alley, classic rock), and country music and its arrangements are definitely a strict template. Of course, the big string sound of classic Nashville production appeals to my taste for melodrama. There's not a great deal that separates George Jones and Jacques Brel.

In our last interview, you mentioned your upcoming wedding. How does your bride-to-be feel about this collection of songs about a seriously damaged relationship?

You'd have to ask her. I would say that Felix & Adelita's isn't so much a damaged relationship as one that could go either way - obviously they have a real connection, but they're grown people who have had a lot of up-and-down relationships in the past, and have their own independent lives, and have to decide whether to compromise the way of living they've made work for themselves to take another shot at something they'd maybe written off. It's the way, I think, most people negotiate emotional choices in adult life. "The Last Words of Gene Autry" is a vision of one way that it could work out: the tenderness of a long-married, elderly couple.

Download "This Is Not a Pipe" at Paste Magazine.
For more info including tour dates, visit Franz Nicolay's website.
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