The twisted world of Franz Nicolay - our favourite Franz joints


There are artists who have the sorcery to gel with anyone and yet stand alone, completely different to anyone else you've seen or heard. One of those lurks within the diverse world of Xtra Mile Recordings, and pops up like a particularly joyous jack-in-a-box, often armed with an accordion or a banjo. This week - Monday, 19th of January 2015, to be precise - saw him leap from wherever he's been clutching an excellent new rock record of his very own: To Us, The Beautiful. You can buy it from us on classic CD, clear and blue splatter vinyl or simple downloadou can listen to the track marfa Lights right now if you don't believe the "excellent new rock record" bit.

Franz's career - if indeed you choose to call it that; it's better described as a "ride" - is like storybook hidden under lock and key, only brought out for the especially brave, curious or enlightened. Perhaps a musical Marquis de Sade. His tales are often weaved with excess, debauchery and oddities, though strewn with the tones of sadness, of blooming love, of life unfettered and shot through with unadulterated energy and passion. Indeed, us mere listeners can often find much to question or ponder in his cryptic lyrics, but even more to relate to.

His compatibility with a whole host of musicians has seen him perform with everyone from The Hold Steady and Frank Turner to The Dresden Dolls/Amanda Palmer and The Living End, as well as his wilder projects, World/Infrno Friendship Society and Guignol. We couldn't hope to show you the entire breadth of his work, but we can at least allow you a sample of his world.

These first five are our favourite collaborations. The second five are Franz's solo songs, chosen for their beautiful, poignant and purely bonkers lyrics. Have fun. 

The Hold Steady - Stuck Between Stations (piano, backing vocals)

You should know The Hold Steady, and if you don't, welcome to a new obsession. Franz made a significant contribution to the band's earlier records, including their breakthrough album Girls and Boys In America. Below you'll see a live performance on UK BBC perennial music show 'Later with Jools Holland'. 'Stuck Between Stations' is pretty much the perfect introduction to the band, and Franz's piano and backing vocals are sublime and essential to the song.

Dresden Dolls & Franz Nicolay - The Ballad of a Teenage Queen (accordion, saw, percussion, backing vocals)

This delicate little number features the vocal talents of Amanda Palmer whose band, The Dresden Dolls, was completely ace. This is a Johnny Cash number, but makes it unrecognisable through the circus-performer heads and hands of Amanda and Franz. Expect haunting sounds and jaunty rhythms.   

Franz Nicolay & Emilyn Brodsky - Take No Prisoners

This actually comes from Franz's first album on Xtra Mile Recordings (step right up and buy it here) but has Emilyn Brodsky on lead vocals while Franz picks at the banjo and scales the backing vocals. It's a wonderful song, slower and more considered than a lot of Franz's stuff, but still with that esoteric touch that makes it his.

Guignol - Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Iron Maiden cover)

One of Franz's earlier bands and part of a gypsy-punk New York scene, this song - in comparison - needs no real explanation. But, let's. Legendary British metal band Iron Maiden wrote this 13 minute plus song based on, and using, snippets of the Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem for their fifth album, Powerslave. Franz and co cover it live in Baltimore. Chaos ensues. Flute-addled chaos. (The sound is pretty distorted on this, so turn it down a tad, but it just adds to the furious, brilliant cacophony). 

Franz Nicolay and Dave Hause - Felix and Adelita

Nothing fancy here, just Dave Hause on acoustic guitar and Franz doing vocals and accordion, as is his wont. A beautiful song.

Franz also has a wealth of lyrics that run the gamut from elegant to barmy. There are so many to choose from, but these are probably our favourites right at this minute. Why not get in touch via Facebook or Twitter @Xtra_Mile and tell us which of this wonderful madman's lyrical gems tickle you so much? Our picks are below; no explanations - these lyrics do their own talking.

'The Hearts of Boston' (from Do the Struggle)

"Never trust a man without a horror story 
Eros, the rose and the sore
The hearts of Boston lie for me 
The hearts of Boston have a hurricane to answer for"

'Frankie Stubbs'  Tears' (from 'Do the Struggle')

"Trees are cannibals 
They eat their own 
Turn the hearts of oak and bark to loam 
And limestone"

"Be of good heart. Our songs will all be silenced. 
So what? We’ll go on singing."

"Fear is an animal 
That feeds alone 
Remembered once in haste and once in calm"

'Open With The Wrestlers' (from 'To Us, The Beautiful')

"Open with the wrestlers
Dressed in their shiny little briefs
Some kind of polyester vest 
Tied across their hairless chests shiny with the attention."

"And if you’re wondering how our stupid hearts
Let themselves get torn apart
Every survivor learns this lesson
About seeing ravens circling
Feeling the shifting of the winds
As the tides pull out of the basin."

'Confessions Of An Ineffective Casanova' (from 'Major General')

"sometimes i ain’t quite right, but it ain’t the same as being wrong
i could say that i still love her, but what do i know about love 
except love songs
all i know is what i once saw in a girl or two
and what they once thought about me"

"i know this song may not paint me in the best light
but i’d rather come off honest than come off right
i do like people, i want them to know that and to be known
but i can only say that from behind a microphone
i want to try and explain why i did the things i did
so i won’t pretend not to be the unreconstructed id
i want to try and explain why i do the things i do
’cause up here in these hot lights it’s just between us two"

'Do the Struggle' (from 'Do the Struggle')

"We thought just to break the tedium
We’d create the rapture, with a sex doll and some helium
Ours to impress and destroy
Defend and annoy
These days, chaos for its own sake is at a premium"

"They call a speed bump a prone policeman in Russia
We took that literally.
There’s no saxophones on Sunday in the South
We thought differently. Hey man, where’s middle C?
Cure your melancholia instantly, get busy with infamy
It worked brilliantly. Please alert our families."

Eh? Let us know what you think of To Us, The Beautiful and we'll promise to be nice to you all year. Seriously! Buttons are below for social media. VVV