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interviews - march 2005

  • Teenage Fanclub

Teenage Fanclub
One of the best - loved bands of the 90's, Teenage Fanclub are still going strong. With a new album coming out in April, lead guitarist Norman Blake met Aline Lemos in a relaxed (and noisy!) Glasgow café…..

Can you tell us a bit about how has it been for you to be part of Teenage Fanclub?
 It's been a big part of my life, for 16 years. We started in 1989, and it's been good; I really enjoy being part of Teenage Fanclub. I could have been doing a really horrible job for the last 16 years but I have the chance to write songs and work with people that I like. I guess it's what most people would look for in what you do. I'm happy being part of it. It's changed quite a bit over the years.

Was there ever a time when you became disheartened? For example, when Creation records went bust?
That was a bad time, because we had signed a two record deal with Creation and then they went bust after the first record. Alan McGee came to the studio and told us what happened. But it was all right to finish the record. At that point Sony had the first option. They had picked up the Super Furry Animals and Primal Scream. We ended up doing an album and a  two singles with Sony. That was really terrible, we didn't enjoy that at all. So that made us all a bit disheartened. But we always had a great relationship with Alan McGee. That was a moment we could have split but we just kept going. The solution was to come out with a compilation, cause the record company would be happy with that and we wouldn't need to give them any new songs. So that's what we did and it's almost like we had a new lease of life after that. We were all motivated again.

 When the compilation came out, it seemed that that was the end of the Fanclub, as so many bands put out compilations as a swansong.
Yes, it was the end of an era, in some ways. It kind of brought the Creation years to an end, because everything that was in that album was part of the Creation deal. Even when we recorded 'Howdy', we were on Creation when we made that. We thought it'd be a nice way to bring things to a close, anyway, to give us a fresh start. It seemed to make sense to make that record in that point in time and then move on. We've done another album and it's finished.

That links to what I'm just about to ask: what's happening with the band at the moment?
What we did after the Sony deal came to an end was we went to Chicago to record the new album with John McEntire, from Tortoise, in his studio. Basically, we're doing it ourselves. It's going to come out in our own label in here and Europe. In America I think Merge are going to do it and we got our deals in different places. It's probably going to come out late April. Everything has been readjusting to the way we work.

And what does the new album sound like?
Well, I guess it sounds, because of the way that we work with three people writing songs, there's never one concept album or just one person's idea. I guess it's going to sound just like a Teenage Fanclub album, maybe with a bit of John McEntire sensibility added to it. John has really added to the recording, it's amazingly well recorded. We think it's the best sounding record that we've done. It's up to other people whether the songs are good, but the sound of the record is really good. We're happy with the songs and we really are pleased. I think John brought something to it. So it sounds like a Teenage Fanclub record but recorded and engineered by John McEntire! I guess we always try to think about the arrangements and develop those from album to album. So hopefully it'll be a continuation of that.

Sounds great! Will it be like 'Songs from Northern Britain' where there was other instruments like the banjo, mandola.
Yes, we still do that. We try to add things like that. There are strings in the new album, you know, acoustic instruments and all that. Maybe this one will be a little bit less like that, because we didn't have a lot of equipment when we were over there recording it. We took guitars and John has a drum kit. He plays vibes and the piano.

What is your favourite TFC album and why?
I think maybe 'Grand Prix' or 'Songs from Northern Britain' one of those two. 'Grand Prix' because we really enjoyed making that. We made that album in a place called The Manor, which was basically Richard Branson's house. It is a manor house and he turned it into a studio. It was a lovely place and a great studio. I think we started recording it early summer, so the weather was nice. The whole process of making 'Grand Prix' was enjoyable. Our
previous album 'Thirteen' wasn't received very well and it took us a long time to make it. Now with 'Grand Prix' it took us 5 weeks, start to finish. As for 'Songs from Northern Britain', I like the songs in it and I think it sounds good, too.

Can you tell us about a memorable moment for yourself or the band?
I guess there are lots. One of the most memorable one was when we were touring with Nirvana, on the 'Nevermind' tour. That record became massive, overnight. We sort of knew those guys before that, when they were a much smaller band. So it was great to be part of that. It was the European tour; people totally idolised them and they were really nice people. Also, when we met Arthur Lee, that was pretty  memorable.

You're often associated alongside with My Bloody Valentine, Ride, in other words, early 90's bands (the 'golden era' of Creation records). But Teenage Fanclub's sound is quite distinctly different from that of those bands. So back then, did you get a different reaction from the public?
I'm sure we did. I think that was a feature of Creation that was quite good, that it was eclectic. I suppose we had more an affinity with My Bloody Valentine, but also nothing like them. We liked similar kinds of music but when it came to making music, it came out totally different. But I think that is a good thing; it'd be boring if all bands sounded the same. It's hard to quantify how different the reaction to our sound was. In a way, it felt like we were peers, that we had something in common. Like with Nirvana, we didn't sound much like them, but we had an attitude in common.

Looking back at the beginning of your career, do you think that the fact you're from Glasgow helped you in any way?
Well, maybe. I'm not so sure. When we made our first record, we didn't get any press in the UK. The first place we got it was America and this album came out on Matador over there. After that, the press in the UK realised there was this Scottish band and they started paying attention to us.  I think we felt separate from London and still do. It's better now for bands in Glasgow than it was at that time, because people always thought you had to go to London to start a band. But we never felt the need to. I guess we had the advantage that the press was focusing on a city that is a small city and fewer bands and it is more likely that you would get noticed.

It is pretty different now, isn't it?
Yes, nowadays there are record labels, management, you know like Banchory management, companies that will do websites, among other stuff. So that's different and it 's much better now. There's a great music community in Glasgow and it's great to see this city as an important place for music.

How do you, Gerard and Raymond go by with the composition of TFC songs?
What we do is, the three of us write songs and we split it three ways in the album. We've done that for the last 3 or 4 albums. It is the work force; I think when you're working with a group of people you have to come to some arrangement. Whoever writes the song will write the whole thing. Then when we get to the studio we'll work the arrangement and we'll suggest this and that to one another.

What was the first record you ever bought?
That's difficult, it was a long time ago! It might have been the Wombles or something like that. Now the first cool record was T-Rex, I liked them when I was a kid. I liked Glam Rock style for a while.

Do you buy many new records nowadays? Any new bands?
I do actually. I can't think of the last great record that I bought, though. I like the last Lali Puna album a lot.

Aline Lemos