TEENAGE FANCLUB : Not your average heritage band

Interview (2022)
          An hour-long interview with two of the nicest guys in rock. We celebrated TEENAGE FANCLUB's thirty years of existence and the fact that they are ageing like the finest wines.




          Norman BLAKE and Raymond McGINLEY are so affable and easy-going that it feels like interviewing TEENAGE FANCLUB is the easiest and most pleasurable job in the world. The sole survivors of the band's first line-up were gracious enough to dedicate one hour of their time on May 5th 2022, before the band played a wonderful show at L'Épicerie Moderne in Feyzin, mixing songs from their latest album, Endless arcade, with the old hits. It obviously wasn't enough to cover the whole thirty years of existence of Scotland's finest pop band, but we sure did try our best !


I N T E R V I E W     ////     I N T E R V I E W     ////     I N T E R V I E W


"Back in the real world"

Hello guys, thanks for being here and doing this interview. Let me warn you, I have lots of questions, so just let me know if you get tired before the end.

Norman BLAKE : That's a pleasure! You can ask us anything.

So, you're finally back on the road...

Raymond McGINLEY : Yes, finally !

How do you feel about that ? I suppose you're quite excited ?

NB : We feel good. We were really frustrated because normally when you make an album, you will tour it immediately, or the album will be released in the first couple of days of the tour. So with this one (Endless arcade) we recorded the album and then did lots of interviews and stuff leading up to that and then it all just stopped.
RMG : There's something nice about going on tour that completes the whole process because you get to play the songs live, because obviously in the process of making the record, or as Norman was saying when you're doing interviews, obviously you don't have an audience involved. So, getting back in front of people feels like being back in the real world. Unfortunately, we didn't get to complete that process at the time, so it was good to finally do it. We played a handful of shows last year, but very few. And now we're getting nervous about somebody getting sick into the tour. I think we might make it into the end, so that's all good. Hopefully.

Does it mean that it gave you more time to let the songs mature before their live setting ?

NB : Yes, I suppose we also had a brief opportunity to play them live, but you know we recorded them all as live in the studio as we could and in terms of the arrangements it was pretty easy to translate them from the studio recording into the live environment. But yeah, definitely, we're now at show 21 on this particular tour so they all sound pretty good I think. We're trying to play as many of them as we can. You know without boring people... so we try to play 4 or 5 a night amongst all of our old songs.

There's also been quite a few changes in the line-up. I know Euros (CHILDS) was already a touring member of the band a few years back and I think he's got more presence on the record, especially on the title track for example...

RMG : Yeah, when we were making the record and listening back to it, we could hear Euros' personality quite strongly on some bits. When we arrived in Hamburg to make the record, we all set up and it wasn't like we were trying to micromanage or direct everyone to play because everyone in the band knows what they're doing. We have an idea of what the beat or the tempo or the arrangement is going to be like but we're not going to say “Euros can you play this little part ? ”. He's going to come up with his own parts and he's also able to play with all the instruments we have set up. He can play on the mellotron or an organ and we'll be “Yeah, it sounds great ! ”. We don't really talk about what they're going to do, we just set up together, present them the song, but after that we just start playing and usually we're not far away from it just by following the instinctive responses from everyone.

You also had to replace Dave McGOWAN on the bass...

NB : Yeah, Dave couldn't make it for this tour. He also plays for BELLE & SEBASTIAN and they had a tour booked before this had been booked, which they subsequently had to cancel but...
RMG : They were doing promotional things to do with the album and stuff.
NB : Dave was unavailable to play these shows, or we thought he was going to be and then...
RMG : Then he was available and became unavailable again !
NB : But Stephen BLACK who's playing with us has already done it with us before and Dave's wife Laurie was having a baby so it wasn't as if it was something we hadn't worked with before. That's been really good, Steve's a great guy and really talented musician so it didn't take him long to slot in there.
RMG : Yes, Dave's a good musician but luckily Steve's a good musician too. And Dave's personality is on the record to a certain extent and it's a real shame he couldn't do it. But Steve is great and we played a handful of shows last year and some of them were with Steve's current band, well he has several projects going, GROUP LISTENING, they played with us.
NB : With David on bass for us that night. And he will be back for sure but right now they're launching the BELLE & SEBASTIAN album, they have a show in Glasgow this weekend. We'll be happy to be doing some work together again in the future.

So that's because you already knew Stephen that you manage to play different set lists every night ?

NB : Yeah and Steve's a very quick learner, he's one of those musicians who can sit here and just say “OK, bom bom bom, yeah got that ! ”.
RMG : When we did these previous gigs three or two years ago, whatever it was, when Dave's wife Laura was giving birth but she was late, so we thought she had already given birth but by the time we had this show it hadn't happened, so obviously Dave said “I can't play this one” and we were going to cancel the show. And Euros said “You know my friend Steve ? I think he could do it”. And he had one rehearsal for two or three hours and we did the show and he was great !


"You inevitably end up in a museum"

I was lucky enough to witness the first two nights of the Creation Records shows in Glasgow and I wondered what was the portion of the songs that you had forgotten how to play ?

RMG : Lots of them !
NB : Yeah, because you never listen to your old records, or even after you make them, unless you're a narcissist, but we were not too narcissistic.
RMG : There were quite a few songs we had never played live because there's always a few that you don't get used to playing live so you just don't do them. It was a good process to force and learn all those songs again.
NB : Yeah, it was, actually. It was an intense period where we had to learn five albums...
RMG : And we played a lot of B-sides so it's almost as if it was six !
NB : Sixty songs or something like that, it was a crazy amount.
RMG : More than that I think.

What were the hardest ones to work on ?

NB : I think they were all fairly straightforward. Once you play songs a few times you end up remembering them and knowing what you have to do.

Muscle memory ?

NB : Yeah, exactly !
RMG : And also playing those songs with Brendan O'HARE on the ones we recorded with him and Paul QUINN on the ones we did with him was difficult for them because they hadn't really played since those days, especially for Paul.
NB : I think Paul had more or less given up playing.
RMG : But he really enjoyed being back but I suppose we had to refamiliarize ourselves with playing together again. But we're really glad we did it that way and it was good having all those people down who had been in the band past and present on stage at the same time. And Frances McDONALD was not always playing drums, he also played keyboards and acoustic guitar.

Norman also swapped places with Brendan...

NB : Yeah, that's right !

Could we see things like that on the tour as well ?

NB : Yeah, we may have a lot of action on stage! It's a busy stage.

Around the same time as those shows, there was an exhibition on Scottish pop at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Did you have a chance to go there and visit it ?

RMG : I didn't...
NB : But we contributed with the Matador poster and the guitar ! I didn't actually see it... I think we might have been on tour when that happened.
RMG : And also the guitar that was in the exhibition has now been repainted, it looks a lot better now ! 
NB : Yeah, basically we bought it from someone who had painted it with car spray, it was horrible, it wasn't the original colour.
RMG : Was it in the exhibition that Mustang ?

Yes, it was.

RMG : We thought we'd let them have the guitars that we use more currently but we said “Could we swap when we have to have it for a whole period ? ” and they told us we couldn't. We thought it would be more interesting to showcase the ones we are currently using, but we needed them !

And how did you feel about being “trapped” in a museum?

NB : I was quite excited. I didn't have the opportunity to see it but it's nice that people want to see the history of what happened in music in the city because a lot has happened in the last thirty or forty years. I didn't personally see it but it looked as they had done it properly, which is all that you can really ask, to look after the exhibits. They were articulately notated and the chronology was right so I think it was good.
RMG : I suppose it's funny we've been doing this thing for quite a long time now. You know we meet people who tell us “This band's been going for longer than I've been alive ! ”. So I suppose if we were to think back on when we started the band in 1989 back to how many years we've been doing the band, thirty three years before that, we'd be in the 1950s. Then we would have felt like some mythical...
NB : 55 or 56... 1956 it would have been.
RMG : It all feels like it's been going by quickly but the things that you did a long time ago become...
NB : You inevitably end up in a museum. It's funny because I was listening to a FALL album this morning, what's it called again? Working class... it's the one where Pascal LE GRAS does the artwork for it... (Middle class revolt, 1994). So when we saw The FALL in New York...
RMG : Is that one of the ones on Matador ?
NB : Yeah, so we were hanging out with the FALL afterwards and all that, it came out in 1993 and I was thinking of it as a fairly new one ! “Wow, OK that was 1993 ! ” .
RMG : Even the recent ones feel like years ago.
NB : And I had a look on Discogs and the vinyl is going for crazy amounts of money. So yeah, you become a museum piece eventually.


"We've got lots of fucking songs"

I won't dwelve to much on Gerry's departure because you must be tired of talking about it...

NB : Nah, we can always talk about it because that's part of what happened, our history as a band. It's been what ? Three years since we last played with him ?
RMG : Last gig we did with him on tour was in 2018. And the other thing about that Creation records tour, not only did we have two guys who had been previous drummers with the band playing in the band, we also had Gerry who had decided to leave the band and we were all on stage together. I wonder if anyone else has ever done that ! There was an intensity to it because of all those different factors as well. 

So I was wondering which of his songs do you miss playing the most ?

NB : Oh right... Well there's lots of them that are good ones and fun to play. I don't know, I mean... I think we're trying to put a more positive spin on things, it gives us an opportunity to play lots of songs that we never got to play because of the three of us writing. You've only got a certain amount of time to play for each show. We've got lots of fucking songs you know, we've been around a long time. For example, on this tour, there are songs that we did for Songs from northern Britain and because of the vinyl, there's a couple we couldn't put on. One of those songs is called Broken and it's quite rare on stage. There's another which is called Middle of the road. And because it didn't make it on the record we never played it live, until two weeks ago. I always really liked this song.
RMG : We were playing it at soundcheck once and we thought “Should we have a go at that ? ”. We asked Steve and he said “What's that ? ” so we listened to it and he was like “Yeah, OK, let's do it ! ”. But we had to remember how to play it.
NB : But you know it was great when Gerry was in the band, it was a lot of fun playing his songs...
RMG : But also it's going back to the concept of museums and those kinds of things. What we don't want to be is a heritage band, we don't want to do Gerry's songs as a museum piece. We want to be enjoying being alive in the here and then.
NB : And I couldn't really think of a specific song, so it was fun to play them all ! I couldn't really think of one that would top it all. You know with Gerry leaving we thought “OK here's an opportunity”. We all wanted to continue while Gerry didn't so we just asked ourselves “What can we do? What are the opportunities here ? ”. But this song, Middle of the road, is a good example of a song we never would have done if Gerry was still in the band. And it's all good in terms of our relationship with him.

So would you say that his departure opened new doors for TEENAGE FANCLUB ?

NB : Absolutely !
RMG : I think you have to deal with things in a positive way, whatever that thing is. And as a band, I mean good luck to all the bands that decided to reform and play stuff from the past but... I am not trying to slag anyone else for doing this, but we have always wanted to be current. As soon as we knew Gerry was leaving the band, the minute we finished that tour we went “OK, let's go to the studio”. And we were in there within two months of that. And then we put the Everything is falling apart song out a couple of weeks after we'd finished it so we could move into the future. We wanted to keep pushing forward.
NB : I mean we've had a couple of relatively big changes in the band. When Brendan left that was a big change because...
RMG : Brendan was a big personality.
NB: Yes, a big personality. But then you just adapt. Things change and bands evolve all the time. You know we were making jokes in the van about bands who don't have any original members in it any more. No one was there at the start ! That is really crazy when you think about it. So, a band can be whatever you want it to be as well. And also, I think the other thing which is interesting is that Dave is primarily a bass player so we were using him as a keyboard player and a guitar player and whatever, bits of percussion... and now he's on his favoured instrument and that definitely changes the sound in terms of his approach to playing bass being different than Gerry's. So, you get to grab and enjoy that difference. And as you mentioned earlier having Euros coming in brought another flavour and dimension to it.
RMG : And it's good as well that people... We didn't want to bring someone that didn't already have a connection to the band. Euros has sung and played on our records before and we've known him for years, he also did the JOHNNY thing with Norman. I suppose we joke of Dave being the new guy, but he's been in this band for eighteen years or something. So we're never going to go and get a ringer or some guy that looks like Gerry to play bass. We were never going to go anywhere near anything like that. Which is why we can continue things in a natural way. And Steve has known Euros for ages so there's a natural connection. I can't imagine ever auditioning someone... Bands do things for all kind of different reasons but we like to play with people we have a connection with. It's the human personal connection as well.
NB : We have more pleasure experiencing touring this way, you know ?

Especially if you are on the road for a long time I guess...

NB : Exactly !
RMG : Personality is a big factor when you know you're going to be sitting in a van or a car with someone for hours on end.


"We're all fascinated by people generally, just seeing their reactions"

Endless arcade feels like it's a sadder record than usual in terms of lyrical contents.

NB : From my perspective, definitely.

But there are still some optimistic views being expressed...

NB : I think that has a band we are optimists. We are pretty positive thinking people. Here's an example: we had a show in Galicia a couple of years ago and we flew into Paris I think and there was some issue with our flight. At that point we could have said “Oh well, gig's off, what a shame, fuck that” but we thought  “Fuck it, let's drive ! ”. So, we drove from Paris to Galicia !
RMG : We really wanted to make that show happen.
NB : That's the way that we like to approach things, but yes, my songs on the album are about my personal relationship and I think you just try to write about what's happening in your life. It just happened that for me I was not in the best place at the time but I'm in a much happier space now.

Did the writing on this album have a cathartic aspect for you ?

NB : Yeah, for sure, no question. It's funny that you write about painful experiences and you continue to play the songs and you don't have the pain any more. I'm not thinking about what I was thinking about at the time when I'm performing the song, so it's all good. I'm happy I managed to get those songs out and express how I was feeling. Even just for myself, you know ? It made a good outlet, as you say, cathartic.

So do you talk about what each other's songs are going to be about or do you find out when you're recording them ?

RMG : Sometimes you start a song and you don't really know what it's about, it kind of evolves from the process of doing it.
NB : You have a flag whenever an idea starts popping into your head and then you find things that seem to fit with the song. I suppose that as most people do, when you play guitar, you come up with a melody and then you wait until something comes into your head that seems appropriate. That's how I do it anyway.
RMG : Sometimes an idea precedes the song writing process and I think that through playing the guitar, this idea develops. But we don't compare notes or anything, “What do you think your songs are ? ”. We just kind of come up with it and do our best. Sometimes I get these things that don't really make sense and then you try and make sense of it until the completion of the song or whatever. But I think the good stuff is buried in your subconscious and you have to bring it out somehow.

There was a recent post on Francis' blog about playing I don't want control of you on stage and knowing that it's a song you wrote for your daughter he explained it sometimes makes him feel a bit emotional. How often does this type of thing happen to you when you're on stage ?

NB : Not often because most of the time you're kind of just performing the song and you're not back in the same emotional head space you were in when you wrote the song. But I think sometimes on tour you also get reflective moments, you don't do that often but you get conscious of that space when you get older.
RMG : But I think being on stage feels best when something goes well and it brings a bit of adrenalin. It is about being present rather than... Sometimes you drift off a bit in your thoughts and you're like “Jesus ! What am I doing ? ”.
NB : We always try to do good shows because people pay money for tickets, I mean it's not a simple thing that, tickets aren't cheap anymore! We want to make sure everything sounds good. I mean we always try our best to make a good show.

The funny thing is that the audience may find a very personal emotional vibration within the songs for all sorts of different reasons...

NB : Yeah, it can be all sorts of things. I have a good friend who thanked me for playing one song the other day. He told me he was bringing his daughter that night and she had never seen us and his friend died the week before, they had had a conversation about bringing his daughter to the show. So that was quite emotional and we dedicated this song to the person. But people will come up and they have emotional connections with the songs, we meet lots of young people who tell us “I really love the band because I listened to it when I was a child and my parents loved the music”. So, there's a nostalgic thing for them and we're appreciative of it, you know.
RMG : That's one of the interesting things with going on tour right after the album comes out. You meet people and people tell you what they feel about the songs on the record. We don't meet as many people as we usually do on this tour because we've been trying to stay away from people, we don't want to catch anything or whatever but everyone's got their own take on things. There's a lot of songs that I like that have a special meaning for me that is totally different from what was in the heads of the people who wrote them. Music affects people in different ways, everyone has got their own response to it.
NB : As a musician you should always be aware that for most people who don't know anything, it's still magical backstage. For us it's technical. For most people who go to a concert, like I did when I was a kid, like going to see The CLASH, that was a magical experience. I had no idea how it was done really. Staging and all that, I had no idea about tour managers and crew and all that stuff.
RMG : The funny thing is when you're on stage, people are unaware of how many things we can see.
NB : Everyone !
RMG : We can see everyone and sometimes you see the expression on someone's face at the back of the hall. It's amazing what you become aware of. People go to shows and they're not aware that we're looking at everyone else as well.
NB : People think we see a mass of heads, but no, we see individuals.

I actually never thought about that. Did you ever catch anything weird ?

NB : Well the thing is, people very often look like glum. “Oh, they can't be enjoying it ! ”.  And then at the end of the song they will applaud wildly.
RMG : I think most people are just like me because I'll go to shows loving it but I don't show anything. But sometimes you catch people moving or grooving, being so connected to it and it's great! I think we're all the same, we're all fascinated by people generally, just seeing their reactions.


"We're going to do our best to just play on ahead and keel over"

A new song, I left a light on, was released quite recently which gives the impression that TEENAGE FANCLUB is moving at a faster pace than usual ?

NB : That's intentional. We've looked back at how we've done things and we have quite large periods between albums. I think it's also a factor of how you have to work as a musician, you have to tour. And you need to have some new material unless you are a heritage band, which we don't want to do. We actually really enjoy it, it's great fun to get into the studio. It is work, it's a process that isn't easy, I'm not saying that, but for us it's something that we get a lot of pleasure from. So we thought “Well, we enjoy touring but...” and also we came to the realisation that this is what we do. I'll be 57 in a few months, I'm not going to get another job or another career after this so we may as well make the most of this.
RMG : We're not going to become astronauts or football players.
NB : And so we seize any opportunity, thinking “OK let's try and record something soon or relatively soon”.
RMG : And we think back on some things, like being in Chicago making Man-made at the John McENTIRE studio and we realize it was 18 years ago. Sometimes when we're in the process of thinking we need to make a new album soon, we get maybe behest into pressing the start button but in terms of inspiration it works better when we know we're going to do it. It's easy to get things to drift, so we're trying to switch it back the other way. If we plan on going into the studio in two or three months’ time you can focus more into being more intensely creative. So, we definitely got a conscious thing at the moment to try and do things more regularly.
NB : It's too easy to rest on your laurels but there are artists who certainly are prolific and we wanted to become more prolific, because you get a real sense of pleasure when you complete a project. It feels good if the project is good but also you know you have to start getting creative again, and that's also a good feeling. We're going to do our best to just play on ahead and keel over.

I was wondering if this was also linked with the fact that you spent a lot of time looking in the rear-view mirror with the Creation shows and all your album reissues ?

NB : Sure !
RMG : It was part of that as well. We thought it was really good to do that but the slight uncomfortableness of doing that and thinking we didn't want to do too much of it. So, once we did all that and looking into all those things of the past, relearning all those songs to present it in the best way we could... That's something we're really proud of and we actually did a lot of work, not that it's visible, on the vinyl reissues of the records we did on Creation. And success is shown when people are listening to it and looking at the sleeve, it looks like we haven't done anything but we had to recreate all the artwork because everything had been lost. We had to bring it all back to make it look like nothing had happened. And we did a lot of that because Sony had taken over and everything had been lost. Initially the tapes still existed but none of the artwork did, so we managed to find them and search into all the things that we had to recreate it all, rather than just scan the record sleeve. So, we did a lot of work on that but at the end of playing the Creation shows we were very much adamant into playing new stuff. And we needed to do it immediately rather than sit around and think about it.

Were you also involved in the remastering of the tapes ?

RMG : Yes.

So, are there things that you didn't really notice were there before ?

RMG : Well, we're the only ones that know all the stuff that's in there. No one really knows about this stuff so we have to do it all ourselves. I could show you my phone, I've got pictures of all those tape boxes, because you have to go to the warehouse and look through them all and find them all and select them all, and there's different takes so I had to look back for boxes I have at home with notes that had which take of the song was the actual song. Again, you try to just make them all work. But actually, being in Abbey Road and listening back to stuff, the records all sound really different. But they all sound good.
NB : The nice thing is we did go for it and with all the money put into it, they let us add a 7' with each record, so we just went for it.
RMG : But it's easy for us to be lazy and let somebody else do it. The thing that we never liked to do is sit back, let someone else do it, it doesn't work then you whinge and complain about it. We don't like to complain about anything! So, we said to Sony : “Look, we will do this, we'll go to the tape store and deal with the mastering. We'll do all the artwork, we'll do all that stuff” and obviously we were happy with it but we didn't try and save money in the remastering process. It was good to go back to the original source and play stuff back. It's all sounding pretty good I think because we're not set on listening to these records, only when we get to that point. And we also got to work on B-sides and other songs, so we've got quite a catalogue should we decide to release some of that stuff.

That's actually my follow-up question. As you said Norman, there are just a couple of bonus songs for each reissue, so did you ever think about releasing a compilation of b-sides and rare stuff ?

NB : We have.
RMG : We have thought about it, yes. At some point we'll do it. We don't know exactly when it's going to happen but it is something we have been thinking about.
N B: We'd need to sit down with Gerry and decide what would end up in there, but there's loads of stuff. We've talked about it for years.
RMG : I think if we can get to that and we can all agree on the shape of it, there's so much stuff that we wouldn't need to put it all out. I mean everything you've ever done is available these days but it'd be good to do a 12-song single LP thing and have that on a respectable form. But as I said there's nothing developed with that yet. We haven't contacted Gerry about it but at some point we might. We've been saying that for 20 years or something. At some point we'll do it.

You mentioned Middle of the road and Broken, I would personally add The shadows...

NB : Oh yes, that's a good one!

Are there any songs that you regret not including on your albums ?

NB : Broken and Middle of the road. I think we may could have gone with a double album, maybe potentially with The count as well. We could have gone to a double album but it didn't happen, but it was what it was and it's fine.
RMG : We did a lot of songs in the 90s when Creation wanted to release two sets of CDs for each single so we did a lot of stuff. And some of them are really good and some of them are really bad. Some of those songs are really good, Some people try to fuck with you for example. There's still quite a few things over the years that we could select.

It's also a bit surprising that you never released any live album...

NB : Yeah, it's a tough one that. I suppose it's difficult, you have to find the right venue and the right performance.
RMG : We were talking about it the other day, I have boxes of tapes at home of live shows going back all the way to 1991. I'm too scared to listen to them.
NB : It's a very difficult thing to listen to yourself.
RMG : Maybe we should archive this stuff and transfer it but that kind of feels like work in a way and it feels a bit scary to listen back...  And amongst hours of this stuff there would be a few choice moments.
NB : We're probably going to have to pay someone to listen to this for us.
RMG : Yeah or develop some kind of helmet or something as a protection from the psychic pain of listening to these things.

You did a lot of collaboration with different bands and artists over the years. I was wondering if The sun won't shine on me on the last album was some sort of tribute to Daniel JOHNSTON ?

NB : No, actually. We toured with him and stuff, but I guess the title could be a Daniel JOHNSTON  song yeah. It was a lot of fun doing that, the artist who got me into touring with Daniel was Jad FAIR, we did an album with him, he's a very good friend. Actually, I was thinking about that the other day, walking around with my guitar. Daniel signed this guitar at the end of the tour, it was pretty great. And also, I think that was a long time ago, some 15 years ago or something like that, which is insane because it seems like yesterday. I played with Katy McCARTHY in Madrid a few years back when Munster Records did a Daniel JOHNSTON reissue box set.

A more unexpected collaboration was with DE LA SOUL for the Judgment night soundtrack...

NB : Oh, yeah !
RMG : I remember someone had this idea to pair rock bands with, you know, hip-hop bands or whatever, they asked us if we wanted to do something with DE LA SOUL and we thought “Yeah, that sounds fucking great actually ! ”. We were in a studio in Manchester and just made some stuff up and it was great !
NB : And then we flew for Chicago and made a video all the weekend, and that was it! But they were nice guys, it all came together pretty quickly. I think they put down...
RMG : They put down a beat, or were we playing something? We messed around, they put a beat and we played along with it. It was great to see the different way they worked. The naturalistic way they worked with records and beats and things... The way they put songs together while we would just play guitars and stuff.
NB : Tom PETTY was involved in that as well ! Because they sampled Free fallin'.
RMG : We had to ask for permission and it was great, it was a good laugh. We also had a good laugh making the video because it's ridiculous, we're all there clapping hands around some fake volcano with smoke coming out of it and there was someone with angel wings, we just thought “What the fuck ? ”...
NB : We had no idea what the video was going to be like and they were giving us directions : “OK, just stand there, OK ! ”.
RMG : It might as well have been a joke. I remember the guy doing the video was trying to get them to do a little bit more typical hip-hop stuff, it was funny. They were really nice guys, we had a good laugh with them.

There's also a lot of bands who have paid tribute to TEENAGE FANCLUB over the years. For example, Evan DANDO of The LEMONHEADS played two of your songs on stage a few days ago. Ben GIBBARD (DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE) went as far as covering the whole Bandwagonesque LP.  How do you feel about that ?

NB : Yeah, he did the whole album! It was really nice, really flattering that Ben did the whole album, I thought “Good luck with that ! ”. He would ask me about some of the songs and the lyrics “Hey, what is that chord?” I had no idea, “Just make one up ! ”. Ben is a fan, he's played with us a couple of times but on a personal level I've been reciprocating because I've done a couple of acoustic shows fairly recently and I've been playing his song that he wrote for The MONKEYS, Me & Magdalena, which is a brilliant song. We have known him forever. Same with Evan, we haven't seen him play our songs lately, but we got some reports through his tour manager.

Is there one cover of a TEENAGE FANCLUB that you like more than the others ?

NB : Oh ! I keep trying to think of songs of ours people did cover... Oh you know what? There's one I really like actually, J MASCIS covering Everything flows for a John PEEL session, for a couple of reasons actually : Mike WATT was playing bass on it and Ron ASHETON was playing guitar ! The fucking STOOGES and he's playing my song ! I like J, he's a good guy. I remember somebody called me that night : “Listen to John PEEL, J MASCIS is doing Everything flows ! ” and I've seen a couple of clips with Ron ASHETON playing this. It was an unbelievable line-up ! That was really great hearing that. We know that Phoebe BRIDGERS is a big fan of ours, she's seen us a couple of times, so we're hoping she covers one of our songs... just for the money! I'm just kidding, of course.

tfc_band_8_500.jpg, by Bingo

"We think about Glasgow more than we think about Scotland"

You were talking about recording Man-made with John McENTIRE in Chicago earlier, how did you get to work with him ?

RMG : We were thinking of how to do things a bit differently. We wanted to go somewhere different in the world since we had done most of the studios in the UK, or at least the ones that we like. We talked about how we would do it and Gerry had been working with John on a PASTELS' record.
NB : Oh, I was on that too actually!
RMG : So, we though John would be good and we could go to his studio. I think I spoke to him before or something.
NB : Usually we take all our gear, but we used the guitars and amps in his studio. It was really good fun. We went twice...
RMG : We went to record most of it then we came back to do a bit of mixing.
[Norman's phone interrupts]
NB : Oh, I left my ringtone, sorry. I don't know that number so I'll just let it ring.
RMG : We went to Chicago in the summer and then came back in the winter so we had the two extremes of the Chicago weather. I remember when we arrived the second time it was really cold and thought it was great experiencing this extreme weather, but John thought it was terrible. We were just fascinated by how brutal the weather was. But it was great, we had a good time. We worked through the culinary scene of Chicago based on John's advice. We all enjoyed it a lot and we didn't really work too hard. We got lost sometimes, it was good.

So would you say that the recording environment influences your records ?

RMG : Yeah, absolutely, it does. You know, you get something from the place. We did the Endless arcade album in Hamburg and recorded Here in Provence at the studio Vega. Everywhere we've been to you get something from the environment. You get a focus as well from being maybe somewhere you've never been before or if you haven't been there for a while or whatever. A part of the identity of making an album comes from the place. The environment is important to us and you get something from it.

I think it makes sense for Here, which you recorded in Carpentras, as it is easy to picture a sunny countryside when listening to the songs.

NB : Yeah, definitely. That was a great place, a big studio and a beautiful environment. We had quite a lot of fun, didn't we ?

How did you find that place ?

NB: I found it online.
RMG: I think I had seen it while looking for stuff for a few years and I thought “Well, it looks quite interesting”. The guy who owns this studio, Manfred KOVACIC, I got in touch with him and he was kind of tackled these guys from Glasgow wanted to go there. We got a really good rate and we got there with our van. He was like “I can't get people to come from Paris which is only two hours away with the TGV ! I've been telling everyone these guys have been driving all the way from Glasgow to come here ! ”.
NB : There was a beautiful desk.
RMG : It was an old DMI desk that came from Passy when the old DMI studio was in Paris.

You started releasing your albums yourself through Pema while also having a deal with Merge Records. Are there any major differences between a band-owned label, compared to, for example, Creation Records ?

NB : We've had good relationships with all the record labels we've been on. Merge is an artist-friendly label because it was started by musicians [SUPERCHUNK]. We tend to deliver them the finished records.
RMG : And also, when we started the band, we made the albums ourselves without any outside connections and that's how the band started making the record and then talking about it. In terms of the music making process, we have friendly relationships, but we've never had any input creatively from labels. It has more to do with the after of having a record and we'll have more of a relationship but because the band started with us making the records, we quite like to just go off somewhere and do what we think is a good idea. We don't have to talk to anyone or have to plan a budget. It's our money so it doesn't matter. If we spend too much money, that's our problem !
NB : I also like the idea of saying “Here's the record, if you like it release it. If you don't like it you don't need to release it”. That's a very simple discussion to have. And it's all good, no hard feelings. Raymond does most of the organisational work in terms of putting stuff together but it's a good way for us to release the records. We like to control it. Something will inevitably go wrong otherwise and we don't want to blame someone else, saying it was their fault. We want to take the rap for everything that happens.

That's very noble !

NB : Well, it's honest.

Speaking of SUPERCHUNK, you both ended up doing backing vocals on their latest single, Endless summer.

NB : Yeah, Mac (McCAUGHAN) contacted us when we were in Glasgow and asked us to do some backing vocals. He just sent the files over and we recorded them at Raymond's. We sent the files back and we were on the SUPERCHUNK LP ! Actually, the very first show that we did in New York also had SUPERCHUNK on the bill. That was the launch night for Matador Records, that's when we first met them. It might have been in 1990 so we've known these guys a long time. They're really nice people, very lovely. Then YO LA TENGO we also met that night. SONIC YOUTH I suppose as well. We're very good pals with YO LA TENGO as well.

It seems like your friendship with YO LA TENGO stood up the test of time as there was this video from a few years ago where you're playing I heard you looking together on stage during this indie rock cruise...

NB : Oh yeah, that was great! I've done it twice with them then because I had already done it in Glasgow with them before. Ira [KAPLAN] is a good friend and Georgia [HUBLEY] too. James [McNEW] of course as well, but I know Ira and Georgia particularly well.

Hold on tight, we just have a couple more questions to go... The concept was heavily featured in movies at one stage. Michael MOORE also used your cover of  CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN's Take the skinheads bowling for the opening credits of Bowling for Columbine... Would you be interested in doing an entire movie soundtrack ?

NB : If somebody invites us to do one, we will definitely think about it.
RMG : I think probably we would need to go out and start networking, I feel like that's something we're lacking a bit. The idea of making some shit up for someone else's film sounds great!
NB : Generally, what we're doing is writing songs Raymond and myself but in the past, I suppose when we made the album with Jad FAIR, we improvised all the music for that. It wasn't as though we were writing songs as such. We swapped instruments then someone would start something and the tracks would be created that way. We could also entertain the idea of doing an instrumental album at some point.
RMG : Yeah, we thought about that idea, even for something that you'd only sell on tour. The idea of us doing an all instrumental album with no vocals on it as a different thing. We need to think about that one again!
NB : You know I think we could do anything.
RMG : It seems to us that, it's not that we don't like to write songs, but we feel like it's a lot easier to make just music, where you improvise and you could just set and mix some stuff all day long. As musicians, you enjoy pushing things around, making something with words and a melody. It seems like it takes a bit more consideration.

It feels like last year was a big year for Scottish rock music. Besides Endless arcade, MOGWAI made it to the top of the charts with their As the love continues album and ARAB STRAP also released an excellent come-back album. What do you think makes Caledonian music so special ?

RMG : For us locally, we think about Glasgow more than we think about Scotland. All that music comes out from there, more than Edinburgh or whatever.
NB : It's a big population in density. If you go to Manchester, Manchester is a big music city. Glasgow is a city of 700,000 people and much bigger because you have 2 million people with the metropole. So, I think when you have a high density and you have a good art school you've got lots of bands. Maybe geographically the city is also small enough so you have easy ways to connect. And it's just evolved over the years. I think it has to do with a number of different factors. You also have some very good universities. You have this density of creative people.
RMG : And it's funny because I met a lot of people who told me “I moved to Glasgow because I wanted to be in a band”. It's like the city people may view as this musical place and it's great that Glasgow does have that. There is something amongst a lot of people in Glasgow. Not everyone obviously but so many people want to be in a band or do something creative. I suppose the more local you go things get more in terms of identity. But we see it as a Glasgow thing really. No bad bands came from Edinburgh as well... JOSEF K. were OK. Nah, JOSEF K. were great !
NB : And the thing is I don't know most of the young bands now. That's partly through being old because it would be a bit sad if I still had my finger on the pulse, it shouldn't be that way. And there are loads and loads of bands I've never heard now. And I'm sure there are some that never heard of us ! Which is as it should be as well.
RMG : There are a million things going on that we don't know about. There are all sorts of different music scenes or whatever. There are all sorts of different genres. And I suppose the dance music thing has always been big in Glasgow. There are loads of sides to the thing, not just one ghetto of guitar bands. And I think that's a good thing.

Well I think that about wraps it up...

NB : Oh, you see, we got to the end of your questions !

Well done guys, thank you very much !

NB : It was a pleasure !

Interview by Eric F.

(October 04, 2022)



Go further



In our written archives :
All you need is (Gerard) LOVE,
                    by Eric F. (25/06/21)
TEENAGE FANCLUB : pas un groupe héritage, 
                    this interview in French version (11/10/22)

In our radio archives :
Rock à la Casbah #742 (30/06/2021)



Photography : Estelle F.