Interview – Teenage Fanclub

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Teenage Fan Club portrait 2018

Scottish indie rock band Teenage Fanclub are celebrating thirty years as a band this year and continue to prove themselves as a highly respected and influential group of musicians. On March 9th they will perform at Montreal’s Petit Campus.

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We chatted with founding member Norman Blake about line-up changes, touring and how it feels when a high profile artist covers an entire album of the band.

MR:       Hi Norman, how are you doing today?

NB:        I’m good thanks, I’m walking through Glasgow, it’s cold!  But I’m sure it’s not as cold as Montreal at the moment!

MR:       Yeah its pretty rough, we have a storm battering us at the moment, but I hear it’s battering Toronto more!

NB:        Yeah, I don’t know if you know this but I live in Kitchener and I was talking to my wife last night. It’s OK now but they had some heavy stuff last night.  But we don’t get hit as hard as Montreal!

MR:       I’ve been here 11 years myself, nothing can really prepare you…

NB:        Bit of a shock to the system isn’t it?!

MR:       You said you’re in Glasgow at the moment, what are you up to there?

NB:        Well we’re flying out to Hong Kong tomorrow, we’re doing an extended tour which starts in Hong Kong and takes us to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, then to Los Angeles and a big North American stint as well, starting in LA, heading up to Vancouver and eventually working our way over to Montreal, Toronto, and New York.

MR:       So how long are you away in total?

NB:        7 weeks in total, its a fairly long one, but that’s alright, its summer in Australia so I’m not gonna complain!

MR:       Absolutely, rather be in Australia than Kitchener!

NB:        For sure, I know it’s been really hot there but I’m privileged to go down there, see these places after all these years.

MR:       Yeah I was going to ask you about that.  I know recently Teenage Fanclub co-founder Gerard Love left the band, and one of the reasons cited was “touring differences.”  Soon after he left, all of this touring was announced, so is it safe to assume he wasn’t keen on the touring?

NB:        That’s pretty much it; he couldn’t really face going out again.  We tried for quite a long time to persuade him to do it, he just said “I can’t face it.”  It’s a shame, but we reissued the 5 albums we did with Creation and did a big tour around the UK, Gerry was on that, and the other guys who played with the band over the years joined us: Paul Quinn, Brendan our old drummer, we brought them back into the fold, so that was a nice way to finish off that era.  It’s going to be different of course.  Dave who plays keyboards with us, and has for the past 15 years, is predominantly a bass player, and plays bass with Belle and Sebastian, so he has moved onto the bass, and then we’ve brought in a friend of mine who I’ve worked with a lot, a guy called Euros Childs, who was in a band called Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci…

MR:       Yeah I saw them many years ago when I was a student at Bangor University, they  were one of the few bands that played there!

NB:        Ah right!  So Euros is playing keyboards.  It’s different, but it’s the same as well, do you know what I mean?  We’ll definitely miss not having Gerry there in some ways, but we’re going to look at it as an opportunity to look at the back catalog, find other songs to play; we’ve got a lot of them!  After 10 albums you’re looking at 120-odd songs to choose from!  And we’ve also been recording recently, we have to be positive and creative and move on, and that’s what we’re doing.  We’ve been rehearsing, we just got back from Hamburg a couple of weeks ago and recorded new songs, and they should “drop,” as the kids say, fairly soon.  It’s all good; we’re all pretty excited to get on the road again.

MR:       Yeah I can imagine, if you’ve been trying to twist Gerry’s arm for many years and suddenly you’re free to do all the things you want to do, it probably feels like being a new band again!

NB:        Yeah, we’d been touring together for years and years, and he didn’t really fancy the prospect of doing another trip around the world, which is fair enough.  We split on good terms, that last tour was really good fun, we all had a good laugh.

MR:       Yeah that tour around the UK had really good reviews from what I read.

NB:        Over the course of the 3 nights we were playing about 75 songs in each city, it was a lot to learn and try and remember, but it was a good exercise in seeing how good your cognitive skills were, and how your memory was functioning!  It was really good.

MR:       It sounded really good, I’m definitely looking forward to the Montreal show; I have a few questions on that later actually.  So how did it come about adding Euros Childs to the band?  I know you guys had that side-project Jonny together.

NB:        We looked at it, and thought “Dave’s gonna play bass, that’s just natural.”  So we needed somebody to come in and play keyboards.  Gorky’s toured with us back in the day, and I actually joined Gorky’s for a European tour when their guitarist couldn’t make it.  Euros has played on a couple of our albums, little cameo appearances; he’s a good friend and a safe pair of hands.  He fits in well, although we now have a vegan in the band!  We’ve had a vegetarian before but we’ve never had a vegan!  But he knows the band, he knows our aesthetic, he knows the music.  He was the first person we thought of, and he’s local; he’s in the UK, in Cardiff, so it’s easy for him to get up to Glasgow.  Everything just made sense.  We approached him, and he was up for it!  He’s great fun, a really good guy.

MR:       Excellent.  So with him around, is there a possibility for that 2nd Jonny album, which was talked about in 2015 but which never actually dropped?

NB:        You know what, there is actually!  We’ve got some ideas for it but it’s been on the back-burner for a bit.  We’re working on that, we also made a Joe Meek tribute record as Jonny which is complete; we just have to release it.  We covered 12 songs that Joe Meek either produced, wrote, or recorded, and it’s called “Jonny Remembers Him.”  That one will definitely come out in the next year or so, and obviously we’ll try and make the next Jonny record as soon as.

MR:       You’re going to be busy for the next few months!

NB:        It’s always good to be doing something!  The danger is that you rest on your laurels and everything grinds to a halt, you know?  That’s something we’re trying to change.  Over the last few albums, there have been larger gaps between them; 4 years, 5 years, getting on for 6 years, so we’re working on a new album now that we’d like to get out sooner rather than later, probably later next year.   For us, that’s pretty good going!

MR:       I look forward to that for sure!  Last year, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie covered the 1991 Bandwagonesque album in its entirety.  How did that come about, and how did you feel about that?

NB:        We were very flattered that he wanted to do it!  I almost met up with Ben on Sunday because they were playing in town, we were trying to hook up but we were rehearsing so we just didn’t get a chance to do it in the end.  Ben’s an old friend of mine, I’ve known him for a long long time, and he just got in touch and said “Look, I’d like to do this.  a) Would you be OK with that? And b) would you help me out with any lyrics or chords that I mishear?”  So we were like ”Yeah absolutely Ben, totally, that’s amazing!”  So he went and recorded it, and of course, we were really flattered, that’s quite a major undertaking to do a cover of a whole album!  He did a great job.  He called me a couple of times: “What is that line there” or “What chord is that?”  But I think he pretty much nailed it on his own!  We’ve known each other for a number of years now, he’s a good guy, talented guy!

MR:       Yeah, it must be strange coaching Ben Gibbard on how to play songs!

NB:        Yeah, totally!  Though they are fairly straightforward songs, there’s nothing to them, there aren’t too many jazz chords!  Though there are a couple, here and there!

MR:       Have you noticed an increased interest in the bands back catalog as a result of this?

NB:        Yeah.  You know, there seems to be this kind of nostalgia for the time we were born in.  I was born in 1965, a lot of the music I listened to when I was younger was made around that time.  So people have a kind of nostalgia for music that was made around the time they were born, and music their parents listened to, which is pretty much the same thing, you know?  So we have noticed in recent years younger people in their late teens, early 20s coming along to shows, and saying “Oh yeah, I heard the band through my folks when I was a kid.”  And of course, Ben releasing that album opened it up to a whole new audience because you can never assume people know who you are; you have to assume the opposite!  All of it helps, having people exposed to your music.  Of course, you make music to satisfy your own creative urges, but it’s nice when people give you feedback, and it’s nice when people like the music you’re making!

MR:       For sure, and when someone as influential as Ben Gibbard gives you exposure…

NB:        Definitely, not to be sniffed at!

MR:       Looking ahead to your visit to Montreal on March 9th, I think it’s your first visit here since 2010?

NB:        That sounds about right actually.  I don’t know why we didn’t make it there on the last tour!  In total, we haven’t done that many shows in Montreal, only about 3 or 4 on our own.  We played with Radiohead on the OK Computer tour in Montreal, I remember that quite well, I’ve got very strong memories of that because there was a lot of snow on the ground!  I wasn’t living in Canada at that point so I wasn’t quite used to it yet!  That was exciting, being part of that.  So you said 2010, wow, that’s 9 years…hopefully people will come along, and we’ll do our best to put on a good show; hopefully people haven’t forgotten about us!  They could quite easily have done so in 9 years, you never know!

MR:       I wouldn’t worry too much about that!  So what can we expect from the show then?  Old songs, new songs, mix of both?

NB:        Pretty much that, yeah!  We’ve definitely got new songs we’ll be playing, and we like to play stuff from across the back catalog.  We’re looking at things from the very early albums, get a few of those songs back out.  With having such a big catalog, it means we’ve got a lot of songs to choose from.  Obviously, without Gerry, we have to modify the set a bit, but we’ve got lots of things that we’ve rarely played, so there’s a lot of scope for expanding and developing a different set.  If you’ve been coming out to see us over the last few years, I’m not saying you get the same thing every night, but there’s a kind of structure to the set.  Although it won’t be massively different, it will be somewhat different, and that is exciting for us, to see what we can do in that hour and 15 or 20 minutes that we’re on stage.

MR:       I’m really looking forward to it, I’ll definitely be there myself!

NB:        Fantastic, come and say hello!

MR:       For sure, it’s a nice little venue that you’re playing, so it’s very good for catching up for a beer afterwards!

NB:        Please do that, that’s always fun!

MR:       Will to you have time to do anything else in Montreal while you’re here, or will it be a flying visit?

NB:        I think we’re in and out really.  We’re in Toronto the night before, driving up after the show, and basically get to the venue, soundcheck, do the show, wake up the next morning, then we’re off to Boston the next morning, so you don’t really get a lot of time off to do anything!  But what I can do is when I get home after the tour, jump in the car with my wife and spend a few days in Montreal, which is easier for me than the other guys!

MR:       Yeah, this is your country now!  I had one other question; what are you listening to at the moment, what’s on your playlist?

NB:        I always draw a total blank when someone asks me that!  In terms of contemporary Canadian bands, I’m kind of friends with Alvvays, I think they’re really good.  But things that are on my turntable a lot… I like Bill Callahan a lot, and the Smog records, I like those a lot.  But in terms of contemporary music, I guess I’m really not that au fait with everything, other than Alvvays; I kind of stick to my favorites!  But I always hit a brick wall with that question!  But yeah, a favorite of mine is Bill Callahan, anything he puts out I’ll buy, I think he’s an amazing artist.

MR:       Cool, I’ll be investigating for sure!

NB:        Oh do, check out Smog as well, they have an album out called ”A River Ain’t Too Much Too Love” – that’s a pretty great record.

MR:       Perfect.  Thank you very much for doing this!

NB:        It’s a pleasure!

Interview – Simon Williams

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