While other bands are currently taking advantage of the pervasive 90’s revival, Teenage Fanclub are somewhat of an anomaly in that they typically reject nostalgia. The fact they didn’t do anything to mark the 25th anniversary of the heralded ‘Bandwagonesque’ being a case in point.
While the band’s recent live shows always focus on both past and present, the emphasis has been mainly on last year’s critically acclaimed LP ‘Here’ – an album which recalled all the best aspects of latter-day Fannies: strong melodies, warm, Byrds-ian guitar lines, and a propensity for 60s pop and garage.
Ahead of Teenage Fanclub’s European tour this week, Clash caught up with Norman Blake to talk about his feelings on nostalgia, Scottish music, Trump and the success of the band’s recent album ‘Here’.
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Your recent album ‘Here’ has been very successful in bringing the band back to prominence, having reached the UK Top 10, with the majority of your shows since September selling out. Did you anticipate your return to be as successful as it has been?
No we didn't! I think we felt that the album was strong, but having been away for so long we weren't sure if there would still be much interest in the band.
A lot of bands these days tend to cash in on nostalgia, but I get the feeling Teenage Fanclub don’t like to focus too much on the past.
Yes, we have never broken up and we are at our happiest when we are recording or performing new music.
You didn’t do something to mark the 25th anniversary of ‘Bandwagonesque’ for example - was this a conscious decision?
We played a couple of ‘Bandwagonesque’ shows about a decade ago, and while it was fun initially, we very quickly grew tired of it. I don't think we'll do anything like that again.
Having said that, you mentioned briefly on Twitter that there might be some vinyl reissues of your 90s albums coming this year. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Most of our albums are out of print on vinyl. Original copies of ‘Grand Prix’ are quite pricey now. We'd like to see all of our albums available again and we've discussed it with the various parties involved, but right now we're focusing on the two month tour that we're currently on for the 'Here' album. Once that's out of the way we'll set the wheels in motion.
Given that much of your older material is quite stylistically different to your more recent stuff, do you enjoy playing older songs live, or is it more of a case of wanting to please the audience?
We play songs from all ten of our albums when we play live and we enjoy them all. We've always been strongly melody driven. We were a little sloppier in the early days, but we've always tried to write good songs.
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You'll always be influenced by what you're listening to when you're writing and recording music.
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Songs from ‘A Catholic Education’ and ‘Bandwagonesque’ are much more darker, cynical and often abrasive than the softer, more melodic Byrds-ian style that followed. In retrospect, was this simply reflecting the era in which it was made (to pander to the grunge movement etc), or did you initially set out to be a noisy rock band?
I don't think we ever felt that we were part of any movement. We knew the Nirvana guys and toured with them but we were stylistically quite different. When we made our first album we were mostly listening to ‘Exile On Main Street’. That's what we were trying to emulate on 'A Catholic Education'. You'll always be influenced by what you're listening to when you're writing and recording music. On subsequent albums our musical palate just got broader.
‘Everything Flows’ was my first introduction to Teenage Fanclub, and it remains one of my favourite songs of all time. It has a staying power that not many songs achieve, and there’s a certain euphoria that comes with hearing it live. What are your personal feelings on the song?
We still play it every night. It was our first single and it's in our DNA. J Mascis does a great cover. I saw a clip of J performing it with Mike Watt on bass and Ron Asheton on guitar and as a huge Stooges fan that blew my mind.
The best thing about ‘Here’ for me is that you’ve not been overly ambitious with it by staying true to the sound that you’re known for and do well. Was it important for you to make sure that you weren’t doing anything that strayed too far from the typical Teenage Fanclub sound we all know and love?
There's a sound that we make together as a group of people that is unique to us. Of course that goes for any band. The line up of our band has been pretty consistent over the years. When we get together in the studio, we each present our songs and the band will work on the arrangement. It's as simple as that.
I’m a huge fan of Scottish indie music, and I’m moving to Glasgow briefly this year (in part because its music scene is the best in the U.K. at the moment) what do you think it is about Scotland that produces so much good music?
I'm not really sure. There are a lot of students in the city. There's a great Art School and a lot of the musicians that I know studied there. We're also fortunate to have Stephen Pastel. Stephen has been at the centre of and has been the catalyst for much of the great music that the city has produced.
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I just don't understand how someone can be racist, xenophobic or homophobic...
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You now reside in Canada, what’s the music scene like there in comparison to the UK’s?
I've gotten to know some Canadian musicians. Broken Social Scene, Alvvays and Ron Sexsmith to mention a few. The Canadian music scene is pretty strong although much of the music doesn't get out of the country. And then of course there's Drake and Justin Bieber…
You’re a fairly apolitical band lyrically, but what are your feelings on the current political climate in regards to Trump etc?
True, Teenage Fanclub hasn’t gone out of our way to take an overt political stance over the years. But personally, I’m not very happy about the way thing are going globally. The rise of the right wasn't something that I foresaw. Of course that's naivety on my part. I just don't understand how someone can be racist, xenophobic or homophobic. I just don't get that. It's stupid.
My great grandparents were immigrants from Italy, my wife is half Syrian. I have relatives and friends who are gay. My life is much richer for knowing them. Even Donald Trump's mother was a first generation immigrant to the US from Scotland.
Spinning Coin supported you on your tour recently, are you fans? And is there any other new music that you are enjoying at the moment?
Yes! They're great. Nice bunch of fellas too. I mentioned Alvvays earlier, I like them a lot. I've been listening to Late Junction on Radio 3 recently. There's always great stuff on there.
I hear that you like a lot of psych, garage and freakbeat. I’m assuming that this has had a lot of influence on you musically?
I love it! I collect garage 7"s. It’s definitely been an influence on my songwriting. Something like ‘Hold Me Now’ by The Rumors is a favourite. I happen to own that one. ‘Don't Look Back’ by The Remains is perhaps my favourite record of all time.
Lastly, what’s next for Teenage Fanclub?
We just played in Zaragoza. After that we have another week in Europe and then we go to Japan, Australia and the US West Coast. No plans to record for a while.
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Teenage Fanclub wind up their tour at Shepherd’s Bush Empire on Sunday, February 26th (get tickets HERE). The band then tour Japan, Australia, US West Coast and Canada in March (full live list HERE). Festival season takes in Primavera, This Is Not A Love Song and Deershed Festival throughout summer.
Words: Hayley Scott