Teenage Fanclub (Facebook)
If you were an alternative kid in the 1990s, then you know Teenage Fanclub is one of the catchiest, most heartfelt, best kept secrets in rock. While they’re not a household name in the Unites States, their fuzzy power pop inspired Kurt Cobain to famously call them the “best band in the world” and brought them on Nirvana’s European tour as did Radiohead during their finest artistic moment, their tour for OK Computer. For Chrissake, Ben Gibbard from Death Cab For Cutie was so inspired by them, he released his own cover versions of their entire 1991 breakthrough record, Bandwagonesque. The whole album!
Forming in the Glasgow rock scene of the late 1980s and influenced by bands like Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth, Teenage Fanclub was unique in that it featured three songwriters and singers, guitarist Raymond McGinley, bassist Gerard Love, and guitarist Norman Blake. Since their first album A Catholic Education was released in 1990, they’ve released ten more records and are still actively touring. I caught up with Raymond McGinley the day before they flew out for their Hong Kong show. Interestingly enough, it’s the international flights that inspired Gerard Love to leave the band at the end of 2018 after almost thirty years of performing together, because he wasn’t interested in flying around the world again for the upcoming shows.
Thirty years is a long time for any band to not only hold it together, but to not be jaded right out of the music business, so I ask Raymond how they did it.
“We kind of view things from a slightly detached and slightly bemused perspective.”, he says. “We started off we wanted to make a record and we wanted to play some shows and we went out and played some shows, and we’re still doing it thirty years later. And in the intervening period, in order to do the things you want to do, you have to navigate your way through this thing that’s called the music business at that time.”
The Scottish accent is wonderfully thick and sometimes it takes a few seconds for my untrained ears to parse everything out, but Raymond is an enthusiastic speaker, thoughtful and straightforward. I wonder if the crowd is only interested in the tracks they might have heard on 120 Minutes (ironically also the name of a song he wrote on their Thirteen album) on MTV in the 90s.
“We’ve been lucky that we’ve never had one big hit single. You become whatever the song is when everybody in the world knows you for that song.” he brogues. “And that means we’re lucky when people come to see us that they’re not rolling their eyes when we say we’re going to play a new one. As a band, we’ve always wanted to be alive today and doing stuff. We were in the studio working recently. Last year we spent a lot of effort doing a lot of reissue stuff and remastering and it’s a job we wanted to do. It’s our life, it’s not just our catalog. But we’re quite keen to start doing new stuff now, what always drives you forward is doing that new stuff.”
He continues with the words I think every artist believes, “I think people wouldn’t thank you if you only gave them what they wanted. Ultimately, you have respect for people who are always pushing ahead, who keep it going in the present day instead of living all in the past.”
I ask him for some advice for young bands, what did he wish someone told him when he started all that time ago? He said he was just asked the same question by the rep at the mobile phone store when he was there earlier today getting his device ready for the trip to Asia. “I’m not really one to give advice, but whatever you’re doing, enjoy that moment.”
And while he says that he’s not one for advice, this is probably the most valuable lesson. “If you’re playing for five people, then don’t think of it as a stepping stone to something else, because if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing now, you should give up. There’s a good chance that whatever you’re doing isn’t going to go anywhere beyond that.”
And he reiterates his initial idea from my first question, how do they keep going while the music industry is constantly changing? They just do one thing at a time.
“When we started the band, we thought we’d make a record so we made a record and put it out. We thought ‘let’s go play some shows’ so we went to play some shows. There was never the thought that this was going to lead to something one day. We thought we’d already arrived as soon as we got in the van. We were happy with our lot. I remember playing shows, like a bar in Philadelphia in 1990, playing to ten people and I thought it was great. We’re here because (emphasis added) this is it.”
And if this is it, then Raymond says that you should be enjoying it. “That’s what music and creativity is all about. If you’re thinking of doing it for what’s around the corner, then you’re missing the point entirely. No one’s ever gonna latch on to what you’re doing if you’re not doing it for the people who are right in front of you.”
And you can be right in front of Teenage Fanclub to enjoy at The Majestic on March 5th.(263) Page Views Teenage Fanclub Online:
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