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Interviews

We've Done OK: Teenage Fanclub On Their 30 Year Legacy (Interview)

Radio13

With a string of classic cult albums to their name (Bandwagonesque, Thirteen, Grand Prix) Teenage Fanclub has much to be proud of as they enter their 30th year. 

The band has always been driven by the creative triumvirate of Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley and Gerard Love, sharing the writing and vocal duties equally. But as they prepare to make their New Zealand performing debut in February, that trio is down to a duo, as Love has announced his decision not to tour. 

What does this mean for the band? Radio 13's Marty Duda spoke to Raymond McGinley just after Love's final show with the band he helped form in 1989. Here's what McGinley had to say... 

MD: You're about to make your first trip to New Zealand, is that right?

Raymond McGinley

RM: Yeah it's been a long time coming. Finally after 30 years we’re finding stuff we still haven’t done yet, so we’re looking forward to crossing that one off the list.

MD: Right. We’re looking forward to having you here. I guess the first thing to talk to you about is the last show you did with Gerard, I think it was on the November 15th. How did that go?

RM: It all went really well, because we did a series of shows doing all the stuff we did in the 90s with Creation Records, chronically playing the five albums that we’ve just reissued. This was also the last shows with Gerry but also these shows we’ve gotten our previous drummers Brendan O’Hare and Paul Quinn and we’ve had everyone playing the stuff they played on originally. It was all really good, obviously it was Gerry's last shows as well, so it was an unusual thing to do but it was as good as it could have been. Everyone was positive about it and it wasn't like there was any acrimony or anything. Everyone was up for doing these shows and making it a really good thing and it all went really well.

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MD: And were emotions any different? Higher or more just kind of…

RM: Yeah, but there is a kind of cliché of Western Scotland men… we’re not really ones to show our emotions too much, so it’s a tactical lack of… we're not especially demonstrative.

MD: I hear ya. So you have several months to regroup before you head back out on the road in February, so how is the band approaching these shows? It'll be the first time that it's not the three of you, so what happens?

RM: We're still figuring out the best way of doing everything. Norman in the band, he lives in Ontario, Canada now. So after we finished the shows in November the 15th Norman went back home for a little bit, so we're still kind of just coming back down from that, because that was all fairly intense, trying to learn a lot of songs that we haven't really played before.  We’re now trying to get ourselves ahead into this new era of our band, so we’re still figuring out how that’s going to be. Norman’s coming back to Glasgow quite soon, so then we’ll get together and start rehearsing.

MD: Obviously Gerry had a lot of songs that people strongly identified with the group, so have you thought about how you're going to approach that situation?

RM: We don't really know yet, to be honest. I'm sure we can still play some of Gerry’s songs but at the same time we don’t want to be too much like disrespectful or come across like we’re covering his stuff so we’ll probably change things around quite significantly. But there is also… I mean it was frustrating, this idea of Gerry's to not come out to do these things happening next year because this stuff was just done and the shows we were playing a lot of the older stuff we’ve never played before, we’ve kind of amassed a whole load of songs that was never played before, that we haven't played for years. So we’ve got kind of a fresh repertoire of old stuff as well, that we can work out. The rest of us without Gerry, We had a whole lot of stuff we could do but now we're slightly more limited in what we can do. But we’re still figuring it all out. At least the positive thing is we have a pool of stuff we previously had never played before, so we've been through all that to figure it all out and we have all that. We’re just looking forward to trying to figure out what the best of all that is to concentrate on.

MD: I assume you're going to be bringing another bass player along?

RM: Yeah, we're still trying to figure out some of the details of all that, it's not going to be Paul McCartney!

MD: I wouldn't expect Paul to be there, it would be an interesting thing, he might do it, you never know.

RM: Yeah nothing too dramatic but we’re still figuring out who exactly we’re going to work with but we will do soon. We’re just kind of finalizing all that stuff at the moment. We’re pretty confident it will all be pretty good. We are just disappointed that Gerry’s not coming along to do all the stuff we really wanted him to do it. But we're looking forward to figuring out a new way to do things.

MD: I’m curious and I'm speculating, that perhaps the reason you guys are on the road so much is because of the nature of the music business these days, nobody’s buying music and royalties probably aren't coming in as much as they used to. Has that forced you to do more touring than you would have, which then leads to Gerry leaving the group?

RM: Well there’s kind of two things, that is certainly true that we do want to do what we to do, that being what we do for a living. You can’t live a leisurely life and wait for the royalties to come in because they don't really exist anymore. But the other thing as well, is I think we actually like going out on the road and doing stuff. If I didn't want to do it, I wouldn't, you know? A part of us as a band when we started was the idea of getting into the back of van and leaving town and hitting the road and going out into the unknown, that kind of defined what the band was and who we are. I'm sure at some point either, we wouldn’t want to do it anymore, people wouldn’t want to come see us anymore or we're physically through illness or otherwise unable to do it anymore. None of those exist at the moment for those of us who still want to do it, so we’re doing it out of desire rather than necessity or whatever.

MD: Right. Did you imagine you'd still be doing it when the band formed in the 1980’s, here we are in 2018?

Teenage Fanclub 1990

RM: No, because when we first started the band back in 1989 we were always a bit more focused on what we're doing now than what we're doing next. I haven’t really changed and never really made any assumptions, and you can’t do what we do, and I wouldn’t, because it seems arrogant to think ‘yeah, we did this for years’ because you’re dependent on other people being interested in what you do, and that’s not something you can take for granted. Especially if you’re going to make a record and come back, because you say ‘who knows, people may not be interested’. But I think I’ve always liked and most of the other guys have liked that sense of ‘who knows how long are we going to be doing this thing?’ there’s no certainty to it. And the fact that it is unknown and that there is no security, personally I like that. I feel depressed at the idea of boring certainty of knowing exactly what you're going to be doing. Now as it turns out we’ve been doing it for a long time but you don’t really know that.

MD: You mentioned that the band is doing a lot of the older material because you’re going back to all these albums all the way through, and of course you've been prepping the reissues and doing all that, making them available again, so has that given you an opportunity to look back on things and how do you feel about the band’s legacy?

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RM: In a way it feels like too much opportunity to look back on, because none of us got into this to have a retrospective mindset about what we’re doing. We have spent a lot of time and energy over the past year trying to put together…basically we’re trying to get everything we’ve ever done reissued in a proper form so we’ve never really had that before. So we have been in this period of just going back into the past and trying to make everything look as good as it can and sound as good as it can, all that kind of stuff, and there's a certain level of fulfillment in that. Sometimes for certain things it makes you think ’oh, I wasn't sure about that, but then you listen to it, and the last thing is everything again. That’s not something that we do, we don't sit and consider ourselves or what we've done. We always move forward and the stuff exists in your head as a kind of imagined thing. It’s interesting to go back and do these new shows where we’ve had to do these things where you have to sit down and listen to stuff. Because for certain songs you think, ‘I’ve been playing that wrong for years. Sorry if it was like that but it isn’t like that, you know? But it also reminds you of your life when you were more productive creatively. And you think ‘I’d like to get back there’. After that I remember we did that and it didn’t take us very long and it seems we’ve got a lot done during 3 or 4 weeks or whatever, it certainly reminds you of that as well, but also it makes you hungry to get back into the world of doing something new again.

MD: Well, for you guys the most recent album came out in 2016, so it’s a couple years ago, are you gathering a batch of new tunes that you are thinking of…

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RM: Yeah definitely, because I think with Paul and with this thing we think we could be responsive now but you’d think over the past 3 albums it’s been like 5 years or something between the albums. It’s not like we ever plan it to be that way but it somehow just takes longer than you expect so I think we’d like to in terms of our creative life put out a record a bit quicker than that. And it’s a part of… we need to record new stuff and feel like we’re moving forward so we’re looking forward to getting new stuff together as soon as we can.

MD: And is songwriting and the creative process of recording much different for you guys now than it was, say in 1990 or 91?

RM: I think it’s much the same really. We operate pretty instinctively. We don’t really sit and plan anything and we never really have. Because we get different people writing in the band you can’t really get conceptual about what an album is going to be like between you and everyone else’s. I think it ends up kind of being what it is and you have to just ride that wave of whatever it is other people have got and that becomes what the rest of us do. And I think it’s always been that way. Hopefully when we continue to do stuff it will still be that way. I don’t know how other people do this stuff because I’ve only ever really done this, I may do it exactly the same way.

MD: Speaking of other people, over the years especially during the 90’s, you guys got ringing endorsements from some of the biggest acts of the current time but yet you still managed to retain being almost like a cult band. Was that okay with you guys, was that a source of frustration, how do you feel about it all looking back on it now?

RM: I think we’ve done not bad in the sense of people think we probably should have been more successful than we have been, it’s a lot better that people think that than the other way around.

MD: And there are a lot of bands like that.

RM: So I mean we think we’ve done okay, we’ve managed to do what we do, lived a life at 11 and still do this thing, whatever this thing is we do we’ve managed to keep doing it well. Other people don’t get to choose to do what they want, we’ve done what we want and we’ve kept doing it and we’ve done okay. We feel pretty lucky, really. As I say, perception wise if people think we should have done better than we did, it’s not a bad bit of wisdom to have about you.

Teenage Fanclub perform at Auckland's Powerstation on February 18th. Click here for tickets. 

Written By: Radio13

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