Despite a frantic tour schedule, sold-out shows and extra dates being added on the fly, I managed to snatch a few minutes with Gerry and Norman before they took to the stage at Manchester Academy for yet another packed out performance.
Longevity is not a word synonymous with the music industry, and yet somehow Scottish indie-rockers Teenage Fanclub have managed to crack the code. After almost 30 years of playing together, it is no mean feat to still be selling out venues and breaking into the top 10 UK albums with 10th studio release ‘Here‘—and yet here they are, doing it as effortlessly as if it’s still 1997. It’s brilliant when bands live up to the hype, and there is no hype greater than being called ‘the best band in the world’ by Kurt Cobain and Liam Gallagher (ok, so Liam said ‘second best band’, but that is THE highest praise imaginable from a Gallagher.)
It seems that TFC have managed to strike that delicate balance between giving the fans what they crave as well as keeping some mystery. The necessity of music artists to be omnipresent to remain relevant is massively magnified by social media, but the Fannies are bucking the trend. No publicity stunts or gimmicks; the TFC web pages are entirely devoid of inane posts or thinly veiled promotions, but filled with official gig & release information...along with occasional backstage snaps, like an on-tour table tennis tournament. In fact, their level of online professionalism makes these fun, throwaway photos feel immeasurably more intimate than if, let’s say, they had posed naked in front of a mirror or on a wrecking ball, which other people have been known to do. There’s no table tennis tonight, just some classic Bob Dylan tunes thrumming from Norman’s laptop as we sit down together—
Hi guys, thanks so much for chatting with me. So, you’re back with your 10th studio album ‘Here’, and within a week it’s in the UK Top 10 Albums, how does that feel?
N: Really great! I suppose that in the media you’d think there’d be less interest in a band that’s been around for as long as we have, so we’re happy. I think the album’s been pretty well received, but of course you never really expect anything because it’s very fickle, the music business, and people quickly forget about bands so, amazing after 10 years to do that!
It’s been 5 years since the last album, did this one take a while?
N: Well I suppose the actual recording of it wasn’t that long, but there were some spaces and gaps between the sessions. We started making it probably...3 and a half years ago?!
G: Yeah, quite a long process from start to finish, but it wasn’t as if it was constant work and we didn’t really hit a brick wall, there was just a lot of space in between...just to find the right time when we could work together. If you count up all the days it wasn’t that long, like, ‘Thirteen’ seemed to be more time in the studio, but shorter from start to finish.
How did you settle on the title; Here?
N: Right—well—I’m not really entirely sure. Krista, my wife, had some images that she’d found and I think maybe she even suggested the title?
G: Yeah, she suggested it. We’d thought of a few different titles and they all seemed—wrong for some reason. Krista came up with ‘Here’ and—it didn’t raise any objections, which is a good sign I think.
You say Krista found some images, is this the album artwork?
N: It was some paintings that she’d found, in a thrift charity shop, like a little series of paintings. So she’d sent the image and said, “Look, I think a good title that would go with this would be ‘Here'” and we all thought ‘Yeah, that works!’ So there’s no kind of, real deep meaning behind it.
“Not too much happiness or too much sadness, but a nice mix between”
What inspired the vibe for this album? For me listening to it, it has those classic dark melancholic themes, but also very hopeful.
N: Y’know, we’re all inspired by different things. We probably always write about things we experience, the way we look at the world and experience life. Our songs really are kind of narrative songs; none of us have taken a newspaper story and written a song about it. Maybe because of that, when you reflect or you’re talking about how you’re feeling emotionally—sometimes in life you may be in a darker place.
G: I’ve thought our songs have always been quite melancholic in a lot of ways; it might have quite an uplifting melody but the lyrics sometimes are opposite of that. So I think we are, and the things we like and the culture we’re from, that is something people are drawn to; not too much happiness or too much sadness but a nice mix between the both.
The overall message I took from ‘Here’ is the belief that things can get better. I think it’s a message people can get on board with right now.
N: Aye, you’re not wrong there. Well we haven’t quite given up on life yet!
Well that’s good to hear! A line really stuck out for me in It’s A Sign: ‘...every day is a stained glass ceiling.’ What inspired those lyrics for you, Gerry?
G: My sister had a baby, and I was just watching this wee girl kind of grow. The point where she was like 2 or something, she could walk but she couldn’t really talk yet, just watching her frustration of trying to move forward. The song’s about that really: my niece at that point. At the time it seemed like a good enough thing to write about, because I was quite taken by the fact that some kids struggle to make those leaps forward; some kids want to be older than they are and they want to communicate, and they get frustrated. The idea was that when you’re a kid the stained glass ceiling—is just that every day is a day of wonder, and it’s all new. A period of time in life that is just so short, the week after the song was written it was gone.
Now Norman, what was the muse behind The Darkest Part of the Night?
N: Um, well, it’s quite a personal thing really. Krista was diagnosed with epilepsy, and it’s like, quite personal in the sense that she was going through a hard time dealing with that. And so I suppose the idea is, trying to come through really tough things in your life, and I suppose it was that I was just trying to tell her that I was there with her. It’s as simple as that really, it’s quite a personal song.
Oh wow, thank-you for sharing that.
N: No, not at all, I didn’t explain that very well but it’s difficult to put it into words to be honest with you.
So, does it ever get complicated with 3 writers?
N: It kind of makes it easier in some ways because if you’ve got a new album to do, you need 12 or 13 songs. And with 3 of us writing songs, individually you only really have to come up with 4 or 5. For one writer it’s a lot to write 12 songs, especially 10 albums down the road; 140/150 songs. It’s difficult enough to write 2 or 3 good ones, so it’s something that’s benefited us over the years.
Definitely. You’ve released this album on your own label, PeMa, founded in 2005. What pushed you to do that after working with labels like Sony, Columbia and of course, Creation?
N: Well you have more control over what you’re doing, there’s no one interfering! Record labels can interfere, and I think when we were with major labels they simply didn’t understand what we were doing. I suppose they’re purely driven by sales in a way. They don’t really care about the art, sadly, but I don’t really think they do, do they?
G: I think, obviously the Creation thing was a different set up; that was enthusiastic fans wanting to take on the big music industry. In terms of self-releasing, I think that’s just the nature of it these days. It makes sense for a band with their own fanbase to do it that way. I think if you’re a new band you do need a label to get you in the system and introduce you. The other thing is; why give away 80% of your money to your label just to do exactly the same that you could do? Unless they can multiply your sales by 10, it’s not really worth it.
That makes a lot of sense. Recently, Pete Townsend was quoted as saying he no longer enjoys performing. After playing together for over 25 years, do you still get a buzz from gigs?
N: I mean, I suppose it’s probably different for him because he’s playing stadiums, and he’s lost that connection with the audience whereas we still have that, we play much smaller places than he does, right? We’ve done the odd stadium thing, like with The Foo Fighters, and that feels pretty unnatural. It’s a different kind of performance, you know? Whereas when you’re in a club it’s visceral, you can really feel it, you feel as though you have a connection with the audience and you can see people reacting, you can feel it, and so he’s probably completely lost any sense of that. He’s wandering around this big area, and you’d think when you play to those bigger crowds you’d be more nervous, but you’re less nervous because it’s just a mass of people, really impersonal. For us, it’s still fun.
So you still get nervous before your smaller shows?
G: At the moment we’re still introducing tracks off the new album, and I think every time you introduce a new song you get those nerves. If you’re a bit tired or a bit ill or a bit hungover you get those nerves. I don’t think it’s bad nerves, just like butterflies; it’s more anticipation. It’s not negative, it’s positive, like adrenalin.
N: Definitely. I mean, we probably won’t be that nervous tonight, because you get to a point in the tour where you’re back into the swing of things and feel kind of natural to be on stage again. When you do it at first it does feel pretty uncomfortable.
G: At the launch back in September, that was quite strange because we hadn’t really played for a long time. But we’ve just recently been to America so it almost feels as if we’re back in the zone now.
N: We do occasionally get nervous though, absolutely!
Keeps you on your toes, eh? What’s in store for 2017?
G: We’re doing more shows next summer so there’s going to be a long period of that. Not constantly, but I’d imagine the first 6/7 months of next year.
N: Yeah we’ve got stuff booked in over in Japan and Australia, and European tours so...plenty of stuff to do, which is great!
Brilliant, thank-you so much for talking to me, and have a cracking gig!