Geffen Press Release
Norman Blake (vocals/guitar)
Raymond McGinley (vocals/guitar)
Gerard Love (vocals/bass)
Paul Quinn (drums)
For a band as direct and unassuming as Teenage Fanclub, the Scottish
group possesses more than its share of contradictions: pop melodies, jangly
guitars and Sixties harmonies, yet a punk attitude; clever Iyrics yet
emotionally accessible; a fun-loving quartet yet serious about being musical
craftsmen. It's only appropriate then that the band's latest album, Grand
Prix (which has nothing whatsoever to do with auto racing--in fact, none of
the bandmembers even drive), was the last album to be recorded at the legendary
studio The Manor, from whose bowels came both Never Mind The Bollocks and
With Teenage Fanclub, what meets the ear is more important than
anything else. "It's easy to make a record that's hard to listen to," says
Raymond McGinley. "Our goal is to make records that won't make us want to
cringe later." With Grand Prix, the band's fourth album and third on DGC
Records (produced by David Bianco, who's worked with Mick Jagger, Tom Petty,
Henry Rollins, and Frank Black among others), Teenage Fanclub feels that once
again it's succeeded.
Says Norman Blake, "When you begin, your influences become the basis
but we've been together quite a long time now and have evolved our own sound.
We feel more confident, feel better about singing and as musicians. We've
played with Nirvana and Neil Young, big stadiums and tiny clubs. We've learned
how to get the sounds we like."
Teenage Fanclub gamered more than a little attention with its
lavishly-praised major label debut Bandwagonesque (1991), which followed its
equally impressive indie launch the previous year, A Catholic Education.
Still, McGinley admits, "We didn't quite know what was going on. We were doing
'Saturday Night Live' but hadn't delivered the goods by our own standards yet."
After 1993's Thirteen, the band's experience finally caught up with
its talent. "When you accept things is when you grow up," suggests Gerard
Love. "For once, we accepted that we had to work to achieve what we wanted.
What's strange is that we never actually discussed this but we all realized it
at the same time."
The 'we' changed once touring for Thirteen was completed in March
1994 and new drummer Paul Quinn replaced Brendan O'Hare. A week later, they
began rehearsals for Grand Prix.
"Before," says Love, "we would rehearse a bit, but then muddle through
in the studio." Thirteen was recorded with two weeks rehearsal and eight
months in studio. Grand Prix was five months preparation and five weeks of
recording at The Manor, a 13th-century house-turned-studio in rural Oxfordshire,
England, in August and September (it's since shut down). There were few
overdubs as the basic tracks were recorded live and the vocals mostly added the
"We like music that's honest and direct," McGinley continues. "Pop
music is not about tremendous sophistication. For us, it's more about doing
the simple thing. There's not any 'Should we do that?' We don't worry if it's
noisy enough or fast or slow. We just focus on the details of what we're doing
and forget the second-guessing."
The result is spirited, witty and, perhaps surprising to some,
emotionally revealing. Grand Prix abounds with songs about relationships,
from the Sixties pop of "About You" to "Don't Look Back" and its account of
someone in love with the past who can't move forward; from "Tears" (complete
with piano, strings, and horns), about the nervous breakdown of a friend, to
"I'll Make It Clear" and "Verisimilitude."
"Love songs oflen have the appearance of being honest but aren't
really," says McGinley. 'Verisimilitude' is a song about wanting to write a
love song that's honest, rather than just appearing that way." That honesty is
crucial to the band, adds Blake: "It's scary to be that frank. The songs are
about what happens in our personal lives. They're pretty obvious." A whimsical
touch remains, such as a song titled "Neil Jung," but, he explains, "It has
nothing to do with the psychoanalyst or Neil Young. It's about a friend who
was having a relationship with a crazy woman."
On the album, Teenage Fanclub looks at love without cynicism, a perhaps
unfashionable stance in these gloomy times. Counters Blake, "Some songwriters
are professional nihilists. I like the other side of life. I'm going to enjoy
McGinley agrees: "We're not going to change for fashion. There's no
attempt to come across as anything but who we are. It's not moody equals
serious, laughter equals light." That, says Love, "is a hard concept to get
across to the music press in the U.K., where some bands base their careers on
their haircut. But you can always tell if they put forward an attitude that's
not theirs." As for Teenage Fanclub, chimes in Blake, "People accept us on face
value. There's a sense that they know us, we're not separate and idolized.
There's a personality about us but there's also more than one side to it."
In the late Eighties, Blake was a member of Glasgow's BMX Bandits when
he met McGinley in a club. Together they started the Boy Hairdressers (named
afler an unpublished play by Joe Orton). When that group split up, the two
kept jamming in Blake's bedroom in the East Glassky suburb of Bellshill as
Blake worked in a music shop and McGinley graduated from the University of
Glasgow with an engineering degree.
Deciding to form another band, they recruited the rhythm section of
Love--who had recently picked up the bass after playing guitar and was about to
graduate from the University of Strathclyde with a degree in urban planning --
and O'Hare. But, unlike other new groups, rather than making an imagemaking
single, Teenage Fanclub debuted with an entire album. "We never took the
business seriously but we are serious about what we do, without over-
intellectualizing it," says Blake. "We want to be known as skillful
songwriters who write albums as wholes--rather than release a couple of good
tracks and have the rest sound dodgy."
A Catholic Education was recorded in seven days on a $3,000 budget
and released in the U.S. on indie label Matador. The single "Everything Flows"
cracked the indie Top 15 and the album made the Top Three. With its first
London gig at the University of London Union, Teenage Fanclub became a musical
sensation. New York and the New Music Seminar in the summer of 1990 were next.
At CBGB's, the band played its first big U.S. show to critical adulation and
also met ex-Dinosaur Jr. member and current Gumball leader Don Fleming. With
him, the band recorded "God Knows It's True" b/w "So Far Gone" and its
demolition derby version of "The Ballad Of John And Yoko." Released that
winter in the U.K., the single won rave reviews and a #1 slot atop the indie
In 1991, the band signed to DGC and recorded Bandwagonesque in
Liverpool, with Fleming once again manning the boards. The single "Starsign"
b/w "Heavy Metal 6" (or, on some, Madonna's "Like A Virgin") went Top 40 and
Teenage Fanclub performed at the Reading Festival followed by a tour of the
U.K. In America, the album, which Spin called "the best record white people
have made this year," rose high on the alternative charts.
Then came Thirteen. Love believes the album was too adventurous.
The bandmembers were fatigued from touring, and recording in Glasgow didn't
help either--"we were too close to our own beds. Instead of it being 'let's
make a record,' it became 'well, we have to finish what we started."
With the end of the tour, O'Hare exited. Enter Quinn. Actually he
wasn't new to them. He'd briefly been a member of the Boy Hairdressers and had
known Blake since they were 13 years old--and McGinley nearly as long. For the
past five years, he'd been playing with another band quite unlike Teenage
Fanclub. "There was a lot of programming and sequencers used live," says
Quinn. "That's one thing that always struck me about Teenage Fanclub when I
wasn't in the band: the honesty in the songwriting."
Because he came from the same neighborhood and was already familiar to
the other members, no period of adjustment was required. "Everybody's focused
and we all get on with each other. It's a good feeling to know that four
people from the working class are still friends and making music together."
In many ways, Teenage Fanclub is as simple as that. As they sing on
I don't need an attitude
Rebellion is platitude
I only hope the verse is good
I hate verisimilitude.