Throwback to an interview with Gerard (Gerry) Love of Teenage Fanclub. Hoping they tour Australia again soon.
Teenage Fanclub’s Gerry Love talks melodies and lyrics with a December assassinating Mary Boukouvalas.
After unsettling a stagnant music scene in 1989 with the release of their unique debut, A Catholic Education, Scotland’s Teenage Fanclub were thrust into further legendary status in 1991 with the unsurpassed Bandwagonesque, even knocking off Nirvana’s Nevermind as Spin’s album that year, and being endorsed as Rolling Stone’s Hot Band for 1992.
While other bands did not survive their respective 90s grunge/pop/Manchurian/Brit-pop phase, Teenage Fanclub continue to thrive. The band of three singer/songwriters – Blake, McGinley and Love, and drummer McDonald, are still making music together and are back with another classic album Man-Made, but this time Teenage Fanclub release it on their own label: PeMa.
With years of experience, Teenage Fanclub can easily boast about influencing a generation of musicians with their unique sound, filled with their devotion to 60s and 70s guitar pop music and their talent for tantalizing harmonies and hazy guitars. Teenage Fanclub bassist Gerard Love prefers his friends and anyone under the age of 70 to call him Gerry and though experience has given self-assurance, he still remains modest and unassuming. “The ideas come from nowhere and your job, your mission, is to take them and turn them into something which is listenable by other people –and I think/feel over the years if I do have a good idea, I could turn it into a decent arrangement. I have that ability now.
“You’re always a victim of your own ideas –if they’re only half decent ideas then you only have a half-decent product. So I feel over the years I have learnt how to get from A to B really … you’ve really got to work it … I just know that I’m better at it than I was 10 years ago, so I definitely have more confidence.”
Man-Made clearly shows a more sophisticated approach in both lyrics and music, but it still has the Teenage Fanclub signature. Though written in the beginning of their career, tracks such as December and Star Sign from Bandwagonesque have similar styles and themes to Man-Made. Lyrically however, Love thinks that back then he “wasn’t very good” and laughs as he is reminded of my favourite lines about assassinating December. Love says: “I just think earlier on I came up with some good melodies but I don’t think I was very good at lyrics. I think looking back I can forgive myself because I was young and I can find some of the lines charming but I don’t think I was really expressing very much. Like in each of the early songs, I could draw on one or two lines and that’s what I wanted to say but I definitely filled them with a lot of fluff as well.
“Maybe because I was listening to REM back then and their lyrics were mysterious and enigmatic, but maybe sometimes it was just Michael Stipe making up lines and stuff. If you’re like REM you can get away with writing more obscure lyrics and try and pass them off as enigmatic poetry, whereas you might not have a clue what you’re saying.”
Thematically, Love doesn’t set out to write about star signs, fate and destiny, though he did pen Born Under A Good Sign on Man-Made. “Somethings I’m very rational with and then other things I’m not. I’m just kinda away with the fairies. I do think there’s something in the way planets are in certain constellations and there’s this magnetism that’s drawn from planets that can alienate mood and can push gravity stronger which then pulls you to it, and I just imagine that there’s more to it because it’s not exactly science.
“I’d never chart my life by someone attempting to tell me what the stars mean, but I do believe there has to be some kind of scientific change when the tide changes. I remember something I watched, one of those programs that you can understand when a scientist is describing how the earth works and … I thought I’d worked it all out … Tide is controlled by the magnetism of the lunar or something like that. I’m rational but I do believe in other forces which can affect us, that are beyond us of this earth. I came up with the title first. I’m quite happy with the song.”
“To be honest, there’s not very much planning to what we’ve ever done. It’s all been quite instinctive. It’s hard for us to observe each record from a distance; it’s hard for us to have those types of opinions. None of our personalities are particularly strong personalities so far as they would clash with each other. We’re all different people but we can all live with each other. None of us are extremely selfish or egotistical. We have more similarities than differences.”
Teenage Fanclub have been touring extensively to promote Man-Made. Having played Japan, they head to Ireland straight after Australia. Unfortunately, for Love, they’ll only be playing one show in Melbourne. “The problem for me is that the last times we’ve been to Australia, we’ve only had one night in the one place, and every time we come back from that we think, okay next time we’ll try to have some more time because it’s so far away and it’s always such an enjoyable time. And the first time we came to Australia we played the Big Day Out and that spoiled us because we had two or three days in each city.
“Most times we’ve played we’ve been in the St Kilda area. My lasting impression of Melbourne was the Prince of Wales turning from a pub into a fancy kind of hotel/restaurant. We went downstairs and sat outside and had olives and wine … something you can’t do in Scotland.
“Melbourne is a real kind of music city. A very nice place. Near the coast –nice and breezy. I really like Australia a lot. Every time you go there you’re like: it’d be really great to lose your passport and have to stay here. The reality is that it’s too far away. If Australia was closer, like where Ireland is, then everybody would probably live there. They have the best of cultures.”
Teenage Fanclub’s Man-Made is out now through the band’s own label PeMa.
First published in Beat Magazine, 2005.