In many Teenage Fanclub songs, it feels like it’s cloudy with a chance of showers.
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“Your environment is going to play a part in what you write about and how you sound,” says singer/guitarist Norman Blake. “And it does rain a lot in Glasgow, where we’re from. Also, if you think about the traditional music of Scotland, the ballads and laments, there was always an element of melancholy, loss, yearning and living through tough times. We heard it growing up. There’s something from the traditional music that fed into our pop music.”
His bandmate Raymond McGinley agrees, coining an aptly poetic term for TFC’s style: “comfortable melancholy.” And that wistful, quietly emotional sound — which has made the band a cult favorite over thirty years and ten albums — continues on their latest release, Endless Arcade.
Of the title track, McGinley says, “The phrase ‘Don’t be afraid of this life’ just came to me. Sometimes you get these fragments, and you think, ‘Hmm, I don’t know about that. I’ll come up with something better later.’ Then you keep going back to it and thinking, ‘Maybe there’s something there.’ I never thought of the idea of an ‘endless arcade’ before. It was kind of born out of structural necessity, looking for a rhyme for ‘afraid.’ But it seemed somehow resonant and right for the album title.”
Indeed, McGinley and Blake’s new songs such as “Home,” “Everything is Falling Apart,” “Warm Embrace” and “The Future,” evoke a sense of passage, of moving through stages of life and not flinching from mortality. Blake says, “When you start making music, in many ways, you don’t have much to write about because you don’t have much life experience. When bands get together, they are generally the sum of their influences. And that goes for lyrical content, as well. If I look back at what I was writing when we started, all of the songs are little narrative stories. Not really about my life. But then as time goes on, you start to realize you have an opportunity to talk about your own life experiences and real things that you’re going through. I think that’s what makes bands more interesting over time, and more relatable.”
“We’re just like anyone else, trying to make sense of our existence,” says McGinley. “But sometimes language and conscious thought can be a barrier to a deeper understanding. The front brain literal interpretation of things doesn’t necessarily help to make sense of something. A good song kind of goes into your bones. It’s the same way with some people where you feel you have an understanding with them. It’s not necessarily what you say to each other. It’s what lives in the cracks in between the words and the language. And the best songs can live in those cracks.”
On Endless Arcade, McGinley and Blake had to come to terms with a Teenage Fanclub without fellow founding member Gerard Love, who quit the band in 2019. While Blake says he and McGinley took up the slack on the songwriting front, the bigger challenge was keeping their signature three-part harmony vocal sound.
“After Gerry left, we wanted to bring someone in who was a great singer like he is,” Blake says, “and we got Euros Childs [of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci], who’s an amazing singer. Harmonies come very naturally to him. But as always, we spent a lot of time working on our harmony arrangements, thinking about textures and how to spread them around to make them rich and interesting. It’s a simple way to make things sound slightly more complex.”
Chiming guitars, lush harmonies, three-minute pop songcraft—all the hallmarks of the Fannies are in fine form. But do they ever worry about repeating themselves?
“When we go to make a Teenage Fanclub album, we’re kind of in a bubble,” says McGinley. “There’s always part of me that thinks, ‘We’ll do what we do, and people who have previously liked what we did can decide whether they think it’s worth it or not.’ I don’t want to make the assumption that just because we make another record that people will follow. The last thing I’d want for someone who’s making music is to think about me. They should think about pleasing themselves first. So we do what we want to do and hope people like it. You don’t want to play on the expectation of other people. You could lose yourself quite badly if you thought of giving someone what they expect, because it may not be what they want.”
“I think primarily we want to make records that we’re happy with,” Blake agrees. “We’re conscious that people are expecting an album of songs. We’re not going to make something wildly experimental or all synthesizers. Teenage Fanclub is always about songs. So each album is a collection of new songs. That’s how this band really works. Musicians get together in a studio, work up arrangements and play them to the best of our ability. It’s about continuity.”
And of course, comfortable melancholy.
Photo by Donald Milne