Even if we weren’t living through extraordinarily troubling times, there is nothing quite like a Teenage Fanclub album to engage the mind, body and soul, and to reaffirm that all is not lost in this world. Endless Arcade follows the band’s ninth album Here, released in 2016 to universal acclaim and notably their first Top 10 album since 1997; a mark of how much they’re treasured. The new record is quintessential Teenage Fanclub, melodies are equal parts heart warming and heart-aching; guitars chime and distort; keyboard lines mesh and spiral; harmony-coated choruses burst out like sun on a stormy day.
In the 1990s, the band crafted a magnetically heavy yet harmony-rich sound on classic albums such as Bandwagonesque and Grand Prix. This century, albums such as Shadows and Here have documented a more relaxed, less ‘teenage’ Fanclub, reflecting the band’s stage in life and state of mind, which Endless Arcade slots perfectly alongside. The album walks a beautifully poised line between melancholic and uplifting, infused with simple truths. The importance of home, community and hope is entwined with more bittersweet, sometimes darker thoughts – insecurity, anxiety, loss. Hi Fi Way spoke to Raymond McGinley about the challenges of releasing a new album during a pandemic.
Are things starting to get better in the UK?
Nothing has really opened up here yet, it is all very slow but a lot less people are dying and a lot less are getting sick. It is heading in the right direction. Hopefully things might open up a little albeit it is slow and very incrementally changing coming out of lockdown. More than half the people here have been vaccinated, fingers crossed we are heading in the right direction.
Are you hoping that later in the year you can start celebrating the album by being able to play some live shows?
We really hope so, it is really frustrating for us because when you are at the stage of finishing a record that cycle finishes and then you start playing the songs in front of people. We miss seeing people and them telling us they like the album. When you start playing the songs live you move in to a different phase and we haven’t got there yet. We have some UK dates scheduled in September, most of the tour we have had to move until next year. We are confident that they will go ahead but we’ll see. It will take a while before people feel comfortable being squashed in a room with five hundred, one thousand, two thousand people or whatever. I spoke to someone in Barcelona and they said they went to a concert with five thousand people and she said people who went felt really emotional just being in a crowd again. Hopefully there is light at the end of the tunnel, we’re quietly optimistic that live music will come back again.
When the album was continually pushed back does that make it frustrating creatively as well?
Yeah, we’ve had the situation where we have moved the tour twice now. The album was meant to come out in October last year with tour dates last year. We moved to this period now and then had to move them to next year. You don’t know exactly when things will happen. Whatever happens, we’re going to have some time on our hands this year. Even if things go back to normal because we’ve had to move things to next year because of availability. I think we’ll try and fill that void by making another album and doing some recording. We have to have something to do in the meantime while we are waiting for normality to return.
Did you approach the making of Endless Arcade any different compared to previous albums?
This album was due to come out in October last year and have it all done by March. As we were putting the finishing touches on it, it started to become clear that the album wasn’t going to come out. Everything was going to slow down and become hard to finish the bits and pieces to get the album out. What we did was we just slowed down at the end and spent another two or three months making sure we were happy with the mixing. I have a studio at home where we can do that but only enough space for two people in the room at the same time, socially distanced to finish the record. We feel lucky that we had a record finished before all this happened. We know people that were about to go in to the studio and had to stop. At least we had that thing that we did done in terms of the performance stuff on the record and it was ready to go.
Having the luxury of time did that make it harder letting it go?
Luxury of time can be a good thing and a bad thing when you’re working on a record because the danger is as time passes you start to second guess yourself where you starting thinking I might have done that differently. Hopefully we’re wise enough to realise that we are working on what was recorded six months previously. If we leave it in that time period, we don’t try redo anything or recreate anything, all we were doing was tinkering around the one percenters on the record that no one else will ever hear just to keep ourselves busy if nothing else. The longer you work on a record the harder it is to let it go, that’s definitely true but we were at the point of letting it go when things started to change. We were at peace with the fact that we had finished it so we weren’t tempted to redo anything, or re-record anything or massively recreate anything. We were making sure you could hear the backing vocals and those tiny minute things because we had time to fill. That’s the danger that you can make things worse by too much tinkering.
Was it harder and a bit different not having Gerrard in the mix for this record? On the flipside what do you think Euros brought to the band?
The thing with Gerry was interesting is the way that it works for us is not the way it would normally work out when someone leaves the band. I suppose everyone knew Gerry was leaving the band about six months before he actually left, so we did all this work together with Gerry. After everyone knew what was happening we worked through that period of adjustment. Even on the last show with Gerry we were totally ready to move in to this new future and get in to the studio quickly with the new line up and start recording stuff. We recorded a couple of songs together before we played any shows because we were doing as a band, the band is a creative thing about people who get together to make music and records. It wasn’t just about bringing in Euros to flesh out the sound live but we wanted to make music together. Euros has been great and he is a talented musician, nice guy, positive person to have around and we’re lucky to have him. I feel on this record, this is the same as everything the band has done when I listen back to the nineties I can hear Brendan’s personality all over the record. That’s the way it should be and as a band let the personality of the people come through. On the new record having Dave McGowan play bass feels a lot different than when Gerry was playing bass. As a band I think we play really well together on this record. A little bit of change is certainly an energising thing. Euros quietly does his thing and he isn’t demonstrative, he starts playing a long with the song, he is a really easy going guy and serious about all things important to us.
How do you think the Teenage Fanclub sound has evolved on this record?
Whenever we make a record we forget about anything we have done before. There is something about making a record and getting in the studio is like disappearing from the world trying to go in to another world. An album like Bandwagonesque we weren’t trying to do something that was a reference to our first album Catholic Education as we wanted to sound different to that. Subsequently after Bandwagonesque we didn’t want to make Bandwagonesque 2, as a band we are always a bit restless and do what we feel like doing in that moment. Its not a case of trying to do something different from what you did before. What you’re trying to do is not think about before. If we recorded Bandwagonesque in 1991, recorded all the same songs in 1992 they probably would have sounded really different because of the feeling at the time. We’re trying not to listen to what we have done before and the evolution in the band is a subtle thing. We don’t have any ideas about it, we’re always trying to do the same thing but as people change, the band had changed, the subtle change in different places whether you’re two years older, ten years older, thirty years older, whatever we like to be in a band as the people we are now rather than being in people in a band years ago.
Is Australia in the tour plans when life starts to return to normal?
At some stage next year definitely, we have been having discussions about that but with these things it seems a bit far in advance before you can plan anything. We are talking about coming back to Australia and it has been longer than we wanted it to be but definitely next year.
Interview By Rob Lyon