Teenage Fanclub:

Hopping on the Bandwagonesque

by Pat Grandjean

Taken from The Bob, Issue No. 43 (Special Teen Edition, 1992)
Since the release of their major-label album Bandwagonesque, there probably isn't a college student in the U.S. who doesn't know Teenage Fanclub. In the last eight months the band has been profiled widely by both mainstream magazines and fanzines, adored and reviled. I guess you could say they're becoming famous - if being famous means you'll always have something to live up to, or live down.

Conventional wisdom suggests that so much sudden attention causes maladjustment and head-swelling. But so fare Teenage Fanclub - consisting of guitarists Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley, bassist Gerry Love, and drummer Brendan O'Hare - seems collectively strong-willed enough to avoid those pitfalls. They certainly insist on doing things their way - including recently dismissing their manager, who had helped get them their contract with DGC.

They also created a sticky situation with Gerard Cosloy - head of the indie label Matador Records - by presenting him with a record called The King as a way to put an end to their Matador contract and start their career with DGC (with whom they have a six-album deal). Though the members of Teenage Fanclub maintain that The King is a "real" album (consisting largely of outtakes), Cosloy refused it, and the band wound up paying Matador what they thought their contract would be worth. Depending on what you read, Cosloy, who smbobins gave the band its first recording contract anywhere, has either forgiven Teenage Fanclub or is still irritated over the whole matter.

Despite the ruts in the road, Teenage Fanclub just keeps rolling along, unfazed. I spoke to Brendan O'Hare (at 22, the youngest Clubber) in the midst of the band's 30-date American tour (he phoned from Nashville on a stormy night). He told me the band was already writing songs for their second DGC album, to be recorded at home in Glasgow, Scotland, and (they hope) mixed at Ardent Studios in Memphis. On the tour, the band members were keeping their friends nearby (many as members of the road crew) and watching a steady supply of Arnold Schwarzenegger films on the tour bus. More power to them.
Revolver: I understand that you just parted company with your manager. What led to that decision?

O'Hare: The way we work as a band is four people with four separate inputs. I think the concept of having a manager under those circumstances doesn't really work. Some things he did we didn't like the way he did them, so we just thought we may as well call it a day. It wasn't gonna work.

Revolver: What was he doing that you didn't like?

O'Hare: It wasn't really one thing, it was a lot of things. He kind of thought of us having a front man, being Norman. That's not true - we're a band. We all speak to the press, for example. He was trying to push it as being Norman all the time. Norman was having to do more stuff. We weren't into that - that was one of the main things.

Revolver: How did he handle the relationship between you and the record company?

O'Hare: That was one of the parts he was good at. He obviously had more business knowledge, so he could go to them and say what needed to be said. We found it kind of strange at first, but we've evolved a personal relationship with most of the people at the record company anyway, so now if we tell them to do something they'll do it. On a business level he was really good, but on a personal level he was a bit brash. I don't think we'd be able to be managed by anyone. I don't think any of us would be comfortable.

Revolver: How does it feel to be handling things yourselves?

O'Hare: We're all a lot happier now, I think, because we're having to meet all the time and make decisions. We had to schedule this tour ourselves with our tour manager, so that way we could decide when we were going to have days off and where we were going to have them. Before that, it was out of our hands. We also got to select the road crew we've been working with.

Revolver: How'd you get started in music?

O'Hare: I've been playing guitar since I was about 14 or 15. Then I got into a band, and our drummer left. So I decided to start playing drums - that was about three-and-a-half, four years ago. The band was just kind of a muckabout thing, nothing really serious. Then I heard from a friend who knew Norman and Raymond - who'd interviewed them when they were in the Boy Hairdressers - that they were getting a new band together, and they were looking for a drummer. So I just kind of went along and jammed with them. We decided to stay as a band, and here were are now. My guitar playing's gone downhill, I haven't been able to play as much.

Revolver: I saw you at Toad's Place with Uncle Tupelo. I thought you all seemed very unpretentious.

O'Hare: I think that's probably because of where we come from. In Glasgow, you're not allowed to be pretentious, or your friends wouldn't be your friends anymore. You've got to be down-to-earth - there's no point in thinking you're some sort of star, because if the band falls apart, you're not famous anymore. So how are you gonna cope with that? You're going to go back to being a hairdresser with an attitude, or something.

Revolver: Are their any drummers you admire?

O'Hare: I'm not really a typical drummer. I don't sit and listen to bands and go "that's a really great drum arrangement." But I do respect a guy called "The Rummager" who drums for Gumbo. He's great, and so's Brian from Redd Kross. As so's Steve from the Afghan Whigs. But I supposed because I was initially a guitarist, I don't listen to drumbeats and go "wow." I got asked to do an interview for Drummer Monthly and I thought no, I can't do that. I couldn't get my photograph taken behind the drum kit, holding the sticks. It's a bit of alien concept for me.

Revolver: What about other musicians in general? Who do you like and why do you like them?

O'Hare: If I like someone it's because they've got soul, really. Someone like Eric Clapton, for example - technically, I think he's marvelous, but I don't think he's got that much soul when he plays anymore. I think he used to, but now I think it's all just kind of technical and it's been done before and he knows exactly what he's doing. It's not from his heart. But someone like Ringo, he's just all soul. He really just puts everything into it. It just sounds so good. Stuff like Booker T. And The MGs, that's just got so much soul in it it's incredible. None of the Troggs were really good at their instruments, but they played marvelous songs.

Revolver: Do you have a favorite kind of music?

O'Hare: Not really. I like all kinds of music - I'll give anything a chance once. I think if you look at any kind of music, any kind of style, you'll always find at least one good band, or one song that you really, really like. You just got to look deep enough. Some people, because they like a certain kind of music, they'll say "I don't like [this other] kind of music," because they don't go together. People used to like the Sex Pistols and not like Neil Young. But you can like both of them. We've got a tape we play - it's got B.J. Thomas singing "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" followed by "Hog Wind," done by Motorhead. That sums it up, I think.

Revolver: I interviewed Jody Stephens recently. I know you've gotten a lot of flak, from British journalists in particular, about how much Bandwagonesque sounds like Big Star. He was saying that he thinks your similarity to Big Star is more one of attitude, rather than copying songs.

O'Hare: We met Alex Chilton the other night as well - he came onstage and did a song with us in New Orleans. We did "Free Again" with him. He was sort of saying the same thing. He said in an interview, "Well, you can tell they've listened to our records, but it's a different thing they're doing." Big Star drew on the influence of the Byrds and the Beatles and the Kinks. Later, we drew on the influence of the Byrds, the Beatles, the Kinks, and Big Star. None of us sat there and said, "There's a great song, let's rip it off." I can't imagine sitting down and thinking, "How can I rearrange those chords, so that they sound slightly different?" I think it's just lazy journalism, the people who say we sound exactly like them. Possibly, some of the stuff has the same sort of feel.

Revolver: Tell me, was Alex nice to you?

O'Hare: Yeah, we hung out with him all day, went for dinner with him. We just chatted, told each other stories. It was kinda cool - I think we come from the same place mentally. We've been on the road for a while, he's been on the road all his life really. So he knows what we've experienced and we know to a certain extent what he's experienced, because we know the background of his band. So we're kind of kindred spirits.

Revolver: What do you admire about Big Star?

O'Hare: That songwriting on the first album, the quality of it. It's close to a perfect album, soundwise. Everything fits so well - they get all the harmonies, and a certain kind of guitar part will come in and sounds like it was meant to be there. It's pretty indescribable, it just works so well.

Revolver: I've been hearing a lot about the Boy Hairdressers and BMX Bandits. How is Teenage Fanclub a departure from them?

O'Hare: Some of the songs on our first album, A Catholic Education, were Boy Hairdresser songs. So I don't really think that there's that much of a difference between Teenage Fanclub and the way the Boy Hairdressers would be if they'd continued. But I think the BMX Bandits are more of a fun band, music-wise, but they've got equally strong songs. Norman still does stuff with them, Gerry does every so often, I did some stuff with them once. They're nothing really that serious. But I think, as a sort of separate entity, they're a good band. Their new album's really, really good - it has some really strong songs on it. Norman's written a couple of songs for it, I think.

Revolver: You've said that it's important people see Teenage Fanclub as composed of four equally strong personalities. What does each of you contribute to the overall force of the band?

O'Hare: That's a tricky question, actually. I suppose there's two strongly outspoken characters, that's me and Norman. If we feel something, we'll say it. The other two will as well, but not to the same extent. I think Gerry's probably more philosophical. Raymond's steady, sort of dependable, but not in a bad way. He knows what's going on, and if he doesn't really feel like saying something, he won't do it unless it's essential. He was described in one interview as the "faintly bookish one." I don't think he liked that too much, but it's quite funny anyway.

Revolver: Do you guys fight much?

O'Hare: No, not at all. I think I've had one fight ever, with Norman. I can't even remember what it was, I think we were both drunk one night. And I think once I went in huff with Gerry. That only lasted about six hours or something. I think again it was alcohol that did it. Demon drink.

Revolver: Are there songs on Bandwagonesque that are yours specifically?

O'Hare: Yeah, there's one. "Sidewinder."

Revolver: Tell me about it.

O'Hare: One night in the studio myself and Gerry were sitting about, and we came up with this riff. We kind of worked on it. I've always been embarrassed about singing, but Gerry made me put down a vocal. So I just thought up some silly words. They were a lot sillier that they are on the finished album; we made them more intelligent. It came up the way most songs come up, just from mucking about.

Revolver: There's been some hoopla over what happened between you and Matador Records. If you had to do this all over again, would you handle that situation differently?

O'Hare: I don't think so. We didn't give The King to Gerard as an escape. We'd released it in Britain, we were going to release it anyway. We thought we'd give it to Gerard as the second album, which he had an option on. And he refused to take it, he turned down the option. But he still complained about us. We don't really have any hard feelings toward Gerard, I don't know if he has towards us. Sometimes he says he has, sometimes he hasn't. But they helped us, it was definitely a good idea for us to be on Matador. It got us the start that we needed. I feel kind of bad if Gerard is annoyed with us. The King is a real album. It was stuff we did while warming up to do Bandwagonesque. . We thought we'd release it rather than people paying through the nose to get a bad quality cassette. This way they could pay a normal price to get a CD of it. So that was our thinking behind that.

Revolver: The implication bandied about was that you were pulling a fast one, that you'd been dazzled by gaining a major label contract.

O'Hare: To survive as a band we had to sign with DGC. We had no money. The first money we'd ever gotten from a record company was from Matador - three thousand dollars - and we used that to go over to America to promote A Catholic Education, which we hadn't even released yet. So if we hadn't signed with DGC we'd be finished as a band now because we had no money. I couldn't afford to pay my rent, or any of the bills I had. So I was going to collapse as a person. To get out of our contract with Gerard we gave him money - it was some sort of five-figure sum. Because of the nature of the contract, he deserved it. We'd have taken him to court if we felt otherwise. He's got a lot of good bands on his label. So we looked at it like we'd be giving him money that he could put into bands that we really like, like Superchunk.

Revolver: I'm sure you're aware that there are some bands that sign with major-label companies, and they're basically seduced and abandoned. It seems that DGC has certainly gone to bat for you. I see articles on you - and Nirvana, too - everywhere these days. I think this is a compliment to them.

O'Hare: I don't think there's anyone on DGC who's not getting such efforts put into them. They did the same sort of promotion with us [as they did with Nirvana]. The Nirvana thing, that didn't happen because of DGC, that just happened, because Nevermind is a great record. The kids liked it, the kids bought it, and everyone at DGC knows that. They're a smaller label because they're part of Geffen. In that respect they're almost like an independent label. But they've got corporate backing, which in America you need. Matador distribution isn't anywhere near good enough to break a band nationwide; whereas Geffen distributes through Uni, and that's big enough so that if somebody wants 50,000 copies of our record in their shop the next day, they can have them, no matter where they are in the country. If you could have bought our records across the country, we would have had more money.

Revolver: Bandwagonesque has kinda taken you from zero to 85 miles per hour. How does that feel?

O'Hare: Thinking about it now, it seems slightly weird, but at the same time it didn't really. It didn't really affect us, because although it was really quick, it seemed gradual to us because it was happening over a few months. When you actually stop and look back, that's when you think, "God, a year ago I couldn't afford to go and get a pack of cigarettes without having to think about it. And now I can go out and buy two." We're all just taking it in our stride at the moment. If things got a Nirvana level for us, that's when we'd freak out. In comparison to Nirvana, ours is a very steady rise. As people, I don't think we could handle what happened to Nirvana that well. They seem to be coping okay, though.

Revolver: What do you like least about being in a band?

O'Hare: Having to drive 22 hours overnight to get to the next show. That's a bit of a downer. Something that kind of freaks me out is when someone comes up to you and they say, "Hey, Brendan, how're you doing." It's like, they know my name but I don't know theirs. That's strange. Other than that, it's fine. I'm happy with it. When I become unhappy with it, I'll stop. It's the same with the band - when it becomes boring, or we're just doing it for the money, or doing it for the sake of doing it, that's when we'll stop. And I don't think we'll keep doing loads of comeback tours. Once it stops, it stops.

Revolver: So, you're not going to turn into the Grateful Teenage Fanclub, eh?

O'Hare: No, not at all. But I can't really see getting to that point for a while yet.

Revolver: Have you found, since your success, that people treat you differently?

O'Hare: Yeah, it happens with everyone, not just us. People look at you in a different light, just because you're in a band. You want to ask, "Would you even think to talk to me if I wasn't the drummer in a band?" You start to get sort of cynical. People do treat you differently, but you've just got to accept it. There's no point in getting uptight if somebody comes up to you and starts to speak to you. There's no point in saying, "Oh, why're you speaking to me," and trying to analyze what they're doing. Because they'll just end up punching you or something.

Revolver: At 22, though, one is pretty insecure. When I was that age, and someone would tell me that I was smart or something, I didn't believe it for a minute.

O'Hare: Yeah, well, I'm basically pretty insecure - I can't take a compliment at all. When someone compliments me, I sort of go bright red and say, "Shut up!"

Revolver: Does what's happened intrude on your personal life?

O'Hare: To a certain extent, yeah. If I'm walking about in Glasgow, I'll get recognized and asked for my autograph. That's pretty strange. That can start to do your head in, because you can't go out on the town any more and just hang about. But I do still have friends at home. They were my friends before this happened, so I'm okay with them.

Revolver: Do you get homesick when you tour?

O'Hare: Yeah, we all do to a certain extent. But we bring our girlfriends over every so often. My girlfriend's over right now, she's been here for about a week. That brings a bit of home over here. If I could bring all my friends on tour I would, but there's just not enough room on the bus! All our crew are our friends. We don't see the point of separating band from crew; We travel on the same bus, we all stay in the same hotel.

Revolver: What have you liked about traveling the U.S.?

O'Hare: The speed of it, and the fact that it's a huge melting pot - there's so many things going on. There's a whole sort of different feel here - there's not as much social snobbery as there is in Britain. I get scared sometimes when I do a show at a certain bar in Britain, just because of the way I'm dressed. Over here, there's not much of that. Everyone's pretty much the same. Although there's a lot more racial intolerance over here. I think a lot of American people think they're on top of that situation, but they're not. The Rodney King situation demonstrates that. But in a nation with so many people, without a doubt you're going to get that anyway. America is a cool place. We love American accents as well.

Revolver: What do you miss most about Glasgow?

O'Hare: Just that it's home, really. My friends. Being able to speak to people and have them understand me the first time. I talked to someone the other day who'd interviewed me six months ago, and then showed me a transcript that they'd done of it. Most of it was just rubbish - it wasn't what I'd said at all. That's why they never printed it - it was just for a fanzine. She said, "I couldn't understand what you were saying." She asked me to help her try and figure it out again. It was pretty funny.

Revolver: Rather than music, you almost pursued molecular biology. Where did you study?

O'Hare: I took [college entrance] exams at school, and I got offers from universities to go into molecular biology. I was about to accept, then I decided I wasn't mentally mature enough for it yet - that was about three years ago. So I deferred entry for a year. I haven't done it since then because I haven't had a chance to. We've been working solidly for three years now.

Revolver: What interested you in the field?

O'Hare: I fancied doing cancer research. I was always good at biology at school. We started it from when I was 13 and I picked it up very quickly. I worked at it harder than I did at any other subjects so I could get good grades. I just thought it was quite fun, and the genetic parts of it are quite scary, but quite interesting. So that was the main reason I wanted to follow it, because I thought I'd rather do something I was good at, not go to university and do something I really wouldn't be interested in - the kind of person I am, if I did that, I probably wouldn't go to any classes!

Revolver: Is it something you'd consider doing in the future?

O'Hare: Sure. When it gets to the stage where either the band decides we're not going to go any further, or I've got a few years where I can go to university part-time, I'll do that. I think I'll definitely end up doing it, I just don't know when.