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Teenage Fanclub talks new album, Kurt Cobain and what blew away the band in Spokane

UPDATED: Thu., April 29, 2021

A shift in the music industry was tangible in 1991. During what was known as the year punk broke, a number of iconic albums dropped such as Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless.” A number of sonic documents that have stood the test of time, such as R.E.M.’s “Out of Time,” the Pixies “Trompe Le Monde,” Soundgarden’s “Badmotorfinger” and Metallica’s “Black Album” were released 30 years ago.

However, none of the enduring aforementioned projects topped Spin’s 20 best albums of 1991 list. Teenage Fanclub’s “Bandwagonesque” was No. 1, according to Spin editors and writers. Hype followed, but the Scottish band never reached the heights critics projected.

Teenage Fanclub singer-songwriter Norman Blake checked in from his Glasgow, Scotland, home to chat about why the critical darling never reached lofty commercial heights. Blake also breaks down the Fanclub’s latest album, “Endless Arcade,” which drops Friday, reminisces about his many experiences on tour with Kurt Cobain and reveals what blew him away during the band’s last visit to Spokane.

Was “Endless Arcade’s” leadoff track, “Home,” with such lines as “Sometimes I wonder if I’ll never be home again,” inspired by the pandemic?

Partly. I moved to Canada and spent a lot of time in the air when we were rehearsing. It’s been good being home in some ways, but we’ve gone a year and three months without playing a show, which is the longest stretch we’ve gone in 32 years without playing live.

The title track with the couplet, “Don’t be afraid of this life / Don’t be afraid of this endless arcade,” reminds me of something George Carlin once told me, which was that we punched our ticket to the cavalcade of entertainment, so have fun with life.

There’s a connection there. (Vocalist-guitarist) Raymond (McGinley) wrote that one. We’ve embraced things. We’re optimistic people.

”Arcade” is solid back to front, but so was “Bandwagonesque,” “Grand Prix” and “Thirteen,” yet Teenage Fanclub has never been more than a revered cult band in the States. Is it incredibly frustrating, or do you just file this under what’s out of your control?

It’s out of our control. We can’t control what resonates or doesn’t resonate with people.

What was it like when you topped Spin’s best album list of 1991 when you trumped Nirvana and My Bloody Valentine?

We were excited! We thought Steven Daly, who I think was features editor then, influenced the staff of Spin to vote for us. He was a drummer with the Glasgow band Orange Juice. We didn’t have this expectation of anything. We didn’t become the next big band despite all of that (critical acclaim).

But it did give our label (DGC) confidence in us. We were able to make another album. We have no control how people feel about us, but we have the ability to make music, and that’s what we’ve done over the years. Who knows what will break? What did you think would break back then?

I wrote that three bands would graduate to theaters by 1992: Kitchens of Distinction, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Nirvana.

Exactly. The funny thing is that you never know what will connect with people. Kitchens of Distinction didn’t do much after all. Who would have guessed that Nirvana would blow through the stratosphere? We were on the European leg of their “Nevermind” tour, and it was fascinating watching them blow up.

I also saw you guys on Radiohead’s “OK Computer” tour opening night at the Wiltern in Los Angeles in 1997. You shared a stage with Radiohead as they blew up, as well.

Radiohead cared so much about giving fans the best show possible. I remember that (Radiohead vocalist) Thom (Yorke) was having so many issues with his voice, but they did what they had to do.

You also were on tours with bands who were about to break up. I remember catching an amazing set from Uncle Tupelo when they opened for the Fanclub in Philadelphia in 1991.

They were amazing, and then you had Son Volt and Wilco come out of that band. (Wilco singer-songwriter) Jeff (Tweedy) has had an extraordinary career after all of these years.

Kurt Cobain said that the Fanclub was his favorite band.

That was nice of him to say, but we weren’t even his favorite band from Glasgow! Kurt loved the Vaselines, and who could blame him? He liked our band, and we liked his band. Kurt loved punk rock, Motown, Daniel Johnston. He helped give Half Japanese some fame. I remember being around Nirvana when they were a small band. We were on tour with them before they broke, when the album “Bleach” was out, and they were the nicest guys.

What I remember most was spending time with those guys during a day in Stockholm. We remember walking to a small truck that served ice cream and talking with Kurt, (Nirvana bassist) Krist (Novoselic) and (Nirvana drummer) Dave (Grohl). What I’ll never forget is Kurt’s smile. Kurt was lovely. In the end, Kurt had addiction and mental health issues.

How has your relationship with Raymond endured all of these years with the Fanclub?

We formed the band together and have stayed together because we get along so well and have a similar outlook on life. We started with a four-track recorder and developed a great friendship, and we have this intuition when it comes to the music.

What do you remember most from playing Spokane?

This might surprise you, but seeing the statue of Michael Phillip Anderson really moved me. It’s such a shame how he died on the Columbia (Space Shuttle) but so cool that Spokane has a statue of such a hero. What an amazing person who died in the spirit of exploration. When I saw the statue, well, his bravery just blew me away.

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