Interview: Gerard Love, bassist and singer
Ahead of his solo debut, the unassuming Teenage Fanclub bassist Gerard Love tells Aidan Smith about finally going it alone, and why we’ll never see a T-shirt with his name on it
Gerard Love is in his kitchen in Glasgow and just about coping with the strange business of talking about himself, although it’s noticeable that whenever possible he’ll try to shift the conversation on to other things. These include his love of football and his love of Cambodian music, pre-Pol Pot, and, of course, his love of not being very famous. “This would be worse if it was TV,” says the Teenage Fanclub bassist, “or if there were a lot of people here.”
In this undemonstrative but brilliant band, Love may actually be the quietest. But there’s nothing shy and retiring about his songs. This is the man who, for the greatest TFC album Grand Prix, penned the greatest songs – Sparky’s Dream and Don’t Look Back.
But Love has just made a solo album, necessitating the one-dimensional conversation. Except, of course, he’s not calling it a solo album. You imagine that with his name even a super-cool label like Domino might have wanted him to exploit the potential of the Love moniker and he confirms that a bit of pressure was put on him to do this, which he managed to resist. Thus we have Electric Cables by Lightships.
“I just liked the name,” he says. “I’ve never been on a lightship and since so many have been replaced by automated buoys I’ll probably never get the chance, but working on them has always seemed like a gallant thing to do. I did have a moment of anxiety that maybe there were already quite a few bands with ships’ names out there – Wooden Shjips, Black Ships and so on – but in the end I decided to stick with it.”
Okay, Lightships is a good handle but so’s being called Love. “Well, I didn’t want to be Gerard Love for this because Love is the name my parents gave me and it’ll be the one on my gravestone. When I make music I’m not saying I’m not Gerard Love, but it’s not a normal, everyday thing; you’re in a special place. I think of music as people at their best.” Then he checks himself and laughs. Perhaps, in his very self-conscious, very TFC way, he’s worried that by describing music-making as special, he’s inferring he is too. So he adds: “You use your own name to do very mundane things like booking a dentist appointment. But if I’d put it on this album, and if by some weird twist of fate it was a big success, I’d hate to find ‘Gerard Love’ on a poster or somebody’s T-shirt. I know how crap I am and that would be terrible!
“So a name for making music is the suit I put on, or the mask. I like the mystery element too and, if I’m honest, hope to benefit from it. If people saw ‘Gerard Love’ on the cover they might go: ‘There’s that bloke from that band I don’t like.’ This way they might listen to it as a work in its own right, give it more of a chance.”
Love, 43, hasn’t been especially crap on Electric Cables. It’s an album which shows off his flair for melody, as you’d expect, but the sound is different from a Fannies album. It’s a quieter, slower affair. Guitars skip rather than roar, as do the drums, and there are winsome flutes, too. Perhaps it’s more reflective of Love’s own personality.
The Fannies, he stresses, haven’t split up. He simply decided to use one of the band’s customary long breaks between albums – the last one, 2010’s Shadows, was their eighth – to develop some of the “tons and tons” of song fragments amassed over the years, many lasting barely a minute and stored on cassette, which obviously couldn’t all be accommodated in the natural order of TFC life. Domino had tried to interest him in a solo album once before, in 1995, but the time wasn’t right. He can’t really remember, but he thinks he told the others TFC-ers of his plans by email. They were “very cool and very supportive”. And making Electric Cables without them was as “strange, terrifying and liberating” as he thought and hoped it would be.
“I suppose I did feel over the years that I got defined by my role in the band,” he admits. “As one of the songwriters, I thought it was my job to provide the more upbeat poppier numbers but when you’re also the bassist you’ve got this big, clunky, structured job and it’s all broad strokes. The other songwriters, Norman [Blake] and Raymond [McGinley] are also the guitarists and by nature they can do the slower, more reflective things. I love that sort of stuff but don’t remember ever trying it in the band. I mean, it’s not shut off to me but when you’re in a room with the other guys, they may not be looking at their watches, but you don’t want to take up so much of their time.”
Love seems to be trying, in as polite and Fanclubby a way as possible, to be expressing his frustrations, all of which are now being allayed by this side project. He says TFC will reconvene, probably in the autumn, to start work on new music. Fannies diehards can sometimes feel sorry for the band that glowing testimonies like that of Kurt Cobain – “The best band in the world” – were never matched by monster sales, but you’ll never get them doing this. “When we started out 23 years ago we didn’t expect anything,” insists Love.
In the 1990s, TFC were part of a great roster on fellow Scot Alan McGee’s Creation label where one band in particular wanted fame more. “Until Oasis came along, Creation was full of music students and music fans like ourselves. I think Alan was relieved that at last he had a group who wanted to be in the papers for more than just music.
“Oasis wanted their lives to change. They wanted Rolls-Royces, they wanted to be rock stars.” TFC didn’t, in that sense, and refused to behave like them for the sake of a shock-horror headline. “A lot of people in this industry didn’t really get us but I’m not a big fan of hedonism and don’t think any of us are. I think we wanted to make just enough money so we didn’t have to work, to have artisan-type existences, and that’s kind of what we’ve got. Teenage Fanclub right now and despite everything are in a good place. We’ve got a sense of humour, we’re quite strong and we’re content.”
Love likes being a musician but he also likes not being one. “I enjoy touring, visiting new places, but it’s almost a luxury to be at home and popping down the record shop or even the supermarket.” Just being Gerard Love, in fact – the name you’ll never see on a poster or a T-shirt.
• Electric Cables (Geographic) is released on 2 April. Lightships play Glasgow’s CCA on 4 May
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