A Conversation With Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub)

“I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever be home again,” Norman Blake sings on “Home,” the seven-minute opener to Teenage Fanclub’s new album, Endless Arcade (Merge). In fact, Blake will be heading home quite soon—back to Scotland after 10 years in Canada, his wife’s nation of origin. The couple’s daughter is at college in Glasgow right now, prompting a return to the U.K. to be closer to her. Meanwhile, the band has been sitting on Endless Arcade for more than a year. And though Blake describes it as a “pre-pandemic album,” there’s a nagging discomfort winnowing its way through the signature layered guitars and effortless vocal sparring of Blake and co-founder Raymond McGinley. Perhaps it’s the inevitable byproduct of band whose average age is 52. 

In the midst of scouting for houses in his native city, Blake broke away for a recent chat with MAGNET, offering a thoughtful and forthcoming assessment of Teenage Fanclub’s current condition.

Of late, Teenage Fanclub has been putting out a new album every five or six years. Is that by design?
We were ready to go with this one about a year ago, so it has been slightly frustrating. From here on in, we’d like to have a little less time between them. Working at our current pace means that there are usually some fairly lean times before we get back on the road.

It’s been 30 years since the release of Bandwagonesque. What’s the secret to Teenage Fanclub’s longevity?
We all get on quite well—we’re all compatible. There isn’t much melodrama. I think one reason we’ve been around so long may be that we haven’t put out too many records. You may be tempted to release something even if you’re not completely happy with it, because then you can tour and make some money.

Endless Arcade hits on the uncomfortable emotions many of us are feeling pretty intensely these days: anxiety, grief, perhaps a bit of desperation. But there’s also hope.
We weren’t being intentionally prophetic, but it is odd that some of the lyrics tie in with the pandemic—that idea of life getting back to normal again.

At about seven minutes, “Home” is outright jammy. It’s interesting that you chose that one the start the album. 
When we were sequencing the record, it was (keyboardist) Euros Childs who first suggested that it would be a great opening track. Then each of us came up with the list of what thought would be a good track listing, and we all went with “Home” as the first song. We’re a guitar band, so we’ve always liked the occasional lengthy solo. We’ve done it before. On Bandwagonesque, we opened with a long track, “The Concept,” so we kind of went back to our roots with that. 

The band settles into a comfortable groove throughout Endless Arcade. It seems like consistency is key for you guys.
We still fundamentally sound the way we’ve always sounded. We don’t go of on any tangents, really. With us, it’s always been about songs: verses, choruses, guitar breaks and, hopefully, interesting lyrics and interesting arrangements. When you do something like songwriting, the sensible thing to do is play to your strengths. We’ve never jumped stylistically from album to album—it’s just not the way that we work. 

It’s been 24 years since Songs From Northern Britain was released, and Grand Prix turned 25 last year. Both are definitive releases for a lot of Teenage Fanclub fans.
Not far from where I am now, there’s a building that was the subject of a photograph we used for one of the singles from Songs From Northern Britain. I drove by it the other day, and it’s just a wreck. That’s what 25 years will do. But if you can look back at any of things we’ve done and not cringe, then that’s all right.

—Hobart Rowland