From Teenage Fanclub bassist Gerard Love comes Lightships, the new project that has Love trading in his usual instrument for the guitar, and exploring a whole new side of songwriting and production.
The album, Electric Cables, began to take shape in 2008 in his hometown of Glasgow, Scotland where he laid some backing tracks while working out the concept for the recording. As a solo venture, with one unique perspective and vision, Lightships presents a stripped down sound that is mellow and easy to digest. Maybe this is because Love didn’t return to Electric Cables until 2010, two years later, giving him a unique opportunity for objectivity not afforded to many musicians.
During the two-year hiatus from the new project Love toured with Teenage Fanclub, where each member contributes and writes songs for every album, and their heavy sound is dependent on the collective nature of their group. For his solo project, the pressure was on for Love to generate a cohesive album without the input of his band mates. He recruited a slew of friends including some former Fancub members to play on the record, released earlier this month. Although there are obvious challenges associated with switching from a team to a one-man approach, the record shows a light, mesmeric and captivating side of Love, that attests to his creativity, which seems to be booming with his newfound musical independence.
FILLER reached Love in Glasgow, where he was keen to talk about the challenges and freedoms associated with embarking on this new project.
Let’s start with the obvious question, what’s the main difference between Lightships and Teenage Fanclub?
I think that in terms of what I do in the Lightships things is I play guitar, so that’s the first big difference; in Teenage Fanclub I play bass. Also, Teenage Fanclub is like a collective of, I suppose, a few songwriters. And Teenage Fanclub you share a lot of the pressure and a lot of the responsibility, and with this new thing, it’s how to deal with all of the different functions myself, so that is the fundamental difference…I think.
The sound is pretty different. Did you set out to create something completely new from your work with Teenage Fanclub?
With Teenage Fanclub I feel that my role has prevented me sometimes from slightly more upbeat songs. I haven’t, I don’t reckon, many quiet songs with Teenage Fanclub. My original intention with the Lightships thing was to something kinda slightly more up close, but as you develop the songs maybe you add more and more to the songs; maybe they end up sounding identical to Teenage Fanclub songs. (laughing) My original intention with the Lightships thing was to something a bit slower and a bit quieter and not as much rock involved, and there’s not a lot of rock involved with Teenage Fanclub but there’s a little…so that was the original intention.
So what’s the thread tying these two projects together for you, or is there a thread?
Yes, I think because my whole everything comes from Teenage Fanclub. When I first started doing Teenage Fanclub, I started playing bass. I learned how to write songs within the context of Teenage Fanclub, and I learned how to deal with lots of things so, ya know, the Lightships thing couldn’t have happened without Teenage Fanclub happening first — the two are inextricably linked. I think it’s impossible to separate them in some ways because I’m involved in both. It’s not like in Teenage Fanclub I was thinking, “Oh, actually I don’t like this music, I’m a fan of reggae or something so with Lightships I’m going to do a reggae thing.”
The move from bass to guitar then is where things diverge?
In Teenage Fanclub my involvement is playing bass with Norman and Raymond’s song. I didn’t really feel that I was trying to write in a vastly different vein [with Lightships], I just felt that textually it would be a bit different because I was playing guitar rather than bass. You know, bass being more of a structural element to music…you didn’t really present a lot of detail with bass guitar. The bass is just about the structure of the song rather than the detail and I think with the Lightships thing I was probably more involved in the detail.
How’s it going from such an iconic band to starting this new thing from scratch?
Teenage Fanclub still happens, it’s just we don’t do things as often as we did in the first few years, you know. So I haven’t really done anything with Lightships apart from make a record, and that was very exciting. But once the record is released I imagine I’ll be playing a few shows and I don’t know how that will be.
Without the rest of the Fanclub guys you mean…
It will be very different to go on the road without Norman and Raymond, so that will be a more extreme difference than being in the studio. So it’s exciting, but its kind of untested, really, in terms of if people will like it. But Teenage Fanclub is trying to make a new record later this year. We only make a record every few years now. In the past, when we first started, we made a record every year, so there’s a lot of space for each of us to do other things at the moment you know. I don’t really know how to go with the Lightships thing, but it just provides me with another outlet as the productivity of Teenage Fanclub becomes more spaced out.
Well we’re glad you had the time to record a solo. Do you think you’ll make it to Toronto with Lightships?
Oh, I don’t know (laughing). It really depends on if there is any kind of demand, for example, if the record does okay in North America or something; maybe the record company would like me to come out and do some shows. Definitely I would like to do that, but I wouldn’t expect that to happen. I mean I don’t imagine playing outside of Europe at the moment and even within Europe, I don’t imagine I’ll do any more than four or five shows in the UK, and maybe try and play in Spain, maybe Scandinavia and possibly France and Germany [for] a couple shows.
So not as extensive a touring schedule as Teenage Fanclub then?
I don’t imagine it in any way being as encompassing as Teenage Fanclub has been, because, you know, with the last Teenage Fanclub tour we played in Japan, we played in South Korea, we played all around Europe, you know, and from coast to coast North America…so I don’t imagine it will be anything like that. But if I had the chance to play in New York or Toronto or Chicago or San Francisco, definitely, I’d definitely be interested.
There’s so much great music coming out of the cities you just named. How do you feel about the surge of indie rock music today, and the number of bands in the genre that cite Teenage Fanclub as a source of inspiration?
Yeah, I think that’s exciting if people cite us as an influence. It seems like there is a 20-year cycle in what can influence these musicians. When we started, we were influenced by things that started 20 years before we started and it seems like we were influenced by things in the late 60s and early 70s and stuff. So I suppose that people starting bands now are looking to things that started 20 years ago because they don’t really understand that time. If kids are in their early twenties, they would have been toddlers when we started, so for them it is kind of like a hazy memory of maybe a mysterious time.
There are a lot of those Teenage Fanclub-esque bands out there.
Yeah, it is kind of impressing, but I think that there is a lot of good stuff happening. I don’t think I’m really up to date with the state of independent music but it seems like there is a lot of good stuff that is being made. But I do think that there is always kind of a 20-year cycle of installation that happens, that all of a sudden the early 90s seem quite exotic for people, nowadays it’s so far in the past.
Lightships is definitely a new and current sounds, so it seems like you’re up to date. Any new wells of inspiration that Lightships draws upon that are contrary to Teenage Fanclub?
I think that with Teenage Fanclub we’ve been doing it for so long that it becomes almost instinctive for us. In terms of the influences, I suppose because I was more involved in the kind of detail as I said, by playing guitar and getting more involved in the textual side of things rather than the structural side of things…with this one I could maybe broaden more directly some influences. But yeah, I don’t really know, I mean Teenage Fanclub, individually, we all listen to lots of different styles of music, and we are all sort of influenced by many different things, but I think Teenage Fanclub, when we get together in the same room, you have a sound and the sound doesn’t generally change much. We all listen to a lot of psychedelic music…
How about the writing side of things, when did you start writing songs for the debut album?
I finished the record about a year ago, but I started writing songs for it in about 2008, and I recorded most of the backing tracks in 2008. In 2009 and 2010 I was busy with Teenage Fanclub and so, I didn’t get to start kind of developing the songs until 2010, but the songs were starting to be written in 2008.
What was it like taking 2 years away from your work and coming back to it? I imagine that makes for an interesting editing process.
Yeah, it was great actually. I mean, you know, generally that happens with Teenage Fanclub. Generally, we come up with music before we have lyrics or before we start developing the songs. So, that’s the kind of apprenticeship I had, the education I had in Teenage Fanclub is that’s how you do things. You write music and then you try and develop your backing track. But it was great, you know. I needed the time in order to kind of develop the songs anyway, but yeah, I was very busy with Teenage Fanclub. We did a lot of touring, and we were finishing off as well, at the same time. It was great to have the break, and it was good to look forward to starting that work after finishing on the Teenage Fanclub tour.