Gerard Love is known for being one-third of one of the finest song writing triptychs of the past 20 years through his role in the enduring and wonderful Teenage Fanclub. Through records like Bandwagonesque, Thirteen and Grand Prix to name but three of the band’s albums, Love was always the one that wrote the driving, instant pop ‘hits’ compared to Norman Blake’s more thoughtful and intricate songs, and the solid craftsmanship of Raymond McGinley. But now that the band reconvene to make music less often – just two albums since 2005 – Love has turned his attention to another project, Lightships. Debut record Electric Cables is probably the dream album for Fannies fans that always wanted a record of Gerard Love-penned tracks, and is a great example of all that’s good about Love and his writing. Yet it’s something quite different to a Teenage Fanclub album, being a mellow mood piece that pulls back on the guitars and focuses on other instrumentation. I caught up with Gerard in a Glasgow cafe to talk about Lightships, how the album came about and I couldn’t miss the chance to talk about Teenage Fanclub which, as it turned out, revealed some interesting truths behind the popular view of the band.
After some chat about the relative merits of Hamilton (my home town) versus Motherwell (Gerry’s home town), we get down to business. Why a record under the name Lightships rather than under his own name – is it a band or a solo project? “It’s a kind of parallel thing really, I don’t want to assign it as ‘it’s this, or it’s that’. I was definitely sure I didn’t want to release it under my own name,” admits Gerard. “The record has come out on Geographic, which is Stephen and Katrina’s [The Pastels] label, they’re cool and they kind of understand me and know what makes me tick and they probably didn’t expect me to release it under my own name…some of the people in London though [at Domino] I kind of had to explain myself to, you know?” And it seems that Gerard is happy with the name Lightships: “Using simple terms, I saw the Lightships posters up on Byres Road [in the hip and trendy West End of Glasgow, where all the cool kids hang] and I was really taken aback by it, and if I’d seen my name on it I’d kind of be appalled by it! When you do what you do, you’re not really you. 100% of the time I’m Gerard Love, or Gerry Love…. your name is the good, bad and ugly of your life but when you’re doing music you always try and make it the perfect example of what can be achieved by me or anyone else when they create what they create. Although some of my favourite music has been created by people using their own name, Lightships is a kind of curtain between the real me, and the ‘me’ that’s doing the music. I like the mystery of the nom-de-plume!”
I ask Gerard about the selection of the name Lightships, and what it represents. “I went through a period of thinking of what I wanted to call it,” he begins, “and it kind of just appeared in my brain! I dunno if I’d been reading something about lighthouses, and I thought there must have been a band called that already. But I looked on MySpace, and then I saw a few lightships.com but they were all promotional companies… but I just like the idea of lighthouses, and the lightship is just a more dangerous example of that.” Are the songs on the record songs that Gerard’s had for a while, and or were they ever intended for a Teenage Fanclub record? “It goes back a long way,” he reveals. “It was suggested to me probably late 2007, and I started thinking about making an LP. The songs were always intended for Lightships, the dimensions of them are quite old – well, the backing tracks – and I started working on them when I had time after a Teenage Fanclub tour to get lyrics and definitive melodies…and it was 2010 when they became defined.” That’s quite a long time to get from the idea to the record. “Well when I count up the time in studio over three or four years, it’s actually only about 30 days! When you’re younger you’re maybe more dedicated to one thing and pour yourself into that…but now I’ve got more responsibilities, even musical responsibilities when it comes to people I know and work with. It just takes more time and I need to switch off and do my normal everyday thing, like everyone does I suppose. So, yeah, they’re certainly quite old but they feel like new deliveries.”
I’m intrigued as to why Lightships has appeared now, given that Teenage Fanclub reconvenes on a less regular basis than in the past, and I ask if it’s true that Stephen and Katrina from The Pastels encouraged him to take this step. “Yeah, they’re good friends and I’ve been involved in The Pastels for while now”, says Gerry. “They’ve been very supportive of a lot of bands through Geographic and Monorail [a record store/cafe, run in part by Stephen]. Mono in particular is a great addition to the Glasgow scene… but I’ve been good friends with Stephen for a long time, and a while ago back in the 1990s when Mono first started he suggested a solo record.” And did he not take him up on the offer then? “I was definitely flattered by it, but I knew it wasn’t the right time for it, it wasn’t the right time for me and I might not have been confident enough to go out on my own at that point. Plus, Teenage Fanclub was quite a big thing at that time; we were still on the up-and-up. I think that was 1996 or 1997, around the Grand Prix time. We were still unexplored, we still had potential and I didn’t know what was going to happen. Now… it’s more predictable!” So it’s easier to do things outside the band now? “I think Teenage Fanclub has become defined as a pastime… and I think that comes after time. It’s been a hell of a long time; when you think about the greats, the Beatles was ten years and even if you think about from the start of the Beatles until the end of John Lennon’s life it’s just a 20 year period, and when you’re young you think of them as being around forever. Once you go beyond that – Rolling Stones excepted – it’s kind of unusual… so we only feel like we have to work every three or four years.” Does that mean basically when it feels right? “Yeah, it’s a natural thing,” he agrees. “I think if we were on a record label there’d be pressure, but if we’re the record company [which the band is, releasing their last album on own label PeMa] then we can chill out, and we all do other things…and it’s good to do other things in your life. You can choose to stay at home rather than be on the road.”
The conversation drifts briefly away from Lightships at this point, but Gerard is happy to talk about TFC and life on the road with the band. I mention that they’ve been touring for the best part of 20 years, and back in 1991 Bandwagonesque was voted Spin magazine’s album of the year, so the States around that time must have been a thrill for them all. Gerard, though, clears up a few misconceptions about that whole period: “Ah well, the story of that is a bit more straightforward. It’s just the fact that the editor of Spin was the drummer from Orange Juice, Steven Daly! We were making good headway at the time… and it was good to travel. But I do prefer road travel rather than flying to places like Japan or America… Australia would be even worse!”