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In 2007, for one brief moment, the sun came out on The Clientele. The moody London-based quartet’s breakthrough—’05s Strange Geometry—framed suburban melancholy in surrealist lyrics and reverb-laden guitars. It was somber stuff. But by the time the band completed its next record, God Save the Clientele, it’s outlook had improved. Interviewed back then, guitarist/songwriter Alasdair MacLean was in good spirits—he had spent some time in Spain, written a disco tune, and fallen back in love with The Monkees. Alas, the good times did not last. The Clientele’s latest record, Bonfires on the Heath, finds MacLean swinging back toward the somber moods and eerie psychedelia that the band originally favored. MacLean recently spoke with Washington City Paper about folk music, sales figures, and and why Bonfires on the Heath might be the last anybody hears from The Clientele.
The Clientele performs tonight at Black Cat with Vetiver.
8 pm $15
1811 14th St. NW
Washington City Paper: The last time we spoke, The Clientele had just released God Save The Clientele. You told me the record had been heavily informed by your love for The Monkees. But Bonfires on the Heath is a very different sounding record; I take it you’ve left Davy Jones behind again?
Alasdair MacLean: Well, I suppose the rediscovery of The Monkees was part of my rediscovery of pop music. But this music—it’s just another drift into miserable unpleasantness. I suppose that this record is more informed by folk music from England. We’re just getting back to the pensiveness of the other records really. God Save The Clientele was just a brief interlude when the sun broke out over The Clientele.
WCP: What brought you back down?
AM: A combination of things. I can’t even remember being happy now. I suppose that this record was just it was more of a reaching back to your roots. There’s a feeling of returning back to suburban landscapes we used to write about. That’s really what it is. It’s just going back to somber more spooky music. I’m 35 now. Writing [pop music] doesn’t seem like a dignified occupation. I’m not trying to write songs like The Monkees anymore. If anybody wants to write like The Monkees, it needs to be the younger generation.
WCP: At what point did you start to feel too old to be writing pop songs?
AM: Around the time I got the sales figures for God Save the Clientele.
WCP: From a financial standpoint, is it getting harder to do the band?
AM: I suppose it has a little bit. Three years ago we had a big publishing deal with Chrysalis. But we were dropped by that publisher and signed up with another for a little less money. I had to start working part-time.
WCP: You’ve mentioned that this might be the last Clientele record. Are you really considering breaking up the band?
AM: I think you can only really do it for a certain amount of time. The first three Clientele records, I felt like they were records I had to make—I felt like my life depended on it. The other ones have been nice bonuses. So maybe, if you don’t have that desperation to communicate with people through music, maybe you should try in a different way.
WCP: What is your part-time job?
AM: I work at a foreign office in Britain. I don’t know the equivalent is in U.S. Here it’s the government institution that deals with relationships with foreign countries.
WCP: You mentioned that you felt writing pop songs was undignified for somebody your age. Why did you feel differently about folk music?
AM: Just the idea that it goes back further. That it’s part this musical DNA that’s in you from your ancestors. And it has that spooky Wicker Man-thing.
WCP: You re-recorded “Graven Wood”—one of the first songs the band ever wrote—for Bonfires on the Heath. Why did you want to bring that one back? Just trying to come full-circle?
AM: Yeah, I guess that’s what it was. When we first started to play music we all lived together out in the suburbs. We did what all the kids in our town did—we’d take acid, get drunk, and stay in the woods until the effects wore off. The day that song was written the police chased us because we were supposed to be in school. It was stressful—[more so because] we were all on acid. But we found this glade to hide in and after that, Innes [Phillips] went and wrote that song. I thought it really magically brought that time back every time I heard it. We were embattled and entrapped, but safe. It holds up as a song even though he wrote it at 15 or 16. Stands up as well as anything we’ve done in my opinion.