“It’s hard to play happy-sounding music,” states Alasdair MacLean, singer/guitarist and main songwriter of London-based pop band The Clientele. “It’s a lot easier to play miserable music, I think. We’ve played stuff like this in rehearsals for four or five years, just as a joke … these kind of funky, bouncy tunes with a shuffle beat. And then we though, ‘Why don’t we just record it?’ Everybody enjoyed playing this so much that it kind of transformed us as a band.”
The Clientele first came together 10 years ago in Hampshire (just outside of London) with MacLean at the helm alongside bassist James Hornsey and drummer Mark Keen. They recently signed with N.C. label Merge Records and released a series of delicately-executed, atmospheric pop-rock collections.
MacLean and the gang left London this week for N.Y.C. to pick up the rental amps and the vintage Ludwig kit for their headlining tour of the States behind their soon-to-be-released studio album, God Save The Clientele. New recruit Mel Draisey joins the band as the auxiliary multi-instrumentalist and backing vocalist.
“We’ll we stick her right in the middle because she’s probably the easiest member to look at,” MacLean says, laughing. “Yeah, we’re one of those feminist bands where you’ve got three guys who look like builders playing behind a curtain … I’m joking, of course. Mel plays a bit of violin and a bit of keyboards and whatever takes her fancy, really. It does tend to fill the sound out because Mel has a great melodic sense. It means I don’t have to play all the melodies on the guitar as well as singing. It helps me out because now I can be a bit more rhythmic, which is what I’d like to do. That’s why the new record is more rhythmic and faster and has more of a groove.”
The comfy grooves and pozzy vibes on God Save The Clientele — their third album for Merge and a boisterous follow-up to last year’s comparatively morose Strange Geometry — draw more from the candy-striped “pop” enthusiasm of 1967 radio and TV than from anything on modern radio or MTV. The arrangements and instrumentation are as dense and complex as before; they’re just presented with more rhythmic turn-arounds and a dash of out-front humor.
“I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of what’s happening with rock and roll on MTV because I don’t even own a television,” MacLean says. “It’s really not so much a bunch of serious songwriters — guys who show up with acoustic guitars and think they’re Raymond Carver. It’s more the really square end of ’60s pop music, like Bacharach or The Monkees and that kind of well-constructed and melodic thing. The first music I heard and loved was that music. The beautiful thing about pop music is its simplicity. The things you loved about it back then you still love 30 years later … they haven’t particularly dated or become embarrassing. Some are simple and subtle, and some are even darker than anything Joy Division ever played. That’s where we’re coming from on this new album.”
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