When I first listened to I Am Not There Anymore, the brand-new The Clientele LP coming out July 28, 2023, on Merge worldwide, I was a bit shocked. As you probably know by now, it feels different. The strings, the spooky goth vibe, the odd beats. It may not have the flow of a cohesive album, but the pop lovers among us will have more than enough to fall in love with, despite the dark undertones. In case that makes no sense, I’ll just say it: I love this album but it took a few go-rounds to get used to it all. I mean, it’s not that radical. It sounds like a band taking their time and flexing their creative muscles in the recording process. It sounds like one of the greatest living bands because it is. We caught up with Alasdair about what was going through their minds making the record. Scroll down for their U.S. tour dates; and hopefully more countries too since the UK seems to have finally noticed that these pop gods walk among them.
The album was recorded at Bark, Snap and Klank Studios, London from 2019–2022 with assistance from Brian O’Shaughnessy, Marco Pasquariello and Simon Nelson. All time greats Alasdair MacLean on vocals, guitars, tapes, beats, bouzouki, Mellotron, organ; James Hornsey on bass, piano; and Mark Keen on drums, percussion, piano, celesta. Additional parts played by Daniel Evans – extra drums on ‘Blue Over Blue’; Sarah Field – trumpet; Dave Oxley – horn; Ruth Elder – violin; Non Peters – violin; Stella Page – viola; Sebastian Millett – cello. The strings and horns were arranged by Alasdair MacLean and Mark Keen; ‘Through the Roses’ arranged by James Hornsey and Alicia Macanás, who also cowrote and sings on the lead track, ‘Fables of the Silverlink.’ That’s Jessica Griffin from the Would-Be-Goods doing the English spoken bits as well. Interview by Gail O’Hara / Thanks to James Clientele for the studio shots (even tho he didn’t take any of Mark Keen)
Chickfactor: How long has this one been in the making?
Alasdair MacLean: Three centuries.
If this one has a theme, what is it?
Beautiful complexities (I hope). Above all, the feeling of not being real, of being outside yourself. I like to think of it as a kind of emotional autobiography set to music, but where all the details have been blurred and edited out, there’s just fragments and moods.
The first time I listened, it felt *different* from previous stuff. What kind of record did you want to make here?
We always tried different stuff in the studio before, but it was always a catastrophe. We tried to make a dub version of ‘House on Fire’ in a studio in rural Kent once, it was one of the most embarrassing episodes of my life. We did some jungle/drum and bass recordings with a live drummer when we were recording ‘Suburban Light’ but I had no idea what to add to them – it ended up with backwards tenor recorder and tritone chords on the guitar – horrible.
This time round we had a computer, so we could record in a studio and take tracks away to edit and add to, then bring back again, and slowly I worked out ideas which could bring in things I loved – flamenco rhythms, modal scales etc. which didn’t feel awful. It wasn’t like there was a band and a producer sitting there, looking at their watches and saying “er, where are you going with this?”
I joked that this was a goth record; but it is spooky and vintage sounding at times. What mood were you trying to conjure with Mark’s Radials and Alicia and Jessica?
Mark has been writing spooky piano tunes for us since 2001 I think. So that’s nothing new – we got him a celesta to play on this time, which is an innately spooky instrument. Alicia sang notes I couldn’t reach in the Phrygian mode, and Jessica has such a lovely speaking voice. I was so glad when she agreed to help – it was like her voice was another of the instruments we could put together in harmony.
How is what you listen to informing what you do?
I like some electronic music and jazz and Spanish guitar music. I love this small group of artists from California, they are mostly released on the Cold Blue Music label. At the moment I’ve been playing Phillip Schroeder – ‘Passage through a Dream’ loads – it sounds a bit like Mark’s Radial pieces.
Where does the songwriting process begin?
Somewhere I have no access to.
How do you capture lyrics? A pen? A smart phone app?
It always used to be a pen and a piece of paper. I’ve now changed to notes on iphone. Tragically, I also use a Trello board to swap things around and see if they look different in a different order. Quite often ideas come from quotes or images from books I read, so I take photos of the page too.
Is your lyric book still available?
I think there are a few left, somewhere at the back of my storage lockup.
How did the pandemic change The Clientele? How did it change London?
It didn’t really change the band; in some ways it made London better, less crowded. But it probably finished the arc which started in the late ’90s, where small businesses were made uneconomical, and everything became a chain store. Now the chain stores are going bust too.
You seem bigger in the UK than you were; true/false?
True, among gentlemen of a certain age.
I’m tired of thinking about it, but I expect in some future time we’ll look back and realise just how truly sinister the consortium of people who took over the country were.
If any good comes of it, it will be a general awareness of the obscenity of class privilege. Boris Johnson is a useful idiot in this regard – a very public symbol of unjust rewards.
How is fatherhood impacting the music-making process?
It changes month by month. I’m happy to sit back and learn.
If London has a sound/smell/taste, what is it?
Fermented fruit on the top deck of buses.
What is nature giving you that you desperately need?
At the moment, mud.
Who are the 5 most underappreciated musicians in London?
Musicians can’t afford to live in London anymore.
Got any recurring dreams you want us to explicate?
Not of my own – I enjoyed reading one of T.H. White’s recently though – in the dream he was very anxious to hide his shotgun in the trunk of his mother’s car to avoid it being struck by lightning. It made me laugh a lot.
Best pub in town?
I like the Flask in Highgate, or the Swimmer at the Grafton Arms in Holloway. The Great Northern Railway Tavern in Hornsey is a perennial favourite.
If you have to make food for friends, what is your star dish?
What’s wrong with 2023?
Music streaming, newspaper owners
Who is the comedian in the band?
Mark and James are both naturally funny, I have to try harder. I’m sort of the annoying one who tries to get a quip in every sentence, which is why I tend to dominate the interviews.
Do you have any band rules? Dress code?
Absolutely no ukuleles under any circumstances.
What are you reading?
I love Anne Serre and Marie N’Diaye
‘26 views of the Starburst World’ by Ross Gibson is a wonderful, reflective book, it was recommended to me by Anwen Crawford who also wrote a beautiful book last year called ‘No Document’
There’s a forgotten English writer from the early 20th century called Mary Webb who I’m tracking down slowly.
Perhaps because I’m getting old, I’m revisiting a lot of classic British children’s literature: The Dark is Rising, The Box of Delights, Ursula LeGuin and Diana Wynne Jones
What are you watching?
I haven’t been watching much of anything. I need film recommendations.
What is your advice to fans when it comes to supporting you?
Buy records, use bandcamp, book tickets.
On behalf of all CLIENTELE fans, why can’t you just put out one album per year?
We used to put them out once every 2 years, and that nearly killed us. We were told we had to, or people would forget us. But when we stopped, we got more popular! I guess there are enough records in the world already without releasing more just for the sake of it.
What’s on the turntable these days?
Pharaoh Sanders- Floating Points
Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids
Jimmy Campbell – Half Baked
I’ve also been listening to a lot of Tom Verlaine since he died. A lot of what he did beyond the guitar playing – the approaches he took – really fascinates me.
btw, of course we interviewed the Clientele in our paper zine chickfactor 13, Y2K, still available in our shop. Get the new album here.