erasing clouds

100 Musicians Answer the Same 10 Questions

Part Eighty-Two: Alasdair Maclean of The Clientele

instigated by dave heaton

The Clientele is one of the most distinctive pop groups of my lifetime, I think. Put any one of their recordings on, and you're instantly transported to a place, a feeling, an atmosphere - wrapped up in a dream. Yet it's not just mood - their melodies are timeless. Their most recent album was 2005's Strange Geometry, released by Merge. According to Pitchfork, the next Clientele album will be out in April. Check out the band's website to keep up with the latest. And check out their blog of "tour diaries, scribblings and inspirations." Alasdair Maclean is the group's inimitable lead singer/guitarist.


What aspect of making music excites you the most right now?

It’s always the recording for me. the feeling when things come together, and you think, no matter what happens, no one can take this away from me, it’s on tape now.

What aspect of making music gets you the most discouraged?

Nothing really, I’m just very grateful to be able to make a living doing this. Doing nothing 80% of the time, just walking the streets in no hurry, watching the fog, watching the sun, waiting for melodies and words to ambush me.

What are you up to right now, music-wise? (Current or upcoming recordings, tours, extravaganzas, experiments, top-secret projects, etc).

Finishing the mixing of a new Clientele album; deciding whether to tour for months on end or just for a few weeks; writing new songs; thinking of new collaborations and solo projects.

What's the most unusual place you've ever played a show or made a recording? How did the qualities of that place affect the show/recording?

Elorrio, a small, out-of-the-way village in the Basque country, Spain. An old cathedral decked out with plundered Aztec gold, the most magnificent and decadent display of catholic finery I’ve ever seen, a square where they executed the inevitable gold-robbers in the most unimaginably barbaric way possible (hung, hooked through the nostrils), mountains all around with 9th century basque graveyards, the oldest and most mysterious language in Europe inscribed across the stones. We played the 350th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the village to children, grannies, mulleted Basque millitants. Outdoors. During a terrifying electric storm. After taking a lot of hallucinogenic drugs. The general feeling the music communicated was a pannicky, vivid dread I think.

In what ways does the place where you live (or places where you have lived), affect the music you create, or your taste in music?

A difficult question; it does, but how do you explain it? Are you even aware of it? I love British music but I also hate British music. Often I hate my own music. I really believe that the places you live control you, not vice versa. Their strangeness and boredom and beauty will hold you to ransom. you express their colours and shapes involuntarily, without choice or conscious discernment.

When was the last time you wrote a song? What can you tell us about it?

I wrote one today. I was sitting in a restaurant, innocently sipping some borscht, and I saw a girl I thought I recognised walking outside. I said to myself “oh, it could be Jane”. But it wasn’t, it was someone who looked a little like her. Jane lives in Hamburg, not London. Then I wrote down “it could be Jane” as a possible title, a hook, it seemed amusing, tragi-comic, like the wonderful Louis Philippe song title “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”. It’s all bound up in her story, which as it happens no-one but me, her, and a few other friends would know. Later at home I wrote a melody over the chords D, Fsharp minor, G, D. “Who’s that walking down the lane.. it could be.. it could be Jane”. The song is genuinely terrible. It will never see the light of day.

As you create more music, do you find yourself getting more or less interested in seeking out and listening to new music made by other people...and why do you think that is?

Less, for sure. You just get saturated in people’s music as you tour. All these cdrs. This dreary, feverish sea of mediocrity, the sort of shit I would have quit bands over and become an accountant if they’d been my recordings. My rhythm section used to have a “museum of bad demos” which they curated assiduously, but now even they’ve had enough. We listen to the first 30 seconds and if it doesn’t grab us, it’s out the tour van window with the bugger. The only demo I’ve ever kept out of the many hundreds I’ve been given is one called “16 Songs” by Peter Beyer. I have no idea when I met him, but I like his stuff. I hope he has a record deal by now. I hope it’s obvious the tenor of this answer comes from weariness rather than arrogance. I’m sure there are fantastic new bands forming every day, I’m just not the man to discover them. I’m burnt out.

Lately what musical periods or styles do you find yourself most drawn to as a listener? (Old or new music? Music like yours or different from yours?)

Obsessively different!: Chopin, Satie, Terry Riley, Charlemagne Palestine, Boards of Canada, Johhny Cash, Emmylou Harris. Otherwise you stick your own record on straight afterwards to compare, and that’s so boring. But music just upsets me nowadays, I avoid it if possible.

Name a musician or band, past or present, who you flat-out LOVE and think more people should be listening to. What's one of your all-time favorite recordings by this musician/band?

The Strands spring to mind, as the greatest band of the 90s. And no one has ever heard them. “The Mysterious World of the Strands”, their only record, perfects the slow acoustic burn of vintage Arthur Lee. I love them.

What's the saddest song you've ever heard?

Without a doubt it’s ‘Frisco Depot’ by Mickey Newbury. His voice aches so much i can hardly listen without a tear coming to my eye.

To check out the rest of the Q&As, click here.

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