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Interview: The Clientele’s Alasdair Maclean

Interview: The Clientele’s Alasdair Maclean (photo)

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I discovered the clientele in a record store in Toronto almost a decade ago. It was Fall and I was feeling very I droll, yet nostalgic. I bought the 12″ they were playing, called “Lost Weekend,” took it home with me and it didn’t leave that record player until Spring. Admittedly, I had three turntables, but I’ve rarely found a seasonal match so perfect coupled with a sound so immediately pleasing since I picked up the 4 LP tome, The Kink Kronikles. The Clientele’s new record, Bonfires on the Heath is out on Merge records and I highly recommend it.

[The Clientele. Photo by Andy Willsher]

I caught up with singer Alasdair Maclean (over the phone) while he was in New York, in the Bronx of all places. He was sitting outside on a bench after a radio station recording session. Kids were “throwing leaves at each other, big piles of dead leaves.” It painted an image for me that seemed fitting for him. We got heavy into weepies and Arthurian legends.

I’ve always associated the Clientele with Fall. Your sound embodies something mysterious, something foreboding, yet calm like the season for me.

Well it sounds like a flattering description and I think that this record is very much a Fall record, you know. The whole idea of bonfires being that they start up in Britain just as the summer’s ending and they’re a sign that summer’s over [See Bonfire night in Britain]. I don’t think we consciously try to make a mysterious sound but it’s always really flattering when people say that we do.

I read about an early conversation the band had in a pub where you agreed it was good to be influenced by Surrealist poetry but not good to have any shouting which I thought was funny. Tell me about that.

It may sound like just a silly thing to say it’s Ok to be influenced by Surrealist poetry, but that’s a huge paradigm shift in England you know because any kind of intellectualism or any kind of education is really viewed with mistrust. So for us it was a way of saying, we’re gonna be one of those bands, those bands that people hate because they’ve got ideas about their station or whatever. And it was at the time when bands like Oasis were very big. So it was a conscious thing to be different and bring in things that we loved from literature and art into music which really again, is very mistrusted in Britain apart from a few people who went to art school.

Are you saying there’s an uneducated mass that goes for Oasis and an educated few that might like, say, The Clientele and therein lies this kind of conflict you’ve got over there?

I’d say that was about right. I mean our music is not supposed to be elitist in any way it’s suppose to work on different levels and be seductive to people who don’t know about surrealist poetry. You don’t have to come to it with a prior library. But to be able to explore those kinds of ideas, and just do it very openly, and un-ironically, I think that was the idea for us.

I was baffled to discover you’ve not met with amazing success in Britain.

Yeah we met with amazing failure in Britain. We never had a label comparable to Merge records, we’ve always had very, very small labels. Over there it’s obviously a much smaller country with a much smaller scene and things are really tied up with a few magazines. They all write about their favorite labels and if you’re no on one, then you’re kind of out in the cold.

I asked Grant Gee (“Meeting People Is Easy”) why he thought there was so much musical genius that sprung from Britain, and he said it was population density, but he also commented similarly about the way music media and magazines work there.

There are quite a few people in quite a small amount of space so I guess that’s true…. Yeah that’s how it works. I mean, I think for us, we’re very happy with the fact that we’ve been able to continue releasing records despite that happening to us. The bastards haven’t ground us down.

What film would you like to live inside of, if you could?

Well that’s a very difficult question to answer. I saw a film recently, by French director Robert Bresson, called “Lancelot Du Lac.” It’s a very strange, kind of wooden film cause all the actors are amateurs and he rehearsed them so many times that they became exhausted. When they were finally totally exhausted and dead eyed, then he ran the film. It’s the story of King Arthur and Lancelot and what happens after they fail to find the Holy Grail and it’s full of signs and wonders and magic. But in a sense it’s like a Bergman film; it’s about the silence of God as well. I don’t think I would like to live in it because I’d almost certainly come to a gruesome end very quickly, but that film absolutely enchanted me.

I’m surprised I’ve not heard any Clientele in a film yet, I would have you on any shortlist if I were a music supervisor and I don’t even mean to cozy up to you, it’s just common sense. Your songs are instant mood makers. Do you have an interest in that?

I would love to do that, I mean we have been in some films. I suppose the biggest one, there’s a Keanu Reeves film called “The Lake House,” it’s like a romantic weepie. It’s surprised me too that more directors haven’t used our music, but it’s all still there, hopefully they can one day.

A weepie! I like that, do you mind if I borrow that from you?

[Laughter] Yeah cheers. Oh yeah, they’re designed to make people weep.

Are you big into Halloween where you’re from in those backwoods of suburban

Yeah, but in much less of an ostentatious way. You know, I actually originally come from Scotland and it’s a big tradition there. It was really frowned upon when I was younger because it was seen as a kind of pagan thing; it wasn’t the commercialized kind of American holiday it’s become like since and everyone knows it’s a bit of fun. But people of my Grandmother’s age in Scotland still believe in Celtic ideas of little people… the faeries you know. So Halloween was actually seen as a dangerous and subversive holiday.

Ah Scotland, land of the ancient Picts and all of that Pagan business, it makes sense that it would thrive there, but further south seem threatening [to Christians]. And you seem to embrace an aura of this in your music too.

Yeah it’s very much an Agnostic thing. I think the new record is trying to embrace that sense of eeriness, but at the same time I’m not going to start talking to you about Earth spirits or anything like that. That sense of seeing something just in the corner of your eye, in the woods. That’s what this record’s about.

Download “Harvest Time,” by The Clientele.


Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at


Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.


Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…