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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
Hampshire?

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.

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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…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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