Listening deeply to a Clientele song can be a soothing experience, even though the song’s subject matter may be heartache or loss. The London band exudes this effect like a woozy head after a pot of chamomile tea. The distinct feel of the music comes in swaths of echo, adding weight to song structures or strings, layered on the newest record, Strange Geometry. Hushed lyrics nod off to the scenes of the band’s London.
“The Clientele’s London is the London peripheries–Wood Green, Haringey, Docklands. Magical and desolate spaces where we can actually afford to live. Full of emptiness, industrial parks, terrible pubs, old terraces of Victorian housing. Central London is just a zoo, although there are obviously some wonderful places hidden among the tourists,” Clientele songwriter Alasdair Maclean says from Vigo, Spain, explaining the difference between Buckingham Palace London and Clientele London. “Living and working in London is a hard, hard grid. It’s really not a city to be friendless or unhappy in. Rimbaud called it, admiringly, ‘a wilderness of fire and mud.’”
Maclean quotes French poet Arthur Rimbaud naturally. He has a deep interest in surrealism and the symbolist poets. It’s a world of inner thoughts and cerebral visualizing that resonates strongly in the Clientele’s songbook–especially with three writers: Soupault, Breton and Aragon.
“These are the holy trinity of Clientele inspirations; psychogeography, magical parks, adventures and a mysterious interiority, a disconnectedness,” says Maclean. “I recognized my own experience when I read them with a total intensity. I like Rimbaud, but these three short, small books blew my world apart.”
Don’t mistake Maclean and friends as navel-gazing poetry nerds who don’t like a good pop song, though. In “Since K Got Over Me,” they lift a phrase from “Then He Kissed Me,” the Phil Spector Brill Building hit from the ’60s.
“Oh Jesus, since the Starsailor project, I can’t even think about him,” Maclean says, mentioning Spector’s 2001 work with the British pop dullards. “They should serve his jail time for him. The riff you’re talking about was a subliminal steal, but yeah, when you listen to it it’s pretty up front. I was actually trying to rip off the Pale Fountains, so just goes to show I can’t do anything right.”
Maclean says he welcomes a return to the American South, not only because their label, Merge Records, is housed here.
“The whole grits, collard greens and BBQ stuff really grabbed me the first time I visited. And it’s pretty easy to be popular if you have an English accent. I actually melt when I hear a Southern accent, too,” he says.
As for Southern traditions, Maclean doesn’t know much about Halloween in Chapel Hill: “Halloween in England is not much celebrated. Kids ask you for money, that’s about it. The real festival in England is Bonfire Night, a few weeks later, when we burn the effigy of Guy Fawkes, a Catholic with a large moustache who attempted to blow up parliament with barrels of gunpowder way back when.”
When Halloween in Chapel Hill is explained more, Maclean relents, “We will try and make our show extra spooky.”
The Clientele plays Local 506 on Halloween, with Merge labelmate Annie Hayden, formerly of the group Spent, and locals Pleasant. The show starts at 9:30 p.m. and costs $6. Strange Geometry is out now.