The Clientele :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

Few returns in 2017 have been as welcome as that of London's the  Clientele. It feels like a couple lifetimes have passed since 2010's Minotaur, but Music For the Age of Miracles, released this week via Merge Records,  shows no discernible wear and tear on the band's unmistakable sound. Airy, autumnal, and possessing a twilight magic, the subtle "comeback" LP is the most adventurous outing yet from songwriter/guitar/vocalist Alasdair MacLean, drummer Mark Keen, and bassist James Hornsey. Alongside guests like harpist Mary Lattimore and Anthony Harmer, who plays a santur dulcimer, the trio gently expands on its jangle pop roots, incorporating cinematic strings, touches of Eastern classical music, thumping disco, and hypnotic psychedelia. It's a record about altered states; singing breathily, MacLean evokes the logic of stars and myth, his surrealist lyrics hovering in the space between sleeping and dreaming.

AD spoke with MacLean on the eve of a trip to Spain about reactivating the Clientele and finding unlikely beauty in our present moment.

Aquarium Drunkard: It’s been some time since we’ve heard from the Clientele. You started a family, so I imagine it’s been a busy couple of years for you personally.

Alasdair MacLean: The last two and a half years have been a write-off, really. There’s been a small child in the house; everything’s been turned upside down. [Laughs] [Over the last seven years] there’s been Clientele reissues and two Amor de Dias records as well. There’s been a certain amount of creative activity but you know, it kind of gets pushed to the side in a way.

AD: From the outside, it more or less seemed like the Clientele was done. Were you surprised to find yourself making another record under the name?

Alasdair MacLean: It absolutely felt as if it was done for me. We’d basically done everything we could do, I felt. But I remembered playing with this guy called Anthony Harmer, before the Clientele. I must have been 18 or 19. He was somebody who really challenged me as a musician and songwriter, to the extent that I couldn’t really handle it as an 18-year-old. We were both very bossy and went our separate ways.

A couple of years ago, I bumped into him on the street. It turned out we lived about three streets from each other. We hadn’t seen each other in about 20 years. He knew about the Clientele, strangely, but I asked him what he’d been doing and he’d been learning the santur, which is an Iranian dulcimer. Rather than making records or writing words, he really mastered this instrument. That really got me interested. I’m interested in Eastern scales and I know a bit about Eastern classical music. It was actually him who suggested we play together. So we did. The songs just started to sound like Clientele songs. I played them to the other guys and they said, “Let’s make a record.”

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