The Clientele - Biography
With over half a century of rock and roll history behind us, it’s impossible to spot a current band that doesn’t draw from the past. The decades splash and spill all over one another, and it happens in cycles, both micro and macro. The 50s and the 60s came back in the 80s, and after that it was kind of a free-for-all; everything started accelerating. Now even the 90s are ancient history. London-based indie band The Clientele have deep roots of influence that span not only decades but also both sides of the Atlantic, from the British Invasion to 60s West Coast sunshine pop. They also echo the psychedelic revival of the mid 80s bands like The Rain Parade, and the 90s slowcore of Galaxie 500 (with a pinch of Madchester pioneers The Stone Roses thrown in). It’s not only the Clientele’s sound but also their story that has a hint of the classic to it: they met at school, had similar tastes in music, started a band, recorded some songs, broke up, reformed, moved to the big city and started releasing records. Despite the exhaustive array of influences, The Clientele put their own luscious ethereal spin on all of it, enhanced by borrowing lyrical ideas from surrealist poetry and by Alasdair MacLean’s vocals to create their own brand of rich, luxurious pop.
Alasdair MacLean formed the first incarnation of the band, The Butterfly Collectors, in a UK suburb in Hampshire in 1991 with his friends James Hornsey and Innes Phillips. In 1997, a new incarnation of the band (minus Phillips, who left and formed The Relict) moved to London and became The Clientele, with drummer Mark Keen onboard. They already had a succession of previously released 7 inch singles, which they used to comprise a compilation debut LP, Suburban Light (2000 Pointy). In 2001, North Carolina label, Merge (run by Superchunk members Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan), picked up The Clientele, and in 2003 the band released their first proper full-length LP, The Violet Hour (2003 Merge), which is a nostalgic, sparkling collection of lush pop songs. From the opening track, the influences are apparent, with the West Coast shimmer of The Byrds mingling with a joyous, 60s pop element reminiscent of The Zombies. But the songs have a unique, and deliciously languid quality that ties them all together. The follow-up, Strange Geometry (2005 Merge) showcases a collection of consistently strong, catchy songs, and it exemplifies the continuing decade melding. Breathy, Lennon-esque vocals and summery echoes of Arthur Lee’s Love mesh wonderfully with shades of paisley underground and 90s dream pop.
After self-releasing a compilation of early singles, It’s Art, Dad (2005 The Clientele), the band welcomed Mel Draisey on keys violin and percussion in 2006. Her contribution enhanced the more complex arrangements on the next release, God Save The Clientele (2007 Merge). The band recorded the album with Lambchop producer Mark Nevers at his studio in Nashville. It’s generally a clearer and more polished sounding recording than the previous releases, and Nevers paid special attention to MacLean’s vocal, which stands out with more clarity and an increased intimacy. The slide and pedal steel lend a Sweetheart of the Rodeo feel, and one of the more trippy moments appears on “Dreams of Leaving.” The next album, Bonfires on the Heath (2009 Merge) is a glittering collection of bittersweet masterpieces; it’s the thoroughly accomplished work of a band that have already come into their own and are now simply shining. The summery, jangly lushness is still present, but the sophisticated Baroque pop arrangements sometimes veer into romantic, British 60s soundtrack territory on tracks like “Tonight” and “I Know I Will See Your Face.” The Clientele expertly fuse their influences with their own invention, and they fish from both sides of the pond. An earlier song title, “From Brighton Beach to Santa Monica” sums it all up perfectly: Drawing from 6o years of rock history, they succeed in traversing the cycles in musical trends, creating a sublime combination of classic British pop sensibility, West Coast jangle and contemporary pyschedelia. To everything, turn, turn, turn.