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The Clientele bring plush, London-pop to town

By Michael Petitti
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, November 3, 2005
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If you were one of the countless hipsters too cool to give The Clientele the time of day over the summer when they opened for Spoon, now is your time for redemption. The London band that makes ethereal, poetic pop music was not a great match for Spoon’s arty-dance-pop-rock stylings. Interestingly, Alasdair Maclean, The Clientele’s singer/guitarist, is the first to point that out.

“It was a mismatch of bands, really,” Maclean said. “Their fans are really not the same sort of people that our fans are, but there’re an awful lot more of them.”

This is why, for example, when I saw the band open for Spoon over the summer at Rialto Theatre, most people instead opted to chat, drink or walk out on the band’s set. But the band holds no grudges against its touring mates or their fans.

“I love Spoon,” Maclean said. “I love them as a band, and I think they’re great as people. They were really, really kind to us and they paid us loads to do it — they actually asked for us to do that tour and actually imported us in from Britain to do it. It was pretty positive. We picked up a lot of new fans doing it.”

However, you can expect that most of the fans who were too cool for The Clientele just months ago have changed their tune and plan to come out to the band’s current tour in droves. It doesn’t hurt that the band’s remarkable new album, Strange Geometry, has recently been swept up in the indie-buzz factory. Maclean is quick to note that a little praise from the almighty really can do wonders in terms of attendance and sales.

“I think the amount of positive press we’ve had for this album, it’s really kind of gotten people out to see us,” Maclean said. “It’s weird, I guess it’s just like Best New Music from Pitchfork really does seem to make a difference. I find it quite strange, but I can’t complain. We’ve done very well.”

Maclean does note that there is a strange but acceptable difference between American audiences and those from across the pond.

“(American audiences are) a lot more garrulous,” Maclean said. “They whoop a lot more and they dance a lot more. I mean, I mostly just know the audiences in London that are very reserved. Whereas, American audiences aren’t afraid to be more enthusiastic, which I think is great.”

It doesn’t hurt that Strange Geometry is richer and far more accessible than The Clientele’s sophomore breakout The Violet Hour. Besides being the band’s first studio album, Maclean notes that the additions of producer Brian O’Shaughnessy and string arranger Louis Philippe and the subtraction of an oft-abused knob aided in the transformation of sound.

“Well, I produced The Violet Hour,” Maclean said “(Strange Geometry) we had Brian O’Shaughnessy produce, who’s like a very different, experienced and accomplished producer, and he wouldn’t let me get up to any of my old tricks. He said, ‘No reverb.’ So, he slapped my wrist every time I reached to turn the reverb dial up. Everything had to be worked out very prettily and cohesively before we actually recorded. I’ve always recorded just to improvise and see what happens, but he wanted everything set. So, it was a little more of a kind of controlled process.”

Control by no means equals a slower process. As mathematically precise and beautiful as Strange Geometry sounds, it was recorded in a whirlwind reminiscent of a White Stripes record.

“(The Violet Hour) we recorded over the course of a year,” Maclean said. “Whereas, (Strange Geometry) was done in two weeks, with like two takes for everything and that was it, it was finished. So, it was like a completely different experience. We didn’t have any time to worry about production because when you’re making your first studio album you want it to be as weird and as fragmented as like Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division or something. I mean, if you have a year to do it, you’re going to have a lot of time to get very self-indulgent and to redo everything. Whereas, this time we deliberately engineered a scenario where we would just have to get it done straightaway and we couldn’t even like make mistakes while playing — we didn’t even have time for that — so we played as well as we possibly could and as fluently as we possibly could, and we left the sound up to the producer.”

The band is satisfied with the results. (Expect to see the album charting on many critics’ year-end best-of lists.) However, what separates Strange Geometry from other albums crammed with psychedelic guitars, strings and dreamy pop are Maclean’s brilliant lyrics. Take opening track (and first single) “Since K Got Over Me.” Although the song is Beatles-esque and almost sounds upbeat, the lyrics — as the title hints — are stinging and poetic reflections on heartbreak: “I get on my knees/speaking in tongues/of washed out sun and/perfect clarity/well I get so delirious/I think myself to sleep/standing on the sidewalk/sometimes it's with him.” Maclean notes his various influences.

“When I was growing up … my parents would play me The Beatles, but they’d also read me poetry; Shakespeare, and we would go to art galleries and look at various artists,” Maclean said. “For me, it’s all the same sort of thing and you can get a lot from art or poetry that you can put back into music. It’s like a different way to see music from more of an angle through these others things, and they all contain the same sort of basic elements I think.”

The band is considering sleep and perhaps a future recording session in Nashville, Tenn. — though Maclean said the resulting music would probably ”just be more English” — after this tour. To check out The Clientele before the hibernation, head on over to Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave., on Tuesday. The all-ages show is $8 and starts at 9 p.m. with the Radar Brothers and Annie Hayden opening.

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