by Saxon Baird
[PSYCHEDELIC U.K. POP] The music of the Clientele is very English and very sad. Its songs are full of regretful reflections and a longing for the return to fleeting moments of happiness. Despite the somber tone, lead singer and primary songwriter Alasdair MacLean asserts not all is hopeless. “The music of the Clientele is careworn and bittersweet,” MacLean says. “It doesn’t rule out the possibility of hope, it just questions it. I’m not really a melancholy person. I just think that sadness is a truth of life and I try to express that in my music.”
And does he ever.
The latest release from the London-based four-piece, Bonfires on the Heath, is saturated with hazy melancholy. Loosely inspired by an accidental acid trip MacLean experienced, Bonfires is full of delicately crafted psych pop combined with dark lyrics, illusory visions and eerie, pastoral imagery. As MacLean explains it, the album was an attempt at expressing the sensations he underwent in the afterglow of his psychedelic experience: “I wasn’t quite myself for about three or four months in the height of summer,” he says. “I kept getting these chills in that horrible paranoid, hallucinogenic way. That feeling of slight dread marked by beauty is really what this Bonfires is about.”
With lines like: “There’s a phantom in my breath/ There’s a phantom in the gaps between my bones,” it is easy to see what MacLean means.
This wasn’t the first encounter for MacLean with a hallucinogenic, though. Growing up in the small English town of Hampshire, MacLean jokes that as a teenager drugs were easier to obtain than alcohol. These forays into psychedelics still resonate with him, and in turn, are evident in his music.
“I think there really is something about those experiences that never went away,” MacLean reflects. “While I can still do long division and work out a budget, that sense of magic and dread which psychedelics do to you has always stayed with me and it probably always will.”
When asked if these lingering, drug-induced sensations have anything to do with the underlying melancholy of his music, MacLean admits such sadness stems from his own views on existence: “I see life as inherently tragic. After all, the things that make you feel safe always slip away somehow. There is not really a lasting happiness in life.”
This impermanence has been brought into the foreground of the Clientele’s music. After putting out four full-lengths over a 10-year span (the band formed back in 1991 but didn’t release its first album until 2000), MacLean has expressed the possibility of dissolving the Clientele in the near future. “I don’t believe in making records just to make records,” he says. “If we can’t make something new, then I feel it might be a good time for things to end, to draw a line and move on.” MacLean quickly backs down from that statement and half-jokingly warns, “It doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the Clientele. If you’re lucky, we’ll return. I would say buy a ticket just in case, though.”
SEE IT: The Clientele plays the Doug Fir on Thursday, March 11, with the Wooden Birds. 9 pm. $12 advance, $14 day of show. 21+.