London's the Clientele talk of their unique chemistry and uncertain future
Something about the Clientele's music has always felt a bit out of step with the rest of the world. It may be the way they mix the jangly pop of Love with the lethargic drone of Galaxie 500. It may also be the impressionistic imagery of Alasdair MacLean's lyrics and the exactness with which his words conjure lost village greens. Or it may just be that the band's too stubborn and idealistic to conform to others' expectations.
Last year, after more than a decade together, the London quartet had a breakthrough with their fifth album, the critically acclaimed Bonfires on the Heath. Ironically, just as the band seem on the brink of widespread success, there are rumors that they may have already recorded their last album.
Yet for bassist James Hornsey, who grew up with MacLean and has played in bands with the guitarist for nearly 20 years, such things are to be taken in stride. As he points out, "We still have day jobs."
Hornsey has a deep, charming voice and a thick accent. He speaks briskly, but even over the phone his wry, self-deprecating sense of humor comes through clearly. "Our jobs are pretty boring, really. I work for a French bank right now," he says, adding thoughtfully, "I suppose that's a good reference to our band, actually...."
When City Pages caught up with Hornsey ahead of Monday's show at the Cedar, he and the band were passing through a truck stop on their way from Texas to a gig at the Casbah in San Diego.
City Pages: There's been a lot of talk about Bonfires being the Clientele's last album. What can you say about the future of the band at this point?
James Hornsey: Good question. I don't have the answer to it, really. Alasdair seems to say it a lot in the interviews, so I don't know, maybe it's true. We have lots of music in the can for another album this year, leftover tracks from the last one and other bits and pieces we haven't released. They're all real good. The response has been great to this album and we're having lots of fun, so I guess we'll see how it goes and how we feel when we get back home.
CP: Alasdair has always seemed like the figurehead of the band. How much of the band's character comes from his personality, versus the other members?
Hornsey: I'd say the melancholy and the lyrics are his. But musically it comes from the rest of the band—the sunny, brighter, warm sound we have. [Multi-instrumentalist] Mel [Draisey] makes it sunnier; she has a different style, more poppy and cheerful, which comes off nicely with the misery. She got more involved in [Bonfires], so it has a different character, more lush sounding and radio-friendly. The general feeling I suppose comes from Alasdair. Plus he does most of the interviews because he's better at them.
CP: You've kept a lower public profile over the years. What would you say you bring to the table, both in terms of taste and playing?
Hornsey: I've had quite a strong influence on the band. Alasdair and I grew up listening to the same music—he'd swap me his '60s pop and I'd make him listen to my weird '80s music, and we managed those two things. I never got formally trained on bass, so I just developed my own style. I played guitar originally. My style's very much linked to Alasdair's guitar playing; it's been kind of a natural progression. If I weren't there the band would probably sound pretty different—maybe better, I don't know.
CP: There's a lot of nature and psychedelia in the Clientele's music. Do you see those as British characteristics?
Hornsey: We were more interested in American music, the West Coast, and stuff from New Zealand and Australia, not usually influenced by English music. I suppose we are a very "English" group, but in a backhanded sort of way. We grew up hating every other English band, and just carved out our own sound over the years. We never felt much in common with any scene, even in London, which all felt very shallow. It's like we were a band apart or something.
CP: Do you think that might help explain why you have a stronger following in America than you have back home?
Hornsey: It's hard to say. We've gotten a lot more support from the labels here, like Merge Records, where we didn't have that much opportunity in the U.K. The press has been great, especially for the last album, so maybe things will start changing for us. And it's much more fun to play in the States. Virtually every city has been positive on this tour. But who knows, maybe it's just because people think this is our last one.
THE CLIENTELE play with Field Music on MONDAY, MARCH 15, at the CEDAR; 612.338.2674
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