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Clientele unapologetic about literary influences

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The Clientele frontman Alasdair MacLean, left, is inspired by 19th century French poetry. (Courtesy Andy Wilsher)
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Few modern rock bands can claim such brainy influences as Britain’s jangling The Clientele. For instance, “Everything You See Tonight Is Different From Itself” — the first single from its first album in seven years, “Music For the Age of Miracles” – was inspired by the work of 19th century French poet Stephane Mallarme. It was so oblique, says bandleader Alasdair MacLean, his own countrymen joked that one day it might be translated into French. “I remember sitting in a library, reading one line from one of his poems that said, ‘The musician Apollo nothingness,’ and I thought, ‘That’s the kind of writing I want to make, where language almost turns itself inside out,’” he adds.

You’re a big fan of French surrealism, right?

Yes. And I’m more about books than paintings. Like “Nadja” by Andre Breton, Lautreaumont’s “Maldoror.” Things that I didn’t grow up with but found out about in my 20s. They just seemed so much more interesting than the books written by English guys. The French writers opened up a path for me that was all about imagination.

What have you been doing for the past seven years?

I’ve made two records with my other band, Amor de Dias. And I’ve actually been doing half the childcare for my kid, while my partner does the other half, and that’s really a full-time job. He’s nearly 3 now, and I want to stay away from the annoying stereotype of dad-who-constantly-plays-The-Talking-Heads-for-his-son. So I let him pick out any record he wants and play it. And so far, he absolutely loves Robert Forster from the Go Betweens.

But aren’t you also a huge Monkees fan?

Yeah. The Monkees were around at a time when it made sense, commercially, to play that kind of music. So all the very best people were doing it, and all the best people were producing it, and all the best people were writing songs for it. And The Monkees just put all those things together, which I think is a perfectly legitimate way to do it. I mean, I would have trouble naming five better songs than “Last Train to Clarksville.”

Like The Go Betweens, The Clientele is certainly one of the most literate bands in modern rock.

Well, we decided when we were teenagers that we weren’t going to be shy of that kind of thing. That we were going to say, “Look, if you want to talk about the books you’re reading, then that’s equally as cool as what records you’re listening to.” Especially nowadays, it’s almost an act of rebellion or revolution to be as literate and subtle as you possibly can. I’m completely unapologetic about that.

IF YOU GO
The Clientele
Where: Chapel, 777 Valencia St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 12
Tickets: $20 to $22
Contact: (415) 551-5157, www.ticketfly.com

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