Amor de Dias
Interview with Alasdair MacLean and Lupe Núñez-Fernández
Amor de Dias are Alasdair MacLean of the Clientele, and Lupe Núñez-Fernández of Pipas, whose debut album, Street of the Love of Days, paints a series of hazy, atmospheric song-pictures, mixing the Clientele’s lysergic psych-pop with Pipas’ intimate indiepop. The result is a dreamy confection of gorgeous arrangements, sweeping melodies and meditative moods, with touches of psych, folk, Latin and even Eric Satie-style minimalism. If you were a fan of the Clientele, this is a perfect progression. We interviewed Al and Lupe at Indietracks at the end of July 2011.
SXP: I read that it took you a couple of years to do the album and that you did it in secret. True?
Alasdair: We didn’t do it in secret so much as nobody asked us about it because no-one cared about it! It was a secret without a reason. It didn’t have a label until the very end.
Lupe: It wasn’t really secret because we weren’t a secret, because we were playing some shows. [Versions of] some of those songs are out there somewhere, on friends’ computers or something. But I don’t think we talked about the fact that we were recording; at the end people knew because that was what we were doing on our weekends.
SXP: Your music has time and place, conjuring autumnal afternoons and late nights. Did you have these things in mind when writing?
Alasdair: I grew up in the countryside and a lot of happy memories for me, that make me feel secure and safe, are the countryside and the strange lysergic acid-style beauty of the fields where I grew up. I always felt myself that the songs I wrote were pop hits! *laughter* I guess I’m coming at it from somewhere different from everybody else.
SXP: Our favourite track on the album is Bunhill Fields – it’s a weird space in the centre of London but an ancient space. You’re writing about the city but not the city we know.
Lupe: It’s funny because it’s a song that I wrote for my other band and it never got recorded. The original version was just done in my bedroom playing into a tape recorder. At the beginning [of Amor de Dias], when we were first playing songs, we just had these odds and ends and [the song] is what it is because of Al, and Howard playing drums like he does, and Heather on the cello. I used to walk by [Bunhill Fields] every day. It’s got something. It’s kind of like a photograph, an everyday moment for me. I think that song feels slightly claustrophobic; it’s like the city but some other space too - it’s too rich with things and ideas and then your life on top of it.
SXP: You did ‘Harvest Time’ on the Clientele’s Bonfires on the Heath album. Was that originally intended to be a Clientele song?
Alasdair: No, it kind of reappears on Bonfires on the Heath because we recorded it for Amor de Dias first! When we were doing Bonfires On The Heath I felt a little nervous that we didn’t have enough good songs so I added that one into the schedule - which was kind of a mistake because I’d rather people hear the Amor de Dias version first because I think it’s a better version of the song, or it’s more what I envisaged the song [to be]. So it’s more an Amor de Dias song than a Clientele one!
Lupe: But I guess Clientele fans listening presume it’s a Clientele cover. That’s fine with me!
SXP: I read that the Clientele is on hold. Is that because you want to focus on Amor de Dias?
Alasdair: The thing with the Clientele is that we were starting to do things by the rules. And I really worried that if we made another record we’d sound like any old band. My definition of punk is not spitting or playing loud guitars, it’s ripping up the rule books. In a way that’s what the Clientele did to start with because we did everything “wrong”: we recorded “wrongly”, we sang “wrongly”, we played guitars “wrongly”. And it felt like we were doing everything right by the end. So we had to stop!
SXP: Is the Latin sound a recent influence, perhaps via Lupe, or is it something you’ve always been interested in?
Alasdair: I had a lad who slept on my sofa when I was in my early 20s who’s Spanish and who brought some bossa nova into the house, like Edu Lobo and Vinicius de Moraes, which we listened to and absolutely loved - so it was always in my blood. I learned Spanish guitar as a youngster as well, so I know the Spanish way of playing, but I’d never really thought I could make a record like that because I’ve never had a drummer who had the chops to do it.
Lupe: I’ve never made music that sounded like that before. I idolised that music but I don’t have the inherent skill or some kind of weird magic. So it was: “Hey! Maybe we can write some songs together?”
SXP: I had an impression of you (Alasdair) as a pop guitarist but when I heard Amor de Dias there seemed to be many more influences, including Eric Satie.
Alasdair: I’ve always loved Spanish classical guitar music, I’ve always loved bossa nova and I’ve always loved Eric Satie and minimalist piano but I’ve never really had the chance to add these to the Clientele as the Clientele was, for better or worse, very much a guitar pop band. We flirted a bit with Latin things and we flirted with a bit of Satie minimalism but we never went all the way with them. So it was a good chance to try and cop a space to do it, without other people in the band who maybe didn’t like that music protesting about it. We just had the freedom to do it.
Lupe: When you have fewer members in a band, there’s more room to experiment and to be more pared down. As opposed to everyone [having] to have a role. This is stripped down and we can try different kinds of songs.
SXP: Is it still easy when you have two established writers in the band? There’s no tension or pulling different ways?
Alasdair: There wasn’t for this record was there? I really liked everything you wrote and you never said anything bad about anything I wrote.
Lupe: They’re my favourite songs, the ones you wrote! I think it was just mutual encouragement. It’s the kind of thing that maybe would never have come and we would have been fine with that because it was made for personal reasons. And then it turned out it was something a little bit bigger.
SXP: Are you both artists?
Alasdair: Well, I’m not very good. It’s kind of Sunday painting, but I do love to paint.
SXP: Lupe, I read you have a PhD in Art History…
Lupe: It’s crazy! I don’t have a PhD in Art History, I have a Masters. It got published somewhere and that [myth] got published somewhere else. I’ve done a lot of Art History over the years, and I did art, but in kind of a discreet way. I don’t have exhibitions.
SXP: Is the album cover typical of your work?
Lupe: In a way. I mostly draw and paint and the way that I paint, it looks like a photograph. I do a lot with ink and it’s kind of bleached out and slightly distorted.
Alasdair: We both talked about it, the way the cover looks, with the handwriting. We wanted it to look a little bit like a 1920s surrealist book.
Lupe: Everything was very collaborative. Like the photograph - Al pointed it out. He saw the work and it was a matter of *snap*. It worked out, by chance, but it could have just not worked out. The lettering is the same, we were looking through all these books of surrealist art, with the most amazing lettering on top of photographs. I ended up doing both the photographs and the writing but it could have been you [Alasdair].
Alasdair: Yeah, I’m doing the next one! *laughter*
SXP: In an interview you said that you weren’t fond of criticism, which is why you didn’t present your work. In your job you’re critiquing art and on the other had your own art is being commented on. Is that a comfortable position?
Lupe: My work used to be very much on the editorial end of things so I ended up doing some criticism but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. So what I ended up doing is whenever I was writing reviews of things I would just pick things that I was really passionate about. So that might tell you my general mindset – if I don’t like it, I just don’t cover it, don’t review it. It doesn’t make me a good critic in a way, it’s more like I’m a fan. But I think that writing and seeing and looking at other people’s work makes me realise I appreciate anybody who listens to my work. I never really thought of myself as an artist, musically or literally, and now you’re out there and sometimes you’re affecting people in a nice way. So that’s enough. In the end I found being a critic an uncomfortable thing because it means *sighs* sometimes it’s almost like stating the unnecessary. Then again, maybe it’s to balance out the crazy gushing fans, just to say: hang on, this is not the best record ever made in the last hundred years! It’s necessary in a way but it is kind of an ugly job.
Alasdair: It seems an awfully foolish thing to do, to say what’s wrong about a record. A lot of my favourite records, the first two or three times or even five times I heard them I hated them. I hated Vashti Bunyan when I first heard her, I hated the Fall and a lot of the records I really loved on a first listen I now just think are mediocre, so it seems you’re in hot water if you want to start writing reviews like that.
SXP: You’ve got Damon and Naomi and Gary Olson on the record. Was it just chance?
Alasdair: Olson owed me a favour! I played some guitar and song on his last record. And he was in town so I said: do you fancy coming over to the studio and doing a bit of recording? Every time Damon and Naomi played in England over the last five or six years, or in London at least, the Clientele opened for them or I played guitar with them or something. It wasn’t a case of getting them to come in the studio, it was more sending them files and they sent us back files. We just toured America with them; they’re kind of good friends of ours. Most of the people who played on the album are mates of ours really.
SXP: I noticed that you did a mixtape for the Chicago venue Schubas (Schuba’s mixtape). I thought you’d be fans of the Zombies and the Kinks but I was surprised by The Orb and ‘You Are The Black Gold of the Sun’.
Alasdair: That was our dance hits mix! I mean, Rotary Connection is just a beautiful psychedelic soul song and the Orb…you have to be of a certain age – I was 16 then. There’s probably been 10 other songs since then just like that and I’m like: “no, not interested” because I’m not 16 anymore!
(Bob Stuart photographed Al and Lupe at Indietracks; see more of his pictures at: www.underexposed.org.uk)