I’m from Maryland. So is Clutch. Shamefully, I boarded the Clutch bandwagon WAY late, even after years of hearing their name bandied about by the heavier rock fans in my musical circle.
While I was busy learning Cinderella covers to play at strip-mall menu venues, Clutch was doing things in a dogged, determined fashion, always guided by their own integrity and sheer force of will. “I like Maryland,” says Clutch drummer Jean-Paul Gaster. “I still live in Maryland. I could see living in New Orleans or Northern California or maybe the Outer Banks but that would require moving and moving sucks.”
Moving Clutch forward however, is something Gaster takes on willingly. Clutch’s trajectory has had a long arc, and seems to be at cruising altitude with their current Psychic Warfare record (Weathermaker Music). Do they have a vision of ticket/record sales numbers that they’d consider the “next level?” Jean-Paul schools us.
“As a band we don’t think in those terms. The quality of the performances and recordings is how we gauge ourselves. We’re playing better than we ever have, and concert attendance has certainly grown over the years. For that we’re very grateful.”
Radio is not an option for Clutch. “The best outlet for us is getting in front of new audiences and playing our music for them. The live experience is what we do best. Festival appearances have proven to be a great way of making new fans.”
Listening to a Clutch song is a ride, and the mode of transport is the lyrical imagery born from the mind of singer/guitarist Neil Fallon. The “futuristic folk” approach straddles the line between seedy and heady, and comes off more like a sci-fi short story than a song.
A musical “Westworld, (the 70’s Yul Brynner version)” if you will. Jean-Paul’s take: “I think in the early stages of writing a song even Neil doesn’t really know what the lyrics mean so I don’t usually ask. For me it’s the rhythm and melody of the vocal. I pay close attention to the vocal and take care to support is as best I can.” I get that, but I do love the way Fallon commands the pulpit.
The recording phase of the Clutch experience would appear to be equally succinct. “In a perfect scenario, the first, second, or third takes are my favorites,” says Gaster. “That doesn’t always happen though. Being prepared is key. By the time we enter the studio I usually have a plan as to how I’d like to approach recording drums for each song as well as having an overall sound in mind. That’s not to say things are set in stone. More often than not the parts continue to evolve all the way through the very last take of the last song. The ‘plan’ is really just a reference point but without it you have nothing.”
I ask Jean-Paul about the considerable amount of time it took for (previous record) Earth Rocker to make it to streaming services. While I think I know why this is, some clarity on the thought process and mechanics of how Clutch “rolls out” music: “We’re in the unique position of owning the majority of our back catalog, so we had a choice of where, and how much streaming we wanted to allow. At first we avoided streaming altogether. Gradually, we made our entire catalog available on the streaming services. The reality is that streaming is not going away so we made a choice.” Then comes the rub.
“As a label owner and artist I feel compensation for streaming is unfair. As a music fan I think Spotify is awesome and I listen to it everyday. The variety of music available at your fingertips is incredible.” However, home and away listening are different animals. “I like vinyl, but it’s different kind of listening experience for me. It’s more of a ritual.” So true. Whether you’re catching a buzz, or getting married, it’s all about the ritual.
You’d think a band as well traveled as Clutch has cities that they love rolling into, and some “not so much.” Jean-Paul keeps it 100. “I kinda like it all really. Omaha, Nebraska can be as much fun as London, England or Melbourne, Australia. A fired up crowd makes all the difference. Detroit was one of the first places where we could see a noticeable increase in show attendance each time we played, so for that reason Detroit is special for us. Washington, DC is a hometown gig, so that’s always fun. Also, I love food so for me San Diego has great tacos, New Orleans has shrimp po boys and St Louis has killer ribs. I could go on all day about food.”
I’ve always wondered about life on a tour bus. “The Clutch bus is kinda like a pretty decent, but very tiny apartment on wheels shared by nine men,” (Gaster, Fallon, guitarist Tim Sult and bassist Dan Maines, plus crew). “We keep the AC on pretty low and try to keep the coolers full of ice cold beer.” (I’m in). “I don’t watch much TV or movies on the road. I think everybody should see Beware of Mr. Baker though. Ginger is one of my all time drum heroes. I spend time reading and practicing everyday on the road. Right now I’m reading the Miles Davis autobiography. I also try to eat a salad and stay away from fried foods except for chicken wings after the show.” I’m detecting a theme. “I love chicken wings.”
Even with the gears of the Clutch machine grinding more often than not, the members find time to explore side projects. Dunsmuir, the new project featuring Neil Fallon and drummer Vinny Appice, are set to release their self-titled debut album July 22nd via Hall Of Records. In 2009, Jean-Paul played and toured with “doom metal” stalwart Scott ‘Wino” Weinrich.
“Wino is a hero to me. His songs are as timeless and powerful as his guitar playing. I was honored when Wino asked me to be on his solo record Punctuated Equilibrium. The process of learning and rehearsing those songs was one I am grateful for. Over the course of almost a year (sadly deceased bassist) Jon Blank and Wino would meet in my basement studio once a week or so. One memory that stands out was when Wino first played the riffs to Woman In The Orange Pants.
He prefaced it by saying he wrote the song in 1979! Jon and I looked at each other in awe as Wino began playing the gnarliest riffs we’d ever heard. The subsequent recording and European tour were incredible.”
The Clutch story continues to unfold. There came a point where I could no longer ignore them. Earth Rocker was the perfect stop for me to get on, and Psychic Warfare extends the ride in much the same way. Sometimes it’s OK (and even welcome) for a band to stay in the same lane for a couple of records.
I’d wager that many rock fans would become converts if they either sought out, or were presented the opportunity to experience Clutch. I have a Clutch shirt. I wear it proudly. It speaks to the band’s gravitas that no matter where I am, the shirt receives a nod or positive comment. They’ve earned a whispered reverence among fans and musicians alike. Pure Rock Fury, indeed. Clutch is cooling its heels before returning to Europe for two (!) more tours this year.
The European tours will sandwich a headlining US run in the fall, with guests Zakk Sabbath and KYNG. Po’ Boys for the house!
Check out their tour dates below: