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Clutch – A Lesson In Rock

Discussion in 'Metal Interviews' started by Billenzimmer, Jun 19, 2006.

  1. Billenzimmer

    Billenzimmer Member

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    [IMGLEFT]http://www.russell.ultimatemetal.com/Interview/clutchF.jpg[/IMGLEFT]By James Willcock, introduction by Russell Garwood

    The musical evolution of Clutch – from hardcore punk, through hard rock, to their bluesy, stoner influenced rock of today – is an exercise in, well, evolution. Although I am obligated by the Kansas School Board to present the creationists’ alternative; in the beginning God created Clutch, the hardcore punk band… And God saw that this was good. And God created Clutch.. the hard rockers. And God said, let there be a Clutch with a blues element – you can see where I’m going with this (and how heavily I’m borrowing from Family Guy?). Being big fans, and the diligent reporters we are, UM decided to send along the ever-intrepid James Willcock to review the band live. When the option of interview the band came up, I think his exact words were “Of course I bloody want to interview the band, you fool”. And, a week, later, here I am writing him an introduction to an interview and live review of the band’s show at the Camden Underworld, London, on the 7th of June 2006. So, if you want to learn about the history, current activities and future of Clutch, read on. If you want to learn all about evolution, however, a textbook (unless you’re in Kansas, where they’ve probably all been burned) may be the best place to look.


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    Before the show started (and despite the best efforts of London Underground to make me miss the chance) I sat down with Jean-Paul Gaster, drummer for Clutch, to discuss why they love touring so much, new material and what the hell we’re supposed to call their music anyway.

    First of all, how did you guys get together and start playing?

    Well we all went to the same high school, and our last year of high school we started a hardcore band. The east coast hardcore scene was really happening back then so we started a band in that vein, sort of. We weren’t very good (smiles). We jammed with different bands for a year or two after high school and then Clutch formed shortly after that in 1991, and we sort of stumbled on a sound and that’s it, it’s been the same four members since then and just recently we added Mick Schauer on keys.

    That was going to be my next question- Mick’s obviously joined the band more recently, is he fitting in well?

    Yeah, absolutely. Mick comes from the same part of the country that we’re from, the D.C. area. He didn’t really know that much about Clutch, he’d seen us very early on. There’s a sort of a groove, a funk that comes out of the D.C. area that he’s familiar with so he and I were able to lock in rhythmically almost immediately, he’s a really sensitive player- he’s able to tap in at a rhythmic level with things or on a melodic level, he’s really intuitive. He’s fitting in great.

    You said you started off as a hardcore band, what would you say were your major influences?

    Hands down, Bad Brains. Coming from Washington D.C., they were local heroes, I saw them in ‘89, at the old 9:30 club, and that was a really life changing experience, I realised then what I wanted to do. As well as the Bad Brains, the Cro-Mags of course, Prong, although they really weren’t part of the hardcore scene, we really identified with Prong as they were one of the first bands to slow back down again and add an element of groove into the music so I think early on in the bands musical development I think Prong were a big influence on us. From there, we started going back in time, trying to pick up more and more things.

    Nowadays, what are you listening to at the minute?

    To be honest, there’s not a lot of newer bands out there that I can really identify with, we did a tour in States last summer where we were on tour with Opeth, that was a band that I didn’t really know too much about, but I enjoyed watching them because again I feel they had this element of groove, they’re a really interesting band and there’s a lot of dynamics happening, and feel a lot of the newer bands lack the idea of dynamics, the younger guys out there are trying to play all the notes very quickly all at once, it’s a little too dense for my taste.

    I hear rumours of a new album coming out, any plans to be in the studio soon?

    I don’t know how soon it’s going to be but we are writing furiously. We’ve got a handful of tunes that are pretty much complete and another huge batch of songs that are half way between songs and jams. I expect that we’ll be writing all summer and then come the fall we should be ready to start thinking about recording

    Is the new album going to see the progression in Clutch’s sound that has occurred over previous albums?

    I hope so. It’s not something that we do consciously, it sort of just happens. We’re all huge music fans; we all love to play our instruments, so these kinds of changes infiltrate the music subconsciously. Sometimes there is a conscious effort to change the production of a particular album, the way the sound comes across, the way the record is mixed, but on a musical level it’s always a real natural sort of approach.

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    You’ve changed record labels a lot in the past, is there a reason for this?

    Because we don’t sell a lot of records (laughs). Early on we were with several major labels, in the early 90’s, if you remember almost everyone got signed, there was a sort of a frenzy, and so we were lucky enough to get picked up by a major label, we’d put a record out, then tour, and although we never really broke into that mainstream level, there were always enough record sales to pique the interest of these major labels, so they’d say “East West couldn’t do it, but we’re Atlantic and we think we can”, so we’d make a record for them but very quickly they’d realise that trying to sell something like Clutch is a tough sell- its not a polished sound, it’s not a commercial sound or a pop sound, and so they would quickly loose interest in it and we’d be dropped, and we’d go find another label, so that’s always been a difficult thing for us. Looking back on it now maybe it was actually a good thing for us, because we were always struggling, always fighting, always trying to prove ourselves, so in the end I’m kind of glad it went down the way it did.

    The new album is still being released on DRT, which is the third album with them, more than on any other label. Is there anything in particular that has kept you with DRT?

    I think that the philosophy behind DRT, what they realise is that the days of the 90’s when bands would get signed and come out of the box and sell a million records, those days are really kind of behind us, although it still happens, the chances of that happening are even slimmer than before. Companies like DRT and other mid-level independent companies are more willing to nurture an artist you might say, they’re not looking for the million dollar or million record sale.

    Following on from the theme of record sales, what are your views on downloading music?

    The idea of downloading music doesn’t really bother me that much. I feel that most of the folks who listen to Clutch music or (spotting my T-shirt) Down music or Mastodon music, these are folks that are real music fans, so they might download something or their buddy might give them an mp3 of something, chances are they’re going to listen to it and if they like it, they’re going to go out and buy that record. Most of the people crying about the downloads are the labels, and the fact is that most records released these days have one or two decent songs on them, the rest are crap, people don’t want to shell out the, whatever, £15-£20 it costs to buy a record, ‘cos it really is a rip-off, its not fair to the fans to shell out that kind of cash for a really mediocre piece of music.

    Moving on now, sometimes your band gets classified as stoner rock, sometimes it’s metal, and I was wondering how you would classify yourselves?

    Rock n roll. Rock n roll, straight up. The beauty of rock n roll, when it came to be, say back in the 50’s, was that it was a combination of all sounds, there was country elements, there was blues elements, there was jazz elements, hillbilly elements, and all these things came together and formed rock n roll and as the years have gone on, there are still some real rock bands out there and they take there influences and mash them into one sound, and I’m really proud of saying that we’re an American rock n roll band.

    When you’re recording as a band, how does a song come together?

    For us, it’s really a grab at. Songs start, sometime I’ll start playing a groove and within 10-15 minutes there’s the basic structure of a song. Sometimes Tim (Sult) will come over with a guitar riff and we’ll beat it up for a while, then we wont touch it for a week, two weeks, maybe a month, then we’ll readdress that same one riff, then that will come into a song. Sometimes Neil (Fallon) will come over and he’ll just have a entire song done, and he’ll say, “I’m not really too sure about it, you guys listen to it”, and we’ll listen to it and say, “No, don’t change anything it’s almost done”. It really a really cool thing, there really is no set way about how the songs come about, it really is a very natural and organic process

    Following on from that, you guys have been around for 15 years now, what is it that keeps you driven as a band?

    I think when we started this band, the intention was to make music and go on tour, and that’s really all we were trying to do. There were no aspirations of rock n roll stardom, we didn’t do it to meet chicks and get laid, we didn’t do it to score a bunch of drugs, we did it because we really wanted to make music. We’ve always kept that as a focus for what were here to do, so when we’ve gone through the troubles of the labels, when we’ve done tours and there haven’t been that many people there, it’s all peripheral stuff, because at the end of the day we’ve accomplished what we set out to do, and that’s to play music, make records and go on tour.

    You play a lot of live shows, I assume that’s because you love the music so much?

    Yeah, we all really do love to play music. My favourite thing in the world is to sit down and play drums; thankfully I’ve found at least one thing I’m halfway good at (laughs), so it’s worked out quite well.

    What’s your favourite aspect of being on tour, other than getting to play the drums?

    There are those moments in the set where it really is a group improvisation, there’s a certain form or perhaps structure that we sort of know, and we put it out there and we never really know what you’re going to get. Those nights that the band clicks are hands down the very best times of my life. It doesn’t always happen, a lot of times we’ll put something out there and it’s a flop. We’re not communicating musically with each other, we’re not seeing eye to eye on how the groove is flowing or whatever, but by that same token the next night you might roll into the club, you’re tired, and you drove for 10 hours and you’re hungover and you had shitty food that day, but you get up on that stage, you know, and 20 minutes in something really magical just happens, and that is my favourite moment.

    You’ve toured with a variety of different bands, from heavy metal to stoner rock and more. What’s you’re favourite tour been?

    Early on we had the opportunity to play with a lot of our favourite bands, those were bands like Sepultura, back in the States we did a tour with them on the Chaos A.D. tour, and we were still kind of green, we learned a lot from those guys, we learned a lot about touring. Later on that year we went out with Prong, and of course like I said they were really influential in our early development and again they’re a great bunch of guys, and we learned a lot from them. More recently, we were just here a few months back with CoC, and they’re really one of my very favourite bands and another good bunch of guys to tour with, and I love to listen to their music, so that makes things fun. We toured with Mastodon a few times back in the States, great band, good guys, good times. It makes all the difference when you’re with musicians that you respect and they’re also good people to share your time with.

    Tonight you’re playing the Underworld, quite a small venue, and this weekend you’re at Download Festival, on a big stage. Which do you prefer?

    The Underworld, any day. It’s a much more intimate situation. I much prefer to play a place like the Underworld. As a music fan, I love to go see music, and there’s something, there’s an energy that happens when you can close enough to the stage, when the drummer smacks the snare drum and you can feel it in your cheeks, you know the feeling? Or he hits that kick drum, you’re not hearing the PA, you’re hearing the sound of that drum and it makes for a much more intimate experience, sometimes its religious. The big stages are fun too, you get to reach a lot of new people, but it’s harder to convey that sort of energy, especially with a band like Clutch, maybe some other bands are better at playing those kinds of big stages than we are, I’ll take the Underworld any day.

    Finally, any words of wisdom for the people out there reading this?

    Well, for the musicians, I would say spend some time and learn your instrument, practice your instrument daily, focus on the music. Don’t spend your time making press kits and writing bios, spend your time listening to records and study daily, and you can’t go wrong.

    Having finished the interview, Jean-Paul asked if I was looking forward to seeing Down at Download over the weekend. When I told him they weren’t scheduled to play, he looked rather disappointed, saying he’d been looking forward to checking them out. So, when Saturday rolled by and I was getting ready to go into the arena and someone mentioned that Down were rumoured to be the secret band, I moved rather quickly and sure enough, as I arrived at the entrance to the arena, Down took the stage. Needless to say, I was quite happy, and would like to thank Jean-Paul for inside info, all be it inadvertent.

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    Anyway, the gig soon began and first to take to the stage were Blindside. Hailing from Stockholm, Sweden, these guys play a fairly lightweight style of rock music, reminiscent of more poppy style QOTSA or perhaps even bands such as Ash and Feeder. Now, it may well be that its been nearly two weeks at the time of writing this that I went to the gig, and I’ve been to Download and seen a lot of live music since, but I really remember very little of Blindside, they made such a small impression. This isn’t to say they were bad, as I would of remembered anything that was shockingly awful, just that they were so bland and ordinary they did very little to grab my attention. They served as a reasonable introduction to there rest of the gig, playing a similar style of rock music to other bands and generally building up anticipation amongst the ever more populated Underworld.

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    Next up were American rockers Soil. This was more to my taste, as they play a more aggressive, hard rock music than Blindside, which I was pleasantly surprised to find myself quite enjoying, given that I had seen Soil before a while ago at another gig and had been quite unimpressed with them at the time. He band played a good set that really seemed to capture the interest of the Underworld, despite battling with microphone problems on, apparently, both stage mics, for a surprisingly protracted period of time. This meant that for the best part of two songs you couldn’t hear anything the vocalist was singing, with additional disruption surrounding the songs. Apart from this unfortunate set back, which fortunately did little to upset the bands passion or the crowds overall enjoyment for the set, which served as an excellent warm up for Clutch.

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    Then finally, as the main attraction, Clutch took to the stage. After a fairly lengthy, half jammed intro, the set got properly underway with the excellent The Mob Goes Wild, immediately getting the crowd moving to the undeniable groove of Clutch. The set continued in much the same fashion, with emphasis on songs from the more recent albums Robot Hive: Exodus, Blast Tyrant and Pure Rock Fury. Usually, this may have presented a problem especially with the more loyal contingent of fans, however, with a band such as Clutch, who seem to only get better with age, this seemed to present very little problem. Songs included in the barn storming, roughly 45 minute long set were Cypress Grove, Profits of Doom, Pure Rock Fury, Burning Beard, 10001110101 and Mice And Gods, with one, several minute free form jam session during the middle of one of the songs (I don’t remember which), which, regardless of whether the band thought it worked (see the interview), I enjoyed immensely.
    One of the few things the set suffered from in my opinion was a lack of the slower, more restrained songs, such as The Regulator, that have been experimented with more by the band on the most recent couple of albums, which would have broken up the set and showcased the bands full range of talents.

    That minor gripe aside, the show was an excellent one, with Clutch more than living up to my hopes and rumours I’d heard about the power of Clutch’s performances. Neil Fallon's voice in particular impressed me, booming out over music in a style of vocal delivery that is, to all intents and purposes, a metal one, and yet every single word is not just audible, but clear and easy to hear. This is particuarly useful as, although some of his lyrics are absolute nonsense, others are well worth listening to. Take the anti- Iraq War sentiments of The Mob Goes Wild, for instance. Especially having seen them again two days later I can confirm that, as well as releasing consistently excellent studio albums, they are also one of the most consistent and first-rate live rock bands I have seen.

    Official Clutch website
     
  2. crybaby teenager

    crybaby teenager New Metal Member

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    horndog Blacker then Sabbath

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  4. VolffMonn

    VolffMonn Bark At The Moon

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    Clutch is heavy stuff. Definers be damned.
     
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    SirJackdeFuzz New Metal Member

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