(Probably) The Best Band in the World – Clutch

I felt the need to tell somebody, anybody, after I found out that Clutch are going to record a new album pretty soon. I got out on the street shouting at random people “Hey, awesome news! We’re gonna have a new Clutch album pretty soon!!?” I was met with blank stares and confused looks. People were asking “What’s an album?” but mostly “Who the hell is this Clutch fellow?”. Before this unfortunate turn of events, I kept thinking Clutch’s popularity in Greece was growing steadily, why else are these guys doing and booking more concerts over here year after year? Not that I’m complaining. Seems though that their sound as a band has a high acquaintance threshold, and while more people have heard of them, not all get hooked enough to learn more. I set out this day to right this wrong.

After having gathered some pieces from Clutch interviews for the article, I realized that, although I was kinda going for an initiation article on Clutch, what I was getting looked more like something a longtime Clutch fan was probably going to enjoy more. Then I decided that they don’t really need any kind of introduction, that they should just be heard since their groove is so sublime mere words will not do it justice. So then my fellow Clutch newbie, this is all you need to start your foray into the world of their music, taken from an interview about their latest work, Earth Rocker:

[…] We’ll listen to the collective work and we’ll ask ourselves, “What does this record need?” Usually, nine times out of 10 in the past, we’d say, “We need to write a couple more fast songs,” because a lot of our songs sit in the Clutch tempo, 95 beats per minute or thereabouts, and that’s comfortable for us […].

If 95 bpm sounds about right for you, then your time would probably be better spent listening to one of their albums instead of reading on. Unless of course you want to read the spoilers to the questions you will start musing after listening to a couple of their albums. It’s mostly Neil Fallon, the face of Clutch doing the answering in these interviews.


So here it is, I will shut up now and keep the cluttering from my own comments to a minimum to let you enjoy their thoughtful answers to things like…

…Who they were before Clutch:

Neil Fallon
We had a high school band; a hardcore band called Moral Minority, which I played guitar in terribly. Then we had another band called N.S.A., the National Security Agency. That was very short lived. Then I went off to school and these guys (the rest of Clutch) started a band called Glut Trip, and I filled in one night for the singer of Glut Trip who wasn’t able to do the show, and then I’ve been there since. We didn’t get “Clutch” until a couple months later. I think we always intended on changing the name, and never really got around to it.

Jean-Paul Gaster
Well, we had a different singer and we weren’t Clutch back then; there was a guy named Roger Smalls, who we used to play with, who claimed he was as good as HR, and he only practiced a week. The trouble with Roger though, was that he didn’t want to play shows. We asked Neil to come play a gig, and I remember we were rehearsing with him, and I was like you know, that sounds pretty good, do you want to sing for us regular? And he thought I was saying basically ‘don’t yell’ just sing regularly. (laughs) So he was kind of confused by that. But yeah, and then we changed the name to Clutch, and been playing like that since 1991.

…Their opinions on musical identity:

Jean-Paul Gaster
Everyone in this band has been playing music for so long that we have our own sound and identity. I know I’ve strived for that on the drums. I feel like that’s something that’s missing in music nowadays. Everyone is trying to sound like the next guy, rather than create their own sound. And I’m proud that everyone in this band has their own identity and their own approach to the music, which is unique to anything else out there right now.

Neil Fallon
“When you try to advertise yourself – dress in a certain way and such – it’s a marketing thing. We are this kind of band because we are wearing this and you already know what we sound like. That really trivializes the music,” continues Fallon. “I’m glad that over the years I can come back into clubs we played 20 years ago and they have promo pictures of us on the wall and there’s not one promo picture where I think, ‘Goddamn, why was I wearing that?’ I know there are plenty of bands that look at their promo picture from 1993 and go, ‘Oh shit!’

…Their lyrical complexity and “hidden meanings”:

Neil Fallon
I think it has to be a balance of both. One of my biggest self-criticisms is over-thinking and over-writing, being too wordy. Sure, you’ve got to have justification for your lyrics because you’re conveying information, but you’re also conveying sounds. I need to strike the balance. If things are so literal, and there’s no room for interpretation, it’s just kind of dead upon arrival. A lot of times I couldn’t tell you exactly what it is, and that’s what makes it interesting. If I had to justify every line that I wrote, I’d go blue in the face. I do think about it quite a bit. I listen to the music and ask, “could this stand on its own without the music?” Usually that’s a pretty good test.

Also about the infamous 10001110101.

I did it randomly at a practice once, and said, “It would be cool to have a binary code in a song,” did it, and then realized there’s a whole world of people that are really into binary code and were asking me, “does it mean this?” and images that could be generated. I had to break it to them that it was random. Some people still don’t believe that. That was one of those things where the rhythm just sounded good. I didn’t want to subordinate rhythm to some secret message.

Neil Fallon
But a lot of people out there read into everything, and look to artists as if artists are privy to some kind of superior knowledge base, where that’s usually the opposite of the case (laughs).

…Their opinion on playing music (live) :

Neil Fallon
It does piss me off when I hear people lamenting the fact that, oh now bands have to go out and play music to make a living. Like fuck off! That’s the whole point. I mean records… If you consider the entire history of culture and then music, records are still a brand new technology. Live music has been around for tens of thousands of years. And that should be the joy of it, performing your music for other people. And to act as if this is your cross to bear because of file sharing is, I think, reprehensible.

Dan Maines
We try to (change the set list each night). We have this system. We actually take turns writing the set list. Last night was Neil’s night so tonight would be Tim’s night. It is something we can do that keeps things less monotonous and kind of keeps us on our toes and makes the sets more enjoyable for us which is going to be more enjoyable for everybody else watching.

Jean-Paul Gaster
At this point it becomes like a school play, and you’re sort of just running through something that you’ve done 1000 times. And, you know, if you can do that, then more power to you. I can’t get excited about that, and it does a disservice to the audience that comes, because an audience come to see a rock ‘n’ roll show, they’re not there to see a school play.

…Their genre-defying musical style:

Jean-Paul Gaster
We were lucky enough to be able to get on the road almost immediately when we started playing, and after a couple years on the road I realized you know, this is what I’m here to do, I’m here to play drums. I don’t take it for granted, I practice every day, and I play every day, and think about music every day.

Neil Fallon
I think music is like… anything else, it’s like a muscle. The more you use it, the easier it gets. And the more fun it becomes… Take a break from it? I don’t know, I guess I never feel compelled to do that.

…On being a rocker:

Neil Fallon
It’s fun. There are days it’s not, but honestly the worst day of being in a rock band is better than the best day of sitting in a cubicle at a bank.

In closing, here’s a quote that’s actually from Lemmy, that just made my day:

Neil Fallon, on a tour Clutch did with Motorhead
[…] Probably the coolest thing is I got to sing a song with them on stage which was just mind-blowing. I sang “Killed By Death” with them and at one point on the tour Lemmy told me that “Electric Warrior” was our “Ace of Spades” and if he had to play that song every night than we had to play “Electric Warrior”. I was pretty speechless when I walked away from that conversation.

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