We’d bet good money that you’ve never seen a live band better than Maryland rockers, Clutch. Don’t even pretend you know better. Which is why we sent Amit Sharma to corner drummer Jean-Paul Gaster when the band played in London last week..
Strange Cousins From The West sounds killer! How did you come up with the album title?
“It’s one of the lines out of the song ‘Minotaur’ – it seems like that’s one of the most difficult things for us to do: actually naming the album, we always struggle with that for some reason! Neil [Fallon, vocals] is usually best at that, he writes all the lyrics for the band (thankfully). We kicked around some ideas and that sort of struck a chord – it’s a real visual kinda thing and I think everyone’s probably got some strange cousins from the West!”
How come you didn’t have “Evil” Joe Barresi producing it like last time?
“We love Joe Barresi, he did a fantastic job on Beale Street. This one was the first Clutch record for Weathermaker and it’s quite an investment to produce a record when you’re the label, the band and run the whole show. I think quite honestly economics had a lot to do with it – it would have been very costly to get the whole band out to California and record out there, as much fun as we would have, it wouldn’t make sense. So we kinda rethought it and ended up working with J. Robbins who also did The Bakerton Group record, and he’s a local music legend.
“He’s been in a lot of bands from D.C – he came out playing bass in Government Issue, Jawbox and Burning Airlines. We’ve known him for a lot of years and definitely rely on his expertise, and more than anything he’s just really easy to work with – it’s really a pleasure to go over there. And it was driving distance, I’d get up in the morning at whatever hour, have a cup of coffee and then be out the door, listen to some tunes on the way to the studio. It worked out for the best I think and we’re proud of the results!”
What was the writing process for this album – it seems to have that classic Clutch organic ‘jam’ vibe?
“I’ve got a little home studio so my house ends up being the place where we jam and usually we get off a tour, take a week or two off, and then the guys will come over and we’ll just kick around some ideas – it might be a riff, a drum beat, it might be a sketch of a song that Neil has. The idea is to not spend too much time on it, we’d kick around an idea, maybe find another idea that would compliment that, another riff, and we don’t think too much about it – we try not to think about making ‘good’ songs so much as thinking about making a piece that seems to groove and have a nice pocket.
“We’ll spend maybe 45 minutes or an hour on something like that, record it, call it something, put it in the computer and then we don’t listen to it again until its time to make the record. So when we started putting the tunes together for Strange Cousins we had a huge pile of riffs, maybe a hundred riffs, so we start going through those things and sometimes cannibalise them – take one part and put it with another – and those are really the building blocks of the record.”
Watch the video to ‘50,000 Unstoppable Watts’ by Clutch
Out of all the bands you’ve toured with – who are the most fun to be on the road with?
“Well I gotta be honest, these guys Kamchatka that we have out with us are friends from Sweden – great guys – but more than anything, great players that are really inspiring to be around. We see eye to eye on a lot of music, very different sounding bands but its great to have inspiration like that around you, surround yourself with players who are of a higher calibre than you – these guys smoke!”
How’s Weathermaker Music doing, are there any plans to expand / sign up other artists – as at the moment it’s just Clutch and Bakerton Group?
“That’s correct – just Clutch and Bakerton Group. We don’t plan on releasing any other bands, when we started this venture it was very much about Clutch and us finding that outlet to put our music out there and make it available to everybody. One of the toughest thing about being in this band over the years is dealing with these labels. When you cut that element out of the picture things become a lot easier – so we’ve had a really good time over the past year and a half getting that label up and running, making the Bakerton Group record, making a Clutch record. We’re already kicking around ideas for another Clutch record so for now, no – no plans to do that.”
I heard that Maryland cookies are not sold in Maryland – that’s a bit like Aussies not watching Neighbours or drinking VB…
“That’s correct – that’s just marketing. I really enjoy Maryland cookies but that’s something we look forward when we are back in the UK. We get Maryland cookies, we get those little apple pies you get in all the services – Kippers or something like that? Maryland is known for crabs – just crabs. That’s what you do in Maryland – on a hot summer day you go out, get a bit portion of crabs and a whole bunch of cold beer and pick crabs all afternoon.
You guys have a huge blues influence – which blues artists inspired you most?
“I think when we first really started listening to that kind of music it was the guys from the late 60’s / early 70’s – obviously Hendrix was huge. After we made ourselves familiar with those kinds of records – for me its about going back and trying to find the roots of where that music came from. So then guys like Howlin’ Wolf came into the picture, guys like Lightnin Hopkins came into the picture. Obviously Robert Johnson – you can’t deny him.
“And then guys like Skip James. The Chicago sound Im quite a fan of as well, those Muddy Waters records, Jonny Winter too – he’s a great player. Stevie Ray Vaughan was one of the very first concerts I ever saw….and it was amazing! So maybe we take that a little for granted, the idea of the blues – it’s something we’ve been around since we were kids and not something we made a point of like ‘We’re gonna play in a blues rock band now’. Our favourite records were those kinds of records and you can’t help but end up taking a little bit of something from that kind of music.”
Watch the video to ‘The Mob Goes Wild’ by Clutch
It’s not just the end of the year, but the end of the decade as well– what is the album of the decade for you?
“Well I gotta be honest… most of the records I buy and listen to are not metal or rock records. It’s difficult to get inspired by some of the new heavy music that’s going on now. There are some bands making inspiring music – I feel that latest Mastodon record is a really powerful piece of music with some great playing too you know? I think those guys really understand the idea that you really have to have your own voice, your own identity. So many of the bands coming out these days are just clones of everybody else. From a drumming standpoint, there are guys out there that can play incredibly fast and incredibly intricate things but their knowledge of the drums starts around 1994. And if you’re not going back and studying what the drums did to lead up to that, I don’t think you’re being honest about being a drummer – you have to have a sense of history there. So I think the Mastodon record is really great.
“One of my favourite albums that came out in the past ten years was by an organist Robert Walter, he made a record called Super Heavy Organ. Two of my favourite drummers play on that – Stanton Moore and Johnny Vidacovich – both guys from New Orleans, similar in sound. It’s interesting to hear the contract between the two cos Johhny came from the generation before so he’s a little bit more steep in the roots of the sound – and that record is one of my favourites ones, it’s amazing to me. So Super Heavy Organ – check that one out. Also check out Kamchatka – Thomas is a beast!”
What would say have been your career highs and lows over the decade?
“We’ve gone through a lot – I’d say the low was right at the beginning of the decade, we got dropped by Atlantic Records. Getting dropped is nothing new to us, it’s happened time and time again. But things were beginning to change then, I think these labels were starting to lose some of that money and the music industry wasn’t selling as many records. So it became very difficult for a band like us who at the time weren’t even a mid level band – we had been around for 10 years but still it wasn’t worthwhile for these labels (time or money) to get involved with the band. We ended up signing with DRT, made some good records with them but prior to that was a tough time for the band you know? We weren’t really sure what we were gonna do – that was the low point.
“And the high point is Strange Cousins From The West – here we are not even 10 years later – we run our own label, we tour internationally, everybody’s married, happy, we got kids on the way – everybody’s doing great so it’s a good time – and we genuinely enjoy making music.”
Strange Cousins From The West by Clutch is out now on Weathermaker Music.