Clutch: 25 Years of Rock – An Interview with Frontman Neil Fallon

It’s 1991… George H.W. Bush is in the White House, gas is $1.12, the Soviet Union has collapsed, Mariah Carey’s debut album spends 11 weeks atop the billboard charts, and the Simpsons are in season 2. Something else of note took place that year that would send 4 guys from the Maryland area on an incredible 25-year journey and change the lives of music fans forever, the rock and roll band Clutch was born. From 1991 to the present day, the group still operates with the original cast of rockers: Neil Fallon – Vocals/Guitar, Tim Sult – Guitar, Dan Maines – Bass, and Jean-Paul Gaster – Drums/Percussion. During their lengthy career, Clutch has performed countless shows across the globe, released 11 studio albums, and established their own record label, Weathermaker Music. I recently had a chance to talk with frontman Neil Fallon about the band, their tours, and the music.

Libro Musica: For those who have never seen Clutch perform before, what should they expect?

Neil Fallon: They should expect 90 minutes of sincere rock and roll. They’re not going to get a fancy light show, they’re not going to get guys dressed up like they are going out to dinner, we’re just playing our songs the best that we can. I think it also has a lot to do with the crowd that comes out and sees us, it’s a reciprocal good time.

Libro Musica: Clutch just finished a European tour, and closed it out playing at the Reading and Leeds festivals. How was that experience?

Neil: It was good, it was a bit strange in that we played at 12:30 in the afternoon which is usually when we are just rolling out of bed on tour. So, that was a bit of a shock. But the weather was nice, which is always a plus when you’re in England. And to say we played the main stage at Reading and Leeds 25 years into our careers is pretty cool.

Libro Musica: On the next leg of the Psychic Warfare tour, you’re teaming up with Zakk Sabbath (Zakk Wylde’s Black Sabbath Tribute band) and Kyng. How and why did you choose those bands to travel with?

Neil: We have toured with Kyng before, we know those guys very well. They have a new record coming out, and it’s always good to have a band out when they’re supporting a record. We have toured with Black Label Society before and we know “Blasko” (bassist Rob Nicholson, Ozzy Osbourne/Rob Zombie) whom we toured with about 22 years ago. So we know all these people, and going out on tour with people you know and get along with makes it fun for everybody. And we have a lot of mutual fans as well.

Libro Musica: Any chance of you jumping out on stage with Zakk Wylde and belting out some Sabbath tunes?

Neil: I am going to do my best to see if he’ll do some “Dio” Sabbath. I’m not really sure if he goes there, but I wouldn’t mind doing Mob Rules with him.

Libro Musica: If you were in a tribute band, who would you cover?

Neil: It would definitely be an indulgent type of thing, I wouldn’t mind doing a Pink Floyd tribute band, that would be a lot of fun. I also wouldn’t mind doing a Howlin’ Wolf tribute band.

Libro Musica: When you go on stage, do you take on a different persona?

Neil: When you’re on stage, that’s the time to be extroverted and to act like you’re king of the world. But I also know that ends the moment you step off of the stage. I’m pretty civil most of the time but I get a chance for 90 minutes to scream into a microphone, and I think my nervous energy and my body language reflects that. But that’s just those 90 minutes. It’s not a different persona like David Bowie versus Ziggy Stardust, it’s an exaggerated version of myself.

Libro Musica: I saw that you have a show scheduled at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC later this year. You have played there in the past and recorded a live show there as well. Other notable artists have graced the stage at this intimate club. What is the draw to this venue?

Neil: For us, that was the local club of clubs growing up in the 80s. If you could play the 9:30 Club then you have made it in the local scene. The original capacity of the club was maybe 400-500 if that, they’ve since moved to a bigger spot. The thing with that club is, the people that work there are so dedicated to making it a great experience for the fans and the bands. And that’s what bands remember, because bands spend most of their time going to shitboxes that no one gives a damn about. So when you go to a place that does care, it stands out and that’s one of them. It’s also has great sound, the lines of sight are really good for everyone in the room; that’s where I go to see shows. It’s got a great history.

Libro Musica: You have your own record label, Weathermaker Music, what was the definitive moment that you realized that you needed to do things on your own?

Neil: We spent the better part of the 90s signed to major labels, when that period ended we tried it for ourselves, but not at 100%. Then we signed a deal with a label called DRT where we put out Blast Tyrant, Beale Street To Oblivion, and Robot Hive/Exodus and that was supposed to be a 50/50 deal, well it ended up being 0/0. We went to court and sued them and in the process we won those 3 records back. At that point we said “What do we do?”. We could try to find another label, but it just keeps getting worse. Just because somebody is an independent label doesn’t mean they’re good business people. So we decided to give it a shot on our own. We hired a great label manager, Stefan Koster to run this thing and because of the internet, now it allows us to cut out so many middle people that we only have 1 or 2 steps before the record gets into the hands of the fans. It’s been a learning process, but it was a game changer for us. I only have 1 regret, that we didn’t do it from the beginning. But in hindsight, I could say that we would have never gotten the tour support to open up for bands like Sepultura, Marilyn Manson, and others. The labels allowed us to do that and get our name out there by playing live, and I don’t think we would’ve been able to do that if we were independent.

Libro Musica: You have the re-issue of Full Fathom 5: Audio Field Recordings coming out, are you a big vinyl fan?

Neil: I have some vinyl records. To be honest I spend most of my time listening to music on really shitty speakers as in the form of MP3s, I’m not an audiophile and I like to switch songs frequently. But I do enjoy that when you put on a record you’ve actually dedicated some time to listen to music, because you know in 15 minutes you’re going to have to flip it over to side 2. It’s a bit of a ritual, I think it slows down your day, it’s kind of zen in some ways. And to have Full Fathom 5 to come out is cool. You know, in 2017 we’re going to be spending our time writing music and to have something new come out will be good.

Libro Musica: Any idea if you would re-issue Live in Flint ?

Neil: Sure, I think that’s possible. We are re-issuing the La Curandera vinyl that will be available in October. We would love to re-issue the major label releases, but I think that may not happen anytime soon, but we haven’t given up on it.

Libro Musica: Any idea on when the next Bakerton Group release will be?

Neil: It’s TBA, kind of in a holding pattern indefinitely. We are currently talking about the next Clutch record and I know that will take up all of our focus and creative energies for the next 18 months.

Libro Musica: Speaking of your next album, which producer will you be going with? You have worked with Machine and J. Robbins in the past, are they in the mix for this project or will you be going in a different direction?

Neil: We don’t know, that’s something we have to discuss. I think it depends where we want to do it, when we want to do it, what’s the vibe of the music. Deciding on a producer now would be putting the carriage in front of the horse because we haven’t really written any songs yet, so we’ll need to do that first.

Libro Musica: What is your favorite record that you have worked on?

Neil: There’s something to be said about all of them. To me, I listen to the self-titled record and although there’s a lot of things and we could all play those songs better now than we did then, that was the record that I think we all had that collective eureka moment and said “Oh this is the band we are”. What preceded that was just testing the waters and different things, you know it wasn’t done in an exotic place, it was done here in Maryland over a couple of weeks. That to me, was the one that set the course.

Libro Musica: As your sound has progressed through the years, do you go into recording with the intention of creating a new sound or experimenting? Or is it more of a natural occurrence that just comes to you as you play together?

Neil: I think that’s something, at least myself, I wrestle with whether it be themes and lyrics or riffs. Most artists don’t want to repeat themselves, but at the same time we’ve also learned that there are certain strengths that we have that got us here to begin with, and that’s what the fans like. We would never write a record thinking OK, what will just the fans like because they would see right through it. We have to follow our gut and not overthink it too much. And if your instincts are taking you to a place that seems like uncharted territory, then sure go for it. We have the luxury of trying out some new things, within reason. I mean we’re not going to switch instruments and start playing chamber music.

Libro Musica: Staying on the topic of progressing, I hear a lot from fans that they appreciate how you guys have evolved and changed things up and not just repeated the same thing over and over again.

Neil: *interjecting* That’s got to be incredibly depressing. I’ve met folks that do that for the money and they know it and other people do. It’s kind of a dark place to be, because I think the creative impulse whether it be music, painting, or writing; the joy of creating something new and unexpected is not there. That’s one of the reasons I take guitar lessons, and I try to learn new guitar parts to become a better guitar player. So maybe, I’ll learn something new at the age of 44 and it can end up in a song. The other part of the equation is living life as a student, because if you start thinking oh well I wrote a song that everybody loves I’ll just do it another 40 times and that’s all I need to do…that’s not music, that’s not art. That’s just a factory job and you might as well just hang it up.

Clutch will be continuing their Psychic Warfare tour on September 28th traveling to 24 US cities, and then on to Europe once again in November. Further cementing themselves as possibly the hardest working band in music.

Chris Rodriguez Written by: