For over two decades, Clutch has evolved into one of the most versatile and hardest working bands in the business. They can play anywhere from one short festival set or they can show off their stamina by playing 3 hours to fill up a whole night. On top of being live performance monsters, they also have the magic touch in the studio. They have put out nine albums with the most recent release, Strange Cousins from the West, coming from their self started D.I.Y. record label Weathermaker. I got to sit down and ask some questions with Neil Fallon from the legendary band after sound check for their show at the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh, NC.
– Sam Huff
SH: Besides your own, what beard do you admire the most?
NF: I guess I don’t pay much attention to it. My beard is not so much for wanting a beard but is more for lack of shaving…King Xerxes of Persia.
SH: You all have some odd time songs. How does that process work? Does the riff come in 4/4 or is it brought in an odd time?
NF: It can happen a number of ways. It happens like you said maybe someone wrote a riff maybe in an odd time. Or it will be like you said sometimes we will have a riff in eight and we will add or subtract one (beat). I think the best ones are the ones that we don’t even realize they are in an odd time until later on. I think 4/4 is great, but sometimes it’s more intellectually or artistically satisfying to play something in an odd time.
SH: When you write lyrics for a song in an odd time are you consciously thinking about how to fit your lyrics into the frame?
NF: If you are thinking about it that way it’s really hard. But if I stop thinking about it that way and just do it then it is easy. It’s just a little bit of a mind trick. 4/4 will prejudice you against the AB rhyme scheme…you have to find a way to break free of that sometimes simplistic approach. But at the same time you don’t want to over think it. Sometimes odd time music, to me, can be show-offy. “We’re gonna do this in 13 because we can. It sounds like hell but we are gonna do it.”
SH: The Bakerton group is an instrumental band which is essentially the same members as Clutch. Do you have any favorite instrumental bands?
NF: Yeah. There is a great band from D.C. called Caverns. There is another one from Baltimore called Dark Water Transit. I don’t know if they are still around. Jean Paul just turned me on to this band, Stanton Moore is in it, called Garage a Trios. He saw them a couple weeks ago and said they were outstanding. He played me some of their stuff and I was really floored by that.
SH: When The Bakerton Group opens up for Clutch is it an advantage to have warmed up or does it sometimes become over bearing to play that much in a night?
NF: It certainly doesn’t warm up the vocals.
SH: So it could benefit everyone except you?
NF: In a Clutch set, at the most, I could play a half a dozen songs on the guitar. There was a point in time when we’re doing The Bakerton Group and then two Clutch sets. And there were times when it was over three hours…its fun, but it’s not something that I would want to do regularly. Vocally you can overexert yourself, and once that happens it takes days if not weeks to recover. I have to be a little bit smarter about it than just going for it.
SH: Have you all learned or changed anything health wise to help to be able to play such long sets?
NF: The older you get the harder it is for your body to process the garbage you eat on tour. In particularly alcohol. We have never been a “bad” band, other than beer and pizza. I think nowadays it is remembering about tomorrow. But it is hard to do that when it is midnight and you are really amped about the set you just played and there is all that you can drink for free and a big box of fried chicken. That is all awesome right then and there, but then the next night you are like “Well, maybe I shouldn’t have done that.” And…just don’t eat a big Mexican combination #4 plate right before you play. Other than that we don’t think about it too much. Staying hydrated is a big thing.
SH: Clutch has been a part of many different tours with many different types of bands. Has there ever been a time when you hear what bands you are going to be playing with and you say to yourself “This is going to be a strange line up.”?
NF: But which one would have been the right one? I have often thought about that…like “Would there have been a band that would make perfect sense?” But I don’t think there ever was.
We were doing the Black Label (Society) tour and we were playing in Montreal, and I think we were perceived as The Allman Brothers or something. They couldn’t handle the non-metalness of it. There have been other times when we have been perceived as the most metal band there is because of the audience we were playing for. We look at it as we will play with anyone, anywhere, anytime. You can’t always preach to your own choir. The way you get new fans is by taking a chance and looking at the front row that is giving you the finger. Which they invariably do because they are there for the headliner. Meanwhile, there are a thousand people in the back hearing you for the first time that are going to come to more shows or at least go check us out online that night.
When bands open for us, because we’ve toured with a lot of different kinds of bands, Clutch fans are pretty open minded. However, I think the one thing that Clutch fans detect very easily is bullshit and insincerity. There have been great bands that you would swear they had all the right sounds, but the fans realize they were fake, insincere or just going through the motions and they got eaten alive…I think that’s kind of cool.
SH: I agree. You guys are real. That is one of the reasons why I am such a big Clutch fan.
NF: I think major labels, they were kind of bummed that we were always so real. They saw that as a curse, not a blessing. It’s too difficult to live up to some manufactured ideal. When you’re lazy, like I am, it’s easier to just be real. Then you don’t have to think about it.
SH: Out of the entire Clutch Catalog, what is the one song that in any situation or venue will get the crowd going?
NF: Electric Worry, which is kind of a new song for us. If this band has had anything close to a hit that’s it. We play it pretty often, but we don’t play it every night. Because, at least for us, when you start playing something every night you start day dreaming or going through the motions. That’s when the mistakes happen. That one usually goes over pretty well.
SH: If you had the opportunity to pick a tour line up with any band or artist, dead or alive, what would the lineup be?
NF: Oh man…this would be completely selfish, but probably my three favorite bands ever. Well, they are pretty much everyone else’s favorite bands. I wouldn’t know who would headline, but I would have to do a tour with The Band of Gypsies, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. And that’s just for more of being able to walk around back stage. Those are three bands I never saw also.
If you were talking about alive bands, there is this notion sometimes that if you open up for this huge band it’s a huge break. I really think that’s not the case. Because people going to see Metallica or AC/DC could give a rats ass who’s opening up for them. I know several bands that have gone on tour with Metallica for long, long, long periods of time.
SH: Like Down or C.O.C.?
NF: Yeah, or The Sword. I don’t think any Metallica fans could tell you who was opening up for them. That’s just the nature of the beast.
Same with AC/DC. We got to see them in Sydney, Australia at Olympic Stadium. Wolf Mother was opening up for them. I thought “Here’s this Australian Orgy” and nobody gave a fucking…nobody even knew Wolf Mother was there. They are not my favorite band in the world, but I still thought it would be cool.
I think it’s just the phenomena of the Mega act. They want to go see that band play for close to two hours and get out. Having said that, I would still want to do a tour with Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and The Band of Gypsies.