You know Clutch, that band that got a song on to ‘The Walking Dead’? Yeah them.
Well recently, in fact just a day before their sold out KoKo show was due to warm the hearts of a thousand or so fans, I got a chance to chat to Dan Maines, their bassist. Oh yes.
Clutch remain one of my favourite bands – ever. From their début album Transnational Speedway League in 1993, through to Strange Cousins From The West in 2009 they are a band that has shown true artistic vision, and consistently made albums that any fan of rock or metal should own.
‘Earth Rocker’ is the bands latest offering to the world of rock and is due for release on March 19th 2013 via the bands own label, Weathermaker Music. Clutch Guitarist Tim Sult states that “It might be the best Clutch album that has ever existed,” . I listened to it recently, and I wholeheartedly agree. Clutch consists of Neil Fallon-Vocals/Guitar, Jean-Paul Gaster-Drums, Dan Maines-Bass and Tim Sult-Guitar, if you didn’t already know.
Excitement didn’t much cover the emotions I experienced as I walked into the lobby of the hotel for an interview, and saw members of the Maryland rockers casually reclining in the separate area out of sight of the street.
As I was kindly ushered over to Clutch bassist, Dan Maines, I admit I felt a little more than fangirl too. I hid it well, I think.
Here is what went down.
Firstly, I listened to ‘Earth Rocker’ the other day, congratulations!
Awwh, thank you!
It’s frikkin’ awesome! I went a bit spazzy over it. Explain to me firstly how this album differs from the previous albums, lets just get this out the way.
In comparison to ‘Strange Cousins from the West’, the last one that we made, the overall tempo of the album s definitely more upbeat, it’s a little more tense, the songs have a bit more ‘in your face’ vibe to them [because] some of the stuff on Strange Cousins was laid back somewhat.
They’re more structured as well aren’t they..
I think the songs are a bit more straight forward, yeah. Straight ahead rockers really.
Do you think being out on tour with Thin Lizzy and Motorhead had a massive impact on how it turned out? From like, watching the crowd reaction to this more straight forward rock and roll stuff and you all went “oh maybe this is the direction we need to go in”?
Yeah, I don’t think it was a conscious process that we were aware of at the time. But now that it’s done and looking back on it, those two tours definitely did have a big influence on us. Both as far as the energy of the songs I think, um, you know the Motorhead vibe shines through a little bit.
Yeah! There is definitely more of a rocking sneer going on…
Yeah, and Thin Lizzy has more of a chord orientated song structure to their song writing. I’ve always considered Clutch to be a riff orientated band and it is, but I think a few of these songs we kind of stepped outside of that and tried to inject more of a chord progression approach to it.
‘Cyborg Betty’ is one example I can think of where the foundation of the song is the riff but instead of going for another riff we tried to use a chord structure as the basis of the chorus.
It works because you feel like you can sing along to this more, you sort of know what to expect and can prepare yourself…
Yeah, I mean a chord is going to give Neil a lot more freedom lyrically and I think as a listener the music at that point becomes more background and you are focusing more on the melody and the lyrical content of Neil’s, that’s where the singing along comes.
You know, that’s true, I had it on repeat almost all day yesterday although I was listening to ‘Cousins’ as well ’cause ’50,000 Watts’ always does my head in, in a good way obviously! I did find myself automatically remembering the choruses on Earth Rocker. So er, I think it is had done it’s job. Did you find in the studio that having to approach something you’d written/recorded before in a very different way brought more stumbling blocks?…or did you find it a very easy transition?
Well we had worked with Machine (producer of the record) previously and he kinda has a unique approach to recording bands. It’s not ‘everybody get in a room and play a song whilst he pushed record’, it’s a much more mapped out methodical process and which can be strange and very unfamiliar for a band but we’ve worked way before with him in the past so we knew going into it what it was going to be like.
I think for these songs that approach works well, you’re basically recording one instrument at a time individually and it really allows you to focus on your part and also all the songs were fleshed out prior to recording.
How is that going to translate live? Where you’ve all recorded individually. Cause you’ve stopped the ‘jam’ approach. Do you think it’s going to be more difficult to maintain the emotion playing live with having to be more structured than your previous material?
No, not at all I think in the studio it benefited me in a sense that I already had a very good notion of what Neil was going to do lyrically on the songs and I could adjust my parts to support the vocals more, where sometimes we go into the studio and we record a song the lyrics are the last thing that anybody hears.
I mean he does a good job of finding his place within the music it’s nice to be able to know ahead of time what he was going to do lyrically…then adjust.
So it’s less stressful?
Yeah, it’s was much less stressful, it was an easy record to make.
Will it be a process that you’ll continue? Because obviously Clutch are known for their experimentation..
Yeah, I think that we will at least take the knowledge of knowing that when a song’s fleshed out as much as possible before you go into the studio that it’s going to be advantageous.
I have a feeling that this album is gonna be very well received. You guys are effectively sort of underground heroes really, you’ve been going for decades, close to 20 years, yet you have always remained not the underdog but…
We’re definitely underground.
Yeah, underground. So, what’s gonna happen if this new style, the more ‘in your face extremely radio friendly, chorus friendly more accessible to an even wider audience’ album… catapults you up in to that level of no longer being the ‘underground’ band?
I’m ready for it. (laughs)
You’ve been waiting 15 years for it!(laughs)
We’ve always been very happy with where we are and what we’ve achieved, we’re not complacent but we never had aspirations of being rock-stars you know? In the very beginning we just wanted to play shows to as many people as we can and whether it’s a hundred people, a thousand people, or a hundred thousand people that mentality has always been a constant for us.
I’d just love to be able to carry on this momentum and you know, not wait another 3-4 years to put out another record. The time period between Strange Cousins and this one was long. We tour, a lot, and we’re gonna be touring heavily on this record and it can be difficult to write songs when you’re touring that much and you know, we’ll just take it day by day.
With having a commercial interest in Weathermaker, your own label, if this does catapult you up a level, is it going to become more difficult for you to maintain a creative angle when you have to be dealing with a lot more of the business side of the label…or do you think it will shift?
Well luckily we have people who work with us within the label that help out tremendously with the day-to-day things and they have, you know, more knowledge than we do as far as what keeps us surviving and you know we try not to overwhelm ourselves within the label.
The original idea was to just put out Clutch material, that was um, the only focus, and then we began to slowly expand outside of that sphere but still keeping it within our family.
I think the key thing for Weathermaker is to not, you know, get too ambitious with it, just keep in mind what were the reasons for starting the label in the first place.
Cos it’s caused such a stir you having your own label…everyone’s all…’oh my god they’ve got their own label…now what..’
You know it was something that the only goal was to benefit Clutch as a band to allow us to work the way we wanted to work it…we were…weren’t entertaining this idea of signing with every band that we’re fans of.
It’s not a money-making scheme…
It’s not a money-making scheme no, exactly, it’s a tool that allows the band to work the way…more along the ways we wanna work you know? There’s added elements to that, whereas instead of going to a studio and the bills taken care of, now we’ve gotta take care of the bill, you know that element of it is...
Makes it more exciting again?
It is more exciting, you know, it’s not stressful at all.
It’s going back to the grass roots it’s like ‘we need the money to do this before we can do it’.
It’s actually less stressful because we know, we know what needs to be taken care of and we’re trying our best to take care of it, yeah exactly.
That would probably free up the creative mind more so really, rather than thinking ‘yeah, I’ve got a hundred grand to pay up after we finish recording and touring this album’ or ‘we need our next advance’
It does, it gives you a lot of confidence.
Do you think Earth Rocker’s gonna cause waves among your fans?
As an album?
Yeah, because it’s a bit different to your usual output..
I hope so, I hope that it will be well received and I’m really happy with it. I think it is a very consistently great album, from beginning to end. It has an immediate uplifting vibe to it, it keeps it’s…it just keeps going that way.
Over how long a period, did you lay down all the tracks? Because to keep something that upbeat for a whole album…
So you did it all quick and that’s how you’ve kept the momentum going?
Yeah, and that goes back to how Machine works, it’s very…one on one off, when it’s time to do bass nobody else is in the studio, it’s just me and Machine and we just cranked it out.
I think that both styles of recording have it’s place, whether you go into a room together as a band and you play the song from beginning to end and you’re not worried about going back over it and fixing the stuff…but it’s capturing that live sound you know that has it’s place, with this record, I don’t think that this was, the approach we took paid off it just…worked.
What track are you most looking forward to playing live and watching the audience reaction? The one that stands out most for you.
I think D.C. Sound Attack is a song that has elements that are very Clutch, like for an average Clutch listener, right off the bat instantly recognises it as very Clutch…it also has a sound to it that we’ve never really put on a record before and that’s the go-go sound that we do quite a bit live whenever we kind of go off on a tangent.
So you know jamming out a song, so take Big News I for example, with a laid back tune at the beginning, when we start to jam it Jean-Paul will sometimes fall into this go-go which is D.C. specific.
I can hear it in my head now, it’s goooood…
Yeah, well that’s a type of music that originated in our home area and has always been an influence on us but we never really put it into a song properly until now.
Who is Mr Freedom?
Who is Mr Freedom? I dunno, I think…
Cos I saw it immediately as Obama (laughs). Immediately, when I read the lyrics, I was ‘this is Obama!’ or Bush…..
I would say it’s somebody who is, you know, hyper-reactionary in their political views and I think that shows us the nature of politics in general. Especially in the states where you’re getting most of your information about politicians and it’s a new…it’s a T.V. Orientated approach to getting your information now, and the nature of TV is just very soundbite-ish.
That song actually really stood out to me, it really did, after reading the lyrics it’s like ‘this is gonna go down well with the disillusioned public’….
In the way politicians talk or even the way they present their audience on TV it’s very television commercial oriented it’s not laying down facts, facts are the last thing they’ve concerned with. They’re just trying to create a very emotional response that is gonna stick in your head.
That’s the very ‘picture perfect 1950′s style we love our President’ waving a flag and you’re not sure what’s going on type thing. I wanna ask about the album art. To me when I looked at it, it was an American Indian in Tron! What’s the theory behind the art and what does it actually relate to?
Well, Neil our singer is really the one who really spearheaded the concept of the cover and he had a couple of different ideas but the idea of a face. Right from the very beginning was gonna be the focus of the cover and also the sense of motion. One of the first things that really caught his attention was hood ornaments from 1950′s and 60′s American auto-mobiles.
There’s quite a few from manufacturers like Buick and auto-mobiles that would use an Indian head but elongated, it’s had a sense of motion to it, or depth, and so we gave that original and very basic concept to Nick our art director for the record.
So it’s like a retro moving video…
Also we tried to project a Sci-Fi vibe to it.
So was it Tron, was it actually Tron?
It was a movie that has made a big impression on me! and Neil was a big fan too and that linear graphic concept idea was something we brought in earlier on too.
It’s really interesting to look at, it’s one of those album covers that makes you think but you’re not sure why.
It has a very retro and futuristic look to it, it’s very…you can’t really place it in any specific time period. But it’s very much kind of…it’s a timeless image, it’s iconic and in many ways it reminds me of that Motorhead cover…
it also reminds me of..oh, whats that film…the robot…
Yes! that’s the one.
That’s another thing that was brought up early on in the discussion, was, the direction that we wanted to take was that feel.
That’s what I’m getting from it.
I’m glad. That it did, it came through.
It did indeed.How are you guys, with regards to art? You’re still very much into creating a physical product. There’s a lot that goes into the album cover and it’s not just a case of ‘we like that one enough, do it’, it seems that there is a lot of emotion behind it with Clutch, how are you guys reacting to the digital age where everything is becoming MP3, and how are you gonna work with it?
I think it’s, you can’t view it as a negative but you have to view it as a positive. I take advantage of the digital aspect myself when I purchase a record, I have to make the decision ‘do I want to download this record from iTunes or do I wanna go to the store and buy a CD?’ I think as a band you have to put a lot of effort and time into putting together a good package that’s going to motivate somebody to go to the store and buy a record.
I think that’s something a lot of people have lost, is opening up a record. There are so many bands that I listen to still today that the only reason I bought the record is because of the way the cover looked. I had ‘No Means No’, it’s one of my favourite bands. I picked up one of their 7 inches in a record store without knowing anything about the music or the band, I just liked the way the cover looked.
You know, it’s very intriguing to me and when I listened to the music I…you know, the music and the album artwork related to each other perfectly you know? and it just made the listening of the music a better experience.
We’ve just heard all of our HMV’s are likely shutting down, which means people over here are buying less physical material so, how are you guys gonna adjust to that? I suppose you guys have got your superfans who will want a physical copy of everything but do you think Clutch fans generally are more interested in having the physical product rather than downloading?
I think so, I think just ’cause as a band we do make sure that we spend a lot of time putting together a quality physical package, you know, it’s always one of the frustrations we had with working with other labels, is they didn’t wanna spend the time or the money some times on making an outstanding CD or Vinyl package and that was frustrating for us because that is just as important to us as the music.
When you’re putting so much time and effort into writing the music and recording it and then in the last stages of it, to just shove it into a jewel case that is frustrating.
It’s like putting a glass of Louis Cristalle champagne…
In a plastic cup!
In a plastic cup, yeah! Do you think that’s what’s held you back in any way? Because 15 years…with 177,000 fans on Facebook.. do you think it’s a possibility that if people had been given the product as you intended it earlier on, you would have been higher up the…?
No, I mean in the end it’s all about the music, but it is as far as Weathermaker’s concerned. That is something that gives us a lot of gratification knowing that what ends up in stores is exactly what we intended. You’re not getting a watered down…..
Cheapened version. I understand that way of thinking. Will there be any limited editions/special packages of Earth Rocker?
Yeah, sure. We haven’t gotten that far yet though, that is something that’s down the road that we’ll address, you know, when it’s time. But we knew going into the recording that we wanted to keep the album streamlined we were trying to keep it down to 10 songs. That was too difficult to us and it ended up being 11, but we actually recorded more than 11 songs, so I imagine over time, we’ll find a place to release the songs that didn’t make it to the original.
Really? Oooooh, what are they gonna be like a, raw studio version?
Er, yeah they could be I guess.
That would be good, I have a feeling Clutch fans would love that! Like a jam version of you all playing together in a room of the tracks that didn’t make the album.
Or would that not work with this particular…
No, no, it would work well! Yeah, we haven’t thought about that either. Hmm, yeah that would work well. A lot of bands, we’ve done that in the past, where we played the self titled album live from beginning to end, it was a fun experiment, it wasn’t something that we were excited about doing night after night though. (laughs)
Playing the same album in a row about 60 times…
Yeah, it kinda takes away the whole spontaneity of the way we like to write our setlists. We take turns writing our set-lists.
Oh, do you?
Yeah, it’s very……
No, (laughs) we discovered pretty early on that we had to not write the same set-lists over and over again, so we had this idea, why doesn’t one person write a set one night and the next person write a set. That was something we’d seen done by bands like Fugazi, I don’t know how they did it, they would literally just name a song like on the spot, tell it to each other and play!
That might be a little too spontaneous for us, but we, we try to mix it up…and when you’re playing an album from beginning to end that’s an hours worth of music where you know exactly where you’re gonna go, and that kind of takes you back to that rut that we were trying to escape in the first place.
If you were playing Earth Rocker in full, would you play it from track one to track eleven? or would you mash it around a bit?
I think that this album, is one of the albums where you could just push random and nine times out of ten any one of those random set-lists would be awesome, where I think, Strange Cousins from the West, the album order that we came up with makes a lot of sense for those songs, and to take those songs out of that order as a whole, maybe wouldn’t work as well. The way we approached the sequence for this record we were trying to think of a side A and a side B.
So instead of thinking in terms on one to ten, we were thinking in terms of one to five and having an arc that fits within that short period of time the only song on the record ‘Gone Cold’, is the only song on the record that has that vibe to it and makes sense for that song to be in the middle it’s kind of a breather for the 2 sides.
Yeah, that chilled style track came out of nowhere, that one did. I now see what you mean about A and B sides because
I listened to it and I thought ahhhh, this is niiiice, I did wonder where the album was gonna go after that but it was straight back into Full Velocity or something after that one…
Yeah, the next song after that one is called The Face…
Ahhh, The Face, after the chilled moment, that’s a punch in the chops, that one is..
Right in the face, boom!
Yeah, it works! My eyes went all owly. You guys are all married and have families, do you let your kids come into the studio and watch you?
No, not so much, the studio that’s work and that would be too much of a distraction.
Have you played your kids the music? What do they think?
Yeah, as far as I’ve been told, Clutch is their favourite band1 (smiles a wide smile) I don’t know if they say that just to make me happy (laughs), but when I’m at home I never sit down and listen to Clutch, I get enough Clutch. When they…if my kinds are going to be exposed to Clutch, then it’s my wife, who luckily is a huge Clutch fan (grins again), so you know, driving to the store, driving to school, she’ll probably throw in some Clutch for them and they definitely are familiar with the music.
I can actually remember one morning before I even really thought of my youngest son having music on his mind, I discovered he’d woken up early one morning and gone down stairs and turned Pandora on the TV and it had the Clutch station playing and I thought that was amazing. And he was bobbing his head and you know, that was great.(smiles)
Aww bless him! How old was he?
He is 6 now, but the time he was a very early five.
Awwwh that’s so cute. Do you think with you being in such a successful band that your kids will immediately try to follow in your footsteps?
I think that as far as kids that age, more today that I can remember, growing up as a kid the idea of being in a band is almost proposed to them everywhere, much more so nowadays, they watch Disney shows.
Disney programmes, all seem to have bands in one is obvious “I’m in the band!”
Almost every single Disney show I’ve seen, the lead character is in a band, or at least sings the opening theme for the show and I think that’s cool, you know.
Could that not work in reverse though? Because back in the day it was more difficult to be in a band that got seen or heard, you had to work harder at it perhaps?
It does take away…moving it more into the mainstream conciousness but at the same time it’s just instilling that love of music in a person at an early age and you know back home we have places like ‘Bock to Rock Music Store, it’s not a store, but lessons.
Places where when I was learning to play guitar you would go to a guitar show and there would be a guitar teacher, who’d give you lessons, nowadays you’d have these lesson…’factories’ where they’re not just focusing on individual instruments but have band lessons as well.
Isn’t that turning music into musician factory, rather than having somebody with an inherent talent…
I see it as the idea of just exposing somebody to music. It’s not kind of…what music you end up playing isn’t determined for you, the more people who get interested in picking up an instrument and playing the better, I think. That is leading to more and more bands which is also going to lead to more and more variation of bands, not everybody who picks up and instrument is going to you know, end up playing great music.
I’ve had a guitar since I was a kid, and I learnt two chords and I am still only playing 2 chords (laughs).
I think that……(long pause)
The true talent will weed itself out, perhaps?
Yeah, exactly. And where you get that initial spark to wanna play or just listen, and be a fan of music.
When was your first spark then?
Probably going through my older brothers record collection. Up to that point I was kind of a victim of the radio and he kind of…his record collection exposed me to bands that I still consider a big influence on my playing. You know like that was the first time I’d heard Led Zeppelin, I picked his ‘In Through The Outdoor’ LP and listened to that and a lot more of the punk side of things.
That was also the first time I’d heard ‘The Bad Brains’ was when he had the original Bad Brains horror cassette, but when I heard it, I heard it in 1987, the album was already 7 years old at that point. But it was new to me, that was one of the first shows that I ended up seeing too.
Was bass your first love or did you start off playing something else?
It was not my first love, the first thing I wanted to do was play drums, and I brought a pair of drum sticks and ruined a lot of my parents furniture cos I didn’t have the money or the space for a drum kit, (smiles) so then I picked up a guitar from a neighbour – a hand me down – and I figured I really really enjoyed playing guitar.
I took a few lessons at school, and after about a year and a half of playing guitar was when I was approached by Neil and Jean-Paul in high school who were just starting to get a band together, they asked me, they were looking for a bass player and I said “oh I don’t know anything about bass, but I play guitar, I’ll bring my guitar along”
And that was the first time I tried playing music with other people, and that was a great experience. I went to a store, picked up a cheap bass and after playing bass with a band for a week I realised that it came very natural to me, and I was already a much better bass player than I’d ever been on the guitars so I accepted the bass as my instrument it just seemed very natural to me, it wasn’t difficult.
It wasn’t difficult huh… (rolls eys and laughs).
Yeah, that idea of playing bass as being easy is a misconception.
Especially for Clutch’s playing! It’s not exactly the dum dum dum stuff. With tours, have you learnt from the kipper incident? Do you remember the kippers?
On tour when you put it on your rider and by the end of the tour you had like 40 cans of kippers…cause every venue gave you kippers.
Oh remind me what are kippers again…
Kippers are in a tin, you put it in your rider for a joke, they’re like, fish in a can.
Oh fish, like Sardines? Yeah, now I remember.
And none of you actually liked them and you had a massive stash of them by the end of the tour…
I like Sardines every now and then…
You probably got given 40 cans though. That’s a lot of fish.
We went through a phase, we for a very short period of time as popular aftershow snack, was taking a trisket cracker, with sardines and hot sauce and eating these and we probably tried to carry that over to the UK… and food doesn’t translate 100% from country to country, you don’t always get what you think you’re gonna get. (laughs) But we’re not one of these bands that gonna put some bullshit item on the rider just to feck with people. We generally wanted to eat kippers.
You should just ask for loads of Jack then and then you’ll go home with like 60 bottles of the stuff. If you guys were in a plane that crashed into the side of a mountain…
Wait, wait, you’re all gonna survive but you’ve got no food, which band member would you eat first?
I would probably try and decide what part of myself I could try and live without first…(smiles)
How noble! (laughs)
I don’t know, you’re tryin’ to get me to say something incredibly embarrassing…(smiles)
Nooooo..It’s always written nicely, that’s how I roll…
Then I would start with myself.
Shave bits off my butt, isn’t that what the soccer team do? I read that book, the first things they ate were their butt, I mean you look at animals feeding off roadkill it’s always the butt, I don’t know why.
It’s always the ars*.
You think it would be some place else, always the butt.
Final question… is their any short piece of advise you could give to emerging bands these days? Obviously they can’t all realistically start their own label, what would you say the biggest thing is for them to watch out for? The biggest warning signs before they decide to sign to a label or management company.
I think just the concept of having to deal with labels should not enter your mind at all, at first it should be about playing the music, and thats one of the things that really put this band…
Biggest pitfalls for bands perhaps, that they all want labels as some kind of status?
Yeah, just focus on playing shows, play as many shows as you can and things will fall into place, if you just work hard on the road, and just built a reputation off of that…
Is there anything they should look out for once they’ve done this and they start getting offers in?
Always have your expectations low, you know, don’t think, just because you have label interest you don’t wanna put your hopes in somebody else’s hands. It’s great to have the opportunity to go into the studio and record a record but in the end, all that is, is something that you’re going to end up taking on the road with you and selling at your shows.
Good point, maybe the aim shouldn’t be to be signed at all but just have a physical product and just to tour the music off the sales.
Yeah, thats what a band should do, there is other people who are coming out to shows and watching live music, then there are people who go to record stores and purchase records…
Cheers dude, it’s been an absolute pleasure.
Thanks and enjoy the show tomorrow. Are you at the show?
It was at this juncture that the tour manager for Clutch asked to take pictures of us, I was all blushing and rather awkwardly teenage, afterwards, myself and Leigh the head photographer for MetalMouth headed out into the snowy streets of Camden with huge grins on our faces doing nothing but regale just how friendly, open and chatty Dan had been. We also began chatting about Earth Rocker and how much we believe the fans will adore it.
I had just met one of my all time favourite bands, and the meeting was as I expected it would be, down to earth guys with no ego, and a natural high expectation of their craft. This was indeed cause for celebration. And beer. We made it so. And talked Clutch.
Earth Rocker is due out on March 19th in the UK. Grab it!