Yeah, yeah, yeah, Dave Grohl’s the savior of rock and roll. That’s fine and dandy if you were fool enough to buy the line that rock and roll needed saving in the first place, that rock and roll hasn’t been here the whole time, kicking around grooves in hollowed out warehouses on beer-sticky floors. Ask Clutch how much rock and roll needed saving. See what answer you get.
The long-running Marylander road dogs of the heavy funkified bluesified fuzz just released their 10th album, a hard-driving gem that goes by the title Earth Rocker and that reins in some of the jammy vibrations the foursome had dialed in for their last outing, 2009’s Strange Cousins From The West. It’s probably the best record I’ve heard yet this year, and there’s plenty you’re going to want to get down with if you’re of a rocking-type persuasion. Some albums just make you wanna be friends.
Clutch will celebrate the end of the first leg of their Earth Rocker tour by—how else?—starting the second, and with the familiar faces of Lionize and Austin-based heavy rockers The Sword in tow, they ride reinvigorated through town with stops at Terminal 5 in NYC and Philly’s Electric Factory on May 2 and May 17, respectively. Below, frontman and Beard In Chief Neil Fallon—joined in the band by drummer Jean-Paul Gaster, bassist Dan Maines and guitarist Tim Sult—gives the long and short on putting Earth Rocker together with Jersey-based producer Machine and gigging on it into perpetuity.
How was Europe this time through?
It was great. Even though it was labeled as a promotional/press tour, it was easily Clutch’s best headlining run through Europe to date.
Was there something in particular that made it so good?
All the shows being sold out certainly helped out. Some of the places were smaller, that we’ve played in the past, but there were other places that were larger, and I don’t know if the climate’s changed or what, but it seems that continental Europe is really warming up to the band.
Did you know writing the songs for Earth Rocker that you wanted a more straightforward rock sound, a little pulled back on the blues and jam stuff?
Yeah, I think we knew that pretty early on, when we first started writing the early stuff—we had had some conversations about general feelings towards what our instincts were telling us—and we hadn’t written much, but we knew we wanted to write faster songs and more succinct songs.
It’s not like suddenly we fell out of love with the blues, it was just that I kind of see—to use an analogy, if you’re getting from point A to point B in a ship, you never use a straight line, you have to tack back and forth, and that’s kind of the way I see us musically.
Was there something coming off Strange Cousins that made you feel like it was time to try something different?
It was a good record, but I think we also toured on it to death. We really pounded those songs into the ground, to the point where these days, we’re lucky to play one or two songs from the record. That’s just from fatigue.
Have you ever worn out of a record like that before, to yourself?
Oh sure. Each and every record. Because we tour as much as we do, and we play and play and play, and usually what happens is we’ll start incorporating older stuff and start working on new stuff, and every record is usually some kind of record to the one that preceded it.
How did the decision come about to go back to the Machine Shop?
Well, when we were writing it, in the early stages, his name came up because the material, at least tempo-wise, was reminding us for whatever reason of Blast Tyrant. We’ve worked with Jay [Robbins] on the past two records, and he’s great, but each producer has his signature sound and we wanted to mix it up a little bit.
Also keeping it somewhat local is very important to us, because we all have families. We want to be able to drive home on the weekends and whathaveyou, rather than making camp in California or wherever.
We had already worked with Machine, so we knew what we were getting into, and that was a big plus. It’s familiar.
In picking songs, was that “faster songs, more concise,” a consideration in terms of what made the cut?
Well, this is a phenomenon that happens on Clutch records. 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 but we have to push ourselves to write something fast.
This time around it was the opposite. We said, “You know what? We have to write a slow song to have some kind of moment in the record where things can exhale.” And we wrote “Gone Cold” specifically for that, which was a new thing for us, having to write a slow song for a record.
That’s interesting, too. I wanted to bring up “Gone Cold,” because of where it’s placed on the record, closing side A. Can you talk a bit about the placement of the tracks and how it wound up there to break things up?
We definitely modeled this record on classic LP length and pacing. I think most people’s favorite records are anywhere from 35-45 minutes, usually 40 minutes. I’m talking like Led Zeppelin II, Dark Side Of The Moon, Black Sabbath Paranoid. CDs, yeah, you can put 75 minutes of music on it, but that doesn’t mean you should. People’s attention spans only last so long, and you don’t want to overburden them.
That placing of that song, we wanted it to be the point where the record turned, where you have your blasters and then maybe a longer song, your “D.C. Sound Attack” or something like that, and then this one at the end, sort of like a fadeout, but you know there’s something on side B.
Even though most people will be listening to this on CD, I still think it works. Machine actually did the tracklisting. We did our own tracklisting, and it’s one of the good things about producers is they can hear things with a fresh pair of ears, because the musician and the person who wrote it is always biased with emotional attachment to certain things.
We weren’t too sure about his tracklisting at first, but after listening to it a few times, we realized he was on the money.
And of course Clutch has been called so many things over the years, so many tags to what you guys do. Is “Earth Rocker” your response to that?
I guess that song’s a couple things. On the one hand, it’s a self-motivational speech. To use an analogy, it’s what the fighter would say to himself before he goes in the ring.
It started—we were doing a lot of festivals last year, and there’s a lot of waiting around at those festivals and people watching. That’s half the fun of it. And I was watching the circus backstage and I overheard a lot of young bands bemoaning the fact that they had to play and, oh, it was too hot, or the catering sucked, or there’s not a lot of people here, and it just really got on my nerves, because you should be so lucky that you have the opportunity to do this. Shut the fuck up already and play. And do it honestly.
Well, Strange Cousins came out in ’09 and you toured and had Basket Of Eggs and Pigtown Blues since then and it’s not like you were sitting on your ass, but four years is a long time. Do you see that kind of length between albums happening again or will you try and get to a follow-up full-length quicker?
I certainly hope so, hope we don’t take that much time again. I think we had a lot of momentum though, and we like to keep that going. As far as writing goes, four years is too long. One of the reasons it took us so long though is we just kept getting offers to do these tours and open up for bands like Motörhead and Thin Lizzy, or Volbeat.
Those were things that we always thought would benefit us when we did record and release this record and finally we just had to put our foot down and say “enough.” I have every intention of starting to write the next record ASAP. When it’ll come out, who’s to say?
Clutch’s Earth Rocker is available now through Weathermaker Music. Catch them rolling through with The Sword and Lionize on May 2 at Terminal 5 in Manhattan, and at Philly’s Electric Factory on May 17. For more information, go to pro-rock.com.