Interview with Neil Fallon of Clutch: From The West To The East

You’ve picked up the guitar more and more often too, have you sort of had a new appreciate for not singing a song? Does it feel a little like there’s no pressure and you can say this can just be a jam and that’s cool?

I think the learning aspect of it is the most important, because if you’re writing lyrics, in the tradition of rock and roll a structure is almost already existing with your verse-verse-chorus-verse-chorus and then maybe a bridge in there for good measure. It makes writing easier because once you just write a riff and say, ‘That’s the chorus,’ well your song is half done.

When you don’t have lyrics, the instruments have to become the singers and solos or hooks become much more nebulous. But you don’t want to become self-indulgent with just jamming to no end. You kind of walk the line of those two things.

I’m sure it’s kind of a different feeling than your Atlantic days where everything’s a song. Do you feel more prolific now?

I do. But it’s not because we were pressured to be something that we weren’t, it’s that I think the more you work the easier it becomes. It’s like exercise.

I also have to ask then, with lyrics, do you ever get writer’s block? You could set a watch to the next Clutch record sometimes it seems, and you’ve got other projects like the Company Band. Does all this wordplay become easier?

No. Some songs are really easy to write and they seem to write themselves. And then there are songs that I bang my head against the wall for weeks if not months. And I find those are the ones, the longer it takes, the less likely they’ll ever see the light of day. It’s like feast and famine sometimes, you have very prolific periods and then there are times where you want to write but you throw your hands up and you realize you’re repeating yourself. It’s easy to self-edit and always shoot yourself in the foot before something gets off the ground. There’s definitely writer’s block. That’s the worst part about it for me. It’s very depressing.

Have you figured out ways to work through it over the years? Any techniques? Do you start reading a book or watch television? You write about literary characters, oddities, historical events—when you’re in a funk, do you pick up a book about whatever and go with that?

Yeah. Sometimes I have books while I write and I’ll just flip through them. Taking a mythological figure or a historical figure or obscure event and using that as a starting point and building up around it is sometimes a good way to do it. When you’re looking at a blank page, that’s the most intimidating part. Once you get those first two lines and realize that has enough juice to last you four minutes without becoming redundant, then you can start hacking away.

The only other thing I do sometimes is just step away from it completely. I will say, ‘Alright I’m just going to try not to think about this for a week.’ And then come back. There’s some expression, I don’t know if I have it right, but in order to punt you have to take five steps back.

And I’m sure some of it is just accidental as well, but ‘10001110101’ as I recall, was something you were just saying in the middle of a song.

Yeah, that was one of those things. Sometimes, the keystone of a song is a completely spontaneous lark, and if it’s catchy, you try to build up a story around that element and you don’t really have to justify its genesis. Those are usually the best ones because there’s not a whole lot of rhyme or reason to it. You don’t want to overthink everything.

I think some of the songs that are ‘hits’ in the Clutch fan world are the ones at least in my memory that were written in the evening. And then there’s ones that I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote are the ones that never seem to get any play.

Are those the ones that you write in the morning?

(laughs). Usually, morning writing seems to be kind of like you can jot down ideas that are more concrete, but in the evening, you’re kind of firing a bit more obliquely, and I guess it’s a more musical time.

Do you do any writing on the road?

A little bit. Kind of acoustic guitar and jotting ideas down, but as far as the band getting together, there are kind of brief periods during soundcheck where Jean Paul will play a beat and someone plays a riff and usually if it’s cool, collectively and somebody will ask, ‘Hey, what is that?’ and invariably whoever is doing it will say, ‘I don’t know.’ And then hopefully someone has a cellphone or a recorder and record it and later we’ll say, ‘Remember that riff we played in Cincinnati? Let’s try that.’

There are a bunch of bands now emphasizing that kind of dirty rock, AC/DC-type material but also regularly cite you guys and a lot of blues-based material. You have any perspective on that, 20 years in, that bands are putting you down on the generic ‘What are your influences?’ question?

If there’s an accolade or an award to this that’s about as high as it gets. To be told that you’ve influenced someone, whether they’re young or old or wherever they are, is huge. And it’s better than anything you can put on a mantle because it’s real, and that person will influence someone else and that person will influence the next, and in that there’s a sense of artistic immortality, not to sound too dramatic. To participate in the whole musical history and conversation like that is pretty big.

Have you considered the idea of down the road—it’s become popular for bands to play one record—to do a tour of one record?

We’ve talked about that. But then I think there’s always one song on a record that no one really wants to play. So I would rather not do it than kind of pussyfoot it with editing, you know.

When I think about the self-titled, I don’t mind hearing any of those songs, I don’t know about playing them.

For me, I think I wouldn’t have a problem playing that front-to-back. I think we could play it better than it was recorded, cause I think we’ve developed a lot more as musicians since then. I would entertain that idea.

Clutch play two nights at the Fillmore At Irving Plaza (with Wino supporting) on Oct. 9 and Oct. 10.