It’s been a couple months since The Aquarian checked in with one of its most favoritist bands in the whole wide universe, Maryland über-rockers Clutch, and their tour with Motörhead and Valient Thorr—already under way—and reissue of 2003’s Blast Tyrant with nifty bonus material on their own Weathermaker Music label provided just the excuse we were looking for.
The tour rolls into NYC to hit the Best Buy Theatre on Feb. 28, is routed up to Boston for a night, then comes back for a double-stop in Jersey at Starland Ballroom and House Of Blues, so although they missed us on the most recent of their annual New Year’s runs, it should be enough for local Clutch heads to get their fix. As if such a thing was possible.
Vocalist Neil Fallon checked in from the road in Minneapolis for the following phoner:
Is it strange to be looking back at your career, in terms of the reissues? You guys are usually more focused on what’s next.
Yeah, you’re right. It’s usually much more exciting making something new than revisiting something that’s already done. But I think this is different for us. We reissued these [albums] because DRT, who had initially put these records out, lost a court case with us, and as a result, we were awarded these masters back.
These records haven’t been in stores for quite some time, so it’s good to get them back out there, and I won’t lie, there’s a bit of spite and vindication in getting these back and putting our Weathermaker label logo on them and putting them out there.
I remember when From Beale Street To Oblivion came out there was something about the artwork…
That was one of a long list of screw-ups on their part. I think sometimes [people] are under the impression that you’re better off with an independent label than you are a major label. There’s something to be said about both, but at least with a major label, they’ll just turn around and drop your ass. Sometimes independent labels have more reasons to strangle you to death.
But, you know, that’s water under the bridge at this point, and we were able to do the artwork right. If something goes wrong from this point forward with that kind of stuff, we know who to blame and it’s that much easier to fix it.
Having put out an album on your own on Weathermaker and worked and toured to support a new studio release, is the extra work worth the tradeoff?
Oh, it’s worth the tradeoff a thousandfold. Like anything else in life, with more work there’s more reward. By the end of our relationship with DRT, it was as if we didn’t have a label anyway. We were just waiting for them to pay for the studio time, which was something we would have to reimburse them for anyway.
Now we’re responsible for that, and it wasn’t that difficult of a transition, because we were already touring and selling our records ourselves. It’s more responsibility, but these days, it’s hard to sell CDs. If you can cut out as many people in the process as you can and sell them directly to the fan, I think you’d be a fool not to.
You guys have the advantage of being long since established too. I think the Clutch fanbase is pretty loyal, and that’s got to help.
It sure does, but that wasn’t a happy accident. That was a lot of blood and sweat and tears. I think that kind of fanbase—there’s other bands that are like that, but it takes a lot longer to build up that base via word of mouth and live shows, but I always liken it to, “You can build a house out of sticks very quickly, but it takes a lot longer to build a house out of rock, but you know which one’s going to last longer.”
Do you get much time to reflect on the growth of the band? Is that something you like to think about? You’re on the road so much and it seems like two weeks later, Clutch is doing something else.
I don’t think any of us spend too much time looking back. For me, not to get too philosophical, but the creative process—whether you’re making music or art—is always about what’s new. To either rest on your laurels or to think that there’s more days behind you than there are in front of you is not creative.
That’s not to say there’s no self-examination going on. We’re always trying to improve.
How was it for you—thinking of the Blast Tyrant reissue bonus material and the acoustic tracks—going back and reinterpreting older songs?
It was fun. At first, I approached it with a lot of trepidation, but then I realized listening to the tracks, “Wow, we’ve become much better musicians in the 15 years that were between those songs’ initial recordings and today,” which is good to know (laughs), that we’ve somehow managed to stay dedicated to learning and practicing. Whether it be getting better at rudiments or learning about other people’s music, you have a much broader palette to draw from when you’re trying to make something.
Was there something in particular you were able to draw from for those tracks, either adding to your approach vocally or redoing patterns?
Speaking for myself, I think I sing now, whereas, on the first couple records, there’s just a lot of bellowing. I’ve gotten better at actually conceiving of a melody (laughs), and playing guitar as well. But also, collectively as a whole, the band, I think we understand compositions better.
Sometimes I listen to our first records and I think I would love to go back and rerecord those, just because there’s so many things I would love to change. But I wonder if that’s like an artist breaking into a gallery and touching up his paintings. I don’t know if that’s cool or not, but it’s something I do think about.
Something like bonus tracks for a reissue seems like a really good avenue to do that.
Initially, we were going to put out an EP of acoustic stuff. It all started, Bonnaroo invited us to do an additional set of all acoustic stuff. We tried doing literal interpretations of the acoustic stuff and it wasn’t working out, so we just said, “Let’s start from scratch.” Putting it in that context of a bonus track, that it’s not perhaps “the next official Clutch release” makes it easier to wrap one’s head around, maybe.
Some people are very puritanical about bands’ releases, or episodic, like some kind of story, but we’re very… open-minded about music. There’s never any kind of program that we need to stick to, if that makes any sense.
Along those lines, how is progress for the next Clutch album?
We have a bucketload of riffs that we’re starting to comb through, that we’ve been recording over the past two years. I would imagine just a fraction of those will end up on the record, but we just played a new idea last night on stage, just instrumentally, but that was the first time we’d done anything like that since Strange Cousins.
Once this tour is over, in four weeks, three weeks, however long it is, we’re really buckling down and gonna start focusing on the next record, which should be out within a year, I would hope.
Is that your plan for the summer? You’re going to come off the road and write and record?
Yeah. That was our plan for right now, but then Motörhead asked us out on tour.
Yeah, you can’t say no to Motörhead.
Right (laughs). We’re gonna do some shows in Europe. Not too much—a couple weeks here and there—but we’re going to set up shop on the U.S. front and then probably do some dates towards the early fall. What we’d ideally do is play some of these songs live on stage and work them out there, because that’s a much better litmus test than in the studio.
I guess it’s worth changing your plans for Motörhead, although I seem to recall you’ve played with them before. Am I right about that?
That’s correct. We did a U.K. tour with them about four years ago. Or five.
Is there anything in particular, other than being on the road with them, that you’re looking forward to about the tour?
They’re a great group of people. Their crew is awesome to work with. Sometimes going out on a tour can be made hellish by the headlining act’s crew, but they’re great people. Of course Motörhead’s awesome to watch every night.
It’s pretty inspirational, because we’ve been a band for 20 years, and you can sometimes start thinking about stuff like your age or the age of the band or whatever, but then you see Motörhead go, and it’s like a motivational speaker. And Valient Thorr, the first band of the three, is a great band. Tours are so much easier when you enjoy the music that you listen to every day, day in and day out.
The Weathermaker reissue of Blast Tyrant is out April 26. Motörhead, Clutch and Valient Thorr hit Best Buy Theatre in NYC on Feb. 28, Starland Ballroom in Sayreville on March 3 and House Of Blues in Atlantic City on March 4. More info at weathermakermusic.com.