Clutch has a busy few months ahead of them. Kicking off the summer concert season a little early last month with friends and previous tour mates Mastodon for the Missing Link Tour, the Maryland natives are also preparing for the release of their 11th studio album, Psychic Warfare, which is set to drop this fall. Drummer JP Gastor took some time to talk to The Aquarian Weekly about the new record, what makes a good musician, and the band’s determination to continue to challenge their audiences—and ultimately themselves.
How has the Missing Link Tour been going?
Pretty great. We’re having a good time out here. We’re pretty close with the Mastodon guys and have known them for quite some time, so there’s a lot of camaraderie.
How’s it being on the road with Mastodon again?
It’s great. I very much enjoy watching them play. I think that there are a lot of similarities between us, not only in a musical sense but also in the way that we play and just the way that we run our show.
Do you have any favorite moments from the tour so far?
Well, yesterday we were in Tempe, Arizona, at the Marquee Theatre, which is a venue that we have played a few times in the past. They made some improvements in that room and it really sounded fantastic last night. We’ve been out here for a couple weeks now so we have our road legs going, and things are going very smoothly.
Are there any songs you look forward to playing night after night?
Well, we change the setlist every night, so I think there is a good variety of songs. It was part of a system years ago where we would take turns writing the list and because of that I think the songs that we pull from are probably more so than most bands. So because of that I think there is a lot of energy at the shows, and each song has special things about it that I enjoy playing. The best thing about being in this band is that as the drummer I could go up there and really play whatever I want each night. There might be slight interpretations of that song, but that’s what keeps it fun.
Is it difficult to handle a constantly changing setlist?
No. For me, it’s just more fun. There’s probably a lot of bands out there that get comfort out of knowing that it’s all planned out. They have it all memorized, and that’s cool, but we don’t do that. We want our fans to have a real musical experience, and by that I mean what happens tonight won’t happen tomorrow night, and it’s not what happened last night. Each show is unique and I think the folks that come see the band take a lot of interest in that. They come to expect that from us. We take a lot chances on stage, and some shows are better than others, but that’s what makes it rock and roll for me.
Clutch has a new record coming out later this year. How far along are you in the process of that?
We just got the very final mixes yesterday! The record is titled Psychic Warfare, and we’re very proud of it. There are some similarities in regards to [2013’s] Earth Rocker, and there are some songs on it that are sort of familiar, but we did some different stuff, too. There’s stuff that is a little funkier, and there’s other stuff that’s a little more bluesy. So there’s more diversity, I think.
What is the creative process like behind a Clutch album?
The creative process really hasn’t changed all that much. It’s really just the four of us getting together and banging out jams, so to speak. We work on one or two parts at a time, and often we set those parts aside and work on something new. We’ll do that for several months until we have a large pool of ideas to pull from. As we get closer to the recording process, we start to try to fix some of these parts and make them into songs. Sometimes the songs get cannibalized as well, like one song will sort of eat the other, in a way. And even then we have a lot of songs to choose from, so sometimes songs that we have been working on for months won’t even end up on the record.
Have you guys been playing any new music on the tour?
Yeah, there’s a couple new songs and it’s been great. For us, playing new material will always be the most exciting thing to do.
Some artists find it difficult to play new music before the record has been released. Do you?
Absolutely not. From the beginning of the band, I think we’ve always challenged our audience. We always play new songs, and I think the folks that come to see the shows expect that of us. If you want to go see a band that sounds exactly like the recording and play all of the songs that are on the album, well, that’s not what we do. We try to challenge ourselves and challenge the audience, too.
So the band has been together for 24 years. When first starting out, did you have any notion that you would still be making music over two decades later?
It was not on the radar for us whatsoever. We started with the intentions of playing the best shows that we could play and making the best recordings that we could make. And here we are, almost 25 years later, and we still do exactly that.
The 25th anniversary is coming up next year, are there any plans in the work to celebrate that?
We’re just going to go on tour (laughs). Pretty much like we have been doing for the last 25 years. It would be cool to celebrate it in some way, though I’m not sure exactly what we’ll do but I expect we’ll probably put something special together. It’ll be 25 years on August 10, 2016, so that’s pretty exciting for us.
With just about 25 years in the industry, how have you seen it change? Do you think it is easier or harder for new musicians to break in?
People ask that a lot, but I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that. In some ways it is more difficult for a band to get noticed, just because there’s just so much going on out there. There are so many bands and so many ways to get music to people. But at the same time, the bands who really make an impact are going to be the ones who make a career out of this thing. I think more emphasis is going to be put on the live show now because the idea of a record label is kind of the old way of doing business. Bands have to start their own labels and put out their own music. So it’s that much more important for bands to get out there and play, to practice their instruments, and to be good musicians; because ultimately that’s what people are going to be attracted to in the long run.
There are ways to get noticed as a young band, whether that be some sort of a look or a kind of sound, but at the end of the day it’s the quality of the music that you make and the quality of the show that you put on that is going to entice people to come back and see you again and again, and hopefully continue that trend for years.
What are the band’s plans for the rest of the year?
We’re going to head over to Europe in June. That’ll be fun, we’ll be over there for about 10 days. That’s always a good time for us, and we’ll be playing some festivals over there. Then the real bulk of the work will start probably late September or early October when the record is released. Psychic Warfare will be out by that time, so we’re going to do what we do best and that is get out there and play.
Clutch will be playing with Mastodon as part of the Missing Link Tour on May 15 in Bethlehem, PA at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center, as well as Rumsey Playfield in Central Park in New York City on May 19. Their new album, Psychic Warfare, will be released later this year. For more information, go to pro-rock.com.