Chevy Celebrity. 1983. Not nearly as cool as the vehicle described on “Spacegrass,” my introduction to Clutch back in high school, but it got me around. A staple on the Top 9 at 9 on K-Rock for months, a buddy of mine and I would hop into my ride, pack a bowl, and anxiously await the DJ to drop the tune. A fan is born.
Clutch may not have reached to upper echelon of commercial success as some of their contemporaries, but most of their contemporaries aren’t even around anymore. Riding a wave of success that is, in many ways, unparalleled, Clutch’s fan base is cultish, rabid, and fiercely loyal. My last experience with the group found them selling out 2 consecutive nights at Irving Plaza in NYC… Not an easy feat anywhere, let alone a Mecca of the music world.
I was able to check out the show this evening, and Dan Maines from Clutch was cool enough to answer a few questions about the band, their longevity, tour, and recordings for Upstate Metal.
G- What’s going on, man, and thank you for taking the time to speak with Upstate Metal! How’s everything going on your current tour? I see you are playing several headlining dates in addition to sharing a bill with Hell Yeah! How have the shows been?
D- They’ve been good. I’m sorry, but I’ve just noticed that they have Rockin’ Pies down there? This place… Do they make their own pie for sale during shows?
G- You know, I’m not quite sure but if they do, I haven’t had dinner yet so I’m definitely down to grab one.
D- That’s fantastic!
G- I’ve been coming to this club for about 18 years and I’ve never seen that.
D- Never seen anything about pies?
D- OK. Moving on, tour’s been going good. We started the tour off with headlining shows. We did a few of those, and then Hell Yeah! Jumped on, or we jumped on with Hell Yeah! For the past 4 shows. Everything is going great.
G- How’s life on the road with Mr. Vinnie Paul and crew… You guys been partying hard or what?
D- Not yet. We’ve know Vinnie for a while. We did a tour back in the day with Pantera and we’ve been on a few tours where he’s come out to see some of the other bands. We’re just looking forward to spending some weeks on the road with them. All those guys are great guys… I’m looking forward to it!
G- Excellent! So, Clutch has been around for more than 2 decades (They formed in 1990) and there is no indication that the group is going anywhere anytime soon… Can you talk a bit about the band’s formation and how everything came about?
D- Yea, well we first started playing together in 1989. That was our senior year of high school. My first show was trying out for the high school talent show. I can’t even remember what we were calling ourselves, but it was me, Neil, John Paul, and this other friend of ours Brian, and Eric. It didn’t make the cut, but luckily there were so many bands that tried out for the talent show that they just decided to have a totally separate school concert, which we ended up playing.
God, what was the name of the band? I can’t remember the name of the band… It was something terrible (laughter). And then we got Tim in the band and it was narrowed down to 4 of us. We put out our first 7” in 1991 with our friend Dave and then put out Transnational Speedway League, our first lp on Atlantic Records, or East West, in 1993. And we’ve been releasing albums ever since.
G- Your recordings run the gamut… You incorporate many different styles into your music, and each album is a bit different, but purely Clutch. Is this intended?
D- Umm, I think you’re gonna run into that phenomenon of a band sounding like the previous album because it’s the same people. It’s difficult to kinda stray away from your core sound in a lot of ways, and we try to do that, and we don’t try to make the same record we made the last time. We may end up making 10 albums that, in our minds, were vastly different from each previous album, but I think, as a whole, it’s pretty easy to identify our music, if you’re listening to it. I’m too close to it… I can’t tell.
G- Can you tell me a bit more about your writing process? Who in the band typically comes up new music? Is there a primary writer, or do you guys just drink a few beers and jam out until something clicks?
D- As far as writing the music, it is definitely a group process. All 4 of us are heavily involved in the writing. Vocally, Neil is the sole lyricist and vocalist. But we just get together at John Paul’s place and start jamming. He pushes record until we start playing something we like playing for more than 2 minutes, and we move on to another idea. Neil will take those instrumental ideas home with him and come back a day or 2 later with some vocal ideas. And usually the vocal ideas will dictate which direction a song goes in. We may drop a part altogether. A part we thought was the chorus of the song may turn out to not be the chorus of the song once you have vocals put on it. You just build it like that. It’s very rare that somebody comes to the table with a completed song.
G- So Clutch now has their own record label, WEATHERMAKER, and you have been reissuing your classics. Are you currently working on any new releases right now? What else is in the works for Weathermaker?
D- Well, we have a lot of things coming out, actually. We just re-released the last 3 albums we put out on DRT Records, which has folded. We acquired ownership of those 3 albums, so we’ve re-released those on cd last year, and this year we are releasing them all on vinyl.
D- Yup. And we have a 7” inch that we are releasing right now called “Pigtown Blues” and it’s a picture disc 7”. One side is an acoustic song called “Pigtown Blues,” and the other side is an acoustic version of “Motherless Child,” which was the first song on our last full-length album “Strange Cousins.”
And at the end of this Summer, we plan on going into the studio with the songs we are working on right now and record those and put those out on an album that should be out early 2013.
G- Will you be demo-ing or premiering anything during this tour?
D- Yea. We don’t have anything established as far as titles go, but we’re definitely playing new songs on the road right now. It’s Tim’s set list… We change the set list every night… and I think tim was talking about putting 3 new songs on the set tonight, which would be fun.
G- That’d be great!
D- But yea we have about 10 songs right now that we will be playing throughout the tour, and when we get home we are gonna continue writing and then go into the studio with, hopefully, 15 ideas and see what happens.
G- So, after 9 albums, rare compilations, live albums, etc… Where does Clutch see itself in the next decade? Are there any countries or continents you haven’t been to yet that you are working on, or any acts you are looking/hoping to share a bill with in the future?
D- Yea. We’ve been lucky enough to get over to places like Australia and Japan. The European tours are starting to pick up for us. We’re just starting to consider playing European festivals “routine” now, which it never was. But yea we’re still trying to get into places like South America. We’re trying to get over to Japan more often… We haven’t been over there in a while, so we’re working on that. But yea… Global Domination is definitely part of our plan in the next 10 years.
G- On that note, what’s the craziest show Clutch has played to date, and what was it like? Do you have any particular spots that always go off?
D- Yea (laughter)… I don’t know. I can’t remember so many shows. You definitely see some weird things. I remember playing a show in Ohio and, uhh… I spend a lot of my time looking down, and I play with a hat on a lot of times, too, so I don’t really see a lot of what’s going on in the crowd. And one show taught me my lessons in paying more attention to what is actually happening.
G- Oh boy!
D- Uhh, I mean, this was a small stage, too. Maybe 3-feet high. But these people were engaging in coitus directly in front of me! They could have touched my feet!
At this point, I’m cracking up.
D- And it was that close to a threesome.
G- I think we have a winner!
D- But the reason it caught my attention was because you could hear very clearly the guy saying something along the lines of ‘I can’t do it with all these people around.’ That was pretty bad.
G- Upstate Metal… I think we’ve got a winner. Clutch has the gold star so far, so it’s gonna take a while to top that one!
But lastly, so you can go get ready for the show this evening… I just want to ask your professional opinion. You guys have been doing this for a long time, and you’re clearly doing it well. You’ve made lots of waves, and you’re still going strong… What advice can you give for up and coming bands and artists who are looking to record, tour, and make it as professional musicians these days?
D- I think what helps a lot is figuring out what you can do by yourself on your own. It’s that DIY attitude that was in music when I first started listening to bands. I was really into hardcore, and being from DC and having bands like Minor Threat and Fugazi as your local heroes, you kinda get that DIY attitude exposed to you early on And I think that that kind of mentality is what is gonna save a lot of bands in the long run. Not necessarily having to do everything yourself, but at least figuring out what you can do by yourself and not putting your hopes or expectations on other people or other companies.
We’re a band that’s learned you cannot rely on a record label. You thought you could… You thought that that was your ticket… That if you could make it onto a record label, your problems were solved, and that’s the farthest thing from the truth. It took us a long time to figure it out, but what was most gonna benefit this band is forming our own label and just trying to put as many things in our control as possible.