Neil Fallon, frontman for the band Clutch, was kind enough to give me a few minutes of his time to do an interview over the phone. We covered a wide range of topics such as the band’s new album, Earth Rocker, how being in the DC area has influenced Clutch, beer and even the Newtown massacre. You can read the 13 minute interview below or you can download it as an 12mb MP3 file here or stream it from Soundcloud by clicking the orange play button below. My words are in bold. Enjoy!
Hi, this is Metal Chris from DCHeavyMetal.com and I’m speaking with Neil Fallon the lead singer and rhythm guitar player for the Maryland based band Clutch. The band’s tenth studio album, Earth Rocker, is set to come out in March 2013. So my first question for you, Neil, is what can fans expect from the new album?
Well I think as a whole this record is probably faster than most of our recent albums. Maybe compared to some other bands it’s not the fastest thing on planet Earth. For us it was definitely a step up in the tempo. And I think the other thing that kind of stands out about this one is the blues influences that we’ve been flirting with over the past couple records is more or less absent in this record which didn’t really happen intentionally until we looked back at it. As a whole it’s just much more of a straight up rock and roll record.
Now do you have a specific date for the album release yet? I know it’s coming out in March. Do you know what day exactly?
Right now it is planned to come out March 19th.
Awesome. This will be the second studio release for Clutch on your own label, the Weathermaker Music label. Why exactly did you guys decide to ditch say a traditional label and instead create your own and put your own music out this way?
Well we’ve tried it many many times with many different iterations with labels and just to be frank about it the major labels are in the business of selling platinum records and even a gold record probably in their eyes is considered somewhat of a failure. Clutch is a band that, we’re happy to be a touring band and continue to do what we do but I don’t think we’re that band and we never were. But in the 90’s it did give us an opportunity to do a lot of touring, tour support and kick down a lot of doors that way to eventually put us in this position that we have now. And because of the internet and how easy it is to connect with people it’s very easy to cut out a lot of middle men and sell directly to the people that want to buy our records. It’s more work and you can make mistakes but if something goes wrong you know who to blame and it’s a lot easier to fix. And I think if any artist is in a position to do this, you know whether they be a writer or comedian or it doesn’t matter, you’d be foolish not to. Because it just makes more sense. I don’t see why you would subscribe to the kind of antiquated model of a major label. I think some people look at that as some kind of patron or home but we never certainly thought that way.
So has it changed the way you put your albums out, like the way you record it or anything like that as well?
Um, I don’t want to say it complicates it but we have to kind of wear both hats. You know on one hand we want to be the band and say well we want this amazing package. We want this to fold out. We want to do this, we want to do that. But at the same time we’re also the label and we’re looking, well that’s going to cost X amount of dollars, that’s going to cost Y. So we have to kind of find a happy compromise between those two. We certainly haven’t changed any of the writing aspect of it, or the recording. We haven’t tried to cut corners because of it. If anything it’s made our ability to do cool packages easier because it’s much more cost effective. But other than that not a lot has changed. It’s going very well.
Well you talk about the packages, you guys put out the Blast Tyrant, you re-released it with some bonus material and stuff. A whole nother disc actually. Are you planning on doing that with any of your other older albums in the future?
Well we’ve kind of exhausted that. Blast Tyrant and Robot Hive/Exodus and Beale Street were out on a label called DRT that was the last label we were signed to before we went out on our own. And to make a long story short they just stopped paying us our royalties and we had to go to court to get the money. We won the case but they still couldn’t pay us so in lieu of paying us what we were owed we were awarded those masters for those records. It was sort of a windfall to Weathermaker to get these three records back and we could re-release them. But the ones prior to that when you’re talking about Pure Rock Fury and Elephant Riders and the self titled, maybe in the distant future those records will revert back to us just because of the terms of the contract will expire. But that’s not on our to do list because trying to talk to Sony’s lawyers is like launching a spacecraft.
So no hope for an Elephant Riders vinyl any time soon?
No, sadly. That would be a great thing to do though but you never know. I mean, I think 25 years is going to come around quick for all those records. So, I’ll never say never but just not in the immediate future.
In September of 2011 you guys played a free acoustic show at the Red Palace in Washington, DC and I was there and it was pretty awesome getting to see you guys up close in a really personal setting like that. Do you ever miss playing venues that size or do you have any plans to play some smaller shows like that again any time soon?
I find at those smaller clubs the energy and intensity is much more concentrated. It seems easier to play a room like that than it would be a much larger room. Having said that, the 9:30 Club‘s pretty big but still has the character of being a small room in a lot of ways. When we go to Europe we play much smaller clubs there than we do here so they haven’t gone away. And playing acoustically is a good exercise because it’s a bit terrifying because you can hide behind distortion and you can hide behind gain but when you’re playing at a lower volume it’s a much more honest representation of what you’re doing. But it’s a good learning exercise.
Ok now that show was also a promotional tie in with the New Belgium Brewing‘s Clutch Dark Sour Ale. And it was a delicious beer but it was a very limited run. And I was wondering do you have any idea if they’re going to make any more batches of that or maybe you’re going to make another Clutch beer at some point down the road?
Well I would certainly hope they would entertain doing it again. I know somebody actually contacted them just a week ago and was trying to start up a petition to make that a regular brew over there, which we would be over the moon about if that was the case. But we don’t really have any say in it because it’s all New Belgium’s doing. We’ve got a lot of friends in breweries around the country [that] come to shows and drop off beer and if any one of their breweries wanted to do something like that I’m sure we would jump at it.
That’s awesome. I actually know a few guys at local breweries here in the DC area that are fans of yours as well.
Yeah we seem to have a lot of fans that work in the beer industry which is a good problem to have.
Yeah those are not bad friends to have.
You guys played the Artscape in Baltimore this year. What did you think about the crowd there and the experience of the show there? I know that’s probably a different audience than what you’re used to. Did you feel you won some new fans there or maybe you were just playing to a bunch of soccer moms with their kids or how did you feel about that show?
I felt good about it. I mean I had that kind of trepidation beforehand cause I was looking around saying “Well this is a bit out of our element” but when it came time for us to play there was certainly a large contingent of Clutch fans there that came and helped support the band as they always do. It’s good to get out of one’s comfort zone. You can’t always preach to one’s own choir day in and day out. It was fun. It sounded good where we were at and the weather cooperated and it’s nice to do something like that, kind of a casual more stripped down family affair than let’s say your gnarly nightclub half past midnight.
Now you guys have a show coming up at the 9:30 Club on December 26th and it will be the first show of a short US tour here before you head over to Europe in 2013. You guys have played the 9:30 Club many times over the years. The last time I think was when you did the live DVD in 2009 that you shot there. Does performing there have any kind of special meaning to you guys?
Well I consider it my home club as far as when I want to go see bands play that’s where I might want to go see them. And we’ve been playing there for as long as the band’s existed and even when the 9:30 Club was at it’s former location. And I saw a lot of good shows there growing up even before I was in Clutch. It made a big impression on me. So that club’s near and dear to my heart and having been around the country to see what most night clubs are like I can safely say that we’re fortunate that we have this club because it really is one of the best in the country if not the world. To be able to call that our home club, if that’s the case, then even better. I have nothing but good things to say about the people that run that as well.
The first time I ever saw Clutch live it was at the 9:30 Club and that was in 1998 when you guys were playing with, I think Slayer headlined and the opener was an at the time unknown System Of A Down. Now those other two bands are considerably different than your sound. Do you remember anything interesting from that show or just the tour with those guys?
I remember that tour well because I got to watch Slayer every night. And we became friends with System Of A Down and I’d still consider them friends after all these years. They worked hard and you know have been enjoying the benefits of that labor. And Slayer, they were gentlemen. I’d heard stories about the Slayer crowd. I’d seen Slayer crowds before I went on tour with them but it was actually not nearly as difficult as I thought it was going to be. That was an excellent tour. I had a good time on that one.
All four members of Clutch have been with the band since you guys formed in 1990. So I was kind of curious, what’s the secret to keeping a band together like that for so long?
A collective fear of getting day jobs is one. A sense of humor. I mean there’s been feast and famine but I think because we never talked about what kind of band we wanted to be we couldn’t really fail because we never set up a goal. And just a love of playing live music. I mean even if we were having troubles with the label or something was amiss in our camp we could always play live and I think if a band has that in their corner as part of their identity they can go as long as they see fit.
Alright now how did you guys actually settle on the name Clutch?
We were huge Prong fans and we liked the sound of the name Prong. We also we fans of a local band in DC called Swiz and we liked that name too. The mono syllabic thing I guess was really tickling our fancy at the time. And I know we’d intended to change the name at some point because we just kind of threw it on a flyer because we needed to and then maybe it was just a mixture of laziness or people started coming to our shows and we thought well it’s kind of too late to change the name, just keep it as it is. Who actually suggested it? I couldn’t tell you at this point. I know it was probably spoken about in the basement of Tim’s [Sult, lead guitarist of Clutch] parents’ house.
Now do you think being from Maryland and the greater DC area in general has influenced the sound of Clutch and the general direction of the band over the years?
I think we’ve been pretty fortunate to grow up here. Washington DC of course has a legendary music scene. Both harDCore and punk rock and metal, we listened to all those things growing up weather it was Bad Brains or Pentagram or Fugazi and Minor Threat. I know Jean-Paul [Gaster, drummer of Clutch] is a huge gogo fan and I think that’s informed his playing. And DC, you’re close enough to other cities you can go see shows outside your town but it’s not overrun so much like you find in New York and LA where you just get completely lost in the shuffle. It’s a manageable sized city. So I think that definitely played a big part in helping us out in the beginning.
So are there any bands from the greater you know DC, Baltimore and Virginia area that you’re a fan of right now?
Well let’s see here. Well we do quite a few shows with a local band from Wheaton called Lionize. Which they’re much more of a rock band. Initially they had a big reggae influence in their music but as they progressed they’re becoming much more of just a hard rock band. I’m a big fan of theirs. They’re good guys. Um let’s see who else? There’s another band called Black Clouds which is really good. I did some work with them not too long ago [specifically on their track Santorum Sunday School]. I know they play around. Those are the first two that come to mind immediately.
I’m actually going to see Black Clouds soon. They’re playing the Rock & Roll Hotel on December 29th.
Oh no kidding.
Yeah. With Warchild.
Oh dammit when I’m out of town, of course. That’s usually the way it goes.
Now there’s one thing that’s kind of been all over the news and stuff. In Newtown, Connecticut last week there were 20 children and seven adults who were murdered and I’m not asking for any kind of political statement here or anything but I was just kind of wondering if you had any kind of comment you’d want to make on that national tragedy.
Well I guess all those politics and things go right out the window for me because I’m a new parent. I have a two and a half year old son and just trying to even begin to relate what that must be like is impossible and in this day and age with the internet everybody’s got free advice on how to do things better. I just kind of opt to keeping my mouth shut and just letting this work its way out but like other people something’s got to give. I don’t think there’s any quick fix solution to it obviously but it’s no longer acceptable that that’s just a thing that happens here.
Well I know it’s kind of on a low note, but that’s for taking the time to speak with me here Neil. I know you’re hard at work mastering the album Earth Rocker right now and it’s pretty cool that you took the time out to let me speak with you for a minute and I can’t wait to see you guys play at the 9:30 Club on the 26th.
Yeah stop by and say hi if you have a moment.
I definitely will in fact I should be photographing you guys from the photo pit I think.
Ok, well I’ll see ya right there.
Keep an eye out for the guy in the Abraham Lincoln in King Diamond corpse paint shirt on cause that’ll be me.
Haha, alright that’ll be hard to miss.
Well thanks and have a good evening here and I’ll see you guys soon.
Alright, take it easy.
Have a good one.