Interview: Clutch

Frank Kruyer chats to Clutch

Posted on Jan 31st, 2013 in Features and Interviews, Clutch / By Frank Kruyer
Clutch On the cold and icy Monday morning known as the 25th of the 1st 2013, Bearded had the pleasure of Clutch sticksman Jean-Paul Gaster taking the time out to have his brains picked and prodded before embarking on a four month long EU/US tour in support of Clutch’s 10th album ‘Earth Rocker’. A true student of his trade, the meeting was a pleasure to say the least…

Bearded: 23 years, 9 records in, 10th full length offering ‘Earth Rocker’ fast approaching, where do you look for inspiration? What inspires you to continue writing music?

Jean-Paul Gaster: Well I continue to study, I continue to practise, and I continue to think about music. On this record on particular there’s a lot of shuffle rhythms. So there are guys like Earl Palmer who use to play with guys like Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Johnny Vidacovich a New Orleans drummer, I find a great deal of inspiration from him. He’s one of the greatest guys to hang out with, he’s a lot of fun and I’ve learned a tremendous amount watching him play. So you have to continue to study, you have to continue to play, think about music, you can’t become complacent. But the thing is, you know as a musician if you continue to challenge yourself and look for other things to study and look for other things to think about. That well of inspiration is always there, there’s always more to learn. So this concept of a shuffle is something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years now and on this record in particular there’s a lot of different kinds of shuffles and that’s just something that I thought about for this record.

So would you say it’s important to remain a student of your art?

Yeah you have to. The minute you become bored of your instrument or you become complacent then you should stop playing music at that point

Staying with the theme of your impressive longevity, what would you say has kept you so tight as a group for more than 20 years?

Well I think there’s a pretty easy answer for that and that goes back to when we first started the band. The idea back then was to play good shows and to make good records, and that was really the end of it. We never looked at this as a career and we certainly didn’t look at it as a way to make money. We wanted to be like the bands we looked up to. Bands like Fugazi and the Bad Brains, they were bands that were not popular, they were bands that were not on the radio, they didn’t sell out stadiums. We had no interest in doing that back then and that concept still holds true today. We still wanna make great records and play good shows and what happens outside of that sort of just happens y’know, luckily we’re able to make a living at it now and that just something we hadn’t thought about.

So it’s a simple philosophy that has steered you right? You have continued what you originally set out to do then if in the end everything falls into place, that’s great.

Yeah, you’ve nailed it

This tour, the Earth Rocker tour is four months on the road, are you a group that enjoys touring?

We do enjoy touring it’s what we do best. It’s certainly the most comfortable environment for us. Y’know if you want to have a real go at making music you can’t be afraid of doing the work and that means playing, and you have to play as much as you can. For us that means playing six nights a week for four, eight, ten weeks at a time and it’s just part of what we do. You have to be able to play live.

Is a trip across the pond also something you guys look forward to?

Sure, yeah we love coming over here. We get to taste different beers and y’know the best bit of the job is being able to travel as we do. See different things, meet different people…try different beer, that’s all exciting stuff.

You mentioned earlier when speaking of what inspires you, it’s simple, make great records, play good shows. But obviously everyone has to eat. In your experience, nowadays here in 2013, has it become harder today to walk away from a tour, at least break even, and hopefully have some money in your pocket at the end of it all?

Sure, the economics of it, it’s tough out there. People don’t have a lot of money like they did ten years ago. Just getting around, travelling, it’s an expensive proposition. But you can’t be afraid of it you know, the minute you are afraid of maybe going back to a van. Again you should hang it up right then and there. Luckily these days we travel on a bus but who knows what happens next week. You know we might have to get back in the van or get on bicycles or whatever it takes we’ll get there.

To talk about the record now, it’s you’re second self-released, full length LP of new Clutch material on Weathermaker. Having complete control of the process from production all the way through to release, has this had any effect on your sound? Do you feel you have more creative freedom?

I think probably the level of creative freedom hasn’t changed that much. I think when we made Strange Cousins from the West, the first record for Weathermaker. I think at that time we were just blown away by the idea of being able to make a record and put it out ourselves. It was really a time of experimentation as far as the business end of things. Musically we’ve always sort of just done what we wanted to do, much to chagrin of major labels. That was always a tough part of being in the band, dealing with the labels. So taking that element out of it, took a burden off of our shoulders, it enabled us to fully concentrate on the music. But when it came time to do Earth Rocker I think we realised the table was sort of set. We had the label up and running, the folks that help us with the label had been there for a few years now. So we knew it was really up to us to make the record that would be able to take the whole organisation not just the band, all the folks that work with us to a new level, a new plateau. We thought about that making this record, we knew we needed to make an important record. We needed to make a record that would have an impression on people and I think we’ve succeeded in doing that.

You’ve always been quite prolific as a really productive band, putting out so many quality releases. Just listening to your response to my last question, do you feel that the extra level of responsibility has maybe been a factor in the length of time from Strange Cousins to Earth Rocker? Has this extra level of responsibility contributed to the length of time taken to create Earth Rocker?

I think that’s part of it. But another part of it was that opportunities kept coming up to go and tour. So for us that meant a very long tour in the States with Black Label Society, a band that I didn’t really know that much about back then, but we were ready to do a record right before that tour. But that opportunity was there so we said we should wait, let’s do this tour. Then we were getting ready to go on tour again, then Lemmy called and you can’t say no to Motorhead, you have to do that. So then that kind of pushed the record back another six, eight months. Then before you knew it was three years later and everything kind of happens for a reason, musically we were in a different place after the Motorhead tour and after the Thin Lizzy tour that we did in the UK earlier last year. Things just sort of came into place and everything happens for a reason. I think it was the right move.

Spending time with those guys, you say musically you were in a different place. Going on tour with those bands, spending time with practically, rock icons, who know more than anyone about their craft, did this have an affect to how you approached the record?

Without a doubt, Motorhead tour and the Thin Lizzy tour were both exciting for us because it was great to see bands that have such a long history, a rich history. They’ve made so many good records and played so many cool shows and so for us it was really inspiring. I never got tired of standing ten feet away from Lemmy, just watching him. That guy is an absolute force. He’s great at what he does by any standard and it was exciting to watch him because he is more than ferocious than any seventeen year old kid trying to play music today. So for me that was really inspirational.

You touched on earlier relationships with labels and you’ve had quite a few. From Earache, EastWest, Columbia, Atlantic through to DRT. Do you feel that support from a label, in the early days, wasn’t just essential to Clutch, but do you feel that label support is important to any band in the early stages?

Yeah I think early on for us, although it was a constant battle, the one good thing that came from being on those labels was this idea of tour support. They would often subsidise some of the tours we would do and that sort of kept us going. We’d do a tour where the label would help us out a little bit, and then we would get dropped, and then we would have to do three or four tours really, eating baloney sandwiches. Then we would get signed again, another label and I think being able to tour as much as we did in the early days of the band was really, really important for us.

Would you say, not to take anything away from labels as many do an amazing and important job, sometimes did it feel like a necessary evil? Having to maintain those relationships?

Yeah, I think it did. At the end of the day you need to get your music out there and so whatever avenue it takes. At that time we didn’t get along very well with those labels but they did allow us to get our record in the stores, like I said before sometimes they would give us tour support, so although it was a struggle and it was a difficult time. It was important for us to do that and looking back now those struggles and those battles we had with those labels really made us who we are today.

Clutch are well known for your ability to improvise and you like to jam. On the new record you say you have tried to reign in that jam aspect of the band when you’re in the studio. Did Machine [producer of Earth Rocker] influence the more meticulous approach to the recording?

Without a doubt he has had an affect and he’s probably the most meticulous guy I know.
When it comes to playing and the overall concept of a song he really has an idea in his head as to how that’s song going to come together. So he also works in a very different way to how we’re accustomed to working. Generally, at least the three of us, myself, Dan and Tim, we’ll lay down the tracks together. If Neil is playing guitar on a certain song he’ll usually be there with us as well and that’s the traditional sort of approach to recording. With Machine I play my tracks by myself. I’m listening to tracks we’ve recorded earlier but it’s really just Machine and I in the room so it’s really like being a vocalist in the vocal booth. In some ways that allows more creative freedom, because I’m not really concerned about keeping time for the band, I’m not really concerned about keeping track of where everybody is or making sure that everyone’s stayed together. So in that way it gives you more freedom and in some ways it’s more difficult. I don’t have those other guys to sort of provide a little bit of energy or spontaneity so it’s really up to me to bring that energy to the table.

Listening to the title track from the new record, for me one thing that stood out was the production on the drums, the sound is really tight. The snare in particular has a real tight punch to it. So apart from the environment, did any of you guys take a different approach to the set up and recoding of your instruments on this record?

I think a lot of the sound really came from the drum sound. The drum sound can colour the entire recording, so even though you might have the exact same guitar tones and the same vocal ideas if you put a different kind of a drum sound in the mix, it colours the mix in a different way. So, the drums are really important and on this record we really wanted to go for a punchy in-your-face kind of a sound and that’s the kind of thing that Machine does best. He’s really good at making sure that everything in the mix is very present. Whereas with previous records, like Strange Cousins from the West it was more of an ambient style, an ambient sound that’s more organic. Earth Rocker is really in-your-face and it has a lot of sort pf immediate energy about it.

Would you say it’s almost a nod towards Transnational Speedway? Because that record had some real pace…

Yeah I suppose, although we’re much better players than we were back then. We kind of didn’t know what the hell we were doing, when we made Transnational. In some way it might be remind people of older material in that it’s sort of a little bit more in-your-face and a little bit more rocking. I am careful not use the words ‘angry’ or ‘aggressive’ and that’s because those emotions are over used in music today. Y’know there are so many bands out there who base their entire sound on how angry they are or how aggressive or how brutal they can be. For me that gets played out really easily, you’ve got to be able to tap in to other emotions and other feelings.

Otherwise the music becomes predictable?

Exactly, so you know if you get yourself into that mindset it really opens up a whole new avenue of looking at things. This record is fast, this record has a lot of energy, this record is very in your face but this record is not an ‘angry’ record. It’s not an aggro kind of a record.

During this conversation you’ve hinted towards yourself enjoying a wide range of music. There’s clearly a broad range of influences contained within the Clutch sound, but what are you listening to right now?

Let’s see I was in my room just now listening to Professor Longhair, I was listening to John Coltrane and Louis Armstrong.

So you’re really into the roots of your music?

I think you have to be. As a drummer, you really have to study the history on the instrument and in some ways we’re fortunate that we have documentation of the evolution of that instrument. People have been playing drums from the beginning of time, but the idea of actually sitting there with a kick drum and a snare drum and maybe with a pair of hi-hats that idea is new that just happened maybe a hundred years ago. Right around the time that people started to record music. So you can listen to some of the very earliest drum kit players, like Bady Dods, who recorded stuff in the ‘20’s with Kind Oliver. And you can listen to the evolution of that instrument. Guys like Gene Krupa and guys like Philly Jo Jones and Elvin Jones and Tony Williams.

To move away from your current musical direction and the study of your art and ask you quite an open ended question, one perhaps difficult to narrow down. If you had any advice for a band starting out today, what would it be?

Practise. Practise your instrument, know your instrument and then don’t be afraid of doing the work. You know whether that means practising, whether that means touring, you can’t take a shortcut; there are no short cuts in rock n roll.

So don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty?

Correct, and listen to other stuff too, don’t be afraid to listen to other music. If you’re a metal drummer don’t just listen to metal, check out other stuff. If you think you’re a funk drummer, check out some other stuff; check out some metal, check out some rock. The more you know about your instrument, the more you are able to develop your own voice.

From your experience of being in a band, you’ll be aware of the many labels used to describe your sound, sludge, stoner, post-hardcore, metal, rock. How much mind do you pay how to others categorize Clutch?

Zero, I pay no attention to what other people call us.

Do you think that’s good for your mental health?

I think so, and you know we’ve been called all those things you’ve just said, and in a few years there will be a new term used. So you can’t pay attention to that but you know at the same time people have to write stuff down and so in order to describe something there has to be the words. If a writer needs to use a word like ‘stoner’, stupid as it be, that describes something in a way that people may be able to better relate to whatever that sound might be.

A reference point is needed, but as a musician try not get caught up in those distinctions?

Try not to get caught up because as soon you do, you put yourself in a box. If you call it something then you’ve immediately dated it. So when people say ‘what kind of a band are you?’ I say we’re a rock n roll band. For me rock n roll is all of those things, it’s things like Professor Longhair and it’s things like Jimi Hendrix and things like Minor Threat and things like Sepultura. To me that’s all rock n roll.

So you could say rock n roll takes influences in and evolves. Is that the approach you take to what you’re doing with Clutch, always listening, learning and evolving? You’re not in one place in time?


Returning to Weathermaker, which must have been a real learning curve for all of you. Do you have any plans to expand the Weathermaker roster? Or do you foresee it always being the exclusive home of Clutch and The Bakerton Group?

Well when we first started it, it was always going to be exclusively just for us, the Bakerton Group and Clutch. Since then we’ve experimented with putting out other bands, and by that I mean The Company Band, Neil’s side project. We put a Mob 7” which is our manager Jack’s band that he started in 1979. Those guys were pretty influential on the New York hardcore scene and they kinda went on hiatus for a while and recently they started playing again and Jack wanted to record. What better way to put that music out than on a label that he is a partner in. I think that’s important to know to that the band runs the label, the band owns the label but we’re partners with Jack. Jack’s been with us now for close to 20 years and so he’s very much a part of this organisation and what we do. So yeah I’ve experimented with that and I’ve got a King Hobo record that I’m working on now and that will hopefully come out before the end of the year.

So the label is like a family?

Yeah, it is.

Should more guitarists embrace the wah pedal?

Yes! Of course! If Jimi Hendrix did it, then you should do it.

So now for some crucial questions, cats or dogs?



Well cats will leave you alone, some of the time, not all of the time, my wife and I have two. They’re pretty interesting; I wonder how their minds work. Dogs are great because they’re loyal and sort of easy to read, but cats are a mysterious beast.

Meat or vegetables?

Meat. Yeah I probably eat more than I should.

Bourbon or Scotch?

Craft beer.

Weathermaker Music have confirmed March 19, 2013 as the worldwide release date for Earth Rocker, available on the traditional physical formats of both CD and Vinyl.

In the meantime, here’s a link to the title track ‘Earth Rocker’