LOS ANGELES, January 15, 2014 — Hailing from Germantown, Md., Clutch has weathered 23 years together as a band. The band’s latest album, Earth Rocker, may be their best effort yet. In February of last year, Wells On Music spoke with the drummer for Clutch, Jean-Paul Gaster about recording the Earth Rocker album, touring and being a band for 23 years.
Kevin Wells: How have you managed to keep everyone in the band for over 20 years?
Jean-Paul Gaster: Well, it’s actually pretty easy. That’s because when we first started the band, we really only had two goals in mind; play good shows and make good records. And here we are 20 years later and we’re still trying to do exactly that. When we started the band it was certainly not something that we thought we could make a career out of. We didn’t think we were going to make a lot of money. The bands that we liked didn’t sell out arenas and they weren’t on the radio.
KW: What bands inspired you to want to start playing in a band of your own?
JPG: Bands like Fugazi, Bad Brains, Cro-Mags, stuff that wasn’t mainstream, that wasn’t popular stuff. Those were the musics we were into. The cool thing was when we were growing up here in D.C., we had the opportunity to see different kinds of music. The Dischord [Records] scene was definitely a big part of that. So that was bands like Fugazi and Jawbox, Fidelity Jones, Nation of Ulysses and we also used to go see a lot of go-go stuff. That was really important to us and go-go music is something we grew up with.
I didn’t realize it was as local as it was until I actually got on the road and realized that people didn’t know who Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers were. So that was really important for us and being able to see all of those great drummers. Go-go drummers like Ju Ju House and Brandon Finley. Between the go-go stuff and between the punk rock stuff and the metal stuff we were seeing, there was a good mix of all kinds of approaches to making what is essentially to me all kinds of rock and roll in one way or another. It was important, I think, for us to see those different kinds of music, I mean, exposed to those kinds of bands in order for us to sort of better our sound and develop our own course.
KW: How was the recording of the Earth Rocker album different from your passed albums?
JPG: We recorded with [producer] Machine. We recorded Blast Tyrant with him and a few songs off of Pure Rock Fury as well. He’s got a very different way of recording a band. For us, that meant that we would record our parts individually and he would edit things together in the computer. Generally when we record, it’s the three or four of us, if Neil [Fallon] is playing guitar on a particular track, in the studio, you know, recording as you would imagine a normal band would record.
But Machine is a real hands on sort of guy. It’s a very different kind of approach. It’s a modern way of thinking about making records. I’m not sure if one way is better than the other, but I had confidence that just getting yourself out of your comfort zone and trying some different things, whether it’s recording in a different place or using different techniques to record, good stuff comes from that, you know? As a musician it’s important to challenge yourself and not to become too complacent and bored with what’s happening.
KW: Was this the same method he used on Blast Tyrant and Pure Rock Fury with you guys?
JPG: Yeah, it was the same kind of method. The first couple times we did it, it was very jarring. We were not accustomed to recording like that at all. This time around, I think we knew what we were getting into and I think it made the songs better because we knew that when we were going to be recording the songs we were going to be recording in this way. So we kind of thought ahead and I think that reflects both on the production style of the record and the final arrangements too.
KW: You just finished a tour in Europe, how did that go?
JPG: Fantastic! It was great. It was kind of a short trip, kind of an abbreviated run. We managed to play a lot of different places in not too much time. We were over there for about three weeks. It was exciting because we can see that we’re starting to make some serious inroads there. We’ve always enjoyed our time in Europe, but it’s been a long, slow road in building the band. Some places have grown more quickly than others. Scandinavia, in particular, was one of the first places to pick up on us and we were having good shows there for a lot of years. Then places like Germany and France, we’ve been going to for a long time, but things weren’t as good as they are now. We had every show sell out. Everybody knows the songs and everybody knows the lyrics and it’s a lot of fun.
KW: Is there a difference you see between the European crowds and the U.S. crowds that come to see you?
JPG: Umm, you know, I think more and more as time goes on, the two crowds begin to be more and more alike than they are different. I used to think that European crowds were a little bit more reserved, but at the same time, had a greater appreciation for not just the music, but for the arts. It has a lot to do, I think, with the way those folks grow up. These days it’s looking more and more like an American crowd. I think the crowds are rowdy. They’ve kind of loosened up, it seems like, but I think that’s just because of the number of people that are coming to the show and the level of excitement that happens when you get that many people who are ready to have a good time and listen to some rock and roll. That feeling is contagious, you know, and it spreads throughout the room. So there is stuff that’s happening over there now that didn’t happen 10 years ago for us.
KW: Do you prefer touring either in Europe or the U.S.?
JPG: Well, as far as fans go, without a doubt we have more fans here [in the U.S.] in more cities. We can probably tour the United States for a year and a half straight and probably not play all the cities we needed to hit. The U.S. is such a huge place. Going overseas and playing a country like the U.K. or Holland or Sweden, you get a better appreciation for the actual size of the United States. It’s just such a massive place with so many places to go to. Whereas, if we’re in Sweden and we do three or even four Swedish gigs, that’s a lot of gigs in one country. We could do three or four shows in Ohio alone in one tour. It’s just such a different mentality, a different way of touring. I don’t really have a favorite. As long as folks are there to have a good time and my drums are set up, you know, I’m a simple guy, that’s really all I need.
KW: Has touring gotten easier or harder over the last 20 years?
JPG: Easier. For us, easier for sure. I have a better time on the road out there now than I did when I was younger. I appreciate it more. I have more respect for the instrument and more respect for the music we make. It’s a much better time than it was years ago. Partly because of the number of folks who are coming out to see the show and partly because of the way we travel now. We don’t usually travel in vans unless we have to. Just having a bus makes things a lot easier. Even outside of that, it’s such a good feeling to be in this band after almost 23 years now, making music and playing these shows with guys I know like my brothers that are all on the same page. We’re all here to make music.
KW: Does having a family complicate touring?
JPG: Everybody’s married and some of us have kids. You know, it’s tough to leave and that part of it is never something you get accustomed to, but, you know, it’s what we do. This is our profession and we take it very seriously.
KW: What’s the craziest thing that has happened on tour?
JPG: Well, you know, every day is a crazy day. So the day that you show up to a gig where everything works, where doors happen on time, and where all the bands play, and there’s no funny business going on at the end of the night with the promoter, that’s a crazy day.
KW: Can fans look forward to anymore albums from The Bakerton Group?
JPG: Sure, yeah, we’ll definitely be doing some more of that. The Bakerton Group is a good outlet for us. It lets us try some things that we normally wouldn’t try with Clutch. It’s kind of like a laboratory, in a way, and it’s a really good diversion. It allows you to make songs with a different mentality. We’re not worried about a vocal line. It’s a different kind of song writing. I don’t know exactly when we’re gonna do that, but that’s definitely a part of what we do and I know that we’ll do that again.
KW: Tell me about the upcoming U.S. tour.
JPG: We’ll go all the way out to California and back. We’ll start the first week of March and the first leg is about seven weeks long. Then we come home for about 10 days and then we go back out for another month. Shortly after that, we’ll be going back over to Europe and we’ll hit some festivals and we’ll probably hit the road again. You know, we took a long time to make this record, but we knew it was going to be something we’d be able to tour on for a long time as well. I don’t see the touring stopping anytime soon. I know that we’ll tour on this record, easily, for two years, maybe even longer. We’ll see how things go.
KW: Is there anything else you want your fans to know about the band?
JPG: Ummm, well, not really. [laughs] Come out and see us play. Check out our side projects. Neil has the Company band. I have a band with some buddies of mine in Sweden called King Hobo. And I just made a record too with a local blues guitarist called Mike Westcott. That record’s called Justice Road. It’s important for us to try those different kinds of things too. It’s sort of the same mentality as The Bakerton Group, where if you can put yourself in a little bit different mindset and a little bit different kind of setting, some music is gonna come from that and ultimately, that will make the Clutch music better. Any time I have the opportunity to play with somebody new, I always try to because you learn so much just getting to know people musically.
If you get the chance to see Clutch live, you really should. Clutch’s latest album, Earth Rocker, is available on Weathermaker Music.
Kevin J. Wells writes about Major League Baseball and punk rock music. Follow him on Twitter @WellsOnBaseball