The boundary pushing rock group Clutch have released yet another ambitious endeavor with ROBOT HIVE/EXODUS. Currently ready to return to the US for a batch of shows, we spoke with Neil Fallon while out with the Sounds Of The Underground tour about the new album, the band's new record label, and what keeps Clutch tick after all this time as a veritable rock 'n' roll machine.
The Gauntlet: How did you guys wind up in the "Sounds of the Underground Tour" this year?
Neil Fallon: Sounds of the Underground came about really quite easily. Our manager put it together, so I guess we're what you'd call founders of it. He was, you know, an initial partner in making this tour happen, and that was sort of our in.
The Gauntlet: Do you guys enjoy the festival experience on a whole?
Neil Fallon: Yeah, well it's new to us. We've never done a tour on a festival before. And there's a lot of hurrying up and waiting. But it's good exposure at the end of the day.
The Gauntlet: Have you guys done any European festivals before?
Neil Fallon: Uh, yeah, we did one� not a whole lot. We just did one about two months ago in Spain, which was great.
The Gauntlet: Any differences that you've noticed between European and American fests? Or are they basically the same thing?
Neil Fallon: Um, I think European Festivals, they uh, they are more indifferent. I do notice that there. They are more open-minded� diverse bill. I think Americans still tend to just cater to a more specific genre.
The Gauntlet: ROBOT HIVE/EXODUS displays some changes in the band's sound, with the keyboard you added, it's a little more bluesy, etc. How did those changes come about, and what is the best thing you feel about these changes?
Neil Fallon: Well, when we did BLAST TYRANT I had put a bunch of keyboards on it, and we were looking for a keyboard player because I wasn't about to sing behind a keyboard, and it was initially going to be a temporary thing but we kind of hit it off with Mick and really became accustomed to hearing the B3 with our music. And as far as the blues goes, I think that you know, our favorite bands are bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, and all of those bands really, they are like the first generation of rock that listened to the blues. In a lot of ways they are blues bands. So I don't think its� It's almost as if it is full circle as opposed to like progression.
The Gauntlet: Any funny stories or interesting anecdotes you want to share while recording the album?
Neil Fallon: Um, well it was fairly straightforward. We did a good bit of the tracking up in Woodstock, New York at a place called Bearsville, which Muddy Waters recorded at for quite a while, but it was pretty cut and dried, the whole process.
The Gauntlet: What is your favorite song, your least favorite song, and the song with which you were challenged the most on this album?
Neil Fallon: My favorite song, I'd have to say, I'm fond of the live track "Who's Been Talking". It's a very spontaneous decision to do it. I think, you know, in contrast to that, there's that song "10001110101" which was a real bear. Lyrically I just went over and over it again, and sometimes that can make a song more difficult to enjoy even though it may turn out great. As for challenging, that was probably that one.
The Gauntlet: Now, you guys have a new record label on DRT. How did you guys hook up with them and how has it been so far compared to your other label experience? What is the difference and similarities you see with DRT compared to other experiences you've had?
Neil Fallon: Well, major labels like Atlantic and Columbia, what they are designed to do is sell platinum records. Everything else is kind of an afterthought to them, and we are not a band, at least as I see it, that is going to be doing that anytime soon. With DRT it's more an honest relationship where they know what kind of band we are. We are a touring band that makes its money on the road, and they are not going to financially and philosophically make us out to be something that we are not. It is much more of a business agreement between two parties.
The Gauntlet: You guys are known actually for always being on the road. What are some of the best and worst things about being on the road?
Neil Fallon: Well, being on the road you get an education that you can't get from anywhere else. You learn a lot and you get to travel so much. The worst part is traveling. The older you get, you know, you get families and kids and more rooted where you live and so it's more difficult to leave.
The Gauntlet: What is your favorite summertime memory of being in Clutch? Either recording or doing shows? What things stick out in your mind when you think of summertime and Clutch?
Neil Fallon: Oh boy, that's a tough one. There's been a couple of days off where we'll find ourselves in exotic spots. Just a couple of weeks ago we had a day off in San Sebastian in Spain, which was, you know, seeing all these people on a topless beach was pretty kick ass.
The Gauntlet: What keeps Clutch going? How do you guys keep it interesting for yourselves, how do you guys keep it interesting and intriguing for the band? What motivates you guys?
Neil Fallon: Fear of day jobs. That and, you know, we try to make music that will entertain us first and not, you know, I think the minute we try doing music that is designed to entertain someone else, it gets really boring.
The Gauntlet: You also hooked up with Mastodon on their latest album. Are there anymore of those planned out for the future, and how did that come about?
Neil Fallon: Well, we've known Mastodon for quite some time..We've toured with them a number of times, and they were writing that album when we were on the road with them and they asked me to sing on there, and of course, I said yes. I thought that was very flattering to do that. But, there are no other projects in discussion, besides our drummer JT playing drums on a band called Five Horse Johnson's, sort of a blues rock band, album, but I don't know when it's coming out.
The Gauntlet: How would you describe Clutch to someone who'd never heard you guys before?
Neil Fallon: For me it's just straight up rock 'n' roll with a sense of humor and a bit of escapism.
The Gauntlet: What are you currently listening to, you know, new or old. What's in your CD player when you are on the road or just now in general?
Neil Fallon: Some old Yardbird CD, and a Norwegian act called Dungeon that I've been listening to quite a bit.
The Gauntlet: How do you spend your down time on the road? What is your favorite activity?
Neil Fallon: A steady regimen of sleeping, watching TV and eating.
The Gauntlet: Your lyrics have always been known to be a little left of center. Is there anything you haven't written about that you'd like to, or is there anything that you wouldn't write about at all?
Neil Fallon: I try to stay away from politics and like, personal relationship issues. To me that's boring. I like to do more fiction than anything else. If it's fiction you can say whatever you want to say. And, you know, emotions they come and go. Who wants to sing about the big breakup five years later? There's plenty of topics that I don't� I guess� I don't know. They are out there; it's just a matter of finding them.
The Gauntlet: Have you ever tried to work at the other end of the studio, like recording or producing any bands?
Neil Fallon: To be honest, no, I really would never want to do that. I don't think I have the patience to listen to that kind of stuff. I mean, I wouldn't mind collaborating creatively and writing something, but as far as like the producer aspect; I don't think I have that job in men.
The Gauntlet: How was growing up in the Maryland area influenced your taste in music?
Neil Fallon: I think it could be described as two things. We kind of were right, geographically and artistically, in the middle of two scenes. There's a well-known DC Punk Scene where we grew up listening to Minor Threat and Bad Brains and Void and what have you. And also in Maryland there's a big stoner metal scene where you have guys like Wino and Internal Void and that was� and Wretches, those were all big influences on us.
The Gauntlet: What keeps your live experiences such a thrill for you after all these years?
Neil Fallon: I always get stage fright a little bit, and I think that's a good thing because it pumps up your adrenaline. There are days where you don't really go through and try to give it your all, but I will always tell myself, there may be a kid out there 14 years old who's been waiting years to see your band and you have one chance to make a first impression and you know, you can't apologize for it later if you weren't giving it 100%.
The Gauntlet: Who would be considered to be one of your greatest vocal influences?
Neil Fallon: I've always been a big fan of Tom Waits.
The Gauntlet: What would you do if you weren't in Clutch, do you think? What track... what other fields interest you?
Neil Fallon: I was about a signature away from joining the Navy, so I'd probably still be doing that.
The Gauntlet: What is the basic protocol as to how Clutch writes a song? Organic? You guys go in the jam room and jam, or does it depend on each album. Like a treatment for each song? Is there a set thing that you guys do?
Neil Fallon: Well, usually the way it works is, you know, one of us has a riff, we'll go to the jam pad and someone will play the riff and we'll put a beat to it, and then someone else will say we'll let's follow it up with something like this� and basically its brainstorming and then come up with it, put it on tape and then I'll put some words on it. We keep fucking with it until it gets on the tape. But, I couldn't tell you who wrote what at the end of it. It's very egalitarian.
The Gauntlet: So it's basically all collaborative?
Neil Fallon: Yeah.
The Gauntlet: Has the influence of the keyboard really like, shifted it a little bit, or is it still the same kind of warm feeling you get?
Neil Fallon: It's the same thing. I mean, the keyboards are really kind of like a rhythm section that fits in between guitars and base, it's not as if you are going to be writing music around keyboard solos. Well if we cover some Deep Purple songs maybe.
The Gauntlet: Are there any songs, things of albums or videos that you look back at now and cringe at?
Neil Fallon: Yeah, I mean, always, I listen� I'm our own� my own biggest critic and listening to a vocal performance or a certain phrase that I think may be overdone or underdone and uh, you know, of course, there's been, you know, we've done close to� probably 2,000 shows or more, and there are always a handful of shows where I just messed up royally, nothing short of embarrassing, but that's what is going to happen if you do that many shows.
The Gauntlet: What's coming up next for you guys after Sounds of the Underground?
Neil Fallon: We've got about a week's worth of dates in August, and we are basically going to be headlining until Christmas or New Years.
The Gauntlet: Cool, in the States or Europe?
Neil Fallon: Both, probably.
The Gauntlet: Excellent, so you guys are busy for the whole year, throughout?
Neil Fallon: Yeah, actually when the album comes out, that's when the band has to work the most. But that's how we do it.