Interview: Clutch

I think there's there's an idea amongst bands who are sort of on the cusp of becoming those massive headliners that if they just up the stage show a little bit, that somehow people perceive them as being maybe bigger than they really are. And, you know, that's not really our bag. We prefer to concentrate on the music. . .

Our very own Chris Ball was lucky enough to catch up with Jean-Paul Gaster (pictured centre), drummer extraordinaire with Clutch. Ahead of their now traditional Christmas show in London at The Roundhouse, genial Jean-Paul raps about the blues, Ramblin’ Man Fair, the genius of Neil Fallon and much more besides.

E&D: I don’t know how many times I’ve seen you, but apart from when I saw you play the Metal Hammer awards show and when you played a festival in East London a few years ago, you always seem to play [the UK] in December. Now, is that something that’s becoming deliberate, like a tradition, or is that just all completely coincidental?

J-P Gaster: Well it seems to, it just seems to work with our schedule now. You are correct. It seems like we’ve kind of been coming over here in the December time for the last four or five years, something like that. And yeah, it’s good, I think it’s a good time of year to play. First of all, there’s not a lot of competition. I think, you know, most folks prefer to tour in the summertime and spring. So there’s that going for us. And as you know, it’s close to holidays and so people like to go out and party and be with friends and maybe see some rock and roll.

E&D: Yeah, I really notice that in the vibes, it’s a really great up-for-it crowd at a Clutch show around Christmas time. It is really becoming a tradition as I say. It’s December. It must be time for Clutch: Great! So in terms of your year then another good year for the band, would you say?

J-P Gaster: Yeah, it has been. We’ve had a good year. We’ve had some loss this year. Unfortunately we lost our manager Jack Flanagan to pancreatic cancer.

E&D: Sorry to hear that.

J-P Gaster: Oh yeah. That was shitty to say the least. And so we’re still we’re still working through that. Outside of that, though, we had some we had some good plays. We came over, we did some great festivals. We did Download.

E&D: Was that the first time you’ve done the main stage?

J-P Gaster: First time we’ve done the main stage. Yeah, that was great. We had a good, good show there.

E&D: Huge crowd, I saw.

J-P Gaster: Big crowd. It was really great. We always have a good time at Download, but being the first time we played the main stage, I think it makes a big difference. We’re playing a lot more people in that kind of environment. So we were fortunate to have that slot. And I think we did very well. I think we had a great show. We played as hard as we could and just tried to make some new fans in the process.

E&D: So obviously, you’ve been kind of consolidating on that last album this year. You’ve continued to tour and play the big festivals but you’ve also put out a few covers and reworked a couple of songs. Was that something that’s been on the back burner for a while? Or was that something you kind of strategically decided you wanted to get done, just to keep your hand in commercially while you were touring?

J-P Gaster: I think there was a few things that went into it. First of all, just from a creative standpoint, it was good for us to get in the studio and just keep those kind of vibes going. I think we are very much a live band. I think we’re getting better at being in the studio. But in order to do that, I think it’s good for us to just get in there as much as we can. So just from a from an artistic point of view, it was it was time for us to get in the studio and experiment a little bit.

We also did record some covers. We re-recorded some old songs, and a lot of those as we released them, we kind of use those kind of as an experiment in a way, you know, we hadn’t released music strictly in the digital format ever before. So that was a first for us. And so each one of those singles was kind of a proving ground, a testing ground, you know, for how to go about doing this for when we go to record the next album. And so I think we’ve learned a lot in the process. . . and I think we’re that much more prepared. We’ll see when we go to release our next album.

E&D: And actually, I wanted to say about ‘Evil’ – I only ever knew the Monster Magnet cover version of that, but I’ve never actually explored where that song came from. So that’s a really, really old song, right?

J-P Gaster:  I think that’s a very old song.The version that I probably first heard was the Howlin’ Wolf version. You know, we are big fans of Howlin’ Wolf. And then a band called Cactus actually covered it and they they changed it musically quite a bit. It’s still a blues, it’s a twelve bar thing. But they they put some riffs in there. And I think that’s probably the version that we were sort of most inspired by. Yeah, our version kind of sounds, I think, most like the Cactus version, out of all of them. But I do remember Monster Magnet playing that song as well. We did a tour with Monster Magnet in 1993 and I loved watching them play that song in particular. And I think it’s just such a fun tune. Yeah, the riffs are great. And when you have a form like that, a blues form, it really allows you to sort of explore different avenues each time you play. You can really breathe new life into it. And and I think that’s one of the beautiful things about about playing the blues is that is that, you know,  you can play a corny blues, you know, you can play a blues – it’s a sort of a stock blues. But I think if you spend a little bit of time with it, if you put yourself into that form, it can be one of the most expressive forms that there is.

E&D: One thing I wanted to ask you about Download – a lot of bands when they get the opportunity to go to that big stage, you’ve got all the TV cameras and a huge audience and some bands get mad with a kind of crazy production. I remember seeing Bring Me The Horizon a few years ago and they went mental with all the flames and the lasers. It was during the day, but it was a crazy, over-the-top production. You guys. I’ve never seen you do anything like that. I’m guessing partly it’s an aesthetic or is it a budget thing, or is it you’re not comfortable with that kind of rock and roll kind of over-the-top theatrics?

J-P Gaster: Maybe it’s a little bit of all that stuff. I think none of us really want to, like run around catwalks first of all. There’s plenty of stuff going on on stage. Why add more complication to it! Yeah, certainly, you know, the budgetary side of it is, it’s tough, as well. I mean, that’s crazy expensive to me to be carrying that stuff.

And I think there’s an idea amongst bands who are sort of on the cusp of becoming those massive headliners that if they just up the stage show a little bit, that somehow people perceive them as being maybe bigger than they really are. And, you know, that’s not really our bag. We prefer to concentrate on the music. And the songs and playing our instruments rather than running around the stage like a bunch of idiots.

That’s not to say that there’s not that don’t do that beautifully. I mean, look at Iron Maiden.

E&D: That last tour was incredible.

J-P Gaster: Jesus Christ! It was incredible! Awesome band. The Rolling Stones. You know, look at Mick Jagger. He’s got plenty of production. He does a great job. I’ve seen a lot of other bands that are, in my opinion, sub-par musicians and sub-par songwriters and they try to make up for in outfits and productions.

E&D: I’m not gonna get you to mention any names to start any fights!

J-P Gaster: Yeah. There’s too many of them I’m sure.

E&D: But having said that. . . So though you keep it kind of pretty simple and straightforward on stage that’s not to say that you don’t, and you can’t, project and entertain through your videos, which I always find are fantastic. I think they’re high spec, they’re amusing and memorable. Where do the ideas come from?

J-P Gaster: Thank you. You know, so much of it is is generated around Neil’s lyrics. We are very fortunate to have somebody as talented as Neil in the band. I think he’s probably one of the most creative lyricists out there in heavy music.  There’s an element of humour in his lyrics, I think, that is appealing, and the influences he draws from, they run deep. And I think when you have somebody like Neil who’s smart enough to take these concepts and put them together, weave these ideas together, it’s pretty easy really to come up with creative videos. I’m thinking specifically of the ‘Ghoul Wrangler’ video that we did last winter. You know for us it was quite a stretch. You know, we dressed up like zombies and ran around in the snow and froze our asses off in the process. But we were really happy to do it. It was fun and it was something different for us.

E&D: So Neil doesn’t drag you along. And you’re all going, “Oh, man, can’t we just do a live one?!”

J-P Gaster: Not at all! Not at all! But we are also very lucky to have a great video team that we’ve been working with for the last couple of years, My Good Eye Productions, and that’s our buddies Dave and Allie Brodsky. And so we’ve known him long enough now that we can we can sort of feel comfortable around him, you know. In the end, we’re really kind of shy guys. We sort of stay to ourselves and he manages to sort of get into our heads a little bit and make us a little more comfortable in doing stuff like running around like a zombie lawyers. (laughs)

E&D: Now can I ask you about the announcement about Ramblin’ Man Fair?

J-P Gaster: We can talk about it. Yeah!

E&D: From what I understand, they came to you with this idea of playing three dates through the weekend. Is that right?

J-P Gaster:  That is correct. It’s something we have not done before. I’m not even sure that they’ve done it before.

E&D: No, they haven’t as far as I’m aware.

J-P Gaster: So we’re excited about it. You know, that’s one my favourite things about being in this band is that we really can we can stretch quite a bit in the live show. We have a lot of different kinds of songs and pull-from at this point, you know, we have 13 full-length album, so there’s tons of material to pull from. And so the opportunity to do something like this was exciting for us, we’d never entertained the idea before. And for him to come to us and ask us, you know, would we be interested in it was exciting. It was an opportunity, I think, for us to sort of stretch a little bit. And so even on this tour that we’re doing now, we’ve been rolling out songs that we haven’t done in quite some time in an effort to sort of widen the catalogue. I think we’re up to 70 songs now that we’re pulling from. . . to make each night’s set-list. . . So it’s going to be a great weekend. We’re going to do three very different kind of sets.  We’re going to have some guests join us too. That’ll be fun.

E&D: No names you can mention yet?

J-P Gaster: No, sure we can. My buddy Mike Dillon, who is a percussionist and vibraphonist. We play with him in the States from time to time. He has a great appreciation for Washington, D.C. Go-Go music,  and so he’s gonna come over and we’re gonna play some Go-Go on Sunday night. Our friend Per Wiberg, who’s actually playing tonight in Kamchatka. Man, he’s played for everybody. He used to play for Opeth. He plays in Candlemass. He plays in tons of bands. Super creative guy. One of my favourite people and he’s gonna play keyboards with us on that weekend. And so that’s going to allow us to stretch out a little bit, too. So we’re thinking ahead to it already.

E&D: I look forward to seeing it.

J-P Gaster: That’s gonna be the Blues, Go-Go,  experimental freak-out stage. Bring your acid!

E&D: Yeah, rename it that just for the day! I was going to say I was at Ramblin’ Man last year, and we were, you know, checking out the crowd at the festival to see what kind of demographic is, right. I’m not lying, we saw more Clutch t-shirts last year than any other band.

J-P Gaster: No shit!

E&D: So I don’t know if the promoters noticed that but we thought, they’ve got to get Clutch. And then, would you believe it. . .

J-P Gaster: Amazing! Wow!

E&D: So I think you’re going to have the crowd on your side. That is totally, totally, totally set up for it.

J-P Gaster:  I hope so. We’re gonna do our best not to fuck it up! (laughs)

E&D: Are there any bands on that weekend that you’re looking forward to seeing?

J-P Gaster:  I’m not sure who’s playing but I know that on Sunday night, our buddies, Inspector Cluzo, are on the stage.  I know that it’s a very eclectic festival and so it’ll be fun to hang out there all weekend. And I’m sure we’ll be checking out some bands anyway.



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