Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
It is highly probable that when Clutch plays at the Clear Channel Metroplex on Oct. 10, there will be members of the audience who have been alive for less time than the rock quartet — impressively, still in its original lineup — have been making music together. The Frederick, Md., band's 11th studio album is called "Psychic Warfare," and its members cite science fiction writer Philip Dick as the album's primary influence. I was fortunate enough to connect dimensions with one of rock's greatest drummers from our present time and space, Jean-Paul Gaster, ahead of that performance.
With such a big catalog of music, how do you guys decide on the set list each night?
There's a pretty simple answer to that: We each take turns making a different set list every night. About 20 years ago, we started a process where, on the first night of the tour, Dan [Maines] would make the set list, then I would, and then Neil [Fallon], and then Tim [Sult], and then we start over again. It's actually alphabetical by first name. (Laughs.)
What's rehearsing like? Getting ready for the tour as opposed to jamming for an album?
To be totally honest, we're not very good at rehearsing. We have gotten better at it recently, and by that I mean in the last couple of years. I think it's helpful for us all to play a handful of the new songs to get a feel for what's going on, but the thing is, we've been on the road for so long now that having a couple of weeks off is just a great break. It gives you the chance to clear your head a bit.
Clutch has earned a hardcore loyal fanbase. What does that feel like?
It's fantastic. We are blessed to have a fanbase that is very dedicated, but we're also very dedicated to them. By that, I mean that when we get up and play — every time we get up and play — we play 100 percent regardless of how long we've been out, or how many shows we've done in a row, or what set time, or the size of the venue or the size of the crowd. I think the fans expect that level of honesty from us. When they come to a show, they put down their hard-earned money to buy a ticket, buy some T-shirts, maybe buy some beers for their friends, and maybe have a good time, so we feel like it's our obligation to get up there and play as hard as we can, and to make it a real musical experience, not just get up there and regurgitate what happened last night.
Any bands you guys have developed a kinship with, from playing shows together?
Sure! Mastodon, for instance. We had the opportunity to play with them a few times in Europe on this recent trip, and it's great. We've known those guys for many years, and I think that there's a great comraderie between our bands. Corrosion of Conformity and Lamb of God, both great bands and good friends of ours. On the tour coming up, we have Zakk Wylde doing something called Zakk Sabbath, which is he and Joey Castillo, a monster drummer from Los Angeles who played in Sugartooth and Queens of the Stone Age. Blasko's [Rob Nicholson, bass player for Ozzy Osbourne] playing bass on that one. Once you've been out here for a while, you see the same bands out there workin', and it's good. It's like a family reunion.
You guys tour every nook and cranny, even small towns. Do you enjoy it?
Absolutely. In a lot of ways, those are my favorite shows to play. Sure, it's great to play Los Angeles or New York City, but those people are sort of inundated with music on a constant basis, so sometimes when you go out of town — when you go to a place like Little Rock, Ark., or Birmingham, Ala., or Shreveport, La. — those people don't always get shows, so when they come out they're extra fired up. They're appreciative that the band came to town, and we appreciate that they came out and saw us play.
Let's talk about Weathermaker, the Clutch record label.
Weathermaker is a label that we started just for Clutch's music, to allow us to release Clutch's music when we wanted to and how we wanted to. Prior to that, we were on several labels over the years. Major labels. Independent labels. Independent labels that thought they were major labels. It was difficult. Those relationships are always strange because, at the end of the day, these are people that want to make money off of your music, and that leads to a lot of conversations about stuff that's not musical, not creative and not inspiring. So, when we finished our last record for a label called DRT, we realized the writing was on the wall. There was no way we could sign to another label, and we knew that even if we did a really crappy job of putting out our own records, it'd still be better. It's been about eight years now, and we've learned a lot. It's an amazing thing to be able to make music, and even better to be able to release your music on your own terms.
Name a few drummers you look up to.
My first favorite drummer was probably Bill Ward of Black Sabbath. Although Sabbath was such a bruisingly heavy band, there's a lot of dynamic in play, especially around those early records. It's not just slamming away on two and four — I heard roots there. I heard Gene Krupa stuff, and Buddy Rich stuff. For me, as a 16-year-old, it was kind of an eye-opening experience. I didn't realize that the rock dudes also listen to the jazz guys. That piqued my interest, so I went backward and started listening to guys like Ginger Baker [Cream] and Mitch Mitchell [Jimi Hendrix Experience] and Elvin Jones [John Coltrane Quartet], Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette, Philly Jo Jones — all these guys were instrumental in creating this vocabulary. These days, there are so many drummers out there who are completely involved with just trying to be the fastest player, trying to do this "blast beat" as fast as they can. To me, that's uninteresting. There's so much more that you can express, so many other feelings you can get from the drums.
What are a couple of guilty pleasures you're listening to right now?
You know what, I've been messing around with this mandolin, so I find myself listening to blues stuff and trying to find those chords. Last night, I was listening to Sonny Boy Williamson, Elmore James, Buddy Guy. I listen to a lot of dubstep and King Tubby, Big Youth. Funk stuff like The Meters and Jimi Hendrix's "Band of Gypsys" — all over the place.
You guys started out very heavy and pissed off, almost like a hardcore band, and through time you've seemed to fallen into the pocket of becoming a great rock 'n' roll band. How did that happen?
It's an evolving process. I like that you said, "rock 'n' roll," because when people ask me what kind of music we play, that's what I say. Rock 'n' roll is all of those things, whether we're talking about Fats Domino or Professor Longhair, Bad Brains, Bob Marley, Run-D.M.C. It's all rock 'n' roll. It's all part of the same thing.
Clutch plays at Clear Channel Metroplex at 8 p.m. Oct. 10 with special guests Zakk Sabbath and Kyng, $29-$30.