Rock It: Clutch’s Neil Fallon talks release of 10th album ‘Earth Rocker’

Posted on November 13, 2013

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Rock It: Clutch’s Neil Fallon talks release of 10th album ‘Earth Rocker’

Clutch (Photo Provided)

Clutch (Photo Provided)

By Rachael Mattice

For a 23-year-old band like Clutch, which was initially influenced by punk minimalism and later developed a heavy, non-distortion jam style, producing a straight rock album with the energy of a live show was enticing.

With a few years of preparation, the band of four from Maryland wrote bold and aggressive “Earth Rocker” with influences from Thin Lizzy and Motorhead. The album will be released on Tuesday from the band’s own label, Weathermaker.

Clutch’s new hard album features more solos instead of riffs from guitarist Tim Sult, drummer Jean-Paul Gaster’s incorporation of shuffles into songs such as “Book, Saddle & Go” and “Mr. Freedom,” and bassist Dan Maines playing steady 16th note bass lines all without relying heavily on distortion.

Vocalist Neil Fallon said “Earth Rocker” could easily be performed live from beginning to end. Clutch’s stylistic variety has hooked a rather diehard following, including many fans in Greater Lafayette.

A rhythm guitarist, keyboardist and wordsmith, Fallon writes lyrics centered on a story with plenty of classic rock references and deep meaning . His howling voice – Tom Waits meshed with Public Enemy’s Chuck D – powers through each song with the true grit and grime of contemporary rock.

Fallon spoke with me about the development and guts of “Earth Rocker,” among other things.

Question: Being your 10th studio album, you’ve been together awhile and have toured across the world. Besides Lafayette, where else do you notice a strong Clutch following?

Answer: The Midwest has always been particularly good, as well as the Pacific northwest. Scandinavia is very good for Clutch as is Australia and the United Kingdom. Continental Europe is starting to warm up quite a bit as well.

Q: I’ve talked with several other bands now that have started their own label and are producing their albums. Do you think this is the best way to go? Do you think more bands will gravitate to doing this?

A: For bands like us I think it is. We’re not the best model because we’re not making music that will appeal to everybody. We are making music to a select group and can reach those people through the Internet.

You may not ship as many records as you would with a major label but you control your own destiny. You cut out a lot of middlemen and there is a bigger profit margin on the records, if you want to talk straight up business.

Philosophically, I think fans like the idea of buying records directly from the bands that they like. The music industry is still falling apart. It’s such a big monster to disintegrate. I think it’s healthy for music to be more accessible and that’s what we’re doing.

We were on major labels for 10 years, we built up our following from touring and we got tour support from major labels. We finally found ourselves in a position to put out our own records. Its just like small business, there are steps. You start small and learn from mistakes. I don’t think it’s terribly hard if you roll your sleeves up and get to work. More work has more reward.

Q: What is your take on social media for bands? Do you think it is worthwhile and a great way to interact with fans?

A: I think so, if they understand that on a list of priorities playing live music is No. 1 and writing kickass rock n’ roll music is No. 1 as well. If you start judging your success by the number of “likes” you have on Facebook, you’ve got it completely backwards.

Clutch just got a Twitter account three or four months ago and that was more because we were getting ready to promote our next record. It is a good tool but it is by no means a reason a band’s success to make music.

Clutch "Earth Rocker"

Clutch “Earth Rocker”

Q: I thought the lyrics to “Mr. Freedom” were amusing. Has that group of individuals always irritated you?

A: That song was written during the last presidential election. I live in the suburbs of Washington D.C. which is where I am right now and it is just a gross orgy of politics.

I got really weary of the language people were using, particularly with the use of the word freedom. People would say, “oh I’m from freedom” “I support freedom.” You heard it so much it ceased to have any meaning. It became a vague marketing tool for people to spout verbal diarrhea to take up air time. I just had enough. I don’t particularly like to add politics into the music but sometimes I just gotta let it out.

Check out Clutch’s lyric video for the single “Earth Rocker”

Q: “D.C. Sound Attack” is one of my favorites on the album; can you tell me a little more back-story?

A: Even with lines like “I’m a war monger,” it is more of a commentary about the ugliness of the industry of war instead of celebrating it, even though it’s in the first person.

It was similar to “Mr. Freedom,” in the sense that I’m so sick of the gross language of war because we are so used to it. We just assume it is a normal state of affairs and it’s not. Especially here in D.C. where you have people coming here making a living lobbying for war.

The percussion breakdown in the middle is a particular sound of D.C. Go-go (known as a subgenre regional to Washington D.C. that mixes funk and early hip-hop) and the “D.C. Sound Attack” title is a famous Go-go compilation called “Paint the White House Black.” On it there is a star and it says ‘this is the real D.C. sound attack’ and it was hanging on J.P.’s wall when we were writing the song and I said it was a really good name for this tune.

Q: How would you describe and characterize the change in your music over the years? How would you describe Clutch as a whole?

A: When we first started I think we were much more rooted into hardcore punk rock. In our first album, when I look back on it, it seems very juvenile and used emotional lyrics and anger. I exhausted that pretty quickly because I’m not an angry person. I found that tiring.

I think lyrically that I could write stories and I could say them over and over again and wouldn’t get tired of them. Musically we have become much more riff oriented.

J.P., Dan and Tim – they’ve played jazz fusion for fun, J.P. plays rock jazz, I got into blues and country music. All these things we play we bring to the table. Hopefully the sum is greater than the parts. We’re still learning and that’s the reason we’re still a band. We treat this as a school.

Q: A lot of your lyrics reference stories, or like writing “fiction.” How do you think fans relate to this style?

A: I want to provide enough meat and potatoes to the story but at the same time you have to leave enough room for interpretation and imagination for the listener.

I don’t have the answer for a lot of these songs. I have to look at a lot of these songs and ask myself what this song is about and that’s okay. If you knew entirely what a song is about then it’s dead. It’s more fun to interpret it and sometimes it takes me years and I can look back at it in hindsight. The 3-4 minutes I sing a song I am the world’s utmost expert at the subject and I assume the character, but then it ends and it’s a license to lie and try and go full throttle with it.

Q: Does Clutch have plans to produce another live DVD?

A: Not in the immediate future but we have been thinking about it for this record. I think we could play this record from beginning to end live very easily. We have been so knee deep in “Earth Rocker” and will be until Mach 19 that new projects are just hard to think about at this particular time.

Q: Clutch has had quite a few songs in television and movies. In your mind, what does that say about your band? Which feature of your songs were you most humbled with?

A: It’s gratifying because any musician wants as many people to hear their music and goes to show you that programmers in mainstream radio aren’t the most creative people in the world. They always play it safe. You have people that work on these shows, production assistants, direct us to the kid who knows and likes metal and asks what is the cool thing to play here. A lot of it is from the ground up for us.

It also comes from publisher who administers us and shops our music to these folks. Probably the one I got the biggest kick out of was “The Walking Dead” feature. I was already a fan of the show, last season they played our song. The season break finale, I think, and it was pretty cool to hear.

Q: How did you first get involved in music? Tell me about how you met the other guys in Clutch.

A: We all went to high school together. J.P. and I slashed names so our lockers were close to each other. I did alright in school but wasn’t ascending in academics and I wasn’t interested in playing team sports. There are a lot of people like that who gravitated toward music. Punk rock, hardcore and metal- that’s what we were into. There weren’t a whole lot of guys like that at our high school so we all knew each other.

We wanted to start a band because it looked like a lot of fun. Clutch started in high school, then I parted ways for about a year or so and then they had a singer who couldn’t do a couple of shows. Since I did a few shows with them in high school they asked if I could fill in and I’ve been doing it ever since.

The only ones who have taken lessons were J.P. and Tim. Tim was in jazz ensemble and I think J.P. was in the drum corps. I didn’t have a lick of musical inclination and I’m still trying to figure that out. I think Dan is kind of the same way, he fiddled around on guitar and took up bass.

Q: I saw that your toured with Motorhead recently, was there anything outwardly memorable about touring with them?

A: We’ve done two tours with Motorhead, we did one last year in the U.S. and one six years ago in England.

People talk about Lemmy’s longevity and one thing I was astonished by is I think they were tighter and faster than they were six years ago. That was mind boggling. He told me on the first tour, we weren’t playing “Electric Worry,” one of our more popular songs, and he wasn’t happy about that.

Last year we were pretty much playing it every night and he was glad to hear it. He told me to my face that it was our “Ace of Spades.” That was pretty thrilling.

Q: What is a pre-performance ritual?

A: The only thing we do is take turns writing set lists in alphabetical order so we don’t have to sit and talk about it. So we do a different set list every night and I look at it to make sure I know all the songs, more or less.

Q: Besides “The Company Band” do you have any other side projects in the mix? What’s in store for Clutch’s future?

A: Clutch has an alter ego called The Bakerton Group, which is an instrumental project that is more far out than Clutch and indulges our jam oriented instincts.

Personally, I’d like to focus on making another Clutch album as soon as possible and carry on with the momentum that we currently have.

Q: I saw that you had an interview with Alex Jones – a strong radio voice, journalist and most recently in the news for his passionate pro-guns speech. How did you come across him? Was he a fan? Were you intrigued by his political views?

A: I think a lot of the guys who work for Alex Jones are big Clutch fans. I don’t think he knew much about us. I think some of the production assistants played some of our songs, particularly “Escape from the Prison Planet,” which came out in 1995. His website is also called Prison Planet.

I think he found out I’m an expert on all thinks conspiracy, which is the case. We used to listen to Alex Jones and all my liberal friends loved Alex Jones.

Now that Obama is in office, all of my conservative friends love Alex Jones. I don’t really know what the point is anymore other than ramping up fear and selling it. My opinion has changed quite a bit the last couple of years about the whole matter. I love conspiracy theories as entertainment and I’m sure there is all sorts of weird stuff that we don’t know. I do know its easy to sell fear and I’m afraid that’s whats going on.

Fans can pre-order “Earth Rocker” until the North American release date on Tuesday from the band’s label Weathermaker Music in CD and vinyl.

Clutch started the North American tour for “Earth Rocker” on March 8 in Cincinnati and will continue until April 20 with the support of Orange Goblin and reggae rock band Lionize. Clutch will perform in Indianapolis at the Vogue on May 13.

Mattice is a producer for the Journal & Courier. She can be reached on Twitter @RachaelM_JC.

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Posted in: "Rock It" Column