November 18, 2015 Interview – Neil Fallon of Clutch
Clutch is a band that makes it their own way. Getting their start in Maryland, a close group of friends – Vocalist Neil Fallon, Guitarist Tim Sult, Bassist Dan Maines, and Drummer Jean-Paul Gaster, formed back in 1991; a lineup that has remained constant till today. Building a legion of followers through the years, Clutch has released eleven studio records, including their most recent offering Psychic Warfare, via their own label, Weathermaker Music. Forming the company back in 2008, Clutch continues to prove that success does not require major label backing as Psychic Warfare has become their highest charting record to date, reaching number 11 on the US Billboard charts, beating 2013’s Earth Rocker, which hit number 15. Touring regularly and continuing to impress audiences, Clutch’s latest excursion find them heading to Europe starting in Dublin, Ireland November 20th and finishing up in London, England on December 12th before returning stateside for some final 2015 shows. Recently we had the chance to sit down with Fallon about the bands history, their writing process, what makes him a compelling lyricist/vocalist, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Neil, your band Clutch has been kicking ass for over two decades now. You guys do not seem to follow any one path, you go in your own direction. What has it been like for you being in this band?
Neil Fallon – It has been a lot of fun, it has been a great education touring like we do all over the world. Over the years, there has been feast and there has been famine, but the one thing that we could always count on was just playing music on stage. That is, kind of, what has been the fuel for our engine. Whether it be three people at a show or three thousand, it has been the one common denominator among all these things, over this span of time.
CrypticRock.com – Right, that is very true. You guys have a very loyal underground following. What would you attribute that to?
Neil Fallon – I think a good part of it is having established that fanbase through playing live. We did not suffer the burden of having a hit single. It takes a lot longer to build up that fanbase by word-of-mouth, but the fanbase is stronger, it is like building a house out of rock instead of sticks. We are not for everybody, but at the same time, I see a diversity in Clutch audiences. You see the biker next to the kid that looks like he only listens to Hip-Hop, next to the Metal kid, next to the grandmother; people who all find something in the band, which is a testament to the music hopefully.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly, speaking of not having a hit single, you guys formed Weathermaker Music in 2008. In doing so, saying, “We’re going to do things our own way.” What has that freedom meant to the band ?
Neil Fallon – It has meant more work, it has meant more risk, but it was also more reward. When Psychic Warfare went to number 1 on the Rock charts, I know exactly who was responsible for that. It was ourselves and the team of people that we work with, and it feels really good to have done it that way. There is also missteps, and when things go wrong, we know exactly who to talk with to fix it, it is just ourselves. These days, I think if an artist is in a position to sell their music directly to a fan, they would be foolish not to.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed, now you just released Psychic Warfare back on October 2nd. What was the writing and recording process like for this new record?
Neil Fallon – In a lot of ways, it is the same as it was in 1993. The four of us get in a room and we kick around riffs until we find something that we like. Then I bring it home and write lyrics very slowly. It took maybe longer than we had anticipated because we started really quick after Earth Rocker. I think it took us a while to kick down the creative door a little bit until we found enough that we were excited about. We wrote a lot for this and a good majority of it just ended up in the trashcan. I think that is probably typical of any creative endeavor, it is work like anything else.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, do you feel that the writing process has gotten easier or harder over the years?
Neil Fallon – In some regards easier, and in others harder. I think it is easier because we have… well I would like to believe we have become better songwriters. I think we have an understanding about composition, melody, and dynamics that we did not twenty years ago. On the other hand, when you are around for twenty years, you have covered more territory and it is harder to find new territory to conquer. That is why I think it is always important to consider oneself a student, otherwise you are just kind of chasing your tail; you cannot learn if you do not challenge yourself.
CrypticRock.com – Indeed. So do you feel that as your experience changes and you reach different stages of your life, it affects the writing?
Neil Fallon – I think so. I think there are more personal lyrics in this album than there have been in other Clutch records, or at least more self-referential. I think, especially when you are young, if you are in Hard Rock, you want to be the loudest, hardest, fastest, and most aggressive. After a while, you start to realize that you could paint yourself into a corner that way. It is more musically interesting to have dynamics, both lyrically and musically speaking.
CrypticRock.com – This time around, you worked with Machine as you have on a couple of your other albums. What did he bring to the table for the band, as you guys are more comfortable with him now having worked with him before in the studio.
Neil Fallon – Clutch is a very tight-knit band, and there are a lot of things that go unsaid between the four of us, so it is very hard for someone to be welcomed into this circle. Machine, because we have worked with him for a while, we have a relationship with him. That allows him to speak very frankly with us. If anyone else said some of the things he says, we would leave the room, but because we are democracy, we need somebody to act sort of as a dictator for a little while to say, “You know what, that part sucks,” or, “That part’s great.” It is hard to hear oneself when you have been in a band for twenty years. It is hard to be objective about what you are doing sometimes.
CrypticRock.com – I guess the last thing you need is somebody telling you that everything you do is amazing.
Neil Fallon – Yes, because that is bullshit (laughs). It might stroke your ego for the moment. I think we all have very thick skin at this point, and we could be told that something is not a good idea and not be all crestfallen about it.
CrypticRock.com – The end result is very positive with Psychic Warfare. You have always written very compelling lyrics. This time you focus on a slightly different bit of content. What was the inspiration lyrically for this record?
Neil Fallon – I treat every song, just hearing the instrumental part first, as the soundtrack to a movie. I see it is my job to write the script. Hopefully, when you see the lyrics, you find them interesting enough just reading them without the music. Ideally, the lyrics can match the mood of the music. Sometimes that is more difficult. I tried to be very conscious of action and real tangible nouns in the lyrics. I do enjoy the escapism in Rock -n- Roll, but I used a lot of personal experiences as sort of a springboard to tell a tall tale, for lack of a better phrase.
CrypticRock.com – Getting back to live music, this past Spring of 2015, you played in New York City at Central Park at Summerstage while on tour with Mastodon. Tell us what it was like playing that venue and then talk a little bit about being on tour with Mastodon.
Neil Fallon – Outdoor shows are great because we are used to playing small boxy nightclubs. For one, physically and mentally, it is just nice to get a breath of fresh air, and shows in Central Park have a great history. I think anyone would feel connected to that history playing in Central Park or a place like Red Rocks. It happened to be a beautiful day and it was a great night. As far as touring with Mastodon, that is something we have done many times over the years. We know those guys very well, and touring is always much more enjoyable when you get along with the other band.
CrypticRock.com – It is sure to make it more pleasurable. You did guest vocals on Mastodon’s “Blood and Thunder” as well.
Neil Fallon – Yes, I sang on the album. When the stars align, I will go out and sing that with them. They do not always play that song in the set. Sometimes my voice is toast and I cannot always sing it with them, but when I can it is fun to do.
CrypticRock.com – You actually sang it with Mastodon at Center Park at Summerstage on May 19th.
Neil Fallon – I will have to take your word for it, I cannot remember yesterday (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – (laughs) Well it was a good time. Tell us about some of your musical influences.
Neil Fallon – I think some of the deep influences, like anyone else, is the stuff that I listen to that my parents listened to. That would be Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles, and a lot of Folk music. They may not be so obvious in Clutch, but they were the formative things I listened to. Later on in life, when I could choose what I wanted to, I listened to what is now Classic Rock – Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and ZZ Top. Then Punk Rock – Bad Brains, Fugazi, Minor Threat. Nowadays, I choose mostly to listen to artists like Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen, people whose lyrics I find to be really intriguing.
CrypticRock.com – Interesting. Those artists influenced you lyrically. Did they also influence you vocally?
Neil Fallon – I think, starting out, the band was coming from a Hardcore, Punk Rock background. I was of the misguided opinion that pitch and melody were considered commercial and you were not supposed to do that. I was attracted to people like Tom Waits or even Chuck D from Public Enemy where their delivery was much more rhythmic, at least to my ears at the time. Maybe they did not have the soaring voice like Robert Plant or Ronnie James Dio, and I was attracted to that because I found that was something that I could do. Later on, I realized that Melody and Pitch are, of course, important parts to this, and I am trying to learn how to do those things still.
CrypticRock.com – My final question has to do with films. CrypticRock.com covers music as well as Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror, what are some of your favorites?
Neil Fallon – I do not watch nearly as much Horror as I used to. I find that I have a great aversion to graphic violence, and maybe that is because as I have grown, I have seen it in reality sometimes, and it just does not sit well with me. I like more Psychological Horror and probably read more Horror than I watch. The first things that come to mind are Thomas Ligotti. He has a short story collection called Teatro Grottesco, which is sort of like an H.P. Lovecraft weird, Horror genre, and I find that particularly attractive because it is much more creepy than it is brutal. I find Horror sometimes in places you would not expect it, like Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian or Child of God are two of the most terrifying novels I have ever read, but they are in the literature section, not the Horror. Movies, let’s see, I watched Alien (1979) last night for the hundredth time, just because I am still baffled about how awesome it is, and continues to be. Modern Horror, I cannot say I have watched much of that recently.