It’s the parabolic motion of projectiles. Or, as Isaac Newton stated, what goes up must come down — that is, everything except Clutch. “Earth Rocker” created an insurmountable peak. “Psychic Warfare” altered the laws of physics by elevating the smart songwriting and impressive performances of that last album, setting an even higher benchmark as their definitive album to date.
The 11th Clutch studio album “Psychic Warfare” goes straight for the throat with “X-Ray Visions” and never lets go. Working again with acclaimed producer Machine, this time in Texas, the concise arrangements that made “Earth Rocker” so assertive is the same harness for the combustible musical energy on “Psychic Warfare.” Harder, faster … let the rhythm hit ’em.
Formed in 1991, the Maryland-based band’s ability to absorb different musical styles and fabricate them into a distinct Clutch sound continues to be their forté. “A Quick Death In Texas,” overstocked with signature Clutch heavy Tim Sult riffs and lonesome guitar licks, and the funk undercurrent of “Your Love Is Incarceration,” color “Psychic Warfare” with articulate musicality and comfortable familiarity.
The overall intensity of “Psychic Warfare” would be self-consuming without the pressure valve of a canny rhythm section. Drummer Jean-Paul Gaster and bassist Dan Maines have an intuitive sense of dynamics that gives weight and contrast to the forcefulness of the vocals, steering Clutch into the straightaway out of tight, exhilarating corners. “Psychic Warfare” is cinematic, a soundtrack to the plot of singer Neil Fallon’s imagination. The narrative of “The Affidavit” sets the scene for an album of gunslingers, energy weapons, paranoid neurosis, and the occasional three-legged mule. It’s an episodic lyrical landscape populated by abstract characterization, nuance, and clever peculiarity.
In the past, Clutch consciously made each album conspicuously different from the last one. The bar is set higher, laws of physics be damned. “Psychic Warfare” is the new adventure, and it has no limit. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with guitarist Tim Sult to discuss the band’s past, the creation of “Psychic Warfare,” the challenges involved and what the future might hold for the band.
What turned you on to music at a young age and ultimately led to you picking up an instrument?
I remember being a young kid and being into one particular song by The Steve Miller Band. That is what did it for me when I was around 5 or 6 years old. I didn’t start playing guitar until I was 14 years old, when we moved to Maryland. I had lived in Minnesota before that and they didn’t have private lessons anywhere close to where I lived. As soon as we moved, my parents signed me up for lessons and the rest is history. For some reason, I always felt like a career in music was something I wanted to pursue. I always believe something could happen and luckily we were able to make something happen with Clutch.
For those who might not know, how did you get involved with the other guys and become part of Clutch?
The other guys in the band were playing together in high school under a different band name. I joined a little later on and I was out of high school. I started playing with these guys in 1989. There were several different versions of the band and a couple different singers. Another guy involved, Brian Tall, was the one who brought me over to start jamming with those guys initially. He quit playing music around 1990 and we don’t know what happened to him. So, we got together in the late ‘80s and worked on a few different projects. Eventually, Neil [Fallon] became the singer in 1991 and we played our first Clutch show that same year.
Here we are almost 25 years later. To what do you attribute the longevity of the band?
I feel the secret is to continue working on new material, move forward, play as many shows as possible to not get stagnant or rely on the old songs to keep people coming back. We try to write new songs that people want to hear live. I feel that is the secret to our success.
Clutch is back with a brand new album, “Psychic Warfare.” This comes on the heels of “Earth Rocker,” which was very well received. When did you get started on this new material?
We started working on new material about a year after “Earth Rocker” came out. Honestly, that was probably the longest break that we had ever had of not getting together, jamming and working on new ideas. That is just what we do! The reason we got together and decided to put out a new album was because that is what we do!
What goes into the process of gearing up for a new album? Did you have goals or expectations for this new album?
A lot of times, we try to work as much of the new material we have been working on into the set. We do that to practice it. As soon as we have a new song that we like, we are going to put it in the set. We just play those songs as much as possible to see what works and what doesn’t. We try to massage the riffs, as well as the vocal ideas. It is a process of making every song enjoyable for us to play live. For this album, we just wanted to write as many good songs as possible. We probably had more song ideas for this album than we have had for any of our other albums. Like you said, we got a lot of positive response from “Earth Rocker,” so we felt we had a certain level we needed to live up to and had to write good songs. We did a lot more pre-production on this album then we have ever done before, just speeding up the songs, arranging them and micromanaging every bar of each song. We left ourselves a lot of time and a lot of space to work on the material. In the past, a few songs here or there might have been rushed or thrown down at the last minute. Every one of these songs on “Psychic Warfare” is micromanaged.
Has the way you approach writing songs for Clutch changed much through the years, if at all?
Honestly, I don’t think it has changed too much. We all get in the room together and start playing riffs. Whatever Neil reacts to, we keep and he can put vocals over and expand on that. It really hasn’t change that much. From the “Pitchfork” era to “Psychic Warfare” era, the writing process and the sound of the band itself, when we get together and play in a room, hasn’t changed that much.
As you mentioned, with any album some songs come easy and some songs are much harder to nail down. What songs on this album fit those bills?
For sure! [laughs] A couple songs on this album came really fast and easy. “Quick Death In Texas” came very easily. That was the last song we wrote for the album and it has the Texas theme since we were actually recording in Texas at the time. That song came together quite easily and I am really happy with the results. It is one of my favorite songs to play live. “Noble Savage” also came together pretty quick. We definitely beat up “Decapitation Blues” and “X-Ray Visions” quite a bit. They had quite a few different arrangements and different parts for those songs.
You once again worked with Machine as your producer. Obviously, it works really well for you as a band but how did the relationship come about and what does he bring to the table?
We started working with him on the “Pure Rock Fury” album. He produced a couple songs on that album. It goes without saying that his sound and production is great but as far as idea wise for Clutch, I think he has a lot of great ideas for arrangements and subtle touches to polish off the songs. All producers are different and work differently. Some are just engineers, while some are basically writing the song for the bands. A lot of times, he will tell us to keep a part we are ready to throw away because we have been jamming it so hard for so long and aren’t 100% sure what to do with it. Right before we throw it away, he might tell us it is a good idea and to keep it and try it in a different way. He has definitely saved a few good riffs that were about to be thrown away and never to be heard again.
It seems like Clutch is always pushing forward. Were there any songs that didn’t make the record which we might hear in the future?
Yes. There are three other songs that we recorded, along with one or two other ones that didn’t make it to the recording process. In total, there were five or six other songs that were on the table that ended up off the chopping block. The three others we recorded with Machine is a cover song. It is a cover of our intro song that we use at shows – Chuck Brown’s “We Need Some Money.” We did a cover of that with Mike Dillon of Primus. He is all over that one. The two other songs that we recorded will probably see the light of day eventually.
In 20+ years you have been in Clutch, the music industry changed exponentially. What excites you about the industry these days?
Live music. I say that because it is all about getting out there and playing for your fans. I think that is the most important thing. There aren’t a huge amount of rock bands out there these days but hopefully that will change. As far as the whole internet thing goes, it is great as a fan. I, myself, love going on the internet and listening to lots of music for free and discovering new music. However, if I find something I love, I always make a point to go out and buy the album. I don’t know that a lot of people do that.
Speaking of live music, you played countless live shows and logged some impressive mileage through the years. How has your approach to touring changed as you have gotten older?
We are lucky enough to tour in a tour bus all the time now. In the past, we had to go out in a van and drive 12 hours a day sometimes to do the next show. We are older and doing it in a tour bus is so much easier! We have been doing it for so long that we have a great crew. All of our crew guys have worked for us for a long time. Thanks to them, everything runs smoothly. Everyone acts like adults and calm, normal people. In the past, when we were all younger, we partied a lot more. We were driving in a van and partying with crazy maniacs at some points! [laughs] I think mostly what has changed is that we have become adults!
Next year is Clutch’s 25th anniversary as a band. Is there anything special in store for that milestone?
Honestly, we have not even discussed the 25 year anniversary. I guess that will be the summer of next year. Who knows. Maybe we will do something or chances are we will totally ignore it and pretend we are a brand new band! [laughs]
I am sure lots of musicians just starting out ask you for advice. What is the best lesson we can learn from Clutch?
I think the reason we are where we are today is because we didn’t quit. We never stopped. We just kept moving forward. Whenever anyone asks me for advice that is what I tell them, “Don’t quit! Move forward, write new material and play as many shows as you can.”
Solid advice! Thank you so much for your time today, Tim. I have been enjoying “Psychic Warfare” and can’t wait to see this stuff live! We will be spreading the word!
Thank you for all the kind words and I will talk to you soon!
Clutch will be releasing “Psychic Warfare” on October 2nd via their own label Weathermaker Music. The album is now available for pre-sale through iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon.
CLUTCH TOUR DATES:
Sat/Aug-15 Richmond VA Hadads Lake* GwarB-Q Buy Tickets
Fri/Sep-04 Las Vegas NV The Joint Special Guest of Primus Buy Tickets
Sat/Sep-19 Baltimore MD Carroll Park* The Shindig Buy Tickets
Sun/Sep-20 Clark NJ Oak Ridge Park* Rock Carneval Buy Tickets
Sat Oct-03 Ft. Lauderdale, FL @ Revolution** Buy Tickets
Sun Oct-04 Saint Petersburg, FL @ Jannus Live** Buy Tickets
Tue Oct-06 Nashville, TN @ Marathon Music Works** Buy Tickets
Wed Oct-07 Charlotte, NC @ Amos’ Southend** Buy Tickets
Fri Oct-09 Hampton Beach, NH @ Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom** Buy Tickets
Sat Oct-10 Clifton Park, NY @ Upstate Concert Hall** Buy Tickets
Sun Oct-11 New Haven, CT @ Toad’s Place** Buy Tickets
Tue Oct-13 Indianapolis, IN @ The Vogue** Buy Tickets
Wed Oct-14 Chicago, IL @ House Of Blues** Buy Tickets
Thu Oct-15 Grand Rapids, MI @ Orbit Room** Buy Tickets
Fri Oct-16 Sauget, IL @ Pop’s Nightclub** Buy Tickets
Sat Oct-17 Lincoln, NE @ Bourbon Theatre** Buy Tickets
Sun Oct-18 Fargo, ND @ Scheels Arena** – “Roughrider Ink & Iron”
Tue Oct-20 Billings, MT @ Shrine Auditorium** Buy Tickets
Thu Oct-22 Spokane, WA @ Knitting Factory Concert House** Buy Tickets
Fri Oct-23 Boise, ID @ Knitting Factory Concert House** Buy Tickets
Sat/Oct-24 Elverta CA Gibson Ranch Park* Aftershock Festival Buy Tickets
Sun/Oct-25 San Bernardino CA San Manuel Amphitheater* Knotfest Buy Tickets
Mon/Oct-26 Tucson AZ Rialto Theatre*** Co-Headline w Mastodon (Clutch closes show) Buy Tickets
Wed/Oct-28 Austin TX Austin Music Hall*** Co-Headline w Mastodon (Mastodon closes show) Buy Tickets
Thu/Oct-29 Dallas TX Gas Monkey Live*** Co-Headline w Mastodon (Clutch closes show) Buy Tickets
Fri/Oct-30 Houston TX Bayou Music Center*** Co-Headline w Mastodon (Mastodon closes show) Buy Tickets
Sat/Oct-31 New Orleans LA Voodoo Experience* Voodoo Music & Arts Experience Buy Tickets
* = Festival date
** = Clutch headline show, support: COC / The Shrine
*** = Clutch co-headline show w/ Mastodon, special guest: COC