Clutch — guitarist Tim Sult, vocalist/guitarist Neil Fallon, drummer Jean-Paul Gaster and bassist Dan Maines — have been making music together for over twenty years, creating rock and roll that falls under different categorizations while defying them all. They built their loyal following during the days of vinyl and thriving major labels, record on their own label, Weathermaker Records, and continue to make loud but remarkably melodic, unique albums. Their latest release, Earth Rocker, is their tenth studio album.
Here’s a look back at a 2010 interview with Tim Sult.
In the twenty years that you have been together, what has changed and what has stayed the same?
For the band, not too much. We have the luxury of riding in a tour bus, whereas obviously before this we would drive ourselves in a van, but otherwise the process is very similar, and the songwriting process has always been the same.
When you look at all of your albums, do you consider some of them milestones in the band’s career?
I guess our second album had quite a bit of impact on people. It’s still our best-selling album. For me, the newest album is always a milestone. But with the second album we found our sound and went into a more experimental direction. I don’t know if it continues to be the best-selling. We put it out in 1995, before downloading, and that’s a big part of it. Our shows are a lot bigger these days, so obviously the music is getting out there and that’s the most important thing.
How have you grown as individuals and musicians over two decades?
We’ve grown a little as people. We have families. That’s a very deep question. Honestly, I don’t see a huge difference in myself from 1991 to who I am now. I still want to play shows and I want the band to be successful. I want us to play for as many people as possible. In the past couple of years we’ve been able to make a living at it.
Your music is described as stoner rock, metal, sometimes as having some punk elements, sometimes hard-core elements. Are any of these accurate?
I’m comfortable with riff rock. Stoner rock or riff rock — both are good. I had never heard the term “stoner rock” until we toured Europe in the 1990s. It always had to do with bands like Kyuss and Fu Manchu, and I’m just fine with that because I like those bands.
So many bands don’t make it past the first or second year. Were there ever times when Clutch was close to calling it a day?
Not really. We always had the determination to keep playing music because we never suffered too many setbacks. We were progressing in baby steps and we never had to take steps back and re-examine our lives. We were always moving forward. That’s a positive thing and it kept us positive.
How do you continue challenging each other?
We’re always listening to different kinds of music, and that sinks into the songwriting process, but to me, the process has not changed from the first album to the last. I guess people see the progression and the fact that a lot of our songs from album to album sound kind of different. But I think that has to do with the production.
This business has changed so much. What’s been good and bad in your eyes?
My point of view is that everything has been good with the music industry going down. Obviously, I think it’s great. It’s all their fault; they ruined it for themselves. The good part is that the only bands out there are the ones that want to do it on their own. Back in the day, everybody got signed and they all got tour support and thought were going to be rock stars. That’s why they only lasted one or two albums — because they weren’t dedicated to it. They were dedicated to signing a record deal and being rock stars, not to the music, so that weeded out a lot of fake bands. At the same time, we’ve been around a long time. We were on a couple of major labels and we had distribution early on. Bad or good, it’s distribution nonetheless that you don’t get when you’re not on a major. I’m glad the labels are going down. They are feeding the public generic bands. They’re trying to make generic copycat bands that end up sounding like nothing. Real musicians and real music fans have no interest in it. It’s an American Idol style in the rock format and that is not what rock fans want to hear. They alienated people who are really into music, as opposed to consumers who are just into one song.
What led you to launch your imprint?
Back in the late 1990s we put out a couple of releases on our own that we only sold at shows and on the Internet. We put them out on River Road Records, but we never tried to find distribution. That was our first foray into doing our own label. We were on another label and it was time. We released three albums on DRT and it was getting worse and worse, so we decided to hire the guy who brought us to Atlantic and who also worked at DRT and get him to manage our label and put out everything on our own. We’ve been doing it for two years with several releases and a couple of reissues of the old DRT stuff. It has been the greatest thing of all time, but it’s not the easiest thing for a new band. It is not 100 percent doable for younger bands. I really am glad we’re not starting out now.
You perform a lot of your new songs live prior to recording them. How do you keep that energy and spontaneity in the studio?
I definitely like having the luxury of being able to tour and play the new songs. Fifty percent of the time that’s what happens, but hopefully we’ll be able to do more with the next album. Playing the songs makes us so much more confident when we record them because we’ve had time to practice them. A lot of songs on the albums were written before we went into the studio, or while we were in the studio, and by the time we played them live, they had grown and turned into something different. Onstage, we might play the entire second album [Clutch, 1995], but probably not, or all new stuff. We switch the set every night, so you never know what you’re going to get.
Is your gear the same live and in the studio?
I always switch my gear. I sell my guitars and buy new ones. But I always have an SG or a Les Paul and Marshall amps. I got a Gibson in the 1980s and I like the natural tone, that woody tone is what I call it. I’m not a processed tone kind of guy.
What is important for you to do as a guitarist when you’re playing behind Neil, who is such a powerful vocalist?
I think a lot of it is him placing the vocals around the riffs as opposed to us playing around the vocals. Most of the time the music exists before the vocals and he phrases around the rest, so it’s all on him. “Mice & Gods” was music that I put around his voice. I tried to fill in the spots where he wasn’t singing and cut through with riffs where there were no vocals. It’s not rocket science; it’s just rock and roll.
How would you define your playing as the guitarist for Clutch?
I would say that my playing got more rock oriented instead of heavy-chord oriented around early 2000. The Elephant Riders  and Jam Room  had rock influences totally in there. I don’t know that my playing has changed much. My solos are a bit more focused, but I’m still doing the heavy riffing and just trying to make something heavy out of the meat-and-potatoes riffs.