Just before Christmas, Rock Sins went backstage at the Roundhouse in Camden to catch up with Clutch bassist Dan Maines before the band’s sold out headline show, following a run of shows two week run across Europe. Dan was on hand to talk live jams and plans for a followup to 2015’s riotous Psychic Warfare, amongst other things.
So Clutch are coming towards the end of a European tour – how has it gone so far?
Dan Maines: Really well. We started things off in Amsterdam. We always have a great time in Amsterdam but it seems like the shows that we’ve been playing there are progressively getting bigger and bigger. We were able to hit some spots on this run that we haven’t been to in a while; we did three shows in Spain. Its been a while for us since we’ve been in Spain, doing proper club shows. We did France and we were in Brussels last night. We’re finishing things off here in the UK and its just been a really good tour. Two awesome bands with us – our friends from back home, Lionize, who are opening the show, and Valiant Thorr from the East Coast, who we’ve done a couple of shows with in the past. I think everybody’s having a really good reception from the crowd, everybody’s getting into it, and its just been great every night.
And you’re moving straight back to a run of US dates after this?
DM: Yeah, its kind of a tradition now for us – after the holidays we’ll do a week of shows before New Year’s Eve. Its more or less been confined to the East Coast. This year we’re going to be in Cleveland, Ohio for New Year’s Eve – it’s a fun time. We didn’t do it until recently, its only been within the last ten years of our career that we’ve started playing New Year’s Eve shows, but it’s a lot of fun.
Do you feel like there’s a different atmosphere at the US shows versus over here?
DM: I think maybe the rock scene is a little bit bigger over here, in the UK especially, and probably in general across the board in Europe. There’s a lot of bands – take Maryland as a state, for instance – there’s a lot of those core doom and metal bands that formed in the 1980s and 1990s that still have a really good following over here in Europe. Its not necessarily the easiest thing to get them over here, but they probably have better luck touring in Europe right now than The States. I might be a little removed from it, but there just doesn’t seem to be that much of an underground rock audience supporting these bands [in the US] as much as I see over here.
Why would you say you think you’re removed from the scene in the States?
DM: I don’t get out as much as I used to – we’re busy on the road, and when I go home, at this point in my life, I have four kids at home. I don’t have that opportunity to go to every single rock show that I want to, like I used to, so I’m not really a clear judge of exactly what’s going on in that scenario, but I feel like just going by our audience and our shows, the level of growth is definitely big over here for us.
What have you guys been listening to on tour whilst you travel? Anything unexpected?
DM: Last week we came across the latest Rolling Stones album on Spotify – its awesome! Great production, and its very refreshing that the Rolling Stones are putting out this really gritty sounding blues album. I’ve really been listening a lot to The Claypool Lennon Delirium – that’s Sean Lennon and Les Claypool, its really good.
You guys have been playing together since 1991 – how has being in Clutch changed since then?
DM: Its weird – a lot of things have changed, and a lot of things have stayed the same. Our level of comfort has changed dramatically – we’re not four guys driving each other crazy in a van, trying to make it to the next show before our van breaks down or one of us has a mental breakdown! As far as being a member of the band, writing songs, playing shows, nothing’s really changed. Whatever we used to do in Jon Paul’s family’s garage in 1991, or in Tim’s parent’s basement, it’s the same process. It works for us; it’s very group oriented song writing and playing. Playing shows are the highlights of our days – its very difficult for one of us to sit in a room and write a song – the act of putting all of our various ideas together makes a Clutch song.
Am I correct in saying that Neil picks up the guitar on certain songs these days?
DM: Yeah – originally Neil started to pick up the guitar when we started to do some of the more bluesy stuff, and that was totally coming from him – he’s the biggest blues fan in the band, and when he’s playing guitar that’s where he draws a lot of his inspiration. When we started to incorporate that kind of style into the group, it definitely opened things up as far as our songwriting. But it also opened the door for him to play guitar on more songs – songs like Elephant Riders – when we went into the studio and recorded those songs, I can’t recall if Neil ever played guitar on that song, but he definitely plays that song with us now.
So from your point of view, in the single guitar tracks your role as a bassist, especially in such a fat sounding band, much more prominent – is there anything you do to compensate for that?
DM: Clutch is obviously a riff oriented band for the most part, and Tim and I discovered a long time ago that those riffs sound really heavy when he and I play along together. Whenever I’m going to break away from what Tim’s doing, its something that happens very organically in the songwriting process, and to be honest, by the time we get into the studio and record a song. Its almost like the process of how that song came to be has evaporated from our minds.
Do you have a favourite track to play live?
DM: There are songs that are fun to play. Its usually songs that you give a rest, and when you come back to it with fresh ears… the newer material is always the most fun to play. Playing live, one of our main intentions after a while was to introduce some kind of a jam element into our live shows. John Paul and Tim had been playing their respective instruments for a few years before I even picked up a bass for the first time, so my learning curve was a little bit steeper, but that’s a great way to learn how to play your instrument. Those experiences on stage are great for a band because it really solidifies a lot of progressive ideas that you might not necessarily come across in a normal rehearsal setting. The last thing we want when we’re on stage is to be bored, so we play different sets each night. There’s no consistency in the setlists, and we will introduce different ideas for starting songs, ending songs; tonight, we’ll be doing something that we’ve never tried before – who knows what’ll happen.
So its all about keeping things fresh?
DM: it is – like tonight, I haven’t looked at the setlist, but on this tour, we decided to bring back ‘The Yeti’ off of ‘The Elephant Riders’, and we’re not really playing it that differently structure wise, but I think the energy is very different [to how] it was last time we played it, and that’s a good example of a song that has a ‘built in jam’ at the end – we’re definitely approaching that differently, maybe even trying to plan things out a little more, which is something that we’re just starting to learn to do better – creating dynamics within those jams. That’s what makes playing shows so fun for us.
How much of the set ends up being improvised on the average night?
DM: I don’t know – if we play for an hour and a half, probably fifteen minutes of that.
‘Psychic Warfare’ has been out for over a year now – is there anything planned for the future?
DM: Well we’ve got that tour at home, and then we’re gonna take some time off, and breathe, and not think about Psychic Warfare, and then get together at our jam space and just start documenting ideas. We have tours throughout the year, but really, we’re going to try to set as much time aside as we can for the purpose of writing, because its about time for a new record.
Do you have any thoughts on the direction you might take things?
DM: We haven’t really discussed it – not that we ever really do, it just kind of happens. Things have a way of following a trajectory for us – we find a groove, eventually, in the songwriting process. One particular song might be the catalyst for letting the song writing take off.
You can check out Tal’s review of Clutch’s performance at The Roundhouse in London from later that night right here. Clutch were recently announced to make their return to the UK at the 2017 Download Festival at Donington Park. They are a band who have had great success on previous visits to Donington, so fingers crossed for all for an excellent repeat performance.