As Christmas crept steadily closer and the country started thinking about actually buying some presents as it’s 21st December, Clutch rolled in to London to play their biggest UK headlining show to date at the O2 Academy Brixton in support of the Book of Bad Decisions album. I was lucky enough to get some time for a chat with bassist Dan Maines, who casually strolled in to the room and grabbed a chair, looking like any of the dad’s in your neighbourhood instead of one quarter of a band who has toured the world multiple times over 25 years and played to undoubtedly millions of people and answered everything with a relaxed and friendly attitude despite the impending show and uncomfortable plastic chair…
How’s the tour been going?
Really good. Probably the best tour we’ve done in the UK and Europe as a headliner.
I was thinking it was quite a big venue for you guys as opposed to the usual stops you make.
Yeah it’s been slowly building over the last five years and we’re stoked
I’ve not come across The Picture Books or The Inspector Cluzos – friends of yours?
These are bands that came to our attention through other people and they’re both very interesting, both just a 2 piece band – drums and guitar – but totally different approaches. The Inspector Cluzo guys are actually French farmers, when they’re not French rockers, but to me they seem like a very punk band, really entertaining. Picture Books are a little more of the modern kind of heavy approach, but both have put on incredible shows for the whole tour.
25+ years, 12 albums not including any live ones or EP’s. Can you sum that up in one sentence?
I’ve seen a lot of highway! It’s been a strange ride, without a doubt, and we kind of ran the gannet of what’s possible as a band in the music business very early on in our career. We signed to East West Records and that was beyond anyone’s scope of what would happen to the band, then we kind of went through the mill of major labels. With each album we put out… it wasn’t like a major falling out but as a business proposition for the label it wasn’t working out and we were, I think, a real mystery to a lot of these label executives who, at the time, were just swallowing up any band that they thought had the potential to be the next Nirvana. I think one of the biggest problems label executives had with us is we weren’t consistent – what we were doing one year was not what we really had any interest doing the next year or year after that, so that I’m sure was very challenging for them to wrap their heads around, like “how can we market an album that doesn’t sound anything like the previous album?” and we were “well I’m sorry but this is just what we want to do”. It wasn’t until 15 years later that we decided to take the step of creating our own record label, which is when we really started to get a sense of stability in the band and the solution was putting all of the decision making in our hands. “When are we going in the studio? When is the album gonna come out? When are we going on the road…?” These are all questions that we can answer ourselves and we have a small but excellent team of people that help us run the label as that was something we dove into with very little experience. It took us a little while, but we feel we’re in a good place with that, but I think there couldn’t have been a better time for us to do it than when album sales started barrelling downwards and I feel for new bands trying to figure out how to survive.
You’re a very consistent band – You’re consistent in your album quality, consistent in the quality of your live shows and in something that’s very rare, particularly after 25 years you’re consistent in your line up! What keeps it fresh and interesting for you Dan?
Personally, I feel like the true Clutch experience is seeing us live in concert. It’s what I probably enjoying doing the most. The recording is great to see songs come alive in the studio, but that is really, in the end, a tool to maintain the ability to go out on the road and play shows. To keep the shows interesting we play a different set every night, tonight is actually my turn to write the setlist, so that changes things up for us dramatically. You’re not a position of just going through the motions and being in the middle of a song and not even thinking about the song… the last thing you want to happen on stage is you don’t know what the hell is going on because you’re so mechanical, so that’s what really keeps it entertaining for us.
So if you’re picking a different set every night, do you have say 20 songs that you’ve rehearsed and from that you pick 15 or…?
The entire catalogue’s open for business. There are some songs over the 25 years that we’ve just decided we don’t enjoy playing live and there are songs that we feel we should play because they are fan favourites, but then you have the other half of the set to fill up with whatever you want.
One of my favourite songs of yours is Ghost, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen you play it
Yeah that’s one that we can probably stand to readdress as far as playing live. For some reason it never took off on any of the sets after it was recorded… I don’t have a good reason why, we probably tried it once and it didn’t feel right.
You just mentioned you dropped some songs because you didn’t enjoy playing them live anymore – what was the reason for that? Were they not getting a reaction?
You can usually tell by a crowd’s response and sometimes we might have songs that fit within similar categories and you’d rather play Song A over Song B. There are songs that we just burnt out, we just played them TOO much – “we gotta give that song a break!” Sometimes the break lasts 6 months, sometimes 3 years.
You’re obviously a very tight band, but the songs have kind of loose feel to them , it almost feels like they’re born out jams – is that the case?
Absolutely. The way we normally write a song is one of the 4 of us will have a part or 2 and we’ll just jam on it and try and think of another part that can go along with it. Speaking for myself and Tim (Sult, guitar) and Jean Paul (Gaster, drums), we try not to think of this is going to be a verse part, this is a chorus… because it’s very hard to anticipate what Neil (Fallon, vocals, occasional guitar, even more occasional harmonica) is going to do vocally. I might write a part that sounds extremely chorus and Neil would say “that sounds like a verse to my mind”. So we just try to put together 2 or 3 part ideas and Neil would take the tape home and come back and say “this is great” or “maybe swap this part out for this other part” and that’s usually how (the songs) come together. Pretty simple.
Do you record more than you release?
Yeah, particularly over the last 3 or 4 albums, we’ve recorded 15 or 16 songs, the initial album would come out with 12 songs then over the next year or 2 the other songs will come out as b-Sides or whatever. We don’t really do demos anymore, now that we aren’t on a major label we get together in our jam space and we’ll probably write 15-20 songs before we go into the studio and try and whittle it down to 14 or 15
Any pre-show rituals?
Maybe pre-show beverages…? There’s no ritual, we just kinda warm up. Everyone sits on their instruments for about an hour before the show.
What rig are you currently (earth) rocking?
My Rickenbacker bass, got an Ampeg SVT… When we come over here I usually get loaners from Ampeg. Back home I use an Ampeg B4B which I really like, it’s an older model from the seventies, but it’s essentially a scaled down SVT – 100w instead of 300w and that lets me turn up the volume to get a more gnarly distorted tone without being overblown.
I found out today Book of Bad Decisions got named the Best Album of 2018 in Classic Rock Magazine, so congrats, nice way to see out the year…
That was totally bad ass.
So what does that mean for 2019? How you gonna top that?
That’s a good question….we’re just going to continue doing what we’re doing. There’s going to be a lot of touring in 2019, we’re gonna come back over here for summer festivals, we have lot of touring to do in the States too. But inbetween those times we’re going to be getting together in our jam space and trying to write new material?
Any studio time planned?
I’ll be surprised if we get into a studio in 2019…I take that back. Chances are we’ll be in a studio in 2019. Yes.
Parting words for the fans?
Just try and make it out to the shows, if we’re in your area come down, we’d love to see ya.
Clutch’s award winning Book of Bad Decisions is out now on their own label Weathermaker Music.