Contact CU Independent News Staff Writer Thomas Roller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently, CU Independent ran a review of Psychic Warfare, the newest record from venerated Maryland rock band Clutch (you can read that review here). Clutch’s publicist was kind enough to grant me a phone interview with Jean-Paul Gaster, the band’s drummer. We discussed the new record, Clutch’s writing process, the success of the album and Clutch’s experience playing in Colorado.
CU Independent: There’s a lot of different locations in Psychic Warfare. You’ve got songs located in California, Texas, Virginia…it’s like a road trip across America, and you can hear that not just lyrically, but musically. What inspired all the different sounds for this particular album?
Jean-Paul Gaster: Well, I do agree with you — it sounds like a rock and roll road trip kind of journey that has its ups and downs. But we didn’t really realize that was the case unless we went to sequence the record. We didn’t have an intentional idea that this was gonna be some sort of concept record at all. It just kinda happened. But I think, to answer your question about what kind of sounds influenced us, you know, we toured a lot on Earth Rocker, that was a very good record for us, and I think we learned a lot on that tour as well. Prior to Earth Rocker, most of our albums had maybe one or two uptempo tunes, but Earth Rocker was pretty uptempo throughout. So I think we got really good at playing those kinds of tempos, so I think Psychic Warfare has some of that energy. I think other parts of it, too, were sort of a reaction to what we did on Earth Rocker, and that kinda happens more subliminally.
CUI: In another interview, you talked about how you guys began writing Psychic Warfare pretty much as soon as you got off of the 2013/14 Earth Rocker tour. It’s well-known in the rock scene that you guys are road dogs, but why didn’t you choose to take a break after such a massively successful album and such a big tour?
JP: I think we knew that we had a lot of momentum going for us, you know? For whatever reason, the band continues to grow, and we just get out there and we play hard. That’s how we spread the word of this band. So I think that coming off that tour, we realized that we struck a chord, you know? There was probably not a lot of straight-up rock and roll records there were being put out, and I think people find that exciting, you know? So we had some momentum and we wanted to take advantage of that, and we were in a great mindset to try to write another good album, and I think we succeeded.
CUI: Talking about how the hype for Clutch keeps building, I mentioned how Earth Rocker was massively successful for you guys and Psychic Warfare looks like it’s doing even better. Number one in the rock charts on Billboard, I think number eleven in the overall charts. How do you guys feel about that? Did you expect that to happen?
JP: We did not expect that to happen. Obviously, we’re very excited about it. We didn’t make a record that we intended to make the charts, we just wanted to make a good record, and to have it received like that is awesome. For us, it’s especially gratifying because for so many years we were on other labels, and that was a difficult time, bouncing from one label to the other. It was tough to be creative sometimes. And now that we own our own label, it’s a much better atmosphere creatively. So to have the record come out and do well was especially gratifying for us.
CUI: Do you think that the popularity of Psychic Warfare indicates a trend in music listeners? Are more people gravitating toward this style of music, or was this a fluke?
JP: You know, I think it’s hard to say. I think more than anything, our music is just reaching folks who appreciate rock and roll. I don’t know if there’s a trend happening. It’s hard to say sometimes, you know, because we’re so excited. It’s difficult for us to even really see how the rest of the industry works, because in so many ways we are really on our own playing field.
CUI: So how do you guys know when a record is done? When do you say “That’s it, that’s enough songs, we can start tracking Neil [Fallon’s] vocals, we can start sequencing, etc?”
JP: You know, we always try to have more than we need. If we get to the point where we’re close to say 20 real song ideas, I think that’s when we’re pretty close to start really getting serious about what’s gonna make the record and what’s not. Prior to that, there’s a lot of writing that goes on. We just jam, you know? There’s a lot of riffing going on. So we get together in the afternoons and in the very early stages of the process, it’s just trying to put a couple parts together. We’re not really even thinking too much about a song structure. Maybe Neil will have a vocal sketch or some idea of some kind. We build off of that, but at that point in the process it’s kind of really loose, so we don’t really look to finish a song. We’re just trying to build parts, these building blocks that will eventually become what the record is.
CUI: In the Earth Rocker Deluxe Version’s live DVD, Clutch used a set from Denver at the Ogden Theatre for that DVD. How come you guys chose Denver instead of a bigger, more recognizable city?
JP: Well, you know, traditionally, we’ve always had good shows in Denver. The turnout has always been good for us, but more than that even, it’s the energy of the crowd. It’s always a rowdy kind of a place, you know? I think people really appreciate coming out and having some beers and having a good time. Denver’s been especially good to us over the years, and so it just made sense to us to use that show to do something like that.
CUI: Clutch just came through this past May with Mastodon, right?
JP: We did. We were at Red Rocks.
CUI: What did you guys think of playing there? Did you think it was a cool venue?
JP: Of course. For me, it was the highlight of that tour, and it was also the easiest set to play of the entire tour. There was so much energy there. I just had to sit at my drums and everything sort of just happened around me. It was a wonderful night.
CUI: Clutch has a rotating setlist; each member comes up with a different setlist every night. Have you been seeing a lot of the same songs from Psychic Warfare coming up on the rotation?
JP: Oh yeah. We’ve been playing almost the entire record, really, with the exception of maybe one or two songs a night. We try to play the record almost in its entirety. For us, that’s the most fun stuff to play. It can be challenging for an audience to have a record that just came out a couple weeks ago, but I also think our fans have grown to expect that of us. Traditionally, we’ve always played new material, even before the records were released we’d include songs in setlists. And at this time, I think folks just sort of expect that of us, you know?
CUI: What’s your favorite thing about performing in Colorado?
JP: I think it’s just the natural surroundings that make it what it is, you know? It’s such a beautiful place, it’s kinda hard to not have a good show there.
CUI: Last question: I notice there’s no Colorado dates on Clutch’s tour schedule right now. Can we expect that to change sometime in 2016?
JP: Oh, for sure. Absolutely. I’d imagine we’ll be there maybe in the springtime, even.
Clutch is on tour right now, and you can find out about upcoming tour dates here.