Jean-Paul Gaster of Clutch: Interview

Clutch recently released their 13th full long player. Sunrise On Slaughter Beach shows Clutch progressing their sound whilst holding their core values of solid rock and roll dear.

Later this year, Clutch will be hitting UK shores; we caught up with Jean-Paul Gaster; drummer with the band; ahead of the forthcoming tour to discuss the recording of the album, touring, setlists and reissues.

Picture: Dan Winters

Your longevity over such a long period of time with the same 4 people is something to be commended and is a testament to you all. How do you keep things fresh and keep up the constant high standard of records?

Ummm…Fear of getting a real job! Ha!

We very much enjoy it still. We love getting up on stage and playing. The creative process is one that we still get a charge out of. In the very earliest days of the band the idea was that we were gonna make some good recordings and try and play some cool shows. That was really the beginning and the end of it. It wasn’t about getting signed. It certainly wasn’t about getting on the radio. Most of the bands that were on the radio at that time were cheesy or corny. It sounds boring, but we really did start the band because we wanted to make music.

30 years on…we’ve been making music the whole time and we’ve made a career out of it. It wasn’t the intention to make this a life long endeavour. We’re very grateful for it, and especially coming back after the pandemic; playing shows, folks coming to gigs…this is more precious than ever.

You’ve worked with a range of producers over your career. You had Tom Dalgety working with you this time – he’s worked with so many great artists – how was it working with Tom?

He’d made a couple of Opeth records that we really liked (Pale Communion, Sorceress). And a couple of Ghost records too (Popestar. Prequelle). It was a great experience. He came over the UK to work with us. At that point there were still lots of COVID restrictions in place so there were some difficulties there. It took a little bit of effort but it was really great to have him come over, listen to us jam, by which point we’d been swimming in this fishbowl for a while wondering if we were any good anymore. We couldn’t tell! We had a lot of song ideas and Tom helped us work through those ideas. It was really interesting because he would gravitate to things that, at first, I didn’t think were pursuing. As it turns out, some of those songs were the best on the record.

Which songs would those be?

Mountain of Bone in particular. That was one in particular, for me, I had a tough time wrapping my head around it. What is this thing?! He was a fan of those riffs when he heard them. I think he heard something there. It was a good experience. The most valuable thing was having him there in the room as we were getting those ideas together in pre=production. Having that sounding board was super important to us. Prior to that we would play the songs out live. We’d put in new songs or new riffs but we didn’t have that opportunity on this record.

I guess that is a huge change for you isn’t it? Going straight to the studio rather than road testing?

It was a really different way of making a record for us, for sure. Pretty much every album before this one we’d played the songs live in some capacity. I think that these circumstances, led to us making a very different album. It would not have been the same record had we toured on it.

You can tell that the album is different, but it still has that core Clutch sound. Three Golden Horns comes to mind when I’m thinking about things that sound a little different. It goes through a few changes in its short run time – how are you finding that one live? There are lots of little intricacies in there.

I agree. It’s different. I enjoy playing it live because of the amount of changes. Originally, that was one of the longer songs on the record. Most of all those parts are still in the song, but the original song was probably close to five minutes long. That was one that Tom helped us take a meat cleaver to and chop it up. We really boiled it down to the coolest parts and put together an arrangement that went by very quickly. I thin we were successful in that way.

Clutch – Sunrise On Slaugher Beach cover.

Sunrise On Slaughter Beach is relatively short by Clutch standards. Was that a conscious decision? Was that part of Tom taking the meat cleaver to the record?!

I think that Tom helped us distil the ideas down to their essence. That was super helpful. It was also a little bit of a reaction to what we did on Book Of Bad Decisions. It’s probably one of the longer records we’ve put out and we had 15 tracks on there I think. We went in thinking we were going to make a shorter record so we benefited from that because we really focussed on these songs that really pushed the Clutch sound to different places. When you’re making a shorter record, you can throw more ideas together, more quickly.

Jackhammer Our Names is a somewhat mournful closer – it is quite reflective. Clutch has their downtempo tracks but it feels different. It feels epic and pertinent with its placement on the album. Is that a song that has been well received live?

We have put that in the set and it has gone down well. We put all the songs in the set at some point. Ultimately, when we make a record, we want to play those songs live. Jackhammer Our Names was very different to the other songs. When we went to the studio to record it, I didn’t know how that song was going to come together. At that point, there wasn’t any riffs…it was more just a vibe. We had a few parts that we toyed with putting together and the song went from being something very nebulas to something being quite epic in a matter of hours. It was on of the last ones that we recorded. It was exciting to record as it was one that went from being just a sketch to this really powerful piece of music in just one day.

Something really quite satisfying then?

Yes…it was really fun. I think that the fact that we didn’t play that song out live made it what it was. That recording wouldn’t have been the same if we had taken that form and played it over and over again.

The visual for the album is very impressive. There is the Weathermaker ‘W’ that resembles the Weyland-Yutani logo from Alien in one of the videos.

Lots of that comes from Neil. Reading the lyrics is very much a glimpse into Neil’s world. When we’re jamming the songs and writing the riffs I have an idea in my head of what it might sound like. I’m always thinking about that; I think that’s true of us all. But without fail, whenever you hear the vocal for the new song, it goes to a place that you never thought it would go. To this day, I still get goose bumps when I hear things or the first time. Three Golden Horns for example – that song blew me away when he said he had lyrics. I still feel like I’m 19 years old again and thinking ‘Oh my God…I can’t believe this guy is my band!’

With the live show, you play a set on constant rotation. Am I right in thinking that you take it in turns to pick the set?

That’s exactly it. When we start a tour, Dan will be first; the second night would be myself. Neil, then Tim. Alphabetical order by first name. We’ve done that since about 1996.

Do you have a core of songs that you would pick from? Obviously that will be new album songs…or is it anything goes?

It’s pretty much anything goes but there are some songs that we don’t play live because they ‘don’t play’ live. There are old songs from our catalogue that we play and stand up next to the newer material and sound great. Sometimes, when you pull an older song and you put it into a newer setlist, it sometimes doesn’t translate the way it did 25 years ago.

Are there any songs that are your particular favourites or that you go for in a set?

Ummm…not necessarily. Speaking for myself, I look at the setlist we have played for the last few nights and try to pick something that hasn’t been in rotation. On this last tour, I started looking at and looked at the set we played last time we were in that town and try to pick something completely different.

How far in advance would you make a set? It sounds like it goes to the wire sometimes?

Mostly it’s the night before…but sometimes it gets to 5pm and I’m being asked what we’re playing! We run through a few things in the dressing room, If it’s something we haven’t played for a while we’ll soundcheck it, but the best thing is that it keeps us and the fans engaged. That’s not to say there won’t be mistakes, but that’s what makes it fun!

When you get out on tour, do you have any favourite paces, cities or venues that you look forward to playing?

Sure. But the first thing that I tell myself is that I am going to enjoy wherever I am that day. I try to start with the right attitude. Certainly, some places are super fun to play. We very much look forward to coming to Europe. The UK is great. You guys have been so kind to us over the years. There is a real rock’n’roll culture n the UK that is unmatched We certainly don’t have that in the States. We enjoy Spain; it’s sunny and warm! We enjoy playing Red Rocks in the States too. It’s a stunning venue.

You have a stacked itinerary too?

Yes…it’s busy but I prefer that. Unfortunately, there isn’t much time for sightseeing but I try to get out and get some local food or just go for a walk. My job is to drum though. Throughout the day I am working up to putting on the best show that I can with the band.

You’ve been putting out some special re-issues of your albums on Weathermaker. Which one is coming next?

It’s going to be Earth Rocker I think. This was a project that started during the pandemic. We’re fortunate that we own the record label which means we have flexibility to release as we like. We quickly learned though, that someone has to make those albums! The original intention was to put them out on a more regular basis but vinyl these days is very hard to get manufactured. We’ve been in touch with some smaller pressing plants to get things moving. Being a label owner is nice, but it can be very frustrating.

The Blast Tyrant Special Edition – a thing of beauty.

Are you a vinyl collector yourself?

Of course. I have a full set up here. Most of the time I listen on my phone but there will be times that we will go and put a record on and enjoy it together. It requires more of you. It’s a completely different listening experience. The smell of the older records adds to the experience; that musty smell.

Thank you so much for your time…it has been a pleasure talking to you. We will see you in Manchester!

Cant wait!

Clutch will be on tour in Europe from November and into December – the tour starts and ends in the UK before Christmas. You can buy tickets for the tour here and check the dates below.

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