Clutch: 'We Wanted To Play Loud, Heavy Rock'

artist: clutch date: 05/31/2011 category: interviews
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Clutch: 'We Wanted To Play Loud, Heavy Rock'
The prototypical workingman's band, Clutch have built a following one gig at a time. They're always touring and always looking for ways to increase their visibility. Since they're hardly a radio-friendly band, they've had to adopt a DIY approach to marketing. They recently took another step forward by starting Weathermaker, their own label, and re-releasing Blast Tyrant, Robot Hive/Exodus and From Beale Street To Oblivion. The original rights reverted back to the Maryland band and they offered the albums in deluxe versions with additional CDs, new tracks, demo versions of songs and even acoustic interpretations. They also released Live At The 9:30, a live recording the band did where they reprised their second self-titled album. Guitarist Tim Sult talked about these reissues and how he felt about the various CDs. UG: Why did you decide to re-release Blast Tyrant, Robot Hive/Exodus and From Beale Street to Oblivion? Tim Sult: Basically the reason we did it was because we got the rights to those albums back. The last label we were on DRT Records kind of stopped really caring about being a label. So we ended up getting the rights back to those three albums and re-issuing them on our own label. It just made the most sense to get those out there as soon as possible and get em out on the Weathermaker catalog and let people buy em. Cause a couple of them had already gone out of print; DRT wasn't even printing em up anymore. What does it feel like having the albums come out on Weathermaker, Clutch's label? For us, everything seems to be running a lot smoother; there's really nothing standing in the way whatsoever. Financially it must be a much better situation for you. Oh, yeah, for a band like us; we're not very commercial. It's not like we're gonna get played on the radio or anything like that. Just going out and doing it ourselves has been great. As you were putting together the Blast Tyrant reissue, what struck you about that record? For me personally, it's definitely one of my favorite Clutch albums as far as that goes. As far as the reissues go, that was the only reissue that we'd actually gone into the studio and recorded new stuff for. The Basket of Eggs CD. Exactly; we recorded a few new acoustic tracks for that. Why did you record additional tracks for the Blast Tyrant reissue? Well, last summer we went out on tour where we were doin' three sets: we'd open up doing an instrumental set; then we'd do the Clutch set; and then we'd come out and do a few acoustic songs. So we just wanted to record those songs; get em down and get em out. Where does that acoustic side of you come from? Quite honestly, I do not remember the exact specific reason we started to do it. I don't know it just seemed like something that would just be a little bit different. Cause we were going out and doing an evening with Clutch and we just wanted to throw a little bit of a different flavor in there so we figured we'd try that and it worked out pretty well. So we recorded a few of the songs and they're comin' out. The Basket of Eggs CD has some strange stuff on there. Where did Boxcar Shorty's Confession come from? That was a cover song by this old blues guy: Cousin Joe. He also has another name he uses as well [Pleasant Cousin Joe' Joseph]. It's just an old blues cover song. Clutch does these older types of blues songs from time to time. What is it about the music that you like? It's just heavy music from the past really; you know what I mean? Early versions of heavy music. Very interesting to listen to and fun to play. Do you think of yourself as a proficient blues guitar player? Absolutely not; no way [laughs]. Did you ever really sit down and listen to Robert Johnson and Elmore James and these types of guitarists? No; honestly I really haven't gone back and studied stuff like that too much to tell you the truth. I'm more of a rock guy. What about Drink to the Dead? Is that on the reissue? Drink to the Dead is an acoustic version of a song that was on Robot Hive/Exodus maybe [it was on Pure Rock Fury]. And I'm gonna have to say right out of the box, I absolutely despise that version of that song; I think it's absolutely horrible. And the guitar playing is just terrible. So I'm completely disowning that. I love everything else on that CD but I will disown that. I'll be honest with you, I thought it was a different version of that song when it was going on that recording. Walpole Man? Walpole Man is an early version of a song called Army of Bono. It's got a few different ideas in it as well but it's essentially the music from Army of Bono with totally different lyrics and I think one or two different riffs. You know I really need to go back and listen to this CD.

"The last label we were on DRT Records kind of stopped really caring about being a label."

The original title of Blast Tyrant was Blast Tyrant's Atlas of the Invisible World Including Illustrations of Strange Beasts and Phantoms. The booklet in the CD has all those cool drawings of creatures and things so what was the original idea behind the drawings and the music? As far as that goes, the artist that we had work on that stuff was the little brother of our tour manager [Chon Hernandez] who was a tattoo artist. He was out on tour with us for a little while and uh, I guess that's what we sound like to him in his artistic head. He drew these creatures, showed them to you and you said, Let's include that in the CD booklet? Basically, yeah. He was just a great young artist and we wanted to give him some work so that was it. It turned out incredible and I think the new artwork is even better; color-wise I think it turned out a little better. Because the original version that came out on DRT kinda looked just really pink and it wasn't supposed to look that pink. Do the three albums - Blast Tyrant, Robot Hive/Exodus and From Beale Street to Oblivion connect to one another? Quite honestly, I do not feel any connection between those albums whatsoever because they were all recorded and mixed with totally different people. And I think that adds to all the albums having their own vibe; to me anyway. To an outsider they probably all sound identical but to me they're all totally different production-wise and the way everything sits in the mix. What did Machine bring to the production of the Blast Tyrant record? To be honest with you, I absolutely love the guitar sound on that album. The production is definitely in your face. Machine's production style is a little bit more in your face than the way a lot of our albums have been recorded. I don't know if that was in the mastering or the way he recorded it or what but I think that album itself sounds a little more frantic. What was it about your guitar sound on Blast Tyrant that you really dug? I'm gonna say I like the guitar sound so much on that album because that was the last album that I played an old Orange head on. I haven't had a working old Orange head for years and years but that was my original Orange head. I probably got that thing fixed about 7,000 times. But anyway that was the last recording I ever used that on and I think that might be half of it right there. Did you change to Marshalls after that? No, I didn't really change to Marshall; I mean I've always played Marshalls. Honestly that's really the only Clutch recording that the main amp is an old 70s Orange; I think that's it right there. Had you heard other guitar players using Orange amps? Back then they were certainly a bit more obscure for sure. Obviously I'd seen the Sabbath videos with them playing the Oranges; the Paranoid video where there's Oranges in the video. I remember seeing Helmet a couple times a long time ago where they were playing Oranges. I just found one for cheap sometime in the early 90s when we were on tour; I found it for a couple hundred bucks and I spent thousands repairing it over the years. So I just kinda gave up on that but it sounded incredible. Is that the Les Paul on Blast Tyrant? It's actually a McNaught guitar. It's just some company based out of North Carolina, I believe. I don't know; I don't really know what else to say. I guess they get lumped in with the guy that makes guitars in Maryland: Paul Reed Smith. They're kinda similar to early Paul Reed Smiths and they get lumped in with that. The guy just makes really, really, really nice guitars. I don't know what else to say about em. Have you ever checked em out? I've vaguely heard about them. Yeah, they're super nice. [See sidebar] Jumping to songs from the Blast Tyrant album, The Regulator really stands out. Was this the first album you used acoustics on? Was it? No, I'm pretty sure there's acoustic guitar on our second album. But any acoustic guitars on that album would have been played by our singer, Neil. Neil played all the acoustics on that album? On Blast Tyrant? You know what? That was so long ago I don't even remember. You play these little wah wah lines on The Regulator and it conjures up a Jimmy Page vibe. Oh, yeah; definitely. Oh, sure. I mean that song now that you mention it totally has a Zeppelin No Quarter vibe on it. And most likely that's what I was going for. Where did the wah thing come from? Wah has always sounded cool to me and there was definitely a time where I thought the wah pedal was the stupidest thing on earth. But after years and years of touring and years of jamming, it gets to be fun using a wah sometimes. And obviously I overuse it sometimes. I don't know what happens; sometimes my foot just ends up going crazy and I end up playing wah on every song. Do you use many other effects? Sometimes. I've really been liking the Line 6 DL4's Reverse effect; that's great. That's really fun to play. I definitely use a little bit of delay sometimes and I've been using my Electro-Harmonix Micro POG. I've been using that quite a bit lately and it's incredible. Notes From the Trial of Curandera has a fair amount of B3. Do you like playing guitar licks against keyboard pads and stuff? Yeah, I mean that part was just overdubbed so it was never a concern as far as that song goes. As far as having a keyboard player goes, it's pretty fun. It's just something extra to do. Did bands featuring the B3 catch your ear? Deep Purple? Oh, sure, I mean Deep Purple was definitely one of my favorite bands growing up as a kid. Yeah; it changes every day. Sometimes I'll absolutely love and the next day I'll absolutely despise the sound of the organ within a Clutch sound. It really depends on the day. In the Bakerton Group you worked with Per Wiberg from Opeth. What was that like? Oh, yeah, that guy's absolutely amazing. He's gone and played a couple Clutch shows as well since Mick left the band. Per has played several shows with us; maybe ten or so shows. J.P. has got another side project thing that he jams with Per in as well; it's kind of like a funkier type deal. I'm sure we'll collaborate with that guy again soon. He's actually no longer in Opeth; as of a couple weeks ago. I read it online. Your drummer and bass playerJean-Pau Gaster and Dan Mainesare really good players. What's it like playing with them? It makes what I do a little funkier; a little bit. Yep, those guys definitely bring kind of a funk element into the jams for sure. You get funky once in a while with Clutch. Yeah, and then we have the Bakerton Group thing that we do sometimes. Is the Bakerton Group a different experience than Clutch? It's really just something fun to do. We're just gonna jam and make songs anyway so we may as well play them. A lot of times we come up with songs that really aren't conducive to vocals so we'll just expand on those and make em more instrumental ideas. Yeah, it's really just an excuse to go out and play more shows and open up for ourselves.

"At least for that recording, there seemed to be a lot more space in the playing."

So with Clutch you get to player the heavier stuff, with the Bakerton Group you get to play the instrumental music and with Lionize you get to play the reggae and funky stuff. Well, yeah, but as far as Lionize goes I'm not really in the band. I didn't have anything to do with the songwriting or anything like that; that's there band. They go out and tour and do their own thing without me. I'll discount that as well. Robot Hive/Exodus was the first album with keyboardist Mick Schauer. Did you want to expand the band's sound? We probably didn't think about it as much as other people did [laughs]. It was just something we felt sounded good. It wasn't like some deep decision that had to be made. We actually had keyboards on our second album on three songs [Clutch]; I mean they're very subtle and people never really notice em too much. But I mean we've had keyboards goin' all the way back to the 90s. (At this point in the conversation, Tim had to leave for a jam with the band. He offered to call back later that night but he didn't. He did, however, contact his publicist the next day who in turn contacted me and said I could call him back anytime). Here's how Tim ended this first part of our dialog: Do you want me to call you back later tonight? Do you want to keep going? Because so far my answers have been terrible! And here's how he started our follow-up interview: Sorry about last night; I didn't get home until super late. UG: Did you know what kind of band you wanted Clutch to be when you first started? Well, as far as that goes, I feel like when we first started we wanted to do something along the lines of Helmet or the Melvins or something like that; loud, heavy rock that wasn't necessarily metal in any way whatsoever. In your mind how did you distinguish between metal and loud, heavy rock? Uh, yeah, good question [laughs]. I guess sometimes it really just comes down to how they're dressed; I guess that's really what it comes down to these days. When I first started off playing the guitar, I was into stuff like Jimmy Page and Ritchie Blackmore and basic classic rock stuff; Black Sabbath of course. And then a couple years into high school, I got into hardcore and punk and stuff like that like Minor Threat, Circle Jerks and Suicidal Tendencies; so that kind of worked its way in there. Then a kind of heavier rock thing started happening with bands like the Melvins and stuff like that. Because the blues does tend to sneak into Clutch's music, did you listen to any of the other blues bands like Fleetwood Mac or Humble Pie? Yeah, but they were never really an influence early on; that was more stuff that I heard recently. Like stuff that I heard as I got older. I guess I was 21 years old when the band started and that amount of time between the time I started playing the guitar and the band started was only six or seven years. So I've had a lot more time since then to go back and listen to stuff like Free and be influenced by incredible guitar tones like that. You do a cover of Cream's Politician. Were you digging on Eric Clapton? No, that's honestly something I got into until later on. It was just a different time in music. If I were a kid, if I were 14 years old and I just started playing guitar, I would have instant access to all that music. Back then I didn't have $5 or $8 to buy a record of every single album that I wanted. You know what I mean? Moving onto the From Beale Street to Oblivion album, you now have Joe Barresi as your producer. How was he different than Machine? I think the guitar tone I got with the Beale Street album was definitely more of a natural sound and maybe a bit too clean. I was just going for a really nice, natural Marshall/Les Paul tone and I think I achieved that for sure and Joe was very instrumental in helping me do that for sure. Joe had produced the Melvins, a band you've been talking about here. Did you ever ask him about working with the Melvins or how he got guitar tones with them? You know what? Quite honestly I had no idea that he did work with the Melvins to tell you the truth. So, no, I never did talk to him about that. You've publicly acknowledged that you didn't dig the solo on The Devil & Me. Why? It was actually an interesting solo. Oh, well, I'm sure when I said that I was just kind of joking around. But from what I remember I just thought it was kind of weak; I always just felt like I could go in and do something a little bit better. That being said, I haven't listened to it in years. Maybe if I did listen to it right now, I would think it sounded like John Coltrane or somethingbut it probably doesn't. How do you psych yourself up for a solo? I would say probably half of em, I have a direction I'm going in; and I would say the other half there is no direction whatsoever. I'm just kind of hoping for the best really. It really keeps the shows a little bit more fun. Being able to play different solos in different songs can sometimes be a complete disaster and a train wreck but other times it's spiritually liberating; other times it's the complete opposite. Spiritually debilitating. Exactly. White's Ferry is a really intriguing Clutch ballad. You jammed with Never Got Caught's Bryan Hinkley on that track. That was very cool. Neil plays the other solo stuff on the rest of the song and Bryan played it live. Bryan plays that little middle section with me; that little harmony part. So, yeah, that was really cool. We just got together in a hotel room on a day off and worked that up and just kinda kept it. That is definitely one of my favorite Clutch tracks for sure. From Beale Street to Oblivion was Mick Schauer's last album. Why did he leave? Well, honestly it just wasn't working out. I don't really know what else to say about that. Honestly it did take a few shows to get used to playing without a keyboardist again. And there are a few songs that we've written during that era that we really don't play anymore because the keyboards were so important in it. Like 10001110101, which is definitely one of our biggest songs that we've ever had; it's definitely one of our biggest radio songs ever. But that's stuff we can't really play without a keyboardist. Are there some ZZ Top elements floating around on the Beale Street album? Oh, sure; ZZ Top's definitely a big influence to the band for sure. 70s ZZ Top that is. Oh, yeah, for sure. What was it like recording the Live at the 9:30 album where you reprised the Clutch record? At least for that recording, there seemed to be a lot more space in the playing whereas these days there's maybe not as much space. Or maybe it's just the collection of the songs in general. The Clutch record was your best seller ever. Do you have any sense why? It came out in the days before everybody was online downloading. It didn't really sell that much immediately; it took years and years and years for it to sell what it sold. And it really hasn't sold that much [laughs]. It's sold several hundred thousand copies. 200,00.

"Wah has always sounded cool to me and there was definitely a time where I thought the wah pedal was the stupidest thing on earth."

That's freaking good. It's great but it's not like that album sold a million-and-a-half copies and then the rest of em sold a 100,000. But I just think it came out in the days before the Internet and there was a large amount of time between that album and then Elephant Riders. We toured a lot back then and a lot of people saw us live between 1995 and 1998 and decided to go out and buy the album. So that was a good thing, I guess. Your last album, Strange Cousins From the West, was produced by J. Robbins who also worked on Robot Hive/Exodus. What did he bring to the record? J. also worked on the two Bakerton Group albums so as far as people to work with go, we were just really comfortable working with J. Plus we'd gotten to the point where we wanted to just kind of stay locally and record at home and be able to go home at night and sleep in our own beds. So the fact that J. is in Baltimore really helps; there's no traveling involved other than getting up and going to the studio. But yeah, he's just really easy to work with and he's got a really nice studio and he's a great guy and we love working with him. Any plans for a new album? Yep; we are currently working on new material right now and we'll have that out early next year. And you're doing a summer tour of festivals in Europe? Yeah, we have a couple little runs: we have 20 US shows between May and July along with some European festival shows. It's gonna be incredible. What does Clutch mean in Europe? We do alright over there; we have some pretty good shows. We're going to Greece for the second time; the first time we went there was pretty amazing. I would say as far as the first time going to a city went, it was our biggest show for the first time going to a city ever. You know what I mean? But yeah, hopefully we'll be able to recreate that Greek magic. There will probably be 12 people there next time. Will you preview some new songs? Yep; on the Motorhead tour we already started throwing in a couple of new instrumental ideas into the set so hopefully we'll have several new songs by the time we play our next show. The Motorhead tour was cool? Yeah, it was incredible; Motorhead is definitely inspirational.

Sidebar

Tim Sult loved Dave McNaught's guitars so we caught up with the guitar builder and had him tell U-G a bit about those instruments. "I built two guitars for Tim. One was a Vintage Single Cut Gold Top and featured a mahogany body and neck; Brazilian rosewood; 22 fret-24 3/4" scale fingerboard; maple top, Tone Pros bridge and Rio Grande humbuckers. Tim played the crap out of that guitar. After a few years of touring with it, he sent it back to us to be refretted. I had never seen a guitar that had been so abused. The cool thing was that it stood up to the abuse. The paint was chipped all to hell, it smelled like beer, and was covered in road grease. Once I put in some new frets she was good to go. "Then I built him a second one years later. It was the same type of guitar but had p-90's in it and was candy red. "I got a chance to hang out with Tim and the rest of the guys from Clutch on one of their stops in Charlotte. We had a blast. They put on a great show." Interview by Steven Rosen Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2011
More clutch interviews:
+ Clutch Guitarist Tim Sult: 'I Only Have One Guitar on the Road' Interviews 05/30/2013
+ Tim Sult Of Clutch: Rockin' Hard On Beale Street Interviews 06/05/2007
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