Guitarist Tim Sult talks about writing and recording From Beale Street To Oblivion, and touring the world with Clutch.
Posted on Jun 05, 2007 01:44 pm
Clutch emerged from Maryland in 1991, starting out as an alternative-rock band that gained a loyal following. Then through the years, they gradually changed course and transformed into a world class blues-rock band. The group recently released its strongest and most highly-acclaimed album to date, From Beale Street To Oblivion. With its powerful first single, Electric Worry, listeners' ears instantly began perking up and the song is now in heavy rotation on rock radio, winning over a bevy of new fans.
Ultimate Guitar caught up with guitarist Tim Sult shortly before soundcheck in Stockholm, Sweden, while the group was on the final leg of its UK and European tour. For Clutch, this was the was the first time working the circuit as a headlining act. The band will soon return to the US to embark on another round of headlining shows and play cities they hadn't hit on the first excursion.
Sult filled us in on what's been happening throughout this tour and how things have changed since the group initially joined forces. We also spoke about Sult's own musical roots and the changes his playing has undergone, as well as his never-ending quest to find the ultimate guitar and amp setup. Additionally, we got the lowdown on the band's creative process for writing and recording Beale Street under the guidance of producer Joe Barresi.
Ultimate Guitar: How have things been going on this tour? You had just completed the first leg of your US tour before heading over to the UK and Europe. What have been some of the highlights on this trek?Tim Sult: It's been great! The US shows went really well and it's probably been our best UK and European tour ever. It seems like we're playing to a lot of new people on this tour. There seem to be a lot of new Clutch fans out there. So that's been my personal highlight playing for so many new people.
In what ways do the audiences differ around the world?
Probably in how tight their pants are! That's really the main difference I can see. There are a lot of tight pants in Italy, and mostly on men. It's terrifying! But that's Europe for you. Then again, you'll see some ridiculously tight pants in certain places around the US as well just not on anyone in this band.
Tell us about your influences as a player.
I guess that early on, when I started, I was into Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore, and basic classic rock-style stuff. I was also into Randy Rhoads, and I was totally into Queen. Those would be my main classic rock influences.
Do the other band members share similar influences?
We all pretty much listen to the same kinds of music. When we first started, we were definitely more into the Helmet-ish, Melvins and early '90s heavy rock, but not into metal type stuff that was going on at that time. But since then, we've morphed into more of a classic rock sort of band.
How did the songs come together for this album?
They all came together pretty quick while we were working in our rehearsal space back in Frederick, Maryland.
What is the typical songwriting process for Clutch?
We usually just all get together in a room and start laying down some riffs, then we end up having about three decent ideas a day. Sometimes, maybe one out of ten ideas turns into a song. If [singer] Neil [Fallon] hears something that he can put some vocals on, that usually will turn into a song.
"There really are no set rules to how we come up with the songs."
Will most songs usually emerge from a riff, with the lyrics being the final step in putting the song together?
The lyrics usually do come last, but it could be either way. A song could start from from us all jamming together, or it could be someone coming in with a riff, or it could just be from ripping off a riff from somebody else and playing it slightly different. It could be anything. There really are no set rules to how we come up with the songs. We just go with whatever works.
Had you made demos of the material first before heading into the studio to record the tracks for this album?
We did some demos in our rehearsal space and in our drummer J.P. Gaster's studio. We probably did about six or seven of the songs in demo form before we recorded them.
Did you have more material written and recorded that didn't end up being used on the album?
We had written about three or four more songs, but we didn't end up recording them. We only recorded what we were going to use. We didn't even record any bonus tracks because we really didn't have the time.
Has the whole process of writing and recording gotten easier and become a more creative experience for you and the band?
You know, it has actually gotten a bit easier. It seems like when we get together and jam, we have so many different ideas to choose from, so we can always just pick the coolest stuff, instead of like it was back in the old days when we would only have A Shogun Named Marcus and no other options. These days, it seems like we have an endless amount of riffs.
In what ways has the band's style and sound evolved since you initially got together?
We played our first show in '91, and I would say that our style now is more blues-oriented and less hardcore.
How has your own style of guitar playing evolved? Where do you see the greatest changes in your own playing?
When I started out, I didn't really play solos and I kind of played noisy-type parts. Now I play actual solos along with the noisy-type parts.
There is a lot of solo work on this album with so many really cool textures and tones on the guitar parts.
I know. I really need to knock it off, don't I? I did use a few types of amps, some different effects, and a few guitars to get some interesting sounds.
What was your setup for the recording?
For most of the basic tracks, I used a Marshall model 1959 100 watt plexi head that was an early-'90s reissue which I ran through a Marshall 1960 cabinet loaded with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers. I used that together with a green Matamp 50 watt 1x12 combo. I used those two amps combined playing through both at once for the basic tone on most of the songs. I also used one of [producer] Joe Barresi's Top Hat Ambassador heads on about four or five of the songs, and the engineer's old Vox AC30 on one of the songs, and Blues Saraceno's Vibrolux combo on one of the songs, too. I think Blues' dad had built that one.
Pretty much the only guitar I played was a replacement for a Les Paul Custom I had that was stolen. I ended up replacing it with a brand new 1960 reissue Les Paul Standard that I played on every song on the album. For one of the songs, Mr. Shiny Cadillackness, I played one of Joe's old SG-shaped Les Paul Juniors from the early '60s.
For effects, I used a Teese RMC3 Real McCoy Custom as my main wah. I also used my old MXR Micro Flanger on at least one or two songs. I used one of Joe's wacky pedals called a Gig-FX Chopper on Rapture Of Riddley Walker for that effect you can hear in the background on the guitar. I also used a Line 6 DL-4 delay for the reverse effect on Mr. Shiny Cadillackness. I also used a Maxon AD999 analog delay on White's Ferry. I think those were the only effects I used.
Was this setup much different from the gear you've used in the past on previous Clutch recordings?
There is no typical setup for me with Clutch. It's always different.
What types of strings and picks do you prefer?
I usually play .010-.046 D'Addario strings and I use Dunlop .88 mm green Tortex picks. The ones we have were given to us by Jagermeister. I've been using them for years and I can never seem to use them all!
How were the tracks captured for the recording? The record sounds very much like a live performance. Did you play the songs live in the studio and record the band performing together?
We did play and record together, and then we kept as much as possible from the original tracks. Then I did tons of layering on the guitar parts. I recorded at least three guitar tracks on each song. It varied from song to song, but I usually did about three rhythm tracks on each song.
"There seem to be a lot of new Clutch fans out there."
Did you play in the same room as your amps while tracking or were you working in the control room?
I was in the control room and not in the same room as the amps. Those model 1959 Marshall heads are so loud that I can't be near them. Those things are absolutely ridiculous as far as volume goes.
What was the experience like working in the studio with Joe Barresi as producer?
Working with Joe was one of the most pleasurable studio experiences for us. Everything was nice and easy, and I think the record sounds absolutely amazing.
Do you have a favorite track or guitar solo?
I only have a least favorite guitar solo. The would be the solo I played on The Devil & Me. I think it's absolutely horrible! It's just not what I was going for. So if I could do anything over on the album, it would be that solo.
Does you approach to playing differ when you're performing live and when you're playing in the studio?
I would say that when I'm playing in the studio, I'm trying not to make mistakes, whereas when I'm playing live, I try really hard not to make mistakes because I can't fix the live shows! But I think playing live is a lot easier and I like feeling the energy from the crowd.
What is your setup for playing live on this tour?
On this part of the tour, I'm using a Vox AC30 with a Marshall JCM 800 series 100 watt head, and it's been so noisy. It's just rental gear I'm using over here for the European tour. And I only have one guitar on the road with me in Europe. It's a '57 Reissue Les Paul Junior with a Lollar P-90 pickup and TonePros hardware, but I have the guitar tech's guitar as a back up, just in case there's a problem with mine. For effects, I would usually use my Teese RMC3, but I have my backup Dunlop Crybaby wah, and the Line 6 DL-4 with me now. If we were playing in the US, I would use the Teese RMC3, Line 6 DL-4, MXR Micro Flanger, and Maxon AD999 analog delay.
I'm always changing my guitars around, and I still don't think I've found the best guitar for me. On the last tour, I was playing a silverburst SG with a P-90, which is a limited edition guitar. I have three of them and there were only 400 made. For amps, I was using my '78 Marshall model 1987 50 watt head which I would have been playing in combination with my Matamp, but my Matamp blew up, so I was using a '67 Fender Super Reverb together with the Marshall. I always play through two different amps.
I recently bought a Top Hat Ambassador amp because I liked Joe's so much when I used it in the studio. I'm thinking of taking it out to use on the next tour. I also bought a '74 Marshall 100 watt head, which I may also take out. I've been looking for a Matamp head. I can order one, but I want one now.
What have you been listening to lately?
Most recently, I've been listening to some Gogol Bordello. They're pretty cool. They're kind of like a Ukrainian version of the Pogues. I got into them because a friend of ours is their tour manager right now. As far as metal goes, I like that Gojira record, From Mars To Sirius, a lot. That is pretty brutally heavy! I think the last Opeth album was awesome. That one came out a long time ago, but it's still their most recent album. And of course, listening to some live Allman Brothers is always fun.
Is there anything special that you'll listen to for inspiration before you go onstage?
No, not really.
You have a very wide variety of musical tastes. Is there any one band that you always tend to go back to?
I think everyone goes back to Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple, eventually. I do anyway.
What advice can you offer to other guitar players on what they should do to improve their skills in order to become better all-around musicians?
I should probably take my own advice, which is just to practice. Also, learn how to read music, which I did. I took lessons for four years when I first started playing, which was back when I was 14 years old. My guitar teacher made me learn how to read, and learn all the basic fundamentals. I think that if you learn all that stuff first, it's a good starting point. So learn how to read, take lessons, and also learn other styles of music that you're not into. When I had first started, my guitar teacher had me learn jazz and I learned how to improvise within jazz structures. I think that helped me in some sort of way. I think the idea is that if you can improvise within a jazz structure, you can improvise over anything.
Interview by Lisa SharkenUltimate-Guitar.Com 2007