Clutch just keep rolling, generating yet another stellar record in 2015. The band recently released their Psychic Warfare album, and we had a chance to chat with frontman Neil Fallon about the disc at Knotfest in San Bernardino, Calif. The rocker dished on the disc, discussed how the band keeps things fresh during their shows and previewed their upcoming holiday shows. Check out the chat below.
We’re here today at Knotfest. Can you talk about your relationship with Slipknot and getting the chance to perform on their festival?
Well we’ve done a number of festivals with them over the years and they always come out to check out the band. Even when we used to go through Iowa before they were the international phenomenon that they are now, they would come out and see the shows and they were kind enough basically to invite us to play. We said, “Sure,” of course. That’s kind of the long and short of it.
For Earth Rocker, you had the idea while on tour with Thin Lizzy to make more concise, shorter songs. Any mindset of what you wanted to do going into Psychic Warfare?
Well, it came quickly on the heels of Earth Rocker so a lot of the momentum of that record carried over to this one. I think it’s faster. I think if we had a mindset it wasn’t so much creative as it was technical. We wanted to make Psychic Warfare more like a live sound. So we were even more well rehearsed before we recorded it and micro-managed it. It was probably the only instance in 25 years where all the lyrics were written before we went to the studio. And Jean-Paul [Gaster] for example changed the beasts to the songs once he heard the lyrics he would complement the lyrics and the vocal patterns, change the beats a bit.
From a lyrical standpoint, you’re coming from a more personal place this time …
Yeah, to a degree. I think maybe not so much that it was confessional, it was … sometimes it’s hard to come up with new ideas after 25 years and I always shied away from personal experiences and well, maybe that’s a good springboard. So I took some things that happened in my life and used it as a starting point and then kinda exaggerated them in a way.
I dig the “X-Ray Visions” video.
I want to know where that song comes from and if you can talk a bit about the clip, as well.
Well, the song originally was called “Psychic Warfare” but then we decided that would be a better album title. I could talk about the song and also explain the video because the video I think is kinda very literal to a lot of the lyrics. Over the years, Clutch is — not so much now that we’re in a tour bus — but we would drive in our van until basically we ran out of gas or could find a place to stay. Before the age of cellphones, and the internet you just waited to see the vacancy sign. And a lot of times it would take us to very strange dark corners of America. That song to me is not so much about reading people’s minds as it is sort of, the creepy hours in creepy hotels off the highway. That’s really what the song is about, kind of, losing grip on reality for a brief moment in time.
“Sucker for the Witch” also comes from a cool place — going on vacation as a kid to Salem…
Yeah, yeah, my parents, well my dad is from Massachusetts, and I’d always go up there for Christmas and one, I don’t remember exactly when it was, but we went to Salem. I didn’t really have any exchange of words with this young lady who was apparently the daughter of one of the practicing witches in Salem. And I was at you know, an age when probably 14 or 15 when I found that to be very exciting, and it definitely has always been in the back of mind, this formative experiences that creates the person you are. You know, I also approached it with a sense of humor. Because to me, rock ‘n’ roll should be fun. I don’t like music that sounds like a direct image.
Speaking of making it fun, who were some of the bands that made it fun for you to see rock when you were growing up?
I think ZZ Top is probably a fun band that I like a lot. Stevie Ray Vaughan, but coming up I listened to my parents’ record collection. The Beatles were a lot of fun but I also listened to a lot of hardcore and punk that was not fun. You know, the Bad Brains and Fugazi were kind of more serious in a lot of ways. But they were more formative. Maybe DC Gogo was a lot of fun and you know, not maybe, it was a lot of fun. And that has a big influence on the Jean-Paul swing he plays on a lot of songs so, I think that the mixture of those things, are some of the ingredients to the Clutch pot.
You worked with Machine as your producer on this album again. I know you’ve got a standing relationship with him. Was it a natural choice to go back to him?
Yes, because i think at this point we’ve learned in any kind of creative endeavor, the relationship is half the battle. He has a license from us to be able to speak to us in a very honest way that other people would be asked to leave the room. So we appreciate that after the fact. Maybe in the middle we’re not so hip because we don’t want to hear it, but we need someone to give us direction because we’re a democracy and there’s no one guy who is calling shots so we need someone to kind of trim off the fat or give us direction when we’re chasing our tail at times. He’s good at it, he can speak honestly to us and that’s big.
After finishing a Korn interview yesterday, I mentioned to Head that I was talking to you and he mentioned how much he loved the band and found influence in what you do. We think of the general public being fans of bands, but what does it mean to you when you get a show of respect from one of your peers?
I think that’s incredibly flattering. When I hear that somebody, regardless if they’re in a successful band like that or not, if they say “you influenced my playing” or “your music got me through a difficult time in your life,” I mean what else could you ask for as any kind of artist? That you either influenced somebody in a positive way creatively, or just emotionally. Music may not be a tangible thing like something made in a factory, but there’s a certain sense of immortality. I’m not saying that in a selfish way. Once you’re dead and gone your influence on this earth will continue hopefully in a positive way, and I think that’s the point of life.
I’ve seen a wide array of set lists so far on this run, including one that was almost all new last night. How do you decide?
It really depends on who writes it. Tim [Sult] wrote that set list and he only wanted to do Psychic Warfare. Dan [Maines] is doing it tonight, I don’t know what he has in store, I haven’t looked at it. We’ve been, on average, playing seven songs a night from Psychic Warfare. For the first couple days it was a bit tough for the crowd because the record was only 48 hours old, but now after a couple weeks people are hip to it, I think.
How fun is it to have that in the band, where someone gets to suggest the setlist every night and keep it fresh?
That’s the idea and so we pay attention. I think doing the same setlist, I know I would start daydreaming, and if I start daydreaming I would make mistakes. But if I’m a little bit scared because I haven’t played this song in a year, that gets the adrenaline and it’s good to pay attention and be a little bit scared.
You mentioned maybe not playing a song in a while. Any song that’s popped up recently where you’re like, “Man that feels good to play”?
We did “Soap Makers” a couple nights ago and it’s a great song. Sometimes you lose sight of that if you play it night after night after night. You gotta let it sit in a corner for a little bit and ferment for a while. You don’t have that luxury on a festival like this so much, but when we’re playing for Clutch fans, we can do that.
I love it when bands do this, because the end of the year is just dead when everyone goes home for the holidays. But you’ve got a group of shows between Christmas and New Years.
It’s become a bit of a tradition that we tend to only do it in the Northeast because we want to be home on Jan. 1. It’s a lot of fun, I think people are still kind of in a festive, party mode. It’s a quick and easy way to keep the wheels greased.
People are in a festive mode, but what about the band? Are these shows a different state of mind?
Yeah, we try to do something different. We didn’t used to do the countdown on New Year’s, we’ve gotten better at that. That’s a bit of a tough nut to crack, but we don’t leave on the 26th. We’ve done that before, that’s too hard. You’re finally home and then you gotta pack up and go. Emotions tend to run higher around that time of year anyway. But it’s only five days, so that makes it easier.
“X-Ray Visions” is out now and we’ve seen the video for it. Is there another video or another song coming?
Probably not. We are our own record label, and we have to fund everything ourselves, so we have to ask ourselves, “Do we want to do a cheap lyric video”? I don’t know if that’s really a point. I mean I would love to have a budget to make a cinematic masterpiece, but we also got to put gas in the bus. [laughs]
What’s on the horizon for the band beyond the Christmas shows?
Yeah we got a couple. Two weeks in November in Europe, the Christmas run, Australia we have in February. Then we got the U.S. in the spring. Europe and festivals in late summer. Then the fall we’ll go back out, probably supporting a band or co-headlining, and that will take us to about a year from today.
You mentioned you’re your own self-run label, but I know you’ve done stuff with other bands as well. Anything that you want to promote or throw out there?
Good friends of ours, Lionize we put out a record of theirs. Fantastic band. They’re still grinding it out. But that’s the only band we’ve worked with directly with Weathermaker. I can go on and on about great bands, but that’s the one that we’ve worked with for quite some time.
Watch Clutch’s “X-Ray Visions” Video