By Denise FalzonEarth Rocker marks the tenth studio album from Clutch since forming in 1990 and is the highly-anticipated follow-up to 2009's Strange Cousins From the West. With this new release, the Maryland-based groove rockers have reignited their passion for fast, heavy rock'n'roll while maintaining the insanely catchy, groove-laden riffs that they have become infamous for. Unique and dynamic, Earth Rocker is iconic Clutch, mixing in a playful elements and a deep nostalgia for rock'n'roll. In a recent interview, frontman Neil Fallon discussed the record, how the band's sound has progressed over the years, as well as his distinct, preacher-like vocal style and where he draws inspiration for his lyrics. He also talked about the violent reaction they once received from a Nickelback audience, their loyal fan base and the various Maryland music scenes that have had an impact on their distinct sound.
Your previous record, Strange Cousins from the West, came out in 2009. Why such a long gap before releasing Earth Rocker? Well, we just didn't stop touring. We would plan on stopping and then some opportunity would present itself, like Thin Lizzy or Motörhead or Volbeat and it just kept going and going. Finally we decided to put our foot down and say, "Enough, let's just make this record."
Was there a specific idea of where the band wanted to go with this record, musically? I think the one thing that we talked about was we just wanted to make a faster record and a more efficient record and I think that's really the only guidelines that we had.
This record is definitely faster and also heavier than some of the more recent albums. We had written a couple fast songs and we realized we were having fun playing those songs, and it kind of threw a bit of cold water on our face because when you're a band for 20 years, it's easy to get into a comfort zone. We usually play between 95 and 100 beats-per-minute and that's all well and good, but sometimes you've just got to push yourself a little bit. I know Tim [Sult, guitarist] had mentioned that he felt like his guitar tone was getting too clean and he wanted to gain it up.
There are also some different elements, like harmonicas and tambourines. Are you looking for ways to switch things up at this point in your career? Well, there was a lot of harmonica on [From] Beale Street [to Oblivion] and then it disappeared on Strange Cousins. Believe it or not, there's actually tambourine probably on every Clutch record that we've done, it's just more pronounced on this one and it's easier to point out. You'd be surprised how much tambourine is on metal records.
What is the writing process like for Clutch these days? It's pretty much the same as it's been for the past 20 years. One of us will write a riff at home or we just get together and start jamming and then when somebody does something cool, we all kind of look at that guy and we say, "Do it again." Or Jean-Paul [Gaster, drummer] will come up with a beat and we'll try to write a riff around it. It's pretty organic and democratic, so when all is said and done, we can't say who wrote what exactly. And then those guys patiently wait for me to write lyrics, because I'm terribly slow at doing that, and then we keep at it until we feel satisfied.
Is there a formula that you stick to when writing a Clutch song, or is it more just what comes naturally? I think the best formula is just kind of going in and seeing what comes out, almost like automatic writing, you can call it automatic riffing. You get into a room and just play what comes out of your hands and trust your heart and your gut and not try to over-think it too much because that's usually when self-editing happens and recalculation occurs and I don't think that's ever good music.
Clutch are known for these iconic, groove-based riffs. Is it ever challenging to come up with unique, heavy, catchy riffs? Or to outdo yourselves? No. I think that's what we do best and one thing I learned on this record, and this is coming from Machine [producer], is that. There's a song on the record called "D.C. Sound Attack" and the opening riff of that song we were kind of sitting on the fence about. We were saying to ourselves and to Machine, "It just kind of sounds too much like a Clutch riff" and Machine looked at us and said, "Yeah, and your point is what?" And then we realized, yeah, that's what we do. It's important to try new things and it's important to stay fresh, but it's also important to not be afraid to do what you do best.
Considering how intense a live Clutch slow is, do you ever take into account how the songs will transfer to a live setting when you're writing? Well, one thing that we tried to do with this record is play as many of these songs live as we could before we went into the studio because often what sounds like a great idea in the studio is not such a great idea on stage, and it's important to put things through the trials before recording. When you write a song for the first time you want to hear a riff 64 times and usually you shouldn't play it 64 times, you should only do it four or eight, and a live setting will make that crystal clear.