The making of Robot Hives/Exodus, DRT Records
TCE's interview with Neil Fallon
by Todd K Smith
Formed in 1991 in Germantown, Maryland singer Neil Fallon, guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean Paul “JP” Gaster took the name of Clutch to represent their stoned-out funk. They hustled up a mid-sized van and started playing shows up and down the eastern seaboard. Granted their sound was still developing. Some nights it was more of a Zeppelin/Sabbath mix, other nights it was more hardcore with a Faith No More vibe. Their persistence was matched by their determination and as the crowds started to build so did the attention of the recording powers that be. The TCE caught up with the band on their stop at Mt. Tabor’s Sabalas in Portland and after a thrilling sound check sat down with Neil Fallon for a history lesson.
“We’ve been on nine different labels in fourteen years,” says the heavily bearded singer. “There was the guy that did our first 7-inch. Then Earache did the EP, Passive Restraints, EastWest did ‘Transitional Speedway League.’ Then we got moved to Atco for our self-titled record, then Columbia for Elephant Riders, Atlantic for Pure Rock Fury and DRT for Blast Tyranny and our new one Robot Hives. We’ve also signed distribution deals with MegaForce (for the recently released Pitchfork and Lost Needles-ed.) and Spitfire for last years Jam Room. Nine labels, nine records in 14 years.”
Fallon, whose appearance looks intriguingly pre-civil war, is the mind behind the bands unusual and eclectic direction. His neo-gospel lyrics have put a Christian tag on the Maryland five while Tim Sult’s mixture of doom-laden, psychedelic riffs finds friends among the Stoner crowd. “This band is very egalitarian,” says Fallon as he moves a copy of Muddy Water’s Woodstock Album from the table of the band’s tour bus. “It’s a democracy, that’s why we need producers. If we didn’t have producers, we’d never get anything done. You need a temporary fascist to get a record done.” When asked about the Muddy Waters disc Fallon gushes a bit. “I found that at a truck stop and when I flipped it over, there was a picture of the studio we’d record Robot Hive. It was cool looks like it hasn’t changed a bit since ‘75”
Putting together nine records in 14 years has seen Clutch in a number of different studios. Says Fallon, “We’ve tried a lot of different places. I think were beginning to find the ones we like the most. We’d like to do it all locally. For some reason on our fist record we drove to San Francisco to work with the guy that recorded the Melvin’s records. We loved the way those sounded. Our record sounds nothing like the Melvin’s but you live and learn. In retrospect it’s a fond memory. It just wasn’t economically responsible.” These days drummer JP has a small studio in his house. It’s not something you could record a record at but it’s where the band can do some writing. The ideas are worked over with different band members getting together to jam on a regular basis.
Several years ago the members of Clutch decided to go at it full time. Luckily the band has been paying for itself with a full workload on the road. “It’s lucrative enough that we don’t feel compelled to get day jobs back home,” says Fallon with reserve. “But record labels aren’t sending us checks. That happens to very few artists. You have to sell buckets of records to get that.” To assist in the sales of Robot Hives Clutch have a new single “10001110101.” The title is adventurous yet after a couple plays becomes quite hypnotic. Fallon explains “When I write lyrics I’m looking for a hook a way of combining words that sound right for the beat they don’t always make sense. Had I known that song was going to be the single I probably would have given it a different title.”
The fourteen track Robot Hives is packed full of Fallon euphemisms. He sing of his passion for 70’s rock and links it to small town observations such as “The Incomparable Mr. Flannery“, there’s also the holy roller “Burning Beard” and the spaced out “Pulasky Skyway” but it the power-packed “Mice and Gods” that moves the record in to hyper-drive. “Mice and Gods was actually the first song we wrote for this record,” admits Fallon. “We wrote it right after Blast Tyrant. There were a couple different incarnations of it lyrically. I worked on the lyrics a long time but it was developed like most Clutch song’s - we had a composition, I laid down vocals and the rest of the band filled in around the core.”
Fallon states that he wants his lyrics to be intriguing enough for his listeners to read. “I draw inspiration from guys like Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart, not really rock guys. I also pull from the old blues guys and a lot of folk music. They’re all storytellers and I draw more inspiration from them that anything else. A lot of it has to do with when I first started out and was in a hardcore band. There was no real singing - notes or melody were non issues. To make up for that I tried to write lyrics that were interesting that would catch peoples interest by what was being said. Eventually I tried to teach myself to sing some kind of melody.”
His deep baritone voice is attributed to Fallon’s roots in gospel music. “What you get is what you have,” he shrugs rather nonchalantly. “You can’t do anything except with the voice you were given. I knew I was never going to sound like Geddy Lee’s but I would listen to Tom Waits or Gene Simmons and thought I might be able to do something like that. When we first started out it was basically a lot of screaming. you kind of paint yourself into a corner. But I’ll tell you, trying to sing is much more taxing on the voice then screaming when you try to maintain a note. The screaming was a product of being young. Like most teenage boy I had some anger I was trying to project. I had no any excuses because I had a very fortunate life - and still do - so to go and act angry when I’m not is pretty insincere and very tiring. We’d rather entertain ourselves nowadays.”
Clutch are indeed blazing their own trail they’ve learned a lot from their 14-years as a band from the ups and downs to feast and famine. “When you’re young your entertained easy,” says Fallon. “You’re alright with sleeping on the floor. These days we try to maintain a sense of humor, try to adapt and not be distracted with things that aren’t important to the music. Were lucky in that we’ve never had to discuss what we wanted this band to be. We’ve never had to answer classified ads or go through endless auditions. It started out as something fun to do. We just wanted to play shows. There are a lot of things that are understood between us. And it’s the unsaid things that make our lives easier.
“We’re all of the minds that the sum should be greater than the parts. You should have a solid rhythm section before anything else. Then vocal, guitars and keyboards orbit that. If a drummer’s chasing a guitar player you’re screwed. We’re lucky we’ve never had to go searching for anything else other than the for guys in the band.”
Check out the new Clutch video for “Burning Beard” here.