Just days after the release of their 12th studio album Book of Bad Decisions, Clutch found themselves in the center of Day Three of Riot Fest 2018. The mid-tier acts are always my favorite part of this particular festival because the newbies are out of the way and the grounds are packed with people only there to see the headliner. It’s the time of the festival where the legit music fans have the festival to themselves.
After half a day of pop-punk and garage rock, I was more than ready to catch a set of something heavy and Clutch was exactly what I had in mind.
A few hours before Clutch was to take the Rise Stage at 5 pm, I had the opportunity to talk with Neil Fallon in the media tent. Outfitted with retro Ray-Bans and a Don Rickles t-shirt, Fallon looked calm and collected despite the unseasonably sweltering heat. After a brief greeting, we found a picnic table in a nice shady area. We were ready to discuss the music industry, festivals, and why Book of Bad Decisions just might be the definitive Clutch record.
Coop: How are you enjoying Riot Fest so far?
Fallon: So far so good! This is our first show supporting our new record. We haven’t really done a lot of shows in the past nine months so I feel a bit rusty to be honest. But I’m sure a good four or five minutes into the set it will all come back to me. I hope.
I’m a big fan of Book of Bad Decisions! Bearded Gentlemen recently published a review. So you recorded it in Nashville right?
Nashville is probably my favorite scene for rock. Was it a conscious decision to record there because of that scene?
Mainly it was because that’s where Vance Powell (producer) works. We would have gone to any city where he worked! We heard some records he had done, Chris Stapleton and The Dead Weather. He had also mixed Red Fang.
A decent amount of good heavy rock bands are coming up out of Nashville. Transylvania Stud, The By Gods, Hitman Louie. I think people always think of country when they think Nashville, but that’s really not the case.
Yeah, he has a country background but he’s no stranger to that kind of hard rock.
We recorded it south of Nashville in a town called Berry Hill. Which has like fifty studios in a square mile. They like, trade gear amongst themselves and it’s this real organic scene. I think Vance probably would’ve made the record sound like it does regardless of where we were but it was still very cool to be there. I didn’t get to see much of the city, unfortunately. We were just in the studio every day for three weeks!
What made you seek out Vance Powell for production duties?
Well, he has a live sound background first and he toured many many years. That’s an education that you can’t get in sound engineer school. He knows what kind of mic to put in front of a cabinet and how to place it.
Was there a lot of prep work on his part with you before recording?
He came out on the road with us for you know, three or four shows and I think that was a really good move. He said he wanted to capture that kind of gain and intensity and not rely so much on over-dubs. This is the first time in years that I’ve tracked vocals from beginning to end of a song one after another.
Right. Clutch always had that raw Motörhead sound but Book of Bad Decisions is really warm and live in a modern way.
Usually, it would just be like hit the chorus seven times. Now do the verse seven times. I was a bit trepidatious at first but in the end, I think created more of a sense of immediacy to it.
Outside of production, was there anything about this record you did differently band-wise as opposed to say the last one?
We were really well rehearsed and all these songs were pretty much written and done before walked into the studio with the exception of one song we wrote while there. That makes a world of difference because you’re not worried about remembering parts anymore. You just perform them. And being all in the same room, even recording scratch vocals, there are little things that happen because of subtle body language that doesn’t happen when you do things isolated.
Is that how Clutch used to do it?
We’ve done that in the past like with Psychic Warfare and Earth Rocker. Machine’s philosophy is much more isolated and kind of micro-managing things as where Vance is kind of like ‘let’s throw crap over the fence and see where it lands.’
Is there a particular song on the record that pretty much sums up the entire album?
Well, I think that “In Walks Barbarella” has become a favorite. We’ve had horns on our songs before but not recently and that was Vance’s idea. We were a little bit leery of it because even though its a huge part of the song now, we can’t really carry a horn section tour with us for one song. But the song still stands up without it. It’s a fun song.
What were you listening to before you starting working on the album? Does listening to other artists have an effect on what you are working on?
Not really. I mean I listen to so much stuff so I think anything you listen to is gonna influence you whether you realize it or not. I listen to a lot of old music because I find it sincere in a lot of ways. Not that there isn’t good artists or bands out there it’s just that I feel like I still have a lot of homework to do.
It’s pretty comforting to hear something you’re familiar with too.
Yeah, I think that’s one of the great things about the internet. Otherwise, you would never get to hear a lot of these artists. You can go down this rabbit hole late at night listening to this band or that band. Maybe you don’t even understand the language! I love that!
Where do you stand on the whole streaming thing? For instance; a band like Clutch. Is it hurting you or helping you?
It’s hard to say really. We didn’t agree to that whole thing at first. But thing is, you’re kinda forced to play ball. You have to. But you know, if someone hears one of our songs on Spotify and they decide to come to a show. Buy a ticket, buy a t-shirt, then it works out. I’ll say this too. Our shows have gotten expeditiously larger since people started sharing files. When we relied on terrestrial radio and major label marketing, nothing really happened. So streaming is really just free promo.
That’s a good point. From a business angle, do you feel the music industry is dying?
See that phrase, music industry? That’s a brand new idea. There was never a music industry thousands of years ago. It wasn’t until the 1920s people found out how to monetize music. And that was only because of certain technological advancements. Even vinyl records are a relatively new technology when you compare it to the history of music.
There was a great time when people were making a whole lot of money. I want to be able to make a lot of money so I can do what I love for a living and put some money away for my kid’s college. But we never got into this to buy fancy cars or be on covers of magazines. That’s not satisfying. What’s satisfying is being able to get on stage.
Speaking of playing live, you guys have your own music festival right?
Yeah! Earth Rocker Festival! I mean it’s nothing like Riot Fest. This past year we had Black Label Society, Corrosion Of Conformity, ourselves. It’s in West Virginia on a farm and it was the most people we’ve ever had there. Probably like 4000 people. There’s no ferris wheels involved or anything. Its central to places like DC, Kentucky, southern Ohio, West Virginia of course, Pennsylvania. It’s a blast!
How do you feel about big festivals like Riot Fest? Are fests a good way for people to find new music or do you feel it has become a scene in of itself?
Well, my favorite thing about festivals is the people watching. Especially when there’s a fence between us! But it’s a great place to see bands you know? I was really torn today. I wanted to see Fear and I really wanted to see JD McPherson and of course, they were playing at the same time. They’re both great and I’m sure there’s plenty of kids here who never even heard of Fear got to see them! Lee Ving sounds incredible still! So yeah, it’s a great place to hear some music and get a terrible sunburn while you’re at it!
Okay so why should people check out the new Clutch record?
I think people should check it out because it’s what we do. It’s a sincere representation of who we are. If you don’t like this, you probably won’t like anything else we do so save yourself the trouble!
All photos by Judie Vegh of OyVegh Photography
Aaron (or Coop) is a freelance writer, multi-instrumentalist and overall lover of all things music. As an advocate for indie record labels and artists, he is passionate about local scenes and do-it-yourself artistry. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, he’s not afraid to explain why.