The veteran rockers aren’t slowing down anytime soon.
There’s no days off for Clutch. After nearly 30 years in the game, the Maryland natives are as active and prolific now as they’ve ever been. If they’re not touring, they’re in the studio. If they’re not in the studio, they’re on the stage. In tandem with their ongoing Vault collection, which oversees a string of one-off 7-inch releases, the hard-rock outfit are also piecing together what will eventually become their 13th studio album.
“Right now, we’re focusing on doing a little bit of both,” explains John-Paul Gaster, also known as JP, who has served as Clutch’s drummer since their inception.
“We love doing the Vault collection – it’s a chance for us to wring out some of the rust and keep our studio chops up, which is really important to us. We’re either re-recording songs we’ve done before, or doing a cover that we love. We have a few more of those in the works for the rest of the year, but in the meantime we’re also getting ready to record a new album.
“We had a rehearsal for some new songs just today, actually. I’d imagine we’ll spend the next few months writing, be in the studio by the end of the year and have something to show for it early next year – so there’s a lot happening.”
It’s one thing to be endeavouring for your third or even fourth album to be fresh and unique from a musical perspective. It’s anyone’s guess, however, what the action plan is when it comes to lucky number 13. That’s something that’s not lost on Gaster, who has made a point of keeping his role within the dynamic of Clutch one of openness and creativity. Sure, rock’n’roll isn’t rocket science, but there’s ways to make sure you’re not just recycling old ideas.
“For me personally, I’m constantly challenging myself,” he says. “As the drummer, most of what I do in the early stages of making a record is just listening – I’m taking in everything that the other guys are doing, and I’m creatively thinking about what’s going to be on the other side of that.
“In that developmental point, too, I always make sure not to put too firm a rhythmic stamp on things. I don’t want to muddy the water as far as the back-beat goes for those new ideas. I try to play as little as possible, and that only changes once I get a grasp on what we’re doing. Once we’re at that point, we can really start getting into the shape of each and every passage.”
Of course, outside of the studio, Clutch have maintained an impressive schedule. They’re pulling from a myriad of classics, whether it’s their 2004 smasher Blast Tyrant (which turned 15 last year), or their all-killer self-titled sophomore (which turns 25 this year). “We’re constantly rotating,” says Gaster. “It’s really fun to revisit those old songs – because there’s so much material, there’s moments in our body of work we won’t touch for years.”
Seeing Clutch live is a journey through time, space and god-tier riffs – and, even after all this time, those old tunes still considerably hold up. Gaster puts that down to the fact that, whether a song is a year old or 25 years old, he’ll never play it the same way twice.
“I’m always thinking about how to make the song work best at that moment,” he says. “For me, it’s exciting to pay attention to how much stuff swings. I think our songs are written in a way that allows me a lot of rhythmic freedom, to change it up from night to night. There’s tempos, too – as we play live, they really tend to increase just because of the excitement and that nervous energy. You can also factor in Neil [Fallon]’s vocal – I’ll pick up on a lot of what he’s doing, and parts of the rhythm will be dictated by that. Every night, you’re basically hitting a reset button.”
This cycle will bring Clutch back to Australia as a part of the third annual Download Festival Down Under, joining the reunited My Chemical Romance and fellow heavy-hitters like Carcass, Baroness, Deftones and Testament. Clutch are one of the festival’s exclusive performers, which means the band will likely spend more time in the air than they will in Australia itself. How exactly does one master the art of the long-haul flight? “It is still very much a challenge, man,” says Gaster with a knowing, exasperated laugh.
“The flight to Australia is a special one, we’ll put it that way. I try to put myself in that mental space where it’s like, ‘This is where we’re gonna be for the next 20-plus hours. This is how it’s gonna be for awhile. You can be miserable this entire time, or you can accept it’. I find that accepting it makes my life easier. Of course, that will probably change around hour 13 – we’ll have to wait and see. For now, though, that’s my plan and I’m sticking to it.”
Clutch play Download Festival when it hits Melbourne Showgrounds on Friday March 20. Check out the lineup and grab your tickets via downloadfestival.com.au.