Neil Fallon leads the life of a grizzled veteran with Clutch
By Tyler Davidson
There aren’t many bands as diverse as Clutch. The Maryland four-piece has run the gamut of genres, thrown into the “hardcore” bin at the beginning of their two-decade-long career, all the way to the “blues rock” label that seems to have readily identified them in recent years. It’s been a year and a half since Strange Cousins from the West, Clutch’s latest full-length album, and almost a year since Live at the 9:30 Club (their live CD/DVD combo), but if you think the rock and rollers are losing steam, well, as Rob Halford once said, “you’ve got another thing comin‘”, the band is in the midst of a nationwide tour with Valient Thorr and Motörhead (one that comes to L.A.’s Club Nokia on March 11), and at the forefront of this rock and roll juggernaut is Neil Fallon, a man that brandishes a beard almost as impressive as his vocal skills. CULTURE recently spoke with Fallon about having his own brand-spankin‘-new label, surviving two decades in the volatile rock world and more.
You guys have been re-releasing several albums on your own label, Weathermaker Records. What brought that about?
Well, actually, it was two things. When we put out [2007’s] From Beale Street to Oblivion, that finished our relationship with DRT [Records], contractually. So we decided to start our own record label, because in this day and age, if you have the means to do it, then by all means, do it; that, in conjunction with the fact that, after a somewhat lengthy court battle, a judge in New York awarded [the master recordings of] all three DRT releases back to us, [due to DRT’s] failure to pay us royalties on those records. So now we have those records in our possession. Initially, we thought we would just be releasing new Clutch material, but since we got those back in court, we’ve had the opportunity to release those on our own record label, thankfully.
What are some of the pros and cons of having your own label?
Well the pros are [that] you cut out dozens and dozens of middlemen. Probably the biggest pro is that the artist, being us, can sell directly to the fan, basically. I think the fan enjoys that, knowing that they’re buying directly from the band; it’s almost like going to the merch booth at the show. If anything goes wrong, you know who to blame and how to fix it. The cons are . . . honestly, I can’t really think of any.
What do you consider some of the highlights of the last two decades?
Wow. I think the fact that [we’ve been around] for 20 years is the biggest highlight. To be honest, the first 10 years I kind of had this nagging . . . I guess doubt that being in a band was what I would do before I got the “real job,” whereas I think the other guys in the band always knew that that was their job. It just kind of took me about a decade to be convinced. Realizing that, that this is what we’d do, it was pretty liberating. I think also touring the world is the other big highlight. Going to new places, basically on a paid vacation, to play rock and roll is about as kick-ass of a situation as you could come by.
Are you guys in the process of writing for the next new Clutch album?
Yeah. I mean, we’re always writing. I think it’s more effective when we know when the album [comes out], when we know we’re going to the studio and we can see that deadline and we can focus on it. But we’ve got dozens of riffs that we’ve recorded. When the band started, things like ProTools were inaccessible to most people, if [any], and now, everyone in the band has a laptop and we can swap riffs fairly easily. So it’s pretty easy to suddenly become overwhelmed with a lot of riffs if you record them diligently, and we were pretty good at that. We’ll probably start sifting what we’ve been doing over the past two years or so.
What are your thoughts on the legalization of marijuana?
I guess on a fundamental level, I don’t like the U.S. government telling me that I’m not mature enough of a person to make my own decisions. We’re talking about something that people have used for tens of thousands of years, and when you compare it, the United States government has only existed for 250 years. I think the government seldom knows what’s best for its people, except for maybe in the departments of defense and . . . making highways . . . I don’t understand why someone who actually medically needs marijuana needs to feel like they’re living and hanging out with criminals in order to have a better quality of life.
Other bands might talk about life on the road, struggles with mortality, maybe even a nasty breakup. Some of Clutch’s songs are…well, more creative than that. Take, for example, “Rapture of Riddley Walker,” a bluesy track off of 2007’s From Beale Street to Oblivion. The track is based on a science fiction novel (Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, first published in 1980) in which the titular protagonist and narrator tells of a war-torn dystopia 2000 years in the future.