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Clutch has driven hard for decades, rock gears grinding into heavy roar

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The four core members of Clutch have released eight albums in nearly 20 years, exploring a steely hard-rocking boogie that blends blues-psych, metal and rock. Chunky monstrous grooves are built on finger-licking riffs that quake, shake and bake, cooking like rotisserie, sealing in all the greasy roar and funky, hip-waggling throb. The band's July release, "Strange Cousins from the West," continues its members' recent fascination with the bluesy end of their ethos as they collectively negotiate the departure of keyboardist Mick Schauer.

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DEPARTURE

"As far as the blues influence coming in, we never talked about it. It just kind of happened that way," singer Neil Fallon said.

The group began in 1990 while its members were still Maryland high school students, before they could even play their instruments. ("Come up with the logo first, then write music," Fallon said jokingly, explaining their initial priorities.)

The group arrived as grunge was emerging, and before long, signed with East West Records for its 1993 debut, "Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes, and Undeniable Truths." Although a product of '90s complaint rock, Fallon pushed for a more imaginative songwriting direction around the time of the act's 1995's eponymous release.

"I listen to our first album, and I hear a lot of that angst that I attribute that to maybe being 19. I think most young men have a lot of anger biologically without any justification and they just want to throw it out there," Fallon said. "That's all well and good, but sometimes people make a career out of that, and it seems very superficial or at the very least, very self-indulgent."

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Clutch released four albums on major labels without scoring a breakout hit, but whatever it lacked in chart-topping success was more than compensated for by its dedicated fan base. Touring with a wide variety of acts ranging from Marilyn Manson to Sepultura and Pantera, the four musicians have reached out to and won over a wide variety of audiences who've stuck behind them.

"There's no sense in preaching to one's own choir all the time," Fallon said. "Our fan base is one, word of mouth, and people have seen us live headlining or opening for other bands. It takes a lot longer to build a fan base like that, but it's much more reliable and long-term affair."

The sturdiness of Clutch's following has afforded the group an opportunity to go it alone. The members have never made any money from records, instead earning their income from their popular live show. After recording three studio albums for DRT Entertainment, Clutch inaugurated its own label, Weathermaker, with a couple of live releases, beginning with last year's "Full Fathom Five: Audio Field Recordings 2007-2008."

"Strange Cousins" represents the band's first self-released studio effort, and according to Fallon, things have been "going so smoothly it's a little bit disturbing." There's some continuity in that the label's managed by Jon Nardachone, who was their A&R guy at Atlantic and DRT. 

DEPARTURE
But while some things have remained the same, others have changed, specifically the departure of Schauer. His Hammond organ added depth and texture to 2005's "Robot Hive/Exodus" and 2007's "From Beale Street to Oblivion."

His absence engenders a rawer, guitar-driven rumble, from the slow-burn martial metal of "Abraham Lincoln" to the grimy ditch-blues bump of "Motherless Children" and anthemic psych-tinged raunch, "50,000 Unstoppable Watts," which is marked by a caustic militia-building rallying call, "Anthrax, ham radio and liquor!"

"Mick had some personal issues he needed to sort out on his own time, so he went and did that," Fallon said. "We said maybe this is a good opportunity to strip everything down, back to the way it used to and just listening to the skeletons of it."

Clutch with Wino and Lionize performs at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Diamond Ballroom, 8001 S. Eastern.  "Chris Parker

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