CLUTCH has long been a band that people from all genres of rock and metal really get into. I’ve seen extreme metalheads and classic rock fans who normally couldn’t agree on the weather outside come together in appreciation for this very unique group. Well, CLUTCH returned last year with eleventh album Psychic Warfare and it’s definitely one of their best yet. I recently sat down with drummer Jean-Paul Gaster to discuss the record, the insane amount of touring they do, and more. Check it:
Amps: On the heels of the last record, this new one Psychic Warfare is another great job, my friend. I have to tell you that I’m a fairly new fan. I had heard your name for years but it wasn’t until 2011, and then Earth Rocker that I got my act together. Hope that’s okay with you.
Jean-Paul: Of course it is. That’s the beauty of being in a band for 25 years. Your band continues to grow and each record you put out resonates maybe with a different kind of person. So, we just happened to make the right record for you. So that’s cool. And thank you.
Amps: This band tours A LOT. What are the plans for the rest of this year?
Jean-Paul: We hit the road with LAMB OF GOD soon and that takes us through June 12 and then we finish up at Bonnaroo Festival. Then we have a little bit of time off before we head over to Europe and do some festivals over there. That will probably be how we spend the rest of this year and next year. A little bit of time off, then hit the road again. In the early days we’d do these 10-12 week tours at a time. Now that we’re not 25 anymore we like to keep them a little shorter (laughs). Six weeks is the longest we go now, but three to four is probably ideal.
Amps: Tell me about the writing on the record. Did you deviate from your normal dynamic at all?
Jean-Paul: The process itself hasn’t really changed that much since the earliest days. By that I mean it’s the four of us getting in a room and just jamming. Those ideas can come from any number of places. It could be someone coming in with something, but more often than not we’re just sitting together playing a beat and grooving on something. Maybe I was practicing something earlier in the day and there’s a concept I’m thinking about, you know? It’s really very organic and very fluid. There’s really no one set way things come together. For me that’s what makes it so cool being in this band. It’s not just another day in the office and it’s always a little different.
But I do think as time has gone on we’ve become better songwriters and I think that has a lot to us paying particular attention to what’s happening vocally. In the early days we would just come up with the riffs and the music, then lay the vocals down and that’s how it went. These days we’re much more cognisant of how the vocal’s gonna fit in the music, and even if Neil (Fallon) is not singing actual words there’s usually an idea of what the style of vocal will be. We try to support the vocal as best we can.
Amps: Yeah, but certainly not at the expense of the riff. You guys are definitely Riff Lords, so that doesn’t go away!
Jean-Paul: No, it definitely doesn’t. I think the riffs actually become more powerful when you can work them in with the vocal, and without them stepping on each other. You have the riff do the thing, and then when the vocal’s gonna happen, you make room for it. When you do that in the right combination it makes both things better.
Amps: When all is said and done do you go back and listen to the finished record or have you heard it so much that you just can’t do that right away?
Jean-Paul: I listen to all our stuff a lot right up until the mastering process. You have to listen, you know? Once the thing is mastered I’ll usually put it down and not spin it for at least a few weeks just to sort of clear my ears on it. But up until that point I’m listening from the very earliest demos and thinking of how they might turn into songs as well as my drum parts. I think about this thing from first thing in the morning until I go to bed at night, this band and the music that we make.
Amps: What are you listening to away from the band?
Jean-Paul: I don’t find myself listening to a lot of hard rock stuff. That’s not to say that I DON’T. I still like to put on my OBSESSED records, my MASTODON and BLACK SABBATH records and all that. But for the most part I listen to a lot of jazz. I like JOHN COLTRANE and MILES DAVIS, saxophonist SONNY FORTUNE, and old rock and roll stuff like FATS DOMINO, LITTLE RICHARD. There’s a drummer out there, EARL PALMER, who was one of the first rock and roll drummers ever, so I listen to a lot of what he did. Blues, reggae, Motown, all kinds of stuff, it’s really wide-ranging. I think that by not listening to a ton of hard rock at home it helps make the band what it is. You have to expose yourselves to other stuff.
Amps: What’s your current drum set-up?
Jean-Paul: Right now live I’m playing a Gretsch USA custom kit 26″ bass drum, 14′ tom toms, 16″ floor tom, and I play Meinl cymbals, more specifically I play their Byzance Series which are Turkish-made. They have an old and dark sound. They’re meant to be played, not bashed.
Amps: What do you do to unwind and relax?
Jean-Paul: I like gardening. I love my tomatoes. I do a bit of woodworking here and there, but for the most part I’m thinking about music all the time. I do some session work with other musicians, and sometimes that’s very challenging, especially when it’s proggy or jazz stuff. It makes you think about things. I’ve been playing drums for more than half my life now, so when I can challenge myself I feel that it makes me a better player, and a more rounded player, which helps to make CLUTCH a better band. I’m always collaborating with other guys, sometimes in straight-up blues gigs, and those are always fun.
Amps: What would you like people to take away from Psychic Warfare?
Jean-Paul: For us the biggest challenge in a lot of ways is sequencing a record and that’s something we think about quite a bit. That means that songs we’re very attached to might not make into that album. It could mean that a song you were not particularly fond of at that time might play a very important role on the record, and you don’t really find that out until you get into that part of it.
I think we did a good job of putting the songs together in a way that kind of told a story, which wasn’t our attention when we were doing it. It just came to life while we were sequencing the record. So hopefully Psychic Warfare is one of those that people will listen to from beginning to end.
Amps: What would you like to say to all the CLUTCH fans out there?
Jean-Paul: Come out and see us play, man. That’s what we love to do best. As much as we love to talk about our records the thing that we’re here to do is play rock and roll live. Not a lot of bands out there do it, we’re proud to do it, and we’re gonna continue to do it because that’s who we are.
That about sums it up, dont’cha think? There are still 18 dates remaining on this U.S. tour, (get tickets HERE) so get out and witness the power and fury of CLUTCH live. Also be sure to pick up your copy of Psychic Warfare if you haven’t already.