with Jean-Paul Gaster (Drums)
1st May, 2014
@The Forum, London
Interview by Anna Dumpe
Interview photos by Michelle Murphy
Just moments before the legendary stoner / blues rock band Clutch hit the stage in London to play a sold-out show at The Forum, Metal-Rules.com team had a wonderful opportunity to sit down with the man from behind the drum kit – the one and only JP Gaster.
After an extremely successful UK tour in 2013, Clutch have returned for their most extensive tour out here and we talk to JP about what keeps bringing them back to these shores, about their latest and absolutely outstanding album Earth Rocker and what playing music really is all about for Clutch.
First of all, it’s real good to see you guys back in London! Let’s start with when you played London’s KOKO last January and in July you came back to play The Forum in Camden. Today and few months later you’re back at The Forum once more, so tell me what is it about the UK that keeps you coming back?
The UK was a tough one for us to crack.
We’ve been coming here for a very long time. I think the first time we were here was in 1993 with Biohazard and we played at the Marquee Club.
We tried to keep coming back to UK throughout the 90s, but it was difficult for us in the beginning. We only seemed to make some headway in the early 2000s and by now we really like coming here. The UK fans are very dedicated and I feel like folks here listen to music a lot more than they do back home.
Why do you think is that?
I’m nor really sure why that is. I’m not saying that fans over in the States are any less fans of our music, but I think somehow people over here are a little more open minded about music and we’re really glad about that.
After interviewing some bands and meeting people from the States or Canada, I’ve noticed a lot of people saying how hard it is for rock bands to exist there at the moment, because the whole rock’n’roll movement is pretty much dead. Would you agree with that?
In a way that’s true, but we’re very fortunate to have a really strong fanbase and thankfully we don’t have that problem. We’re lucky that we have fans from all North America that we can count on. It’s taken a very long time to get to that point, but I’m glad it’s all happening for us.
Tell us a little about Earth Rocker, as it’s done great as an album and is an all round honest rock’n’roll record.
What inspired you to come up with the material for it and is there a specific concept behind it?
It was different in a way that we made a conscious effort to make it the kind of record it is. Our albums prior Earth Rocker were really just collections of songs that we had written in the last couple of moths or years and we didn’t really think too much about making a particular kind of album. It was really just a reflection of where we’re at as a band and where our heads are at.
For Earth Rocker we took a different approach. We realized that there was a lack of straight-up rock records out there. We also had the opportunity to tour with two legendary bands, like Motorhead and Thin Lizzy and the influence of those bands, I think, is pretty obvious on the record and we’re proud of that. We learned a lot from touring with those bands and the record definitely reflects that.
What about the recording process of Earth Rocker – how and where did you guys record it and how long did you actually work it?
We worked with Machine and he has a very particular way of working. The four of us as a band are mostly accustomed to just getting in the studio and playing the song to get a good take. Once you get the right take – that’s it and you work from there.
Machine has a very ‘hands-on’ approach to the way the songs are recorded. Most of the recording even happens in the pre-production before you actually get into the studio. We really flesh out the songs and we work on arrangements. Personally, as a drummer, I’m listening to pulse of the tune – where to push-pull and stuff.
The ability to take so much time in pre-production process really makes the whole process of recording an album a lot easier.
I know album artwork can sometimes be the critical point for records to do well, but Earth Rocker cover is very striking and already pretty symbolic and iconic in a way. Who helped you out with the artwork and is there an idea behind it as well?
Neil is very much the ‘visual artist’ of the band and he really has a good grasp of those kinds of things. The actual face on Earth Rocker cover was inspired by some architecture he spotted in Detroit, Michigan.
Downtown Detroit really has some beautiful art deco and modern style buildings that were built in the ’40s and ’50s – the heyday of auto industry. One particular building there had faces of native Americans around the outside of it, and I think, this one specific face struck Neil and he made a sketch of it. And his sketch is really not that different from the actual album artwork.
Neil works very closely with Nick Lakiotes who’s an artist that we’ve used a lot is the past years and together they created this wonderful artwork that we’re really proud of.
Also, Earth Rocker was released on your independent label Weathermaker, so tell me how did you decide to establish your own record label as a band how since then it has changed your development? Has it given you a lot more artistic freedom and independence as a band?
All through the ’90s and ’2000s we were on several different record labels and that was always the source of frustration. The band would have a particular vision of what the record was supposed to be like and how we were supposed to tour, but the record label, on the other hand, would have a completely different vision to ours and they would be most worried about how the record is going to sell.
We were fortunate enough to get the record label off the ground, although it was quite a heavy lift for us. It was a tough thing to do and we learned a lot along the way. We still continue to learn, but the ability to put out records when you want to, how you want to and distribute them as you please is very empowering. It cuts out a lot of drama and allows us to focus on a lot more creative things.
The opening band tonight is Lionize who are also under Weathermaker. How did you guys decide that they’re the right band to take on with you to tour UK?
We’re really good friends with Lionize guys from very close tour our home in Maryland. I actually met these guys at my drum teacher’s house quite a long time ago.
My drum teacher’s name was Walter and he passed away a couple of years ago. He really was a Maryland legend as far as drum instructing goes. He was a big band drummer and Walter actually started playing professionally in 1946. He was quite of a character – a really kind of a hard guy and who threw around a lot of insults. Although he was a tough character, he was also a great teacher and if you could see beyond that exterior, you realized that there was really somebody there willing to teach you anything you wanted to learn.
Back then Lionize guys would hang out around Walter’s house when they were just kids out of high school, so I thought to myself that anybody who want to hang out with this old and crunchy man have be alright! (Laughs)
It’s been a long time since then and Lionize have toured, worked hard and played to develop their own sound more than anything, so we’re really proud to have them on the label with us. It’s very inspiring to work with these guys on such high level.
Is that true that you ended up producing their latest album Jetpack Soundtrack?
Yeah, I did! That was a great experience too, as those guys are such talented players. I learned a tremendous amount from just watching them play and interact.
That’s pretty amazing! As for someone who’s seen your previous show here at The Forum, can we expect something different tonight?
Well, it will definitely be different as we play different setlist every night.
We started this system many years ago where each band member takes a turn writing the setlist and it actually goes in order of the first name. (Laughs)
So tonight’s it’s Tim’s setlist and tomorrow it will be Dan’s. The great thing about it is that it allows you to have a wider variety of songs to choose from and the opportunity to improvise in-between songs from time to time. There are moments when there’s set ways and things that we can inject to the set to make it a real live musical experience, so it’s not just having one setlist and saying the same things in-between songs. So many bands would do that these days, but in my opinion it’s not really rock’n’roll. It’s a lot more like a school play.
We try to avoid that kind of thing and any time we feel ourselves falling into a routine or repeating ourselves, we really do make an effort to shake things up to make it a more of an exciting show. It’s not always awesome and it often leaves room for mistakes, you know… But the fact is that it’s a real live music event and that is what we stride for.
As you’re constantly touring and travelling endlessly, what keeps you sane on the road after spending so much time together as a band?
Well, of course it is difficult and it has its ups and downs. It could be tedious and tough, as there are a lot of guys on a very small bus. People somehow seem to have this idea of a tour bus being some sort of a luxury party, but it’s really not. It’s more like a submarine with a bunch of dudes in it.
I think the main thing that has kept us focused is that fact that when we started the band, we really only had two goals in mind and it was to make good records and play good shows. The idea of making a career out of this was not on the radar for us, as the bands that we looked up to were not bands that sold out arenas. They were bands who worked hard and probably didn’t make much money out of it, like Fugazi, The Bad Brains, The Melvins and The Jesus Lizard.
So those bands really inspired us and we still subscribe to the same two goals. Fortunately we can make a career out of it and we don’t take it for granted, but at the end of the day – we’re still the same band trying to make good records and play good shows.
It’s really good to see Neil doing so well after the announced that he will have to undergo a back surgery that also forced you to reschedule some tour dates. What went through your head when you first heard about this and that after this operation Neil might not be able to sing any more?
It was a scary time for us. It’s not something we expected at any time and it was real tough.
I got to say that the first rehearsal we had after Neil was recovered was great. After he came over and started singing, hearing that voice once again was just a beautiful moment for all of us.
About 25 years ago when you first started the band, did you ever foresee how big of an impact your music one day will have on the whole rock music movement and influence many new and upcoming artists?
We didn’t intend for that to happen at all. It was very much us just trying to make the music that we wanted to make on our own terms. It wasn’t always easy, but looking back on it now it was absolutely the right way to do it and I’m very thankful to have the legacy that we have.
After this tour is over, what are your plans for the summer and, it’s probably too soon to ask, but are you working on any new material?
We are doing some summer festivals after this tour. We’ll be back in Europe in June, but I don’t think we’re coming back to UK this time. And then we’ll just continue writing new music as we already have a bunch of songs ready for the next album.
We really made an effort on our last break to start carving out some time to make new material to happen and we were successful. So at the moment we’ve got a good chunk of an album already started and I’d expect that for the rest of the year we continue doing that. And then probably in the fall time we’ll start focusing a little bit more on figuring out the final product, so I’m really excited about that.
That’s great news! Thanks a lot for taking you time to speak to us today and good luck with the new album! We’ll be looking forward to that!
Thank you guys, it was a pleasure!
Check out our Clutch @The Fourm review HERE!