By Sally A. Schwartz
When Freeman Promotions out of Long Branch, New Jersey, contacted me regarding a possible interview with a hard working band, I realized that I couldn’t deny the opportunity to share with you, DaBelly readers, what Clutch has going on. So it was an honor that Jean Paul (JP) Gaster took time out of his busy touring schedule to speak with me. Here is what he had to say:
DB: Jon Freeman set up this interview for us so we can thank him for that. So how’s your tour going?
JP: It’s going great! We love being on tour with Motorhead, it’s very inspiring to watch these guys play every night. It’s one of the best bands I have ever been on tour with.
DB: That’s awesome to hear. You’re in Kansas City today?
JP: Yes, that’s correct.
DB: And you’re in Indianapolis tomorrow?
DB: Last night you were in Milwaukee, my hometown, how did it go?
JP: It was great! We played at the Rave last night. I think I have never NOT seen that place so full.
DB: The Rave is the Eagles Club right?
JP: Yeah, that’s correct.
DB: That’s so cool. That club has seen so many awesome gigs. So you’re settling in and comfortable with the tour?
JP: Yes, everyone is getting along. The tour is going great. We’re just a couple of bands playing rock and roll. It’s a great bill and we are just really enjoying being out here.
DB: It’s fantastic when you can enjoy your work. I do have a few questions for you, but before I get into the band, can you tell me a little about yourself and what have been your biggest influences?
JP: Speaking just from a drummer’s perspective, Elvin Jones. He has provided me with many years and years of inspiration. I continue to go back and listen to his recordings with John Coltrane. You know, you always hear new things and discover new things regarding how he played the drums. Although I’m not a jazz drummer, I study jazz as much as I can. To me, that is the real history of the instrument. I think you need to know what it means to play jazz and what it means to play “jazz time,” so yeah, he’s been a really great source of inspiration to me. By coming out, we really have gotten to see some really great bands like Fugazzi and The Bad Brains. We also have to see some go-go bands too a lot, like Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers or Experience Unlimited. So it’s been kind of a mish-mash of all things that have come together, that made me play the way I do and I think that is what makes the band sound the way it does.
DB: I understand what you’re saying. It’s about listening to what is going on around you, I think, that helps one be a better musician right?
JP: Yeah, I think that is what most experienced players will do. I know that my favorite players do that when they are put into a new situation or even if they are just playing a set… The first thing they do, it’s not necessarily to play, but to listen to what is going on around them. My least favorite guys to play with are those that are not paying attention to what is going on around them. They decide to just get up there and shred and make it a chopfest and that is not all what makes music for me. So it’s important that you listen to one another before you do anything.
DB So then who is your favorite drummer and why?
JP: Well, like I had said, Elvin Jones for sure. I think that he really transcends the genre of jazz. You know he was just a great drummer period. But then again I get a lot of inspiration from reggae, I love to listen to King Tubby. There are many great drummers there too and the interesting thing there is that everyone has their own take on what that style is to them. So you have Carlton Barrett that used to play with Bob Marley and the Upstetters, his approach was very, very different than say Horsemouth, you know it’s a really personal way of looking at the music. So I definitely draw a lot of inspiration from the reggae drummers too, I gain a lot of inspiration from Zigaboo and the Meters. I really love Zigaboo Modeliste, he’s easily one of my favorite drummers and somebody that I listen to every day.
DB: I really do love talking about reggae and I have to say that I really love that stuff. You could have the worst day ever and put that music on and it’s like it instantly becomes a better day.
JP: Absolutely. You can put that stuff on and it instantly transports you to a much better and kinder place.
DB: Yeah. Exactly. You know you have collaborated on a few projects in your career as a drummer, what projects were those?
JP: I guess the most recent thing that I did was that I played on Scott Weinrich’s solo album. Some people know him as Whino. He is a heavyweight, an absolute power house. He’s an amazing guitarist and a really excellent songwriter. He is definitely someone I look forward to playing with. I was really proud of the work that I did with him.
I also have worked on a side project called King Hobo. Which are myself and Per Wiberg, who plays keyboards for Opeth and two other Swedish musicians, Ulf Rockis, who plays a monster bass, and my very good friend, Thomas Anderson, from a band called Kamchatka, who plays guitar. Those guys are all just monster players and are really, really easy to play with and to just hang out with. They are really easy to get along with. It’s really interesting to play with these guys because a lot of the time there isn’t a lot of English being spoken in the room, but for me, I am always looking to play with whomever because, for me, that has always been a great challenge to put yourself in a completely new situation and inevitably when you do that as a musician, you come away being a better musician for it. There is going to be some good music that is going to happen and those experiences are going to contribute to the way you view music in the future. It’s a give and take.
DB: Yeah, it is. I heard a quote that you gave once somewhere that I thought profound. It was, “I think that the artist’s main concern should be to concentrate on their live performance and be the best that they can be.” Why do you feel that one should concentrate on the live performance?
JP: For me personally, I am very, very lucky to do what I do for a living– playing drums. So I don’t take it for granted. That means practicing; to this day I still practice, hopefully every day. When I’m on the road, that certainly is the case and when I’m at home, that is almost always the case, unless I have chores to do around the house.
DB: Yeah, everyone has that honey-do list.
JP: Yeah, yeah exactly. But you have to carve out time to really sit down and practice and there is a difference between practicing and playing. It’s really great to put on some of your favorite music and just jam, but to practice means that you work on things you don’t necessarily know– inside and out. So there is always room for improvement there and work these concepts into a live situation as well. You just have to constantly be attentive to your instrument and don’t take it for granted. I love playing the drums and I plan on doing that for the rest of my life.
DB: When you’re practicing, do you throw in something new? Something that you wouldn’t normally think about doing?
JP: Oh yeah, absolutely. That is what practice is about. I still carry some old drum books that you can reinterpret in different ways. One of my favorite books is “Syncopation, ” on the surface, that book looks very elementary, but it really is how you imply it. I enjoy my books. I put my headphones on and people can be doing soundchecks or buzzing all around and I have my headphones on, break out that book and just go for it. I start thinking about new ways in looking at that book. I try not to do the same old stuff; you know when something becomes slight and second nature it’s not going to make it difficult.
DP: You have been with your bandmates, Neil Fallon, Tim Sult, and Dan Maines, since 1990, how did the four of you come together and form Clutch?
JP: We went to high school together and in our senior year we made a very terrible hard-core band. (Laughs). We were not very good at it, but we enjoyed playing music a lot and it took us a couple of years before we reformed our band as Clutch and took it as seriously as we did. But all along the way, we kept in touch and went to shows together. Music was definitely the thing that made us really want to hang out with each other. After a couple years of being out of high school, we were able to get this band together and hit the road immediately.
DB: It’s amazing how music is such a universal language in getting people together. I remember a time when my husband got back together with some bandmates for one of the member’s weddings and they got up and played at the reception. The hair-raising, better-than-sex feeling that they all said that came over them was a feeling that they played forward to everyone that was there that night.
JP: Yeah and it’s great to see that too. And that feeling is unbelievable too.
DB: Not only did you form the band, but you also formed your own label, Weathermaker Music.
JP: Yep. Yep, that’s correct.
DB: What made you decide to form your own label?
JP: We finished our contract with DRT and the contract that we did at the time was supposed to be a pretty artist-friendly kind of a deal. It was suppose to be a 50/50 deal, it was kind of a buzzword going around back then. But the trouble with that is that the label has to pay their 50 percent and that is where the problem lies. We made three records for DRT, about halfway through that deal went very sour and we knew that we just couldn’t go back to another label.
Prior to DRT, we had been on Atlantic; before that we were on Sony and then we were back on Atlantic, then we were on East West Electra. All through the ‘90s we were on all kinds of major labels. We thought we were doing something different when we signed with DRT and it’s sad to say that it had not been true, so we realized that it was time to do this thing. We realized that we couldn’t sign again with another label and it was time to take this step. So that is what we did and it is by far the best thing that we have done pulling all of the politics out of the mix and pulling all of the headaches that come with label managers and the A& R reps and publicists and all that stuff. When you pull all that out of the mix and you can handle it all on your own, it makes being in a band that much more fun and enjoyable.
DB: Are you starting to see a trend in bands forming their own labels with in the music industry? DaBelly.com has actually come across and been introduced to a few bands that have formed their own labels. So do you think that this the trend and the norm for bands in this day and age?
JP: Um…yeah I think so, but not with just bands forming their own labels, but the fact that bands are not relying on established ways of doing business. Up until not too long ago, if you weren’t signed with a major label, you could just hang it up because no one was going to take you seriously. Now there are all kinds of things going on. Most bands are getting together and starting their own labels. It’s not uncommon of hearing of a couple of bands getting together and forming their own labels, as well pooling resources. So yeah, I think that is the only way you can look at this business these days. I think getting signed to a major label is even more farfetched than what it was 10 or 15 years ago. Then if you do get signed by a major label, it’s going to be a really difficult relationship to be in, because now more than ever, these major labels are going to need to see large sales and that is because they are really struggling. So yeah, I do think that bands are starting to take things into their own hands.
DB: Do you think that it’s because of all the high tech accessibility to the information to do it on your own and to the Internet and being able to reach your fan base a lot more readily than before?
JP: Sure, that has a lot to do with it, the ability to be in contact with so many more people. Bands can sell their music online and you don’t have to be a slave to the way things used to be and to labels anymore. And the labels, it’s really just as much their fault because for many years they put out records that weren’t up to par and people stopped buying them. People didn’t want to pay out money for an album that had maybe one or two good songs on it, so they pretty much brought it on themselves.
DB: I understand what you’re saying. We have heard in the past that bands would be under contract and put in situations where they had to produce an album and it didn’t matter that bands were being forced to produce albums that they didn’t feel were noteworthy. The bands knew that their fan base wouldn’t want it, but the labels didn’t or wouldn’t listen or, for that matter, care., they just wanted their contract fulfilled. So you were pretty much at their mercy, right?
JP: Back in the ‘90s, the labels were like, “You guys will have full creativity, and you guys can make what ever kind of album you want.” But then at the very last minute it was them saying, “Oh and by the way. Can you guys give us one hit?” But at the end of the day, the thing is we would like a hit just as much as they would like a hit, but I think our version of a hit was different from their version of a hit. Really and truly, we couldn’t write one of those kinds of hits even if we tried because we did, we tried to write one of those kinds of songs, one that could get on the radio, but we couldn’t because it’s not in our nature to do it. We literally don’t know how to make that kind of a song. Every time we trie,d it would come out just like another Clutch song. (Laughs). For us, we would be really excited about it because we would have this Clutch song that is supposed to be a single and the label immediately starts to put together some kind of a radio campaign, so you have to go play for all of these radio stations because that is all part of the political game as well. Even though you’re doing all these things, you’re only getting a couple few cents a week and it’s because you don’t sound like Nickleback. That is where rock radio was 10 years ago and I don’t think that things have changed that much at all.
DB: I hear that you, Clutch, do on average 100 or more gigs in a year, would you say that Clutch is more of a live band than a studio band?
JP: The road has always been where we made our bread and butter. As time and years go on, I don’t think that we tour as many times as we had in the earlier days, but still we play a minimum of 100 shows a year, every year, regardless if we have a new record out or not.
DB: Do you get contacted or approached by other bands to go on tour with, such as Motorhead, or do you have to petition for certain tours?
JP: We actually had been approached by them. This is our second time on tour with them, so that is a pretty good feeling to know that someone over there really likes us. But that too, getting on certain tours, is kind of a political thing. There are certain things that are involved, there are mangers involved and ultimately there are band members that are involved, booking agents are involved because they want to get you on certain tours. There are a lot of things that go on… and at the end of the day it has to make financial sense to everybody involved. So it isn’t super easy.
DB: Do you have your own booking agent or PR person or do you, as a band, do on your own?
JP: Oh yeah, of course. We have our own booking agent Tim Borron and our general manager is Jon Nacdachone. We have worked with them for many years and this time in our career the band’s name, Clutch, stands for itself. They know we are going to be worth the tickets sales here in the U.S. and Canada. We’re doing much better in Europe these days, those countries are coming around to our music. After 20 years, there aren’t any surprises. When we get to a venue, a promoter knows how many people are going to be there, so that is a pretty good feeling.
DB: Do you feel that maybe it’s because the band offers more of a chance to really connect with the fan base by touring as much as you and that by doing so, it offers Clutch more success while on the road?
JP: Yeah, I think that for a band that markets and runs their own label and has been around for as long as we have, I’m certainly not complaining about the number of records that we sell, but still at the end of the day we still very much a live band, that’s what helps to build our reputation, just playing and playing and being the best that we can be at playing as hard as we can every night. To keep things fresh, there are spots for improvisation. Even when we’re on tour with bands like Motorhead and sets are shorter than what they would be normally, we do reach out where we look for the moment where we can stretch out a little bit and say something different than we did last night hopefully. I think that the folks that come to see the show realize that and realize that it’s a real live rock and roll show. Sometimes there are mistakes on stage and sometimes we play perfectly, it’s an honest attempt at making a real honest attempt every night.
DB: Do you feel that this is what gives Clutch the unique edge that it has?
JP: Oh yeah, I’m sure of it.
DB: You had stated that you always switch up the playlist, is it true that you never try to play the same play list twice?
JP: We only have so many songs and you can only put them in so many orders, but the attempt is to never repeat ourselves o,r at least try not to anyway. But in the end, I don’t think that we are trying to come up with a completely different set list, but by moving certain songs around helps to keep things fresh for us and by thinking about putting jams in certain spots help to keep that night’s set unique unto it self.
DB: Do you collaborate and pool your ideas or do you take turns in creating set lists?
JP: We take turns. (Laughs). We do it in alphabetical order– by first names.
DB: (Laughs) Wow, that’s a really high tech.
JP: Yeah, we started doing that way back in 1996. I don’t remember how we even came up with that idea, but it works and I think that was just really brilliant at the time and you know it works and we haven’t and don’t plan on changing that system. (Laughs).
DB: Hey, if it works. I know that you have toured with such bands as Pantera, Monster Magnet and Sutura, how did this recent tour with Motorhead and Valiant Thorr come about?
JP: We had headed out with these guys out in the U.K. about three years ago, it went really well and I think that the two bands play well together. So I’m not exactly sure how it came about, I think it was Lemmy who had said that he wanted Clutch.
DB: I saw Lemmy on “That Metal Show” on VH1, he was hilarious. He’s really funny. You don’t often get to see that sid,e so that was really nice.
JP: He’s awesome… He’s an absolute beast. The band is just so crushing,they play just so good every night. He is just an absolute force and I just really love watching him play.
DB: Now my understanding is that you’re on tour promoting your reissue of the album, “Blast Tyrant,” that was released in 2004, is that right?
JP: Yeah, yeah that’s right. “Blast Tyrant” is was on of the albums we put out on DRT. When we finished the lawsuit, we were able to get all those songs back and “Blast Tyrant” is one of the last albums we are going to re-release from the DRT Era.
DB: Now this is a two-disc CD with the second CD called “Basket of Eggs,” is that right?
JP: Yeah that’s right. One CD is going to be the original and the second one is going to have demos of some of the songs from “Blast Tyrant. Also there are going to be some acoustic versions of some of the songs, some of them from “Blast Tyrant,” some others are not. One of the songs is actually a cover of an old rock and roll singer named Cousin Joe and that song is actually called “Box Car Shorty’s Confession.” That one was a real challenge to play, it has a really fast shuffle and it’s really hard to play that stuff. So yeah, that was a real challenge to play, which is really fun to do and that is on the second disc as well.
DB: Are some of the songs what you would call rarities from a multitude of Clutch collections?
JP: Yeah, some of them are. Some of them are from “Tyrant.”
Here I am sorry to say that we started to experience some technical difficulties, but once we got back on track I had asked JP if there was anything he would like to share with Clutch fans. And his response was…
JP: We would like to thank all of our fans for their support now and over the years. We look forward to playing Arizona, we love it out there, so I hope that you get to check out the show, the new CD and Motorhead and enjoy the show.
DB: Thank you, JP, for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me and I am really looking forward to checking out the show on the 10th of March at the Marquee. Take it easy, have a great tour and have a safe journey on the way out to Arizona.
JP: Awesome. No problem and it was nice speaking with you too.
Every interview always has its own dynamic realm. While speaking with JP, I learned a lot about the man behind the drum kit, the band and the tour with Motorhead. Clutch is a band that is very passionate about what they do and who they tour with. They support one another, as well the bands they play with. Most of all they play not just for their enjoyment, but you– the fans and if there is anything you take away from this interview it’s that the depth of Clutch’s music goes deeper and beyond the stage. Again, thank you JP for a great interview and to Jon Freeman at Freeman Promotions for putting us in contact. It was a pleasure!
Catch Clutch on the road and learn more at www.myspace.com/clutchband