Neil Fallon Pops the Clutch
By
Mike Hess
6/19/2003 4:22:04 AM

"Keeping my mouth shut is really hard to do. "

Clutch has been called everything from hardcore to stoner rock to a jam band. Whatever the hell style of music they play, itís inventive, itís original and itís a breath of fresh air in a world of stank-ass radio rock. As 99% of "hard rock" singers croon about gone girlfriends and mean mommies, Neil Fallon rhymes Snuffaluffagus with Australopithecus during the rap-metal diss ďCareful With That Mic,Ē and assures in ďBig News I,Ē Diane's as fat can be, Aye, Captain, aye.Ē

Clutchís Sabbath-y sound is best heard Ė and seen Ė live, which brings us to their new album, Live at the Googolplex, which flaunts 15 live-as-Saddam songs.

We caught up with Neil on a rainy Wednesday morning, but the weather canít hold this limerist (like a lyricist, but writes limericksÖ get it?) down, or as he puts it Ė ďKeeping my mouth shut is really hard to do.Ē

Hailing from Maryland, you seem to be in the perfect location for a band hoping to accumulate a fanbase. Not far from D.C., Philly, NY, and even Boston or Atlanta to an extent. Do you feel this helped you, rather than a band thatís touring in Iowa or some isolated area?

I think itís a happy medium. Geographically we can hit the northeast and southeast with relative ease, and thatís where a good amount of the population east of the Mississippi live. Some bands are completely isolated, but if they were to move to New York or L.A., you risk being just another band and being oversaturated.

Being regarded as a great live band is obviously a major reason for the live cd. Any plans on a DVD to combine both the visual and audible aesthetic?

Iíd love to do that, and I know the rest of the guys would, but itís all a matter of money. When we were with major labels they were always reluctant to do a live cd or anything live. Now that weíre not, we have the freedom, but we also donít have the funds. Weíd jump at it if the wording was right.

Are you glad to see that lots of the people you were addressing in "Careful With That Mic" are fading away?

I guess I could care less. Thatís inevitable. Anything is going to fade away when itís part of pop culture because it has a high turnover, whereas something like blues and country thereís always a steady source that never fades away.

Who's next on the hit list?

I think between when that was written and now Iíve pretty much isolated myself from those things. It wasnít really by choice, thereís no point in listening to things that raise your blood pressure. I got rid of the cable television, and donít listen to too much radio anymore.

Your scruffy singing style is probably pretty rough on the throat. What do you do to maintain it while touring or in the studio?

Being in the studio is easier than on tour because you can always take a break, and the environment doesnít lead itself to be overindulgent. Iíve tried everything under the sun, but at the end of the day you just have to try to maintain your overall health. Keeping my mouth shut is really hard to do.

I think weíve only cancelled three shows cause Iíve lost my voice. The first time I go to sound check after a few weeks off I know Iím going to be coughing up a lung. If we do a weeks worth of shows in a row then it goes to hell, the range decreases to the point where itís nothing.


There's obviously quite a bit of Sabbath influence in your music. Does seeing Ozzy being exploited bother you as much as it does me?

I wonít say it depresses me, but thereís a definite line I draw. Itís his life and I donít associate that with Black Sabbath. I wonít say itís garbage but it doesnít interest me. Itís so strange. If you told somebody 15-20 years ago that this osbournes thing would be the hit show of the decade it would have been completely inaccessible, but it shows you how underground can go from the bottom to the top

Clutch advocates tape trading and recording at their shows. Do you think bands will be more or less likely to do this with file sharing now?

The tape trading thing for us, we never really associated it with file sharing. We saw it as very flattering, and we werenít losing any money. I like the fact that the labels are sweating, I think thatís a healthy thing for them to rethink $17 CDs, but itís the artistís music. At the end of the day, weíre not losing any money, but for a band of our size itís a free promo.

Was the rhythm of "Brazenhead" inspired by a porno?

Youíd find most of that explanation in Timís wah. You get that signature wacka-wacka sound, and it sounded so good that we kept it. That kind of occurred after the song was written, and was put on as an overdub.

Some of those old bands that did those blaxploitation music are really good despite what itís associated with.


What's your pre-show ritual?

Other than pouring myself a drink, we just get together, go over the set list. We go through alphabetical order as to who writes the set list. I think that serves to clear our heads right before we go on, remind ourselves why we are.

I usually drink some bourbon. Iím not trying to get drunk, but still to this day I get nervous, and it calms you a bit. It loosens the tongue, which is good for rock and roll.


Are you a straight-outta-high-school rocker, or am I speaking with a college grad?

College grad, but the Cutch thing started about Ĺ way through college. When I graduated in 1993 two days later we were in Europe touring with Biohazard. So my English degree is kind of forgotten.

That would explain the depth and all the random intelligence in your lyrics. How exactly do you go about crafting these limerick-style songs?

Lots of times I try to be a full-time eavesdropper, listening to peopleís conversations. I like listening to the radio for bizarre catch phrases and stuff. Sometimes a song is really easy to write, but sometimes it takes weeks or months. Most of the time it takes one phrase to start a song, and then I build a story around that.

Why is the American radio format so limited and narrow?

American radio isnít worse or better than itís ever been. Huge bands like the Grateful Dead never got played, so it hasnít denegraded at all. A lot of Euro radio is state funded, and the Euro government pours gangs of cash into arts and culture, whereas here itís a private venture where itís all about profit. Itís like the fast-food industry, where the bottom common denominator is the product for everyone. Consequently, if you want interesting radio, you have to either listen to college or things like NPR.

Do you think having to seek out the independent/underground music on these small radio station adds to the sense of community within the scene?

Absolutely. It wouldnít be punk or underground or cutting edge if it had the blessings of the state. You see that in Europe because thereís not that sense of anti-establishment. They have such a long history of being anti-establishment thatís sort of the establishment. If you listen to Ďa heavy rock stationí, or what they call Ďheavy rockí now, what sounded heavy 15 years ago now they use to sell trucks. When it becomes the Muzak of the world you know itís over.

Whatís the key to a well-made Maryland crab cake?

As little filler as possible. I believe itís lump crab meat, one egg, old bay, some mustard powder, and as little breadcrumb as possible. None is best. And then fried, fried, and fried.

That job must suck, being the guy that has to dig out lump crab meat.


Read anything good lately?

I read a book a couple weeks back called ĎNorthern Lightsí which was kind of a fantasy novel. Itís one of those summer reading books about this kind of alternate universe where everyone has a demon, and they are involved in some sort of bizarre experiments occurring at the Northern Pole where theyíre separating children from their demons. But now Iím reading an Umberto Echo novel, which is the complete opposite Ė I read a page and then fall asleep.

When can Clutch fans expect a new album, and what can they expect?

Weíre recording it as we speak, and weíre doing it ourselves, so youíre not going to get an overproduced Manhattan record. Itís more uptempo, and it wonít be out any sooner than the new year, first quarter of 2004.

I think less is more. If you put 7 guitar tracks and overdub drums and 4 vocal tracks you paint yourself into a corner.

 

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