Interview: Jean-Paul Gaster (of Clutch)


    Clutch is one of those bands that has flown under the radar since their inception into the music scene in the early 1990s. However, even if you’ve never heard Clutch before, you’ve at least heard of them. Maybe you have an enthusiastic friend who swears by their brand of funk metal/stoner rock/blues punk, or perhaps you’ve read a rave review of one of their killer live shows. With nine studio albums, their own record label (Weathermaker), and a large, devoted following of fans affectionately known as “Gearheads,” Clutch has earned their revered cult status in American rock music.

    Alongside singer Neil Fallon, bassist Dan Maines, and guitarist Tim Sult, drummer Jean-Paul Gaster is one of the original members of Clutch and is known for his powerful, bluesy way of drumming, as well as for collaborating with artists such as Scott “Wino” Weinrich and the alternative rock band King Hobo.

    CoS recently had the opportunity to have a quick chat with Gaster before Clutch’s recent Vancouver show with Motorhead, getting a chance to discuss everything from a new album and touring to how they’ve managed to maintain their integrity and underground success over the years.


    I’ve noticed Clutch songs being used more and more in video games. Does that help bring in the new fans?

    Sure. That definitely helps a bit. That’s something that we didn’t have when we first started, that angle. There’s definitely a lot of folks who are getting turned on to the band through video games. I don’t play video games myself, but if people discover it through video games, I’m perfectly happy with that. Then we do stuff like this, we go on tour with Motorhead, and it’s great because we get to play for new people, and hopefully they see something that they like. And it’s always been like that from the very beginning, touring with bands that weren’t just like us. The idea being that if there’s a thousand people out there, maybe five or six of them are going to like it. (laughs) If you keep doing that a few thousand times…

    You do tour a lot; has it gotten any easier as the years have gone on?

    I don’t think it’s gotten easier, but it has gotten more comfortable. We have a bus now and a full crew, and that’s definitely easier. We have families at home, so that’s always tough. I will say, though, that I enjoy this more now than I did 20 years ago. I have a better time playing, a better time here on the road. I appreciate it all that much more.


    I noticed that you’re playing the Download Festival again this year. How do audiences outside of North America receive you?

    These days, the UK is getting better for us. That was a long time coming. I would say that in the last five to seven years, we’ve tried to do more work over there, so that’s great. We’re going to do some more European festivals, and that’s going to be even more fun, too. Again, it’s just playing for a bunch of new people who have never heard of the band. You’ve got 45 minutes to get up there and play a good show and try and make some friends.

    You’ve been doing Australia as well…

    Oh, we love Australia.

    They are a fantastic market for rock.

    They are. We love it. Melbourne is especially good for us. Great place.

    With the turmoil in the music industry, have you had to approach making your albums any differently? You started your own label a few years back.


    We were through with DRT, and there was no possible way we would have signed to another label. By that time, we’d been on every kind of label that there ever was. And so it was the most logical step. Taking those politics out of the mix makes rock and roll a lot more fun. We have a great time now: We have our own label, we have a very small group of people who work for us, we get the job done, and we sell records on our own label. That in and of itself is something that we are all pretty proud of.

    Like most bands, do you find that the money is coming in more from touring versus album sales?

    It’s always been like that. The touring – that’s how we live, that’s how we make a living. We pay mortgages because of that. But having said that, the label has been pretty good to us; we’ve been seeing a bit of money from that these days, too. More than we would have ever seen being signed to a label.

    As a band, you’ve always maintained your integrity and stayed original, whether you’re dabbling in stoner rock or the blues. How important is that to Clutch?

    I think really that’s all we can do. From the beginning, I don’t think we’ve ever tried to sound like anyone else. And just through playing and playing and playing, I think we’ve all found our voices on our instruments. So it’s something that comes naturally to us at this point; there’s never, like, a meeting that we have, like, “What’s the next record going to be like, is this going to be a blues funk record?” That never happens. It’s all very organic and made of whatever music we may be listening to or what other bands we tour with.

    Your music has a simplicity to it found in the 1950’s style of rock and blues. Are there any modern artists that you find inspiring?


    Yeah, there’s all kinds of players out there that are still making real rock and roll, but the truth is for me, personally, I always find inspiration in the history of it. I like to go back and understand. Like, I liked the way Elvin Jones played drums, but what came before Elvin? Let’s investigate those guys; let’s listen to Kenny Clark or Baby Dots, you know the guys who came before. It’s always interesting to know somebody’s take on music and then be able to go check out the generation prior to that and see where that guy pulled some of his ideas from, and how much of that you can absorb. I don’t know. I like old music better, whether it’s dub or blues or heavy metal.

    Does it help for your fans to know the history of where you’re pulling from?

    I don’t think so, although I do think that Clutch fans tend to be those kinds of folks. I think the guy who goes to a Clutch show has probably got a wider selection of stuff on his iPod than a lot of other fans.

    After all these years, Clutch still has a very loyal following and an underground, almost cult-ish status. Are you guys comfortable with that position?


    Yeah. From the very beginning, that wasn’t the intention of the band. The bands that we liked were the bands that weren’t on the radio, like the Melvins. That’s who we wanted to be like. So from the start, we just wanted to play good shows, make good records, and what happened, happened. We were very fortunate that some people out there really seemed to like the band, and we were able to keep touring and build a fanbase and do this for a living, but that wasn’t the intention when we started. So I think that’s pretty important, and that attitude still holds true.

    Are you working on a new album?

    Yeah. Definitely. In between tours, we get together to just jam. We never rehearse. We’re terrible at rehearsing. We are awful at rehearsals. (laughs) But mostly we just get together and jam and kick around ideas. So that’s a lot of fun. We keep the microphones up all the time, and we try and record every single thing that we do. So after a year or two of that, when it’s time to make a record, we go back through those jams and start pulling pieces out. Sometimes, we write on the road, too. It’s definitely more difficult to do, though. You’re always tired on the road. (laughs) But maybe on this tour we’ll do a better job of that.

    How is this tour with Motorhead and Valiant Thorr going so far?

    Fantastic. Really, really good. This is the second time we’ve toured with Motorhead, and they are definitely one of my favorite bands we’ve ever toured with. If there’s ever a band that we could look up to, it’s these guys. These guys still play hard and loud and with great authority every night. It’s awesome and very inspiring.


    Do you plan on touring or working with Wino again?

    I would love to. Definitely one of my most favorite experiences, as far as recording. He’s one of my heroes. It’s very inspiring working with someone like that, and I just got his acoustic record last night! I listened to it twice in a row, and I haven’t done that in a long time. Very enjoyable record. He’s an amazing talent.

    Any other future collaborations that you’d like to do?

    I’ll probably be doing another King Hobo record this year. King Hobo is with Per Wiberg from Opeth, Ulf Rockis, a bad-ass bass player, and Thomas Andersson who plays guitar in Kamchatka. Kamchatka is one of the best bands you’ve never heard. You’ve got to check those guys out. But, yeah, we’re going to get together this year. We’re going to make another record, so I’m excited for that, really looking forward to it. And hey, I’m always up for a jam!

    And to round it out, describe Clutch in one sentence.

    We play rock and roll. You call it rock and roll, and it conjures up all of that good stuff.