"I've always shied away from looking at my life... then realised that I had a wealth of these untapped things."
Maryland-bred quartet Clutch have been peddling their distinctive brand of bluesy stoner-rock for the best part of 25 years, no mean feat in and of itself. What's truly remarkable, however, is that at a vintage when most bands are indulging in nostalgia or self-parody, Clutch are releasing some of the most imperative (and commercially successful) music of their career.
In 2013 they dropped their tenth album Earth Rocker — a hard-rockin' batch of songs which peaked at #15 on the Billboard Top 200 chart, their highest chart position. Now they've parlayed that success into follow-up, Psychic Warfare, which debuted at #11 by taking the same template and carrying it into even stranger terrain.
"It's something that I took from my life but just completely blew out of proportion. Like tall tales of sorts."
"We've always had a kinda phobia about repeating ourselves, which is good in some regards, but you can also get a little bit sadistic about it," smiles frontman Neil Fallon. "I think we learned to focus on we do best — or at least what we try to do best — and not reject that as a matter of course."
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The most noticeable difference between the two records is the latter's strange narratives, which explore all manner of random situations. "I made a conscious effort to try to have a lot of action in the songs, and make them about very tangible things, and it's probably more self-referential than any other batch of Clutch lyrics in the past," Fallon reflects. "Usually I try to avoid things that had their start in real life, but in this record for example there's Sucker For The Witch and Decapitation Blues and a couple of other moments where, even if it's just a line or two, it's something that I took from my life but just completely blew out of proportion. Like tall tales of sorts."
It's an interesting time to get personal, this far into a career. "I didn't know what else to do," Fallon admits. "After 25 years you cover a lot of ground and it can be frustrating trying to find a new topic that's interesting, and because I've always shied away from looking at my life — which is exceptionally boring outside of touring — I then realised that I had a wealth of these untapped things that maybe at first glance seemed pretty pedestrian and mundane, but if you throw enough adverbs and adjectives in there it becomes exciting. That's probably one of the oldest tricks in the book that I just figured out 25 years into this."
There's always been subtle humour around Clutch's inability to take themselves too seriously. "I always had to have a sense of humour about it because I couldn't believe I was up on stage singing in a rock band — I thought it was absurd," Fallon laughs. "Not that I thought it was a joke, but I was just kinda scratching my head. But I'm glad that's there, because I see bands that when they start out they're very, very serious or very, very dark — I can't imagine doing that for 25 years! Whereas if you can take the piss for a while that never gets old."