An interview with Clutch's Jean-Paul Gaster
by Tommy Rage
Being a music fan, there are certain things you scratch you head at: Why do so many famous rock stars die at age 27? Does Dark Side of the Moon sync perfectly to The Wizard of Oz, and how the hell do you get such a cult-like following with only minor radio play?
The adoration and praise for four talented musicians clearly goes beyond what radio stations play, it has formed one of the strongest followings anywhere in rock music. Neil Fallon (vocals), Tim Sult (lead guitar), Dan Maines (bass) and Jean-Paul Gaster (drums) have crafted their own sound for more than 25 years as Clutch. With 11 studio albums already, Clutch has enjoyed the freedom to do as they please while continuing to gain popularity and praise from Clutch fans everywhere.
Forming their own record label in 2008 (Weathermaker Music), Book of Bad Decisions is their 2018 release, and has a unique and ever so Clutch-like feel. I spoke with Jean-Paul Gaster about the band’s new album, going to high school dances and making your own bad decisions.
Never one to just do the safe thing, Clutch worked with a new producer for Book of Bad Decisions. Vance Powell a veteran in the music industry, adds a heavier rock-type feel to the album and Gaster notes how Powell’s influence helped shaped the new release, “We went into the studio to work with Powell, who we haven’t worked with before. I’ve been a fan of his recordings, some of which was rock and some of what he had produced before. He had produced a few Chris Stapleton records and some Jack White stuff. It was interesting to work with him because we knew that he was talented and has a passion for what we were doing. He actually came out on the road with us for a bit so we knew he was going to do a great job. It was exciting to see the way it unfolded with the tones, and the style, and the way he records.”
The first song on Book of Bad Decisions ‘Gimme the Keys’ is a raw and full force rock tune with Gaster setting a steady pace, breaking only briefly to allow Tim Sult (lead guitar) to write the first chapter of this metal manuscript. “I’m really proud of this album”, adds Gaster, “I think in some ways it’s a little more raw, live and has little more of a rough edge to it. I think the playing on this record reflects that.” With that rough edge, Clutch has combined Book of Bad Decisions full of great chapters. The title track is funk-rock mix which ended up becoming the album’s title almost by accident. Gaster laughs at how Book of Bad Decisions became the name of their 12th studio release, “It was not our intension to name the album after one of our songs [laughter]. We had done that in the past so we spent a lot of time kicking around possible titles. That’s one of the more difficult things for us, is selecting an album title. After 2 or 3 weeks someone [in the band] said, ‘why don’t we just call it Book of Bad Decisions?’ It kinda made sense because each song is like its own chapter of a book and it kinda sets a tone and we liked the overall vibe to it; with a slightly darker kind of sound.”
The darker and less “trippy” type Clutch-feel flows from one song to the next. Having an abundance of songs, Book of Bad Decisions was not originally thought to have all 15 songs on it. Explains Gaster, “We went into the studio with14 and a half songs [laughter]. We did not intend to put them all out. We thought once we recorded them, we would narrow it down to 10 or 11 songs. We felt every song occupied its own space and we didn’t repeat ourselves. I think we did a pretty good job of making tempos feel unique. So we laid out the 15 songs to come out as a double length record, with 4 sides, like a double record. We then listened to it, and realized all 15 songs live really well on one release.”
Within the diversity of the 15 tracks, Gaster notes how well the album’s songs play live, “Over the course of this tour we have played every song off the new album live. That’s been really fun. The songs are very wide ranging. Some of the songs stand out live, like ‘How to Shake Hands’, and ‘Weird Times’ which we just sound-checked tonight. There are so many songs we can choose from, and it’s fun.”
That fun and funky feel of Book of Bad Decisions reflects on stand-outs like ‘Hot Bottom Feeder’ and ‘In Walks Barbarella’ which draws from the 1968 film starring Jane Fonda. Speaking of his funk influences Gaster recalls, “That’s been a part of my playing from the very beginning. We grew up in the Washington D.C. area and there was a very specific funk sound called ‘Go-Go’ - very percussive based, and I was hearing these ‘Go-Go’ rhythms even before I was playing drums, as a kid. I remember going to school dances and I would sit there, because I was a freakn’ dork and didn’t dance with girls [laughter]. I would go to these dances with the intension of hearing these ‘Go-Go’ records live. I would hear bands like Chuck Brown And The Soul Searchers and Rare Essence, and the rhythm is really specific in these songs. That really formed my drumming style before I started to listen to heavy metal.”
At some point, you would expect a band who broke into the music scene with hits like ‘Electric Worry’ and ‘The Elephant Riders’ to make it big. Although they continue to tour with a large following, it’s almost a surprise they haven’t gotten more notoriety. Perhaps it’s because they fail to fit into any specific category. Clutch, however, clearly enjoys making their own decisions; even those which Gaster looks back on as possibly questionable, “I remember going on tour with Pantera in the 90’s. We were opening for them. We had songs that would have suited that fan base really well. But we decided that instead of that, we would just jam and do these funk things. In a way we were kinda deliberately giving the audience the finger and it came from the attitude that we were young punk rockers, and if ya like something, then we were gunna play something that you DON’T like [laughter]. We’ve grown up since then and looking back at it now we could have done a better job of putting together a set-list that would have gotten us more fans, and some decisions are better than others [laughter].”(1544) Page Views Clutch (2018) Online:
CD: Book of Bad Decisions Record Label: Weathermaker Music
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