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Clutch Interview

A Conversation With Vocalist Neil Fallon

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Clutch
DRT Entertainment
When a band’s been around for over 15 years, it’s easy to become complacent. That’s not the case with Clutch. They’ve had ups and downs, but through it all they keep pushing forward. Their latest album is From Beale Street To Oblivion. It was produced by Joe Barresi (Tool, Kyuss, The Melvins). Vocalist Neil Fallon fills us in on the latest Clutch effort, along with some lessons learned along the way.

Chad Bowar: How did you decide on the title From Beale Street To Oblivion?
Neil Fallon: That’s taken from a line in the song “The Devil And Me.” Beale Street is like the strip in Vegas or Atlantic City. A great night can end up with making decisions you regret for the rest of your life. It’s also a take on the classic myths of the devil and rock and roll. Beale Street is the birth of the blues, and it’s the devil going back to his hideout after losing a bet to a rock and roll guy.

How does your writing process work?
We’ll write the music first, and then I put the words to it. Sometimes a song is really hard to come up with ideas for, other times there is a really specific mood the songs puts me in and it’s a matter of me trying to capture that topically. If it’s an aggressive riff it doesn’t necessarily have to be aggressive words, but it needs to have a little cojones to it, while something more moody needs to be addressed more delicately.

You recorded the album in an old school kind of way, on tape instead of digitally, right?
Yes. I really wish we had been doing it this way all along. We wrote the album front to back, then went on the road for three weeks and played the songs. Everything got rehearsed really well. When we went into the studio we even knew the album order. The basic tracks were done in a week. It made it so much easier. We did some vocal stuff on Pro Tools because it’s more efficient, but the rest was recorded on tape. We did our first records on tape, but we also wrote most of the songs in the studio. I think this is the model we’ll base our next record on.

Having everything ready to go when you got to the studio must have made things easier for your producer Joe Barresi.
We asked Joe for his opinion on certain compositions and he may have changed one or two things, but I think we had it pretty nailed down by then, which gave us the luxury of getting good sounds as opposed to getting good songs.

And since you’ve already played all the songs live you don’t have to worry about if they’ll translate from the studio to the stage.
There’s that, and also the times that we’ve written in the studio and then when we play the songs live they change drastically, for whatever reason. That always annoyed me. This time that isn’t going to happen, because they’ve already been tested in front of a live audience.

What are your tour plans?
In April we’ll be going to Europe, and then in May we’ll be back in the United States. At the end of May we’ll be doing Australia. Then we’ll take June off except for Bonnaroo. Then in July we’ll probably do one last U.S. leg. Then by the end of summer it will be time for us to start thinking about writing another record.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
I pace around a little bit. I have a drink. I’ve learned to limit myself to one. It relaxes you, but there’s a certain threshold you cross over and it’s a disaster. I do still get nervous, but that relaxes me a little bit. That’s about it. We don’t huddle together and high five and hug. We see enough of each other.

Do you put anything strange in your tour rider?
We did last time around. We put kippers on it. They weren’t a big hit. They were given to us at every show. Every night we got like 6 cans of kippers, and in a few days we had 25 cans of kippers on the bus. We’ll probably take that off the rider. We’ve had enough of them for awhile. We put vegetables on there but nobody eats them. Everyone goes straight for the Doritos

What was the first concert you attended as a fan?
The first concert I ever went to was Juice Newton in a high school auditorium. That was in the ‘70s. I wasn’t really a fan, I was just too young to know better. The first big club show I went to was Bad Brains. It was a life changing experience.

What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the music industry?
Our first release was also released on cassette. I think the biggest change has been the internet. That’s really altered things. The record label business model is based on their business from the 1920s and they haven’t changed it and now they’re paying the piper. It’s going to take a while for the dust to settle on this. It’s been great in one regard: the playing field has been leveled. You can buy a digital recording studio and distribute it to the entire world for peanuts. That’s great because a lot of people, either geographically or financially, would never be heard. At the same time it can be overwhelming, just the amount of stuff that’s out there. The biggest changes have been the internet and digital technology making recording more accessible to your average joe.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned that you would advise other bands about?
Always understand that an advance is a loan. Never sell your merchandise or publishing rights. We own those, but if you do it you’ll regret it until the day you’re done. Those are the two biggest mistakes I’ve seen. And it’s a cliché, but if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

Have there been times when you’ve been ready to throw in the towel and try something else?
Yes, it happens in passing sometimes when it’s bad news after bad news and you ask yourself why you’re doing this. Other times it’s been more serious. In 16 years it’s going to be feast and famine. If you don’t have the dark night of the soul, it probably means you’re not investing enough emotion into it. But I think that’s with a lot of things in the artistic world. You have high highs and low lows. If you have the wherewithal to ride it out, you’ll be able to look back and be gratified.

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