Patterns in the chaos5/6/2015
Life falls into more or less predictable patterns. Put a person or group of people into any given situation, and, while it may seem like chaos reigns for a while, eventually things settle into routines. Clutch — the Maryland-based four-piece rock act — is no different. After 24 years together and 10 albums in the can, Clutch’s members can feel the creative ebb and flow and know when it’s time to get back to work.
“We just finished up tracking for the newest album, so we’ve just had a little bit of a break,” drummer Jean-Paul Gaster said during a phone interview. “I’ve noticed a pattern now. We work so intensely for so many months — it takes about 14 months for us to really put an album together — I think about the album constantly. So when you come to the end of a project, it’s a little bit of an odd feeling.
“It’s been about two-and-a-half months that we’ve been off the road,” he continued. “In the time leading up to (another tour), I make it a point to get my cardio up and get ready. My practice routine changes up.”
Ask anyone in a band, and he or she will tell you it is like being in a family. It is a feeling that only intensifies on the road, when privacy is nonexistent, and the long hours and mutual suffering harden bonds originally forged in garages and basements over long hours of practice. But those bonds also get tested and broken by those very same forces. Music creation is a fickle bitch of a process, and turnover is virtually guaranteed. Clutch, however, has kept the same lineup together for a quarter century, and these boys went to high school together before that, so the family bonds are strong. It is a blessing and a curse.
“I don’t know if it streamlines the process,” Gaster said of making music with people he has known all his life. “To be honest, if anything, we really pick stuff apart more now than we ever did before. I can say that when we started the band, the idea of making a career out of music wasn’t on our radar. The bands we liked played clubs and didn’t get a lot of play on the radio. Bands like Bad Brains and Fugazi and Melvins. So, at first, we wanted to just play shows and make good recordings. And we still subscribe to that.”
For years, the process of finding a label only further complicated such a seemingly simple goal. Clutch signed to the indie Earache label in 1992 but found themselves bouncing from there to Eastwest, then to Atlantic, Columbia, Megaforce and a handful of others before finally deciding to damn The Man and start their own imprint, Weathermaker.
“That was a difficult time for us,” Gaster admitted. “Throughout the ’90s, we were hopping from major label to major label, and that made it hard to focus on what we were doing. Bands need to understand that the major label fantasy isn’t the be all, end all.”
So now, since 2008, Clutch has been the master of its own destiny. And that, after nearly two decades of creative chaos, has allowed the band to settle into a pattern that suits its members.
“It allows us to focus on the music,” Gaster said. “We know that whatever decisions we make will affect how the record gets released and how it’s received, but every one of those decisions is ours, and that’s how we like it.” CV
Chad Taylor is an award-winning news journalist and music writer from Des Moines who would love to take his talents abroad if the rent were not so much more affordable in Des Moines.