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Q&A With Clutch Drummer JP Gaster

Manual Is The New Automatic

By Jordan Liffengren // Photo by Weathermaker Music Published January 25, 2010

Some say the heart of rock lies within the blues. Clutch, a veteran band of the rock scene, is living proof of just that. The hard-rock-meets-funky-blues-band with 20 years worth of notches under its belt is now touring for their ninth in-studio album release, Strange Cousins From The West. Something a bit new and fresh is to be expected with their latest CD, according to Clutch drummer Jean-Paul Gaster. We asked the Maryland native a bit about Strange Cousins, Clutch’s fan base, and even video games. Gaster, who prefers to go by “JP,” obliged us with a little quickie, and made it so unforgettable we might have to write his number down in our little black book for a future rendezvous.

DRUM: Where are you guys from?
Gaster: We’re in Maryland. It was a great place to grow up for music for us because we were close to both Washington D.C. and Baltimore. Both towns had pretty good underground scenes happening whether it was punk rock or metal stuff, there were plenty of shows coming up and plenty of opportunities to play as well, so we were pretty lucky to grow up in Maryland.

DRUM: How did the band meet?
Gaster: We’ve known each other since high school and we were in very bad hardcore bands in high school and we tried to stay in touch a year or two after we graduated. We weren’t involved in anything too serious and then in 1991 we got together and formed Clutch. We put out our very first 7" within a couple of months of forming the band. We haven’t looked back since.

DRUM: What was different about recording this album than the previous ones?
Gaster: We have our own label now and that has made our lives infinitely easier. There’s so much less stress now. Having your own label allows us to put out the music that we want to put out. There’s a very small team of people that we work directly with. We’re able to get these records into stores and they sell and we see a little bit of money and we kind of control the whole thing. It’s very refreshing and very different since the beginning of the band.

DRUM: What was the vibe of this album?
Gaster: We recorded this record with Jay Robins. I think this record is probably a little bit more stripped down sounding. We used to travel with a keyboardist who played organ with classic keyboard sounds, but when it came time to make this record we decided it was time to kind of strip the sound down. When we were writing the songs, I think we had that in mind. The songs came together differently than they had the last couple of records. The way we structure the arrangements of the songs, the riffs, and I think even the way I played on this record reflected that.

DRUM: How have people been reacting to the new album?
Gaster: The thing with Clutch is that it has a pretty core audience. We’ve been around long enough now that we definitely have a very dedicated fan base. You either love us or hate us. I think Clutch fans have come to expect something different with each album. That’s the beauty of it — we don’t try to make the same record twice. I think Clutch fans are ready for something different. In that respect, the reception has been really good. I think people realize it’s a different kind of a record than Beale Street To Oblivion was.

DRUM: What are you bringing to the performance aspect of the show that you haven’t before?
Gaster: The band has been around now for 20 years, we’ve been touring for most of those years and we’ve always tried to keep the live show fresh. We do not play the same set list every night, do not say the same things in between songs, do not play the same solos, we don’t play the same songs as encores. It seems these days probably 99 percent of touring bands do that. I think that’s really boring and a lot more like a school play than a rock concert. You’ve got to have some sense of adventure happening there. We try to keep spots in the set where we can improvise. Sometimes we improvise from one song into another song. Sometimes that works beautifully, sometimes it’s a disaster, but it’s a real thing; it’s a real rock-and-roll show. We’re not afraid to take chances. Sometimes it’ll be a train wreck on stage, but that’s what you get. We make no bones about it. It’s a live rock-and-roll situation and we take it very seriously.

DRUM: Which song gets the best reaction from the crowd?
Gaster: I think off the new record, “Abraham Lincoln” seems to make a big impact on the crowd. The  waltz feel is something different for us and it’s kind of slow and march-y in a way, and I think that creates a lot of tension in the live set. When the heavy riffs finally kick in, there’s a lot of release there, so it’s a give-and-take kind of song. There’s a lot of energy with that particular one. But then we have songs like “Big News I” and “Big News II”, which we made in 1994, which to me, are still fun to play and I think the audience enjoys as well.

DRUM: What’s the craziest thing a fan has done at one of your shows?
Gaster: You know, in a rock band that tours as much as we do, something crazy would be if we showed up to a gig and everyone behaved well and no one got drunk. That would be crazy. A normal thing is for people to throw beer at the stage, or someone to lose a shoe, or someone to throw up off the balcony, that’s just normal rock-and-roll.

DRUM: A lot of your songs are featured in video games. Have you ever played any of them?
Gaster: No. I think a lot of people that make video games are fans, though. I know that we’ve definitely made new fans because of the placement we’ve had in these video games. Since the inception of the band, it’s been a slow grow kind of thing, by word of mouth. If we can expose our music in something as simple as putting it in a video game, then we’ll do it. In this day in age, it’s really so different than it was 15’20 years ago that you have to be grateful for any type of exposure that you have. Personally, I suck at video games. I am not a video gamer.

DRUM: How do you feel about playing with Motorhead?
Gaster: The Motorhead tour is going to be six weeks long. We’re very excited to go out with them. It’s exciting to see guys that have been playing rock-and-roll for well longer than we have, probably playing it better and louder than we do, so that’s going to be quite an experience. We toured with them once before in the UK.

DRUM: What other projects are you working on?
Gaster: We do the instrumental version of the band. We always write songs in between tours and we try to write more on the road. We’re always putting together riffs or grooves or concepts and usually we don’t really think about if it’s going to be a Bakerton song or a Clutch song. We just try to come up with some music. When it’s time to make a record we go back through these riffs and grooves and decide, “Okay this sounds like a Clutch song, maybe this verse.” I also play in a band called King Hobo. It’s fun to be in a band with three Swedish musicians, listening to them speak. I think I’ve caught onto a few things here and there. It’s a unique experience because music is a universal language and a lot of times there’s not a whole lot of talking going on; it’s more playing and that’s really fun to do. So I think we’ll probably be making a new King Hobo record in the future.

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