You can tell what you’re getting from Clutch’s tenth studio album, Earth Rocker, by its album title. Re-teaming with producer Machine, who last worked with the band on 2004’s Blast Tyrant, the album barely lets off the gas, and is their most uptempo record in years. We caught up with bassist Dan Maines to talk about how the album evolved, the inevitable comparisons to Blast Tyrant, and how they feel about using their music in TV shows and commercials.
Let’s talk about Earth Rocker. What lead to you working with Machine once again?
First off, I think we just wanted to put ourselves in a different situation recording wise than we’ve been for the last couple of albums. Machine is much like a different environment than what a typical band would be used to. I think the songs themselves felt blended to his approach. We had recorded the Blast Tyrant record with him in the past and we knew his process so we just felt it would be a good choice.
Did you make a conscious decision to make Earth Rocker a little bit more upbeat than the last few records?
Maybe not initially, but as we got more involved in the writing process, I think that the faster tempo songs were exciting to us. At that point we did put more of a focus to having songs that blended themselves well to that faster tempo. If we had written a song or part that was slow, we definitely experimented with speeding it up and seeing if it still carried through. So that was a conscious decision, yeah.
I know Machine’s writing process is he’ll get really involved in the songs. Knowing his process, were you ready to have that outside force suggesting you do stuff?
Absolutely. We did go through the process once before and he has good ideas. We don’t always agree with everything that he suggests, but he definitely has valid ideas that are worth hearing out. Most of the time we were more than happy to apply that to the song. He’s a full package producer and that’s what we were looking for.
A lot of Clutch fans view “Blast Tyrant” as one of their favorite albums. Did you know making it, and looking back before you started to work with Machine again, that the album would have such a big impact?
Yeah I felt that as a band it was kind of our rebound record. We had just come off the heels of the Pure Rock Fury album. That was kind of a difficult time for the band. It was a difficult record to make and to put out. Not necessarily musically, but our relationship with the record label at that time wasn’t sterile. Our relationship with the label kind of fizzled shortly after that record. We were kind of fooling around in no man’s land for a little bit and then we hooked up with DRT Records and that was somewhat of a new experience for us. It being an independent label, we were used to being on major labels. There was a lot of positive energy going around I think. I think that contributed to the songwriting process and the recording process as well. It did take us a bit to get used to working with Machine. His style is a 180 from anything that we’ve experienced before. As we worked with him and we started hearing the rough mixes, we were just getting more and more excited as the days went on. I think by the time the record was done, I was very very happy with it.
You always have high expectations for whatever the newest project is that you’re working on, but I did feel very confident in that record. I feel the same way about this new one too. Musically I wouldn’t compare it to Blast Tyrant, even production wise. I think Machine approaches it slightly differently, but I am very very happy with the way it turned out. It has a great energy to it. It doesn’t drag on. We made a conscious effort not to put 14, 15 songs on it. We wanted to keep it short so it has a nice, strong impact. I’m excited to see what the reaction is when it’s finally released.
You’ve been playing many of the songs live already right?
Sure. We’ve been playing a couple of them like “The Wolfman Kindly Requests.” We’ve been playing that one for over a year now. We used to call it “Newt.” That’s been a set staple for over a year. We just came back from a European run a couple of weeks ago and we averaged three or four new songs a set. I think when we start this new US tour in March, we’ll probably be upping that up to four or five new songs.
I know you’re playing SXSW this year. What are your thoughts on that? Have you done it before?
We did it a long time ago. It might have been ‘92 or ‘93 maybe. It was a long time ago. I haven’t been back since.
Is it the kind of thing where you’re making conscious efforts to do things you haven’t done before?
A little bit, sure. We have our new record label so we’re trying to make a presence with that. I think that we probably as a band might have been reluctant as a band to cater to what your label or publicist or whatever would say, “You gotta do this. You gotta do that.” And we’re all just like, ‘let’s just play our shows.’ We do what we do. I think after awhile we just woke up a little bit and realized some things are worth doing. This SXSW thing is going to be an experience. I can only imagine it’s grown tenfold since we’ve been there. So it should be fun.
“Electric Worry” popped up in some commercials, TV shows and stuff like that. How do you feel about licensing your music for commercial use?
If it’s for something that I would endorse anyway, just in casual conversation, then I have no problem with it. “Electric Worry” was in a couple of video games and we also were fortunate enough to have “The Regulator” played on The Walking Dead. These are things that I love anyway. It’s a great way to expose your music to people outside of your immediate sphere. I don’t want to say we’re an underground band, but we can certainly use the exposure that The Walking Dead could give a band. I think it worked perfectly when I saw it and couldn’t be happier about it. I’ve come across people at our shows who say “ I’ve only been listening to you for about a year. I saw you on The Walking Dead,” or “I heard your music on a commercial.” That’s really cool because in this day and age, a band needs all the help they can get to spread the word.
As far as touring, you’re definitely a self-sustaining headlining band, but you also do festivals and have played with bands like Black Label Society and Children Of Bodom. Do you have a set audience in mind or are you just trying to grow your own?
We’ll play for anybody. You do have to consider, is this going to backfire stylistically? We’ve had a lot of success playing with bands that on the surface seem like there’d be no crossover whatsoever. We’ve had great turnarounds as far as when we opened up for Marilyn Manson back in 95, I believe it was. At the time, it seemed like a disaster because we had what looked like zombies to us in the first 4 or 5 rows staring at us like they were looking for a cup of coffee or something. It seemed like it wasn’t working at the time. But we came back through town and we had those people from those shows coming out to our own shows. It’s kind of hard to predict what way that’s going to go. We’ve had similar success when we opened up for Slayer and Limp Bizkit. We got a lot of fans from the Limp Bizkit tour. We could’ve easily said, ‘no we don’t want to do that,’ for whatever reason, but I think as a band it benefits you just to play as many shows as you can. That’s kind of been our motto for the last couple of years and it’s got us where we are now.
[picture taken by David Rippeto]