By Michael Lello
It has been a big year for Clutch. In March, the veteran Maryland band released “Earth Rocker,” its first studio album since 2009 – and quite likely its most critically acclaimed.
The album finished at No. 10 in Rolling Stone’s “20 Best Metal Albums of 2013,” landed on various other music publications’ best-of lists, including Loudwire and Metal Sucks, topped U.K. magazine Metal Hammer’s “Best of 2013” and landed at No. 2 in Classic Rock magazine’s best-of list.
“It’s awesome. There’s really no better feeling,” Clutch bassist Dan Maines said, calling Highway 81 Revisited to talk about the band’s show at the Sherman Theater on Saturday, Dec. 28. “We don’t really make albums with other people’s expectations in mind, but at the same time it is a good feeling that it is being received so well.”
We spoke with Maines about how the band goes about selecting its setlist for the evening, touring with Motorhead, choosing support acts (Into Another and The Mike Dillon Band will open the Sherman show) running the band-operated record label and more.
H81R: You have a slew of material to choose from. How do you go about selecting a setlist, and do you stick with the same set for the whole tour?
DM: Well, recently it’s been a little ‘Earth Rocker’-heavy for sure. We’ve been trying to play at minimum five or six songs off the new record. For the rest of the set, it’s really up to whoever’s making the setlist that night. The way that works is we trade off. So each band member takes a turn writing the setlist. You’re right, it is difficult because there is so much material. We kind of have an unspoken list of songs that we pull together at the beginning of the tour, then we try to throw in one or two that aren’t on that list every night.
H81R: Having been a band for so long and having your own identity and your own way of doing things, is it difficult to bring an outside person into the process as a producer? What was it like working with Machine on “Earth Rocker”?
DM: It can be. I personally like how we’ve used, for the most part, a different producer for each record, with the exception of going back here and there with a couple of them. It helps give each record its own identity, and sometimes you find yourself in a situation where your comfort level isn’t exactly where you want it to be, but I think that can work in your favor and it can kind of bring out something in your playing that would not necessarily come out if you were ensconced in your comfort zone.
Recording with Machine is certainly an unusual experience. He has a unique process that is unlike any other producer that we’ve every used, the biggest difference being that the four of us don’t record at the same time. You picture a band setting up the gear and playing together, but with Machine, we record one instrument at a time. It was a unique experience, and I think it’s something that helped us give the album a very overall consistent vibe.
DM: Absolutely. I think that was one of the first songs that we wrote for the record, and we kind of knew that we wanted it to be the title track. And I think it helped (vocalist) Neil (Fallon) have some sense of direction as far as his lyrics were concerned for the rest of the material. I think it was also a mission statement for the band as well, because this is being released on our own record label and it’s only the second Clutch album we’ve released to date on Weathermaker Music.
H81R: In Stroudsburg, you’ll have Into Another and The Mike Dillon Band opening up. How active of a role does the band play in selecting who opens for you? What are you looking for in an opening band?
DM: Well, we definitely have a very hands-on approach to picking the bands. If we’re having trouble with our own list, we certainly take advice of our management and booking agents to help us, and I think we like to find bands that are going to be a breath of fresh air for the audience. Sometimes standing in front of the stage for four hours and listening to the same style of music from beginning to end can get boring (laughs).
It’s nice to have some diversity, and you’re going to get that on this tour. Starting things off with The Mike Dillon Band, which is much more rooted in jazz than hard rock or what people would consider stoner rock or anything like that. And Into Another, I’m just looking forward to seeing them. That’s a band that has a lot of history, and I think it’s going to be an interesting package.
H81R: How does it feel to know you’ve had an influence on a lot of other bands, like The Sword, Lionize and so on?
DM: It’s a great feeling. It’s definitely flattering that they have those things to say about your band. We’re definitely fans as well of those bands, and I think it’s a good feeling to know that, No. 1, that we have been doing this for so long and that we are able to be role model for up-and- coming bands. We certainly appreciate it.
H81R: a few years ago you toured with Motorhead. What was that experience like?
DM: It was awesome. Obviously, you grow up listening to a band like that before you even pick up an instrument, and if you could think back to those times and think about nowadays where you are as a band and touring act going out on tour with who are essentially your idols, it’s an awesome experience. We learned a lot from them, musically and professionally, and we were very fortunate to do two tours with them, one in the U.K. and one in the States.
H81R: Was Lemmy as advertised?
DM: Absolutely. He’s also the nicest person you could ever meet. But he’s a straight shooter and he loves what he does, and that’s why it’s so great, because he’s not faking it. He gave 100 percent every night, and that’s definitely something to aspire to.
H81R: You’ve played with a wide variety of bands, but who are some out there you haven’t gotten to tour with that you’d love to go out with?
DM: Yeah, let’s see. Sure. A lot of those bands aren’t touring anymore (laughs). I would love to have the opportunity — this is a no-brainer — seeing now that Black Sabbath has an album and doing shows, it would be an absolute dream of ours to open up a show for them.
DM: Very hands-on. You definitely have to have people within the organization that are not only helping you with the day-to-day stuff but give you insight into the business, past experiences that they have that we ourselves weren’t privy to. But we certainly are trying to keep it as simple for ourselves as we can. In the beginning, we were only releasing Clutch material or Bakerton Group material, which is our instrumental alter ego, but over the years we’ve learned a lot and we felt confident taking the next step releasing bands outside the scope of Clutch. We started doing that with side projects; Neil has The Company Band and (Clutch guitarist) Tim (Sult) have a band called Deep Swell. With each release you learn something new. We finally took the plunge and convinced Lionize to join us as well. So we’re currently wrapping things up with the brand new release from Lionize.
H81R: What’s next for Clutch? What are the band’s plans for 2014?
DM: Well, we got some headlining shows in January. We’re doing some East Coast dates; The Sword is actually going to be joining us again. In February we are flying to Australia and going to be on the Soundwave Festival, doing some headline shows there as well.