A rarity in music, let alone a rock band, Maryland group Clutch are still touring with the same four members that formed the group in high school.
After 25 years, Clutch is still topping charts, their latest album Psychic Warfare hit No. 1 on the Billboard’s Top Rock Albums chart in 2015.
They haven’t lost sight of the goals they set out in the band’s inception, but their secret to longevity?
“None of us want to get a day job, first of all,” said Clutch drummer Jean-Paul Gaster.
“When we started the band the intention really was to play good shows and make good recordings. When you have that kind of goal in mind it cuts out a lot of the peripheral nonsense. We’re all sort of on the same agenda and because of that I think it makes being in a band easier, we have a focus at the end of the day.”
The intention of their high school band was never to make a lifelong career out of it. Gaster was a welder, tried some college and at one point played the trumpet.
“None of that stuff worked out,” Gaster laughed.
He was proud that their latest, Psychic Warfare, hit No. 1, but more so that it was done on their own label, Weathermaker Music.
“We’ve been in this business for a long, long time. One thing we try not to do is get our hopes up, we’re always convinced that something terrible is about to happen. I think that comes from the early days of the band when we bounced around from label to label. It was a tough time, it was frustrating to be signed to these labels that didn’t really want to put the music out in the way we wanted to,” Gaster said. “It caused a lot of friction between us and them. A lot of conversations about stuff that didn’t have anything to do with music. Being able to put the record out through our own lable was great.”
After more than two decades and 11 albums, there is a conscious effort to update without straying too far from what makes up Clutch, a bit of a balancing act.
“I think that was something we thought about a lot. We would say to ourselves ‘does this sound too much like Clutch?’ Or ‘is this sound like something else we’ve done?’” Gaster said.
“We had to become comfortable with the idea that it’s the same four guys playing the same four instruments for 25 years. Stuff is going to sound like other stuff, that’s just because it’s the four of us playing it.”
“Having said that though, we do make an effort not to repeat ourselves, and try to challenge ourselves and each record is a little different,” Gaster said.
Sticking it out with your friends from high school for as long as Clutch has, there is some inevitable animosity.
“Especially when times are lean in a band and you’ve got to drive 500 miles, there’s not very many people at the gig, those are tough times, frustrations can arise,” Gaster said.
However, through the thick of it the band has reached a point of near telepathy when composing.
“When we get together to write there’s very little communication that goes on sometimes. So much of it is knowing how one another is going to play. It’s very often we’ll get in a room to write something new and there will be a half hour, 45 minutes that goes by with very little to no conversation happening, but at the same time there’s this sound that’s evolving,” Gaster said.
Music has acted as the tether for Clutch.
“At the end of the day we’re all in this for the same reason, to make music. That’s what makes it easier. It’s not about egos, it’s not about making a million dollars or getting on the cover of a magazine. It’s all about music, and for us I think that has kind of been a North Star,” Gaster said.
He is currently collaborating with Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton for Morton’s solo project. The two bands have toured before, and as Gaster puts it, they grew up just down the road in Virginia.
Joining Lamb of God on tour with Corrosion of Conformity, Clutch comes to the South Okanagan Events Centre on June 2. Check out the Penticton Western News next Friday for an interview with Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe.