March 2016 interview by Todd Jolicoeur, photos by mintypics.com
So many bands claim to be a a band of their fans, but Clutch is truly a band that rises and falls with their fan base. From leaving a major label and starting their own to playing a constantly moving setlist to appease their creative juices and their fans needs and wants, these guys have made a career by giving their fans what they want. If you are near Michigan when they are scheduled to perform, just show up and soak it in. The great tunes, the killer atmosphere, and the love that spreads from stage to audience and back... We were able to pin down guitarist Tim Sult to talk about the band’s latest disc, upcoming tour, and much more...
Toddstar: Tim, thank you so much for taking time out for us. We know you're ramping up for a tour and getting ready to be very busy.
Tim: Yeah we still have a little bit more time. We've got about a month before we have to leave so we've got a lot of downtime right now. It's great.
Toddstar: I bet, especially with the summer coming up. Again, thank you so much for taking time out. Tell us about Physic Warfare Tim. Clutch released that album last October so it's been a few months. How is the music still being received from where you're standing?
Tim: Well it seems like a lot of the songs have just easily fallen into the rotation of songs that we're going to be playing live for a long time to come, you know? We've been playing every song off the album at most of the shows since the album has come out and you know it's going great. People have been responding very positively to the new stuff for sure.
Toddstar: I love the disc. I think it's solid from top to bottom. To me it kind of builds on the Earth Rocker but it shows a little bit more maturity, both as a group but also as players individually. What was it like for you guys to try and take on something like Earth Rocker because that really did well for you? What was the follow up like where you said oh what do we do now?
Tim: Well we definitely got a lot of positive response from Earth Rocker, that's for sure, but I think for us you know we just try to write songs that we personally like and that we enjoy playing live and that we want to play live. I don't think there was really a huge amount of pressure on us to try to repeat the song writing of Earth Rocker, you know? The fact that we have our own label now, you know we have to kind of I guess be a little more industry conscious. It was good for us to put out Psychic Warfare and have it actually do better than Earth Rocker did the first week out, from a business standpoint, Psychic Warfare was a bit more successful and it kind of built on Earth Rocker's success. As we've gone throughout our whole career, each album has kind of progressively gotten better sales, the first week anyway.
Toddstar: Definitely. You mentioned the first week sales; this debuted at number eleven on the Billboard 200 as well as number one on the rock and the hard rock charts. It's hard to argue with that especially in this day in age when most music is so disposable from a sales standpoint.
Tim: Yeah it's pretty amazing that on our eleventh album we could have more success than we've ever had. It's been great, you know?
Toddstar: Looking back at the album, putting that together and playing so much of it now, are there any songs on there that you guys have really had to, I don't want to use the word manipulate but kind of try and fit into the set because it didn't seem to fit in well with the live situation or is this kind of just built for the stage?
Tim: Well I think a lot of these songs at least from a guitar standpoint, I would say this album in general is a lot more playable than a lot of the earlier Clutch stuff. Because there's a lot of studio over-dubbing that went on on a lot of the early stuff that is impossible to play live with just one guitar and with the Psychic Warfare album, the whole thing in general has much more live vibe so every song seems to you know be naturally playable live. We rehearsed this material on Psychic Warfare probably more than we rehearsed for any other album before we actually went into the studio to record, so I think maybe that has a lot to do with it as well.
Toddstar: It certainly would seem so. With Psychic Warfare, you guys actually have a couple unreleased tracks from those sessions and you guys are putting out a special limited edition twelve inch for a record store day.
Tim: Yep we had two other songs remaining that we wanted to put out. Actually there is one more song still unreleased. Maybe that will see the light of day as well sometime.
Toddstar: Awesome. How did you guys decide as a band, like you said, you're not under constraints from a label, how did you guys decide as a band to get involved in a record store day?
Tim: Well our distributor, Red, originally mentioned it to us a few years ago and you know anytime we have material available to put out on record store day, we're always willing to do that you know? We have our own label now so you know that's what we do. We sell our product to record stores. It's a lot of what we do. The fact that vinyl has gotten a little bit of a resurgence lately has really helped out smaller labels like ourselves quite a bit and I've even seen a couple of new record stores open up here and there. We're happy to get involved with that.
Toddstar: That's awesome and like you said, with having your own label and resurgence of LP, you guys have three studio releases that were released on your label and you’ve put them out on LP and CD.
Tim: Yep, we have released a lot of our stuff, I don't know if it's quite all yet, but we have Full Fathom Five one of our live albums which is going to be the next vinyl release. I think that's from 2008, I believe. That will be the first time that that one sees vinyl release. So yeah, we can't imagine not putting out vinyl these days.
Toddstar: You guys are getting ready to head out on a tour, as special guests of Lamb of God. You guys have rocked stages of headliners from Maryland, across the country, and back. What's it like for you go out and kind of take that second spot? Does that give you guys a little more luxury to be able to do what you want to do without the stress and headaches of being headliner or is it just something where you guys are just happy to be out?
Tim: Well, we play a lot of different shows where we open for other bands. I mean it really doesn't feel like we're taking a second seat to anyone, we're just happy to get out there and play to a lot of people who have never heard of us before. Which over the years as Clutch has gotten a little bit bigger and we've had less bands that we could go on tour and open up for. You know it doesn't happen as much as it used to happen, the fact that you know we go out opening for another band, but if the opportunity presents itself and we like the other band, we can go out there and try to make some new fans. It's what we've always done: get out there and play for people who've never heard of us. Not just for our fans, but for new people as well.
Toddstar: With this tour you're definitely dipping into a different pool with the Lamb of God fans. One place you guys always headline - and I want to talk about this only because I'm so disappointed to not see a Michigan date yet on the tour. I'm really hoping to see something at the world famous Machine Shop in Flint.
Tim: Oh yeah. We have a live album from The Machine Shop. Come to think of it, I'm not sure if that one has been released on vinyl yet. It will be one day, if it's not.
Toddstar: What is it about The Machine Shop that draws a band like Clutch in and keeps you guys coming back tour after tour?
Tim: We've played there quite a bit over the years. You know, it's just a good venue to play and the fact that it actually exists and is something that is there for the people of Flint, Michigan is great for music, for heavy music in general. We've always had fun shows at The Machine Shop. I can't think of any time in the history of Clutch that we didn't have a super fun show at The Machine Shop. The owners are super cool and you know they seem like they want to have us there. They want us to play so that is always fun for us, to actually be wanted. It's not just someone trying to make money and not even caring about the band. It's obvious that everyone who works there really does love music and is there for the music, first and foremost. It seems like to me anyway.
Toddstar: To build on that, because I'm going to let you know exactly how right you are, I reached out to Kevin Zink, the owner of the Machine Shop. I know Clutch is one of his favorite bands and we asked him what he could tell us about the combination of Clutch and the Machine Shop and his response was, 'They were one of the biggest influences, the Shop may still be here but it wouldn't be the same. They gave us immediate credibility.'
Tim: All right, that's cool. Cool. Awesome. I'll take that.
Toddstar: Looking across the upcoming tour dates, are there any cities that you guys have loved to roll into knowing that you're just going to put on a killer show?
Tim: You know honestly Michigan has always had the most over the top shows ever since day one it seems like. Ohio, Michigan, that area always has over the top, huge shows with lots of people enjoying their beverages, that's for sure.
Toddstar: You guys have done a lot of touring and you guys are getting ready to get on some of the festivals. How does it feel when you get on a festival and you see such a cross breed of music, how do you feel about that? Not specifically as a member of Clutch but just as a fan of music in general, to see how well different genres can bleed into the same fan base?
Tim: Playing festivals is always fun and like you said, different genres. The next show we have coming up is a festival and ZZ Top is one of the headliners. It's kind of hard to complain when you're playing shows with ZZ Top and Megadeth, you know?
Toddstar: I can imagine. One thing I've always liked about you guys is the root of the songs. You guys have never let the blues go from the base of your sound. Is that something you guys strive for or is it just so ingrained in you guys that you're always going to have kind of blues rock feel at the core of Clutch's music?
Tim: Yeah I feel like it's something that happens naturally. Not forced or anything, it just kind of flows out pretty naturally these days I think. That's something that's been in the music ever since our second album.
Toddstar: That's one of the things that I love about you guys is you're not afraid to hold on that, don't need to morph and change on every album. You just kind of grow and keep the roots there. That said Tim, you are part of a reggae rock band on the side [Lionize].
Tim: I haven't done that for a long time.
Toddstar: Right. Is that something that might see the light of day again?
Tim: I'm not really a member of the band. They play, they've been around forever and doing their thing. I played on three of their albums, but since then they've released two other albums that I don't play on. We actually put out their last album Jetpack Soundtrack on our label. We put that one out on our label and I don't play on it but it's awesome. That's probably my favorite Lionize album. It's really their band. They just kind of asked me to play some solos over top of some of their stuff and it just kind of blossomed from there to where I played a few shows with them but you know, not a huge amount.
Toddstar: With Clutch, you guys have been doing this a long time. When you get out there and you hear new music or hear new bands, are there any bands that still excite you? Is there anything new on the scene that you really jumped up and thought that's a great band or they have a future ahead of them?
Tim: Well I know they've been around for quite a while, but I like this band Graveyard that we've had on tour a few times. They were out with us when we were on tour with Mastodon last year. That would probably be the most recent band that I've heard that I've thought sounded absolutely incredible; that could kick it to the next level. It's kind of hard these days to find a lot of quality song writing. A lot of bands don't have time to develop. It's hard to find the music that has experienced song writers. A lot of people will have a successful album, their first or second album will be successful and they'll be in their twenties and then just done. It's hard for me personally to find a lot of good new rock and metal music that I'm personally into but that might just be because I'm old.
Toddstar: If you're old, I'm old and I'd like to not think about it Tim.
Tim: I still like Anthrax, so that's where I'm at in my life.
Toddstar: You guys have been doing this a long time. You guys have seen a lot of changes in the music industry and music in general. What's the one thing you miss about the way the music industry was back in the early to mid-nineties when you guys were starting out?
Tim: What do I miss about it? The sense of false hope. They really had everybody convinced that if you got signed to a major label you would be like some kind of rich rock star or whatever, but that obviously wasn't the case. All joking aside, I probably really don't miss too much about the old music industry you know? Aside from the fact there were actually album sales back then. Maybe our first few albums actually did sell more than our current albums these days, but I think a lot more people are hearing our new material, even though we sold 200,000 of our second album and 80,000 of Earth Rocker. It seems like a lot more people have been exposed to the music of Earth Rocker, you know what I mean? As far as missing the old days of major labels, not really. I don't miss anything. Things are better for us these days than they were back then.
Toddstar: Especially owning your own label Weathermaker Records. You guys get to call a lot of your own shots now. You still have to deal with distributors and what have not, but as far as the label itself you guys really do have your own finger on the pulse.
Tim: Yeah for sure, but back in the days when we were on a major label, we had four major label albums I guess, musically we really had complete freedom. We never really felt like they were trying to change our music too much or make us into something that we weren't, so we never really experienced anything like that luckily.
Toddstar: Very cool. Well Tim, I got one more for you before we let you go. With everything you've done, I mean again, you guys have been out there for a long time. Over twenty years. If it were to end tomorrow, if music were to just cease tomorrow, what would be the one or two things in your musical career that you would want to be remembered for to be part of your musical legacy?
Tim: I guess the fact in the general that we've survived being a live band and that we've always been able to get out there and play as many shows as possible and play for our fans and still gain new fans. That’s really what I'm most proud of. I'm really proud of the fact that we can go out and play our new material live and people really don't upset with us. We could go out and play every song off Psychic Warfare whereas another band might not be able to go out and play every song off their new album because their fans will get upset that they didn't play this song and that song and this song and that song. We've built our fan base by changing our set list every night, so I think maybe that's helped quite a bit too. People expect us to play different stuff. They don't want us to play the same thing every night.
Toddstar: I think you hit the nail on the head there. Typically, the new songs are the time for the beer or the bathroom run.
Tim: Yeah and luckily our fans actually want to hear us write new songs and play our new songs. That's probably the proudest thing for me as a musician - that people want to hear the new stuff.
Toddstar: Well that's a great closing thought Tim. Again, I appreciate you taking time out for us and I can't wait to hopefully get a Michigan date before the summer is out and see you back up in Flint at The Machine Shop.
Tim: I'm pretty sure that is going to happen.
Toddstar: Sounds good. Well thanks again Tim.
Tim: Awesome, thanks a lot.
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