INTERVIEW: Jean-Paul Gaster – Clutch

CLUTCH are a band that are made to perform live. Their ever-popular shows bring out crowds of all ages and backgrounds, and their current Psychic Warfare tour is no different. Selling out across the UK, we caught up with CLUTCH’s drummer, Jean-Paul Gaster, to talk touring, his inspirations and influences, and what’s next for the American rockers.

So firstly, how’s it been in the UK for you guys?

Jean-Paul: Amazing. Really amazing.  I think, probably, our most successful run here in the UK. The shows have been outstanding, the crowds have been outstanding, we’re very pleased with the other bands we have on the bill as well, LIONIZE and VALIANT THORR made for a really good show. It’s great man, really good vibes, and we’ve had a good time.

You’ve been all around the world and are going back to America in the New Year. How does playing in the UK compare to other countries you’ve played in?

Jean-Paul: Well, the shows have been big. I think the crowds kind of remind me of what we see at home these days. You know, we tend to do very well in the Mid-West back home, you know, sorta working-class cities and places like Chicago and Kansas City and Detroit. In many ways, I feel like Manchester reminds me of one of those cities, we were in Cardiff last night, and again, it kind of feels like home in a way.

That’s really nice to hear! So LIONIZE are sharing a label with you guys, what’s it like playing beside them and VALIANT THORR on tour?

Jean-Paul: Well, speaking specifically about the LIONIZE guys, we’ve known them for a very long time. I first met those guys at my drum teachers house, Walter Salb, and their original drummer used to take lessons with Walter. And Walter was a pretty abrasive character to put it bluntly or mildly, I would say. He wanted you to learn about music and he wanted you to hang out, and wanted you to be involved in the thing, and if you didn’t, if you weren’t one of those people, you were thin-skinned, you probably didn’t spend much time over there. He could be slightly abusive at times *laughs* verbally abusive, but it was sort of all part of his character. What I remember most about the LIONIZE guys is going over there and thinking, you know, “I have to be here, I’ve gotta take drum lessons from this guy!  You guys are just coming here to hang out, what’s your problem?” *laughs* But he was a very inspiring individual and I know that the LIONIZE guys enjoyed very much being around him, and he continues to be an inspiration, I think, to all of us. Their [LIONIZE] drummer, Chase [Lapp], is a very good friend of mine who also studied with Walter, that’s how I met Chase, so I feel a tremendous amount of pride when I watch those guys play.

VALIANT THORR is a band we’ve toured with once before when we were on tour with MOTORHEAD back in the States. They’ve since had a couple of line-up changes, and their rhythm section now is amazing. I very much enjoy watching those guys every night, so it’s been fun, I enjoy watching the other bands while I sorta warm up and get my head together, and it’s just been a really good vibe.

Going off what you’ve just said about LIONIZE, I suppose it was just the natural choice to pick them and bring them onto your own label?

Jean-Paul: Yeah. We did a record with those guys and those guys have continued to work hard. They’ve continued to write more songs, and I feel like they’re just getting better.

So, do you feel running CLUTCH’s records through your own label has helped you?

Jean-Paul: Oh, without a doubt. We finished our deal with DRT in about 2008, something like that, 2009, and we knew that going back to another label was not an option for us. The climate in the industry had really kind of reached rock bottom. We’d been struggling with labels really since the inception of the band, bouncing from one label to the next, and so it was the logical choice, you know? We told ourselves “Look, even if we do a terrible job at this, we’re gonna be better off!” *laughs* You know? So, let’s give it a shot. Every record has been a learning process, we’re still learning, we’re still learning about releasing records, but you know, it’s fun. It’s fun, and it’s energy being put in a positive place rather than sorta sitting around waiting for somebody to do something for you or begging them to do something for you. Those years were really uninspiring, and so to be able to call your own shots is amazing.

Judging from the outcome, you’ve done something right!

Jean-Paul: Yeah!

Do you reckon you’ll be picking up other new bands on your label?

Jean-Paul: I don’t know, I kinda doubt it at this point. You know, I think the industry is in such a state that it’s difficult, man. It’s very difficult. I think we have a hard enough time putting out CLUTCH records let alone anybody else’s, but who knows what the future brings? We’re open for whatever.

Generally now, you guys obviously pull from a load of different influences in your music. What would you say is the biggest influence on either you personally or the band as a whole?

Jean-Paul: I think it’s tough to say what is the biggest influence because there’s been so many things. But I do think back to the first time that I saw BAD BRAINS at the 9:30 Club in 1989. I was just out of high school, and I’d heard BAD BRAINS before and I knew a little bit about them, but that show really impressed me in such a way that it made me want to play music for a living. It completely changed my perspective as to what a live band was capable of, the energy those guys put into the room that night was just off the charts. It managed to make, for me, they took that night club and turned it into a church. It was probably one of the most spiritual things I’ve ever seen in my life.

It sounds wonderful. So, your compilation album, La Curandera, you re-released it this year onto black vinyl. Did you expect it to be as popular as it became when you initially released it?

Jean-Paul: No, we originally did it as… a portion of the monies went to Breast Cancer Research, and we were very proud to be a part of that. We decided that we would compile songs that were about women, you know, songs we had that were about strong women doing tough things. We enlisted the help of a very well known artist back home, Becky Cloonan, she did an amazing job with the illustrations, and we were very proud of that release and it sold out immediately. So, the next logical step was to do it again, and here we are today.

Do you reckon you’d do anything in that vein again if the right cause comes up?

Jean-Paul: Certainly, certainly.

Was there a reason there are 8 tracks on that record?

Jean-Paul: That has a lot to do with the constraints of vinyl, you can only fit so much material on vinyl.  But, you  know, I think there’s also a beauty in that, you know, when you listen to the classic albums, whether it’s LED ZEPPELIN IV, or BLACK SABBATH, or DEEP PURPLE, those guys had a kinda limited amount of time to put down their thoughts and to record this music. I think, because of that, sometimes maybe those records are a little more potent, maybe a little more powerful than when CDs came into fashion and all of a sudden people wanted to fill it up with, like, 65 minutes worth of music. There’s something to be said, I think, for being limited to 20 minutes a side.

Just to pop back to your current touring, you have a couple of weeks break after today before heading to the States. How do you keep going on the road?

Jean-Paul: Beer. *laughs* Beer helps! You know, we enjoy what we do. We are a live band first and foremost, we always have been, and I am definitely of the mindset that a band’s primary function is to play, you go out and you play for people. That’s kinda what we do best. Over the years I think we’ve gotten better at being in the studio, I think we’re better at writing songs, I think we’re better at recording, but this band works on the road, you know?  That’s really what we do. So, you know, we enjoy it!

That’s the main thing really, right?

Jean-Paul: Yeah!

If you’re not enjoying it, why do it?

Jean-Paul: Why do it, exactly! You know, it’s fun. Sure, there are times where you can get tired out here or it could be exhausting, but at the end of the day you’re making rock and roll, so there’s nothing to complain about man.

So, what are your plans for 2017 after the Psychic Warfare tour?

Jean-Paul: We’re going to wrap up this last bit of touring that we have, and then we will start writing. We have a warehouse space that we’ve built a studio in, we also store all the gear there, we also keep all the product for Weathermaker, all the vinyl and all the CDs. It’s a pretty cool little facility we have over there, so we’ll spend some time there, at the Doom Saloon, that’s what we call it, and we’ll start writing material and we’ll see where that takes us. Each record sorta takes on a life of its own, we don’t really go in with too many preconceived notions as to how it’s supposed to end up. It’s a very organic process, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens. I know that we’re all very anxious to get in there and start doing some new stuff, we’ve been playing these songs for 2, 3 years almost, so we’re ready to get in there and get creative again.

Do you have any base concepts or ideas for the album?

Jean-Paul: At this point it’s really wide open. I expect that the first three months of next year will be pretty intensive as far as cooking up material and seeing where this thing’s gonna go. It’s always a fun time after you’ve been away from the writing process to jump back into it. It’s a very different mindset than from playing in a live situation, so I know that we’re all excited about doing that.

Psychic Warfare is out now via Weathermaker Music.

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