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Clutch: 'Earth Rocker' And Straight Up Rock 'N' Roll

Monday, 12 May 2014 Written by Alec Chillingworth

So, you think you’ve got this beard thing mastered? Well, you haven’t unless your face furniture can go to-to-toe with Neil Fallon's, and the Clutch frontman’s facial hair makes even the best beards seem like wafer-thin clouds of smoke straddling a chin.

And, not only is his beard the stuff of legend, but so is his music. Clutch's 10th studio album, 'Earth Rocker', was released last year to humongous critical acclaim, also shifting the band a couple of yards closer to the popularity that their longevity deserves.

Their inimitable brand of bluesy rock 'n' roll is now more popular than ever, as we found out when talking to Fallon and Nate Bergman, guitarist of Lionize, Clutch's labelmates and main support on their recent UK tour, before a show at London's HMV Forum.

“It's only been a year but it seems like five, we've toured this record excessively,” Fallon said. “We knew we'd made a good record, but we didn't anticipate the kind of reaction that it got – particularly in Europe. It did well in the States too, but it did particularly well in Europe.

“If I can say anything about it, it's put some wind in our sails. There were four years between 'Earth Rocker' and 'Strange Cousins From The West', and this time around we're already gearing up to write the next record – we'd been too used to a routine, and writing 'Earth Rocker' threw a load of cold water on our faces and woke us up a little bit.”

Not only does 'Earth Rocker' represent a new level of commercial recognition for the band, some 20 years removed from their ‘Transnational Speedway League’ debut, it also struck a chord in a creative sense.

“They're as real as it gets on every level,” Bergman said. “Personally, musically, the live shows they do, they try harder than everyone else, and subsequently make everyone else look bad. They don't have to try harder – they're already better than everyone else – but they do go the extra step.

“Before 'Earth Rocker', 'Slow Hole To China' was probably my favourite. Something about that record personifies where they were for a long time, but 'Earth Rocker' is just out of control. It's the best rock record of the last 10 years. My favourite Clutch record is the record they just put out.”

The album appealed to many Clutch fans – and newbies – due to its hard-hitting, blunter than a sledgehammer approach. The title track, D.C Sound Attack! and Unto The Breach are already cementing themselves as live favourites, as is the acoustic ditty Gone Cold. The band haven't crafted a record this direct since 2004's 'Blast Tyrant' and they've finally disposed of the various tags that have been attached to their name since they formed. Now, they’re simply Clutch: the rock 'n' roll band.

“'Strange Cousins From The West' is definitely a darker record,” Fallon said. “And 'Robot Hive/Exodus' is a quirkier, proggy record, to my ears, anyway. 'Earth Rocker' is most similar to 'Blast Tyrant', and I think that's why we chose Machine [producer]. When we were writing it, we thought it sounded similar to the 'Blast Tyrant' stuff so getting Machine seemed like a good idea.

“I'm particularly fond of Gone Cold – it's the most quiet of the bunch. To say we've played loud music for 20 or so years, it's refreshing to bring the dynamics down. It's difficult, but I enjoy it.”

With such a crucial record on their hands, you'd think Clutch would be resting on their laurels and smoking cigars. Nope. As mentioned before, they're already in the process of demoing new material, with one track, Run, John Barleycorn, Run, having already been made available as part of their Record Store Day split with Lionize. Also, a new, three-disc edition of 'Earth Rocker' will be released next month.

“It's going to be at least a year before the next studio record comes out, and we want to have something out there to sell,” Fallon said. “We also run our own record label [Weathermaker] and it's important to keep people interested – it's not just about selling loads of records, it's about keeping people on the radar. Everything comes and goes so quickly these days, so unless you keep up the pace, people tend to forget.”

Of course, no matter how good 'Earth Rocker' was, Clutch are also determined to look forward and move on to their next outing. Fortunately for those who have been taken in by its grizzled charm, though, the band aren’t done with its no-nonsense style just yet.

“I would say we're still running with 'Earth Rocker' fuel,” Fallon said. “If we waited four years then it'd probably be a lot different, but since we've been playing the 'Earth Rocker' songs over and over again, we've still got that tempo and attitude in our head. The seven songs we've written seem to be of that ilk – whether the next seven or eight will be, I don't know. That's the fun part of writing an album, just discovering what it is.”

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