A rock’n’roll lesson with Professor Jean-Paul Gaster (Clutch)

To Jean-Paul Gaster, Clutch’s drummer, rock’n’roll is a dying art. This is why the band made a great comeback this year with a new album, Earth Rocker, largely inspired – in its own way – by the roots of the genre: what it means, what it represents, and the way it’s played. The result is a rawer, more straightforward, quicker music, which doesn’t shun playing finesse. A subtle alliance that’s becoming rather rare and makes Earth Rocker a major album of 2013.

Part of the recipe comes from Clutch’s recent tours alongside Motörhead and Thin Lizzy. Another part comes from the very history of rock’n’roll, with Gaster confessing to admiring the work of those drummers who created the way you’re supposed to play it.

This evolution in Clutch is more than natural, since the man already had this kind of sensibility and a strong taste for jamming sessions, the like of which served as foundation for the new album and even led the band on jazzy paths from time to time.

Jean-Paul Gaster tells us all about it.

Radio Metal: Earth Rocker is a pretty straight forward rock record. You guys declared that the blues influences that you’ve been flirting with over the past couple of records are more or less absent in this record, but you didn’t notice it until you looked back at it. So it really looks like you surprised yourselves with this album.

Jean-Paul Gaster (drums): Yeah, I think so. Early on in the recording of the album we really made a conscious effort to choose songs that were going to be very focused and up-tempo. I think the blues elements are probably still there but it’s something that we weren’t particularly thinking about on this album. The record has a little bit different flavors than some of our other records did.

Did the tour with Motörhead influenced you somehow?

Absolutely, in a lot of ways. The interesting thing to think about with Motörhead is that, at least for me, when I was a young man and I listened to Motörhead I thought that this band was the most heavy in heavy metal and maybe the most rocking thing that I’d heard in a long time. When I listen to Motörhead now, I see the relationship to very early rock’n’roll. So when I listen to them now, I think of an amped-up rhythm and blues band. This is an interesting thing that happens: the more you learn about music, you can look at something you’ve been listening to for a lot of years and put a new perspective on it.

« We think there’s a lack of straight up rock’n’roll record out there today. There are few bands that address music in that way, […] playing rock’n’roll in a very sort of stripped down way but also played with a lot of finesse. »

What music were you listening to before writing this new album and did it unconsciously influence the band?

I’m sure it does. We listen to a lot of music on the road, a wide variety of music. Generaly it’s not music that is loud or fast, which is an interesting thing to think about. But we listen to a lot of music. Speaking for myself I listen to a lot of the old drummers, drummers that have sort of shaped the way we think about how rock’n’roll drums are played. So I listen to Earl Palmer who played with almost everybody but more notably with Fats Domino and Professor Longhair. That feeling of early rock’n’roll drumming was very important to me.

Can we say that you needed to escape what you have done in the past musically?

I don’t think it was an effort to escape. I think that, more than anything, it was just a development in the sound. We play a lot, we jam a lot, so the sound of the band is constantly evolving. This time around it was a little more of a straight forward approach to making a record. I think the recording itself has a very sort of focused kind of sound.

Was playing faster for this album some sort of an issue?

It was an important thing for us to do. We think there’s a lack of straight up rock’n’roll record out there today. There are few bands that address music in that way, and by that I mean playing rock’n’roll in a very sort of stripped down way but also played with a lot of finesse. Just because you strip something down or straighten things out it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a lack of playing going on. We continue to develop our own sound on the instruments.

And was it harder to record this kind of more up-tempo album?

No, absolutely not. It felt very natural to do it. And having been on tour with bands like Motörhead and Thin Lizzy, I think, we’ve been very inspired to play up-tempo kind of songs. In a lot of way it’s one of the fastest records we’ve ever recorded.

On the album there’s a song called “Gone Cold” with a very groovy and jazzy feeling. Is it possible that we’ll hear more of this orientation in the future?

Sure, it is possible. When we get together to make music, we don’t really talk too much about what kind of record we’re going to record or what kind of songs we want to write. It just sort of happens very naturally. “Gone Cold” was one of the last songs we wrote for this record and part of that was because we knew we needed to have a little bit of a breather in the record. We definitely had a lot of songs that we fast, very rocking kind of songs and we wanted to put something in the middle of the record to round things out a little bit and maybe give the listener a chance to readjust or reset. So “Gone Cold” does that pretty well. It’s the first time that I actually recorded playing brushes. Playing brushes is a skill in itself and it was something that I was kind of intimidated by for a lot of years. A lot of drummers will say that they’re playing brushes but really all they’re doing is hitting the drums with brushes and to me that’s not really playing brushes. The important thing to think about when you play brushes is that your entire body has to move in rhythm. It’s not so much about hitting something in rhythm as it is moving in rhythm. So it was a challenge for me and I was very proud to be able to play brushes on “Gone Cold”.

« In a lot of way it’s one of the fastest records we’ve ever recorded. »

On the artwork we see a face of a man who seems to be a Native American. Does this mean to you that they are the Earth Rockers?

Well, that could be. I think that the great thing about the imagery of the record is that it really leaves a lot up to interpretations. You might consider that man on the record as an Earth Rocker. There’s also a song, just after “Gone Cold”, called “The Face” and I know that when I listen to this song and look at the cover, to me those are related. But it wasn’t an intentional thing. That’s what’s great about our imageries: you can really draw your own conclusions to what Earth Rocker is about and how it relates to the album. So, in my mind, the cover, this Native American, he is The Face to me but, you know, if you want to think of him as the Earth Rocker, that’s certainly not wrong! (Laughs)

Is the title Earth Rocker also a way for you to express your love for the planet actually?

No. I think that when we called the record Earth Rocker, we wanted something that sounded tough and powerful and Earth Rocker happened to be a name of one of the songs. I think we picked the good one. I know that we also thought about calling the album Crucial Velocity. That could’ve been cool too but I think Earth Rocker is a more fitting title.

What’s interesting is the contrast between this very direct album, the name Earth Rocker, and this artwork which is very psychedelic…

Yeah, we wanted to create an artwork that maybe looked a little like late 70’s or early 80’s psychedelic or even a heavy metal record. One album cover that we thought about a lot was Judas Priest’s Screaming For Vengeance that has the eagle that’s flying through the sky and it looks cool, it looks powerful. That’s something that we wanted to have. And it also look sort of supernatural or psychedelic as you say. So that leaves a lot of interpretations.

Will you be making a video for the album, like for the single “Earth Rocker”?

I don’t know, it’s hard to say. We’re thinking about making some kind of video. But, you know, it’s been tough to come up with a concept that we’re really excited about. And that’s just because there are so many videos out there that are made. One sort of looks like the next that sort of looks likes the next, etc. When it comes time to make a video I think we really want to try to make something that looks a little different than other stuff that are being done and also than what we’ve done in the past. We don’t like to repeat ourselves. So, we’ll see what the future holds. We kind of want to make a video but we’re not sure what kind of video yet. We have kicked around some ideas, but nothing concrete, certainly nothing that I’m able to talk about in a real way. Plus we have a tremendous amount of touring ahead of us. So if we make a video it probably won’t be until the summer time.

« Over the years, I think we got better at making songs that really wrap themselves around the words and around Neil’s lyrics. »

On another topic, can you tell us about the Bakerton Group, your instrumental jam band that the Clutch musicians share?

Yes. The Bakerton Group is a way for us to experiment with other forms of music and by that I mean making music that is not focused on the lyrics. For us, over the years, I think we got better at making songs that really wrap themselves around the words and around Neil (Fallon)’s lyrics. When we make a Bakerton Group record, it’s a completely different experience. We’re much more concerned about a guitar line or a particular keyboard part – our friend Per Wiberg (Spiritual Beggars, ex-Opeth) played keyboard on the last record – and I think that’s an important part of the Barketon Group sound. It’s a different mindset, it’s a different mentality. But it’s a good exercise and it’s a lot of fun to think music in a different way.

OK, but even though it’s a different experience, is there some sort of link between Clutch and the Bakerton Group, are the two bands influencing themselves?

Well, there’s definitely a link in the fact that it’s the same guys. (Laughs) But I think probably the two do influence each other quite a bit. By that I mean maybe there are things that in the past we tried to incorporate into Clutch that would have better suited a band like the Bakerton Group. Now we have a knowledge for that. So maybe in some ways it allows us to focus more on the Clutch sound. But it’s hard to say. We’ll see what the future brings for the Bakerton Group and what the next record will be like. I don’t know that just yet.

OK, do you have on last thing to say?

We’re looking forward to coming back to France over the summer. We hope to be able to play a lot more over there and get to know France a little better!

Interview conducted by phone on March 5th, 2013
Transcription: Spaceman

Clutch’s official website: pro-rock.com
Jean-Paul Gaster’s official website: www.jeanpaulgaster.com

Album Earth Rocker, out since March 19th, 2013 via Weathermaker Records

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