Transnational Speedway League (EastWest)
An interview with singer Neil Fallon and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster
by Paul Lee
Their sound is stark and harsh. They can make you shudder at one moment and mosh around in a frenzy the next. It’s neigh impossible to pinpoint their sound in a few words, but it resides in that amorphous hardcore and punk realm of searing aural catharsis. They call themselves Clutch and they’ve recently put out their first major label full-length collection of auditory insanity called The Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes, and Undeniable Truths.
In this world of “underground” music, loads of it end up sounding like factory produced trash. Not so with Clutch. Their formula is unnervingly refreshing and raw (like poisonous snake sushi). With guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines, Jean-Paul on drums, and Neil Fallon with his distinctive raging vocals, Clutch churn out seething, intelligent, and twisted sound. Often, they use the same riff over again and build intensity without sounding redundant. There is some element about Clutch that sets them apart from many of the older bands of their genre. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s definitely present.
Clutch’s lyrics are a definite departure from the usual fare of hardcore, punk, or any kind of rock. Neil, the vocalist and lyricist, comes up with words and images that are clever, at times disturbing. Sometimes just plain funny (in an odd way). He sings of things like monster trucks, a redneck shogun whose name is Marcus, Coca-Cola, and other assorted topics. The meaning behind some of the weird lyrics? Decipher them for yourself (if there is any particular meaning at all).
Hailing from Gaithersburg, Maryland, a nice suburban town and not far from D.C.. the four maniacs of Clutch got together two years ago to create their form of rock. They started playing around the D.C./Maryland scene and were getting some well-deserved attention. By an act of God and some hard work, they were signed to East/West records this past year. You would have thought a sure-shot commercial band was the only kind eligible for getting signed so soon instead of an honest and “underground” group like Clutch. Thank god some A&R people still have taste and sense.
One thing that’s atypical of a band that exhibits so much passionate anger is that the guys in Clutch didn’t come from particularly hard live. Their sound comes naturally showing that you don’t have to be twisted and warped from a harsh life to produce honest, harsh music.
Upon encountering Clutch’s music, you might think that these guys are off-kilter and bitter, but I found out just the opposite. They’re down to earth, which made getting to know the minds behind the music all the more interesting. Jean-Paul shed his illumination on the topic: “A lot of people say that you have to live harsh lives and grow up in a hard place in order to do this kind of thing. I think that’s totally untrue. If you’re a good musician, everybody has those feelings, you just pull them out, you create something, you create heavy music. You don’t have to take drugs to do that.”
I asked Neil what his lyrical style is all about. “We don’t usually sing about political or social issues, sometimes yes, but usually it’s emotional things that are never specific to one place that are common, regardless to who or where you are. Lyrically, I just try to make it vague enough so people can put their own two cents into it. You don’t want to name names so much that you narrow it down to you or your friends.”
They talked about their non-newness as a band. Both Jean-Paul and Neil spoke of how they’re just doing what others have done before with a new interpretation. Neil had this to say: “A lot of bands have tried to create a halo around them, like we’re something new, we’ve risen. No band has done anything new, they’ve just done variations.”
As you might expect, Clutch live are like men possessed by demonic spirits. A number of people were even taken over by the frenzy and started to thrash about wildly. Clutch created a definite furor this night at the Axis, and will continue to do so for a good time to come.