After 25 years, Clutch continues to look forward

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Clutch
Courtesy of Clutch

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Clutch. But you won’t find frontman Neil Fallon getting overly nostalgic about the band’s history or thinking much about how to draw attention to the milestone.

“We (as a band) haven’t really even spoken about it at all,” Fallon says. “We’ve been asked what our plans are, and I think the best way to mark 25 years is to plan on doing another 25. We’re not a very nostalgic group of men. We’d rather move forward than just kind of think about a retrospective. I think a lot of artists are that way. That’s the creative spirit. You want to create something new, not necessarily revisit the past. But having said that, maybe we will do something like that, who knows.”

Fallon’s words ring true. This fall finds Clutch in a decidedly forward-looking mode as the group tours behind its latest studio album Psychic Warfare.

Fallon says fans can expect Clutch’s set to feature some new songs and showcase a cross-section of material from across the 10 albums the Maryland-based band has released since 1993.

“The majority of the set will be a mix of just about everything,” he says. Clutch actually had played all but one of the songs from Psychic Warfare on tour before the album was even recorded, rotating a song — maybe two — in and out of the sets each night. The test runs of the new songs paid benefits in getting the songs ready to record,” Fallon says.

“I think more than anything else it’s muscle memory because if you could write something in the studio, you’re still trying to remember it as you’re performing it,” he says. “But if you have the opportunity to practice it, you’re not thinking about the words or the rhythms or the notes, you’re thinking about just emoting on your guitar or with your voice, and that is where the best performances happen for any artist, I think.”

Fallon is clearly excited about how Psychic Warfare came together. As with Clutch’s 2013 album, Earth Rocker, the band spent a year-plus writing and demoing material for the new album.

“I think the writing was precisely the same, with the exception that we did all of the rehearsals in our warehouse (in Maryland), where we keep all of our gear,” Fallon says “We did a good portion of the recording of the record there as well. We did all of the drums and the basic tracks out in Texas, but we also did vocals and guitar overdubs here in Maryland, which is nice getting to go home to my own bed every night.”

He says Psychic Warfare continues a musical shift the band made toward faster songs on Earth Rocker.

“There are more similarities between this and Earth Rocker than between Earth Rocker and Strange Cousins,” the vocalist says, mentioning the slower and darker 2009 release, Strange Cousins from the West. “It’s a faster record. And I think that’s just because we were in a similar headspace.”

Like Earth Rocker, the new album is also made up of concise riff-heavy songs, as Clutch, which also includes guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster, has moved away from the longer, more epic types of songs that occasionally found their way on to albums from earlier in the group’s career, such as the group’s 1995 self-titled album or 1998’s The Elephant Riders.

“This is about as far away from a prog band album you can imagine,” Fallon says. “Most songs clock in at well under four minutes.”

Parallels with Earth Rocker noted, Fallon says he and his bandmates (Fallon writes Clutch’s lyrics, but the band as a whole collaborates on the music) continued to try to find areas to grow musically with the new album.

“I think there are two kind of hurdles to cross when you get a little bit older. One is you don’t want to repeat yourself, but at the same time, you don’t want to ignore your strengths,” Fallon says. “I know with this record, I struggled a bit writing. I was kind of hung up because Earth Rocker was a very successful record for us and I didn’t want to just make Earth Rocker 2. I wanted to find new (lyrical) topics. But then I also realized that you can’t over-think this. This is rock and roll. It should be from the heart. It’s not a doctoral dissertation.

“So writing lyrics is my favorite thing to do,” he continues. “It’s also the most maddening thing for me to do. If I sit down at nine o’clock at night and say, ‘I’m going to write some lyrics,’ it inevitably never happens. It happens when I’m sitting at a red light in traffic or pushing a shopping cart down the supermarket aisles. That’s when suddenly a lyric pops into my head.”

Fallon doesn’t get into detail about lyrical themes on the new album, but says he picked up on the sci-fi theme that filtered into Earth Rocker on a couple of the new songs.

“Two of my favorite songs on Earth Rocker were ‘Crucial Velocity’ and ‘Unto The Breach’ and I think because, to me at least in my mind, they seemed to allude to some kind of science fiction short story. I kept that in mind with some of the songs on this record,” he says.

“It’s the same book, different chapter (on the new album), I guess in some ways.”

It makes sense that Clutch wanted to carry forward some elements of Earth Rocker. The album, which topped Billboard magazine’s Hard Rock Album chart and reached number 15 on the all-genre “Billboard 200” album chart, took Clutch to a new level of popularity. Now Psychic Warfare has gone one better, debuting at number 11.

To be 25 years into the band’s career and to be more successful than ever is a situation that’s not lost on Fallon as the group heads into its next chapter with Psychic Warfare.

“It’s been the best education you could imagine, to tour the world and meet people on a very real level from all walks of life,” Fallon says. “And sure, there has been feast and famine, and there have been good times and bad times and disagreements, but that’s like any other family. That’s nothing exceptional.

“If there’s one thing that I just nowadays think about quite a bit is how very fortunate I am to have made a career of it this long, and it’s the best it’s ever been now,” he says. “To make a living doing something in the creative arts is a very rare thing to be able to do, and I thank my lucky stars every day that I’ve been granted this great luxury to do that. I’m going wake up every day and outside the normal tasks of taking out the trash and doing the laundry, the only two things I have to do are write rock and roll music or perform rock and roll music. That’s what, every once in awhile I’ll take a step back and say, ‘Holy smokes, that’s amazing.’”

On the Bill: Clutch. 7 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 18, The Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder, 303-786-7030.