Clutch Drummer Jean-Paul Gaster on New Music, ‘Live from the Doom Saloon’ and More

2020-08-07

Jean-Paul Gaster of Clutch joins Anne Erickson to discuss the band's second major livestreaming event, "Live from the Doom Saloon - Volume II," plus a new album.

Clutch – Story by Anne Erickson, promo photo

Jean-Paul Gaster of Clutch joins Anne Erickson to discuss the band’s second major livestreaming event, “Live from the Doom Saloon – Volume II,” plus a new Clutch album in this in-depth interview

Maryland hard rockers Clutch are known for being road warriors, so it makes sense that the year 2020 would put the guys in major concert withdrawal mode.

With live shows off for the foreseeable future, Clutch is gearing up for their second major livestream event, “Live from the Doom Saloon – Volume II.” The show, which promises concert-style production and lighting, takes place at 8 p.m. EST tonight (Aug. 7), with rebroadcasts available this weekend. This time around, the band has asked fans to send in their dream playlists, and Clutch will pick one to perform. For more information on “Live from the Doom Saloon – Volume II,” head to Clutch’s official website.

Jean-Paul Gaster spoke with Anne Erickson of Audio Ink about the upcoming livestream event, the status of traditional concerts returning, how Clutch have been dealing with coronavirus (COVID-19) and more. Read the interview below, and listen to the full chat via the Audio Ink podcast on Apple Podcasts here and Spotify here.

Anne Erickson: Clutch have a new livestream event on the way, “Live from the Doom Saloon – Volume II,” on Aug. 7. Tell me about how you’re asking fans to send in their suggestions for songs to perform at the show.

Jean-Paul Gaster: This is the second time we are going to put a show together that we do right out of our rehearsal place here called the Doom Saloon. This time around, we asked the fans to make the set list. So, we opened up our entire catalog. It goes all the way back to 1991. We had fans put together a set list that they would like to see us play. So, we’re going to pick a winner, and we’ll play that set list in its entirety.

How has the live streaming helped you connect with fans during this year of no concerts because of COVID-19?

It’s certainly not a replacement for a live show. Nothing can beat the energy that you get from the crowd and the feeling of being in a venue. So, it’s certainly not a replacement for it. But it is an opportunity for us to play for the fans to hopefully see some of their favorite songs played. We’re going to continue doing this as long as we need to do it. As long as people want to watch us play, we’re going to continue to play. And hopefully we’ll be back on stage sooner than later.

Based on what you’re hearing in the industry. Do you have any idea when traditional concerts might be back?

I’ve got to be honest. There was a time when we thought this thing would last months, but it’s not. It’s going on and dragging on and on and on. I think a lot of that has to do with the leadership that we see going on in this country right now. There’s no national plan to make this thing go away, which is, to me, a crime in and of itself. This country is capable of doing so many things, and just to watch the lawmakers sort of sit on their hands and watch this thing go by is extremely frustrating.

When I look at other countries, they’re starting to bounce back, and there are even a few concerts popping up overseas.

That’s right. We have some friends in Germany, and they’re talking about how they might do some shows in Germany this fall. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t even be able to get over there because of the way that things are being handled right now, we’re now allowed to enter a lot of these countries that are going to be able to move forward. So, it’s pretty daunting. I’m hoping that at some point the folks in charge get their heads together and are able to deal with this.

It breaks my heart that the U.S. might not have concerts until far later than other countries.

Right, and it’s not even just music. It’s sporting events. It’s schools. It’s any kind of gathering. If folks would just act responsibly for a few months here, we could get this thing under control, and we could resume some kind of normalcy. But, it starts from the top. We need some leadership from the top that. We need people to set examples.

Would you ever perform at a drive-in concert?

Of course. Man, we’ll play anywhere! (Laughs) Yeah, I have been hearing a lot about the driving concerts, and that seems like a cool way to play a show. I like it for a few different reasons. Obviously, it would be something different. We certainly have never done anything like that before. It’s a way for us to play. It’s a way for people to get out of their houses and still be safe. So, I like that idea very much.

What else have you been doing to keep busy during your downtime aside from everything with Clutch?

Well, I’ll tell you that these streaming shows have kept us pretty busy. The first part of it was just learning the technology. Once we kind of wrapped our head around that, we were able to pull off a show and, and since then, we’ve sort of been prepping for this show. The production value on this one is going to be up a little bit. We’ve got some more cameras, and we’ve some more lights in here, so it’s going to look sharp. Then outside of that, I’ve been doing a lot of yard work. I started a stone project many years ago where I was putting stone down in my backyard, and I got probably about 85% of that job done before I went back on to tour, and I hadn’t readdressed it in some time. So, I’ve been pushing stone around in between doing these streaming shows.

Clutch released “Book of Bad Decisions” in 2018. What’s the status on a new studio album from Clutch?

I think we’ll probably get into the studio sometime this winter and record. We’ve been doing some releases via our vault series, and that has been cool, because we can get into the studio and record two or three songs at a time, and we put those out once every few weeks. So, I think, in that way, we have some newly recorded music in the pipeline, and we’ll continue to do that. But, I think as far as the full-length record goes, I think we’ll probably get in there sometime this winter.

That’s great, because it seems like with the downtime without touring, it would be a good opportunity to work on a new album.

Absolutely. And we are anxious to get that underway.

I know it’s super early, but do you have any feel for the musical direction of the next Clutch album?

It’s so hard to say, because there’s a few things that happen when we go to write music. I think, on some level, although we don’t really have a conversation that says, “Hey, let’s do something different,” each one of us wants to try new things and try to go in different directions than maybe we did the for the last batch of recordings. So, in some ways, that happens on a conscious level, but I’m learning more and more that a lot of it kind of happens unconsciously. I think we tend to change directions without even really making an attempt to do that. I guess that just comes from having been a band for so long and having the opportunity to play with these guys for as long as we have. It’s a crazy thing. We get into the jam room, and often times, we don’t really say much to one another, but at the end of 35 or 40 minutes, we have this new idea that happens. That’s just because there’s this sort of unspoken language that’s kind of developed among the four of us.

Clutch have been together for so long, far longer than most bands. What do you think it Clutch’s secret to longevity?

I have to say, it’s the music. The music kept us together. In the early days, we just wanted to play shows and make recordings. That’s really all we wanted to do. We did not have the intention of making a career out of this thing. We certainly didn’t want to become rock stars in the sense of what we saw either on MTV or what we heard on the radio. We thought those bands were corny. We didn’t want to be like that. We wanted to just make our own music and hang out with other bands and play shows, and that was really the beginning of the end of it. We were able, however, to carve a career out of this thing, and when times got tough, we always went back to the music, and here we are, 30 years later almost, and we’re doing the same thing. We’re going back to the music. On this next show, we’re going to play songs that go back all the way to the very, very beginning of our catalog. So, I think for that reason, I think we’ve been able to stay together. When you concentrate on the music, when you concentrate on the art, you put on blinders to all the peripheral stuff, whether it’s internal stuff that we’re going through or external forces that are trying to bring us down. We focus on the music, and that’s what gets us from day to day.

That totally makes sense, because you guys are a band all about the music. For some bands, it’s more about image or whatnot, but for you guys, it’s always been the music and your live show.

Yeah. There’s definitely not a lot of image going on here! (Laughs)

That’s not what I meant! (Laughs) I just meant that, when you go to a Clutch show, you know you’re going to get a solid night of great rock music.

Yes, and we’re very proud of that. And I do agree with you. I mean, I was making the joke, but I do agree, the image part of it doesn’t really enter into the equation. I know that there’s a lot of musicians out there who say, if you don’t have an image, that is your image. I can tell you with certainty that I do not spend a whole lot of time deciding what I’m going to put on before a show or what my hair is going to look like. I’ve been on tour with bands that spend more time figuring out what outfit they’re going to put on than actually sitting down and practicing your instrument. If that’s your bag, great, but we don’t really subscribe to that.

Clutch have been on so many killer tours over the years. I saw you guys with Mastodon and on just a bunch of random tours. Do you have a favorite that sticks out?

Very early on in that 1994, we had the opportunity to tour the U.S. with Sepultura. That was on their “Chaos A.D.” album. We were fans of Sepultura before then. Being able to see that band live every night was a tremendous experience. It was amazing to see such a powerful band, and not only that, they treated us well, and their crew treated us exceptionally well. We learned so much from those guys. Those couple months that we were on that tour really made an impact on us for the rest of our career. I look back on that tour with great memories.

What are your thoughts on the state of rock music? Do you think that rock is in a good place?

Rock depends so much on being able to get out and connect with fans, and we can’t do that right now. So, I think to say that rock is in a good place is an overstatement. I especially worry about the young bands that are out there now. I know that once this thing blows over, bands like Clutch and Mastodon and Lamb of God and Black Label Society– all these bands are established and they have fans. I know that those fans are going to come back to see the shows. But, I’m worried for the younger generation of bands– bands that are releasing records right now, or getting ready and wishing they could go on tour right now, because these early days in a band’s career are just so, so important. It’s really all about getting out there and playing. You have to have that experience. Right now, it’s tough for those bands that are being denied that experience. You can’t get that time back.

Do you have any advice for bands that are trying to break through during this difficult time with no touring?

Well, I would say to spend a lot of time on your instrument. As a player, get to know your instrument, and learn everything you can about it. Learn to read music, if you can. There’s a lot of folks out there who seem to find comfort in being able to say, “Oh, well, Jimi Hendrix didn’t read music” or “Buddy Rich” didn’t read music. There are not very many Jimi Hendrix’s or Buddy Rich’s out there. I am certainly not one of them. So, being able to read music allows you to understand ideas at a greater level. So, so do everything you can to not only learn to read music, but learn everything about your instrument. So, spend time with the instrument every day. Then, when you get to practice with your band, write songs and write a lot of songs and keep writing and keep writing, because with each song that you write– you’re going to learn something. If you write five songs, you might not like four of them, but there’s going be one of that bunch that is going to be a gateway to something else. Don’t get too hung up on the details. Just write another song and write another song and play some more, because all this stuff is going to, in the end, make you a better player and a better band.

That’s great advice. What’s new with your Weathermaker Vault Series? Are there any new covers that you’re cooking up?

Yeah, we have some stuff in the pipeline. I think you’ll probably see a couple more of those releases before the year is out. Then, at that point, we’ll switch gears and start really thinking about what’s going to happen with the new album.

Social media is such a big part of being in a band now. How do you think that social media helps with music connecting with fans, and how can it be negative as well?

It’s ultimately important. At this point, it is the most important thing. I remember in the ’90s, we would have publicists, and they would work really hard to get us in print magazines. The holy grail would have been something like Rolling Stone, but the reality is that people don’t buy those magazines anymore. The way to get the word out is through social media. So, you have to provide a lot of content. I think, also, you have to be careful as to how much you put out there, and you have to make a genuine.

When concerts, God willing, finally come back, what do you think it’s going to be like? Do you think it’s going to be different than it was before coronavirus?

I think it’s going to take some time to get back to where we were before. The touring industry was at a point where it was enormous. The festivals that were happening and the amounts of people that were coming to see shows was pretty unprecedented. It got to a point where it was really a huge part of the economy. It was really an economy unto itself, because not only were there bands and fans, but there were also trucking companies and there were catering companies and bus companies and road crew. There were a lot of people that were making careers out of touring. It’s going to take some while for that to come back. I don’t see it just growing back immediately. It might be a gradual thing. It may be these smaller venues that sort of lead the way to bigger shows and bigger shows.

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