If there’s one band that has remained consistent with putting out a heap of records from their debut up to their latest piece that remain rich in detail, its Maryland’s very own Clutch. Three years on from 2015’s ‘Psychic Warfare‘, we spoke with the funky stringsman Tim Sult about the quartet’s construct on their twelfth and newest full-length ‘Book of Bad Decisions‘, their approach in writing, their twenty-seven years of progress as a band, and the differences between the recording process in the three year gap between “Psychic Warfare” and “Book of Bad Decisions”.
“Quite honestly, both the writing and recording processes for both albums were very smooth, to tell you the truth” he begins. “They were probably the two smoothest in our career as far as my point of view goes. I’d say the main difference was the production technique that was used between the two albums. This newest one was more live, whereas the last two albums were built on a computer. But, it was easy to make and I enjoyed it immensely.”
Over the years, Clutch have associated with the likes of J. Robbins, Machine, Jack Douglas and many other producers in the time of assembling some fresh material in the studio. This time, they got ahold of Vance Powell, who’s renowned for working with Arctic Monkeys and Jack White. For “Book of Bad Decisions”, Sult stated that recording with Powell took a more analogue approach as opposed to the digital methods that Clutch proceeded with during the time of “Psychic Warfare” and “Earth Rocker”. However, he states that it felt very much like when he and Clutch recorded material as their instrumental alter-ego The Bakerton Group.
“I would say it was more of a nineties style recording process where we would just enter the studio, set up our gear, start playing and hope for the best. It honestly kind of reminded me of our third album ‘The Elephant Riders‘, and J. Robbins also recorded a lot like that as well, especially with The Bakerton Group stuff where we recorded two instrumental albums, which we did with Robbins. Those two albums were the most live albums we ever recorded. So, I’d say production-wise, it felt more like recording with Robbins or something that we would’ve done in the nineties.”
While vocalist Neil Fallon is responsible for the southern-inspired poetry and incantations of Clutch, Sult has always known that Fallon has had a knack for developing a narrative within his lyricism. No matter how many revisions Fallon would make of a song, Sult was always a massive fan of what Fallon had written down.
“I’m lucky enough to be in a band with somebody that writes lyrics that I love. It’s not like there’s been any time where Neil has come up with some lyrics or a direction for a song and I have not liked it. When he rewrites a song four or five times, I’ve always equally loved every version that he’s been working on. As far as that goes, that’s really the only thing I can say about the lyrics – is that I’m happy I don’t have to deal with something like that, and I can just sit back, play guitar, have fun and Neil takes care of all of that.”
Even though ‘Book of Bad Decisions’ sounds as though there is some kind of negative aspect behind the title, Sult has looked at it in a more positive light by facetiously naming it something else to his liking based on everything that Clutch has achieved in their nearly thirty years of being the same entity as to when they started out.
“Ever since we came up with that title, I’ve just been jokingly been calling the whole thing ‘The Book of Rad Decisions’. Because, I’ve been so happy with the album, and honestly, I’m happy with the progress of the band’s career. I’m going to be coming up on fifty years old before we put out our next album, and I’m still excited about every song we write, I still love playing shows, and it feels like the whole thing is growing. So, to me, it really doesn’t feel like bad decisions, quite honestly.”
However, Sult then comments that the title for ‘Book of Bad Decisions’ was chosen based on another act that their producer had worked with in the past that released an album that was released as an actual book.
“Originally, that was just the title for one of the songs, and we were looking really hard for an album title. During the recording process of the album, one of the bands that Vance Powell worked with actually released a CD in book form, where the CD came in a book itself. It just kinda made sense with the title ‘Book of Bad Decisions’ and maybe we could actually release the CD as a book, as well. It really tied the whole thing together to have it in book form.”
Looking back at the last handful of LPs that Clutch have incarnated, Sult has found ‘Book of Bad Decisions’ to have more breathing space for all the songs, and has compared that sensation to the likes of Clutch’s earlier material. That being said, it’s felt rather refreshing to him to be able to pick up on that aura.
“To me, personally, I feel this album has a bit more air and the songs have a little more space, compared to some of the last few records. It sounds nothing like it and it sounds completely different, but when I listen to the whole album from front to back, it gives me a similar feeling of when I listen to our second album, the ‘Clutch‘ self-titled. It has a similar airy, weird vibe as opposed to a straightforward rock record that’s gonna catch your ear right away. It’s something that might take people a little longer to digest.”
One of the most identifiable components of Clutch’s behaviour is their method of creativity as a jam band. Having made a plethora of songs in twenty-seven years that range from funk, to alternative, to stoner, to blues, to even hardcore punk in their earlier days, Clutch’s productivity has remained limitless and salubrious ever since. Almost nothing has ever been made out of all four members without any alliance, according to Sult.
“It’s definitely a big team effort. We all get together and start throwing out ideas. With these last two or three albums, we have a great rehearsal space, we’ve got tons of time between tours, and within the last few albums, we’ve had more musical ideas that we’ve ever had in the history of the whole band. Clutch is definitely a collaborative effort between all four members, and we’re all equally as artistically invested in the band, and that might be the reason we’ve been together for so long. I can only attribute the fact that for me, personally, it’s something that was growing and was always moving forward. I know on paper, it seems like it’s really been a long time that we’ve been doing this, but to me, it feels totally natural.”
Fans have already gotten a taste of what Clutch are offering through ‘Book of Bad Decisions’ via music videos and live performances of the tracks. Despite having played a number of new material before an album’s release date, Sult states that the band have always been playing something fresh out of their rehearsal space at every show that hasn’t even been completed. So, there’s a very good chance that Clutch will be playing something even newer than “Book of Bad Decisions” at future shows, while remaining on their promo game for the record.
“One of the things with Clutch is that we’re always playing our newest ideas live. If we just have one riff, we’ll throw it out and play it as an intro just for fun to practice and see how it goes. So, we’ve been playing different versions of a lot of new songs that have been on the album for several years now. But since we’ve recorded the album, we’ve turned it down to four songs that we were playing live before the album comes out. We’ve been playing the four songs of the videos that we’ve made, so far. This is probably the most promo stuff we’ve ever done before an album, and we’ve never done four videos for an album ever, much less four videos before the album came out.”