Neil Fallon isn’t a stoner. The lead singer of Clutch, Fallon is used people claiming that his band is meant for latter-day Jeff Spicolis, guys who host smoke-outs in their conversion vans and consider the munchies a God-given right. And sure, the group’s sludgy rock bows down to the sweet leaf, pulling heavily from the original dark lords of kind bud, Black Sabbath. But that doesn’t mean Clutch is stoner rock. Fallon wants that perfectly clear.
“As a moniker, I think it’s absolutely juvenile,” Fallon says. “But the bands that are called that—I love all those bands. But I think it insults the value of the music. We end up in the category simply because there’s nothing better to put us in. But just because Eric Clapton wrote a song about cocaine, they don’t call him cocaine rock.”
To say Clutch is just your average-Joe rock band doesn’t work either, though. As dark and thick as an oil spill, the West Virginia-based quartet bangs out the kind of fuzzy, sweaty rock that’s meant for guys who grew up on Dungeons & Dragons and still listen to Mountain. A puffy coat of distortion surrounds each song. You can feel the blood oozing through your ears while Fallon screams the virtues of pure rock fury. You can almost sense the MC5’s Wayne Kramer in the background, waiting to kick out the jams.
It’s a stark contrast to the kurrent krop of bands that konsider every word should be spelled with a K—third-rate nü metal men who give shout-outs to the hard streets of the suburbs. There’s hardly any rap here—only the new tune “Careful With That Microphone” has anything to do with the Total Request Live-friendly hybrid, and that’s only as a joke. And Clutch isn’t just a bunch of bouncy riffs and male bravado. There’s politics, pop culture and even some social commentary underneath that thick blanket of guitar lint. Fallon says it’s part of the reason the group hasn’t had more mainstream success; millennium audiences just don’t want to think.
“The stuff that’s the most popular is the lowest common denominator,” Fallon says. “Heavy music has almost become a parody of itself. It seems it always happens. Something blows up and a hundred bands try to ride the coattails and it ends up being a joke. That’s not us. We do what we do strictly for our own entertainment.”
Not that Clutch wouldn’t like the exposure of a band like Staind. It’s part of the reason the band has been playing the record label shuffle for the last few years. Right after the group first formed it hooked up with East/West, a subsidiary of Atlantic, releasing two albums there. By ’98 the group was on Columbia. But the group only got one album out before the label cut Clutch free. The band tried to set up its own label, releasing the disc Jam Room on its River Roads Records. It sold well at shows and over the Internet, but “we’re only four guys in a band,” Fallon says. “We can’t shop a record ourselves.”
And Fallon says the group has always had a dream to be on the radio. Despite any cries of sell-out from the sludge rock underground, Clutch decided to actively pursue a larger audience. So, the quartet went back to its roots, re-signing with Atlantic. The group released Pure Rock Fury earlier this year. It’s been their most successful record to date.
“Some people might be more weary of commercial success versus street cred for a band that’s been around less time than we have,” Fallon says. “But we’ve been doing this for 10 years. If this gets us on the radio and we make some people disillusioned in the process, well, that’s fine. We’ve never tried to pass ourselves off as the most D.I.Y. band in the world. The irony is if you listen to our music, it doesn’t sound that radio-friendly. But it seems to be working.”
Maybe it’s because people are just ready to return to rocking out, image and MTV be damned. And Clutch is all about rock. From opening track, the murky and menacing “American Sleep,” to the live version of the band’s anthemic “Spacegrass” tacked on at the end, Pure Rock Fury is as brutal as seven-car pile-up—crunching metal slamming and melding into itself. Rusty Wallace’s guitar roars as Fallon barks out surreal pop culture commentary like a guy that’s been hanging out with Kurt Loder too long.
And if there was any doubt about Clutch’s commitment to old-school rock, Pure Rock Fury sports a track that the band co-wrote with Mountain guitarist Leslie West. According to Fallon, West had heard a Clutch record through a mutual friend and like it. Eventually the band ended up on stage with West, performing some old Mountain songs. “After that he said he had a riff that he thought we could pull off,” Fallon says. West came and hung out at the studio, working with Fallon on the lyrics. The result is the funky mud of “Immortal.” Fallon is still blown away by the fact he got to work with one of his heroes.
“The fact that it was Leslie West—it doesn’t get much more flattering than that,” Fallon says. “I mean, he was Hendrix’s favorite guitarist. And you listen to those old Mountain records, it’s hard to believe how heavy they were. They were really ahead of their time. The stuff he played 30 years ago, people are just picking up on now. That’s impressive.”
Who knows, maybe people will talk about Clutch the same way.
Clutch with In Flames and Murphy’s Law. DV8, 115 S. West Temple (539-8400), Saturday, May 12, 8 p.m.