EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH CLUTCH BASSIST DAN MAINES (+ FREE BAKERTON GROUP MP3!)
MetalSucks contributor Christopher Roddy recently had the chance to chat with Clutch bassist Dan Maines. The two spoke about the band’s recently released live CD/DVD Full Fathom Five, side project The Bakerton Group, the band’s internal chemistry and what it’s taken to keep the same group of guys together for such a long time. Check out the interview below the fold.
Okay. I wanted to start with the fairly relentless touring schedule you guys have had since Beale Street was released. With the declining economy, the high gas prices and food prices, how has that affected the cost of this touring experience?
It didn’t really have too much of an impact as far as people coming out to the shows as far as I could tell. I think that maybe in general people might have been a bit more selective as to what shows they were going to. The last tour that we were on did pretty well. That one ended just about a month ago. It was a full U.S. tour, and it was over 5 weeks long, and it wasn’t much different than any of the other tours that we usually do.
What about costs incurred by the band?
That went up. The fuel prices went up, but it gets absorbed one way or another in t-shirt sales or something like that. It was doable. It wasn’t the kind of thing where we were debating whether to cut it short. It was a good one.
So how would you compare this particular jaunt with outings in support of previous albums? Are the crowds getting bigger? Are they more enthusiastic especially coming off of such a great album that you guys put out last year?
Thank you. Yeah the shows are getting bigger, and we are kind of in a position now where we can play cities that we really haven’t played before. You know the kind of cities, for the most part, bands just kind of drive past. We had some pretty interesting shows. We played Missoula, Montana and Aspen [Colorado]. There are just strange places that we never really thought about going to.
Yeah, I would say that Aspen was one of those for sure. There were a lot of hairy kittens in there because we did come in when the weather was cold, so there was a lot of snow and ice. It was kind of treacherous getting there, but once we got there it was great. It was a small club that, I would say, held about 500 people. So it was tight and intimate. When you play places that bands don’t normally go to, it just makes the crowd that much more enthusiastic about you being there.
Right. Are there any other locales that you’ve been wanting to visit and tour but haven’t gotten a chance to yet?
Definitely. We’re kind of expanding our European routing. Just over the last couple of years we’ve really expanded where we’ve played in areas like Scandinavia. Originally we were focusing on places like Germany, Italy, and France. Germany is always awesome, but Italy and France have been hard markets to do really well in. So we were focusing less on those areas and started hitting places like Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Those places are bad ass. I don’t know what it is about the city of Oslo, but we draw larger crowds there than we do in our hometown.
It’s beautiful too, isn’t it?
Yes it’s amazing.
Did you get much of a chance to sight-see?
Sometimes. We played some places like, I can’t remember the name of the city right now, but it’s so far north in Norway that for about 4 months of the year the sun actually never sets. That was an amazing town.
That makes the hangover much easier to tolerate.
Yeah I guess so. We never played areas like in South America. We have never been down there. We’ve had a lot of friends in other bands tell us that Greece is the place to go to. We haven’t made it over there yet. Those are areas we are definitely are working on.
Word has it that you guys are currently recording on another Bakerton Group release. How’s it going?
Yeah we are kind of right in the middle of that right now. It’s awesome. We finished all of the tracking. We recorded this album at the same place that we did the last full length Bakerton album, and that is with J. Robbins in Baltimore. He used to be in Government Issue and Jawbox. He’s in a couple of other bands right now as well, but he really spends most of his time recording. He’s got a great studio in Baltimore. We finished the tracking last week, and he is mixing now. He’s probably halfway through mixing. That should be finished and in stores by the middle of February.
Great. So why did it take so long from the inception of the Bakerton Group project from putting out the 3 songs to the first full length which didn’t come out until 2 years ago?
Yeah. I don’t know why it took so long. I guess it’s because we were so busy with Clutch and the Bakerton Group has always been something in the past that we were focusing on when we weren’t doing anything else. Within the last year we’ve made a lot of changes within our organization. We created our own label that is just focusing on releasing stuff that we produce. That really kind of kick started the Bakerton Group as far as it becoming a real band that puts out albums on a regular basis. We’ll even do tours just as the Bakerton Group now instead of having the Bakerton Group open for Clutch. Which is the way it was in the past. Now it’s the idea of just touring solely as the Bakerton Group and really pushing it as a legitimate band and not just a side project.
Absolutely. We for the last 2 years had the guy playing keyboards with us.
Mick, exactly, and we decided to drop a lot of the instrumentation from Clutch because at the time we were deciding where we wanted to go. We were adding more and more instrumentation to the music, which was great, but it kind of lacked focus at the same time. So we just decided to scale back to the bare bones original 4 lineup. When we did that, that’s when Neil started to play with the Bakerton Group and kind of filled in the space that was left open when Mick wasn’t playing. Neil has always contributed keyboard parts to Clutch songs. So he was able to kind of fill in where what normally Mick was doing on keys, Neil could either do on the keys himself or play on the guitar. It turns out he was more comfortable playing guitar. He does contribute a lot. He plays guitar predominately on the new Bakerton album. I think he plays keys on a couple of songs, but for the majority of the album we ended up getting Per [Wiberg] from Opeth to play.
You played live with him too, haven’t you?
Yeah, we did a few shows with him live on this European run that we did earlier in the year. Then just on the last run when Opeth was touring the States the same time we were. Our shows overlapped on one date, and we had him play the entire Bakerton Group set with us, and I think that was in Kansas City. That was rad. He’s just one of those musicians who relearned the songs 2 hours before we went on stage to play.
On that topic, you guys have been around for almost 2 decades and there have been no lineup changes which is really rare for groups who have been around that long. Save for the addition of Mick on the organ for awhile, it has been this core group of 4 guys for this whole time. You guys have known each other since high school, right?
Yeah, I knew Neil since junior high school. Then in high school I met Tim and J.P. Tim was actually a year ahead of us.
How do you do it? How do the interactions work so well that you’ve managed to remain together for so long? What’s your secret?
I don’t know. I think we all kind of have very similar personalities which is the biggest thing. We never really have any conflicts. I think we’re all usually on the same page. I think there’s not one person within the band that is really trying to push in one direction or another. We kind of just let it happen. It truly is kind of a democracy in the group. I don’t know, we just get along.
So my wife is a big Ace of Cakes fan, and she pointed out this episode where Neil’s sister makes the Orange Amp cake for the 9:30 Club.
I never saw anyone eat that thing. Be honest, how was it?
You know I never got a slice.
Oh my god.
I never got one. It was a cake that was made for this guy Ed Stack who is a good friend of ours. He is the general manager of the 9:30 Club in D.C. I don’t know. I guess he ate it.
I don’t want to get off the music, I just thought that was kind of funny and bring it up.
It was pretty cool. He’s made some pretty cool cakes. He made my wedding cake. He made a groom cake for me as well which was a small cake that was the shape of a Rickenbacker headstock. It was chocolate and it was great.
How long have you been married now?
Does the touring put stress on the relationship? What about kids?
It does. Yeah, I have kids too. That’s one of the things that definitely makes it difficult to tour. We try to tour smart and do it in a way where we can stay on the road at least 5 or 6 months in the year but space it out in a way that doesn’t destroy personal lives.
Is everyone pretty family oriented?
I would say that definitely. We’re all married.
So over the years Clutch’s music has evolved to embrace even more bluesy elements as the albums have progressed than what was showcased in the early material. To what do you attribute the direction of your progression and do you guys still have it in you to write a raging hardcore track or record or are you going to continue down this path of more bluesy/mellowed out music? As far as the next release goes which I believe you’re going to be writing for a new album after the Bakerton release, do you have anything in store for that? Any new ideas? Is there any embracing of the classic elements or is it going to be more of what we got with Full Fathom Five and Beale Street?
It’s hard to say that we don’t have a capacity within us probably to write or the desire to write another Binge and Purge because that was, like you said, 2 decades ago. I think that the blues aspect wasn’t necessarily a conscious thing that happened. It was something that kind of crept into the music as we were writing it and maybe as we were playing the new material live. We generally like to take a riff or two and just kind of play them back and forth in front of an audience and really improvise as much as we can too to come up with a new direction or a new riff to complete that song. When you’re jamming like that I guess the easiest format is kind of a blues progression sometimes. That’s something that kind of led us into that direction. In our next up, we are always interested in but never really probably had the confidence within our own skills to try and pull it off.
So when you’re jamming and you’re coming up with these riffs, how do you differentiate between material better suited for Clutch release and something more comfortable on a Bakerton Group release?
That actually really depends on Neil and whether he feels that adding vocals would make it better or if it would detract. For me personally it is kind of hard for me to tell. I’m not going to be able to say “Well this is obviously something that Neil will be able to sing on.” It turns out that he could say “You know what? I can’t do it.” So it really kind of rests on his shoulders most of the time. I would say, in general, the Bakerton Group songs tend to be a little more funk oriented than Clutch songs, and that’s a big factor too. If you have something that is straight ahead rock then that’s a no brainer that it’s going to be a Clutch song. If it has a little more jazz influence song or funk than maybe it would be better suited as an instrumental.
Right. With all of these diverse elements in the music, what in particular inspired you, Dan, to get into music? In your childhood was there a specific experience that really opened the door for you? What made you pick up an instrument and learn how to play it?
I’d say I got my earliest musical influences probably from my older brother’s record collection when I was growing up. He had things like Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, and some more punk stuff like Bad Brains, Sex Pistols, and that kind of stuff. That stuff really attracted me because I was into bands like Jimi Hendrix obviously. That was probably the first record I bought; a Jimi Hendrix record. As soon as I heard his music, I wanted to be a guitar player. I got a guitar, but as I started listening to bands like the Clash or Bad Brains; simplified but heavy stuff, that’s what really inspired me to think that I could actually play in a band without having Jimi Hendrix’s chops.
When I met up with Tim and Neil and J.P., Tim had already been playing guitar for years. I figured “Well I’ll buy a bass. It can’t be that hard.” It turned out that it’s pretty hard. I picked it up, and that was good. I definitely feel much more inclined to be a bassist than a guitar player. As far as influences go, people like Jack Bruce were a huge influence on me. Even today I am still trying to learn what the hell he was doing. Darryl Jenifer from Bad Brains was a huge influence too.
Are there any old Clutch tracks, I mean you’ve put out so many albums at this point, is there stuff that given the finite period of time you have every night to play, are there songs that you wish that you could incorporate into the set list more often? And to counterbalance that, are there songs that you get tired of playing?
Absolutely. We do have a tendency to get bored with certain songs pretty easily. One of the things we try to do is not play the same set every night. That helps because instead of playing 20 songs, you can pick from 40 or 50 songs. We also try to play what we think that people are going to want to hear because we haven’t played them in a while or because they are new. Some of the older songs we just don’t play because honestly a lot of times it just doesn’t turn out. I don’t know, there are some songs that we don’t get tired of playing. It’s weird. Like with “Animal Farm” we’ve probably played that 80% of the set lists between now and the last 15 years. Then there are other songs like “A Shogun Named Marcus” where one of us will put it on the set list and we’ll be like “Jesus Christ again? Give it a break.” But then you think about it, and you haven’t played that song in like 6 months. I don’t know, you try not to burn yourself out. You try to play songs that people are going to want to hear, but songs that you’re going to want to play too. If you play a song that you really don’t want to play, the audience can tell. It’s a waste of time.
It’s the energy. The energy matters.
So with the release of the DVD for Full Fathom Five just a couple of months ago, why has it taken so long to put out a live show on video?
We have been working on this project for 5 years, and I think the problem was that we never really put enough money into it to really satisfy our expectations of what a live Clutch DVD would look like. Fortunately for us we hooked up with this guy [inaudible] who does awesome work for a relatively cheap price. It was just perfect timing. He came to us and said that he was interested in doing something for us. We looked at stuff that he had done in the past. He’s done work with Primus, and it was obvious that he knew what he was doing and the stuff was going to sound good as long as we played good. It was just one of those things where the pieces came together before it was meant to happen.
Are you guys happy with how it turned out then?
Absolutely, yeah. You are your own worst critic, but I think the stuff came out really well.
And we can expect to see more live offerings in the future?
Yes. I don’t know what’s next. We have been toying with the idea of putting out a DVD that’s a mixture of live footage and kind of like behind the scenes making of an album footage. Something along those lines will probably be the next project.
So are we going to get to see any of the behind the scenes blow ups that occur because you guys have been around for so long? I know you have them. Like stuff when you guys are on the tour bus and are at each other’s throats.
Yeah, we’ll flair up into one of those Kentucky Fried Chicken food fights that we’re known for.
So can Clutch withstand another couple of decades?
I hope so. I don’t know what else to do. I think, especially with the expanded role of the Bakerton Group, the more excited and the more ideas we come up with for Clutch. I’m really excited about what we’re going to be doing with this new label and just trying to put out records every 6 months.
I took a little bit more of the 15-20 minutes you gave me. So we can leave it at that. That’s fine. I really appreciate the time though, Dan.
No problem. Thank you!