EXCLUSIVE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW: NEIL FALLON OF CLUTCH
I recently had the opportunity to chat with vocalist Neil Fallon of the legendary Clutch. Fresh off some oddly-matched but nevertheless successful tours, first with Children of Bodom and Black Label Society then with Motorhead, Clutch were gearing up for a U.S. headlining run and the re-release of their classic album Blast Tyrant. We talked touring, said reissue, and the band’s success with and thoughts on running their own record label, Weathermaker Music. Our chat, across Beale Street.
First thing I wanted to ask you about is the Blast Tyrant reissue that you guys have coming out. Why did you decide it was time to reissue that album?
For the same reason we reissued Beale Street and Robot Hive. To make a long story short, we were rewarded those records in a judgment in a court case we had against DRT [One of Clutch’s many former record labels. -Ed.] because they owed us a large sum of money and couldn’t pay us. So we got these masters and a little of the money they owed us, and they hadn’t been in stores in quite some time so we released them in backwards sequential order with Blast Tyrant being the last of the releases we won in that case.
Got it. So how did you come to decide to do a 2 disc bonus feature with acoustic tracks and all that?
Well, with each record we had a bonus disc. These days it’s hard to sell CDs and since we’re doing it ourselves now, it’s all the more incentive to add more value to them. With this particular bonus CD, we had planned to do an acoustic EP completely unrelated to these re-releases; the timing was such that it seemed to make sense to morph the 2 together.
The rest of it is older stuff that had been sitting around. I think as far as dated material goes, the farther back we go in time the harder it is for us to find stuff. We had to dig a little bit for appropriate material for Blast Tyrant.
Are you happy with the way the bonus disc came out? Do you think that fans are going to be excited for it and that you are really delivering something with value?
I certainly hope so. I think a lot of fans will buy the record regardless. It’s hard for me to judge other than to say that I’m satisfied with it.
That’s most important of all. Talk a bit about your label. You mentioned before, and this is definitely one of the things that I want to focus on in this interview, what’s it like putting out all your own releases now?
It’s really liberating in a lot of ways. It’s also more work. Like most things, with more work there’s more reward. We have to wear different hats at different times, and I think that’s taken us a bit of time to do [well]. For example, when you’re thinking of album art, now all of a sudden we want to make an album package and start thinking “how much is this going to cost us?” When we were signed to labels, we never thought about that twice. But running your own label is so much more cost effective. You can actually put out better packaging because things are run much more efficiently. The label consists of the four guys in the band, our manager Jack Flanagan, and Jon Nardachone. That’s it. I think we do a better job than DRT ever did by leaps and bounds, and they had a dozen employees. I think for any band if you have the opportunity and the means to release your own material, I think you would be foolish not to do it.
Obviously you have frustrations with DRT, and before that you were on Atlantic. Is that right? And then somebody before that even. Who was that?
Prior to that was Atlantic, and before that it was Columbia. We were signed to Atlantic and Columbia. Even though they were different companies, they were very similar.
Over the years you’ve had a bunch of different label experiences. I’m sure you were frustrated at times. Now that you’re the guy doing the label, do you understand the other side of the coin a little bit or do you still feel like the guys at these labels were total losers?
[Laughs] There was no shortage of losers, that’s for sure.
First of all, the business models are completely different. Those major labels are in the business of doing one thing and one thing only and that’s selling platinum records. At a major label, a gold record is considered a failure. Maybe back in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s they could have fun and get into things like artist development which is sort of like hedging their bets in some ways. For us, there is only one band and we know what the band is going to sell. We don’t have any allusions that this record is going to be the watershed moment for us. We don’t think that way. We know that we’re probably going to sell X amount of records and then we’re going to tour on it for X amount of months or years and then we’ll do it again. Because of that, the money that gets moved around gets used much more wisely.
Looking back on the times that we were with major labels, I think we used them as much as they used us. There was a period of time when labels gave out something called “tour support” and maybe some still do. That allowed us to tour with a lot of bands over the years and put us in the position now where we are self-sufficient.
Do you think it’s hard for modern day artists who don’t necessarily have that support system for tour support and artist development to make a name for themselves and get to a position you guys are in now where you can run your own show?
I think there’s a couple of different elements to that equation. Because of the internet, bands can reach the world instantaneously. At the same time, it’s almost overwhelming how many bands are out there. It’s probably easy to get lost in the shuffle. But I don’t think the internet will ever replace getting in the van and touring and doing tour after tour where you’re playing for a handful of people. Usually if the music is great, it’ll do its own work. People will talk about it and that’s the best promotion you can ever ask for. I guess in some ways it’s easier but in some ways it is also harder because the playing field has been so leveled.
Yeah, I totally agree with you on that. Do you guys divide up the work at the label pretty evenly amongst the band members and Jon where everybody has their own role? Or does one guy sort of carry the lion’s share?
No, it’s all divided up fairly evenly. Jon does the bulk of the day-to-day work, and he understands the lingo that distributors and publicists use, and the different elements that go into putting out a record. He understands that language much better than we do. Our business meetings usually last no longer than five minutes, and then we decide we want to play rock music.
Which is a pretty good spot to be in.
Absolutely. Do you guys have any aspirations of putting out records of any band other than your own?
We have mixed feelings with that. When we first started out, we swore up and down no, no, no, no because we don’t want to be the bad guys on the other side of the desk. We know what it’s like to be misled. The path to hell is paved with good intentions and everybody is excited about starting a relationship, but sometimes those things go south and I don’t want to be that bad guy as a musician to another musician. Having said that, we are putting out . . . our manager Jack who is part of Weathermaker Music, his band the Mob, an NYHC band. I think they did their first gig in ’82. We’re kind of putting out an anthology of all of the Mob’s material, which is maybe testing out the waters a little. I’m certainly not going to go to nightclubs and start fishing around for the next hot new things. I’m entirely too lazy for that.
Well, yeah, no one has time to do that anymore or even the modern day version which is visiting Myspace or Facebook or Bandcamp pages. But if the ideal situation comes to you like that one with your manager, are you at least open to thinking about it?
Yeah. We had a series of very long conversations making sure that everything was crystal clear about what was going to happen and what wasn’t going to happen. I guess if we could do that with another band as long as everybody understood what was going to happen and that there were no known unknowns then I think we would at least entertain it.
The label is doing okay, then, it sounds like.
Yeah, it’s doing great. I think at the beginning, like a lot of small businesses, there were troubled waters and that kind of coincided with our lawsuit with DRT because all of the money that we would have put into starting the label got tied up with attorneys. Fortunately, it worked out in our favor and once that was put behind us, things started rolling. You can make more money now selling 10,000 records than you would have selling 100,000 fifteen years ago.
Sure. I guess that’s kind of the double edged sword of everybody selling less records is that it’s become more efficient.
Yeah, the thing is (and I’m trying to rack my brain where I read this): CD sales are down of course, but music listenership is bigger than it’s ever been as far as being able to find your niche. It’s a lot harder to do that but the demand is greater than ever; it’s just a matter of ferreting out those lines of communication to existing fans and potential new fans.
So shifting gears here a bit to touring, you guys just did a winter tour with Children of Bodom and Black Label Society which is kind of an odd match for you guys. How was that?
It was good. I think that when we were offered that tour we said the same thing, “that’s kind of odd,” but we also said that about Marilyn Manson. Those tours, when you put yourself out in a little bit of uncharted waters, you get a greater reaction. I think maybe people had heard of the band’s name but never actually heard us play. That was good. You can’t always preach to the converted.
Did you feel like you made a lot of new fans on that one?
It’s hard to say. I think the litmus test for that is when we go to those towns doing our own headlining show and we see how many Black Label t-shirts there are.
The same goes for Motörhead. I think there are a lot of fans on this last Motörhead tour that heard of us but had never heard us. Every band has to do that once in awhile – open up for another band. Hopefully you’ll see new fans when you have your own show.
There’s that. [But also] touring is what we do. We stop touring to make records; we don’t go on tour to support a record. We also want to try out some new songs and we have some pretty big shows in Europe this summer. I think we just want to stay sharp instead of going in cold and unrehearsed for a couple of months.
That sounds exciting. You guys are really always on the road, and it’s pretty damn impressive.
Thank you. It’s fun. There are days it’s not, but honestly the worst day of being in a rock band is better than the best day of sitting in a cubicle at a bank.
Oh god I know. I hear you.
We’ll probably record a record after the new year [2011/2012] which will probably put it at being out a year from now. That’s all I really got for the moment.
Awesome, man. Thank you once again. Enjoy your day.
No sweat. You too.