Five Years Ago: Clutch Find a New Gear With ‘Earth Rocker’
On Oct. 17, 2012, in a secret New Jersey location, before a select invited audience, Clutch performed the title track of their upcoming album Earth Rocker for the first time. (You can watch the moment above.)
All the band trademarks were present – crunch, groove and Neil Fallon’s preacher-style delivery – but there was something else: the old energy combined with new refinement and unmistakable confidence. If some fans had started to think Clutch were done with, the thought was banished when Earth Rocker arrived on March 15, 2003.
The process of making the follow-up to 2009’s Strange Cousins From the West had involved conscious reconsideration of everything the Maryland quartet did. They decided to reunite with producer Machine, who helped deliver 2004’s fan-favorite Blast Tyrant, and with that came the decision to complete the songs before entering the studio, as opposed to jamming during recording sessions.
“Honestly, I think a lot of it can be attributed to us working with Machine,” guitarist Tim Sult told Premier Guitar. “His production style is a little more dialed in. He helped us really give shape to things prior to entering the studio. We don't normally enter the studio haphazardly and decide ‘let's make a record.’ But our ideas aren't as solidified or the direction isn't 100 per cent figured out, so in the past that has led us to dwell on songs or solos too long and things tend to get overworked or extended.”
Watch Clutch's 'Earth Rocker' Video
Sult added that they’d never been more focused before a recording session. “We actually talked about the kind of record we wanted to make," he recalled. "And that hadn’t really happened before. Generally, we just get together and just jam, and our favorite things are the ones that end up being on the record. This time, I think we wrote the same way, but I think we really edited ourselves more and I think we had a real vision of what kind of record we wanted to make much sooner than we had with other albums.”
Clutch had been rethinking their approach to songwriting as they toured with Motorhead and Thin Lizzy. “Watching those guys play every night was very inspiring on a number of levels,” drummer Jean-Paul Gaster told Hellbound. “We realized there was really a lack of just straight up rock 'n' roll records coming out these days. So I think we wanted to make something that was, front to back, a very focused kind of a recording. A very efficient kind of recording. One that had good energy from the very beginning to the end.”
Listen to Clutch's 'Crucial Velocity'
The album’s reception suggested they’d achieved just that, with nods to their past merging effectively with their new attitude – almost back to basics, but with a twist. The title track and the album's second song, “Crucial Velocity,” were both unforgiving while still controlled; “Unto the Breach” borrowed from their hardcore beginnings; “Book, Saddle & Go” offered a more traditional take on stoner rock; and “Gone Cold” – written simply because they realized they needed a slower song – deviated from the relentless grind.
Fallon recalled being surprised when Machine let them hear the rough mixes, since they had recorded their parts with him separately. “He kind of pushed us to go even faster. At first, it sounded cartoonish to us, but we just weren't accustomed to that and then we got used to it,” he told Loudwire. “I'm glad he did that because we've been a band for 22 years and it's easy to get into a comfort zone. And then towards the end when Machine did some rough mixes for us where he unmuted all the tracks, it was pretty astonishing. I wasn't aware of all the multiple tracks they had done and I'm sure all those guys weren't aware of all the tracks I had done. It was a fun surprise. Machine knows what he's doing but for us it was an unorthodox way of doing business.”
Listen to Clutch's 'Gone Cold'
Fallon’s lyrics included many direct and indirect references to the state of the rock world, including the line “If you’re going to do it, do it live onstage or don’t do it at all” in “Earth Rocker.” Clutch were sure the album would transfer well onto the stage, and every song they chose seemed to do just that. “I think this is a record we could easily play from front to back,” the frontman said, adding that the change of energy in “Gone Cold” had come across very effectively. “Sometimes playing quietly shocks the shit out of people, more so than blowing their heads away with amplification,” he noted.
The band's follow-up album, Psychic Warfare, brought them their first Top Rock Albums No.1 in 2015, but that success was doubtlessly fueled by Earth Rocker, which proved to be a master blend of youthful energy and performance experience.