El Rojo is the second album from Clutch offshoot The Bakerton Group. Released through the band’s own Weathermaker Music label, it finds guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer J.P. Gaster joined by Clutch vocalist Neil Fallon, completing the foursome and making it so that any time these dudes walk into a room, you could yell out, “Hey, it’s Tim, Dan, J.P. and Neil from –” and be right with either band name.
Comparing a Bakertons record to anything but the band’s alter ego would be pointless, but there are different influences at work in the two bands. El Rojo, like the self-titled which preceded it, boasts a jazzier tinge, hooked up fusion-style with Sult‘s guitar and the inimitable groove held down by Maines and Gaster. Mostly instrumental, even Fallon, whose guitar abilities audiences have watched grow at Clutch shows over the years, adds a unique personality to songs like “Peruvian Airspace” and “Last Orbit.” “Work ‘Em” even has some words, but not much. Don’t go into it thinking you’re getting a Clutch record.
Maines rang up the valley for the phoner below to discuss his bands’ ever-evolving sustainability — they tour constantly, are more popular than ever, have their own label and can now basically open for themselves — how their touring and writing processes work and even a bit about the new Clutch record. You can click the Maryland flag below to listen and read along after the jump if you so choose.
I think having The Bakerton Group allows us to play styles of music that we were interested in playing but didn?t necessarily fit in the mold of Clutch. It kind of frees us up to explore different styles of music without having to feel like we had to squeeze it into a Clutch song. Putting something in there that doesn?t necessarily fit, but forcing it in because you wanted to try something new. It actually makes Clutch?s music a little more focused.
So you guys have a definite idea of what a Clutch song is, then.
More or less. Sometimes we will be writing a song with no intentions of it being either a Clutch or Bakerton Group song and it really comes down to whether Neil feels like the song is suited for vocals, and if it is, then it becomes a Clutch song.
There are definitely parts on the record that sound kind of Clutch-y.
It is the same guys (laughs), so it?s gonna be hard to get away from that completely.
How much of El Rojo was written while you guys were touring?
We don?t really do a lot of writing on tour. What we usually do is get a lot of ideas down while we?re at home and then just sort of fine tune them while we?re on tour. We?ll play songs live that we feel are together enough to present to people but it?ll most likely change somewhat before we actually go into the studio. I guess we do primarily about 80 percent of the song before we actually decide to play it, and then we?ll tweak it on stage here and there. We actually have a small recording system that we bring with us too that we bring with us so we can either set up something in the dressing room or even, if we?re traveling on a bus, then we?ll set up on the bus too, that we can get ideas down on the road if need be.
Were you guys writing yet when Mick [Schauer, organ] left? The timing of that kind of confused me.
No. We did all of the writing after he stopped playing.
It was just a decision to bring the instrumentation back to its original form, which was just drums, guitars and bass. That?s the way most songs were written and we weren?t really consciously thinking that we were going to get somebody to play keys on the entire album, it just kind of ended up that way (laughs). The idea of getting Per [Wiberg; Spiritual Beggars, Opeth] on the record came after we had already been writing the songs, and then once he was on board, we had an opportunity to play some of the songs with him live before we even went into the studio, and it just became the obvious direction to just have him play on everything.
Is there a schism there or is the door still open for keys on the next Clutch and going on with The Bakerton Group?
I think so. I wouldn?t say that there?s not going to be any keys on the next Clutch record, but we just haven?t gotten to that point yet. As of now, we?re just making bass, guitars, drums.
I was at the Starland Ballroom show back in December and I had thought that The Bakerton Group was opening that show. I was apparently mistaken. When The Bakerton Group is opening, do you guys do less jamming as Clutch?
(Laughs) I don?t think so. I think that The Bakerton Group?s sets, when Clutch and Bakerton Group play together, I don?t think The Bakerton Group?s set really affects the Clutch set too much. The Clutch set?s really gonna be whatever it?s gonna be and The Bakerton Group sets are usually so short that I think we probably jam less in Bakerton Group sets than with Clutch because we have such limited time the six or seven songs. But it?s hard to tell because there aren?t any vocals and the songs primarily are just regimented jams within themselves. But actually just tacking on an additional three or four minutes to a song is something you?re more likely to see in a Clutch set than in a Bakerton Group set.
Another thing about playing live is that as Clutch, you?ve done shows with two sets, two hour, two and a half hour shows. When Bakerton Group really got going and you figured out you could basically open for yourselves, was there a minute there were pulling double duty might have seemed a bit much?
(Laughs) Yeah, there was a little bit of concern when we first did the ?evening with? shows, which was pretty much a Bakerton Group for 45 minutes and then Clutch playing for about two to two and a half hours. We weren?t sure ourselves if that was something that was really a good idea, but it turned out that we could pull it off and I think that the majority of the people who came out appreciated it. I think we?ll probably end up doing something like that again.
It was a hell of a show.
It?s a lot of fun for us.
Are there songs you wish you could play that you never get to, or does it all pretty much get covered?
Sometimes it?s kind of hard to as on any given tour that you?re gonna be able to pull from every album, any song that you want to, because at this point you?re talking about 70 or 80 songs, at least. It?s kind of hard to be able to just pull one of the songs off when you really haven?t thought about it for four or five months. We?ll try and narrow it down to a pool of 30-35 songs that we?ll rotate. The way that it works for us is we each take turns writing the set each night, and so you?re gonna have a different set list each night, but I would say probably 60 percent of the material is gonna be consistent from the previous night. You can?t really say that every song is up for grabs, because we just don?t rehearse the songs enough to be able to do that.
There?s just too much stuff.
Yeah, there?s a lot of stuff (laughs).
Right now, we?re doing primarily stuff off the new record. The new record, El Rojo, has 10 songs on it that we?ll be playing at least six or seven songs from, and then we have an album previous to this one that we?ll be playing some songs from. Then we had an EP that was the initial release from The Bakerton Group that came out in? as early as 2000, maybe even earlier; ?99. Those three songs we haven?t played in so long, I don?t think we?re gonna end up playing any of those on this run.
I guess that was back ? there was a compilation on Spitfire or Eagle, one of those labels.
Yeah, we had a couple of those. “Mainstream” is one, “The Mack” and “The Old Bait and Switch.”
It was some point before you decided to put out the last album, obviously, but at what point did you really decide to focus on The Bakerton Group aside from Clutch?
It was probably when we put out that last self-titled Bakerton album. We weren?t really interested in finding a label. We were pretty comfortable with just printing up the albums ourselves and selling them at shows. I guess ? ah! There?s a Chevy Caprice Classic driving by and the wheels on it are huge! Gotta be 30 inch rims. I mean, my god. They?re huge. ? Yeah. When we decided to form the Weathermaker label, that was when the idea of really taking The Bakerton Group seriously as something that could be as equally successful as Clutch, taking that idea 100 percent. That was probably the impetus for moving The Bakerton Group up a notch and not just thinking of it as a side-project.
Now that you guys have Weathermaker and it?s yours, it?s your label, and you have total control, how much of Clutch has become a job? You guys tour, all the time. In New York, it seems like, 2007 into last year, every six weeks, Clutch was coming around. How much is that a job for you guys, and is The Bakerton Group an answer to that, where you can go and be freer musically?
Not really. Clutch has been our job for the last? the band has existed for 18 years and for the vast majority of those years, that?s been our income, so in that sense, it?s our job. But it?s never felt like a job. At least it hasn?t yet. I just can?t imagine it getting to that point, honestly, because this is what we would be doing in our free time anyway. But when you talk about creating your own label and especially being involved in two bands on that label, it?s a lot of work in that sense. It?s a very serious, real job, but it?s the only job that I would want to have right now.
Is it a different kind of pressure, since it?s all from and on you guys?
If there is pressure, it?s self-inflicted, because you?re setting the deadline on something. It?s your responsibility and you have to answer to yourself and you?re kind of shooting yourself in the foot if you don?t carry through with it. We just made a very dense and busy schedule for ourselves right from the get-go. We?re planning on putting out one?Clutch record, one Bakerton Group record, at the very least, and a DVD just within the time frame of two years. That?s a lot of work for any band, I think, and it just compounds the fact that you?re the one actually putting it out, too. But it?s working out well for us so far. The DVD?s been in stores since late last year.
That?s Full Fathom Five.
Yeah, and the CD that came along with it. Those are two things that I think turned out pretty well because it?s easy to put out a DVD, I think, but for me, it has to be something that the video quality would have to be good, the sound quality would have to be good, and I was actually pleasantly surprised with the way ours came out. The Bakerton Group record, you know it?s funny. I think having Neil in The Bakerton Group definitely makes it easier to write songs that can easily fall into either the Bakerton Group category or the Clutch, just because that decision can be make as you?re writing it, whereas before, when he wasn?t in The Bakerton Group writing process, we would write a song and then, if we thought it might, it maybe could be a Clutch song, we?d have to present it to him. Now the process is very easy.
Actually, I wanted to ask you about bringing Neil on board for The Bakerton Group. It seems like it could be kind of a funny situation where you?re already in a band with a guy and you?re like, ?Hey, you wanna come join this band??
Yeah. It would have happened like that from day one, but the time that the idea of The Bakerton Group coming together ? at the time, he was living out of state, and it was just something that kind of came about at a time when he wasn?t readily available to jam with us. I think if he was there, then obviously he would have been in the band in the beginning. But it was (laughs), it was kind of funny.
With this record out and touring, etc., how much is written for the next Clutch?
This tour goes on until the first of March, and we are planning on going into the studio basically a week after that to record the Clutch. We have about eight songs, or eight song ideas that we?re gonna flesh out through this tour and write a couple of new ones on top of that. We?re trying to do somewhere around two to three new songs a night and we?ll switch them up and just kind of smooth out the rough edges.