I recently had the pleasure to sit down and chat with Tim Sult of Clutch. After 25 years of performing together, Clutch continues to grow in their creativity and careers. Interesting, catchy and thunderous riffs help power the band’s sound, and Tim takes time to talk about that process and what keeps the band thriving in a uncertain industry.
Guitar Connoisseur: Can you talk about the success & longevity of Clutch, and some of the keys to keeping it continuously moving forward?
Tim Sult: For us personally, it’s been the fact that we always continue to work on new music. You know, we’ve never stopped writing. That’s really what it’s all about, trying to be creative and trying to throw some new ideas into what you do. To me it’s pretty simple, but I guess to an outsider it looks completely insane, that a band would be together for 25 years playing this kind of music and playing small-ish shows. But also, one of the things is that show wise, our shows just tend to get a little bit bigger. There’s never been a time like in the nineties, where we were like a huge band drawing 10,000 people, and then we had to go back to the riding around in a van, playing to 500 people. It’s been a slow growing process, so I think that’s really helped, you know, keep us excited about the whole thing.
GC: There are subtle elements of many different styles within the band’s sound, what are your personal influences and how do they relate to influences of the other members.
TS: You know, we all listen to different kinds of music, and we all have lots of things musically in common. Our drummer, in particular, listens to a huge amount of jazz music, so I would say he’s probably the most different as far as that goes. But, you know, we are into, and are influenced by the same things and that changes all the time. You know, when we started off, we were more of a heavier kind of band, you know, we thought we were like Helmet, the Melvins or Jesus Lizard. Then we started touring and actually playing shows every night, and a lot of different influences kind of started seeping in from there. It was the early nineties, so there wasn’t as much instant access to music. So, when we were in our early to mid twenties and thirties, you know, we were still discovering music. We were discovering the entire Black Sabbath catalog, and we were listening to electric Miles Davis for the first time.
GC: Walk us through the creative process of the band. How developed are the ideas when they are brought to the band?
TS: It really depends on the song I guess. Some ideas are a little bit more developed than others. I guess at best, someone will come in with three riffs that go together, otherwise we just have one riff and we start beating it up. You know, try to get a couple different ideas and hopefully Neil will put a vocal idea over top of it. Then from there, we’ll start really making it into a real song. We have lots of musical ideas that really don’t get used. So, we just throw out as many musical ideas as humanly possible. Then, whatever Neil finds something that he wants to sing on, we’ll focus on that
GC: With having such a long history with the other members of the band, do feel there is sort of a shorthand in your communication while writing together?
TS: Maybe. I think maybe just with experience, that has come. The later albums are definitely a lot more rehearsed, and a lot more thought-out. Whereas, with the earlier stuff, we were just going into the studio with ideas and jamming stuff out and laying stuff down, before there were any vocals on top of them. Whereas nowadays, we have the fully completed song before we go into the studio. That’s kind of the difference in the whole songwriting process for us. I think maybe we’re more prepared. Where now, we write more songs than we used to. Back in the old days, like for example our second album, that is basically everything that we had at the time. You know, all our musical ideas at the time. Whereas, what you’re hearing now, on Psychic Warfare, that’s about a quarter of what we actually rehearsed and laid down. So, I think nowadays we just have more time, and we have our own rehearsal studio, which is awesome. So, I think a lot of it, has to do with that.
GC: You manage to achieve a pretty heavy & aggressive sound at times without a ton of distortion, not unlike like AC/DC, can you talk a little bit about that? Is it in the delivery or the material?
TS: I think it’s a little of both. Also, just me being influenced by more like a 70s kind of guitar sound. You know, more of a natural or organic guitar tone is something that I’ve been going for for the really long time now. Ever since I started figuring out what guitar tones were.
GC: You actually touched on my next question a bit. I was going to ask you how you achieve your more organic tone and what your current rig is.
TS: My rig is pretty much a constantly changing entity, and actually for the past year, I’ve been playing Orange heads exclusively. This is really the first time I’ve ever had two heads that I’ve played on stage for that long of a of a time. You know, back in the past I would just go through amps constantly. But within the past year, I have been playing Orange amps and I would say that the newer ones come closer to the tone that I was always looking for in an older Orange amp. Because, I bought my first Orange amp in the mid-nineties, and it was literally the most incredible sounding amp I’ve ever heard, and it would also last for about 3 or 4 shows before I had to get it fixed. So, it looks like nowadays Orange doesn’t really have any issues with reliability, which I am very, very happy with. So, I have been playing those. But, on the album, I didn’t play those because I didn’t have my Oranges yet. On the album I played a 1959 Fender Bassman, and I played a Marshall JCM 800 with a 1959 reissue Les Paul. I was trying to go for more of a aggressive kind of Free sound, you know, the band Free? Like an aggressive version of that tone, I don’t know If I came anywhere near that, but that’s what I heard in my head when we were practicing.
GC: Yeah, it sound great man! Did you use any pedals or just the distortion from the heads?
TS: On the recording of the album there is a lot a lot of Big Muff on there. But, whenever I try to use distortion live, it never works. It never sounds good live. So, I don’t don’t and I don’t miss it at all. But in the studio though, I’m open to using it and there are definitely a lot of tracks with Big Muff on there. So, you know, I guess my live tone is a bit different than on the album but, there’s also multi-tracking on the album.
GC: You incorporate a lot of open strings in your riffs, and I was wondering, besides Drop D tuning, have you experimented much with various altered or open tunings?
TS: I personally do not do that. I just kind of go between E and Drop D. However Neil, our singer, for a lot of the songs, he does use open tunings. Like for Regulator, for Electric Worry, and for a few of the other bluesier type songs, he does use open tunings.
GC: Some of your riffs venture into odd time signatures, when that happens, it sounds very organic and natural, is that ever a conscious choice, or do they just come out that way?
TS: Sometimes it’s a conscious choice for sure, and sometimes we do it to give the lyrics a little more space, or to condense it a little bit, to make it sound a little weird. But sometimes if you just if you just drop a note from a riff, it just totally changes it makes it so much more weird. So, I mean, we don’t do it just to do it, we do it because it sounds good. Our bass player Dan, is especially awesome at writing odd time riffs, that don’t sound like they’re in odd time. And the album Elephant Riders I would say, showcases that side of Clutch the most.
GC: Can you tell us how the industry is different for you now as opposed to when you were just breaking, and how releasing material on your own label differs from to being on a major label?
TS: Well, yeah, as you know, when we were young and in our early twenties, for some reason, we ended up signed to a major label. So, I would say back then, we had no experience dealing with anything, much less labels. We had no idea what we were doing. I mean, I didn’t even know what monitors were on stage. That’s how new and green we were. But, as far as working with the major labels back in the old days, we never really had a huge problem, they never really tried to force anything on us. Everyone that we work with seemed to truly like the band. They were just more, you know, they always wanted us to write songs in a normal radio arrangement, which we naturally do anyway. So, that wasn’t a huge problem.
As far as the industry changing, I would say it’s basically gone now. You know? There’s no more expensive lunches in Manhattan, there’s no more getting signed to labels and tour support or recording in nice studios. All that totally went away, especially for rock bands, or heavy rock bands. But, we’ve managed to take control of our own career. I think at this point, we own every single one of our albums, other than the four major label ones. Even though sales have declined, and supposedly the music industry is dead, we have control of everything. We sell our own vinyl, our own CDs, we sell our own merchandise, and our shows are bigger and better than they’ve ever been.
GC: Do you think with taking control of the business side, you now have more confidence in the direction of your career? How has that effected the band and the relationships within the band?
TS: Honestly, it’s become a lot easier for us. We have a great label manager, he’s been really great, and we have a manager. We only have two outside people that really help with the business side of it. So, I think it really helps to have as few people involved in the whole process as possible. So, there’s the four of us and then our manager and the label manager. And somehow, between the six of us, we managed to take the whole thing to the next level and it’s been absolutely amazing.
GC: What do you think some of your best pairings were while touring with other bands and why? Plus, were there any, that just didn’t make sense to you or the audiences.
TS: Personally, I always loved playing with COC, Corrosion of Conformity. We toured with them many times. We probably toured with them more than any other band that we’ve ever toured with. We did a tour with Mastodon that I thought was particularly awesome. But, back in the nineties we were an opening band, and yeah, there were definitely some weird pairings back in the nineties and maybe early 2000s. I think a lot of our fans were very confused when we toured with Marilyn Manson and Limp Biscuit. I mean, that’s what was out there, there weren’t any other bands for us to open for, and we had the opportunity to open for bands that were bigger than us, and we took those opportunities.
GC: Although some of the pairings may have seemed strange to some of your fans, how do you think that worked for you, being introduced to the fans of some of those bands.
TS: I think any band that we tour with, is a beneficial move for us. Surprisingly, our shows go over pretty well, no matter what kind of band we are playing with. Whether we are playing with Motorhead or, you know, a few years ago, we did a European tour with Volbeat, and that was actually the biggest tour that we had ever done. And ever since then, our shows in Europe, have been better, especially in Germany and German speaking countries in particular. So, I think it’s always good for us when we open for other bands, even if our fans are sometimes disappointed that we only play for 45 minutes.
GC: Can you talk about the similarities & differences between Clutch tours here in the US, and your tours overseas?
TS: Honestly, the crowds are very, very similar, but I would say that European crowds are maybe a little bit more well-behaved, and American crowds like to drink and party a little bit more. I think that’s the main difference. They party over there as well, it’s just here it’s a little more “go for it” situation over here. Whereas over there, they are a little more concerned about how to ride their bikes home.
GC: Well Tim, thank you very much for your time and we thank you and your band for continuing to make killer music after all these years. It makes it a pleasure for all of us.
TS: Awesome! Thank you for the compliment. That rules!
GC: Thank you and we look forward to seeing you out on the road
TS: Awesome! Thanks a lot for having me!
Head on over to Clutch’s official site where you can purchase a copy of their latest Album: Psychic Warfare
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