Clutch Interview; drummer Jean Paul Gaultier

It is amazing to me, to see that Clutch has not yet taken over the music world by storm yet. In my opinion, they are one of the most talented bands not only lyrically, but technically and creatively as well. Since Clutch’s start back in 1990, they have proved themselves to be one of those rock solid bands, that won’t be throwing the towel in any time soon. The followers that Clutch has are some of the most dedicated I’ve seen, and as a matter of fact, I am friends with a few of them. One of them actually just so happened to of gotten her very first tattoo (which turned into being a half sleeve) of Jesus on the dashboard. Tattoos are a big decision, and to dedicate half your arm to your favorite band, is pretty damn loyal, if you ask me…They must be doing something right, to gain that sort of dedication from their fans. I was fortunate to be able to sit with drummer Jean Paul for a few minutes, before their show at the Orbit Room, here in Grand Rapids:

Amanda: So when you guys were first starting out, and Dan and Neil started out playing guitar, who was this illusive first singer of Clutch?

Jean Paul: Well, we had a different singer and we weren’t Clutch back then; there was a guy named Roger Smalls, who we used to play with, who claimed he was as good as HR, and he only practiced a week. The trouble with Roger though, was that he didn’t want to play shows. We asked Neil to come play a gig, and I remember we were rehearsing with him, and I was like you know, that sounds pretty good, do you want to sing for us regular? And he thought I was saying basically ‘don’t yell’ just sing regularly. (laughs) So he was kind of confused by that. But yea, and then we changed the name to Clutch, and been playing like that since 1991.

Amanda: Are there any recordings of this earlier material?

Jean Paul: Yea, there’s some out there, but they’re pretty terrible.

Amanda: Are they? So nothing you’d want surfacing anytime soon then, right?

Jean Paul: No, no, it was pretty bad, and there are actually also some recordings of our old hardcore band, in which Neil used to sing in when we were back in high school. That was even before Clutch ever existed.

Amanda: Was that more of a grunge band?

Jean Paul: No, it was just bad hardcore. Really bad.

Amanda: Really bad, huh? Well it’s good to see you’ve progressed quite a bit since then.

Amanda: Now I know that you and Tim are technically trained and Dan’s playing is amazing as well. Would you say that your solid structure allows Neil the freedom to weave in his signature “free flow” lyrical stylings?

Jean Paul: I think Neil comes with all that stuff on his own, he comes up with all the lyrics, but the fact that we all study on our own, and we practice a lot, just makes up better players, and hopefully have better songs.

Amanda: What did you always want to be hen you ‘grew up’, other than a musician?

Jean Paul: I don’t know, I didn’t really have any real aspirations to do much of anything. In school, I wasn’t a particularly good student, I discovered drums and music when I was about 16 and drums was something I was pretty good at, even though I barely graduated high school. I figured out how to play drums pretty quickly. We were lucky enough to be able to get on the road almost immediately when we started playing, and after a couple years on the road I realized you know, this is what I’m here to do, I’m here to play drums. I don’t take it for granted, I practice every day, and I play every day, and think about music every day.

Amanda: I realize you don’t want to publicly cut any band or musician down, but does it ever disappoint you to hear so many cookie cutter songs, featuring trite, uninspired, one dimensional structure and lyrics?

Jean Paul: That’s something that’s been going on since the inception of rock n roll. There’s always going to be someone out there that’s going to be playing a more commercial style, or they’re going to dumb a particular style down, so that’s nothing new. I think you see more of that now, because there are just so many bands out there now. The internet is such a great tool for bands to gain a wider audience, and because of that, I just think you see a lot more bands.

Amanda: Since Clutch has progressed so far throughout the years, do you find it strange to do some of the older material? Meaning, your head was in a different place then, and you’ve grown as a band and as musicians. When you are playing the song does your mind think, “Wow, I am so not this person anymore.”

Jean Paul: I think maybe there are some songs that Neil doesn’t really want to sing, and we don’t really want to play. Binge and Purge is an excellent example of something like that. We’re not particularly angry people; I think we’re all really happy to be playing music. With that being said, I still enjoy playing some of those old songs too. At this point, we’ve sort of gone through the entire catalog. The songs that still work live, the songs that we’re still comfortable playing in the set list; we make a different set list every night, and consequently the songs that we pull from, our catalog, is a lot bigger than most bands is, so we play stuff from every album, from the very old stuff to the newest album, Strange Cousins From the West.

Amanda: Would you say that makes you guys a better band than most?

Jean Paul: I don’t think it makes us a better band, but it makes me more excited to play. I would not enjoy getting out there and playing the same set every night.

Amanda: Probably gets a bit mundane and boring, and not unlike working on a factory line every day, I would imagine.

Jean Paul: At this point it becomes like a school play, and you’re sort of just running through something that you’ve done 1000 times. And, you know, if you can do that, then more power to you. I can’t get excited about that, and it does a dis-service to the audience that comes, because an audience come to see a rock n roll show, they’re not there to see a school play.

Amanda: Yea, something that’s going to be done the night before, and the night after, isn’t a new, or really fair experience for your followers.

Amanda: I am sure you get asked this all the time, but holy shit you tour non-stop. Do your families ever come on the road with you, you know so you don’t become strangers?

Jean Paul: Well there’s really not much room for all that on the bus.

Amanda: Well I totally understand that, but they don’t ever just come around with you for a week, and stay in a hotel room or anything like that?

Jean Paul: Well, when out, we’re working and we’re concentrating on the job. Then we go home, and we have weeks and weeks on end to just spend time with our families.

Amanda: So it’s nothing that takes much of a toll on you guys, relationship-wise?

Jean Paul: This is what we’ve done for years and years; we’re all married, our wives know that this is what we do, this is something we’ve done way before they were even in the picture. So, no, it’s a job like any other, you just have to get out, and you just have to do it.

Amanda: Hank III does half of his set doing traditional country and his second as Ass Jack. Would you ever consider splitting your show into a Clutch and a Bakerton Group set?

Jean Paul: Yea, we’ve done that on several occasions, actually.

Amanda: Any chance we get to hear any Bakerton Group during your set tonight?

Jean Paul: I don’t think we’ll be doing any Bakerton tonight, because we only have 45 minutes, so because of that we get to play maybe 9 songs, and maybe playing an instrumental song isn’t the best idea.

Amanda: So that’s something you generally only do when you headline then?

Jean Paul: Yea, this winter right after Christmas, we’ll go out again as a headlining set, and we’ll do just that, we’ll play some Bakerton stuff, and our full Clutch set as well.

Amanda: What kind of car do you sport around town, when you’re home and not touring?

Jean Paul: I have a 1966 Chevy step-side pickup truck. It’s not a show truck, and it’s pretty rusted out, but it’s still cool.

Amanda: Very nice, well I just have one more question for you; if you could dig up one dead person and bring them back to life for a day, who would it be?

Jean Paul: Well, one of my very favorite drummers passed away a few years back, and his name was Elton Jones, and I had the opportunity to see him a lot of times in the 90’s, and it was really inspiring every time. So yea, it would certainly be great to see him play one more time.