Clutch are about to release their brand new album Book of Bad Decisions on Friday, Sept 7th (our review here) so we had a chat to bassist and all around legend Dan Maines about the new release and his extensive career after nearly three decades in the business.
Hey Dan! How’s it going?
Good! How’re you?
Good thanks mate, welcome aboard, so, we’re here to talk about the new album that’s coming out, Book of Bad Decisions. I’ve been lucky enough to have a listen through over the last few days, and some of the stuff that’s on it has been blowing my mind. It’s a really good album.
Awesome! Thank you.
I’ve noticed, because I’ve basically listened to your catalogue back-to-back over the last couple of weeks, that it sometimes sounds a little bit different to what you’ve done previously in some ways.
The addition of horns on the track, ‘In Walks Barbarella’ for instance, is a pretty big change from where you guys have been before.
Absolutely. That horn bit really came together with the help of the producer, Vance Powell. He came out on the road with us for about a week right before we went into the studio with him to record, and that was one of the songs we were playing in our set while he was with us.
He immediately told us that it reminded him that Funkadelic or Parliament would’ve done, and he was probably working on horn parts in his mind when we got into the studio to record the song.
I can definitely see the connection to the more funky side of things, the Parliaments or Funkadelics, and even maybe James Brown when he had the JB’s or the Famous Flames behind him. It’s definitely a very different sound to what you guys have had before, but I really like the direction that it’s gone.
I think that the addition of outside instruments is a challenge for us, because when you’re in the studio, you want to make the song sound as good as it can. But at the same time, you have to keep the thought in the back of your mind, “Are we going to be able to play this live when we go on tour?”, when we start playing this music on stage we have to be able to replicate it as close as we can.
So the idea of bringing in extra instrumentation is an idea that we both love, and sometimes, wrestle with. I think the key is having the instrumentation brought into the song after the song has already been written, and the core of the song remains the four of us.
When we agreed that putting the horns on ‘Barbarella’ was a good idea, we felt confident that even if we didn’t have horns on stage when we were playing it live, we knew that it worked before. If there was anything that the horns did that we felt was critical to playing it live, that maybe Tim or Neil could pick up on their guitars.
That makes sense, you guys have previously described yourself as a reluctant studio band. I guess it makes sense that you guys want to keep that authenticity on stage as much as you possibly can.
Yeah. We’ve made the mistake in the past of having songs that – I’m specifically thinking of songs that we recorded with keyboards – when we play the songs without keyboard, you really do miss it. And so, it puts limitations on what we can feel comfortable doing on stage.
I can see that.
We have a relationship with a phenomenal keyboard player here at home – Chris Brooks from the band Lionize came down to Nashville for a day to lay down some piano and Wurlitzer, and some Hammond organ too, for some of these songs. His stuff is great, because it adds a nice flavour to the song that wouldn’t necessarily be there without him, but I feel like we could still pull these songs off live without the keys.
Definitely. Listening through the album it sounds like there’s that feel, like it’s a live album that’s been recorded in the studio.
Yeah! That’s what we were going for, basically.
In a lot of ways, I guess that goes back to the way Vance likes to work. From what I understand, he’s very meticulous with minute details like the positioning of microphones to maintain that authenticity, rather than going in and trying to fabricate things after the fact.
Well yeah, he comes from a very old-school sort of background. He started doing sound in clubs, y’know, front of house sound, then he moved on to being a sound guy for a travelling band before he got into the studio work.
That was an important thing for us, y’know, just to get back to a more authentic approach to recording. It’s so easy with the advent of computers and the latest software to overthink things in the studio and take endless takes on a 5 second pass of music, because you can. Because the computer gives you an infinite number of tracks, you can do that. It’s easy to lose focus on the song, and we were dead set on going into the studio and setting up in the room, and everybody playing together. After 5 takes, you listen back, and pick the best one. It’s gonna have a couple of warts on it, but those are the things that make authentic music pleasing to the ear, I think.
It’s not supposed to be perfect. It’s not supposed to line up perfectly on this grid, and sometimes I feel like that can take up from that song. There’s a certain amount of energy that gets sucked out of the song when you aren’t even playing it together as a band.
For sure. With the advent of modern recording techniques, it seems like you’re always at that risk of disappearing up your own arse with it.
Y’know, sort of getting bogged down with the concept of, “Oh okay we need this polished and every detail needs to be perfect,” as opposed to going and physically playing because you enjoy playing.
I mean, this is what, your twelfth album in the studio now?
It is, yep. Number 12. We’ve tried every which way on how to do it by now. Also knowing that we had so much of this material written before we were going into the studio and knowing that we were going to be playing this stuff on the road before, we knew with a pretty good amount of confidence that we could just set up the gear and play the songs, just bang them out.
I guess you guys have probably got a little bit more artistic freedom than you would in any other setup, simply by having your own label that you release through – Weathermaker Music.
We certainly don’t have the kind of constraints that we used to have, trying to stay atop of somebody else’s schedule. We don’t have that, oh you can’t release your record this month because so-and-so’s record is coming out then so we don’t wanna have conflict, or we want you to work with this particular producer and studio. That can become a distraction from the music, and for whatever amount of work we’ve piled onto ourselves being the label, it’s worth it. We get to work at our own pace, we get to make the kind of album package that we want to make — within reason… sometimes we come up with these great ideas about having album packages that are like pop-up books, but when you see the final costs of something like that you do have to scale it back, but we try to do as many creative things as we can with the types of formats we put out.
This was the first time that we made a record where we put all of the songs that we actually recorded onto the record. It felt like it became more difficult as Vance was sending us the mixes for all of us to agree on what songs shouldn’t make the record. We kind of assumed that if you keep the record to 12 or 13 songs, keep it under an hour, it’s going to be easier for the average listener to digest, assuming that our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. But I think that these songs work together so well, and if it’s a matter of 13 songs or 15 songs, I don’t think it’s that big of a difference.
I always feel bad for the songs to get left off that could’ve been on any of the albums, because they eventually made it out into the public one way or another anyway. Just because they didn’t make it onto the record, they somehow have less value in our minds. Not necessarily in our fans’ eyes, but in our eyes when we think about what songs we’re gonna play on any given night, I’m not thinking about B-sides, I’m automatically thinking about songs that were on the records.
I kind of wish that the idea of B-sides didn’t really exist. That’s something that goes back to record companies releasing 45 singles, and bands not necessarily being the kind of artists that record albums and put out 12 or 15 songs at once. I mean, that whole concept of albums, it’s so weird to me how it has these, y’know, like ocean waves where it comes into fashion and out of fashion. Ten years ago, everybody was getting rid of their vinyl players, because nobody was making vinyl records. And suddenly they’re this hot commodity on eBay because everybody is buying vinyl again.
Yeah, it’s an interesting thing that goes on with it. And you guys have been making music nearly three decades now, so you’ve definitely stood the test of time and seen the way that things have changed over the years.
I just hope that cassettes never come back, they were such a pain in the ass!
Hey! Getting out a pencil and having to wind on, that was so much fun…
Hahaha oh! The sound degradation that you had to go through with a cassette was torture. You pick up one that’s 5 years old and throw it in there and it’s like, there’s absolutely no high end left, and you’re lucky if it continues to play at the same speed from beginning to end.
All I can say is I’m very glad that I’ve never heard a Clutch record on cassette.
I think that’d sort of ruin the whole sonic experience. Thankfully we’ve got these amazing technologies now that hold up better. Certainly with the new album you hear a lot of subtle details that I don’t think you would’ve been able to even ten years ago on what was commonly available. I’m hugely thankful for that.
… until you crunch everything down into an MP3 file. Everybody listens in a different way. Some people only listen to music in their car. Some people listen on $500 headphones. I don’t think it really matters how people are listening to the music, as long as they’re enjoying it.
That’s exactly it. As long as you can actually engage with it and enjoy it somehow, then it’s done exactly what it was meant to do. Sadly, our time is up. With that, I’ll let you get back to it. Cheers for taking the time out to chat with me today. Hope to see you Down Under soon.
Anytime, thank you! Hope to get there soon!
Interview by Benji Alldridge
Clutch – Book of Bad Decisions tracklisting
1. Gimme the Keys
2. Spirit of ’76
3. Book of Bad Decisions
4. How to Shake Hands
5. In Walks Barbarella
6. Vision Quest
7. Weird Times
8. Emily Dickinson
9. Sonic Counselor
10. A Good Fire
11. Ghoul Wrangler
12. HB Is in Control
13. Hot Bottom Feeder
14. Paper & Strife