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’90s stoner-rock journeymen come home for a headlining slot at Artscape

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Robot Hive/Exodus

In 1990, Clutch burst onto the local music scene like an angst-fueled alien from Sigourney Weaver’s chest. Early on, the band had a punk-style, anti-authoritarian political message, but with departure of original singer Roger Smalls, who was replaced by Neil Fallon, Clutch developed a stoner-rock vibe. In 2008, amidst the turmoil of the recording industry, Clutch created its own label, Weathermaker. We spoke with Jean-Paul Gaster, the band’s drummer, about Clutch’s evolving sound, plans for the future, and being back in Baltimore for Artscape.

City Paper: You guys just released the new 7-inch, Pigtown Blues, in June. Does the name come from the Baltimore neighborhood?

Jean-Paul Gaster: I was actually not aware that that is a nickname for [a neighborhood in] Baltimore until Neil pointed it out, but that’s nothing new. Neil knows a tremendous amount of things. I learn from him every day. Both of the tunes that came out on that 7-inch were sort of things that came out of an acoustic “experiment,” for lack of a better word. We took a look at some of our older songs and kind of reworked them so they might work in an acoustic dynamic. It seemed to work pretty well.

CP: Are there any plans for it to be on a new full-length LP?

JPG: Absolutely. We hit the studio in late August.

CP: What spurned or inspired you to go out on your own with the Weathermaker label you started in 2008?

JPG: The landscape of the music industry had changed considerably. We saw an opening there, and we had a few people in place to do what had to be done, and we sort of went for broke. It’s worked out for the best, and it’s been great to be able to release music when we release it and how we release it. Now, we have started experimenting with releasing bands outside of Clutch, so that has been really fun. When we started the band, the intention was to play good shows and make good records—that was really the end of it. We continue to try and push ourselves and remain creative so we can still play great shows and make great records.

CP: Clutch is featured on a few video games like In Prey, Need for Speed Pro Street, and Hitman: Contracts. How has that expanded your fan base, and why did you guys decide to go in that direction?

JPG: There are folks who are in the video game business who think Clutch is a good match for that. Any way we can get our music to more people, we want to take advantage of. I know for a fact we have gained some new fans and some folks who had never heard of Clutch before playing those games. It’s about getting your music in front of as many people as possible.

CP: In the past, your sound wasn’t as free-form or improvisational as it is now. What led you to change your sound?

JPG: All the music I have always liked has had some sort of improvisation, so I have always kinda leaned that way. I like to listen to a lot of jazz and blues. Then there is some really great improvisational rock stuff too: Led Zeppelin, Queen, and even Bad Brains, and Fugazi. These are all bands who had some kind of improvisational aspect to their live show. To me, that’s what made it exciting. I don’t particularly care to see a band that is going to play the same set list the same way, say the same stuff between songs, because there has to be a level of excitement there. When you allow yourself to improvise—even if it is just for a few bars or a few minutes—you really set the tone for the band and for the audience as well. I think they appreciate that there is something new and something fresh there. You know it is not always going to be awesome. Sometimes it’s a great jam, and sometimes it’s a complete train wreck. You got to start to take a chance to make the music more exciting.

CP: It’s been a while since you have been in Baltimore. Are you excited for Artscape?

JPG: We are very excited to be a part of that [Artscape] festival. We get to play outdoors, which we love to do. There are going to be a lot of folks who are Clutch fans and a lot more who have never heard of us, and it’s the hometown, so my family and my folks are going to be there.

Clutch will be on the Wells Fargo stage at Artscape Saturday, July 21 at 7:30 p.m.

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