They’ve been making their home turf of Montgomery County, Maryland, proud for the past 30 years.
“It’s cool,” Lead Singer Neil Fallon told WTOP. “I haven’t been to The Atlantis, but I’ve heard nothing but great things about it. The Anthem we’ve performed once there before and I’ve seen as a spectator plenty of bands there. It’s both a great place to be a performer and to see a performance, which sometimes can be a rarity in venues, but this one was purpose-built by some of the best in the business. … I’ll recognize a lot of people in the audience.”
Born to a military family in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1971, Fallon mostly grew up in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and fondly recalls going to see bands like Bad Brains at the original 9:30 Club location down in Northwest D.C.
“I was late 16 or early 17 when I saw my first band there,” Fallon said. “My parents finally relented and said, ‘Fine, you can go downtown. Get out of our hair.’ I remember those shows better than anything I saw online yesterday, because it was such an impression and there was such an intensity. When you’re younger and things are new, you’re absorbing things for the first time. It set the bar so high in some ways that it’s been hard to live up to.”
He met his future bandmates at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown, Maryland, and eventually formed Clutch in 1991.
“Kids want to form their own identity, be it the way they dress, who they hang out with or the music they listen to,” Fallon said. “I met [drummer] Jean-Paul [Gaster] because my last name starts with ‘F’ and his starts with ‘G’ so you had the same home room and you’re next to each other in the locker commons. [Bassist] Dan [Maines] lived in the same neighborhood. I didn’t know [guitarist] Tim [Sult] too well until after high school. He was a year ahead of us.”
In 1993, the guys drove to San Francisco to record their first album “Transnational Speedway League.”
“The first one we did, we didn’t know any better,” Fallon said. “We thought that’s a totally practical and rational idea to get in a van and drive 2,000 miles to a studio. That studio, Razor’s Edge, was owned by Jonathan Burnside, who did a lot of The Melvins’ records back then and we were huge fans of The Melvins, particularly of the drum sound. A lot of times that’s the main purpose of going to a specific studio is to get a specific drum sound.”
They returned home to record their self-titled second album “Clutch” (1995) at Uncle Punchy Studios in Silver Spring, Maryland. It remains the band’s bestselling album to date with songs like “Big News,” “Spacegrass” and “I Have the Body of John Wilkes Booth,” which was inspired by reading Civil War lore in the local newspaper.
“The self-titled record is where we found the sound that we are still pursuing,” Fallon said. “That song ‘I Have the Body of John Wilkes Booth,’ I was struggling for lyrics and The Washington City Paper had an article, I think it was on the cover, that was about the location of John Wilkes Booth and I was like, “OK, this is good enough, we’ll go with that.’ Writing a song, you’re given license to write a little fiction. I’m not an expert on anything.”
The Civil War themes continued — albeit with a little science fiction — for the band’s third album, “The Elephant Riders” (1998), which was recorded in a 100-year-old house in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
“There’s just an ominous vibe there,” Fallon said. “I’m not really a ghost person, but I do think a location can absorb the collective energy of what happens there. I really got knee deep into it. … It was a cool place for single guys to live because it was cheap and it was disgusting and we could make as much noise as we wanted, but I would never move back there — I mean move back to that house, I don’t want to disaffect the good people of West Virginia.”
Their fifth album “Pure Rock Fury” (2001), included the song “Immortal,” which appeared in video games.
“That was kind of a collaboration between us and Leslie West of Mountain fame,” Fallon said. “Leslie came in and he had this riff and we wrote the song. Years later, I was listening to like a Mountain compilation and there it was, the riff that is. I don’t know if he had forgotten that he had already written a song with that riff or if he just didn’t care, but it appears in two songs. I forget the [title], I think it’s called ‘Going Down.'”
Their eighth album, “From Beale Street to Oblivion” (2007), delivered Clutch’s most famous song, “Electric Worry,” with a hard-driving energy and a catchy Spanish chorus: “Bang, bang, bang, bang, vamanos, vamanos!”
“It actually started with a Mississippi Fred McDowell song, more or less, but a lot of those old blues songs borrowed from each other,” Fallon said. “I remember recording it thinking, ‘This is kind of a weird song, do we even want to put it on the album?’ It goes to show that sometimes the person writing it is too close to hear it, because it has since become our biggest song. We can play that at festivals in Europe and that’s the one everyone knows.”
DieHard fans all naturally have their own personal favorites among the band’s 13 studio albums and five live albums, but Fallon is currently enjoying playing stuff from their latest album “Sunrise on Slaughter Beach” (2022).
“I had intended to not write a record that was not in any way dark or reflecting the mood of the pandemic,” Fallon said. “It started getting darker because you can’t fight your subconscious. It’s a dark record. The title is borrowed from Slaughter Beach, Delaware, which is just north of Lewes and Rehoboth. My family and I vacation up there every once in a while. I thought ‘Slaughter Beach’ was the most metal-sounding getaway that you could imagine.”
Through it all, if you listen closely to his lyrics, you’ll hear the penmanship of a man who once earned an English degree from the University of Maryland in College Park, not far from where he currently lives in Silver Spring.
“I was pretty fortunate to luck out in a career that I can use what I learned,” Fallon said. “I love words. You can use words just like [music] notes. When you string them together, they have rhythms. I’ve always paid close attention to what’s being said in songs. I find them to be little movies that can last anywhere from two to 20 minutes.”
Speaking of movies, what are his all-time favorite flicks that come up clutch in his time off?
“The one I have juvenile nostalgia for is ‘Aliens,’ it doesn’t get old, I saw it so many times in the theater, so it’s probably my favorite,” Fallon said. “‘No Country for Old Men’ is my favorite movie that’s come out in recent times. Cormac McCarthy is probably my favorite writer. To be able to adapt one of his books and make it convincing is a feat unto itself, but it’s beautifully shot, the acting is phenomenal. I love movies with a lot of silence.”