Interviewed by Marianne Jacobsen (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine
Clutch is a popular American Rock band formed in 1991 out of the state of Maryland.
With their 11th album Psychic Warfare due to release in September, MGM had an opportunity to sit down with Tim Sult – the lead guitarist for this iconic band in London Ontario Canada as they set down to play one of the last shows of their Missing Link Tour with Graveyard and Mastodon.
MGM: I thought we might start the interview today with a little history lesson. Would that be ok?
TS: (chuckles) Alright!
Mgm: What kind of guitar did you play and when did you first start playing?
TS: When I first started playing guitar? The very first guitar I ever owned?
MGM: How old were you?
TS: I was 14 years old and my parents bought me a guitar from either the Sears catalogue or JC Penny catalogue. I had a little two watt amp to go with that and that is what I learned to play guitar on.
MGM: Ok at 14 you started high school and then started listening to hardcore which you have said changed your life. What were you listening to before that?
TS: Well when I first started playing guitar I was mostly into just a lot of classic rock and hair metal.
MGM: Such as Dokken?
TS: Yeah I was probably into Dokken – My earliest influences would have been Deep Purple Led Zeppelin – and back then I was 14 years old and that was when RATT was coming out and Motley Crue so I loved stuff like Shout at the Devil and you know, early on it was basically it was the early hair metal stuff before it went totally commercial and that’s really where I started.
MGM: Ok so you started there and it was in high school where you met the rest of the band right? Did you meet them in science class or…
TS: The only person that I actually knew in high school was our bass player (Dan). Even though we went to same school I did not know the drummer (JP)
MGM: How is Dan doing (Dan took some time from the tour to be with his family for the birth of his child)
TS: Dan is currently at home with his wife and we have a replacement bass player from Fu Mancu.
MGM: So you met Dan in High School and …. How old were you when you met Dan?
TS: I would have been 17 or 18 – when I was in 12th grade. We had this mutual friend named Brian Paul who was actually originally the first guy who put together what would become Clutch years later.
(Interruption by Mastadon lead singer photobombing the interview)
MGM: Did you hear that Maryland has now removed parallel parking from its driving exams?
TS: I did not know that.
MGM: I found that out yesterday and thought I would share that useless piece of trivia with you. 😉
MGM: Ok, so you meet Brian and Dan and you are in grade 12 and ….
TS: Honestly I didn’t start playing with these guys until after I was in High School. Brian had his whole thing going on and he was like kind of the mastermind of his little world that he had and they did a couple of different things, they had a couple of different lineups and they recorded a few demos and Brian decided that he wanted me to play guitar so that’s how I met those guys (other members of Clutch)
MGM: Ok but I want the dirt.
TS: There really is no dirt.
MGM: I know you guys are pretty chill – however there has to be that one story that you look back on over the 25 years that makes you smile and say, “remember that time”?
TS: (laughs) Wow this is really hard….
I’m a totally mellow person and I try to stay away from all the crazy tour stuff.
MGM: That doesn’t mean funny stuff doesn’t happen on tour.
TS: You came waaay too prepared, you know waaay too much about me.
MGM: There is very little out there about you.
TS: That’s good
Should I attempt to explain the early days of Clutch? Because that wasn’t very clear.
TS: The band originally formed and they called themselves Moral Minority. A lot of bands have used that name, but that was the name they were using at the time and they recorded two demos when they were in High School. I was already out of High School by this time, but they were still in High School. They recorded two demos. This guy, Eric sang on the first demo and Neil along with this guy Brian who I mentioned before were the guitar players so that was their first demo.
On their second demo Brian decided that he wanted to be the singer so he sang on the second demo.
MGM: How did that go
TS: It was fine. I mean, at the time I was so far removed from the band at the time that I was totally impressed by the fact that somebody could record a demo on a four track recorded and it was the 80s so that was pretty impressive.
TS: So Moral Minority recorded two demos and after those two demos Brian decided that….(pause – thought) Wait a second am I getting this right?
MGM: Have you been drinking Mr. Sult?
TS: I don’t drink anymore….on tour…
TS: Actually looking back on the 80s I think,…
Ok, Eric sang on the first Moral Minority demo. Neil sang on the second Moral Minority demo if I remember correctly. Then Brian decided that he wanted to be the singer and he wanted Neil to do samples. Brian got really into Ministry and he wanted to do a Ministry type thing. We were super young, we were only teenagers and went through phases really quick.
But Eric had the four track recorder so…
MGM: Isn’t that always the way?
TS: So in 1989 he brought me into the band to play guitar and Neil was actually doing the samples and this guy Brian sang so that really the original first line up of Clutch.
Neil was the DJ basically…literally!
Some of us wanted to go out and play shows. That’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to get out and play shows and just do it because we liked the music and we liked playing music. For some reason Brian wasn’t on board with going out and doing shows. It was kind a weird. I think he was, a little self conscious and just thought about things a little too much, whereas (the rest of us) had the attitude of not caring and just wanted to get out there and play.
So that kind of ended and then JP and I just kinda went out and started jamming with other people and Brian, Dan and Neil recorded another demo under another/different band name.
MGM: This is all happening in Germantown (Maryland)?
TS: I’m from Gaithersberg. We all went to school in Germantown.
MGM: Location wise are those two places really close to each other? You guys were bus kids? Short bus kids (laugh)? (MGM is a short bus kid).
TS: Yes, short bus kids (laugh)
TS: So in 1989 we stopped jamming with Brian and me and JP playing with another bass player and we had another singer guy named Roger and they came and jammed with us, and we really couldn’t get anything going. We were never able to write new songs with the new bass player and he couldn’t really get anything going and eventually we just asked Dan to come back. I can’t exactly remember why – maybe we had a show booked or something. But that would have been the formation of the band you mentioned earlier Glut Trip, which was originally
MGM: Does Glut Trip come from Guilt Trip or is it just something to do with your last name?
TS: I don’t know but it was definitely the worst band name ever and that’s why we changed it to Clutch because Glut Trip was just way too complicated.
TS: But the original version of Glut Trip had me, JP, Dan and this singer named Roger and we did manage to go out and play a couple shows under that lineup. We recorded a lot of music that eventually ended up becoming Clutch songs. But Roger wasn’t really 100% on board with playing shows constantly I guess…
MGM: He wanted to be a rock star without the work?
TS: No I don’t think Roger wanted to be a rock star. I don’t know. He’s a great guy and a good friend and he I don’t know
MGM: And if he had stayed in the band you might not be here right now…
TS: I don’t know where we’d be. We had a show booked under the name Glut Trip and it was obvious that Roger didn’t want to do it anymore so the very last Glut Trip show Neil actually was the lead singer
MGM: When was that?
TS: This would have been spring or summer of 1991.
TS: Then we had another show booked at a park in DC and we figured it was the best time to change our name, because our name was stupid.
The day before the show we settled on the name Clutch
MGM: Clutch defining what?
TS: We used to tell people it stood for City/state Liberation Union To Cleanse Humanity
TS: It sounds like a terrorist group
MGM: I think it sounds great. I just wouldn’t tell them that at the border though.
TS: We get stopped at the border all the time.
MGM: How did Clutch get signed by Wendy Barry and
TS: We recorded a 7 inch on a label from Delaware called Inner Journey Records and we went to a COC show – it was the COC Blind era.
We gave Reed Mullin some of our 7 inches and apparently later on their tour he gave one of the 7 inches to this guy named James Graw (sp?) who was just some kid who had a fanzine in Kansas.
I guess he listened to it (the 7 inch) and he loved it and Earache was advertising in his fanzine and somehow he told the guy from Earache about Clutch and Earache wanted to sign us. They told us to go get a lawyer and do all that.
MGM: All the members of Clutch are still under the same contract right?
TS: We are not under any contracts
TS: So Earache records wanted to sign us after listening to our 7 inch and somehow Wendy Barry heard about us. I’m not exactly sure how, but she kind of came in and said, “no no no, don’t sign with Earache, sign with me”.
We could have gone a totally different route by signing with Earache and I don’t know if it would have been bad or good or what it would have been.
MGM: From what I can see you have a very loyal following of fans that have been there since the very beginning
TS: That is really truly the most amazing part about Clutch for me, is that people you know…. We’ve recorded 11 albums at this point
MGM: Is Psychic Warfare recorded yet?
TS: Yes, we are done with that.
TS: Yep, we finished it before this tour.
MGM: Before this tour? So you are just trying out the songs out now? Would you re-master them if they didn’t go well with the audience?
TS: Well I haven’t heard the final mastered version yet but it does exist. We are done tracking and the mastering and we are not going to change anything.
MGM: Hopefully you will have another Electric Worry on this album, as it is very popular.
TS: Yes it is very popular.
MGM: I see it’s lower down on the set list. Is that so everyone gets their ya yas out near the end of the show?
TS: Well, Lemmy from Motorhead had told Neil that Electric Worry was Clutch’s Ace of Spades so we kind of put it at the end of our set list and it seems to work better. We’ve tried to force it up earlier into the set list but it doesn’t really work these days.
I mean, there was a time when we didn’t play that song. That was just a song that was in our, you know, just another song. But somehow that one got considerably more popular than the rest and people seem to react to that more than any other song we have ever done.
MGM: So do you find with social media that Clutch is gaining popularity more and more than before. I know you have your own record label and so you are able to produce your own music now and put it out there and distribute it yourself almost. Are you seeing that social media is helping or hindering that?
TS: I feel like social media definitely helps that. At least it helps us to see that its happening anyway. Maybe in the past, before the internet we couldn’t see stuff like that but obviously there is the whole “less record sales” thing. However, our shows are 10 times bigger than they have ever been.
MGM: And I guess that’s a good thing?
MGM: What is your favourite song on tour to play? Which song still challenges you?
TS: Anything we play off of Elephant Rider. That album is pretty complicated to play. As far as the newer stuff goes, Under the Breach is kind of tricky to play.
MGM: Do you enjoy being challenged by your own music on stage or would you rather just get up there and put it on automatic pilot?
TS: A lot of it is automatic pilot for sure. However there is nothing wrong with having to think a little bit when you are on stage.
MGM: Clutch has been together 25 years – some people don’t go to jail that long for killing people, but you guys are still together. What’s the magic there?
TS: I don’t know what the magic really is. I guess the fact that, you know, we continue to work on new material and are always looking forward to the next tour. Just the fact that we have not remained stagnant, you know, a lot of bands just write three or four albums and just work off that for the rest of their careers.
I think that is what has helped us a lot, just the fact that we have always tried to remain creative and write new songs.
MGM: Out on tour, do you find that you get inspiration from the other bands that you are touring with? I find that your music is very unique in your tones and just the music composition in general.
TS: Well thank you.
MGM: Thank you
TS: As far as being influenced by other bands, I mean, I’m a fan of both Mastodon and Graveyard. Its very rare that we tour with bands that we actually love. Like the stuff I listen to on my own free time. I listen to Mastodon and Graveyard because I love them at home.
MGM: So was this an arranged marriage this tour?
TS: It was mostly an arranged marriage yes. We have been talking about doing a tour with Mastodon again for years and years. We have toured with them twice in the past.
MGM: Are they your favorite band to tour with?
TS: I think so. I think this has probably been my favorite tour that we have ever done. The crowds have been incredible every night and I love Mastodon and Graveyard. Tonight is sold out. It was one of the first shows to sell out – all of the Canadian shows sold out.
MGM: With the music industry like it is now, being so cutthroat and record sales being as they are….how does Clutch after 25 years keep a positive attitude and want to keep going and keep making this what you want to do?
TS: I think at this point its probably just too late to quit. UPS is not hiring (TS last job before playing professionally). I’m way too old to actually do anything else. I would probably still be working at UPS still if it were not for Clutch.
MGM: What did you do at UPS?
TS: I was a sorter and I was gonna be a delivery guy.
MGM: That would have been a shame.
TS: It would have just been different.
TS: Its pretty amazing that we exist after so many years and things are going so well and so many people come to our shows to see us. Its pretty much the greatest thing ever. I have no complaints about that.
MGM: Were you romanced by any other record companies in the beginning?
TS: Nope not at all. The only two labels that wanted to sign us were Dsos records (sp) and Earwig (sp).
MGM: And from there the rest is history?
TS: Yep from there the rest is history. At this point now, our own label owns – once Psychic Warfare comes out I believe we own 7 of our albums. Our for major label albums are still not in our possession. However 7 out of 11, which is not bad.
MGM: That’s excellent, there are very few bands that can buy those first few albums outright from the record label.
TS: Maybe someday.
TS: How come you don’t sound like Ricky from Trailer Park Boys?
MGM: Are you a Trailer Park Boys fan?
TS: Oh yeah. Six degrees of Canada
MGM: it’s a big place. Just less of us than you guys (meaning Americans)
MGM: So the 22 hours in between playing shows – what do you do with your time?
TS: Um, not much, sleep (laughs), walk around town as much as possible
MGM: Ever meet anybody interesting when you are out and about?
TS: Honestly the most interesting person I know is Dan Winters the guy who done a lot of our artwork.
MGM: Is the album artwork part of the concept of the album itself or….
TS: no not necessarily, I think people’s thought of the concept of the album comes after the artwork is made.
MGM: If you had to pick one of your babies (Clutch albums) which one would be your favorite.
TS: Album? Its always the newest album. Anytime anyone asks me that it’s always the new one because it feels the most fresh.
MGM: Obviously there are no retirement plans in the near future are there?
TS: I don’t see that happening no…
MGM: Do you see yourself kind of taking the route of the hardest working band in metal (Motorhead)?
TS: Well you know if we could have a career as long as Motorhead, that would be the greatest thing ever.
MGM: So if you could, would you continue on touring and recording forever a la Lemmy/Motorhead?
TS: I think to a lot of people we have been doing this forever. Its pretty amazing to meet people that weren’t alive when we first started and they are fans of the band.
MGM: You have a lot of those
TS: Yep its pretty amazing.
MGM: I have to admit that I am a “new fan” to Clutch and having been able to have access to your hefty repertoire and still be able to catch you live is pretty great. So thank you for that.
TS: We are actually playing with COC at a big festival coming up in a couple of weeks. I started listening to COC when Animosity came out.
TS: The early history of Cluch is kind of unclear. It probably should be written out more.
MGM: With respect to your guitar sounds and tones – because there is a signature sound to Clutch. Do you create them yourself or do you have a tech that helps you?
TS: I make them all myself – there is no one else who does it for me. As far as guitar tone goes, it’s constantly a work in progress and it’s constantly something that is changing. Like this tour I’m playing with gear that I’ve never played before and Im trying to go for a little more – gainy of a sound. I know I said that on Earth Rocker also, but Im trying to go for an even more gainy sound – Super Gainy!
MGM: One of the fan questions was “why don’t you wail out on stage more?”
TS: (laughs) Yeah, I’m not really like a “jumping all over the stage” kind of player. I think I have more of a “smooth jazz” approach to my stage presence and my life in general.
MGM: I also find that Clutch music has that “bouncy” sound to it that makes you feel like dancing.
TS: That’s our secret hip hop mentality.
TS: Do you know what GoGo music is? Its this Washington DC centered music. If you listen to some GoGo music online you can see where that comes from with Clutch.
MGM: So overall, great tour? Satisfied? Best Tour Ever?
TS: I would call this the best tour of ever.
MGM: That’s pretty amazing considering you are this far in (25 years) and that you aren’t jaded. Are you jaded?
You are now in your 40s and not partying the way you used to although you have this very strong fanbase that like to party. How do you deal with that/those kinds of fans?
TS: Well, I don’t really handle them (laughs). I don’t really see that too often. People really don’t come up to us too much at the shows and when they do they are pretty normal and they are pretty respectful and not all up in your face yelling at you all drunkenly.
Our fans are super cool and everyone who interacts with us are relatively normal people.
MGM: So are you all on separate buses now like the Eagles or Motley Crue or do you spend time together as a band on tour off stage?
TS: We are all on the same bus and we usually don’t have hotel rooms because we drive overnight. We used to have hotel rooms when we toured in a van but now that we have a bus all the time its not really necessary.
MGM: How many years did you tour in the van for?
TS: Well, on and off for a long long long time. I would guess that the last van tour was a good long time ago. Probably 10 years ago.
Touring in a van is definitely a totally different life experience than touring in a tour bus. It’s a totally different world for a “van band” versus a “bus band”. Its really a different touring experience.
MGM: So help us understand what the difference is?
TS: Well with a van, especially with bands that are on a smaller level there not enough money to get everyone hotel rooms. There’s always a few people sleeping in the van. You are also trying to find places to stay and just meeting random people at the shows to try and stay at their houses. Just like, doing that on a nightly basis is kind of draining I think for the average person. (laughs)
MGM: You don’t strike me as the “Hey can I crash at your pad” kinda guy.
TS: Yeah, we never really did that that much, but a lot of bands do.
A lot of bands just go out on tour and have nothing except the hope that people will help them out and that people are gonna buy their merchandise.
I think a lot of people don’t know that (how important merchandise sales are), especially when they are getting into these bands, like most band members don’t even know that, much less normal people. It’s something you figure out over the years.
MGM: So now is there less begging now and more pleading? (laughs)
TS:In what way?
MGM: Like you are not at the mercy of people anymore. You don’t need a place to stay and you have more control over everything (music/tour)
TS: Absolutely. I mean Im 45 years old and I can’t imagine being in a band starting off these days. It’s a totally different world than we did back in the early 90s.
MGM: How do you feel about the industry now? Be Honest.
TS: I mean, it’s totally different now. There’s no record sales anymore.
For us, it really hasn’t been too huge of a problem because our shows have gotten bigger and better and now we own our own material and you know, we make money selling albums. Even though albums don’t sell these days, we actually make money on the ones that we do sell. Whereas, in the past when we were on major labels, you know, we never made a single penny off of anything we ever put out.
And that was when the music industry was healthy.
MGM: How do you feel about the differences between pro-tools (computers) and analogue ?
TS: We’ve recorded our albums different ways. Click tracks and digital…
We’ve done a lot of analogue stuff in the past. The guy that we worked with on the last two albums and also on (Blast Tyrant) as well, he’s not like that, he’s not an analogue guy, he doesn’t record with tape. So it really just depends on who we are recording with at the time.
MGM: Which do you prefer?
TS: I prefer playing live (laughs)
MGM: Good choice
MGM: Thank you Tim Sult – you’re awesome and here’s some pop rocks!
TS: Thanks! (laughs)