Changes afoot in the Clutch camp? It certainly seemed that way from the outside when they announced that they were going to work with a producer with a country music background in his studio in Nashville. Was this a hint at a change in direction? Calum Harvie finds out from singer Neil Fallon, all was not as it seemed…

It’s a bit of a risk tinkering with an apparently successful formula. In the music industry, arguably more so than anywhere, the adage of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ holds true. Particularly so, one would imagine, for a long-established band like Clutch; if ever there’s a band with nothing to prove, it’s the Maryland earth rockers. Yet for new album Book Of Bad Decisions they rang the changes, upping sticks to work with producer Vance Powell in the heart of country music, Nashville.

“And when all was said and done, I really didn’t feel like we’d done anything in the studio,” laughs Neil Fallon. “I was very nervous, because I wasn’t stressed out. Speaking for myself, I was most concerned about how [Vance] tracked vocals. Because we’d done all these records with Machine and if we’d done it with him I’d have known what to expect. His [Vance’s] approach at first spooked me a little bit, but then I saw the light. He wanted me to sing the whole song front to back. And that’s why I think I felt like I wasn’t doing any work because it was so damn easy. I guess I’ve been conditioned to expect that the studio should be a hand-wringing experience!”

In Book Of Bad Decisions we find Neil on particularly fine lyrical form, deftly crafting tales and spinning yarns with the engaging delivery of a master storyteller. He’s been likened to an evangelical preacher in the past, and no wonder, given the way in which he uses words to mesmerise and enthral in equal measure. It’s fitting, then, that in one song he writes about one of America’s greatest wordsmiths, the Victorian poet, Emily Dickinson. A kindred spirit? Well, perhaps not: Dickinson was a decidedly ‘unique’ character, particularly in her later years when she dressed almost exclusively in white and lived as a recluse, to the extent that she would only converse with people from the other side of a closed door. The contrast with the ebullient, verbose Neil Fallon couldn’t be starker: “That song is really about two things. The band lived in a farmhouse in West Virginia in the mid-90s. It’s probably as close to living off the grid as I’d ever want to do again. The house was built in 1760, it had a serious vibe to it that left a really strong impression on me. I’ve had this recurring daydream about pulling up into the drive one day and seeing a Victorian woman’s silhouette in the attic window, looking out. Emily Dickinson was from Massachusetts, we were in West Virginia, but she’s one of the most iconic Victorian figures. I’ve always been really intrigued by her solitary lifestyle. And what she wrote, and how she wrote it, at that time was very rebellious. There’s only a handful of photographs of her and they’re all quite haunting. And then the idea of trying to be Emily Dickinson’s suitor was both ridiculous but at the same time very romantic in a dark way.”

“…there’s not so much noise that you’re able to listen to your own head. There’s so much noise out there – literally – that I’ve come to really appreciate the sound of the wind and the trees.”

Does the life of a recluse have its appeal, though? There’s something quite enticing about cutting oneself off from the outside world, even for just a while… “Yeah, I have no problem with being by myself. In fact, I quite enjoy it – with the exception of my wife and child. I get most of my work done that way. When I set aside time to write on purpose, nothing happens, but when I’m by myself, pulling weeds in the garden, that that’s when inspiration happens, because there’s not so much noise that you’re able to listen to your own head. There’s so much noise out there – literally – that I’ve come to really appreciate the sound of the wind and the trees.”

Catch the band on tour:
Tue 18th Dec – BRISTOL O2 Academy
Wed 19th Dec – GLASGOW O2 Academy
Thu 20th Dec – MANCHESTER Academy
Fri 21st Dec – LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Sat 22nd Dec – BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy

Book Of Bad Decisions is out now on Weathermaker |

This feature was intended for publication in ZT issue 086, but due to lack of space it’s landed here for you to enjoy online instead. Subscriptions and single copies available here:

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