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  • Interview: Neil Fallon of Clutch and The Bakerton Group

    Sun, 22 Feb 2009 18:06:51

    Interview: Neil Fallon of Clutch and The Bakerton Group - Frontman for enigmatic rockers talks dropping all vocals, what's next for Clutch and some truly terrifying flicks...

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    • Clutch - MANCHESTER, TN - JUNE 12: Neil Fallon of Clutch performs during the 2010 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival - Day 3 on June 12, 2010 in Manchester, Tennessee.
    • Clutch - MANCHESTER, TN - JUNE 12: Neil Fallon of Clutch performs during the 2010 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival - Day 3 on June 12, 2010 in Manchester, Tennessee.

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    Clutch is one of those bands that all of your favorite bands listen to, love and copy, but still have never gotten the mainstream recognition they deserve. Perhaps it's because they have remained one step ahead of the public consciousness throughout their entire career. By the time the world catches up, they're listening to some carbon copy of what Clutch did two or three albums before. No Clutch album sounds the same. On each album, they're landing on a different musical planet. With the Bakerton Group though, they've ventured into a whole new galaxy. The Bakerton Group is Clutch's vocal-less alter-ego. Their latest offering, El Rojo, is a progressive fusion of jazz, rock and southern blues that's quite a head trip. In this exclusive interview, Clutch vocalist and Bakerton Group axeman Neil Fallon spoke to ARTISTdirect.com about dropping the mic for El Rojo, sick new horror movies and the next Clutch album.

    What was the inspiration behind this project dropping all vocals and going completely instrumental?

    The guys are pretty prolific writers. For every one song that I end up writing lyrics to, there are a dozen that I don't. I just can't keep up with the workload. Some songs don't lend themselves to lyrics as much as others do. It's good to try different avenues. I don't think The Bakerton Group is too terribly different from Clutch, but I think it's a good outlet for some different ideas.

    Would you say it's more jazz-inspired?

    It's a lot looser. It's easy to write lyrics to 4/4 verse-chorus, verse-chorus songs, but when you have more organic and loose structures, it's hard to throw lyrics on it. Sometimes, you feel like you're just stomping all over the music with words.

    Is it more natural or even more emotional than Clutch in some aspects, since it's coming right out of you?

    For me, it's been quite a learning experience because I'm just playing guitar. I had to learn when to play and when not to play. I have to listen more. When I'm singing, it's pretty set in stone when I'm supposed to sing and when I'm not. There's a little more guesswork for me with the guitar. It's another form of expression. With words, you know within the first couple phrases where the lyrics are going to go. With a guitar, it takes a little more finesse in some regards.

    What's the story behind "Bill Proger's Galaxy?"

    Bill Proger is a fictional character that a friend of ours, from way back when, came up with. We were doing a show, and there was a band that didn't think very highly of our friend. We were all there, and he was kind of hiding out. He told us that if they asked who he was, we were to tell them his name was Bill Proger. We don't really know where he got the name from, but it's been a running joke since 1991 when it happened [Laughs]. It started as a working title. The song was just called "Bill Proger." Then it turned into a really long, epic song, so we just threw "Galaxy" on the end of it.

    It feels like it could be a film score.

    For me, it was about learning how to be more patient with songs. I'm used to the four to five minute template. On this one, you have to wait a bit longer for that. I do like that as an analogy. We spent a lot of time on the record. I'm fortunate to be in a band with three great players, and we also know some exceptional players that contributed. None of us could even begin to touch keyboards or saxophone without making it sound like something horrific. They helped that out quite a great deal.

    How do the shows differ from Clutch shows?

    It's more listening. I think people go into a heavy rock show with the expectation that they're going to get beat over the brains, whereas I'd much rather have people listen to this than have their heads explode. It's more of a listening thing than a dancing thing.

    Where did the title came from?

    That was the title of a rough draft of a song we had. It was called "El Rojo" because it reminded us of King Crimson. "El Rojo" was the working title of a song that actually didn't end up on the record for whatever reason. JP thought it would be a cool title for the record. We thought about it and started talking to Nick who does the artwork. We came up with this idea of a vague character on a celestial level. I think of El Rojo as that character. There's no back-story written about it. The way I look at the album art and listen to the music, I see it as a vague, celestial Don Coyote type character, bouncing around the galaxy from planet to planet. There's no storyline to it, but maybe if there's a film that exists for the record that's what it is.

    Are you a big movie fan?

    I am. I just watched two great movies over the weekend. I saw Nightwatch. It's a Russian film, and it was a lot different than I expected. I like sci-fi and that ilk. I saw In Bruges, which I thought was awesome. Nightwatch started as a TV series that was along the lines of Highlander meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but they turned it into this movie. It's a little hard to follow because it's a really cool Russian take on a pop vampire premise. There's a sequel called Day Watch. Visually, I thought it was really cool. Let the Right One In is on the Netflix coming in too. My wife told me about that, and she said it was pretty good. It sounds pretty sinister.

    What's going on with the next Clutch album?

    As soon as we got home from the last tour over Christmas, we were at Jean Paul's starting to write this next Clutch record. We've got about ten songs written now. We're going to play them on this tour we're doing. It's hard to say where the material's going. On Robot Hive: Exodus, we had organ and harmonica and additional guitar from Brian our stage manager. About a year ago, we stripped everything down to brass tax. At this point, this is an album that sounds like it's going to be pretty stripped down. Still trying to figure out what the album's overall tone is. We never go into a record with a plan. We just follow our guts. Since it's the same four guys, it's always going to have that signature sound by default, but I think we have a collective fear of becoming repetitive. A lot of that has to do with a reaction to the record that precedes it wanting to not be a continuation or a part two. I always want to do something a bit oblique from what we last did. It's better to take a risk and fail than do the same thing. You're not really performing you're just repeating.

    —Rick Florino

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