Clutch: The Elephant Riders

By Pat Mitchell

The new CD The Elephant Riders is to the band Clutch what "Citizen Kane" is to Orson Welles. That classic film has been deemed the greatest film ever made and established Welles as a genius. The Elephant Riders may not be the greatest album ever made but it stands tall as innovative, reflective, creative and daring. So bears the question, who is this band Clutch?

Formed by high school pals Neil Fallon (vocals), Tim Sult (guitar), Dan Gaines (bass) and Jean-Paul Gaster (drums) in 1991, the Germantown, Maryland, band's early music was characterized as aggressive metal with post punk overtones.

Our live shows and word of mouth have built what we have now, " noted Neil Fallon. "People know the live show will be full of music they haven't heard before. A song may sound one way on the album but we like to change it up live. That's the joy of playing live; you don't have to do things the same over and over again. We know we can always tour and play and that has been our bread and butter between the hard times."

[Record] labels are important," Fallon continued. "Labels are important for certain things like tour support and distribution. We have never made a record label a golden ring for us. Getting dropped doesn't bother us; it's not like a girlfriend dumping you. We don't take it personally. We realize that we are not a one-hit radio wonder band; we can't supply a label with that kind of music."

Ironically, The Elephant Riders has been a radio hit, embraced by rock radio. The CD debuted at #1 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart and scaled to #1 on numerous trade publication, college and metal charts. This year the band has shared the bill with heavyweights Limp Bizkit, Sevendust and Slayer.

Musically, I'm always surprised by what we do," Fallon noted. "I don't write most of the songs. Jean-Paul, Tim and Dan write the music and I hear almost the finished product. I think that adds to the excitement compared to hearing the same old riff develop. In the beginning, most of our songs were straightforward, with one or two riffs over a two- to three-minute song. Now there are nine to ten riff and tempo changes in one song (I attribute this to the fact we're listening to more jazz)."

We try to entertain ourselves first and foremost, not considering what other people will think of it. I must say that it's harder to write lyrics to the more complicated songs they seem to coming out with lately. But, I like the challenge."

If ever a band has over-analyzed, it is Clutch. The group has been interpreted and second guessed since Clutch's major label debut Transnational Speedway League's odes to monster trucks and declarations of redneck philosophies. The Elephant Riders is lyrically far more obscure than other Clutch offerings. The lyrics on this CD entertain a freaky kind of historical perversion. Fallon maintains that the lyrics are a result of their relocation to Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, a town soaked in Post-Revolution and Civil War history. No matter what eccentric ideas are exhaled by Clutch, the overall theme seems to be the promotion of free thinking.

It's all entertainment. I never intentionally put in a message 'do this' or 'I'm about that,'" Fallon laughed when questioned about his unorthodox, sometimes no-nonsense lyrics. "I can write a song and say with complete conviction that I did this or that. If you say it with enough conviction people will believe you. It's all fantasy. Half the time I don't even know what the song's about, it just sounds good as far as word flow and sentence structure."

Massive radio airplay, critically acclaimed albums, chart-topping songs and all the lunacy of judging the success of music aside, Clutch exists for music's sake. They express in music the examination of life through close ups, shadowing and any other viewpoint available.

Clutch will perform at the Brewery on July 10.