Clutch

Neil Fallon’s Voice: The Pipes Behind Clutch’s Sound

Clutch vocalist and lyricist Neil Fallon is beloved for his distinctive voice. That gravely bass has been imitated by bands all over the world, like the Ohio-based Mississippi Bones and Sweden’s Blind Dog. Outside of Clutch, his voice has let him spearhead the Hard Rock act The Company Band and the Metal group Dunsmuir (and it’s also earned him time in the studio with a bunch of other bands). He’s been in the businesses for nearly 30 years, thanks to his involvement with Clutch. Not bad for a guy who was the band’s second selection on the microphone. 

We love Neil Fallon for many reasons. The audacious stage presence. The madman beard. The zip off dad pants. But the biggest reason we love him is his voice. Fallon delivers that gravelly bass with a gravitas that makes every word prophetic, empowering him to pull off lines that no one in Stoner Rock could. Imagine John Garcia (Kyuss) shouting “Telekinetic, prophetic, dynamite!” or Dave Wyndorf (Monster Magnet) amping up the crowd with a pulsating “Dodge Swinger 1973, top down, chassis low… Panel dim, light drive, Jesus on the dashboard.”

It doesn’t work.

Sure, they could both deliver the words, but the lines would be drained of that deep vocal distortion only Neil Fallon pulls off.

But the voice we identify with today took time to perfect, evolving as the band’s own sound matured. 

Neil Fallon’s Vocal Evolution

Listen back to 1993’s Transnational Speedway League. On opening track “A Shogun Named Marcus,” Fallon heaps on the distortion, growling each line. A few songs later, he delivers most of “Rats” in an incoherent snarl, nearly stumbling over syllables in “Please tell me what the ratties say! Rats over the dishes!”

By the time we reach 1995’s Clutch, some of the fury behind the delivery is replaced with experimentation. The main “Escape From the Prison Planet” doesn’t even sound like Fallon (although it is), coming across instead like a barrel-chested squirrel on its last breath. In “Big News I,” Fallon drops his voice even lower, using chest compression like he’s projecting over a boat of pirates.

It isn’t until 1998’s The Elephant Riders that we start to get the Neil Fallon delivery we all love. Finally, Neil commits to singing relatively clean—although many of the vocals are distorted during production. Despite the efforts to cut down on experimentation, we do see multiple vocal techniques in individual songs, like Fallon’s vocals in the title track.

Then comes 2001’s Pure Rock Fury. This is the first time we see (mostly) Neil’s current approach, with a few deviations mixed in. “American Sleep” opens with Neil lowering his voice, as if he’s trying to pull his chin through his chest, and “Pure Rock Fury” escapes his lips like a shovel dragging on concrete. Fallon modifies his voice throughout most of the album, but his delivery is more consistent—and it’s the first glimpse of what’s to come.

Robot Hive/Exodus. This 2005 album is when Neil finally settles into his voice, sticking with (largely) the same approach for an entire album. It’s deep, it’s booming, and it’s his signature sound. 

Neil Fallon’s Range and Merit

While we praise where praise is due, we’re also fair: When it comes to technical range, Neil Fallon isn’t that special. There are plenty of singers who can outshine Neil Fallon on proficiency. If you’ve come to Stoner Rock for vocal range, start with The Quill, Spiritual Beggars, or Valley of the Sun.

But here’s where we encounter the anomaly. His vocal range isn’t impressive, but his delivery makes it worthwhile. It’s everything combined together that makes Neil Fallon special. The gravel. The growl. The verbosity. During live shows, it’s the finger wagging at the crowd or thrusted into the sky like Socrates.

Neil Fallon is a rare package.

Keeping Fit Like Neil Fallon

There aren’t a ton of people who can do what he does (and for nearly three decades). Just listen to his first few lines on “Who Wants to Rock” on Jam Room. Here, Fallon sounds like he smoked a carton of cigarettes before grabbing the microphone in a fit of rage.

The man has pipes. But there was a time when it looked like Neil Fallon might never sing again. Back in 2013, Fallon was diagnosed with cervical spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spacing in your spine, which can lead to pain in numbness through the back and neck. Treating Fallon’s condition required pushing the voice box aside to repair the spine. 

Fortunately for Fallon (and for his fans), the operation was successful—without hampering his vocal delivery. 

Still, Fallon has taken better care of his vocal chords in recent years, jumping into his first vocal lesson only a couple of years ago. In an interview with Blabbermouth, Fallon explained that it was a matter of endurance: “I want to be able to sing just as well on the last night of a tour as I do on the first night. There’s a lot of exercises that involve singing in falsetto voice or head voice, which sound really ridiculous when I’m doing it, but if it means that the show’s that much better for it, then I’m all about it.”

Monster Riff’s Top 5 Neil Fallon Vocal Tracks

Our favorite vocal deliveries are a combination of voice and lyrics. They are:

Burning Beard

There are a couple of moments we really love about “Burning Beard.” In the first few lines, when Fallon sings, “Every day / We wake up / We drink a lot of coffee and watch the CNN,” the frantic energy he bring to the microphone makes it sound like he woke up and drank a lot of coffee. Later on, at the 1:11 mark, he lets out a multi-second roar, as if he suddenly transformed into a tiger. 

X-Ray Visions

“X-Ray Visions” knocked fans over the moment it came out, largely because of its chorus: “Telekinetic, prophetic, dynamite! Psychic warfare is real! I know what you’re thinking, sister. X-ray vision!” Like he said earlier, this is one of those songs that wouldn’t come off as well if someone else sang it. 

In Walks Barbarella

A sonic and literary cousin to “X-Ray Visions,” “In Walks Barbarella” comes with its own classic Clutch line: “DEFCON! Tractor beams! Weaponized funk!” 

El Dorado (The Company Band)

One Neil is good, but two Neils is better. “El Dorado” is one of those few instances where we hear multiple clean vocal tracks from Neil layered upon each other. The result is as powerful as the song’s subject matter (portioning out your travel companion to survive your journey). 

Shogun Named Marcus

“Yes, I’m a New World Samurai, and a redneck nonetheless!” That’s the icing to the lyrical cake bursting with flavor. 

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