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An Interview With Clutch Drummer Jean-Paul Gaster: On the ‘Blast Tyrant’ Collector’s Series Edition, Touring, and Advice For New Bands

There are few bands have been as influential as Clutch inside the Stoner Rock scene and the rest of the Rock underground. Although the band may not be Stoner Rock themselves (depending on which album you’re listening to), you’ll frequently spot Clutch gear in band photoshoots, music videos, and the “For Fans Of” section in their bios.

A quick listen to any of Clutch’s albums makes their appeal immediately understandable. Clutch rocks.

And while each member of the band is incredibly talented in his own right (including their past members), it’s their drummer, Jean-Paul Gaster, who serves at the energetic backbone night after night on tour.

More recently, Jean-Paul Gaster (JP) has picked up some additional responsibility in the band’s Collector’s Series—a limited-run re-release of four albums on the band’s Weathermaker Music label.

To kick off the series, JP is leading the charge on Blast Tyrant, one of the band’s most popular albums and the source of many fan favorites at live shows.

We recently caught up with JP inside the band’s famous Doom Saloon to discuss Blast Tyrant within the Collector’s Series, touring, Clutch’s upcoming album, and some of JP’s best advice for new bands.

From Left to Right: Jean-Paul Gaster, Tim Sult, Neil Fallon, Dan Maines

A Conversation With Clutch’s Jean-Paul Gaster

On Clutch’s Upcoming Tour

Monster Riff: Let’s start with touring, since that’s right around the corner. Are you guys prepping to hit the road in about a month?

Jean-Paul Gaster: We are. The first show back is actually going to be the Alaska State Fair, which is going to be a blast. We’ve never played a state fair before. And we’ve never played Alaska. So we’re looking forward to that. We’ll fly up there to Anchorage, do the gig, and fly back. And then the next night, we get on the tour bus and head down to Virginia Beach. And we’ll start our first tour in over a year and a half. [Get tickets]

Clutch’s 2021 Touring Schedule

Monster Riff: First show in more than a year and a half. What are you most looking forward to when it comes to getting back on the road?

Jean-Paul Gaster: More than anything, I’m looking forward to getting out there with the guys in my band and making music again—in front of people—the way we’ve been doing for 30 years. That’s job one. That’s priority one. That’s the thing we enjoy most about being in this band. 

The fact that there’s going to be folks there in the audience to actually watch us makes it even better. We’re so excited about that. We’re going to start playing some of the new songs we’ve been working on. That’ll be a nice time to sort of start experimenting with that. 

Monster Riff: When the pandemic started and everything was locked down, you sort of supplemented your live touring with a live series online. Obviously, the fans were hungry for that, the band did a great job on the Doom Saloon series. But for you, as a musician, how much of that was a tease? How much did you miss having the audience there, even when you were seeing the comments fill up with positive responses?

Jean-Paul Gaster: Yeah, nothing feels like it does to be on stage. When it’s just the four of us in this room, we can’t get that reaction from the crowd that we’re all so used to. It’s a give and take relationship with the audience, and we don’t have that with the shows in here. 

I will say that we rehearsed quite a bit leading up to the shows, which is something we don’t normally do. We’re on the road so much that we might get together for rehearsal maybe once or twice before the tour starts to run through a couple of songs. To be honest, it’s usually a pretty half-assed venture.

But when we were preparing for the streaming shows, we really wanted to make the music come across as though we’ve been well rehearsed, and we wanted to put out as much energy as we could. We knew the only way to do that was to get in here and bang it out several times in rehearsal. 

By the time it actually came to do the show, all of us were super amped up, and anybody who watches any of those streamed shows can tell that we played maybe even a little faster than we normally do live, and there was some real intensity happening. We were just so focused on trying to make the shows in here a little bit like it is in real life. 

On Getting Ready to Perform Live

Monster Riff: When it comes to hitting the road, as you’ve said, you’ve been doing this for a long time. What’s your pre-show process look like? Any sort of rituals you go through to get ready?

Jean-Paul Gaster: Yeah, there’s very much a schedule, and it’s not just for me—it’s for the entire band and crew. We have the day planned out almost to the minute so we always know what’s happening. And for me, that means being ready at soundcheck around 4:00. Leading up to 4:00, I’m trying to get something to eat, trying to at least walk a little bit to get some exercise, maybe do some push-ups. From time to time, I’ll even take an elliptical machine on the road. I try to keep my cardio up while we’re out there. 

After soundcheck, I’ll usually get something to eat, and then I’ll start to practice, and my practice routine varies from day to day, depending on whatever I’ve been listening to or whatever I’m trying to work on. I’ll practice easily for two hours by myself, and I’ll find a broom closet or go out back and set up in the truck. I just get to a place for myself to get in my mindset and think about the drums and what it feels like to hold the sticks, and continue to build that relationship. So I’ll do that for a couple hours. 

Sometimes we’ve got some really great bands that I like to watch, so I might go watch them for a few minutes and then come back and hit the pad a little more. By showtime, I’m usually pretty well warmed up and ready for the gig. 

Monster Riff: You obviously put a lot of energy into the sticks, and you have to, as the drummer of a rock band. What’s your pre-show meal look like? How do you fuel yourself over the course of a show?

Jean-Paul Gaster: I could eat Thai food seven nights a week, usually with some stir fried noodles or some fried rice, maybe some pasta. I like carbs. I do eat quite a bit before I play. It’s a very physical thing. Once you get up there, and you get into a routine, you can tell if you haven’t had a good dinner that night. You’ll feel it on the stage about 20 minutes into the gig. 

On the History Leading Up to Blast Tyrant

Monster Riff: Since we’re talking about being on stage… I’ve seen you play maybe three or four times at this point, and there’s always a good mix of Blast Tyrant in there. I want to dig deep into Blast Tyrant since it’s the first album of your new Collector’s Series, but let’s start by talking about some of the history of the band before Blast Tyrant so we have a little more context. 

If you look at your albums leading up to Blast Tyrant, each one is pretty unique. Transnational Speedway League is much different than Clutch, which is much different than Elephant Riders, which is much different than Pure Rock Fury. In those first 10 years or so of the band, how did you describe your sound? 

Jean-Paul Gaster: I think it wasn’t until maybe the mid-90s when I realized we were playing Rock ‘n’ Roll. Up until then, I don’t think we really understood what we were playing. 

We drew influences from a lot of places. We came up in the east, in the east coast Hardcore scene. We used to go to a lot of Hardcore shows, and we had a lot of friends in that community. It was easy to get gigs, so we played with a lot of Hardcore bands early on. I don’t think we called ourselves Hardcore at any point, but some people sort of labeled us as that. 

Shortly after that, we got signed, and we started touring with bands like Sepultura. We got to tour with Prong. Some people saw us with those bands, and they said, “Well, they’re a Metal band.” We went on tour with Bad Religion, and some people said, “Oh, you’re an Alternative band.”

I think it was in the mid-90s when I started saying, “You know, we play Rock ‘n’ Roll.” And by that time, we had tried a lot of different styles, and we kind of started to find a sound—and it was really an amalgamation of all those things that we grew up listening to, whether it was Hardcore, whether it was Bob Marley or James Brown or Funkadelic or Slayer or Morbid Angel or Helmet—we took a little bit from everybody, and we created this thing.

I think Rock ‘n’ Roll is just that. It’s just a mashup of all these musicians and styles of music. And in the early days of Rock ‘n’ Roll, it was a mash up of Blues and R&B and some Jazz and probably some Country and Hillbilly music. And everybody just sort of took different elements from different styles and combined them into this thing that’s Rock ‘n’ Roll. As far as I’m concerned, Rock ‘n’ Roll can be Hip Hop. It can be Stoner Rock. It can be Metal. It’s all of that stuff put together.

Monster Riff: Right. And Blast Tyrant is Rock ‘n’ Roll, but it’s different from the rest of your albums up to that point.

I’ve been trying to listen to it with fresh ears over the last week. I don’t think you would call Blast Tyrant a breakout album, but it feels like a breakout album. It’s just packed with so much energy. But it’s not quite a breakout album because you were seeing some success before that. The last two albums had charted, and you were seeing some MTV airplay, right? 

Jean-Paul Gaster: Yeah, in the early days, we had a video that was picked up by Beavis and Butthead. And that was also around the same time that we were out with Sepultura, when they were on the Chaos A.D. tour. So in that regard, we did have a little bit of success on MTV, mostly on Headbangers Ball, that kind of thing. 

You are right, we’d had some success, and that just came from touring and touring—with all of these different bands. We always picked up a few fans from every tour that we did. And by 1999, 2000, 2001, we were able to draw respectable audiences, at least a few hundred people in most cities. 

When we released Blast Tyrant, something about that record resonated with a lot of people. I can remember it getting a lot of play on the New Jersey station WSU. They really picked up on that record, and I think they probably played every song on that record over and over. 

And that was the case with a lot of other college radio stations, and, to a small degree, even on some commercial stations as well. We never crossed into that sort of commercial Rock radio scene. We still haven’t. Every once in a while, they’ll play a couple of songs here and there. But I think the thing about Blast Tyrant was it resonated with the fans and it made the fans excited to bring folks around to listen to it. I think it helped to kind of change the tide a little bit, and things started to move more quickly for us at that point. 

Monster Riff: Yeah, I think at that point, Blast Tyrant was your most accessible album for the general population because there’s so much of it heavily rooted in that Rock ‘n’ Roll energy. 

Let’s back up a little bit to talk about the creation of Blast Tyrant. What was that process like? And did you realize at the time that you were writing what would become one of your most popular albums among your fans?

Jean-Paul Gaster: We had no idea that we were making a record that would really change the trajectory of the band. We were looking at it as an experiment. And by that I mean it was the first time that we had worked closely with a producer like Machine. We’d worked with producers prior, but Machine really dug into the songs in a way that people before him hadn’t done. And I think he was also really good at getting us to look at the songs from a fan’s perspective. He was really good at that. 

It changed the way we wrote songs. I think we better understood what it meant to write a chorus and a verse. Before that, we had things that sounded like choruses or sounded like verses, but we never even really called them that. It was just sort of like, “This is the Black Sabbath part, and then we go to the Bad Brains part.”

After Blast Tyrant, we started talking like, “Okay, is this a chorus?” and “This is a bridge.” And it helped us write better songs when we understood what the role of each part was in the tune. Machine helped a lot with that kind of mindset.

Monster Riff: Do you think that’s what has made it such an enduring album over the years for your fans?

Jean-Paul Gaster: I think so. I think Machine was really good at taking elements of Clutch that made us different from other bands. He was able to take those elements and put them together in a way that made it more accessible. I don’t think it made it more commercial, obviously, but it definitely helped us make a record that spread the sound and spread the audience in a way that we hadn’t done prior to that. 

On the Collector’s Series Version of Blast Tyrant

Monster Riff: When we look at the Collector’s Series version of Blast Tyrant, this is actually the second time the band is revisiting the album. You first released the Basket of Eggs version back in 2011. Looking at this album again, you’re 10 years removed from Basket of Eggs and almost 20 years removed from the original incarnation of Blast Tyrant.

What was it like reexperiencing the album this time? Were you able to look at it with fresh eyes and from a fresh perspective despite performing many of the songs on a regular basis?

Jean-Paul Gaster: Absolutely. And I think one of the things that helped with that was the fact that we had it remastered. It’s been 20 years since we’ve done that. We’ve been working with a great mastering engineer, Paul Lucas, and he’s mastered all of the stuff on the Weathermaker label so far. So for him to go back and remaster Blast Tyrant was super interesting. I was able to hear stuff in the record that I hadn’t heard before. 

I think the relationship between the bass and the drum is a little bit more defined in this version of the album. The remaster sounds quite different. So in that way, I was able to kind of look at it from a fresh perspective. 

I think one thing that I’d forgotten about is how much layering there is on some songs. There are a lot of guitar parts that don’t necessarily get played live but lend a lot to the overall vibe of the tune. Sometimes there’s a guitar part that might come in just for one chorus or maybe one verse. In that way, I think Blast Tyrant is kind of an ear candy sort of record, where you want to put on a pair of headphones and listen to what’s coming in the left speaker and the right speaker. It’s kind of an audiophile record in that way.

"Blast Tyrant" Collector's Series Artwork
The Blast Tyrant design for the Collector’s Series

On the New Artwork For Blast Tyrant

Monster Riff: You worked with Chon Hernandez on the artwork for the Collector’s Series. He was the artist on the original version of the album as well. What was that conversation like this time? How did you guys approach the redesign?

Jean-Paul Gaster: When Chon did the original artwork, he was a very young artist. He’s actually the brother of Oscar Hernandez, our tour manager of 20 years. He’s been with the band for over 25 years, so we’ve known Chon since he was just a little kid. He started tattooing in the early 2000s, and he’s a really creative guy. He managed to build a Blast Tyrant world by drawing characters for each of the songs. Because of that, I think the record has that sort of feeling where you listen to it and you look at what’s going on with the characters, and you sort of jump into this world, the world of Blast Tyrant

When we wanted to do the reissue, I spoke with Chon and I said, “Hey, man, we’ve got this idea. We want to do Blast Tyrant, but Blast Tyrant 20 years later. What does that character look like?” He was into it right away. He said, “I’ll get right back to you.” 

Within a day or two, we had sketches already going. It took a little bit of time, but he put together the Blast Tyrant drawing that’s on the cover of the re-release. It’s interesting because his style and skill has grown. And I think the legend of Blast Tyrant has grown as well. So it was fun to work with him in that respect. Once we got it to work, we were able to kind of create a whole new world. We used different color schemes and we wanted it to look really different than the original. 

Blast Tyrant's Original Cover
Blast Tyrant‘s Original Cover

Monster Riff: This re-release is a limited release of 5,000 copies. The pre-sale copies sold out almost immediately. Are there any left for purchasing?

Jean-Paul Gaster: I think there are some left in your local record store. We sold some of them through Clutch merch, but the vast majority of them actually went out to record stores. It’s important to make sure these record stores can stay in business. We wanted to get them as many copies of this thing as possible while also selling a few on our own. But at the same time, this is a limited release, so we don’t intend to make another 5,000 of this particular release. We’re going to move on to other records.

It really is a collector’s item. It’s unique; it’s not for everyone. It’s for the super fan. It’s for the audio fan.

On the Collector’s Series

Monster Riff: What I love about the Collector’s Series is that an individual band member is going to lead the charge on each record. How do you think this album would have turned out differently if say, Neil or Tim or Dan had been in charge of it?

Jean-Paul Gaster: I could tell you that Neil is working on a record now, one of our classic albums, and his way of addressing the artwork is completely different than the original. And Tim is working on another one as well. Dan is finishing up Robot Hive/Exodus, which is going to be the next one in the series. For that one, Dan worked with Nick Lakiotes, the original artist for Robot Hive/Exodus. That also looks completely different from the original. So it’s hard to say how each one is going to end up in the end, but it’s kind of a fun to sort of be the Art Director for an album. Traditionally, Neil has a lot to do with artwork on each record. He’ll often bring ideas to the table and we roundtable those and discuss them. For one band member to sort of curate the record from front to back is a unique thing.

Monster Riff: Do you have a timeline for Robot Hive/Exodus or any of the others to come out?

Jean-Paul Gaster: Robot Hive/Exodus will be coming out this year. Everything is ready to go. The difficulty with it these days is that the pressing plants are so backed up. And it’s just not the pressing plant that we use. It’s everybody across the board. Part of it is just not having the materials there because it’s hard to get stuff shipped around the country when we don’t have people driving trucks or working at pressing plants. That part of it’s been difficult. Plus, everybody wants vinyl. But it looks like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I think we’re going to be able to get this record out before the end of the year. And then, of course, we’re thinking about the album for next year, a brand new record. So there’s a lot of stuff on the horizon for us.

Monster Riff: And on the re-release, each album is numbered and autographed, right?

Jean-Paul Gaster: That’s correct. They’re all numbered. And they each come with a signed lithograph. The four of us hang out in a room back there in the warehouse, and we stack them all up. And we put on a podcast or Motörhead and sign away. 

Monster Riff: How brutal is the process of signing 5,000 albums? I feel like you would need to build in a burrito break or a beer break. 

Jean-Paul Gaster: We do those. Those are actually encouraged. In fact, some of the signatures are better than others. My signature is a joke to begin with because my handwriting is terrible. So by number 3000, I started looking at it and I’m like, “What is that thing?”

On Clutch’s Upcoming Album

Monster Riff: Let’s dig into your next album. First of all, do you currently have an album’s worth of songs together?

Jean-Paul Gaster: We do. We did pre-production with a producer the week before last. We went into pre-production with 13 songs. And we came out with 14. Now, whether or not we record all 14 of those, I’m not sure. We’ll probably write some more things between now and when we jump into the studio, but I think we have the meat and potatoes there for a pretty great record. 

Monster Riff: What does the album sound like so far? How does it compare to, say, Earth Rocker or Psychic Warfare or Book of Bad Decisions?

Jean-Paul Gaster: I think it’s hard to tell right now because we’re so inside the process. Sometimes it takes a year for me to be able to really hear a record. It takes a while for it to sink in. It’s been an interesting process, though, to write because we are so used to being able to write a song or three songs and hit the road, and we try those ideas out live. And the best thing about playing that song out live is that you know right away if the tune is going to work, if the tempo is where it needs to be, if the chorus is where it needs to be. We don’t really have that kind of interaction happening right now. So the process has been very different for us. We think a lot about what it is we’re trying to accomplish, what stuff we want to write. And it’s been a little bit like swimming in a fishbowl here for the four of us, so having a producer come in and help us kind of see the songs from a different perspective was incredibly helpful. 

As far as what the end product is going to sound like, it’s hard to tell. There’s a lot of Rock and stuff. It’s a heavier record than I would have thought at first. There’s definitely some fast stuff in there, but there’s also some slower and mid-tempo things that we haven’t done before. There are some different riffing styles on there, too. 

We work hard not to repeat ourselves. We have been together for 30 years as the same guys, so at some point we’re going to play stuff that sounds like we’ve done before, but we make a real effort to just keep things evolving in some capacity.

On Advice For New Bands

Monster Riff: Last question: You’ve been at this for three decades now, which is really rare. Most bands last a couple of albums, maybe three, over 5 or 10 years. For the young bands out there, what does it take to have the sort of longevity Clutch has had? 

Jean-Paul Gaster: I think the first thing you can do, if longevity is the goal, is find folks who are of the same mindset. Find folks that are motivated to do the same kinds of things in music. By that I mean, if you are 17 years old and you want to play stadiums and be heard on every active Rock station in the country, find three other people who are of that same mindset and want to do that. This way, everybody’s on the same page. 

Speaking for Clutch, we didn’t go into it with that mindset. Our mindset was, we want to play some shows, and we want to make the best recordings that we can make. The idea of making a career out of it was not on the agenda at all. In fact, the bands at that time who were able to make a career out of it—we didn’t like. We thought those bands were corny. The bands on Rock radio and played stadiums were, for the most part, just cheesy. Like the Hair acts, we couldn’t relate to them. 

We came from a completely different mindset where we were honestly in it for the music. Some folks want to get in because they want to party, that’s totally fine. Find three other folks who want to do that. And then y’all can just party. But the difficulty I think comes when one guy in the band has aspirations to be maybe a singer-songwriter, and another guy in the band wants to make a million dollars, and the other guy really just wants to be on a Jazz gig. That’s where things start to become difficult. And so I think the first thing you can do is find folks who are like-minded and set a goal for yourselves.

Learn More About Clutch

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