When it comes to bands that have remained relevant through eras and generations, there’s no better example than Maryland hard rockers Clutch. Formed back in 1991, while the members were in high school, and twelve albums later here we are still discussing them as a relevant act.
The group released their latest album, Book of Bad Decisions, back in September which has garnered them extremely positive reviews from fans and critics alike. This new recording is yet another example of the fact that Clutch has remained one of the best under-the-radar rock acts of the last quarter century. While recently at Riot Fest in Chicago, we caught up with Clutch lead guitarist Tim Sult for a lengthy and playful chat about the band, their origins and a whole lot of randomness.
Hi everyone. This is the Metal Mistress here at Riot Fest in Chicago. And I am interviewing Tim Sult from Clutch, one of my favorite metal bands. So, Tim, welcome.
Tim Sult: Hi, Metal Mistress.
Hi. It’s a pleasure to have you here. Thank you for joining me for a few minutes to tell me a little bit about your career.
So, um, I wanna start out with a few questions about how long you guys have been together. So, Clutch has been around since 1991, if I remember?
Sult: Eh, we have definitely been around since 1991. It’s been a long time.
And you’re from Frederick…
Sult: Yeah, we were originally based out of Maryland, the DC area. But we’re based out of Frederick, Maryland now.
The song and video for “Electric Worry” stand out as one of the most popular of Clutch’s entire existence.
Okay. So, you guys started in high school. How did that come about? Did you just have nothing else to do? Were you tired of playing D&D?
Sult: Uh, well originally, the other guys in the band had a hardcore band in high school. Um, this would have been I guess 1988, ‘89. And one of the guys from the band asked me to join the band. At that point, I was already out of high school. Um, so I started playing with these guys in 1989 when I was 19 years old. And we’ve been writing songs together ever since. We started using the Clutch name in 1991. There were a few different versions of the band, a few different bands between us, and you know, we eventually settled on Clutch in 1991.
So, how did the Clutch name come about?
Sult: Uh, we decided to change our name from Glut Trip. G-L-U-T, T-R-I-P. It was really confusing for people.
I can see why you changed it.
Sult: Yeah. And uh, we changed it right before a show. We had a show booked in DC. We were like, alright, we don’t wanna be Glut Trip anymore. What are we gonna be? And Dan our bass player I think suggested Clutch. So, we stuck with it.
Well, it seems to work for you guys. (laughs)
Sult: I hope so.
So, I’m a fan of your music. My husband introduced me. It’s all his fault. (laughs) And part of the reason I love your music is because of your iconography. It ranges from hot rods to Illuminati to Barbarella. So, tell me a little bit about how you guys come up with your creative process and the pop culture references that you all bring to it.
Sult: We all get together and write the music together. And Neil is the one, our singer, that does all the lyrics. And I just always have to say that I have nothing to do with the lyrics, and I’m very happy to be in a band with somebody who could write such great lyrics that I’m a fan of as well. You know, ‘cause I’m as much of a fan of Neil as our fans are.
But, so as a guitar player, what do you find is your one challenge with such lyrics?
Sult: Well, quite honestly usually the music exists before the lyrics. So, there really isn’t a huge challenge in that perspective.
That’s an interesting process. You come up with your music before and then he fits the lyrics to the songs?
Sult: Usually that is the way it works. Yup.
What is your favorite Clutch song?
Sult: Usually my favorite Clutch song is the newest Clutch song. Um, right now I’m gonna say probably “In Walks Barbarella” is my favorite new Clutch song to play.
We watched the video for that this morning. I made him turn it on. It’s one of my favorites. I really enjoy it. I’m a big Barbarella fan. So, now you guys started Weathermaker, your own label a number of years ago. Is that correct?
Sult: Yes. We’ve been doing our own label for about ten years now, I think.
What are the challenges you have encumbered through the time of having your own label and not being on somebody else’s label? Is it more challenging?
Sult: Um, ever since we’ve been doing our own stuff, everything has been considerably easier and less challenging. Everything is awesome now that we’re not having to deal with other people.
So, you’re telling me being in control of your own destiny works out for you?
Sult: It’s been working out really great. We hired a great label manager. And you know, he has a big part of it. He’s done such a great job and really you know, helped to keep Weathermaker moving forward.
Would you recommend that for other artists? To take control of their own destiny by creating their own label?
Sult: It seems like these days that is probably a better option.
I’ve looked at some of your past interviews, and on one of your past interviews. (laughs) I know you’ve done lots so if you don’t remember it, just tell me, forget it. You stated that when you started doing your music videos, it was hard to find a good director because most of the good directors wanted to do fast cars and girls. Do you remember?
Sult: Oh, yeah, yeah. I remember those days. Yeah, back in the old major label days. And, yeah. For some reason, a lot of people really, really see fast cars when they hear our music.
Get your cowboy boots on for “A Quick Death in Texas.”
Okay. You have put out quite a few really good videos lately, including “Shaking Hands.” So, how did you develop some of your more well-known videos? What kind of director do you look for? And what kind of message are you trying to send with your videos?
Sult: Well for the first few videos, I mean, for the last few videos, first few videos, ever since this whole lyric video thing came around, we kind of started playing around with that a little bit. We put out a couple lyric videos, I think for “Earth Rocker” and for maybe another song off the album Earth Rocker. And then we went back to doing normal videos for the Physic Warfare album, where we did “X-Ray Visions” and “Quick Death in Texas.” But we’ve been working with the director that did the video for “Quick Death in Texas,” Dave Brodsky.
Sult: And he did all those four lyric videos. We kind of decided to combine lyric videos with real videos. Um, which is something I’ve personally never seen before. So, we just wanted to make our lyric videos a little more interesting. And I think these ones kind of turned out funny. But I think what we’re going for and the message that we’re trying to give in the video is just us trying to be silly in the video.
Well, you succeeded. I love your videos, they make us all laugh. But I especially like the way you ham it up in the videos. (laughs)
Sult: I’ve been working on my acting over the past four videos. So, I’m not a good actor yet.
(laughs) Oh, I think you do pretty good. (laughs) What are the challenges doing videos that you have come across as a musician who doesn’t normally do videos?
Sult: The most challenging part was the boots that I had to wear in the “Quick Death in Texas” video. They were the most uncomfortable … It was the most uncomfortable footwear I’ve ever worn in my life. That was the biggest challenge for me.
So, we can’t put you in a pair of stilettos in the next video?
Sult: They would be more comfortable for sure. We might do that.
I was gonna say, these must have been the video, the boots from hell.
Sult: Oh, they were awful. So painful.
(laughs) Alright. So, I want to kind of switch topics a little bit, away from your videos, and get your opinion on how you classify your music. So, if you look you guys up on Wiki, they just can’t decide what to do with you. You’re southern rock, you’re prog rock, you’re hard rock, you’re heavy metal. There’s also a current trend that identifies you guys as bro metal.
Sult: As what?
Sult: Ah, come on. We’re definitely not bro metal. I’m totally fine with hard rock. That’s all encompassing and could be anything. I’m totally fine with hard rock. We’re definitely not bro metal, come on…
No, I definitely agree with you. But how do you feel that maybe that label because you are in a few articles online classified as that kind of music. Does it send a negative message to your female fans? And how do you think some of that may be taken with that being out there for you guys?
Sult: Oh, no, no, no. I don’t think it sends a negative message at all. When I hear the phrase bro metal, I just think you know … Uh, I don’t know what I think.
That was a nice cover. (laughs) It’s okay, I agree with you. And as a female, I love your music. But I do know I’ve met some females who when I say I like Clutch, they give me a dirty look and go, why do you like that bro metal stuff?
Sult: You know what? Honestly, as someone who plays with a lot of bro metal bands at festivals, I’m gonna say the bro metal bands have a lot of female fans.
Agreed. I completely understand that. Like Disturbed, Limp Bizkit. I’m a big fan of both of them, but they’re both classified as that. So, it’s something that I find interesting in our society, is it’s pigeonholing certain bands into a certain kinda gender role.
Sult: I think it’s just people on the internet have nothing better to do than name new kinds of music.
I would agree with that. Trying to classify some bands I’ve seen, I would agree with it. Every time I turn around, there’s a new label.
Sult: We used to be considered stoner rock. And I was totally fine with that, too.
Yes. And prog rock, I don’t think the label identifies a musician. What draws you to the kinda music you play?
Sult: I don’t know. It’s just kind of a combination of all the music that we listen to and love. You know? It’s like hard rock, funk, metal, punk, soul, go-go, DC go-go music. It’s all kind of a combination of one thing that turns into Clutch.
You seem like you guys have a good time together, playing together. I know you get this question a lot, but I’m gonna ask it for my listeners, do you guys actually get along and are you friends off-stage? Considering you’ve been high school friends for so long?
Sult: Sure, absolutely. Yeah, for sure. And you know, we’re all in this together and we want the best for the band and to grow and you know continue writing songs and playing shows for our fans. It’s awesome. It’s the funnest thing ever. It’s better than having a real job.
I was gonna ask you that. I was like, why did you choose music? Or did it just happen? Why not law or art or accounting?
Sult: It just kind of happened, really. I mean, I worked at UPS before this, and then you know, we got signed to a major label. So, I haven’t looked back since whenever that was. When I was 22 years old.
Very cool. What kinda shows do you prefer to do? Do you like the festivals like we are at Riot Fest? Or do you like the you know. Smaller venues like the bar venues? ‘Cause we saw you at if I remember right, it was in St. Louis at one of the smaller bars.
Sult: St. Louis? At Pop’s?
Yes. Or do you like the arenas? So what kind of venue really do you enjoy as a musician?
Sult: I like them all. The smaller places usually sound better on stage. But I mean, it’s always fun to play for a huge amount of people. And like you know, going to Spain and playing with Guns N’ Roses at a huge festival is always fun. But playing, you know, playing club shows is awesome too. That’s mostly what we do. So, I’m never gonna complain about playing small venues.
Good, I think that’s great because I love small venues.
Sult: And I wouldn’t really consider Pop’s that small of a venue. They book all kinds of huge bands there. And we’re playing there again on this tour. It never ends. We’re always gonna go back to Pop’s.
Pop’s is awesome. My husband used to work at Pop’s, and it’s one of his home band venues. He loves it. So, now you guys have this new or semi-new Bakerstown group?
Sult: The what?
You guys have a jam band?
Sult: Uh, yeah.
Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Sult: The Bakerton Group was something that we did a long time ago. This probably would’ve been the late ’90s when we started doing this? It’s just like an instrumental version of Clutch. We put out one EP, probably in the late ’90s, maybe around 2000 or so. We played a few shows, just for fun, around DC and Baltimore. And then once we got a keyboard player in the band, we decided to revisit The Bakerton Group and we did a couple Bakerton Group albums.
Neil was not involved in The Bakerton Group until the last Bakerton Group release where he plays guitar on it as well. Actually the original version, the original reason that it started was because Neil had moved to Colorado for a while. And we had nothing better to do than you know, write instrumental songs and play shows, because we were bored.
That’s how some of the best stuff comes around.
Sult: But honestly, we haven’t done that for a long time. It’s been at, probably at least ten years since we’ve done that.
So, end of the year. You guys have had a very long career. How would you describe the changes you’ve seen in the music industry? Any good ones? Any bad ones?
Sult: You know, I don’t think it’s really necessarily good or bad, it’s just different. You know, for me, for us, personally, it’s worked out very well with the complete collapse of the record label. Um, so you know, it’s really up to bands and artists to figure out a way to survive. That’s what we did and we’re still here.
So, who were some of your influences from past musicians?
Sult: When I first started playing guitar, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden were probably my biggest influences.
You and I will get along just fine then. What about now? There are so many new artists, and it’s such an eclectic mix, especially here at Riot Fest. Who have you enjoyed seeing at Riot Fest? And what other young and up-and-coming artists do you suggest and enjoy?
Sult: My favorite young and up-and-coming artist that I’ve seen today is Fear. I think they’re somewhere around 70 or 75 years old. Um, they were my favorite band I’ve seen so far.
And that folks is Tim being a smart ass. (laughs)
Sult: Oh, no. I’m serious, they were my favorite band I’ve seen so far today.
Mine too, besides you guys who are on soon. So, a couple of quick, fun questions. What do you like to do when you’re not performing?
Sult: You mean on tour or at home?
Sult: Well I have four kids. So, I just do kid stuff when I’m at home. I just do normal dad stuff during the day. Uh, on tour, I just wait around to play. It’s pretty boring.
Clutch hit you with some “Crucial Velocity” in this video.
How do your kids think of dad being a rockstar?
Sult: I don’t know if they know that I’m a rockstar. But, they’re into it. It’s kind of hard to be away from your family for so long. They get kind of bummed out. But, I think they’re into it.
Do they like your type of music? Or do they go, oh dad, don’t do that again?
Sult: Oh no, they love it. My oldest son has gone to like the local rock school where I live, and he’s already played four shows himself, and he’s eight years old. So, he’s definitely into it.
That’s fantastic. So, one last question, fun question, off the top of my head, if you could be a superhero, which superhero would you like to be?
Sult: A superhero. Well, there’s all kinds of new superheroes that I didn’t know about until I had kids.
Uh-oh, I stumped you.
Sult: You did stump me. I’m trying to think of- I’m trying to think of some superheroes. Uh, Black Panther.
(laughs) And that folks, is Tim from Clutch. Thank you very much for taking time to speak with me today. I know you have a busy schedule. So, I look forward to seeing you perform later.
Sult: Cool. Thank you.