Clutch: How the Band Became So Popular

Clutch band

Clutch: How the Band Became Popular

Clutch, a band that hails from Maryland has enjoyed three decades of success on major and minor labels. But, how did they get there? Check out Rock N’ Roll True Stories look at the band below!

Clutch has weathered a long career that’s spanned three decades, dealt with big and small labels & they’ve also survived a huge shift in the music industry in the 2000’s and 2010’s. Their fans known as Gearheads have learned that Clutch’s sound continually evolves Today, let’s talk about the history of the band. 


For many people, Clutch first became popular in the early 90’s with their first full length record Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes and Undeniable Truths which produced the single A Shogun Named Marcus. The band’s origins dated back to around 1988-1989 when Clutch would be formed by four friends who attended Seneca Valley High School  in Germantown, Maryland including vocalist Neil Fallon, guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster. One story I read claimed that the band didn’t form until after high school according to guitarist Tim Sult. –  


When band originally formed and they called themselves Moral Minority. Before moving onto Glut Trip.The band would try out a few singers in their early days before Neil Fallon fronted the band. By the summer of 1991 they officially changed their name to clutch telling people it stood for City/State Liberation Union To Cleanse Humanity.


Due to the proximity of Washington DC, the band would be influenced by groups including Fugazi and Minor Threat. And the band’s early sound was more representative of hardcore punk. Frontman Neil fallon would tell Louder Sound 

“I can’t count how many times I would see Fugazi roll up to a place that wasn’t suited to a rock show and play under fluorescent lights,” “No light show, no t-shirts for sale, they just burned down the house. That bare-bones ethic affected us deeply.”


 Fallon would tell psyhology today how punk influenced him early on revealing  “I got into singing just because it was something cool to do in high school … . I hung out with people that were into music that were on the margins, kind of in the periphery of acceptable music,” “There was a time where punk rock, hard core and heavy metal were shunned, whereas now it has become much more acceptable. It seemed that much more of a threat involved. And I think that what attracted me was the taboo of it.”


While politics would play a heavy part in the band’s who originated from D.C. it never really found it’s way into Clutch’s music.


It wasn’t just bands like minor threat and fugazi who influenced band’s music as the go-go scene was as equally influential. Go go music would incorporate elements of funk along with hip hop, the blues and R&B and included audience participation.

Clutch would soon become well known for their visual lyrics written by frontman Neil Fallon. He would tell psychology today  I’ve always been attracted to the idea of a tall tale, where you take a truth, and you exaggerate it. But any story, like if you take myth for example, it may be filled with exaggeration and half-truths. But ultimately, it’s to arrive at or depict a universal truth.”

The band would release their first EP, Pitchfork, in October of 1991. Following the release of the EP the band would attend a corrosion of conformity concert where they gave out some of their debut EP which eventually found it’s way into the hands of a kid named James Graw  who loved the release. He  ran a fanzine (fan-zeen) in Kansas and It turned out earache records advertised in the magazine and they signed Clutch.


. The following year they would release their first major commercial EP 1992’s Passive Restraints. Labels at the time were signing  punk-metal bands like Helmet, a band that Clutch bore some resemblance to. The group’s second EP would get them noticed by major labels and they would soon sign with Atlantic Records subsidiary EastWest. 


In 1993 Clutch would release Transnational Speedway League introducing the band to a larger audience with the track “A Shogun Named Marcus”” The band would soon establish themselves as one of the best groove bands out there. They also soon started to get labeled as stoner rock alongside bands like Kyuss who I’ve done a video on.  The MTV show beavis and butthead gave the band some love featuring the video for a shogun named marcus.  


Neil Fallon would tell Revolver 

“We wanted Transnational to sound like the Melvins…. The stuff we recorded there was a lot slower and representative of our early influences, stuff like the Melvins and Swans. But I got burned out at that session pretty quickly and we came back to New York for a second session. That’s where we wrote ‘A Shogun Named Marcus,’ &  ‘Rats,’ which were faster and had more of a sense of humor…I discovered that I could just make stuff up and tell a story. To support the record Clutch would open for the likes of Sepultura, Monster Magnet, Biohazard, Voidvod and Fear Factory.


The experience opening for these bands would be mixed as fallon would tell Vice I remember doing shows opening up for big metal bands, and just being hated because it looked like we were having a good time. Metal is a very conservative genre—there are a lot of close-minded guys and gals. There’s an irony to it. There are a lot of metal fans who claim to be only into extreme things, but their list of extreme things is very, very narrow.


By Late 1994 the band entered Silver Spring, Maryland’s Uncle Punchy Studios to record their self-titled sophomore album. Considered some of their most commercially successful work their self titled record would see an eclectic range of influences including metal,and classic rock. Fallon would tell Revolver Prior to this album, we were listening to a lot of metal and hardcore, like Prong, Bad Brains, and Cro-Mags. Then we rediscovered classic rock, which added more swing, more riffs, and less power chords to our music The album would peak at number 33 on the heatseakers  album charts moving over 200,000 units. The album is  held in high regards as one of the best stoner rock albums of the 90’s. 


By the mid 90’s the band signed with Columbia Records who put out their 1998 album The Elephant Riders. But the band ran into problems. Musical tastes had changed. Grunge and so-called alternative rock was gone, now replaced with Nu-Metal. The band started recording sessions for the album renting a house in West Virgina. The area the band stayed in was rife with civil war history and the band wanted the surrounding area’s stories to seep into their new album. The label columbia, was disappointed with the album the band submitted and they forced the group to re-record the album in New Yok City  with veteran producer Jack Douglas who had previously worked with John Lennon, the Who and Aerosmith). 

Fallon would tell Revolver “It was a great luxury to go to New York and record with Jack Douglas, but at the same time it wasn’t the easiest record to make because of [the label’s] involvement. It’s embarrassing to think about how much money [Columbia] dumped into this record. It wasn’t even money in our pockets! That’s not to say I don’t like the record; it’s just I associate it with things that the listener doesn’t.. 

While the album charted it wasn’t enough for the label and Columbia dropped the band. Their follow up record 1999 saw the band go back to their indie roots and release the album Jam Room. Once again major labels showed interest and the band signed with Atlantic Records who put out their 2001 album Pure Rock Fury. Atlantic like their previous record label Columbia didn’t know how to market the band. A perfect example of this was when a program director for North Carolina rock station, WXQR (Rock 105), Brian Rickman, told the label they should change their first single from the album and Atlantic agreed. Careful with the mic seemed largely influenced by rap-rock which was popular at the time and the song started to get radio airplay.. However,  Fallon didn’t agree with releasing the song as a single because he was worried people would think Clutch were cashing in on what was popular at the time. The band would eventually depart atlantic signing with indie label DRT. The band would end up releasing an album in 2004 titled Blast Tyrant which had a hit with mob goes wild which bam margea directed the video for. Neil fallon would tell songfacts the song was a social commentary around the second iraq war revealing 

Neil: That was written at the beginning of the Iraq War. I don’t want to open up this door and go into that, but I found it to be kind of surreal on a bunch of different levels. That was my way of transcribing that onto paper. I think it was some kind of civil discontent on my part.

Soon enough more publications started noticing the band and there music started showing up other mediums including video games such as Tony Hawk Underground and Hitman and the video game Rock Band.  The band wold follow that up with 2005’s Robot Hive/Exodus and it marked the addition of a new member of a band with keyboardist Mick Schaur who would appear on the band’s next two albums. 

By 2008 the band was done dealing with other record labels and formed their own label Weatherman records. 

Drummer jean paul gaster would tell metal express radio why they went this route revealing

“In the early days, working with the labels was always a source of great frustration. We bounced around from label to label quite a bit in the first half of our career. You end up thinking about a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with making music or playing music. And as soon as we started our own label, all of a sudden, that was no longer an issue. The music can work hand in hand with the business as well..

He would go on to reveal how the band was very hands on with their label with himself packaging and shipping albums to europe and other parts of the world. The band has a lot to be proud of considering they’ve consistently charted on the billboard charts with each release they’ve put out on their own label has consistently charted in the top 40 since 2008.  Their most recent release the book of bad decisions came out in 2018 and peaked at number 16 on the charts.