Clutch’s Neil Fallon: “Rock’n’roll is no longer king of the hill, and that’s OK”

Clutch’s Neil Fallon staring into the camera
(Image credit: Press)

Arguably the greatest living rock’n’roll band on the planet, Clutch have released 13 near-perfect albums over the span of a 30-year career that’s seen their cult-like following grow from small clubs to massive venues worldwide. Never a band to rely on gimmicks or follow trends, they’ve earned every acolyte the hard way. With a new album, Sunrise On Slaughter Beach, added to their arsenal, we talk to frontman Neil Fallon – perhaps the coolest lyricist of modern times – about what keeps them on the road. 

Metal Hammer line break

Anger is an energy… and a waste of energy

“Anger is exhausting! There’s something to be said for anger management, because you can see when someone has spent their whole life angry. You can see it on their face once they reach mid-life. It’s also time consuming. So for me, listening to hardcore punk rock, that emotion can sometimes be misplaced. I mean, you can be aggro, but also positive.” 

 They were Motörhead and they played rock’n’roll

“We toured with Motörhead at the end of their run. This wasn’t 1980, but it was an incredibly disciplined machine. From the top down, there was an expectation of professionalism. You can do what you want, but if it compromises the show, it has to go. Everything was about that set. Although, Lemmy said the only songs that matter are the first song and the last song, because no one ever remembers anything in the middle. Maybe that was cheeky wisdom, but it was wisdom nonetheless.” 

 Touring is never boring 

“I’d say we’ve played probably around 4,000 shows, but because we’re a live band we really honestly enjoy playing. Sure, being away from home is a drag; we’re at the end of six weeks right now and I can’t get home quick enough. That’s not to say we’re gonna phone in tonight’s performance. Also, as I’ve got older, I’ve begun to realise what a rare scenario this is, to have this as one’s career. To be able to travel the world and meet people through something you’ve done creatively, and that’s all you have to do to make ends meet… you damn well better do it!” 

Clutch’s Neil Fallon staring into the camera

(Image credit: Press)

Give your soul to rock’n’roll 

“I got it hammered into my head at a young age that this was not a viable thing to do. You’re supposed to get a job that you hate and get high blood pressure, but once I realised that this was something I could do, it was a lot more fun and I took it way more seriously. Was there a back-up plan? Not really. I was studying English at school, but it doesn’t really have any practical application, although in this case it did. I thank my lucky stars.” 

Slow and steady gets you fans for life

“It’s like the three little pigs: you can build a house out of sticks very quickly, but it falls apart very quickly. It takes a lot longer and a lot more dedication to build it out of stone, but it will be there long after you’re gone. Also, to come out of the gates and get a taste of success first thing, it’s a pretty bitter pill to swallow to get a scaled-down version of that. There’s something to be said about having to make your own bed. I’ve always been of the mind that the incredibly wealthy of this world are all kind of insane, because they haven’t had to learn life’s lessons the way the rest of us have. That can also be the case with artists or actors. Suddenly they have assistants who are running to and fro, and everybody has their own bus, but it’s probably not gonna last very long and you might be very resentful when you have to join the rest of us.” 

 You can’t always preach to your own choir

“It’s a war of attrition and that’s what you have to do. One thing I learned opening for other bands: you can’t judge the crowd by the front row, because the front row have been there since noon waiting for the headliner and they’re the most rabid of the headliner’s fans, so of course they’re not gonna go over the moon for you. But behind them are hundreds of other people. That Marilyn Manson tour [in 1995], if you had asked me in the middle of it, I would have said it was the biggest waste of time ever. But on our next headlining tour, our shows were bigger and there were a lot of Marilyn Manson fans at the back of the club. You can’t always preach to your own choir or you’re not gonna get more in your tent.” 

 Just because ‘maybe’ rhymes with ‘baby’ doesn’t mean you should

“Sometimes I kick myself in the ass, because I can fall in love with a word that you don’t hear every day. On the new record there’s a song where the first word is ‘jaundiced’, and I’ve been wanting to use that word for years. I’ll spend hours trying to come up with an idea and execute it correctly. I have a tendency to over-write, but I think it’s because words are fun. I’m sure if you ran all my lyrics through a computer, it would pick up a habitual word.”  

DIY isn’t just for punks

“At the very beginning we were of two minds: we were like, do we do it like Dischord? Because they loomed so large in our world, because geographically that’s where we’re from. Then we had managers saying, ‘You can get signed, but if you say no, this opportunity only knocks once.’ So, for the better part of the 90s we were signed to labels, but that well kinda dried up for everybody around 2000. Owning your own catalogue and selling your own merch makes all the difference in the world. It’s more work, but you make your own decisions and your own mistakes. If you’re in a position to do what we’re doing, I don’t see why you wouldn’t. I met a manager – who shall remain nameless – and he was bragging about a multi-album contract that they just signed. That manager asked who we were with and I said we put out our own music, and the reaction was, ‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.’ Clearly there’s no conversation to be had, because we’re on different planets!”  

Dad rock is cool

“When I first heard that term and how it was used, it seemed very derogatory, but a 50-year-old guy in a band is clearly dad rock. When a group of people can embrace the term, they make it their own, which happens time and time again… This one, of course, isn’t nearly as offensive as others, more taking the piss, but I was born in ’71, kinda the same year that heavy metal came to be, and I got to see punk rock come to be, and hardcore and hip hop, entire music genres in my lifetime. Rock’n’roll is no longer king of the hill, and that’s OK, but it’s important to remember that rock’n’roll isn’t going anywhere. Right now there’s some band in a garage, just doing it for shits and giggles.” 

Fame sucks

“We just do this because we like doing it and fame has never been an enticement or part of the goal. There’s been moments when I’ve got a taste of what it’s like to not be anonymous in public, like at a restaurant when someone comes up and wants to talk to you… You don’t wanna talk to them, you want to talk to your family. Not that it happens chronically, but I’ve gotten glimpses of that and I can’t imagine what it must be like for someone like Dave Grohl. A band like Tool are probably pretty anonymous in many ways, and they could probably walk into any concert and I’d be hard pressed to tell you who they were. But once it’s gone, it’s gone, and it would suck to be in a position where you’re in a prison of your own success.” 

Keeping the same line-up for 30 years takes patience

“You need a good sense of humour and respect for other people’s spaces, being able to read the room. If someone looks like they want to be left alone that day, you leave them alone, because touring can be a bit of a pressure cooker. Usually as a band, if you can get through your first couple of van tours, that’s sort of the crucible. If this is what you love then everyone wants to get on board, but it’s also luck. I’m sure there’s been times when musicians want to work together and then after a week on the road they discover that they can’t stand each other.” 

Clutch’s new album, Sunrise On Slaughter Beach, is out now


A veteran of rock, punk and metal journalism for almost three decades, across his career Mörat has interviewed countless music legends for the likes of Metal Hammer, Classic Rock, Kerrang! and more. He's also an accomplished photographer and author whose first novel, The Road To Ferocity, was published in 2014. Famously, it was none other than Motörhead icon and dear friend Lemmy who christened Mörat with his moniker.