The sun was out (for the moment) and the beer was flowing all over the Download Festival site, so it seemed like a pretty good time to sit down with Clutch sticksman Jean-Paul Gaster and have a bit of a chat…

3rd Download – 1st Main stage. Thoughts and feelings?

We’re very excited to be here, it’s a big deal and we’ve not been able to do that before. It took us 25 years to get here so we’ll appreciate every minute of it.

What do you think of when you think of Download?

Well to be honest I think about Bad News – remember those guys? They had a van and they played Donington and that’s the first thing I think about! Before we ever played the festival I’d watch Bad News and that was the image I expected when we got here. I was a little disappointed it wasn’t like that.

Well perhaps that’s because you’re not shit?

Hahaha!

If you had the choice of an early evening set on the main stage in the daylight or a later set in the tent where you can use lights, what would you choose?

I very much enjoy playing outdoors. Maybe that’s because so many of the shows we do are in clubs? It is a different energy, I just try to look at it as there is an audience at there that expects to hear the very best rock and roll that we can put out and that’s my focus.

Planning to watch anyone else while you’re here?

I’d love to get over and see Corrosion of Conformity, they’ve been one of my favourite bands since I was a kid.

I didn’t realise Pepper was back until yesterday!

Yeah, he comes and goes… I like all versions of the band, but the very earliest records they put out, well for me they were very important albums.

New album Psychic Warfare is due in September – how’s the process been going?

I’m happy to report it is complete! It was a long record to make, we started writing probably 2 years ago and then we went to Texas to record it with Machine, who also did Earth Rocker as well, so sonically there are some similarities, but the album does have a lot more dynamic than I think Earth Rocker did. Everybody wants to say “the new record is the best record” and I think that’s difficult to say until it’s been out for some time. Earth Rocker was our major record and I think we realised when we went in (for this one) that we had our work cut out for us, so we were very selective of the songs we wanted to use and how we wanted to put the record together.

How do you guys normally write songs?

The great majority of it is just us getting in a room and jamming. Once in a while, there’ll be 2 or 3 riffs to put together or a song one of the guys has brought to the table, but mainly it’s the 4 of us getting in there and playing together and that’s what works best.

Did you feel any pressure after Earth Rocker?

It was a high point in many ways! That record was great for us – we played a lot of places we hadn’t before, we sold more records than in a long time so we knew we had our work cut out – consequently (Psychic Warfare) is a little different to Earth Rocker, I’m not sure we made a conscious decision to do that, it sorta happened on its own.

Is it going to matter what people think if you’re proud of it anyway?

We’ve never been too concerned with what people say or what, we try and do things on our own terms, but I also think that’s what people appreciate the band too. It’s been a long road, but the folks that come and see us play are the most dedicated fans we could ask for and we don’t take that for granted.

Any surprises on there? I’ve heard rumours of funk…

Yeah there’s some bluesier sounding things on there and some funk based stuff, which I love to play and in some ways it’s reminiscent of the older stuff and that funk element has always been there. I think that really comes from DC Go-go. The Go-go sound was something that I was exposed to very early on, as a kid, and those very first musical things you are part of your musical DNA. I embraced it straight away and thankfully there are some funk based things on the record that I’m very proud of.

You’ve played a few cuts from the album recently how are they being received?

Great! The thing about playing (new songs live) is that we get excited about it and the audience reacts to that. I think just putting 1 or 2 new songs in the set can completely change the tone of how the set feels, so we’ve been enjoying it and I think the crowd has too.

Can we expect any samples this weekend?

Yes. I’m not sure which ones yet, I have not seen the setlist.

Speaking of which – How many times have you rewritten your set for Download and why?

Well, we made up a system about 15 years ago – on the first night of the tour Dan (Maines, bass) would make the setlist and on the second night I would, then Neil (Fallon, vocals), then Tim (Sult, guitar)… and that is actually in alphabetical order of first name. I have no idea why we did that, but it works and because of that I think we have a wider variety of songs that we tend to choose from and the set is different every night. There’s nothing I dislike more than going to see a band that plays the same stuff the same night and saying the same stuff every night in the same order. For me, that’s not rock and roll, that’s like a school production like a play or something, I think it should be exciting for the band as it is the audience.

Is that the secret to staying together? You’ve been going for years, as you said, with the same lineup– what’s the secret?

It is the same 4 guys… Well early on we made it our goal to make good recordings and play good shows. And that was really the beginning and the end of it. The idea of making a career of it was not a thing we’d considered. Our favourite bands were The Melvins, Bad Brains, Prong and those were not bands that were huge and sold out arenas, but they worked hard and kicked ass and that’s what we wanted to do. Thankfully, here we are 25 years later.

What’s the best gig you’ve ever done?

We just finished a tour with Mastodon in the States and we did a co-headline thing so sometimes we would close, sometimes they would close. We did a venue in Colorado, called Red Rocks and that is just the most amazing venue. It’s an outdoor venue just outside of Denver and it’s sort of a natural stone amphitheatre. They went in during the 20’s and put in some real seats and for me that was just one of those shows where I just had to sit down. I just had to sit at the drums and the set played itself – between the great audience and the beautiful scenery it was as if the music just flowed right through me and I think that was the most positive moments of my life.

You just announced a tour over here, what can you tell us?

Yeah, we start in November in Ireland and we’ll get in about 6 UK gigs then head over to Europe.

Who you bringing with you?

Not sure yet actually…

Do you get much say?

The band definitely has some say – it’s gotta make sense, we can’t just keep bringing our friends with us you know? Ha ha!

We’ll be quite happy for you to bring Mastodon…

That would be fantastic! But you gotta do a bit of both and this is a business and you gotta be aware of that and you try and sorta split the difference.

Photo Credit: Giles Smith