“You have to be a student for your whole life,” frontman Neil Fallon, 47, told Pollstarbefore the band’s fall headline tour leg kicked off at Myth in Minnesota. “You have to be willing to learn and keep practicing. You can’t rest on your laurels and take off years and expect to come back and be just as good as you were years ago. You have to keep swimming, and also be willing to take chances and fail at them.”
A big part of Clutch’s appeal is that the music speaks to heavy-rock fans of all stripes, reaching critical acclaim with 2004’s Blast Tyrant, a heavy, sludgy collection of triumphant rock.
Touching on subgenres in the realms of stoner, blues and Southern rock, the Maryland natives can reach fans – and make new ones – in just about any setting, from major festival slots such as Beale Street and Voodoo Fest to touring with everyone from Motörhead to Maiden to Manson.
“The beauty of Clutch is they can play with anyone. They can play with go-go bands, they can play with Iron Maiden, they can play with anyone and make it happen. That’s why you see even Eric Church loves the band,” said Jack Flanagan, the band’s longtime manager, who started tour managing the band nearly 30 years ago.
One fan in particular made a big impact on the band’s touring career back in the mid-’90s.
“One of the major tours, when we made one of our initial jumps, was Marilyn Manson’s ‘Smells Like Children’ tour,” Flanagan said. “It was just Manson and Clutch. Manson was a huge fan of Clutch; he was just breaking, this was the first time he smashed the bottle and cut himself. We thought we were the furthest thing from Manson with the theatrics and the fans wouldn’t get it. But I’m telling you Manson was adamant, he said, ‘I want you guys, this is going to work, this is going to be great.’” That turned into an 18-week tour as Manson blew up.
More recent co-bills or packages with bands like progressive metal stalwarts Mastodon and hillbilly curiosities Primus continue to grow Clutch’s fanbase and inspire the band as well.
“The Motörhead tours were really big for us,” Fallon said of playing in 2010 with the legendary rockers fronted by the recently passed Lemmy Kilmister. “That was one of the first metal bands I got into, when I was 13. The Primus tours that we just did were awesome.”
Longtime booking agent Tim Borror told Pollstar it’s never been better.
“We’ve had some of our biggest shows in the last five years. Their Earth Rocker event last month in West Virginia, we did 4,000 people with that. There’s a dozen if not 15-20 cities where they’re doing 2,000-3,000 people any time they step in, and when we package right sometimes we do can do 4-5-6,000 people. They’re not pigeonholed to be just metal or hard rock, and you get to be really creative with that when putting them on the road.”
While the method has mostly been by growing the fanbase with strategic headlining and strong package tours, Borror said festivals can work if they make sense.
“If you’re having the right conversation with the festival and not just playing it to be part of the party and the ad-mat, if there is a strategy that the agent, promoter and manager can design for the band to make an impact, they can be big wins,” said Borror, who promoted Clutch’s first Philadelphia show in 1991 before becoming an agent. “So it’s not easy but it’s not any more difficult than that.”
The band’s U.S. touring is just wrapping up, with a European leg taking them into December followed by annual “holiday” tour dates with shows including Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, N.J., (where they sold 2,000 tickets last year at the same time), and Dec. 31 at the newly Live Nation-booked Masonic Auditorium at Temple Live in Cleveland.
A big part of touring is managing personalities and living in close quarters, as Flanagan says many people on the team have been traveling with Clutch for decades.
Likewise, Fallon mentioned both Flanagan and Borror’s days on the road as points of respect, and counts them as close personal friends as well.
“Jack was a road dog, so he had much more of an in-house mentality rather than someone managing 500 different bands on a giant roster,” Fallon said. “Because we spent so many years in the van with him – if you want to get to know somebody, sleep in a 10-person van on a six-week tour.
“Sure, there are towns that we’ve played 1,000 times, and it can be kind of anticlimactic if it’s a venue that’s not in a great area. But every itinerary is peppered with highlights, like Red Rocks, for example.”
Another highlight is sharing the bill with yet another musical legend, and this one is even a little further into left field. After seeing Jerry Lee Lewis on the poster for Chicago’s Riot Fest, Fallon thought it was a joke.
“When I saw the lineup I got really pissed,” Fallon said, laughing. “I thought some new band was calling itself Jerry Lee Lewis, but then I was informed it was really him. To say you played with Jerry Lee Lewis sounds improbable, but it’s true and it’s pretty cool.”