Interview - Neil Fallon

A sobering, different view of the music industry, Clutch style

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Sam: What was it like going from a major label to putting out your own release and then back to a major label again?
Neil: "It was a pain in the ass... to be blunt, I mean we did those things by our own decision, we weren't forced to do any of those things. 'Pure Rock Fury', at the time we started recording it, we were funding it ourselves, and we were kind of, basically just going into alot of debt. When Atlantic heard it they expressed interest in it, so that was kind of an easy way for them to assume that debt and not have us be responsible for it. It wasn't a very fun way to make a record, you know, kind of going into the hole. As typical of major labels they did the minimal amount of work for it, and then when nothing happened with it they threw their hands up in the air. So we parted ways with them, and we're actually in the process of doing the same thing, funding another record by ourselves. But this time I think the climate is much better for getting your own albums out there. I think there are more distribution companies and whatnot that are willing to just kind of work one album at a time with an artist and you don't have to do the classic record deal for lack of a better word. And there's alot more freedom, you don't have to worry about some A&R rep listening for a hook, you know, or something along those lines."
Sam: From what I've heard the record industry isn't too encouraging to bands
Neil: "Well, it's not only that, it's like they are dinosaurs and I think in this day and age, how can they expect to charge $16.99 for a cd that a kid can burn for free? I mean, I do it, and I think they are failing to recognize the changing nature of the medium. Nowadays it's much more lucrative to put your own record out, even though, let's say instead of selling 100,000 let's say you only sell 25, but of those 25 you're actually making money off of it. 100,000 records doesn't mean anything when you're signed to Columbia or Atlantic. You've gotta sell... "
Sam: You've got to pay them every penny that you've already spent
Neil: "Yeah, you're not going to really be seeing significant money until you get close to a million records or something like that, or half a million and we're not selling that many records by any stretch of the imagination."
Sam: Not many bands are...Do you think "Jam Room" helped get the new deal?
Neil: "No, well...'Jam Room', at that point we had done 'Elephant Riders' with Columbia and we were ready to do another record because it had been like a year and a half. We were tired of those songs and wanted to do another record and Columbia wasn't expressing any interest in funding another record. So we just said forget it, lets just start recording it ourselves. And they dropped us, which was great because that's their breach of contract. So it doesn't mean we owe them any money or anything like that. . "
Sam: That's a good way to get out of it actually
Neil: "I've seen bands that get all bummed out when they get dropped by a label and consider it some kind of death nail. It can really work to your advantage, you just use them for all their money and their distribution. And now you can put out your own record having gained that exposure thru them and it's almost like you've used them in a way. That's the way we look at it, instead of feeling like we're powerless against these, you know monsters. You've gotta put a positive spin on it somewhere."
Sam: I couldn't believe it when they dropped C.O.C, they sold albums pretty consistently
Neil: "But those labels, with the amount of money that they deal with, they have to have bands that sell millions of records. You know, like your Mariah Careys and your pop stars and all these things. There are some exceptions to the rule with heavy bands, like Metallica for example, or even Linkin Parks and whatnot, but those are few and far between. Most bands are lucky to sell 50,000 records, I mean, that's good. But they don't understand, they make 50,000 free cassettes to give away, major labels."
Sam: A gold album used to be a huge thing, now it's just like oh that's not enough.
Neil: "Yeah, a gold album really doesn't mean...well, it's cool, it's nice artwork to put on your wall. But in this day and age it really doesn't mean a whole lot."
Sam: How did you guys land a spot on the John Coltrane tribute cd?
Neil: "Well, basically what happened is, the guy who put it together, he lives in Germany, contacted us. He asked us if we'd be willing to do it and we said yes. Actually J.P. plays on it 3 times, there's Clutch, and then Bakerton Group does a song, which is everybody except myself, and then he also played with Wino and Joe from Fugazi, they did a song. It was fun to do, it was pretty challenging."
Sam: I can imagine...
Neil: "You could only do so much, I mean there was no point in trying to do it note for note because no one can really do that. You just kinda have to do it as best you can with that poor skills you have in comparison with John Coltrane."
Sam: Why did you guys decide to do a live album at this time?
Neil: "Well, 'Pure Rock Fury' has been out for awhile, and we weren't in a position to do another studio record. We had been recording while on the road with System Of A Down and we've always wanted to put out a live record. Once again, not to dwell on major labels, but they're not interested in that. So, we just did it for the sake of doing it, people have been swapping our live cds for years and years and years and I think that's a wonderful thing, and I think it's very healthy. So we figure we'll put out some recordings of some of the songs and you know, get 'um out there because there are alot of people who aren't involved in the tape trading thing, that don't know it exists. So maybe seeing it in a mom and pop store, will turn them onto it, to the live music, which in alot of ways is very different from the studio."
Sam: What was it like doing the WM3 benefit?
Neil: "It was cool, it was very flattering to have been asked to participate in it. When I was asked originally I didn't really know that much about it, I'd heard of it. I spoke to Henry Rollins and said look, I'm interested in doing it, but I want to do it for the right reasons, I mean don't want to do it just to jump on the bandwagon, even though that's very tempting to do. He was kind enough to actually send me 'Paradise Lost I and II', I checked that out and in alot of ways I was kind of like a giddy school kid. That's the first like, punk band I got into, I was 13 when I heard Black Flag for the first time. That would open up the door to everything else since then. So to be asked to sing on a Black Flag-esque record was pretty awesome. His band plays it amazingly, and they're very difficult, the music whole feel of music is pretty alien, like the guitar work in Black Flag. And he does a great job of it. So I was pretty stoked."
Sam: Did you get to pick what song and everything?
Neil: "No, I wasn't about to... you know, beggars can't be choosers you know? Send me anything and I'll do it...I was pleased."
Sam: Where do you draw inspiration for your lyrics 'cause there's some really weird shit, especially on the first album
Neil: "Well, I think #1 I try to be a good listener, I'm always eavesdropping onto things. Either when it's reading it, or listening to it and then jotting it down in a notebook, and taking something out of context and then trying to build a story around it or maybe just sort of a vibe around it. Sometimes I have writer's block that lasts for months and months and months, and then one week I'll get it all out. God knows what reason, that's just the way it works. I just try to write stuff that if you read it on paper alone, it can kinda stand on itself, instead of having just kind of vague lyrics about emotions. That doesn't really...'cause I'm not that emotional of a person I guess."
Sam: That's been done to death already...
Neil: "Yeah, I always find the emotional lyrics are fine for lounge music, but there's so much melodrama out there. I'm not really interested in how hurt someone has been because they broke up with their girlfriend. I'd rather hear a good story, and I think the good stories are the ones that last the longest. Like Led Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song', I mean that in some ways is a story, it'll always be there because you can listen to it over and over again. But if it were a song about, once again I'm so broken lacks kinda staying power in the long, long term I guess."