Clutch’s Tim Sult Talks Motorhead, Deep Purple and That ‘X-Ray Visions’ Breakdown
Clutch guitarist Tim Sult took time out of his busy schedule to briefly chat with us about AC/DC, Motorhead, Deep Purple and his own band's excellent new album, Psychic Warfare. The inventive hard rock band from Maryland (which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year) is in the middle of a tour that finds them alternating between headlining shows and opening up for Lamb of God, with the recently reunited four-man lineup of Corrosion of Conformity joining in on most dates.
So which songs from the new album are proving to be the most fun to play live?
It's always great to play all the new songs live, but I think for myself personally, I’m liking "Son of Virginia" the most. It’s super fun to play.
Even after 25 years and 11 studio albums, your set lists haven't calcified at all. Every show is primarily focused on material from your newest album. That's pretty brave, it'd be easier to rely on established favorites.
We change up our set list every night. I think that was the most important thing for us, to keep touring fun back in the early days. We would change our set list every night and add as much new material as possible to keep our shows fresh. Just truly to relieve our own boredom. I think the reason that we play a lot of our new material live is because we enjoy it. We actually like it and we want to play it. It’s really as simple as that. We wouldn’t record a song and put it out unless it was something that we believed in.
You shared a lot of shows with Motorhead on what turned out to be one of their last tours. Any particularly fond memories of Lemmy?
While I personally didn’t really interact with him a huge amount, last year we played a show with Motorhead [where] we flew into Germany and the airline lost our bass player’s bass. Lemmy was actually cool enough to let him play one of his basses for our entire set. That’s pretty much my favorite Lemmy story ever.
I was listening to an early interview with you, where you explained how you were in a classic rock cover band, but then somebody loaned you three hardcore cassettes and it totally changed your taste in music and, ultimately, your life. Would it be safe to assume you've fallen back in love with classic rock at least partway since then? Who's your favorite band?
For sure, absolutely. I got sick of stuff like AC/DC [around] 1987, but of course my love for them was rekindled once I was on tour. [As for favorite band], I might have to go with Deep Purple as far as that genre goes.
Is that why you added an organist for a few years back in the mid-'00s?
No, that isn’t the reason, but it did definitely add kind of a Deep Purple sound, actually more of an Allman Brothers Band sound, to the whole thing. That was just our experimental five-piece period.
Your audience has been fiercely loyal and steadily growing for over two decades -- we recently saw you in front of a sold-out crowd of thousands on a holiday weeknight -- and yet commercial radio largely won't touch you. Does that ever drive you nuts?
I used to wonder about that all the time, and then I kind of got sick of caring. It seems like over the years, radio has just gotten worse and worse, and worse, to where it’s at now. So radio is now not really a place where a true music fan goes for music. The radio is now for people who are not into music, just for people who listen to music as background noise. I’m just talking about terrestrial radio, not college or SiriusXM or internet radio.
One of the songs that got the best response at that show was "X-Ray Visions," the first song from Psychic Warfare. Every single person seemed to be waiting for the astrology breakdown section (1:54 in the video above). Is there a good story behind that part of the song?
I think originally that was the first lyric that [singer] Neil [Fallon] had to the song, and he originally just put it there as a filler, and he was going to change it later. But the rest of us liked it so much that we wanted him to keep it in there, because it was just so out there.
Do you have a sense for when certain things are going to connect that strongly with your audience? It brings to mind the "Everybody move to Canada, smoke lots of pot" line from "The Mob Goes Wild," which always get a huge response.
No, not really, it just kind of happens. We can’t tell, because we hear the songs so many times and we go through periods of self-doubt, where we think about dumping everything that we have, and just writing new stuff. So by the time the album is done it’s kinda hard for us to even hear it anymore.
Is it hard to make that transition, from studio recording to live performance?
It changed a lot with Psychic Warfare, because we waited a long time between when we finished recording the albm and when we actually released it. So I managed to go five or six months without even listening to it. Then, when I started listening to it again, and when we started performing the songs, they felt new again. Whereas a lot of times, we’d just record an album and go right on tour. This time we had a little breathing room.
Great. So besides the busy year of touring, what's next on the agenda for Clutch?
There will be a vinyl re-release of the Full Fathom Five live album. That will be the next Weathermaker Records thing that we’re putting out. We’ve never put it out on vinyl before.
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