Jean Paul Gaster is a drummer known for his hard driving pocket grooves that have been the force behind Clutch for over a decade. Now with the release of their new album Psychic Warfare, Clutch has just announced new North American tour dates. The influential heavy rock band from Maryland, Clutch will be with Lamb of God at the Rock N Derby. And with a top of the Billboard charts reaction, Clutch and JP Gaster are sure to give their fans a unique and powerful hard rock performance.
“I make an effort every day to play as hard as I can and to make that night unique. But the challenge is to get up there and to make a real musical statement.”
Recently, JP Gaster spoke with College News about Clutch’s new up and coming tour dates, a vinyl edition of two previously unreleased tracks off of Psychic Warfare and some of his major influences and inspirations as a drummer. JP also discussed the creative process when he writes music with Clutch, the origins of the drum and how he applies the concepts of Jazz syncopation in the Hard Rock context.
CN: What I like most about your drumming is how you stay in the pocket and groove. It stands out and fits so well with the drive of Clutch. With so much going on in the music, how do you keep your style so versatile?
JP: I think a lot of it has to do with that first stuff that you listen to. Those first things that make an impression on you really kind of stamp who you are as a musician. So in my case, I grew up just outside of Washington D.C. There's a lot of music happening here. Some of the music that was happening was something called Gogo. Gogo is a very percussive kind of Funk that really only happens here in the Washington metropolitan area. So as a kid, I remember hearing some of these songs that were local hits by guys like say Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers or maybe Experience Unlimited; Rare Essene; Junk Yard Band. These were all Gogo bands that were very well known here in the area, and there was always that music around. I think a lot of the groove setting that your describing really comes from that. And of course, there is a lot of other stuff there too. I listen to a lot of things like Funkadelic and James Brown, The Meters, a lot of New Orleans music. For me, drums are a rhythmical thing. The groove aspect is one of the things that attracted me to drums in the first place. There are a lot of drummers out there that do a much more psychical approach on the drums. By that I mean it’s more about trying to throw in as many notes in as possible in any given area. To me that's not exciting. I like to make it feel good and I like to make the musicians around me, the ones I am playing with like Clutch feel good. And ultimately, it's about the audience, they have to feel good too! So that's my job.
CN: I checked out a few your videos on YouTube and what struck me was how you incorporate Jazz as part of your creative process. Clutch is a band known for its hard driving riffs. How does practicing Jazz influence your drumming?
JP: I think you have to go back and think about the history of the drums and why the drums are here to begin with. The drums are a Jazz instrument. People have been playing percussion since the very beginning of time and that includes drums, but the idea of a drum kit is relatively brand new when you think about how long people have actually been playing drums. The idea of having one guy playing a bass drum, a snare drum, a sock cymbal, a ride cymbal, that all happened right at the turn of the century, right as this thing called Jazz started to happen. For me, it makes the drums easier when I study Jazz, because it gives me a better understanding of where the drums came from. For me, it’s a language and the more you know about the language, the more things you can say. That's an important part of the drums. I do not consider myself a Jazz drummer. I can barely make may way through a chart. I couldn't do it if I had to. But I think the greater lesson is understanding time and understanding coordination and how that relates to time. Understanding syncopation, how that relates to time. All those are Jazz concepts. But really, those are concepts that can be used in any number of genres. When I'm at home practicing drums, I do not practice playing hard or playing loud as I would when I'm playing live with Clutch. It's much more of a mental practice and that includes Jazz exercises and includes listening to a lot of music more than anything.
CN: I can completely relate to that you know working out that Syncopation and applying those ideas in the rock context would seem to give you a lot of freedom as a drummer for Clutch. How do you think about rhythm? How do you write with Clutch? Do you construct your beats or do you sculpt them?
JP: I listen to what the other players are doing and I think about what the lead voice in the music is. So most of the time especially with Clutch that lead voice is a vocal. It's about supporting that vocal. As a drummer, I'm listening to what everyone in the band is doing and I'm thinking to myself, how do I best support that vocal and make that vocal sound good and feel good. That's the job of a rhythm section. That really dictates what happens after that. Once you have an understanding of what the vocal point of that piece of music is, you can go about supporting it, and that's really how I start to create my parts.
CN: That's awesome! So you are more sculpting your drumming with Clutch more then you are writing? It's more of a process? It's something you can relate to?
JP: Exactly! In the early stages of writing a song, I play time and that's it! Sometimes very straight, just time. The only purpose that it serves at that point is keeping time for the other guys in Clutch while they work out parts. I'm listening to what they are doing while that's happening and then I start to react to that. And that's really where the stuff starts to happen. When the guys in Clutch start to get into it and play, I react to that. Then they react to my reaction, and then from there the song begins to you know take shape. I really try not to look at it as -- this is a drum part-- I try to look at it as an entire piece. An entire band thing! It’s not about --let me come up with some fancy ass beats that no one’s ever played before. Again, that kind of playing isn't interesting to me. I'm much more into music than I am chops.
CN: What are some of the biggest challenges that you face while playing the drums for Clutch?
JP: Some of the biggest challenges? Well, you know I've got to be honest man, playing in Clutch is probably the best gig a drummer could have. And by that I mean, I can literally play whatever I want! We get up there on stage and you know each song is interpreted just a little different each night. So I really have the ability to sort of change things, express myself differently from night to night. Depending how I'm feeling, depending on how the crowd is feeling -- thinking about the band, how they are playing. I guess, I can’t really think of a challenge other than just getting up there and really doing the best that we can. I make an effort every day to play as hard as I can and to make that night unique. Maybe that can be challenging at times too, because sometimes you are on the road--your tired, maybe had too many beers the night before or maybe you didn't get enough sleep. You know, all this stuff. But the challenge is to get up there and to make a real musical statement, and not just run through the numbers.
CN: Absolutely! In the coming months, Clutch kicks it off with Lamb Of God, supporting up and coming tour dates with Corrosion of Conformity. Can we expect anything new from Clutch?
JP: Well, Clutch will be playing a lot of stuff off of Psychic Warfare obviously that's our newest release. We are very excited about those songs. I think probably those songs play themselves better live than any previous record. We really hit a high water mark with Earth Rocker, the record prior to this, and we knew we had our work cut out for us. We took that to heart, and I think we made a record that translates to the live situation even better than Earth Rocker.
CN: On April 16, Clutch has two unreleased tracks from Psychic Warfare, “Mad Sidewinder” and “Outland Special Clearance.” Can we expect to hear Clutch perform those tracks on this tour?
JP: You know, that is a very good question and maybe that will happen. Clutch has played "Mad Sidewinder" before live. That was actually one of the first tunes that we got together for Psychic Warfare. Once we got into the sequencing of the record, that song sort of got pushed aside momentarily. That song plays very well live, and I think in a lot of ways, I think it is one of the songs that is most related to the material on Earth Rocker. So we very well could play that one or "Outland Special Clearance" who knows.
CN: Clutch has had some success with its latest record Psychic Warfare. In fact, it was number 1 on the Billboard rock charts and 11 in the overall charts. With these two previously unreleased tracks from Psychic Warfare, is Clutch anticipating a top of the charts reaction?
JP: I think probably not. These two songs were released on a special piece of vinyl. It's limited to 5000 pieces. They're numbered. They have a beautiful etching on one side and two songs on the other. This was not a piece that was designed to sell a whole bunch. It's more of a Clutch collector’s item. But I will say, you will be able to stream those songs coming up. We will be putting those out later in the summer time. But for now, the only way to get these songs is on vinyl.
CN: That's way cool and that's a really good way to I think speak to Clutch fans and give them something classical. And speaking of classical. Some of my favorite music from Clutch is from the early 90's. Can we expect to hear any early 90's Clutch music on this tour?
JP: Sure! Clutch makes it a point to change the set list every night. We actually came up with a method years ago that involved each guy taking a turn and making the set list. So the first night out would be Dan, and then myself, and then Neil, and then Tim. So because of that, there's a pretty wide variety of songs that we have to pull from. And that does include some of the earlier songs, all the way to the brand new stuff.
CN: So what's next for JP and what's next for Clutch?
JP: First thing is, I'm going to finish sweeping up the Clutch warehouse here. We're going to get some rehearsals in before we start this tour coming up, which is really just around the corner from us! We've been off for a couple almost a month and a half now. We went down to Australia, so we've had some down time. We'll get together and rehearse, then we'll do this Lamb of God tour which will take us all the way to June. So me and the guys from Clutch will be quite busy for the next couple months.