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Dan Maines of Clutch - 2008-12-07 [return to interviews]
Interview by Christopher Roddy

Dan Maines is the bass player for the rock act Clutch and serves the same position in the group's side effort, The Bakerton Group. While the former started out making music in the hardcore vein back in the early Nineties and over the course of eight albums has evolved to embrace a Bluesier, classic Rock approach the latter is all instrumental and incorporates free-form jamming that is rooted in Funk as much as the Blues. This group of guys have amassed an enormous and passionate cult following over the past couple decades and their live shows are always feral blasts of raw energy and electricity. They continue to grow as musicians and their albums just keep getting better. Dan was gracious enough to chat with me on the phone for over a half hour and we covered a number of topics. He was very open and honest and came across as one of the more laid back interview subjects with whom I've ever conversed. I caught him just as he was taking the dog out while at home.

Interview by Christopher Roddy

Listen to audio of the interview here.

DTC: I wanted to start with the fairly relentless touring schedule you've endured since Beale Street was released. With the declining economy, high gas and food prices how have these things affected Clutch's touring experience?

Dan Maines: It really didn't have too much of an impact as far as people coming out to the shows, as far as I could tell. I think that, you know, maybe in general people may have been a bit more selective as to what shows they were going to but our tour did pretty well, the last one we were on. I mean, that ended just about a month ago. It was a full US tour. It was over five weeks long and it wasn't much different from any of the other tours we've done.

DTC: But what about costs incurred by the band?

Dan Maines: Yeah, that went up. I mean, the fuel prices went up but it gets absorbed one way or another through T-shirt sales and stuff like that. It was doable, y'know, it wasn't the kind of thing where we were debating whether to cut it short. Yeah, it was a good one.

DTC: So how would you compare this particular jaunt with outings in support of previous albums? Are the crowds getting bigger, more enthusiastic? Especially coming off such a great album you guys put out last year.

Dan Maines: Well, thank you. Yeah, the shows are getting bigger and we're now in a position where we can play cities we really hadn't played before. Y'know, those kinds of cities where for the most part bands just kind of drive past. We had some pretty interesting shows. We played Missoula, Montana for the first time. We played Aspen. There's been some strange places we've never really thought about going to.

DTC: So have you discovered some new places you're going to want to revisit because you were so taken aback by how great they were?

Dan Maines: Yeah, I'd say Aspen was one of those for sure. It was a little hairy getting in there because we did come in when the weather was cold and there was a lot of snow and ice. It was kind of treacherous getting in there but once we got there it was a really great show. It was a small club that I'd say only holds about 500 people so it was tight and intimate. When you play places that bands don't normally go to it just makes the crowd that much more enthusiastic about you being there.

DTC: Are there any locales that you've been wanting to visit and tour but haven't got a chance yet?

Dan Maines: Definitely. Definitely. We're kind of expanding our European routing. Just over the last couple of years we've really expanded where we play in areas like Scandinavia. Originally we were focusing on places like Germany, Italy and France and...Germany is always awesome but Italy and France, for us, have been kind of hard markets to really do well in so we were focusing less on those areas and started hitting places like Norway and Sweden and Finland. Those places are bad ass. I mean, Oslo...I don't know what it is about the city of Oslo but we draw larger crowds there than we do in our hometown.

DTC: And it's beautiful too, isn't it?

Dan Maines: Yes, it's amazing.

DTC: Do you get much of a chance to sight-see?

Dan Maines: Yeah. Sometimes. We played some places like, uh...I can't even remember the name of the city right now but it's so far north in Norway that for about 4 months of the year the sun actually never sets.

DTC: I'm sure that makes the hangover that much easier to tolerate.

Dan Maines: Yeah, I guess so (laughs). We've never played areas like South America. We've never been down there. We've had a lot of friends in other bands tell us that Greece is the place to go to and we haven't made it over there yet. Those are areas we're definitely working on.

DTC: Word has it that you guys are currently recording another Bakerton Group release.

Dan Maines: Yeah, we're kind of right in the middle of that right now.

DTC: How's that going?

Dan Maines: It's awesome. We finished all the tracking. We recorded this album at the same place we did the last full-length Bakerton album. It's with J Robbins in Baltimore. He used to be in Government Issue and Jawbox and he's in a couple of other bands right now as well but he really spends most of his time recording. He's got a great studio in Baltimore. We finished the tracking last week and he's mixing now. He's probably about halfway through mixing and that should be finished and in stores by the middle of February.

DTC: Great. So why did it take so long since the inception of the Bakerton Group project - you put out the three songs - to the first full length which didn't come out until two years ago?

Dan Maines: Yeah. I don't know why it took so long. I guess it was just because we were so busy with Clutch and the Bakerton Group has always been something, in the past, something we were focusing on when we weren't doing anything else and it was just within the last year we've made a lot of changes within our organization. We created our own label that's just focusing on releasing stuff that we produce and that really kind of kick-started the Bakerton Group as far as it becoming a real band that puts out albums on a regular basis. We'll even do tours just as the Bakerton Group now instead of having the Bakerton Group open up for Clutch which is the way it was in the past. Now we're into the idea of just touring solely as the Bakerton Group and we're really pushing that as a legitimate band, not just a side project.

DTC: Obviously the Bakerton Group is just instrumental. Is Neil (Fallon, Clutch vocalist) contributing musically to this now?

Dan Maines: Absolutely. We, for the last two years, had a guy playing keyboards with us.

DTC: Mick (Schauer).

Dan Maines: Mick, exactly. We decided to drop a lot of the instrumentation from Clutch because we felt like it was, uh...well, it was at a time when we were trying to really kind of decide where we wanted to go. We were adding more and more instrumentation to the music, which was great, but it kind of lacked focus at the same time and so we just decided to scale back, bare bones, to the "original four" lineup. When we did that that's when Neil started to play with the Bakerton Group and kind of filling in the space that was left open when Mick wasn't playing. Neil's always contributed keyboard parts to Clutch songs and so he was able to kind of fill in what Mick was normally doing on keys. Neil could either do the keys himself or play on the guitar and it turned out that he was just more comfortable playing guitar. So yeah, he does contribute a lot. He plays guitar, predominantly, on the new Bakerton album. I think he plays keys on a couple of songs but for the majority of the album we ended up getting Per (Wilberg) from Opeth to play those.

DTC: And you've played live with him too, haven't you?

Dan Maines: Yeah, we did a few shows with him live on this European run that we did earlier in the year then just on the last run when Opeth was touring the States at the same time we were our shows overlapped on one date and we had him play the entire Bakerton Group set with us. I think that was in Kansas City. And that was...that was Rad. He's just one of those musicians who..I mean he honestly learned the songs - I mean, not learned them but re-learned them on the bus two hours before we went on stage to play.

DTC: On that topic, you guys have been around for almost two decades and there's been no lineup changes which is really rare for groups that have been around that long. Save for the addition of Mick on the organ for a while, it's been this core group of four guys for this whole time. And you guys have known each other since high school, right?

Dan Maines: Yeah. I knew Neil from junior high school then in high school I met Tim and JP. Tim was actually a year ahead of us.

DTC: So how do you do it? How do the interactions work so well that you've managed to remain together for so long? What's the secret?

Dan Maines: I don't know. I think we all have very similar personalities, which is the biggest thing. We never really have any conflicts and I think we're all usually on the same page. I think there's not one person within the band that is really trying to push in one direction or the other. We just kind of let it happen. It truly is kind of a democracy within the group. I don't know, we just get along.

DTC: So my wife is a big Ace Of Cakes fan and she pointed out this episode where Neil's sister makes the Orange Amp cake for the 9:30 Club. I never saw anyone eat that thing. Be honest: how was it?

Dan Maines: Y'know, I never got a slice! I never got one. That was a cake that was made for this guy Ed Stack who is a good friend of ours. He's the general manager of the 9:30 Club in DC and, I don't know. I think he ate it.

DTC: The whole thing?

Dan Maines: (laughs) Y'know what? Yeah, I dunno, a cake shaped like an Orange Amp. It looked great. Maybe it tasted like Fanta? I don't know.

DTC: A Dreamsicle!

Dan Maines: Yeah! Aw, that would be rad! The guy's a genius with cakes.

DTC: And he actually owns some sort of cake place, doesn't he?

Dan Maines: Yeah, it's in Baltimore too. Have you ever seen that show, Ace Of Cakes?

DTC: Like I said, my wife is really into it and when I mentioned I was going to be talking to Dan from Clutch she said, "Oh, Clutch was on Ace Of Cakes at one point!" and she pulled it up on YouTube so I just saw a brief four or five minute clip of it. I don't know how long it actually went on.

Dan Maines: Uh-huh. Neil's younger sister works there as well and that was part of the connection between them and us.

DTC: Well, I don't want to get off the topic of music, I just thought it was kind of funny and figured I'd bring it up.

Dan Maines: He's made some pretty cool cakes. He made my wedding cake. He made a Groom cake for me as well which was a small cake that was the shape of a Rickenbacker headstock (laughs). It was chocolate. It was great.

DTC: How long have you been married now?

Dan Maines: Six years.

DTC: So does touring put stress on the relationship and what about kids?

Dan Maines: It does. It does. Yeah, I have kids too and that's one of the things that definitely makes it difficult to tour. But we try to tour smart and do it in a way where we can stay on the road at least five, six months during the year but space it out in a way that it doesn't destroy personal lives.

DTC: So everybody in the group is pretty family-oriented?

Dan Maines: I would say that. Definitely. We're all married.

DTC: Over the years Clutch's music has evolved to embrace even more Bluesy elements as the albums have progressed than what was showcased in the early material. To what do you attribute the direction of your progression? Do you guys still have it in you to write a raging, hardcore track or record or are you set on continuing down this path? As far as the next release goes, which I believe you'll be working on right after the Bakerton release...

Dan Maines: Yes.

DTC: you have anything in store for that, any new ideas and is there any embracing of the classic elements or is it going to be more of what we got with Robot Hive and Beale Street?

Dan Maines: It's hard to say. We don't have the capacity within us probably to write, or desire to write, another Binge And Purge because, like you said, that was two decades ago. I think that the Blues aspect wasn't necessarily a conscious thing that happened. It was something that kind of crept into the music as we were writing it and maybe as we were playing the new material live we generally like to take a riff or two and just kind of play them back and forth in front of an audience and really kind of improvise as much as we can, too, to come up with a new direction or a new riff to complete that song. And when you're jamming like that I guess the easiest format is kind of a Blues progression sometimes and that's probably something that kind of led us in that direction. That's stuff we're always interested in but have probably just never had the confidence within our own skills to try to pull it off.

DTC: So when you're jamming and coming up with these riffs how do you differentiate between material better suited for a Clutch release and something that would be more comfortable on a Bakerton Group release?

Dan Maines: That actually really depends on Neil and whether he feels that adding vocals would make it better or if it would just detract...y'know me, personally, it's kind of hard for me to tell. If we start jamming on a riff I'm not going to be able to say, "This is obviously something that Neil is going to be able to sing on." Because it'll turn out that he will say, "I can't do it. This is better off as an instrumental." So it really kind of rests on his shoulders most of the time. Or if it's just...I'd say the Bakerton songs tend to be a little more Funk-oriented than Clutch songs and that's a big factor too. If you have something that's straight-ahead Rock that's a no-brainer that it's going to be a Clutch song. But if it's a little more of a jazz-influenced song or Funk then maybe it's better suited as an instrumental.

DTC: With all these diverse elements in the music what, in particular inspired you - Dan Maines - to get into music? In your childhood was there a specific experience that really opened the door for you and what made you pick up an instrument and learn how to play it?

Dan Maines: I'd say I got my earliest musical influences probably from my older brother's record collection when I was growing up. He had things like Van Halen and Led Zeppelin and some more Punk stuff like Bad Brains, Sex Pistols. That kind of stuff really attracted me because I was...I was into bands like Jimi Hendrix, obviously, he's...that was probably the first record I bought. As soon as I heard his music I wanted to be a guitar player. And I got a guitar but then as I started listening to bands like The Clash and Bad Brains, y'know the more simplified, heavy stuff, that's what inspired me to actually think that I could play in a band without having Jimi Hendrix chops (laughs). Then, when I met up with Tim, Neil and JP, Tim had already been playing guitar for years and I figured, "Well, I'll buy a bass. It can't be that hard" (laughs). It turned out it's pretty hard. I picked it up and that was good because I think I'm definitely much more naturally inclined to be a bassist than a guitar player. As far as influences go, people like Jack Bruce - he's a huge influence on me, even today. I'm still trying to learn what the hell he was doing. Darryl Jenifer from Bad Brains is a huge influence too.

DTC: Are there any old Clutch tracks, given the finite period of time you have every night to play, that you wish you could incorporate into the setlist more often and to counterbalance that are there songs you get tired of playing?

Dan Maines: Oh Absolutely. We do have a tendency to get bored with certain songs pretty easily. One of the things we try to do is not play the same set every night and that helped because instead of playing twenty songs you can pick from forty or fifty songs. We also try to play what we think...or, songs that, for the most part, people are going to want to hear either because we haven't played them in a while or because they're new. Some of the older songs we just don't play because honestly a lot of times it just doesn't turn out to be as...y'know it's like, um, you have a song like...I don't know some songs we don't get tired of playing, it's weird. Like "Animal Farm." We've probably played that in eighty percent of the setlists between now and the last fifteen years. But then there are other songs like "A Shogun Named Marcus" where one of us will put it on the setlist and it's like, "Jesus Christ! Again?! Give it a break!" But then you think about it and realize you haven't played that song in about six months. You try not to burn yourself out. You try to play songs that people are going to want to hear but songs that you want to play too because when you play a song you really don't want to play the audience can tell. It's a waste of time.

DTC: It's the energy. The energy matters.

Dan Maines: Yeah. Absolutely.

DTC: You released a DVD, Full Fathom Five, just a couple months ago. Why has it taken so long to put out a live show on video?

Dan Maines: We had tried to do this. We've been working on this project for about five years and I think the problem was we just never really put enough money into it to really satisfy our expectation of what a live Clutch DVD would look like. Fortunately for us we hooked up with this guy, Agent Ogden, who does awesome work for a relatively cheap price and it was just perfect timing. He came to us and said he was interested in doing something for us. We looked at some of the stuff he's done in the past. He's done work with Primus and it was obvious he knew what he was doing and the stuff was going to sound good as long as we played good. It was just one of those things where the pieces had to come together before it was really meant to happen.

DTC: So you guys are happy with how it turned out then?

Dan Maines: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, you're your own worst critic but I think the stuff came out really well.

DTC: And we can expect to see more live offerings in the future?

Dan Maines: Yes. Yeah, I don't know what's next. We've been toying with the idea of putting out a DVD that's a mixture of live footage and kind of like a behind-the-scenes, making-the-album kind of footage. Something along those lines. That's probably going to be the next project.

DTC: Great! So are we going to get to see any of those behind-the-scenes blow ups that occur because you guys have been around for so long? I know you have them.

Dan Maines: Our heated arguments.

DTC: Those moments on the tour bus when you're at each others' throats.

Dan Maines: (laughs) Yeah. We'll flare up into one of those Kentucky Fried Chicken food fights that we're known for.

DTC: So can Clutch withstand another couple decades?

Dan Maines: I hope so. I don't know what else to do. I think that especially with the expanded role of the Bakerton Group - y'know, it's weird. The more energy we put into the Bakerton Group it seems like the more excited...and the more ideas we come up with for Clutch. I'm really excited about what we're going to be doing with this new label and just trying to put out records every six months.

DTC: Well hey, I really appreciate the time, Dan. You take care and I hope things go well with the upcoming releases.

Dan Maines: No problem. Thank you. Take it easy.