What hap­pened when BARONESS’S John Bai­z­ley met CLUTCH’S Tim Sult? Best turn to p.72 to find out…

Metal Hammer (UK) - - Contents -

It’s damn toasty in Jack­sonville, Florida this af­ter­noon. We’re at Wel­come To Rockville – one of a grow­ing num­ber of US me­tal mega-fests that have popped up across the States in re­cent years – hid­ing back­stage from the pum­melling heat as a host of bands let riffs fly across the 32-acre Met­ro­pol­i­tan Park. Join­ing us in this air-con haven are John Bai­z­ley, gui­tarist and chief song­writer with Sa­van­nah heavy­weights Baroness, and Tim Sult, the axe-tot­ing groove-ma­chine at the heart of Mary­land rock­ers Clutch.

Th­ese two men have helped craft some of the finest gui­tar mu­sic the me­tal scene has borne wit­ness to in re­cent years, so we couldn’t re­sist the chance to get them to­gether to talk riffs, the im­por­tance of lo­cal scenes and the value of know­ing your shit when it comes to heavy me­tal his­tory. The two gui­tarists – John dressed in an olive green t-shirt, black shirt and jeans, and Tim in a grey t-shirt, blue jeans and base­ball cap – make for a rel­a­tively sub­dued and hum­ble pair of liv­ing gui­tar gods. Hav­ing played to­gether nu­mer­ous times over the years, they’re also well at ease with each other, and what tran­spires quickly be­comes less a meet­ing of bril­liant minds and more a fas­ci­nat­ing chat be­tween two friends who know their way around a gui­tar lick or three…When was the first time each of you heard a riff that re­ally moved you?

Tim: “For me per­son­ally, the first time that I ever recog­nised ‘the riff’ was prob­a­bly Black Dog by Led Zep­pelin. I’d heard Stair­way To Heaven and my par­ents were cool enough to buy Led Zep­pelin IV on tape for me, so I heard it in my room when I was eight years old. To this day, I can still barely com­pre­hend that riff. To me, that’s the epit­ome of riff­ing right there.”

John: “I had a pretty sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence with that par­tic­u­lar song! There was a friend of mine whose fa­ther was a gui­tar teacher, and it was the same thing. I knew

Stair­way…, and he was like, ‘Well, you should check the rest of their stuff out.

This is the gui­tar record – if you like gui­tar, you are gonna like Zep­pelin IV. Black Dog is the first song you hear, and it leaves a pretty in­deli­ble mark.”

Did you both know pretty early on that you wanted to be mu­si­cians your­selves?

John: “I knew I wanted to play, but I think when I heard Zep­pelin, I thought, ‘This is how it’s done,’ but si­mul­ta­ne­ously, ‘I’m never gonna do this, be­cause I can’t come close.’ I was a ter­ri­ble gui­tar player for a long time. It was bands like Di­nosaur Jr, Sonic Youth and specif­i­cally Nir­vana that changed that, ’cause at my age I was the per­fect kid to hear Nir­vana and go, ‘Oh, I can play mu­sic!’ So I think that in some ways I’ve al­ways been play­ing from that foun­da­tion

and try­ing to work to­wards a Zep­pe­li­nesque de­liv­ery. It’s still hard work...”

Tim: “For me, it was called Rock’n Me by the Steve Miller Band. I lived in Ge­or­gia, and when they men­tion all the cities in that song, like, ‘Philadel­phia, At­lanta, LA…’.

I loved when he said ‘At­lanta’. I was about five or six years old at the time, and that’s what made me fall in love with mu­sic. But then af­ter Ge­or­gia I moved to Min­nesota, and as I got a lit­tle bit older I wanted to take gui­tar lessons, and my par­ents were to­tally cool with it, but there were no pri­vate teach­ers around where we lived. So I had to wait un­til I was 14 when we moved to Mary­land, and that was when I was fi­nally able to re­ally ex­plore mu­sic, and fi­nally hear hard­core mu­sic with Mi­nor Threat and stuff like that.”

You both each have such a recog­nis­able gui­tar sound. When did you feel like you were start­ing to hone in on that?

John: “The first time I re­alised was ac­tu­ally kind of re­cently; the band had gone through some line-up changes, and I was writ­ing some­thing, and it was a lit­tle left of cen­tre, a lit­tle out­side the box for us. The other guys in the band were like, ‘It still sounds like a Baroness song.’ They were talk­ing to me as mem­bers of the band, but also out­siders at that point. That was the first time I felt like I had a ‘sound’. But I al­ways felt as though – and I still feel as if – I’m work­ing right at the edge of my tech­ni­cal ca­pa­bil­ity. It al­ways feels like I’m just about to lose con­trol. Ba­si­cally, I don’t think I know ex­actly what I’m do­ing!”

Tim: “With Clutch, we’re al­ways just try­ing to feel like we’ve made a bet­ter al­bum than the last one. We ac­tu­ally jammed to­gether pre-Clutch; I met th­ese guys and started play­ing with them in 1989. There was a dif­fer­ent guy sing­ing with the band, and be­lieve it or not, Neil [Fal­lon, Clutch front­man] did sam­ples! It was re­ally, re­ally weird. It was more in­flu­enced by Min­istry and Nir­vana’s Bleach, so it was kinda in­dus­trial but with riffy stuff on it.”

John: “Ha! That’s hard to imag­ine. So no go-go what­so­ever?”

Tim: “Ab­so­lutely no go-go at all. I started play­ing gui­tar when I was 14, and I started jam­ming with th­ese guys when I was 19. That’s not a huge amount of time, look­ing back, but I was never good at play­ing other peo­ple’s songs. I could never do it jus­tice. I’ve been try­ing to play The Trooper since I was 14, and I still can’t do it. But I think hon­estly, the real Clutch sound of what we’re do­ing now didn’t re­ally truly come into be­ing un­til we started tour­ing, be­cause we had more time to play mu­sic, lis­ten to mu­sic and be ab­sorbed by mu­sic.”

John: “It’s like an ex­po­sure ther­apy thing that goes on. You tour, you don’t think that the bands that you’re play­ing with ev­ery night are gonna have a huge im­pact on what you do, but in ret­ro­spect, I look back and I can hear who we toured with, and I can def­i­nitely tell which in­flu­en­tial al­bums have come out in the in­terim be­tween us. I think that, as gui­tar play­ers es­pe­cially, we’re work­ing with a re­ally thick set of perime­ters. Gui­tars aren’t pi­anos; you can’t do any­thing with them, you can only do spe­cific things with them. It’s all co-de­pen­dent on you hav­ing enough fin­gers on the neck; there’s more strings than you have fin­gers, so you can’t cre­ate un­lim­ited num­bers of chords. It’s very fi­nite.”

You can’t rein­vent the wheel

John: “You can’t. Gui­tars are de­signed for blues, so it’s re­ally easy to play cer­tain bluesy riffs or mech­a­nisms on them. The fun thing is to try and take what gui­tars want to do, twist that and make some­thing unique. We’ve all been lis­ten­ing to riffs since Zep­pelin and Sab­bath, and since then we’ve been try­ing to find some new voice within an in­stru­ment. How can you put your per­son­al­ity into that? How can you build a song around that? Turns out you can build whole al­bums around that.”

John, it felt like at the turn of the 00s there was a wave of riffheavy bands com­ing out of Ge­or­gia, with your­selves, Mastodon and Kylesa at the head of the pack. At the time, did it feel like there was some­thing in the wa­ter there?

John: “In the South at that time, most tours kinda skipped that whole sec­tion. Ev­ery­body was do­ing New York, Chicago, LA, Seat­tle, Port­land, Austin… and then not a ton of love for the South. I was in Sa­van­nah at the time, and no ma­jor tours came through our town. There wasn’t an au­di­ence for it, so I felt like we were cre­at­ing the mu­sic that we wanted to hear, and it just had a re­gional thing to it.”

Tim: “Th­ese things are not by de­sign. There’s never a meet­ing be­tween gui­tar play­ers where we all say, ‘Let’s start a thing!’”

John: “Yeah, but ev­ery once in a while some­body would level up and get a real tour to­gether, and some­how it got pack­aged up. There was a core of bands that all toured with each other, and it was su­per-in­spir­ing. We’d play with Clutch - ‘Al­right, we gotta bring it tonight.’ We’d play with Mastodon - ‘Al­right, we gotta bring it tonight.’ The qual­ity lev­els were so high, ev­ery­body had to keep up, and I think, to the greater world at large, Clutch, Mastodon, Kylesa, Baroness… that whole coast was so ex­cit­ing and packed with th­ese dense, an­gu­lar, in­cred­i­ble bands. I think sev­eral of


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