Today I speak with Clutch – the guitarist and primary song-writer for the band Colorado-based prog rock band Red Star Revolt. The music is really original – powerful and interesting progressive rock arrangements, mixing in a tad bit of psychedelic, hip-hop and electronica. Today’s podcast is short to allow for two full tracks from the bands last self-titled album. Mid-way through we here the song Prove Me Wrong, and we close with the song Dementia.
Ben Sommer: I’m here with Clutch from the Colorado-based band, Red Star Revolt. Clutch, nice to have you, won’t you tell me a little bit about the band and your music?
Darren (Clutch) Jacobson: Yeah, I guess I’ll start with myself real briefly. I’ve been playing guitar about for twenty years, and Rush is coincidentally the reason I started playing guitar. It’s a band that I always liked for a couple of years. I really liked Snake & Arrows, their last CD a couple of years ago, and a couple of the singles they released this year, so that was kind of my musical foundations and then over time that’s kind of sprung out into other interests.
About ten years ago, I joined a band called Shaft, which was a cover band and we did the cover circuit for a few years and I kind of got burned out on that. And then over time, Aaron Nava, who was the singer and bassist of Shaft, and I ended up forming Red Star Revolt. That was probably around 2007 that we started writing material, and we were interested in getting a little bit more progressive than we had been in Shaft, and getting a little more creative and hopefully a little bit more contemporary.
So we didn’t have any luck finding a drummer at the outset, so we just went ahead full steam and kind of wrote twelve to thirteen songs and then started recording them. And then we found a drummer named Dino Cuneo, who had a studio west of Denver, and he agreed to record the drum tracks at his studio.
So finally, I mean, the whole writing-recording process was kind of drawn out because were going through some personal issues in our life. But in 2008, we released Red Star Revolt, our self-titled CD, and it was picked up by a European distributor, so that got us a little bit of buzz at least among some of the European prog rock community, and some fairly positive reviews overall. As far as playing and gigging and that, we have been focusing more in the Denver area. And towards the end of last year, Dino who’s a full-time musician and excellent drummer, he realized, although he was having a blast and really he enjoyed the music he was playing with us, but monetarily speaking, there were other things he could get involved with, with his studio, and it would probably be more lucrative, so we parted ways amicably late last year.
And then early this year, we hooked up with a drummer named Mike Covairt, who’s also a really awesome drummer, a really talented guy. We kind of depend on drums to be pretty propulsive, so we’re kind of picky on that aspect. So we got him and then the latest drama in the Red Star Revolt saga is that Aaron, who again was our vocalist and bassist, got a job offer in California so he has just relocated out to L.A. and he’ll probably be out there for some time. So at this point, it’s Mike and I here in Denver. We’re continuing to write some new material but we’re not really gigging at this point.
Ben: Oh, so there’s a Red Star…
Clutch: Some intrigue there, huh?
Ben: Yeah, Red Star Counterrevolution going on, huh?
Clutch: Yeah, yeah exactly. That’s one thing I would say about the name Red Star Revolt, a lot of people think it is political or that. At the time we just feel it sounded cool, but if people read something in to it and get interested based on it, more power to them.
Ben: Well, that’s easy to do. Your cover art in the album is, there’s a name for that kind of communist era, Soviet art but it’s…
Clutch: Yeah, the original concept for the cover, we wanted something that sit with the name; you know the name itself to us didn’t mean anything. And so Red Star, you kind of think a lot of them and that, and so the original idea was to kind of have the Tiananmen Square photo where the guy is standing up against a column of tanks, and that we would replace that standing figure with like an old gramophone. So the idea is music going against the kind of the mainstream stuff that’s being shoved down our throats on the radio and that. Of course, that original photo from Tiananmen Square was copy written on that, so we just went with that general idea and had an original cover drawn up for that.
Ben: Oh, it’s nice. First of all, I don’t have to tell the listeners that I listened to several of your top tracks. It’s awesome stuff. I can hear you claim certain influences in your MySpace page. The classic prog rock gods, Rush, even the new ones like prog metal bands like Opeth, I hear all of that, but it is not derivative on any way. So it real, it’s a mix. Well, it’s too bad you lost Aaron because his vocals were tops, but I’m sure you’ll find someone to match it. Anyway, I’m just giving you kudos. It’s really cool, all around interesting.
Clutch: Well, I’m glad you enjoyed it. That’s always great to hear.
Ben: Talk me through why Rush got you started playing guitar? What have been into? What, consciously or not, do you think influences your music now?
Clutch: Well, when I was in high school, I saw all the kids around me were really into music, and I would try listening to pop radio and some of the cookie cutter, mostly pop stuff that they were listening to, and just nothing interested me remotely. It wasn’t until one night I was just randomly flipping radio stations, and I heard Tom Sawyer, and it just literally gave me the chills. It would have been a long time after Moving Pictures had come out. It’s always been one of their mainstay radio songs. And I just could not believe it. I mean, I couldn’t even tell if the singer was a guy or a girl. I couldn’t tell if it was the same band that did that Barracuda song. It’s just like a high-singing voice but a really cool, really cool music.
Over time, I kind of heard a couple more songs of theirs, and I heard the name of the band, and I was like, “Okay, I got to find out who these guys are. So I got a stoner buddy. I was kind of always a straight arrow. But I had a stoner friend in high school who was, “Oh yeah, Rush.” So he copied a couple CDs for me, and I think he copied Moving Pictures and 2112. Everyday when I got home from school, I was just like whistling at those non-stop. One time, I would dig out some of their other material. After I was listening to 2112, I bought Hold Your Fire randomly. I didn’t know anything about, stylistically, that these guys did other stuff besides kind of the more rocking stuff, but to hear some synthesizer-based music in that, I mean, that really threw me for a trip. You know I liked everything I heard and I thought it’s just such interesting music, but it was also a very cult thing. Most people in high school had never heard of them or knew who they were. It was just kind of more of the stoner kids who liked Metallica and that kind of stuff that also liked Rush. So that’s how I got into them.
Over time I kind of got into other progressive bands like Yes especially their ‘70s stuff, Pink Floyd, Zeppelin. Rush and Zeppelin are still my top two favorite bands. There was a great band called Voivod. I don’t know if you are familiar with them. They were a metal band but they were progressive and really, really weird music but I just found their stuff really compelling.
Ben: Yeah I know. I have heard of them. We had this guy, Kevin Hufnagel who is in this prog metal band, Dysrhythmia, and it was kind of an odd interview in that he is not a super Rush disciple, but he’s a Voivod disciple.
Clutch: And Voivod has really weird stuff. I think a lot of Rush fans would like it, and even for a lot of Rush fans, it might be a little out there. If people are interested in finding out, I would say start with Nothingface, and do the next two or three albums after that. It’s really good stuff.
Over time, I kind of got more into some alternative bands that I thought were interesting especially Radiohead. You couldn’t get those guys to write a bad song. If you try it, everything they do is pretty consistently brilliant. You know bands like Incubus, Mars Volta was a huge influence. That’s more of the most mind-blowing bands I think to that come out in the past decade or so. So that kind of goes the gamut and then I listen to a lot of jazz. I really enjoy jazz music. I like going to our local jazz club, and checking out jazz bands, but it’s really as more as the hobby thing. I don’t have any illusions that I’m going to be a great jazz guitarist. But I just think it’s great music. The thing that jazz has that most of rock doesn’t is just beautiful harmonies.
Ben: I know, I hear it well. That and chops and – as a friend of mine pejoratively calls it – the “Ta-Ting”. I came from prog rock then I got schooled in jazz and was in that vein for a long time, then I ditched it. I came back to my roots.
Clutch: Oh, okay.
Ben: So I think we kind of have a similar journey…
Clutch: We’ll check out some of your songs. I definitely hear a little classical guitar, and mixed in one of the songs, and it really had rock, another is some little progs in this and that.
Ben: Yeah, it’s a smorgasbord.
Clutch: So great some stuff.
Ben: I think it’s good to absorb even if just as a fan with other types of music because just by osmosis, it comes in your own music and mixes it up, makes it more interesting.
Clutch: Oh, absolutely.
Ben: You’re in Colorado, right? You know, you keep losing band members, one guy moved into California. How did you wind up in Colorado? Is that where you grew up? And what’s the music scene like out there?
Clutch: Yeah, Colorado is where I grew up. I probably lived my whole life aside from a couple of years in Colorado, and Aaron had been here for many years, so it all started with Shaft really with that band. Then Aaron and I ended up being together, and he and I always had simple things in common as far as influences and the type of music we wanted to make. I think anything one of us wrote the other person could contribute to and make it better. So it’s a huge deal for him to move, like I said Mike and I are still writing and right now, that’s what we are going to focus on. It’s just writing stuff and then down the road, we’ll figure out what happens at that point.
Ben: You know, the last band I interviewed, Elf Project, I’d say these guys come out of the Rush tribute band tradition. So they’ve only recently going original, so they’re really, really like Rush. But even there, the guy, the lead songwriter/singer, he plays the bass, he does all the sync and stuff live, and he sings in high pitch, and now you have this where you had this fellow who sang and play bass, and did he do the sync as well? Or was that you?
Clutch: Yeah, Aaron, when we played live, I mean, we would reproduce the CD and then add to it. We would like to insert jam sections like in Dementia, which is the lead track and what not. In the CD, Aaron and I kind of split up keyboard duties but live, Aaron would have the keyboard in front of him and a Taurus-type trigger pedal to trigger stuff, and then separately, I had a loop pedal, so I could record sections and then loop underneath live, and then play on top of those, so we kind of use a little bit of that technology to help fill out the sound and reproduce all of the little details that were on the CD.
Ben: Right, well, that’s a great approach for a trio. I don’t know if what the chicken came first or whatever. If Rush hadn’t done that years ago, started that trend to flush out their live performance and make it like the studio version, if others probably wouldn’t have caught on. But I just think it is ironic the second prog rock band in the row I’m interviewing had that same kind of formula.
Clutch: Yeah. I mean we didn’t set out like we want to be a trio, or we want to be like Rush and have the same instrumentation. But just as we wrote the music, we realized that keyboards could fill a good supporting role here and there, even though they’re certainly not my primary instrument or Aaron’s. And so just being aware that, hey, Rush was able to pull that off with three people kind of gave us some confidence that, yeah, you can use technology in a way where you can do all that stuff, and still have not that, or you just had a mix tape playing the background where you’re singing over it or doing karaoke, but it’s ridiculous.
Ben: Right, right. Now, it can get ridiculous, but you use technology if you can?
Clutch: Yeah, absolutely.
Ben: What are your ambitions for the band?
Clutch: Our short term ambitions really for this year are to keep writing material. We have some new stuff that’s pretty cool. I really like it and I think that other people would too once we are able to record it. I just want to purely focus with that with Mike, and then next year, we’d really like to be in a state where we can start gigging again and recording. Ideally by the end of the year, get out another CD. Right now, there’s been so much change recently that I’m just trying to keep on my blinders and worry about what I can control right now, which is trying to write music, try to stretch out a little bit and do something new aside from our normal style, but still have the RSR sound.
Ben: Right, right, cool. Well, thanks for talking. This has been excellent.
Clutch: Well, thank you. I appreciate it