Clutch rocking Kuma's Block Party in Chicago, IL in 2009. Photo by Chris Kies

Earth Rocker might be the best Clutch album that has ever existed,” proudly states Clutch guitarist Tim Sult. While hardcore Transnational-or-bust fans may roll their eyes on the standard optimism the guitarist shares regarding his band’s 10th studio album, the statement is better conveyed from producer Machine’s perspective.

“Clutch is a jam band. That’s their birthplace—four dudes, who got along, shared a love for heavy rock, threw back some beer, and played music together,” Machine says. “They’re still learning to write songs in a conventional way—hell, so am I [laughs]—because they didn’t come from a traditional school of songwriting and Earth Rocker shows all four of the band’s members on top of their games as song crafters.”

Earth Rocker builds off the Clutch’s base recipe. “Unto the Breach” matches the intensity and malice on anything from Pure Rock Fury or Blast Tyrant. “Maybe people expected us to go more acoustic or bluesy, but this album definitely showcases a riffs-in-your-face kind of style,” says Sult. “These songs ended up being faster and a bit more rocking.” Even with a heavy dose of rocking that Sult says was inspired by tour mates Thin Lizzy and Motörhead, the new album still has room for Clutch to bring in From Beale Street to Oblivion-era bluesier jams like “D.C. Sound Attack” and “Cyborg Bette.”

But as Clutch always does, fresh ingredients have been added into their smorgasbord of influences, further bolstering the band’s song-building chops. “Gone Cold” is a stripped-down, spaghetti-Western-shootout acoustic number and “Oh Isabella” puts the tranquil Sult in the spotlight with two octave-pedal-based solos, including a reversed-solo section done with the help of his Line 6 DL4.

Clutch’s soft-spoken riffmaster, Sult, tells us how he recorded with a new guitar-and-amp combo, what he looks for in a good wah pedal, and what he’d play if he were Willie Nelson. (Added bonus: Earth Rocker producer Machine offers some inside recording tips from the sessions.)

The last few album cycles for Clutch—Strange Cousins From the West and From Beale Street to Oblivion—were more experimental, but with Earth Rocker you guys had extensive pre-production jams and hashed out almost everything prior to entering the studio. How did that preparation affect the sessions and the overall experience of recording this time around?
For me, I think my solos were the most affected part of my playing. They felt, at the time, and sound, now that the album is done, more focused and deliberate. I know, as a band, recording this album was much less open-ended like in previous records, but saying that there are some songs, arrangement-wise that do go on a trip for a while [laughs].

I would’ve never expected to be playing as many solos on this album, but they definitely had more of a direction than they usually do. It definitely took a lot more concentration, but I walked away from this album liking them more than I have on any other album. I just decided to trust the producer this time and not try to second-guess myself. Having Machine there really helped.

Was the focus and mild restraint on purpose or more of a happy coincidence due to having the songs dialed-in pretty well before recording?
Honestly, I think a lot of it can be attributed to us working with Machine. His production style is a little more dialed-in. He helped us really give shape to things prior to entering the studio. We don’t normally enter the studio haphazardly and decide “let’s make a record.” But our ideas aren’t as solidified or the direction isn’t 100 percent figured out, so in the past that has led us to dwell on songs or solos too long and things tend to get overworked or extended.

Earth Rocker feels a lot more like the more aggressive Clutch records in the early 2000s—Blast Tyrant and Pure Rock Fury come to mind, which were also produced by Machine—than your most recent albums. Was that a cognitive decision to go heavier again or was it something that organically happens when you’re paired with Machine?
I think the connections between Earth Rocker and Blast Tyrant are definitely made through the production credits belonging to Machine. The songs we were writing were a little faster and aggressive and it just seemed like the new material really fit his production style. In terms of our musical influences and reemphasis on heavy, I’d say that was more to our extensive tours with Thin Lizzy and Motörhead. We wrote and came up with a lot of our song ideas while on the road with those guys, so to it’s hard not to hear that music everyday and not have it sink into your thoughts and bones. Earth Rocker is a cross between Thin Lizzy and Motörhead played by the guys in Clutch [laughs].