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Clutch Frontman Decodes His Sinister Lyrical Visions

August 25, 2009 1:03 PM ET

Stoner rock stallwarts Clutch return to the road next month, giving fans another chance to congregate and bark along to frontman Neil Fallon's madman sermons of robot overlords, government cover-ups and long dead civilizations.

Fallon's bon mots, turns of phrase and sidewalk preacher screeds have carved a unique space for Clutch in the heavy music landscape. And the man who gave us lines like "shadow of the New Praetorian / tipping cows in fields Elysian" and "life inside the biosphere, dodecahedron fever's here / sporting scarlet letters of genetic imperfection, dear" is once again in blissfully twisted form on Strange Cousins from the West, giving us a paranoid pastiche of assassins, drifters, backwoods monsters and chemical weapons. But how are these sinister visions born?

The band's ninth studio album is the result of a freewheeling but tight four-week recording session with producer J. Robbins ("You can beat something to death until you're deaf to it. The songs that are written really quickly are the best," Fallon explains) and dozens of lyrical seeds jotted in notebooks, on scrap paper, and on any available surface. Fallon says he then fleshes out those notes during time he sets aside specifically for writing, either early in the morning or late at night. "I try to build a story around those phrases," Fallon says. "Music evokes a mood, and you can crystalize that mood with words."

And in fleshing out the mood of Strange Cousins from the West, Fallon found inspiration in modern horror author Thomas Ligotti, 15th Century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, true crime stories, historical landmarks and at least one dare. Here, Fallon reveals the birth of some of the more esoteric turns of phrase on Strange Cousins...:

"Anthrax, ham radio, and liquor" from "50,000 Unstoppable Watts"
"We rehearse very close to the Fort Detrick Army base," Fallon explains. "That's where the Army does some real neat-o stuff with chemical weapons. Around the neighborhood are a lot of ham antennas, probably relics from civil defense. On my way home one evening, I stopped by the beer store there in Frederick because the ones around my neighborhood are terrible. Thus: Anthrax, ham radio, and liquor."

"Strange cousins from the west overstay their welcome" from "Minotaur"
"This line, like most of them, came about while in my basement either late at night or early in the morning," Fallon says. "I think I was a bit creeped out by a Thomas Ligotti story, not any particular family members of my own."

"Outside is an army of antlers" from "Freakonomics"
"I had jotted down this line in a notebook well before the song came about," Fallon explains. "There's a small stretch of woods behind my house, an island of green in an otherwise urban area. It's not particularly wild, but when the whole neighborhood is asleep it can seem completely sinister."

"Wasted plastic empire's golden age, chemical wedding / Citizens in their refineries cheer the nuptial bedding" from "The Amazing Kreskin"
"Sometimes I find myself staring at a blank page with just some images running around in the head. Nothing ‘meaningful,’ just descriptive," Fallon says. "I had some 21st century Hieronymus Bosch scene milling about and these are some of the lines it inspired."

"Oh Abraham Lincoln, buried him in his grave. / Oh Abraham Lincoln, buried him in his grave. / The assassin, the coward, no grave for you. / The assassin, the actor, no cross for you" from "Abraham Lincoln"
"These lines were the first to be written for the tune," Fallon reveals. "They were sung into a microphone in a fit of spontaneity and written down later on. I suppose they were inspired by two things. First, visiting the Lincoln Memorial with out of town guests. I guess I take it for granted, living so close to D.C.. And two, reading Manhunt by James Swanson, a fantastic book about the days following Lincoln's assassination."

"reefer madness quiets the falling bomb" from "Struck Down"
"This was a case of trying to find a rhyme for 'Keep Calm and Carry On,' " Fallon says. "My sister Mary Alice gave me a 'Keep Calm and Carry On' poster for Christmas. From what I understand, it was an English propaganda poster designed to be used in the event of a German occupation. My dad said something like, 'Let's see you write a song about that.' So I did."

"I'm gonna build a castle out of Goodyear tires / Cinderblock and busted doors; that's where I'll retire" from "Let a Poor Man Be"
"This was a case of the late night scribble-head," Fallon says. "My memory is really hazy. I do remember pondering the works of; Jim Bishop, builder of Bishop's Castle in Colorado; Sam Rodia, builder of the Watts Towers; and Edward Leedskalnin, who built the Coral Castle in Florida. I admire their singularity of purpose and I know the closest I'll ever get to doing anything like that is on a piece of paper."

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