Clutch bassist reflects on punk rock influences and understanding musical fundamentals
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
October 19, 2020
Clutch is one of those bands that makes no apologies for playing loud heartfelt rock and roll. For nearly three decades now, the Maryland quintet has been knocking out audiences the world over with its signature mix of hard rock, blues, punk and old-school metal. And the whole time, Dan Maines has been there helping lay out the foundations of Clutch’s sound with his soulful chugging basslines.
A founding member of the group, he’s been a vital force for all 12 of their albums and participated in the 2008 launch of their Weathermaker Music record label. Together with three of his Clutch bandmates (guitarist Tim Sult, drummer Jean-Paul Gaster and keyboardist Mick Schauer), Maines also plays with The Bakerton Group, an instrumental ensemble whose music incorporates aspects of jazz, blues and psych-rock.
FBPO: Let’s start from the beginning. Tell me about your musical upbringing and how you became a bass player.
Maines: Well, bass was not my first instrument. My first interest was guitar. I picked up my first guitar when I was, maybe, 16 years old and didn’t take any lessons. I was just trying to learn things on my own. I guess you could say I was a pretty lazy guitar player because once I figured out how to string a few chords together, that pretty much satisfied my needs at the time of playing along to punk rock albums that I liked, or making up some simple songs on my own.
FBPO: Do you come from a musical family?
Maines: No, I wouldn’t say I do. None of my parents played any instruments while I was growing up. I didn’t learn until later that my mom did have piano lessons as a child. And actually, now that I think about it, I did have a keyboard as a kid, as I’m sure most kids do, but I didn’t really think of that as anything more than something that was lying on the ground and when I saw it, I would mess around with it.
FBPO: What attracted you to the bass?
Maines: It was actually pure chance. I was in high school. I’d been playing guitar for about a year. All four guys in the band Clutch, we all went to high school together, but didn’t start playing music with each other until pretty much the last few months of high school. A mutual friend of our singer Neil was putting together a band. He knew that I played guitar, but they were looking for a bass player. I honestly didn’t know the first thing about bass, but I agreed to it anyway. I went out and bought a $99 P bass knock-off and tried to figure out what to do.
FBPO: That must have been a real discovery for you, a whole new world. Did you start listening to music differently once you discovered the bass?
Maines: Absolutely. I mean, without a doubt, when I started to play bass it just felt much more natural to me. The more we played, the more I realized that I was always drawn to the bass, but I didn’t actually make the connection. When I was a 16-year-old kid, I just thought that the cool thing to do is to play guitar, so I went out and bought a guitar. But, yeah, the more I played the bass, the more it made sense to me as an instrument. It just came more naturally to me.
FBPO: Which bass players that got your attention? Who inspired you?
Maines: Around the time that I picked up the bass, I was listening to a lot of punk music. There was one band in particular out of Canada called Nomeansno. They were like if Rush listened to the Dead Kennedys on their time off. They definitely caught my ear early on, especially the bassist and the drummer. They happened to be brothers. His name is Rob Wright, the bass player. He was a big influence on me when I first tried learning how to play the bass, how to get around the instrument.
FBPO: How about Mike Watt? Was he on your radar?
Maines: Sure, sure. And we’re from the Washington, DC area, so of course I was a big fan of Bad Brains as well. Darryl Jenifer’s playing was something that I was definitely using as a model of what to aspire to. It’s the same kind of concept where they were playing punk music, but with a level of proficiency that is not typical of most punk bands. And it was inspiring to know that I had players like that in my catalog that I could just listen to and try to play along to and learn from.
FBPO: Career-wise, it doesn’t seem like you did a whole lot before Clutch. You guys started out pretty young, didn’t you?
Maines: Yeah. I guess by the time the four of us got together it was ’89. We had a couple of different iterations with different singers before we finally decided that Neil was by far the best vocalist for the job. That definitive Clutch lineup didn’t really come together until the middle of ’91, and that’s when we started playing shows, just playing locally in mostly hardcore shows. Those are the easiest gigs to get. And we actually went on our first U.S. tour in ’92. We were opening up for another hardcore band out of Virginia called Four Walls Falling. That was, I believe, the summer of ’92. And that took us all the way out to California and then back. Getting back was more of a challenge than any of us anticipated, but that’s how you learn. It’s the trial by fire, I guess.
FBPO: Early challenges notwithstanding, you guys really defied the odds with the success and the longevity of the band Clutch. Does that surprise you?
Maines: Absolutely. It still amazes me. Personally, speaking for myself, I never expected the band to get as big as it has gotten. That’s always been a pleasant surprise to me. We were just very content to do what we like to do, do what we want to do. And the more people that actually like what we’re doing, the better, obviously. But we never did anything in hopes of achieving a certain level of success outside of just getting more shows and writing more material.
FBPO: Tell me about this special vinyl box set that’s being released on Record Store Day.
Maines: Sure. It’s a box set that comprises pretty much everything that we have released on our own record label, which is called Weathermaker Music. We started the label in, let’s see, ’08. It’s a collection of the albums themselves, so it’s a 12-album box set that comes in this big black box, hence the name The Obelisk. I believe it is 18 individual pieces of vinyl, but it’s 12 albums. It’s everything from picture discs to 12-inch EPs to full albums. And some of the albums are double-disk albums.
FBPO: How much is it going to be selling for?
Maines: I believe $250 is the price on that. It’s a Record Store Day release, so it’s a very limited-edition item as well. It comes with a turntable mat and a poster that we all signed.
FBPO: What’s been keeping you busy during this bizarre time in the world?
Maines: Yeah, it’s strange. Normally, we would have been on the road, and it was going to be a pretty adventurous year of touring for us. We had some shows lined up in South America and Mexico early in the year, and that was something that we were greatly looking forward to because we’ve only been down to South America once for one show when we went to Sao Paulo. So we were going to head back there and were also going to be playing Santiago, Chile, Buenos Aires… There was a festival in Mexico City that we were playing, but obviously that got scrapped.
FBPO: That’s disappointing.
Maines: Yeah. We were heading to Australia and Europe as well throughout the summer. We were looking at about an eight-week tour in Europe in the summertime. One thing that has been a silver lining for this on my part is that I now have spent more time at home than I have in the last 20 years. My wife and children, hopefully, greatly appreciate this time at home, because I know I do.
FBPO: I’m sure they do.
Maines: Yeah. It’s been nice to catch up on that time, when normally I would’ve been away. One of the challenges of being home this long is finding the time to spend playing, whereas the tours have these automatic built-in long stretches of time. So I would say I probably haven’t been playing as much as I normally would be, but still Clutch is keeping as busy as we can. We’ve been doing some livestream concerts since May.
FBPO: Do you have any new material in the works?
Maines: We do. During the time we don’t spend focusing on the livestreams that we’re doing, we try to write. It’s not going as quickly or as easily as we hoped. I think maybe the level of inspiration is not as high, or it’s not at the normal level.
FBPO: Like I said, these are bizarre times.
Maines: Yeah. But we do get together. We try to get together as often as we can, and we record every idea that we have. We’re in that stage of just building a collection of ideas, but we don’t really have a firm game plan as to when we’re going to jump into a studio and try to get these ideas on tape. That’s going to be the next step.
FBPO: Tell me about your gear.
Maines: I play, for the most part, Rick basses. I use the stereo output that the 4003 models come with and I run two different amps. One is an a 1974 Ampeg B-15. That has a really awesome gain, nice overdrive. The bridge pickup is going to the B-15 and then the neck pickup, I don’t have one specific amp that I commit to that, but, whatever amp I’m using, it’s going to be more of a clean tone, a nice, round, low-end tone. Then I’ll use a DI signal in between the three channels. It’s just this really nice, fat, aggressive tone.
FBPO: What kind of strings do you play?
Maines: I use Nickel Plated Dunlops.
FBPO: Every day, more and more people are coming to forbassplayersonly.com to learn bass. What advice you could impart to somebody who wants to learn how to play the bass?
Maines: I feel strongly that some form of instruction early on is key, not just sitting in your bedroom trying to learn a song by your favorite band, which is not a bad thing. I mean, I do that all the time too, but that’s going to box you into learning and knowing how to play exactly what may interest you at that particular time without having outside ideas, which will seed your creativity in writing your own music. The best approach is one that’s going to open your ears and your mind to understanding how other styles of music are played, giving you insight into why some of your favorite players are doing what they’re doing. If you have the desire to pick up an instrument, it’s worth your while to invest a little bit of money and time into learning. Your platform does an excellent job of that. I look forward to checking out more of your work.
FBPO: Thanks, Dan! What would you be if you were not a bass player?
Maines: That’s a question that terrifies me. I’m so grateful to be able to make a living playing music, but my hobbies are pretty boring. I like to go on hikes. I like to ride trails on my bikes and fish. That’s about it. Is there such thing as a professional hiker?
See Jon’s blog, with key takeaways from this interview, here.