Clamfight Drummer/Vocalist Andy Martin Discusses The Band's New Album "I Versus the Glacier"
New Jersey's Clamfight plays that type of music that just gets the heart pumping, the fist flying, and the heads nodding until the neck begins to cramp. They spent years working on their stoner metal sound before releasing their vastly-underrated debut “Volume I” back in 2010. This January will see the release of their second album, “I Versus the Glacier,” which is as vicious as their first album was, though with shorter songs and a more focused approach. I had the opportunity to get in an interview with drummer/vocalist Andy Martin to talk about the band’s long path to get to this point and what metal fans can expect from “I Versus the Glacier.”
A lot of people will be hearing about you guys for the first time with this interview. What can the average metal fan getting into Clamfight expect from the band?
Loud music for lazy, suburban New Jersey scumbags, I guess. Big riffs...a lot of volume really.
How did you four lazy, suburban New Jersey scumbags come together?
We actually grew up together. Joel, our rhythm guitarist, Louis, our bass player, and myself have been playing music together since we were 14. Sean joined the fold when we were 17. We’re all 33 now, and Clamfight properly formed in 2002.
The band’s first album, “Volume I,” came out in 2010. What were you guys doing between your formation in 2002 and the release of “Volume I”?
Writing stuff. I was in college and finishing grad school, so for the first three years of the band, we would practice once a month. I think it was probably 2005 when we played our first show. It was a couple of years of taking every bad show that came along, trying to sort of find our own sound at the same time. It was definitely a long and slow build before we had anything worth putting to tape.
Do you think it was a benefit for the band to wait so long before going into the recording studio to work on a full-length album?
Yeah, for sure. The first record was sort of jokingly talked about as a greatest hits record of a band that no one had ever heard of. There was stuff that was on that first record that was written within the first year of Clamfight’s existence, but then there was stuff that was written three weeks before we went in the studio and recorded. You had this record composed of songs within a five-year range. Luckily, that kind of gave us a chance to weed out the crap we had written at first.
As it relates to the songs written back in 2002, what kind of progression did you see those songs take from that time period to when you recorded “Volume I”?
It’s weird because it wasn’t conscious; these sort of things never are. You kind of zero in on a sound, or as it is with us, zeroing in on something we don’t like. Your tastes sort of evolve, and you move away from things you thought were really great when you were young. You realize as you get older, ‘Oh, I don’t really want to do that anymore.’ I think the songs got louder and longer, with more variation to an extent. I think, between the writing period that was so long for the first record, to getting into the new one, we just try to learn what works live, and what songs people hear from the record and say, ‘Oh, I love that song.’
What did you find worked well for the band live before recording the first record?
I think it was just the heavier stuff. The live question is tricky, because when we were first playing, a lot of shows were with metalcore bands. The stoner thing that we do, for lack of a better adjective...the shows especially at first were either people loving it or crickets. If we were on a bill where there were four bands with two singers who do the death metal/sing thing they do, we knew that show was going to be like a lead balloon for us. It just was a natural evolution, really.
Are you okay with the band being deemed a “stoner metal” group?
Yeah. I know that sort of term floats around. We’re all sort of professional guys with jobs. We’re not really sitting around, ripping bong hits all day. That’s not our lives. That’s not a part of the writing process at all. Sean and I write the lion share of stuff, and Sean doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke any of that stuff. It fits for the kind of music we do, but it doesn’t necessarily define us as people. I don’t get too put out by it.
When it comes to writing songs, how do you and Sean divide the load?
I think, for the most part, it’s always been he and I banging it out in the practice space or the basement, writing these songs together. I write the lyrics without any input from anybody. The lion share of the songwriting is just he and I jamming it out together.
When do you get your inspirations from in writing lyrics for a Clamfight song?
I’m a big history guy, so a lot of it comes out of history. There’s more historical lyrics on the first record than the second. I read a lot. If I’m stuck at things for lyrical inspiration, the lyrics almost become like a book report. It’s like, ‘Oh, what did I read that really clicked with me?’, and I sort of talk about that. There are some heavy personal stuff on the second record too, but it’s balanced out by songs about the tomb of the blind dead.
Are you comfortable writing more personal-based lyrics?
Yeah. I don’t usually go for the personal lyrics all that much. The situation kind of dictated that was what I would write about for a few songs. I’m not really a spill-your-guts kind of guy. Talking about personal things or things I’ve feeling about is not really what I’m going to do. It’s no disrespect to anybody who writes those kinds of lyrics; those kind of lyrics can be pretty incredible. That’s not me, and not what I’m going to write about.
Clamfight is getting ready to put out their second album, “I Versus the Glacier.” What did the band take away from “Volume I” that they used in creating “I Versus the Glacier”?
There was a lot of conscious decisions that went into the making of this new record. There were basic nuts-and-bolts studio stuff that we learned. When we recorded this, we booked four days in a row. The first record we sort of recorded in drips and drags. Everybody was scheduled and we did one or two songs, and maybe not come back to them for weeks to do another recording. With this record, we cleared all our schedules and booked the studio time. It made for a lot smoother process. When you don’t have to break down your gear and put it back up at the beginning of every session..the first night, we probably recorded until about 11:30 or midnight. We get back at noon the next day, and as soon as the guys were in tune, we were back playing. That was just a huge help. Sean and I, when writing it, we were just more conscious of what we wanted to do with the new record, and what we thought worked on the first record and what we thought didn’t. This record in general was a lot more thought out.
Where did you believe the band made the greatest strides between the first and the second album?
I think with this new one, we did by and large do what we set out to do. We wanted a more direct record. We wanted shorter songs that hit harder instantly. We wanted to go for a more relentless record this time, and I think we did it. The playing gets better. We were a lot more comfortable with the studio this time around. The studio was fun this time, and it wasn’t that much the first time. Just the fact we had a legitimately great time in the studio helped a lot with the record.
Does the studio environment tend to shape these songs differently than you expected them to before you guys get into the studio?
Not as much. Steve Poponi, the guy who recorded it, we worked with him on the first record. He has done live sound for us in Philly a bunch of times; that’s how we met him. Steve manages to bring the best out of us for sure. There’s not a lot of changing things in the studio. We don’t have that kind of money. We really hash these songs out and beat them to death before we even came into Gradwell (House Recording) to do it.
Are there any particular moments on this album that you are proud of when you step back and look at the album?
I was lucky this time. You sort of get really sick of your record if you are making it and listening to a million different mixes. You can really tired of it. I know I’m not with this record. I listened to it the other day and I’m still really happy with it. The song “Mountain” hits really hard and that makes me happy. The tune “Sandriders,” which is the first one streaming out there right now, feels as heavy recorded as it does live. That’s all we could have possibly hoped for; to get some inkling how it sounds live to come through the record. Steve did that.
Do you think it’s important for the band to be able to translate the live sound into a studio environment?
Yeah, definitely. We are a little sloppy and chaotic live. Sean is a hell of a player, and Joel and Lewis are super-tight. The guys can play, but we’re just not technical, perfectionist dudes. That’s not who we are. If the record is a little sloppy here and there or kind of chaotic, that’s what we want. I wouldn’t want it to be so sterile, because that’s not who we are live.
Playing drums and singing at the same time, especially live, is quite a challenge in itself. How do you handle doing both at the same time? How long did it take you to grasp those two dynamics together?
I’ve played drums since I was nine. I played them for a long time. When the old metal band we had broke up, I was singing for them and the guys liked the way I sing and also liked the way I played drums. So they were like, ‘Okay, you’re going to do this.’ I just figured it out. I’m not Neil Peart. I’m not a ridiculously good drummer. I stomp all over the place. It’s not the trickiest thing in the world to scream over that.
In your mind, what makes a great live show?
It’s a little tricky to answer that. It depends, because there could be different reasons. A Philly show can be great just because it’s a lot of good friends in attendance. When we played Rochester and when we played Baltimore, people are jumping all over us. That’s awesome. That’s so much fun. The shows can be great for different reasons, but we’re lively though. Anytime that we got people in our face thrashing out right up against us is a great time for us.
If you could tour with one band, past or present, who would it be and why?
We grew up on Pantera. Pantera was probably the first legitimately good metal band we were all as 16 year olds into. I would definitely say Pantera. For a stoner band, their influence is certainly in there.
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