Interview with ex-Suite 88 drummer Jesse Clutch

Date: July 18, 2022
Interviewer: Olivier
Photos: Carl S. Miller of CSM Media


Sleaze Roxx: So let’s go back to the beginning. How did Suite 88 form in the first place?

Jesse Clutch: Suite 88’s origins go back to about 2002 when lead singer “Mike Gunns” and myself met in junior high school in eighth grade. I had been playing drums for about a year and had been playing with another classmate who played guitar. We needed a bass player and I found out Mike was a bass player, and a really good one at that! From then until 10th grade, we had formed our first band “Voltage” and played local gigs in Calgary for those few years. In 10th grade, Mike’s family moved to Arizona to be closer to his grandparents.

Mike and I were determined to continue to make music and we started sending song ideas and recording our own tracks by sending them back and forth over the computer. Even at 16 and 17, we wrote some of the material that was eventually re-recorded for the first Suite 88 album. So at a pretty young age, we started to learn and get into home recording. On a side note, later on, almost all Suite 88’s recordings were done at our own home studio ourselves. By the time we had both finished high school, Mike and I had the plan that I would move down to Arizona to form our dream rock n’ roll band. I worked for a year straight and saved up all the money I could and ended up moving down at the age of 19.

Mike had been taking “recording arts” classes at college by this time and that’s where he met this amazing guitarist “Kolton Lee”. He recruited him and the day after I landed in Arizona, we had our first jam session with Mike as the bass player. The three of us wrote some more songs to add to the songs we had for what would become the first Suite 88 album. We recorded that first record just the three of us. Mike had decided to take on full lead singer duties and after three different bass players, we Found “Vic Toon” on a Craigslist ad. He was an amazing guitarist but we asked him to play bass and he liked the songs so much that he joined, and our line-up was finally complete.

Sleaze Roxx: How did you guys come up with your band name Suite 88 and were there other band names that were in contention?

Jesse Clutch: We came up with Suite 88 because we wanted something with 88 in the title. We were all born in 1988. Another idea was “Rocket 88”. We liked that name as well because many consider it to be the first “rock n’ roll” song ever written. We also were called “Wanted” for a brief stint.

Sleaze Roxx: What were Suite 88’s initial goals when you first started?

Jesse Clutch: Mike and I had dreams of bringing rock n’ roll back, like real rock n’ roll. We felt the world hadn’t seen a real rock n’ roll band since Guns N’ Roses. We were so sick and tired of the state of rock music in the mid 2000s. We wanted to start a wave of great rock bands, that stayed true to what we believed rock n’ roll should be. We just wanted to make a living being a great rock n’ roll band. We took pride in our songwriting!

Suite 88‘s “Soul Rider” track (from Suite 88 album):

Sleaze Roxx: Suite 88 had a Canadian connection in that it appears that you are based in the western province of Alberta. How did that work within the band?

Jesse Clutch: Mike is a dual citizen (Canadian/American) so when he moved to the States, he had no issues with immigration or visas. When I first moved down, I technically was only allowed for six months before I had to come back and renew my visitor’s visa. When we did our first tour half way through, we played two Calgary shows and when we tried to go back to the States, I was denied entry and we ended up cancelling the rest of the tour. So I went and got myself a musician’s visa, which allowed me to come to the States and play music and earn money legally. I am now a dual resident and can live in either country.

Sleaze Roxx: What was it like when you were denied entry in the US and Suite 88 had to cancel the rest of their tour. Was there any talk of perhaps the band forging ahead with a US based drummer rather than dealing with your difficulties crossing the border?

Jesse Clutch: Well, Mike and I were best friends for so long and Suite 88 was our vision since we were kids so I think we just always wanted to stay as a team. I remember being held in customs as I watched the other three guys walk on through to the gates. It really was a crappy feeling. We had just sold out the Calgary shows two nights in a row and had the best two shows of the whole tour and then the next thing I know, I had to call a friend to pick me up from the airport as the guys flew back to Seattle to where we had the RV parked. There was some talk of one of Kolton’s drummer friends filling in for me to continue the tour, but in the end, it was just cut short. By this time, I had already recorded all the drums for the second album before the tour, so the guys went home and recorded all their parts while I was in Canada. I ended up staying in Canada for six months until I got everything sorted out.

Sleaze Roxx: The group had one of its songs featured on one episode of the very popular television series ‘Parenthood.’ How did that come about?

Jesse Clutch: A guy who worked for MTV who had shot and directed ‘Rock of Love’ and the ‘Deadliest Catch’ had heard our song “Ten Shots, Ten Minutes” and loved it. I think it was his neighbor who was playing our first album. He loved the song so much he got in touch with us and shot the music video for us for free. That turned into landing our song on the pilot episode of Parenthood. In one of the beginning scenes, Lauren Graham is telling her son to turn down the music and you can catch a glimpse of the music video on his TV.

Suite 88‘s “Ten Shots, Ten Minutes” video (from Suite 88 album):

Sleaze Roxx: Suite 88 had a seemingly fairly short run from early 2009 to sometime in 2012 but you accomplished quite a bit with two albums, at least one west coast tour and winning Alice Cooper’s ‘Proof is in the Pudding’ competition in late 2011. Take me through the ups and downs of your journey in the band?

Jesse Clutch: Suite 88 had actually started as “Wanted” in late 2007 with Kolton, Mike and I, and one other member. It wasn’t until late 2008 we came up with the name Suite 88 and until then, we hadn’t found the right bass player and we really wanted someone the same age as us. It was great when we found Vic in early 2009. Then things started rolling. Early on in 2009, we had the same management as one of our favorite bands of that time — Vains Of Jenna. We played many shows with them and hung out with them. Really cool guys from Sweden! I think they really should have gotten a lot bigger than they did.

We had worked very hard the few years we were active and it wasn’t really until the last six months of our run that we accomplished the most. Our single “The Devil’s Fee” won first place out of all the bands in Phoenix that submitted their songs, which were played on the radio and analyzed by the DJs. Those guys aren’t easy to impress and I think to this day, we still have the best score with 29/30. It’s an annual event on Arizona’s number one rock Station. I was told a few weeks ago they still bring our name up from time to time!

Suite 88‘s “The Devil’s Fee” video (from Unsigned album):

This granted us the number one opening slot for Steel Panther at the Celebrity Theatre. Shortly after that, we won ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’ and opened for Alice Cooper, Rob Halford and John Corabi. I remember we ran out of beer backstage and I thought it was funny to steal John Corabi’s beer and I was drinking it down the hall and realized half way through it was non-alcoholic beer [laughs]! The contest entailed that we write a Christmas song and the best band wins! So we decided to re-write “School’s Out” and changed it to “School’s Out For Christmas”. Alice’s son loved it so much that he came and sang vocals on the studio version which is featured on Alice Cooper’s Christmas Pudding 2012 album!

Suite 88 performing at Alice Cooper’s Christmas Pudding in 2011:

Sleaze Roxx: What prompted Suite 88 to call one of your albums ‘Unsigned’? Was that a major focus of the band to get signed by a label?

Jesse Clutch: We did create our own label ‘Whiskki Music CO’. I think at first we wanted major label attention but that’s when things were starting to change where more independent artists were finding success without major labels, but that’s kind of why we named the album ‘Unsigned’. It was kind of a jab at the major record companies. We wanted to try and make it without their help. We had gotten ourselves on the radio on two stations in Canada and two stations in Phoenix and we had a lot of confidence in our songs! I wish we had used social media a little differently. It wasnt as strong of a tool as it is today.

Sleaze Roxx: It seems that Suite 88 were moving in a more modern direction music wise towards the end. Was that an intentional thing?

Jesse Clutch: Our first album was really 80’s sounding and a lot of it was recycled material Mike and I had written in our teenage years. We figured we should modernize our sound on the second album. On the second album, it really was the four of us writing and it just had more input and it really turned out well. “The Devil’s Fee” used to be only a half step down and when we tracked the guitars, we tuned way down just for laughs and it really changed the song feel and right away it sounded more modern and heavy, so we kept it and it worked really well for us.

Suite 88‘s “Save Me” track (from Unsigned album):

Sleaze Roxx: Eventually, you and Vic were apparently let go from the band. The “long short story” as you previously indicated to me was that there were some women issues within the band that caused the band’s break up fairly quickly. What’s the long story in that regard?

Jesse Clutch: Well looking back, it is easily one of the biggest regrets of my life. At the time, I was 23 years old, and in my mind, I thought it was cool to be just like my heroes — Mötley Crüe — and I ended up having an affair with our manager’s wife. She had come on to me several times and I went along with it. Not pointing fingers, it was both of our fault. In my mind, it was just the rock n’ roll thing to do. Shortly after he [the manager] found out, the band pretty well imploded. Mike and Kolton were very close with him and it caused a lot of drama. Vic sided with me and the band split in two. For a brief time, Jordan Ziff, who now plays with Marty Friedman and Ratt, was in Suite 88 as a second guitarist with Kolton. Just wanted to say Jordan Ziff is a mind blowing guitarist and it’s great to see him doing so well. Suite 88 played a lot of shows with him when he was in his original band Age of Evil.

Since all of that happened, Mike and I have mended our friendship within a year of it happening. Kolton and I have made up and Vic and myself maintained our friendship and continued to play in bands together for years after Suite 88. I recently reached out to Jason — our former manager — and we have begun healing our friendship as well! So it does feel good to get closure on that part of my life. It’s haunted me for a decade!

Sleaze Roxx: Obviously, I sense a deep level of regret on your end since you are still thinking of the band more than a decade later. In hindsight, do you regret the band breaking up for what sounds like trivial “women issues” and has there ever been any talk of Suite 88 reforming?

Jesse Clutch: I’m now back home living in Canada, and I still hear Suite 88 on the local station here in Olds, Alberta just north of Calgary. So some of the time, I get to listen to Suite 88 and it just gets me thinking about some of the great songs we had written! I do regret how things ended with the band, as I feel we really started getting on a roll the last few months of our run. Who knows what could have happened with us if we had a few more years in us. I think everyone has their own lives and doing their own thing so no, there hasn’t been any talks of ever reuniting.

Sleaze Roxx: If someone wanted to buy one of Suite 88’s albums, is it still possible to do so?

Jesse Clutch: I still have copies of our first and second albums but we don’t have an online store anymore. So if anyone wanted a copy, they could contact me directly and I’d be happy to ship out an album. We also have a third album — a Covers EP. Some of it is on YouTube. We cover Pink Floyd, Metallica, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin all in our own style! Our first album isn’t available on streaming. However some of it is also on YouTube. ‘Unsigned’ is available on Spotify, Itunes, Apple Music and youtube music!

Suite 88‘s “Walkin’ The Dog” track (from Covers EP):

Sleaze Roxx: What have you been up to since Suite 88 disbanded?

Jesse Clutch: After Suite 88, I played in a number of bands in Phoenix and one included a Ronnie James Dio tribute. I played in four Bands at one time playing four to five nights a week doing covers and tributes. From 2012 to 2017, it became my full-time source of income until I tore up my arm  and needed surgery. I came back home to Canada in 2017 and haven’t played live since then. I just had my first kid six months ago. His name is Tommy Levi in honor of the great Tommy Lee!

I recently have built myself another home studio and have started working with artists all over the world writing material and sending our tracks back and forth. I’m working with a really great guitarist from Ontario. I have some great new material with him! Gotta love technology! Will have new music out soon! I have also started up a YouTube drumming channel [‘Jesse Clutch Drum Covers’] where I play drum covers of all genres! Check it out !

Jesse Clutch‘s drum cover of Triumph‘s “Lay It On The Line” single:

Sleaze Roxx: What are you most proud of with respect to Suite 88?

Jesse Clutch: I think I am most proud of our songwriting! I think a lot of our songs still hold up today. I am proud of how much we did in such short time! I am still impressed how good our records sound and the leap between the first album and the second album is quite the difference! I am proud of the fact that two kids from Calgary had a dream in eighth grade and went out there and gave it a good run!

Sleaze Roxx: Is there anything else that we have not mentioned that you would like to cover?

Jesse Clutch: Just wanted to say thank you for your time and the questions, and for helping Suite 88 get some more exposure and maybe some new listeners! I really enjoyed answering the questions.