Kudos to WJRR 101.1 for tapping another stellar band to play Earthday Birthday this weekend. I’ll be up front for Tampa Bay’s Clenchfist, an act that has been together for 20 years, and has a sound so fresh and clean that it’s a crying shame I didn’t have time for the music scene when I lived closer. I called vocalist Steven Bruno the other day to get to know them better.
Steve: You hit me at the perfect time. How are you?
Good, how are you?
Doing good, you know, having an average day in Florida: beautiful weather and a little hot.
Yes, you know what, and it’s going to be hot next weekend too, and it’s still going to be a great festival. Have you played there before?
Not Earthday Birthday. This is our first year playing this festival. We do play Orlando a lot. We’re from Tampa so we play a lot of the Florida market, you know Orlando, Jacksonville, Miami. We’re always playing around the state as much as we can.
I was from Central Florida for ten years before I moved down near Miami, but I didn’t get out and do the music scene very much, so I didn’t get familiar with you until I started listening to your music yesterday. What can you tell us to introduce us to Clenchfist?
We’ve been around for 20 years, which is a very long time [laughs]. We’re very successful in the Tampa Bay area. We have quite the fan club out here. That’s pretty much what drives us all these years. We released a record in ’06 which did real well. The name of the record is Twenty Twelve, which you can find online. We played our — kind of like with Earthday Birthday is, but 98 Rock is our station over here, so that kind of gave us the fan base we needed. They would always support us and let us play all their festivals, and that helped our careers back then pick up. After that they started inviting us to many of their shows, and that’s how our careers kind of really kicked in, because we were opening up for some big acts. Then in the scene we would always be in touch with all the local promoters, and they would have us open up for bands like Sevendust, Nonpoint, all the time. Plus our management is always working with different promoters.
But, we’ve always succeeded, even online with our music, and touring, and stuff like that. Just like every other band, you go and you go. We took a little break for three years because we had to rearrange some band members. We used to be a four-piece band, then we turned into a five-piece band, so there’s a lot of changes where we wanted to increase the music. It’s a whole different feeling and a whole different element when you add just an extra guitar player. In the process of that we were also writing new music, which we just released, our new record called Spiritual Warfare. That was released in November of 2016. We’ve been very successful with that. Our online sales have done very well. The actual record is just spreading out now so it’s still a baby as far as promoting wise. That’s why we’re doing Earthday Birthday: we want to promote our new record. We have fans from Melbourne to Orlando to Tampa and they’re all excited about coming out and seeing us. You know, just keeping the Florida scene hot and we’re glad to be a part of it.
I notice you call your fans the Fist Mob.
(Laughs) Yeah, we do.
How far back does that go?
It’s got some deep roots. You’re probably talking 2003 – 2004 is when people started that. We were like, “We need a fan club. What can we call them?” With all these bands back then, everybody had their own names and stuff. Most of the band are Italian and everybody would always say, “You guys look like a mob when you come into a rock show.” Our entourage is always big. We just kind of put the two together. “Why don’t we call our fan club the First Mob?” People feel special when we call them out, or you see how many fans come and see you.
I almost said something when I heard you say “call,” because the way you said it, I immediately thought “Oh yay, he’s one of me! Okay!” because I’m Italian too. It doesn’t matter who raised you or where. We have these things that we say and we say them the same. It’s our “calling card” no pun intended.
(laughs) Yeah, yeah!
How did you come up with the band name?
The way our roots started out, we were a bunch of kids in high school and we played a local battle of the bands. I’ve always been passionate myself with music, and growing up hearing the old-school rock, hair band days, and then going into the early 90s with Korn, Deftones, you had kind of the new metal scene come out. That’s what attracted me. I’ve always loved hip hop, and I’m a jazz guy too. I love Frank Sinatra, the Rat Pack. My dad always had music around: Phil Collins, Alabama … he had all these different genres of music, and when I was a kid I just listened to all of it. So, in high school people would come over to my house and we’d just play musical instruments. They would leave their instruments behind and just not care about them. They would just leave them over at my house and I would always have friends come over and jam out. One day just me and a couple guys got together and we clicked. Everybody had the talent with their individual instruments and we got invited to that battle of the bands, and we had to come up with a name. One of our favorite bands is Sepultura and one of their songs is called “Clenched Fist.” We thought it was real cool so my bass player was like “Well, why don’t we call it Clenchfist?” because every time we do a show people put their fist up in the air. We got lucky, you know? There weren’t any bands named Clenchfist, and we grabbed it. Ever since then if you go on the internet — it’s very rare since we’ve been doing this for so long, but every time you type it up, we come up and its cool to see that we have that history.
I did listen to Spiritual Warfare. You guys are really sweet to stream it online for us, but I’m downloading it too, not just because I like to support local bands, but because I dig your sound. It’s not anything I’m hearing right now. I’m not saying it’s so out there, but it’s just good solid rock You have these complex arrangements and your vocal are super sharp, really articulate, very clean. I’m looking forward to seeing your live performance on stage at Earthday Birthday.
Thank you! That’s awesome.
You also mentioned on Facebook that you pride yourself on “live performances leaving powerful impressions.” What can we who have never seen you expect from an Earthday Birthday performance from Clenchfist?
I’m sure you hear it all the time … we play different venues, different amount of people, sometimes you play in front of thousands and then sometimes you play in front of ten depending on where you’re at, who is promoting … that’s just the lifestyle of being in a rock band. Orlando, every time we’ve played there, the music scene is always fantastic, and it’s really going to feed off the crowd. Once you see that crowd and they see us … and outside is one of our favorite places to play. I just like the way sounds travel. It’s kind of a spiritual thing for me. The energy with Clenchfist live has always been, and still is to this day, the energy and people feeling what we are. We’re real people. There’s no political message. It’s pretty much what the everyday person goes though, especially living in this country and seeing what we’ve been going through. This record we wrote through the process of these changes with politics and everything you’ve been seeing the last couple years, the changes in culture. It’s going to be pretty interesting to share this music with everybody. I’m pretty stoked about it.
I’m excited to see the rock community coming together and using their voice to make a difference.
The climate right now is not one that a lot of people are comfortable with.
And there’s so much unity in music that if we can just take that message and maybe use it to bring people back together in the sense that they’re not looking at how we’re different, or how these differences are perceived.
Yes! It’s funny you brought that up because we were talking the other day. Rock, even in the hairband days, it was just happy. You’d see people happy. They were rocking out. They weren’t killing each other, you know what I’m saying? And over the years — like mosh pits, they grow and we love that. We love the energy there. But it changes. And that’s what everyone was saying. You hear a song now, you know, and what song are you going to write where everybody can relate to it? That’s what I like about Clenchfist and being in this band. We play in front of all ages. You’ve got from kids to 60 years old that see us and can hear what I’m singing, and they see that I’m passionate about it. We’ll play with a lot of metal bands — and we love metal, don’t get us wrong. It’s just that you can only get to a certain crowd. We want to try to get to everybody.
Even with mosh pits there’s a sense of community. You knock somebody down, you pick them back up.
Everyone is there for the same reason and there’s a unity to that.
Yeah, it’s a culture.
It is a culture and it’s the community. There’s a social order and social agreements and the way things should be done, and that’s what’s great about the rock community. We’re not really looking to hurt each other.
Having been together for 20 years, you’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry. How has that been for you? Have you found that adapting your sound is the key to longevity?
Everybody is scared of that, when you have to reinvent yourself. Even some of our friends that were in bands, you know, they just couldn’t find that groove. A lot of times they break up. You see a lot of bands that have been together for years, and then all of a sudden, personal problems started happening. We’ve always been family oriented and just by the experiences we’ve been in, it’s made us stronger. The music, you know, making changes with band members due to personal things, but for the better of the band, for the longevity of the band. Then actually trying out people. It took us awhile to kind of come back because when you have different guitar players, sound changes. Then, you have to find out if it’s going to work, if there is a chemistry there. A lot of people have always said we have a lot of catchy stuff. I’ve been a real catchy writer, which I’m blessed, I’m very thankful for that. That’s what we try to do with every record. We don’t want two or three songs that are hooks. We want every song to be a hook. And that’s what we drive for. We want the whole record from start to finish, for people to enjoy it.
That’s our recipe for success, and always being positive and not letting anything take us down. We all are entrepreneurs / band members. We do so much in the industry, doing things with our personal lives, and that’s what makes it great. As long as we can stay positive. It’s always been a plus for us. We’ve always known people to help us out. That’s where the music community comes in. That drives us to create and write more music. Also, life experiences too, that’s a big part of it. We don’t want to just write anything because we want to be famous. We just tell people how we feel, and when you see people are touched by that, that’s what’s big for us.
Ultimately at the end of the day it’s the music, which is how it started out and how you’ve continued.
Correct. Oh yes.
That’s awesome. I love it and let’s leave it on that very positive note! See you at WJRR’s Earthday Birthday.
Thank you so much. We appreciate this!