Feb 2020 14

Pitchshifter knows how to spread the love with the Valentine’s Day release of an anniversary single and continuing to take a few sharp jabs at politics and the record industry in this special InterView with front man J.S. Clayden.
 

 

An InterView with J.S. Clayden of Pitchshifter

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

Pitchshifter’s creative trajectory is one of the most unique in the realms of modern alternative and underground music. From the band’s beginnings as Pitch Shifter in Nottingham as a chugging, fuming, crushing industrialized metal band whose sound was often compared to the likes of Godflesh and Napalm Death, to becoming an international sensation in the late ’90s and early ’00s with the further incorporation of abrasive melody, hip-hop and drum & bass grooves, and more dynamic electronics and guitar tones, all topped off by J.S. Clayden’s sneering, seething vocals; few bands so effectively and successfully reinvent themselves. But the band went quietly into hibernation in 2009, still making live occasional appearances, but with all the mutterings of new material eventually being reduced to whispers of lost opportunities and yearning fans. Then in November 2018, Pitchshifter returned with a tour of the U.K., along with a revamped online presence – the band was always on the frontlines of utilizing the new technologies of the internet in the ’90s, and with a revitalized presence on social media and online distribution like Spotify and Bandcamp, Pitchshifter began to release a series of singles to clear out the vaults and offer some succor for the longing fans. This now culminates in the Valentine’s Day release of a 20th Anniversary Brexit Edition of the Un-United Kingdom single, taking one of the group’s most beloved tracks and repurposing it for the modern era with several guest contributors to help out; among them are the likes of Earthtone9’s Karl Middleton, Sikth’s Mikee Gooman, Fear Factory’s Burton C. Bell, and more. Now, J.S. Clayden speaks with ReGen Magazine, further discussing aspects of Pitchshifter’s singular creative evolution, the trepidatious state of politics in the U.S. and the U.K., the difficulties the band has faced with former label Earache, the next generation of music, and more. Read on as Pitchshifter calls upon the fans to take the reigns and make music matter once more.

 

When we last spoke, the band was preparing for the U.K. Tour in November 2018. While it’s been over a year, how pleased were you with the audience response from that tour?

Clayden: It was pretty nuts. As grownups with families and jobs now, our former life on the road can seem like a distant memory. However, that was brought snap back into focus on the November 2018 U.K. tour. I personally experienced a massive outpouring of love from fans that have grown old disgracefully with us – it was a pretty amazing and emotional experience. People were thanking me for coming back, hugging me, explaining how Pitchshifter’s music was instrumental to their formative years or got them through a hard time. People were actually crying and hugging me. It was intense, appreciated, and humbling. We’re just a handful of working class kids that used music as a way to express ourselves and to try and escape the horrors of no-horse towns in the middle of nowhere. To think that our music has had such a profound and lasting effect on so many people is amazing.

Although touring abroad is difficult (perhaps more so now than it was during the height of Pitchshifter’s popularity in the late ’90s/early ’00s), did the response to the U.K. tour give you any confidence that there is still a demand for the band and its music?

Clayden: That’s a great question. I think any band (yes, even a band as terrible as us, LOL) can build up demand over the course of a decade for a one-off tour in their home country. I don’t know if that translates to more shows and in which countries. We’ve been trying to meet fan requests for material since then by releasing a reprise of the Un-United Kingdom single, working on streaming, collating some previously unreleased live material for a potential release, and amassing footage for a documentary (whilst working full-time jobs, commuting, being husbands and fathers – you know, in our spare time).

 

 

You’ve also been releasing a series of demos and other previously unheard material via Bandcamp, including a 20th Anniversary Brexit Edition of ‘Un-United Kingdom.’ As obvious as it may seem, in what ways does that song (and perhaps others in your catalog) resonate with you now vs. when you wrote it?

Clayden: When you write material, especially when you’re younger, you are 100% caught up in that moment. It’s instinctual and emotional; it just is. It is inside you and it must somehow come out (like an Alien chestburster). As you get older (and more sentimental), you have the opportunity to reflect on the material, who you were, who you are, and you can achieve a different appreciation for the music and the scene. Sure, you can hear the bum notes and the ways in which you wish you’d inflected this word or that differently, but I can now appreciate the music for what it was at the time, and how wrapped up in it we were. My kids dig a few of the rocking tunes, and so all is not lost!

On the track, you had a number of collaborators, including Ginger Wildhearts, Colin Duran, and Burton C. Bell of Fear Factory. Could you tell us about the involvement of these guests, how they came to participate with Pitchshifter on this new edition of ‘Un-United Kingdom?’ Is there a possibility of further collaboration with them?

Clayden: The band has been fortunate enough throughout its career to be associated with some very talented and great people. The list of co-conspirators on the Un-United Kingdom (20th Anniversary Brexit Edition) single is basically people that we can call up and say, ‘Do you want to duet on a song we wrote two decades ago that still speaks to the fractured political system and plutocratic bifurcation of our unitary government within the framework of an outdated constitutional monarchy?’ and will say ‘yes!’ (and not, ‘Huh?’). Everyone one of the vocalists on that single is a top bloke. We don’t have future plans, but it would be Pitchshifter’s honor to do future collaborations with any of that crowd. Burton and I are both in L.A. these days (we recorded those vocals together at Musicians Institute in Hollywood – thanks for the studio!) and so maybe that’s something that might possibly happen if the stars aligned. We could shout over someone else’s tunes, or at least have a beer or smoke a cigar or something.

You’d said before when asked about the current state of world events, ‘It’s fucked.’ As bands like Pitchshifter continually address and react to these world events in your music and lyrics, as many bands do, is it ever a concern that what you have to say is not being heard, that the message is being lost on people?

Clayden: Nothing has changed in my lifetime. The 1% get richer, the 99% get poorer. The 1% will continually be voted into power because the 99% aren’t educated enough to realize that they are being duped (Trump/Brexit), nor powerful enough to end the cash grip of the lobbying and special interests over seats of power, and so the cycle goes on. ‘The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter’ – Winston Churchill.

To what extent do you think living in L.A. over the years has given you a different perspective on politics – both here and in the U.K. – that you might not have had before?

Clayden: Unless you specifically study in the area, it’s not often that we get the opportunity to reflect upon or understand the importance of our individual ontological and epistemological stances (I know, big words, but worth looking up). IMHO, one way to route around this is to travel/spend a lot of time in/live other countries. That exposure to other cultures, modes of thinking, ways of life, will inexorably cause you to examine your own thinking. Through the band, I have had the opportunity to go to 30 countries, speak a few languages, and live on a few continents. I’ve spent the last 20 years in L.A. though, soaking up the sun and enjoying life with my family in a multicultural city of four-million people.
Through all of that intercultural experience and exchange, my stance on politics (albeit sadly) remains at a constant for both the U.S. and the U.K. (which both share elements of Norman/Anglo-Saxon political structures, albeit to greater/lesser degrees). In short, politics is rigged. The populace is either duped into voting for the wrong thing (lack of awareness/education) or isn’t powerful enough to change what they know to be wrong (wealthy lobbyist groups/gerrymandered maps, etc.).

Pitchshifter has been rather active on social media, particularly Instagram, and you’ve recently addressed Earache Records’ failure to make the band’s early material available for streaming and their lack of communication with you. In addition, you’ve… uh, ‘discouraged’ people’s use of torrents to obtain these Earache releases.
Have there been any further developments on this front? Do you feel that the label’s behavior is exemplary of antiquated practices of the record industry?

Clayden: IMHO, the band was somewhat at the forefront of sharing its story online in around 1997/1998. The term ‘blog’ (or ‘weblog’ as it was back then) was in existence, but we didn’t know to use it, and it certainly wasn’t a common term for the general public until much later (WordPress was created in 2003). Pitchshifter had an ‘online tour diary’ (a blog in today’s vernacular) on our website from 1997/1998 onward for a number of years. Social media proper didn’t arrive until much later (Facebook didn’t come into existence until 2004). We weren’t actually that strong in social media when it came around because, frankly, we’re a bunch of semi-misanthropic hermits in our personal lives and personally didn’t care what someone we knew in high school had for lunch on a Tuesday. It’s only been since The Great Reform (our 2008 tour) that we figured that we’d better play nice, and thus, have been using social media platforms to reconnect with fans (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook mainly).

Regarding Earache, I have just never understood that label or its owner. He’s said a lot of defamatory stuff about the band and also about me personally over the years. I personally don’t want to sink to that level, nor give voice to the pettiness of others. However, what I do want is for fans to have access to our music if they want it. Even if we don’t get paid a dime (which we won’t – in classic music industry fashion, we can’t recall ever getting a statement, let alone a cheque from Earache since we left the label in 1997), we do want fans to be able to access that music. If the label isn’t pressing those albums, (they don’t even list The Remix War or Desensitized on their own webstore) and they aren’t available to buy digitally (they aren’t available on iTunes or Google Play), then at least make them available to stream on Spotify/Pandora, etc.
We paid the fees and uploaded the stuff to streaming sites for Earache the other day, and they contacted those streaming sites and forced them to take them down. Earache has refused to comment as to why, and so the band and fans can only assume it’s because they’re looking to punish the community because ‘it’s their ball and they’re not going to let anyone else play with it.’ For me, I just want our art to survive. We sweated bod for that music and it’s criminal to see some 1%-er decide that he’s going to block everyone from access to it just because he can. Of course, he will only drive the existing fans underground to rip the tunes from CD and share them digitally amongst themselves via BitTorrent, but that still won’t allow new fans to discovery our art down the line via recommendation algorithms on platforms that have millions of users. If you’re reading this, dig – there’s still time for you to explain to the Pitchshifter community why this is happening. Nobody is out to get you (or cares or knows much about you, in reality, I think); they just want access to music that they love and that they have grown up with.

I’ve seen people suggest in response to Earache’s uncooperative behavior toward your past material that you should re-record it to release it again on your own terms, which you’ve responded takes a lot of time and money, which could of course go towards newer and more exciting prospects. But for the sake of the question, do you feel that your growth as musicians and as people would also necessitate approaching those songs in a different manner?

Clayden: 100%. I think one of the things that some people found challenging with Pitchshifter was that we did evolve on each album. If we were to write/record those old records now, they would be totally different; they would be full of the amalgam of our experiences to date – such is the assimilative/synthesizing nature of Pitchshifter. What we should do is to finish that seventh unfinished studio album so that people can stop bugging me all the time for new music. The fans should Kickstarter it and fund it so that I don’t have to…

Pitchshifter’s later material took on a more alternative rock vibe with the inclusion of hip-hop and drum & bass elements, versus the earlier material that was more aggressively industrial/metal. What are your thoughts as you look back on the evolution of the band’s sound and how that took place?
Is there any interest in creating new material in that style again, or perhaps another This Is Menace album?

Clayden: I think we grew up on record. You can hear the progression from the older, heavier ‘Pitch Shifter’ sound (two words), to the newer, more diverse ‘Pitchshifter’ sound (one word). I know that there are some fans who only like the older stuff. I respect that, but the band felt like they’d gone as far down that route as they cared to, and the natural progression of musicianship and melody was organic and necessary for us. I am always down for more This is Menace, though. I had a freakin’ blast shouting on that stuff with my brother and Jase.

We seem to be living in a period of nostalgia – new trends of synthwave (or vaporwave or whatever bloody name people give it) and now post-punk revivalism, along with numerous bands of your generation and older are reuniting, doing tours, putting out new material. What would you attribute this to? Is it simply nostalgia, or is there something else to it?

Clayden: I think that the marketing drivers of pop culture prefer the new, new, new; however, people don’t die once the next new thing comes along. Music is art, culture, life, memory, experience, connection, and much more. I think any art that people connect with should exist in the way in which that community (both creators and consumers) wishes it to. In our generation (Gen X – we so have the coolest generation name, we’re like X-Men), that seems to be reconnecting with our youth, which includes music, video games, food, TV shows, all of it. The current political mess is only helping to drive that return to more friendly shores.

You mentioned that you ‘grew up on record’ and the natural progression of your music. You also mentioned your kids digging a few of the more rocking tunes. I’m sure this will seem obvious, but in raising your kids and seeing their own tastes develop, has it given you any kind of new perspective or insight into your own growth?

Clayden: I am a first-generation graduate and a first-generation immigrant. Taking that into consideration, and the world changes (they’ve grown up 100% digital natives, they’ve never seen an LP, they watch TV over the internet… hell, and both own iPhones and Chromebooks), my kids’ experience in growing up is much, much different to mine. In the 1890s when I was a lad, we could only discover music via John Peel (R.I.P.) playing it on the radio, magazines/fanzines, peer recommendations, or record stores. And so, we had a commonality because the channels of discovery, being so limited, inadvertently gave us community. That is lost to some degree these days, and so I have taken it upon myself to try and school my kids to the best of my ability with my limited knowledge of the music of the world. My seven-year-old now loves Pink Floyd, and my 10 year-old likes the demos from the unfinished seventh Pitchshifter studio album.

Other than financially, what have you found to be the major advantages and drawbacks to releasing music on your own terms via outlets like Bandcamp or Spotify?

Clayden: Listen, it’s not retirement money. We’re doing it for the fans. The advantages of controlling the releases on those platforms is that you control the releases on those platforms – i.e. you don’t have to deal with an unkindness of industry morons who ‘know what’s best’ for you and your fans. You are making a direct connection with your public.

What’s next for you and for Pitchshifter? What projects do you have in the works that you’d like to tell us about?

Clayden: The 20th Anniversary Un-United Kingdom EP featuring duets with all of the co-conspirators that sing gang vocals on the single drops on Valentine’s Day (to cure that Brexit broken heart). Also, hang tight for a string of previously unreleased live shows (including some band-only personal desk mixes) from shows around the world from 1994-2018. We’re also (very slowly) working on a Pitchshifter documentary. Yes, the PSI vault is deep with many different kinds of treasure…

 

 

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Photography courtesy of Pitchshifter

 

1 Comment

  1. Liam White says:

    The Kickstarter idea doesn’t sound bad at all and if enough interest is gained then the unreleased Pitchshifter album might see the light of day. I’m also a musician and can see where JS Clayden is coming from as I was involved with a label that royally screwed me over and never saw a bean from them. This didn’t stop me of course and strive to carry on making tunes.

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