Aug 2018 12

After an extended hiatus, Pitchshifter returns to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of the band’s biggest selling album with a U.K. tour. Front man J.S. Clayden speaks with ReGen about the past, present, and potential future of Pitchshifter.
 

 

An InterView with J.S. Clayden of Pitchshifter

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

With the 1998 release of www.pitchshifter.com, Pitchshifter achieved a level of international critical and commercial acclaim that made the Notthingham band one of the era’s hottest acts. A transitional album that saw the band finally shedding the industrial/metal dirges of past releases like Industrial and Desensitized in favor of a more rhythmically energetic and experimental style, it was the band’s first major label release and one that garnered so much attention as to land Pitchshifter spots on numerous video game and movie soundtracks, along with spots on such festivals as Ozz Fest, Dynamo, Reading, Damnation, and more. Incorporating elements of punk, drum & bass, breakbeat, and even hip-hop with such revered singles as “Microwaved” and “Genius,” it remains Pitchshifter’s most well known album to date, and though later releases like Deviant and PSI would not attain the same heights of success, the band continued to astound and enthrall audiences with a high impact live show and a virulent sound that stood out from the rest of the industrial/rock scene. After the 2006 release of the None for All and All for One EP, available only during the Back from the Dead tour, fans have been left wondering when or even if Pitchshifter would ever reform for another album, and though there had been mutterings of new material in the works, the band has remained largely on hiatus since 2009, with 2018 marking the 20th anniversary of www.pitchshifter.com. As such, Pitchshifter will be embarking on a reunion tour in the U.K. this November to coincide with the anniversary, with Earthtone9 drummer Simon “Si” Hutchby joining the brothers Clayden and brothers Rayner in a new band lineup that may prove to be the last incarnation of Pitchshifter audiences will ever see… but only time will tell. ReGen Magazine is privileged to have had the opportunity to speak with front man J.S. Clayden about the history of Pitchshifter, including his working relationship with his brother, bassist Mark Clayden, and the Rayner brothers, the enduring impact of www.pitchshifter.com over the last two decades, the “fucked” state of world affairs, and some musings about what the future may or may not yet hold.

 

You and your brother Mark have been the core creative force in Pitchshifter throughout its existence. Beyond your individual musical tastes, how would you say your musical and artistic partnership has evolved over the years?

Clayden: I did my first show with Pitchshifter at 18 years old. We were just a couple of punk kids from a working-class hell hole in England. Music was our escape from that, really. Over the years, our musical tastes evolved, of course, to encompass a lot more genres and nuance. Artistically, I always felt that aside from some core tenants (heavy guitars, vocals), Pitchshifter strived to be as ‘Jeet Kune Do’ as it could. By that I mean that we let the music lead us where it wanted to go via experimentation, rather than setting out to specifically write within a specific format… also maybe because we weren’t actually that great musicians. (Laughter)

In the live environment, you’re joined by another pair of brothers with Dan and Tim Rayner. What sort of dynamic exists between the two sets of siblings?

Clayden: From my perspective, it’s very positive and supportive. The Rayners are great guys, and my brother is amazing (I wish that I could be more like him; he’s a lot more likable than me). Neither set of brothers argues with each other, or the other set (you know that siblings can sometimes grate on each other). I think that kind of emotional maturity comes from age and from life experience. We’ve played a lot of shows together and gone through the good times and bad. At this juncture in our lives and relationship, we just want to enjoy what we’re doing. As it’s been a decade since we last played, I’m not sure if there will ever be any other gigs after this and so we’re going to make the most of them on all fronts.

You’d mentioned that you are about to embark on a new tour, and I understand the band has a new drummer, Si Hutchby. Can you tell us about his inclusion, how he came to be part of the band for this tour?

Clayden: This tour originally came to life as a one-off Nottingham show. Mark wanted to do a one-night gig with Nottingham bands who were our friends. Those bands were set as Pitchshifter, Earthtone9, and The Blueprint. We’ve all known each other for decades, all started out in Nottingham, all had Rock City as our home. Of course, if you come out of cryostasis after a decade, people get excited and so that one-off local show quickly turned into six back-to-back shows around England with Earthtone9 supporting for all of them. Unfortunately, Jason Bowld, Pitchshifter’s longtime drummer couldn’t make those dates (he has a very successful and much deserved career with Bullet for my Valentine these days). And so, the natural choice was Si (who is the drummer in Earthtone9) to help us out on drums. I have no idea how he’s going to do to sets every night for six days (nutter!), but he’s a healthy yoga nut and so I’m sure he’ll rock it.

I think it’s needless to say that touring is no more or less difficult now than it ever was, but for you, what aspects of touring do you find yourself enjoying more now than you used to? On the other hand, what do you enjoy less about it?

Clayden: Well, we haven’t toured for a decade and so this is a question for during/after the tour; however, I suspect that we’ll drink less, sleep more, and break less things.

This tour will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of www.pitchshifter.com, which was quite a monumental success for Pitchshifter. What are your thoughts on the album’s impact, both on audiences (as you’ve observed) and on yourself over the years? What aspects of that album’s lyrical themes and musical innovations still resonate for you personally? If you were to recreate that album today, in what ways would you personally approach the music differently? What would you say you’ve learned as a producer and musician in the years since then that you feel would strengthen Pitchshifter’s music and sound now?

Clayden: I think the ‘.com‘ album was the turning point for the band in terms of creative expression. It’s also the album with the most songs that seem to resonate with our fan base (‘Microwaved,’ ‘Please Sir,’ ‘Genius,’ etc.). Lyrically, I was very much inspired by the news, books that I had read, my upbringing, and the work of great lyricists like Jello Biafra and John Lydon. If we had to recreate that album today, I’m not sure that I would have done any of it differently in terms of music, but I would enjoy modern software comforts. When we wrote that album in 1997, it was as much of a creative exercise to actually make that music – logistically with the technology available at that time – as it was to write the songs. That album was written on Cubase on an Atari 520ST on a CRT monitor with an SH-101 keyboard, HR drum machine, and two Akai S1000 samplers. You couldn’t even play a sample from multiple points back then; you literally had to cut up a sample into a new slice if you wanted to play it back form a different point within it, and so you needed two S1000s to handle the samples (because you maxed out the memory). When you look at the tech, and all the manually edited work in the matrix editor for drum trills and glitches, etc. back then, that album is as much of a technical triumph as anything contained within the music. There were no manuals or rules or YouTube; you had to figure it all out for yourself, hack a system together, and make it all work. I can do everything we did back then on a laptop now.

The last official release we’ve seen from Pitchshifter was the None for All and All for One EP, which was a limited edition released on tour. Then a few years after that, there were reports of the band working in the studio; have there been any developments on this since? What is the potential for there to be new Pitchshifter music in the foreseeable future?

Clayden: I had the wonderful experience of working with Brian Harrah from Tura Satana in L.A. on some Pitchshifter demos. I did have the intention of making them into an album, but life happened. I’m actually in the middle of trying to do something interesting with those demos. Keep an eye on the Pitchshifter Facebook page for more.

Although there has always been an undercurrent of social and political themes in the band’s music, None for All and All for One was pretty overt with the image of then U.S. President George W. Bush on the cover. What are your thoughts on the current state of world events?

Clayden: Umm… it’s fucked? Right wing U.S. president electing goosestepping Supreme Court judges, climate change and waste threatening our very existence, Pitchshifter touring again…

Pitchshifter is notable for the incorporation of drum & bass and other electronic elements in with alternative rock and punk; now, blending genres like these is somewhat de rigueur. What are your thoughts on the validity of genres and how people perceive them? What music is exciting you the most now; what do you listen to?

Clayden: I think that as humankind, and thus its creative output, continues to mature and evolve, genres continue to fracture into ongoing microgenres. I never really had a good genre to label Pitchshifter with. I think they called us rocktronica after the fact, but that seems overly broad. I think that creative people are creative in many ways and that spills into music. In my opinion, genres are just ‘buckets’ to help people to find their place; but they shouldn’t be restrictive. I always felt that Pitchshifter had elements of punk, rock, metal, alternative, drum and bass, techno, and hip-hop. We just let the music lead us to where it felt like it wanted to go without worrying if it adhered to the established ‘rules’ of any one genre or another.

How important is it for you to keep up with the latest developments in music technology? What is exciting you the most in that regard, what new gear or software is appealing to you at the moment? What sorts of developments would you like to see in the tech and how both you and new artists will be utilizing them?

Clayden: From my desert cave of solitude in California over the last decade, it was not very important at all. However, since foolishly agreeing to go on the road again, I’ve had to delve back in to that world a little to devise viable solutions for the live show. We came from a Tascam DA38 era and have now moved into a Cymatic Audio uTrack24 with a Radial SW8 world a decade later (you need robust solutions for live audio playback; laptops are a suicide mission).

Apart from Pitchshifter, you’ve done remixes for the likes of PRONG, Pigface, and Clawfinger to name a few, and have performed guest vocals for This Is Menace. What other projects do you currently have in the works that you can or would like to share with us – any other guest spots, remixes in progress, or perhaps a new project outside of Pitchshifter?

Clayden: Well, I can’t spill the beans just yet, but I’m speaking to some old peers about collaboration. If it pulls through, I’ll talk about it on the Pitchshifter Facebook page. I also just finished the first draft of a book – historical fiction based on a Pitchshifter tour. It was predominantly a creative exercise for me, but maybe I’ll release it if the fans wants to amuse themselves with my literary musings.

What are your favorite activities outside of music?

Clayden: I personally like to read and run (not at the same time). I also host a monthly Los Angeles cigar night with some other miscreants that are growing old disgracefully who like to bitch about the world today (now get off my lawn!).

 

 

Is there anything you’d like to add that we’ve not yet talked about?

Clayden: Get your ass to the Pitchshifter shows in November in England. I have no idea when/if we’ll ever play again (we may not physically make it to 2028), and so come and commune with us on the madness while there’s still gas in the tank.

 

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Photography courtesy of Pitchshifter

 

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