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?
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?
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?
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?
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).
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?
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?
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?
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?
Photography courtesy of Pitchshifter