An interview with JS Clayden from Pitchshifter on their “final” tour, at the Cambridge Junction. Appeared in Rancid News #2.
JS: [looking at dictaphone] Professional pocket memo…
RN: Yeah it isn’t too professional though! Ok .. So what do you hope you’ve achieved as a band?
JS: Everyone always asks you that! I don’t think you have… When you start off you don’t have like a list of achievements that you have to hit else you’ve failed, and I think the media and this has filtered down now to like fans measure success in the most ridiculous ways. I mean before Jaws came along – Jaws is the movie that ruined the movies. Before Jaws came along there was no summer blockbuster hit. Movies were measured on their take over the year, and the quality of the movie. Jaws came along and it’s a big scary movie, which was advertised cleverly, ’sharks who are evil’. Hundreds of thousands, millions of people went to see it in it’s first week, and that set a bench mark. If you don’t achieve that sales figure in the first week then you’re a failure!
And I think that a band like Pitchshifter, everyone’s like, ‘Oh you didn’t quite make it’ and all this stuff, and it’s like well we were just a weird cult bands (laughs). For the last 13 years we’ve been this weird cult band who people have gone to see irrespective of what’s fashionable and … and that’s one of those things that’s been a real pleasure for me to be a part of because alot of music really fashionable – but you can only sustain fashion for six months! And we’ve always just ignored everything and done what we wanna do. I mean stuff that we’ve done, I never thought we’d do any of it. You know we did a tune with Jello Biafra. The Dead Kennedys were one of the bands that actually we used to listen to and think, ‘god it’d be great to be in a band’ when we were about sixteen, and then we did a tune with Jello! Doing the Warped Tour, and the Ozzfest, being in 2000AD, playing at 2000AD’s 25th Anniversary party at the Ministry of Sound… Just all this stuff you wouldn’t think you would do any of it, but you end up doing it.
RN: If you saw yourself as being a cult band then how come you ended up signing to MCA?
JS: Ummm they were the best option at the time. They were… obviously there was more money, and with more money you get the ability to be more creative. Because on the indys we’d be saying that we wanna use this great producer and we wanna use all these crazy samples, and use eight guitar stacks… and we want a great big fold out for our record with loads of great artwork so that all the people could get the lyrics and whatever, and they were always just like, ‘can’t afford it’! So then when a major came along and they were interested we were like, ‘yeah’, because it enables you to give more back!
Now we’re putting this last album out on our own record label, and we’ve been able to give even more back because it’s a double album, for the price of just one CD. We actually were going to put it out on a label but none of them were going to play ball on the price…
RN: So is this going to be a one off label or are you gonna use it for other things?
JS: We’ve had a lot of demos. The majority of which have obviously been atrocious as I’m sure with any label, we’ve been getting yeah stuff like jass-death metal, and it’s like, ‘what!’ But if the right thing comes along and then we’ll put it out. I’m toying with the idea of putting out an EP with my new band, just in the UK, on PSI records, because we know that we’ll do it right! (laughs) We’re also wanting to release a DVD as well because…
RN: What for Pitchshifter…
JS: Yeah because there has never been a Pitchshifter video put out, ever, and we’ve got like ten years of footage. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that, but if not then I think this album is a fantastic final release, and I think it’s a great package for the true fans because we’ve remixed loads of old songs and loads of new songs. Like we’ve got Triad on there… So yeah I think that it’s a well rounded disk which is great value!
RN: Talking about old stuff, which out of your albums is your favourite – or do you not wanna make a choice like that?
JS: I kind of have favourite songs. I’ve got one favourite song on every album. (laughs) I think pitchshifter.com was the most [pause] innovative point in our career but that’s difficult to say as well because the album infortainment was a direct precursor to that …. that song underachiever led to that whole dotcom album. But I think dotcom was kind of the most exciting time. It’s like your first house party when you’re a teenager, they’re no rules whatsoever. That was what pitchshifter.com was like, there were no rules. Noone had done what we were doing. Noone had mixed drum n’ bass breaks with heavy guitars and punk lyrics. So it was like [silence] … there just were no rules, we broke all the guidelines, and it worked! (laughs)
RN: Were you happy with the response that you got to that album?
JS: I was totally expecting the reaction that we got. It’s totally black and white. People either loved it or they… people didn’t just go, ‘oh yeah pitchshifter they’re OK’, they either absolutely loved the band or they absolutely detested us! (laughs) They love it and they totally click it! No music is a subjective artform, different strokes for different folks. Some people like Country – that’s not my bag! But that dosen’t mean that Country’s bad, it just means that it isn’t my thing – you know. And with Pitchshifter people click onto our wavelength and they get it, and they come to the party, and they get all the sarcastic jokes, and when we’re making fun of ourselves, and playing the music. … Or … you just totally hate it! (laughs) Which is cool because that’s a reaction too!
RN: Do you think that’s why you got bottled in Nottingham at the ‘01 Extreme fest?
JS: No I just think that was a total misbilling. It was a weird festival for us to be on, and I actually said to the promotor, ‘Do you really want us to play this festival’? It was just a weird misbilling. You know that thing when dogs cock their head in that look, that was what the crowd did with, ‘Who the fuck are you’ to us…. but there’ve been other times when we’ve taken more punky bands out on tour with us and they’ve got the same treatment, from our crowd.
RN: Did you always have control over who you got to support you because you sometimes had quite strange bands?
JS: I just like to pick weird bands. I think that there’s nothing more boring than going to see…
RN: Not in so much weird bands then, but like Taproot, who well are pretty large!
JS: Oh yeah… that’s just a classic example of agents, and managers, and money, and fucking labels blah blah. I just rang up Mike from Taproot, and asked, ‘Do you wanna go out on tour with us’? And he’s like, ‘Yeah cool’ and I’m like, ‘OK I’ll see you later’. (laughs) And that just bypassed six months of middle men because usually you have to do this and do that… Yeah that was great. But yeah we do we picked the Workhorse Movement (n.b for 16 year olds reading this who don’t know who this band is…find out – edd), One Minute Silence, all of these bands. We always try and pick a band who … who … I wouldn’t say needs our help because that makes us sound like we’re massively successful. But like a band who needs more exposure in our country, who couldn’t play to as many people on their own. I mean there would be no point in us taking out a band like Adema, or some band who can pull as many people as us. It would be pointless – I want … I want to help out a band. I don’t care about how it effects our ticket sales I just want to help out a band who can come play for lots of people, and that’s what makes it fun! And it’s kind of like helping the process of music.
RN: So did any bands help you guys out when you were smaller?
JS: Yeah weird bands helped us. Carcuss. Napalm Death. Because yeah you’ve got to remember that Pitchshifter’s been… I always find it amusing that we always get called what evers fashionable at the time. We were metal, then we got called punk, then we got called nu-metal…
RN: Did you really get called punk?!?
JS: Yeah I mean songs like ‘Wizzy Wig’ and stuff were essentially old school punk songs with Drum n Bass being played below. And yeah when nu-metal came along we got called nu-metal. It’s interesting that we’re actually older than all of those incarnations of music.
RN: Is it weird then how many people see pitchshifter.com as being kind of the beginning of the band?
JS: No because that was the first album that we kind of liked finding our way into. Because we’ve been making records since we were teenagers, so we’ve done all our growing up on vinyl. I mean alot of bands will practice for ten years and then be a band, and put out an album. But yeah we took the other route. Experimenting, and learning, and making mistakes on record! So it’s all right there, and it’s kind of cute, and there’s always one song on each album which will tell you where the next album is going!
RN: Do you ever cringe at some of those older albums?
JS: Oh yeah they’re all fucking awful! Even songs… there are only about four songs on dotcom that I can listen to – which is the album that everyone loves – and I hate all the rest of them not because they’re bad songs but just because you know absolutely every single increment, and every mistake. It’s like, ‘Oh god!’ But I think if you were an artist and you left the studio and said, ‘This album is perfect’, then you’d have to quit making music that day. So I don’t think that will ever happen you can always find things that you disapprove of!
RN: Obviously you’re splitting but do you think that Pitchshifter has reached that final point then? Have you gone as far as you can with the band?
JS: Yeah I don’t think there is any conclusion to Pitchshifter. I think we could go off into weird drum n bass jazz. I think we decided that we wanna leave it where it is. You know this live album is a great album. I’ve really loved the last three albums to be honest, and I wanna put out this fourth album… and we’ve never done a live album, and people have always come up to us and said, ‘You’re amazing live, you’re records are great too, but it’s definetly not as good as when you play live’. So yeah we wanted to end it their. We wanted to end on a sold out Astoria show not a toilet in Camden to 50 people. We want to go ‘Hey we did this thing and now we’re out of it’.
RN: Cause yeah this is like the fifth time you’ve played the Astoria?
JS: Yeah five times I think.
RN: Do you think it’s weird how the band always had this glass ceiling just above you?
JS: I think that’s a UK thing there’s not so much investment in UK bands. Bands like 100 Reasons who you may think are great play to no one in America. You know bands that you think are huge do no numbers in the states … it’s a UK glass ceiling thing, and you know to this day even though it’s cool with the Strokes and whatever, it’s frowned upon… Rock music’s frowned upon. People who write NME and playlist Radio 1 frown upon dirty rock music – do you know what I mean? (laughs)
RN: Fair enough… so what’s life after Pitchshifter going to entail?
JS: A big fucking relax! Well Mark’s got the Blueprint with Karl (Middleton)… it’s kind of a Nottingham super group with Consumed, Pitchshifter and Earthtone9.
RN: Yeah I don’t know… actually no that’s going to be mean to Consumed and I like them!
JS: Yeah but for Nottingham they’re a big band! Actually I think we’re the biggest band that’s come out of Nottingham.
RN: You’ve gotta be the biggest metal band… I guess some people would argue E9 have had more of an impact though.
JS: Yeah but we sold alot of records!!! (laughs) No I really like Earthtone9, they’re one of my favourite bands, I was gutted when they split up. I’ve still got my really old Earthtone9 tshirt.
RN: I was so gutted I couldn’t go to that last show…
JS: Oh yeah I was there!!! That must have been weird for them because they hit a glass ceiling that little bit lower than us and playing the Garage and that was it. But they were a truly great band. They should have… alot of bands… how old are you?
JS: Oh yeah so you too young to remember a band called Slab?
RN: No I haven’t heard of them!
JS: They were kind of like the Pitchshifter of their era, and they never made any impact whatsoever and they were one of the bands who were instrumental in making us a band. We listened to the CD and we’re like, ‘This is fucking amazing’.
RN: So is that your ultimate wish then – to do that to some kid, who’s then gone on to form a band cause of Pitchshifter?
JS: Yeah it’s kind of weird. Like I’m not…I’m sure that anyone who has any kind of success or any kind of public image there are a thousands haters to see you take a tumble, for no reason but because your visible. But yeah I meet people all the time who say, ‘Yeah you totally changed my life’, and the band’s been an inspiration and this particular song got me through … or people say, ‘I’ve got this tattoo with your lyrics on my arm’, and that’s gonna be there for life! And all this mad stuff, and it’s just like, ‘Woah!’ Because I mean you don’t think (laughs) you’re just a guy… I’m just a guy like everyone else, except I decided that I’d make music. The level of dedication from some people is incredible. Because this is our last tour we’ve got people flying in from America to go to our gigs, from West Coast of America.
RN: So – being that you used to do design work – do you think you’re going to go back to doing that?
JS: I just designed the new Doheny website – my new band – umm I do the odd bit of design work for friends anyway and bands that sort of stuff. I got out of design because I found it stifling (laughs) which is kind of oxymoronic! Go do design because it’s creative. You don’t get to be creative. You are creative and then the clients that you work for say (in hushed voice) ‘It’s too shocking! Can you make it really really boring!’, and you’re always like ‘yeah great!’ I’m… I’ve got a band now out in LA called Doheny that I’ve been working on which is completly different to what I’ve been doing with Pitchshifter. There’s no samples, there’s slow songs, with like emotional lyrics, it’s like a complete departure! I’m sure like a lot of Pitchshifter fans will be like ‘what?’ but it’s still totally rocking… rock music! That’s what I’m doing… in the downtime whilst we’ve been getting… actually I did the pitchshifter (bootlegged, distorted…) album as well – I executive produced it and mixed quite a lot of it as well, but in the downtime between that I’ve written a full album with Doheny and demoed it so…
RN: You’ve been playing some shows in LA as well haven’t you?
JS: Yeah I’ve been doing the Camp Freddy thing which has been a lot of fun … that’s kind of insane, you’re standing on stage doing the Sex Pistols with Slash and Billy Duffy from the Cult and then with Dave Navarro on guitar and you know Billy from Doheny – it’s just mad man!!!
RN: So yeah what was it like being in 2000 AD?
JS: Oh that was cool! I’ve read 2000 AD… I’ve got like issue 5, I’ve read it since I was like 6, I’ve got … I’ve got to have 2000 copies (laughs) I’ve just got so many of them. I’ve got all the paper covers before it was a magazine, like old school. I think some of the great writers… I mean Alan Moore (V for Vendetta, league of extraordinary gentleman) started off writing for 2000 AD went onto write stuff like From Hell… (pause)… I think 2000 AD is like the Simpsons it gets to get away with making alot of really intense social commentary because it’s a comic and it’s not taken seriously but if you actually sat there and said those things on TV you’d be locked up as being a heretic!!!
RN: So whos you’ve your favourite character(s) in 2000AD then?
JS: ABC Warriors…
RN: Really, I’ve never met someone who’s into the ABC Warriors!
JS: Yeah if you go back to the original artist…. if you go back and look at what Simon Bisely was doing in black and white, and it completly transforms the way comics are drawn from that second onward. He drew Slaine and everything. He was influence by a guy called Bill Sienkiewicz who did Elektra and Daredevil (back in the day with Frank Miller – edd) and all of that sort of stuff. But Simon Bisely was a fucking genius.
RN: So do you still read it then?
JS: Yeah I’m actually on the free 2000 AD list!
RN: Really, how’d you manage to get onto that!?!
JS: Cause we play ‘em! And actually I’ve been talking to the 2000 AD guys about music for the video game…
RN: The Judge Dredd one – I just hope it’s better than the movie!
JS: Yeah he takes off his helmet in the first scene dosen’t he!
RN: So what other comics do you read other than 2000 AD?
JS: I get sent all kinds of weird stuff… I got sent the first issue of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac (everyone should read this comic – edd)… I’ve got it signed by the artist as well (Jhonen Vasquez)…I’ve got The Crow, the graphical novel of the Crow, by James O’Barr… yeah he actually credits Pitchshifter in the intro as being one of his influenes. And uhhh I just read all kinds of mad shit, I’ve got Blood, and alot of old Sandmans and stuff. I’ve got a collection of dumb shit in my archives!!! (laughs)
RN: Moving on from comics what do you think of people like kerrang! now with Kerrang TV seeming to have the power to make or break a band?
JS: Well that’s good business on their part. In America it’s SFX and Clear Channel (see the article on CC in this issue). They own radio stations and they own management companies and they an agency and they own theatres where gigs are put on! If you gave me the option of Kerrang, Rocksound, Metal Hammer or NME, I’d take the fucking rock press. There’s alot less emperor’s new clothes bollocks in the rock press. If they go and see a band play live and their shit then they’ll just say that they’re shit, whereas in NME or in the other trendy weeklies they’ll say oh it was amazing, ‘it’s a renaissance of the new romantics’… no it isn’t shut up! You know what I mean? That’s what I like about the rock press it’s down and dirty. ‘We went to see you and we really like your album, but you suck live – Next!’.
RN: So do you know people at those kind of things cause you’ve been in a band for so long?
JS: Yeah well actually I now have a guest column in Metal Hammer… I write once a month, which is really weird, because they approached me to do it, and just said… and I ask, ‘So what kind of stuff should I right’, and they’re like ‘Write whatever you want’… (nervous voice), ‘OK!’ (laughs) So I just write about random things. You’re suppossed to only write it for six months but they liked it so much that they asked if they could extend it for a year! (laughs)
RN: Do you think that now that you’ve split and E9 have split, that it marks a kind of watershed in the UK scene?
JS: I don’t know … I just think it’s the natural course of music. We actually split up after the last tour, and not actually split up, I hate the word split up because it makes it sound as if you all hate each other, we just, we’ve all got other things going on in our lives, and we’ve all got things, different projects, that look like they might be as succesful if not more successful than Pitchshifter, so it’s just the right time for us to move on. But we didn’t want to go out like that – we didn’t think it was right! So many bands that I really loved just split up you never get a chance to see them, it’s just ‘blah blah split up’! No album, no tour, finished. We thought this way, we’ve always wanted to do a live album, lets put a live album out ourselves, people get a chance to come see us and we get to have one last fun farewell and play every last venue and say goodbye, get drunk, and get crazy!
I think it’s good that we’re splitting up in a way… I really admire Helmet. They made three or four great albums and then said ‘OK we’re not going to play anymore’! You know I admire it! I think it’s good for music. I think it’s the natural course of music, I think that bands come and go. Hopefully people will start putting some more money into up and coming UK bands because there are a fuck of alot of good UK bands around at the moment.
RN: What UK bands have you been listening to recently then?
JS: I get sent so many demos that I can’t even tell you what they’re called. There’s literally a stack of demos every day! Mark’s like ‘Dude look at these’! Alot of them are shit. The other thing is because I’m in the States I’ve been getting alot of stuff from there as well….
RN: So is the States now your home, have you officially moved from Nottingham?
JS: Well the funny thing is … it’s kind of weird but Mark and myself were actually born in Highbury in North London and we lived there until we were kids, but then we had to move to our dads work in Nottingham, so neither of us were actually born in Nottingham and we moved in and out of Nottingham. So yeah the band is perceived as a Nottingham band but the guitarist is from Essex, the drummers from Derbyshire, and Mark’s from Nottingham and I’m from America! It’s kind of weird! (laughs)
RN: So what’s America like at the moment? Is there a big difference between here and there?
JS: Yeah – well America’s just more agreived than we are here. Two fucking jumbo jets didn’t smack into the centre of London killing fucking thousands of people. I’m sure if that had of happened, even though we know there may be other factors involved, other commercial factors involved, we’d be so fucking outraged that war would be much more on the cards!
RN: Oh on a completly different point have you seen the movie Signs yet?
JS: No I don’t think so…
RN: The one with Mel Gibson.
JS: No I haven’t!
RN: Oh well they have a bit of footage of the crop circle Pitchshifter eye in it!
JS: Oh the Statford eye, as it was named! (laughs)
RN: That must have been pretty surreal!
JS: Yeah, yeah… but we didn’t do it! I suspect that Earache did it. But then again Earache are so incompetent that I can’t see how they could do it! But we got the British Crop Circle Association ringing us up saying, ‘Admit it you did it’! I’m like ‘A. I don’t know how to make a crop circle, and b.I live nowhere near it, do you think I got up at the crack of dawn to just go and make it’. But yeah it’s a pretty intricate thing… I can’t even think about where to start!
RN: Talking of Earache – do you ever resent that they kind of held you guys back?
JS: They didn’t hold us back, they just lied alot… You know it was a classic for the time, as were Roadrunner a couple of years ago. They were doing awful deals that were all in favour of the label, and bands would work for years just making money for the label and then split up. Unfortunatley for Earache though we were a little bit smarter than them, and we managed to get out of our deal in a technical flaw of theirs, that we instigated. Simply by playing to their greedy nature I knew that when I gave them a carrot that they would take it.
RN: Was that when you were about to sign to MCA?
JS: Yeah it was when we were trying to do that and they basically said ‘fuck you, you can’t do that!’ But just being way smarter than them… we collectively sat down and said, ‘right if we do this, this and this, they’ll drop us’, and we did it, and they dropped us! (laughs) We were just like, ‘Thank you – goodbye’!