Pitchshifter Interview with JS Clayton
@ Brixton Academy London July 2000 by Jas Mowgood
As the rest of the world hurtles towards the millennium, Pitchshifter has already leap-frogged into the next century. The sound of their new album pitchshifter' is like nothing you have heard before - the sound of technology used to create maximum chaos. Welcome to the virtual reality of Pitchshifter.Signing to cult label Earache, in 1992 Pitchshifter unleashed their 'Submit' mini-album onto an unsuspecting world. Their fierce and fiery combination of radical attitude and crushing, metallic aggression began to permeate the underground.
The band's reputation seeped through by word of mouth on the back of ferocious live shows supporting everyone and anyone from Fugazi to Napalm Death. This is anew breed of guitar and sample music", admits Clayden. "Calls it what you will. It could be 'strum 'n' bass' - it could be whatever you want." Whatever it was, it was a genre which had never before been explored. In early 1997, Pitchshifter signed to DGC Records in order to put their plans into action, and selected rising producer machine to translate their ideas in the studio.The bands new single "Genius" is set to storm the States as its the title track from the smash No1 Box office hit "MORTAL KOMBAT", the single will be released on the 16th February in the UK. The album pitchshifter which is also the website address.
Jas: How would you describe your music/sound?
JS Clayden: Digitally enhanced guitar music
Jas: What sets you apart from other bands?
JS: I think we've been using samples and electronica with heavy guitars since the early 90s and we don't come from a rock band that started using samples point of view and we don't come from a dance band who started using guitars. We've always used it. We have a special relationship between samples and guitars. If you listen to PSI, it always sounds like us, there's no band-wagon hopping. It doesn't sound like other stuff. I think the new album has more hip-hop beats, instead of drum-n-bass beats, and more paddy samples so it sounds different. It's not 4-4 like alot of the stuff out there.
Jas: Some people measure success by the amount of money they have, how do you measure success?
JS: I've been doing it for 10 years now. I haven't had to get a proper job for a while. I've seen 25 countries last year. People come up to me and say "I've been waiting 6 years to see you play." when we came to Australia (amazed look). People say, "I've always eaten meat all my life, then I listened to the band, visited the website, and then turned vegetarian." and stuff like that.
Jas: Was there any point where you thought you would quit the band?
JS: About 25,000 times! Even on the www.pitchshifter.com album the record label sent it straight back to us and said "this is shit, don't waste our time."
Jas: Is your new record label MCA supportive?
JS: Yes. I mean even on the dot com album, which was ahead of it's time, I think, and went over alot of people's head, just too weird and quirky. and now people are using so much electronica. people say it's a good album, and I'm like "Yeah it's 3 years old!"
Jas: Have you heard of other bands being influenced by Pitchshifter?
JS: Yes, the bass player from Staind said to my brother Mark, the bass player, the other day. I based my entire sound on the sound from the Genius single. Tommy Lee from Methods of Mayhem said he's a pSI fan. Tommy Victor from prong. Wayne and Tony from Static-X. The Deftones are really into us. I meet people all the time. Even ZZTOP said in Guitar magazine that he's been influenced by PSI, and I'm reading it and saying when? when does ZZtop?..he kicks back and listens to PSI.
Jas: How did you meet and collaborate with Jello Biafra?
JS: [sarcastically] I drew the shortest of a series of short straws. [laughs]. I've always been into Alternative Tentacles. And I sent Jello a copy of our first album. and since then he's asked for subsequent copies of new releases on vinyl, of course. Wanted to do a tune with him for ages. we talked on the phone back on the Infotainment album, about doing a tune together, but he hardly comes to england, and "I don't get out to LA much." so we never did it. but this time I called him and he was in LA doing a spoken-word thing on the Spitfire tour. he bowled into the studio. ad-libbed the tune. in an hour, and said "okay cool let's go eat." he's a nice guy. it's nice to meet someone who's been teenage punk idol.
Jas: What did you do on this album differently?
JS: Write good songs and sing better. Just spent 9 and half months on the road. Because i've always written songs with Johnny Carter before, the original guitarist and programmer, and he left the band before we started writing this album. So I started on the base point of writing with Jim Davies, who's the guitarist. so we wrote from guitar and vocals. Where as before we'd written from loops and breaks, and this time we actually wrote as songwriters, and wrote songs and then added other stuff around it. It's weird lyrics first. Sometimes guitar fit a drum line. But it more written this is a verse, then this is going to be going into a chorus, that's going to be the same chorus throughout the song. as before it was "ah, it doesn't have to be the same chorus we can have all these weird things going on."
Jas: Is it difficult to write lyrics?
JS: Lyrics are tough. I write some guitar lines. not as many now that Jim has joined the band. but i find it easier writing bass lines, and doing programming, then doing lyrics. The thing about doing lyrics it's easy to do dumb pop lyrics. "One and one is two, two and two is.." it's hard to write lyrics, that sound cool, have punch to them, and actually mean something, that isn't about being dumped by your ex-girlfriend for the 50th millionth time. I find it difficult.
Jas: What was the hardest part of making the album?
JS: Mixing. to stop and say "this song is finished." if you're using a producer of the quality of someone like Dave Jerden, who's going to make all the conventional instruments sound great, cause that's what he spent the last 30 years doing. You're not going to get in trouble with that. it's mixing all the other stuff, and saying this is enough. Cause you can tweak it forever. If i push the double bass fader up the tune sounds more hiphop, if i push the guitar fader up the tune sounds more hard-core. It's like you could go on forever.
We have a cannablistic style of writing tunes. I a song is not working we steal the bit that are and discard the rest. Like alot of people say "I've got 50 songs." and the weed out 10 goods one for an album. we don't write like that. We know when a song is going to dud halfway through. The middle eight is nice i'm stealing that. That's going to be the verse of something else.
Jas: Are you planning to make a music video?
JS: I don't know. It depends if MCA deems enough demand to make one. music videos are expensive. How do you justify spending that? [micheal jackson spending 30 million on a music video] you could save a third world country with that much fucking money. Well bands like us don't get on daytime TV. (whispers ' boy band must die' )
Jas: How did you decide on the cover art for the album?
JS: The original idea was banned, banned in DC. I came up with the original idea that was painted by William George, who is like a 70-year old classic western painter/illustrator who was convinced to turn the dark side and do our sick album cover. but then that got banned because of legal bullshit. the new cover, we only goofed with the colors, and messed with it. it was original black and white painting by Gee V, who was one of the singers, and the woman who did all the art work for the punk band Crass. so she's pretty political painter. we decided something that would make poeple double take. i think you get looked like as deviant, if you've got a nose ring, dreadlocks, or wear freaky trousers, or whatever. but i think there is nothing more deviant than church and state [laughs] meld the pope and queen together. and you've got the most deviant being on earth.
Jas: You're father is a Reverend, how does he...
JS: ..He is now. he wasn't when we were kids. I'm a reverend, on the internet whoo. I like that. The way people get all upset about our reverend nature. My brother can go, "Well we actually ARE reverends." I can marry, baptize, or bury people. I haven't done any of it yet. I have a fear of marrying anyone, i mean not to me, i mean to each other. one of our fans ask me to marry him with his girlfriend. i said "no" [laughs]. I want to be just able to divorces. i want to be a reverend that specializes in divorce. think of how happy you can make people. alot of people who should have never gotten married. you can divorce them. you can be the guy who hands over the lottery check.
Jas: Would you consider putting out a live album?
JS: Yeah. I think we kick it live. I think alot of bands that do our kind of music don't pull it off live. a guitar based bands it works live. There's been a few live snippets here and there on a few cd covers on magazines.
JS: Dun-dun-duuu!! Mp3's are a tool that can be used or abused. y'know. i think for checking out. i mean i really like the deftones. i went and checked out one of the their tunes in mp3 and decided I'm going to buy the album. our entire album and the deftones entire album was on the internet before it came out, like ever tune. people have got like T3, they just download the entire album and don't buy it. not that like we're all money-grabbeing and bands like us don't make a lot of money, until you start selling a million albums, which we are no where near doing, you don't make money, I don't want music to be like college, where only rich people get to go. the best music is poor angry music, end of story. I don't music to be like college, where people can't afford to make it. after management commissions, lawyer commissions, label, cut for merchandise, agents taking cut, paying for crew, bus, buy equipment, take money for food, and then it's usually record sales is the only thing that allows bands like us to physically go to other countries and play our music to people. and if record sales slump off because of Mp3s it's the theft of entire albums. if record sales die off bands like us are going to fuck it. this is all held together by a little shoestring. people see the big buses and the sound, and they go "wow, limos and hookers every night." if you only knew...even though you're in the giant bus and it all looks great. it's rented. it's all in the hole, it's all money you owe. to someone. record sales keeps it going.
Jas: How do you feel about Metallica suing Napster when they don't seem to be hurting all that much money-wise..they live comfortably?
JS: I would quit. this is no detriment to Metallica. but for me personally, my personal life, if i had as much money as them in the bank. you wouldn't be doing an interview with me. because i would be sitting on a fucking Hawaiian island, with my beautiful wife, my feet in the pool, my speedboat. going " i wonder what the rest of the guys are doing?" i mean what's the point? i'm out of here.
I think it's cool to if you want download a rare remix or if you want to check out a track. but to download entire albums, it's just theft. that's like me coming to you at the end of a hard's day work and going, "can i have your paycheck?" [laughs] six months of my life went into this album, to see it on the internet for free for anyone is just like depressing, not because i'm moneygrabbing, but because I don't know how long I can keep doing this. cause it's been 10 years without making any money. i don't know how much longer. " i need to get a normal job so i can get a house."
Jas: What do you want to do after the band runs its course?
JS: [sarcastically] Suicide. No. something good hopefully, that doesn't involved so much hard work. Goddamn book. i'll never finish it. this band keeps getting in the way. I've done 35,000 words. which is too much for the average person to be bothered troll through, what is that 250 pages? trim it down Bukowski sized. palatable. i'd like to not waste 4 years of graphic design college. web design or some medium.
Jas: Do you utilize computer to write songs?
JS: there are 5 laptops on the bus. everyone has a laptop. it's like fighting for a viable pc outlet. "give me the AC!" tunes like, I wrote un-united kingdom which is on the EP, on the laptop, on a swissair flight from Norway to Madrid. and wrote the lyrics on the back of a sick bag. [laughs] i had this flash. "oh my gosh i wrote a song!" Everything sucks was written in the back of the tour bus in parking lot in Minneapolis. you go and get the laptop plug it and write.
Jas Have you ever got an angry reaction because of the song "un-uk"?
JS: oh yeah. i got punched in the head. some BNP right wing guy got pissed that we were dissing England. so he jumped on stage and then rounded like he was going stage-dive. which we allow, if the club. then he leaned around and punched me on the side of the head from behind, i just obviously fell over because i wasn't expecting. i think people want us to be 5 rollins type. i think the way we get percieved the media is 5 angry henry rollins taxi drivers types burning lighters under our arms, not flinching. we're tough! it's alot of black humour. songs like un-uk, it's just a tongue-in cheek. pissed take. everyone talks about Byron and keats, and punching down the oxford river, and cucumber sandwiches, and god bless the queen bowler hats. england's not fucking like that. it's a big sweaty hell hole just like america is. 60 million people living in jacked up housing projects. car park hell.
Jas: You support Greenpeace & Amnesty International..
JS: I'd rather give my money to Greenpeace. i don't have the time i spend 10-12 hours a day 6 days a week doing this. doing the website, the t-shirts, interviews, gigs, writing songs, traveling around. i can't do things i want to go. i want to go to east timor give them protection from the Indonesians. stop bombing them, they don't have any defenses, but i can't do that by giving money to Greenpeace or amnesty international.
Jas: Have you ever forgotten words to songs?
JS: continually. i've got a bad memory. if i see too many people singing along with the words, i change the first and second verse around to fucking do there heads in. you see people go.."he's singing the second verse.." i'm losing my mind!!
Jas: Are you going to go back to tour Europe after Ozzfest?
JS: We did a big UK gig before we left on this tour. We got the tour and it was at the same time as this gig. and they wanted us to cancel the gig, so instead we brought forward the gig one month. with two new guys and it was there first show. 2, 000 sold out first show. we try to do England as much as we can, but there seems to be a tiny backlash at the moment while we're in the US. you can't be everywhere all the time. there are only so many days you can tour before you drop dead. I have three remixes to do in the month of June. which isn't very long. one week. and then a week to get ready and fly down for Ozzfest. then after Ozzfest. uk tour..September 12 gigs in the UK. and then Japan. then Christmas. it doesn't end. we try to go everywhere we can. if you check out our record in Europe. we've played loads of places that no other bands have ever played..crazy out of the way places. no one ever goes to. even in England. we played in some place in Scotland that i don't think any band has played. 650 miles from London.
Jas: Do you get harassed online or otherwise because you're so open on your tour diary entries?
JS: I get harassed continually. i mean most people ar really cool. but then you get the odd person who goes " i know you!!" i mean i don't know. you get more kids who email and say "why didn't you play any of these songs?" you can't please all the people all the times. i only answer sensible questions. if someone writes in "do you fuck your mother?" we're just don't bother answering them. we answer the ones we like.
Jas: How did the idea of the online tour diary come about?
JS: I originally started doing the tour diary as a cathartic release and making an attempt to stay sane on tour. i've got a really bad memory and I can't remember what I've done. i've got a clinically bad memory like neural damaged. can't remember anything. people say "dude we hung out 2 years ago in Chicago!" I'm like.." i have no idea. i'm really sorry. don't be offended." and just try to be sane. we did 10 months the first time i wrote the tour diary. sitting on the tour bus for ten months..it's my only escape. it's like talking into a different.
It's all rubbish. We did an interview with a magazine that hyped all that stuff out. oh yeah you kissed loads of girl and did this and that. and we're like.."We don't." I don't want to burst your bubble. we've got laptops, playstation, and shit out. then you spend the night traveling to the next town.on the statix- tour we've been finished the gig, pack all the stuff away, have one beer get on the bus, drive the the next place 12 hours, wake up to the next venue, play. there's no oohh..and then hung out in rio de janiero for a day and gambling. it's just like bang bang. this tour ends tonight the flight is at 5pm tomorrow.