Five years ago, I began my occasional series The Rearview Mirror, with a look back at the Pitchshifter breakthrough www.pitchshifter.com, an album I’ve loved since release, from a band I’ve now (as I write this) been following for nearly a quarter of a century – but since they broadly had ceased releasing new material by the time I really got stuck into writing on this ‘site, they’ve only occasionally been featured here.
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Pitchshifter on amodelofcontrol.com
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If they had continued, it’s likely I’d have written about them a fair bit – I’ve seen them live fifteen times, although my last time was at Damnation Festival in 2008, and I have to confess that for some time I’ve wondered if that was going to be it – and even if it was, I’d have had enough happy memories from their shows and their music that I’d have been happy with my lot.
So colour me surprised when, earlier this year, a short run of dates to mark the twentieth anniversary of www.pitchshifter.com was announced for November. Needless to say my wife and I have our tickets for the first London show, and I’ll of course be reporting back on that after the event.
But in the meantime, I’m hugely grateful to JS Clayden for giving up his time to discuss that album, their return, and how some things just never change.
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amodelofcontrol.com: Welcome back – what have you been up to in the time since Pitchshifter ceased being an active entity – as I recall one of the band fell very ill which forced a hiatus?
JS Clayden (Pitchshifter): Thank you. Albeit a brief return (before we return to our cryo-chambers on Anch-To), it’s good to be back. You are correct in that some of us have dodged the bullet on some heavy personal issues; but we made it through the ringer (nuclear cockroaches cannot be killed). Aside from that, for the most part, we’ve been trying not to embarrass our children too much in public, by doing our best to pretend to be normal at parent teacher meetings whilst plotting to overthrow the Military-Industrial Complex as they slumber at night.
amodelofcontrol.com: www.pitchshifter.com felt at the time, and perhaps even more since, that it was…an evolution? Not just for you as a band, but also as a wider thing. I don’t think any other band had publicised their website in this way at that point, and the collision of industrial, metal, drum’n’bass and sampling was really cohesive – you and Fear Factory were perhaps the only bands really making strides with that sound around then. What’s your thoughts on it with the benefit of hindsight?
JS Clayden (Pitchshifter): Thank you for the kid words about that record. I think – without wishing to sound like I’m totting the band’s own horn too much – that the record was ahead of its time. We instinctively ignored the “rules” of genre and made the music that came out of us (and music really does come out of you, you can try to steer it in a direction, but it’ll find a way to revert to its core essence, despite your best efforts). Being ahead of its time had positive and negative ramifications. On the one hand, that album was very unique, something that stands to this day, and something that instantly resonated with people that “got it.” On the other hand, I think that it was perhaps just a little too far ahead of its time for a lot of people to understand it. And so, it actually got better press after the fact, and maybe helped in some small way to pave the way for other bands to be more adventurous and push the envelope of their own music a little more and be accepted doing it.
amodelofcontrol.com: Indeed, the band’s evolution across about five or six years – from Submit to dot-com – is extraordinary. What was driving you as a band at that time, as it seemed that you were constantly pushing your sound forward in every way – from production to composition to the finished songs?
JS Clayden (Pitchshifter): I can honestly just say a love of art, music, ideas and experimentation. The band was actually initially somewhat afraid of moving away from the grunt vocal style of the earlier; but I basically gave them an ultimatum that I wasn’t going to do any more of that stuff. It was killing my voice and I’d just reached the creative limit of it. Once we got over that hurdle, the gloves were off. Our idea was that, although we loved heavy guitars, a song inspiration/theme could come from any aspect (samples, drums, vocals, bass, guitar). With that as your basic framework, anything can happen. Throw in our voracious reading, movie watching, music listening and general hanging out, and the creative landscape was much bigger than our early years. It was a fun time.
amodelofcontrol.com: I remember being at a show in 1997 (at the then-regular Feet First night at the Camden Palace, around May of that year I think?) where I believe you debuted songs from dot-com for the first time – and from a now-lost comment on an older version of my website, it was apparently the night where Geffen came down to check you out live before signing. Were you aware at the time how important a show that was for you, and did it affect your preparations in any way?
JS Clayden (Pitchshifter): That was a fun gig. Yes, we were aware that Geffen were in the crowd. The big-time A&R guy had flown over on his first-class flight to check out some irreverent Brits that someone had told him were “fucking good”. To be honest, I don’t recall it affecting our show prep. We’ve maintained a pretty Sex Pistols’ mentality throughout our career and so we just saw it as a way to fuck up the system with corporate money if anything came out of it (EMI!). I vaguely remember some guy diving off the PA stack and be diving in first to catch him that night, but that could have been another gig (there have been so many it’s hard to keep a track of them all).
amodelofcontrol.com: You’ve been digging into the vaults and releasing a number of “obscure” tracks onto a new bandcamp. Are there are any plans to re-issue/remaster your back-catalogue? I’ve long thought Desensitized in particular would benefit from a remaster, while dot-com sounds really strong even now (I still have the original CDs!).
JS Clayden (Pitchshifter): Once we rehydrated from our years in cryo-statis, the fans have been pretty rabid about getting their hands on “holy grail” items, as they call them. It’s been fun to give them direct access to that material online – especially demos from the unfinished seventh studio album Sprint Finish. They’re currently up on Bandcamp, but we’re also putting them on iTunes/Spotify/Amazon Music/etc. as we speak. The bad news about older material is that it’s all owned by record labels with various levels of nefarious leaders. And so we’d need to suckle on the teat of the chimera to ever get the rights to re-master/re-release. At our age, we’re focused on having less BS in our lives. To that end, it seems like more fun to stick a fork in our eye than re-negotiate with any of those autolycans.
amodelofcontrol.com: The short UK tour in November appears to have been very popular (with a number of the shows sold out), and features, of course, a return to your home town – and probably spiritual home! – at Nottingham Rock City. Was there an element of fear when you agreed the dates as to how many people would remember you?
JS Clayden (Pitchshifter): One never truly knows if a creative enterprise – be it a concert, book, movie, painting, or whatever – will draw a crowd. Pitchshfiter has a long-standing relationship with it’s home of Rock City, and with its leadership that have flowered into the DHP agency. We’ve had many offers over the past decade that just haven’t felt right. Working with DHP, playing Rock City and the Garage with aarthtone9 onboard around the 20th anniversary of our pivotal album just seemed to perfectly align to make this tour a reality. We can’t say when/if it’ll ever happen again; but we’re looking forward to this run and appreciate the opportunity from the fans, venues and promoters.
amodelofcontrol.com: There seems to be some kind of irony that despite you as a band being one of the early ones to really make a thing of their web presence; social media and more advanced use of the web by bands was only really an important consideration *after* you went away.
JS Clayden (Pitchshifter): Yeah. We were doing an online tour diary in the very early days – so early that the term “blog” perhaps hadn’t yet even been coined. I’d take a few tiny digital pics (cameras created tiny pics back then) of each day on the road and upload them to our website with diary text from me. People loved it back then, but it was only much after the fact that I realized that we were actually on the forefront of blogging as it became known.
amodelofcontrol.com: It seems disappointing to me in 2018 that twenty-five years on from Triad, we’re still talking about the problems of the far-right – and indeed things are probably even worse now (Un-United Kingdom seemed rather prescient in light of the last few years, too). What’s your thoughts on politics (UK and US) now compared to then?
JS Clayden (Pitchshifter): Nothing really ever changes, does it? The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Big business (and thus, the rich) have a stranglehold on government and so bills are only passed that benefit the few. Every few decades a new demagogue comes around and fools the poor into thinking that all of the problems created by the system, by the rich, are actually the fault of some “other” entity (Europe in the case of the USA and Mexico/virtually anywhere else in the case of the USA) and the uneducated masses gleefully throw away their votes on right-leaning initiatives to yet further polarize the poor and enrich the rich. You can trace that same arc through history.
amodelofcontrol.com: Finally, never mind twenty years of dot-com, doesn’t next year mark thirty years since Pitchshifter were formed? Are there any thoughts on plans for that, or is this reunion strictly a one-off?
JS Clayden (Pitchshifter): Fortunately, we started as teens, and so we’re currently still young enough to make in onstage for this tour without oxygen and animatronic exoskeletons; however, I don’t know if that’s stretch to next year. Right now, we only have plans for these six shows in the last decade. That’s our focus–but thanks for asking, we appreciate the love!