Ban Popstars, slap the viewers - leave music to musicians
Motormouth Pitchshifter vocalist, JS Clayden, lives up to his reputation and gives Ken McGrath an earful about the media, their music and band-members' side projects.
The last time Pitchshifter's frontman, JS Clayden, spoke to Sorted magAZine, his band were after signing to a major record label (DGC) and had just released an album that mixed punk-rock music with techno beats, a radical departure from the extreme industrial/metal sounds that had dominated their previous releases. The album was of course the essential, groundbreaking "www.pitchshifter.com". That was in 1998. Since then they've released two more albums on two different labels, the latest of which, "PSI", was released earlier this year.
"It's been a hell of a busy time for us," JS begins. "Since we put out the new record, we've been doing extreme sports festivals and shooting videos and doing remixes and getting ready for tours. It's been a busy time. A few side projects thrown in here and there keep things going."
"PSI" saw Pitchshifter's sound develop even more and was well received by both the public and the press. Pitchshifter have never been shy about giving their opinions on the press, least of all JS. He knows himself that every Pitchshifter album, regardless of how it is received, is the best album the band could make at the time.
"Without wishing to sound contrite, I don't really care what anyone thinks of the record. There are a lot of fans who have told us they dig it, and some magazines have really championed it, but the music itself is more important to me. We really got our heads down this time and tried to do our best. One hundred percent at all times. I think that shows through in the record. We made something as unique as we could. That's better than a million sales and an Oscar. Well, to me anyway!"
As for the magazines, he's still not too concerned with them either, even though his band has been the subject of major features in some of the more popular music monthlies. "The mags are just vendors, they will sell whatever sells. If New Romanticism came back in, they'd be telling you how great that was. It's all marketing. Look at NME. It slagged off rock music for years and became complacent and now Kerrang! outsells it without even trying. I still don't see us in Q Magazine, though."
You have to wonder though if this new found interest has anything to do with the fact that, over their past three albums, Pitchshifter have developed something more of an accessible sound. It's less doom and industrial based, swinging more towards super-fast dance beats and huge choruses. Who knows? One thing is for certain, though, it is very doubtful that we will ever see a return to the days of old, that is unless, as JS put it, "you're the one to finally have figured out Einstein's theory of time dilation and how it relates to quantifying time..." I guess that's a no then.
Pitchshifter are also known to have had a turbulent past with the music industry in general. They have suffered a lot at the hands of major record labels, as have a fair number of other quality British bands, most notably Earthtone9, a band Pitchshifter had toured with, who split up at the beginning of 2002 despite having developed a strong and loyal fan base after years of touring and self promotion. The two bands were pretty close and this made the split even more shocking.
"I was at their last gig," the vocalist explains. "It was emotional. Joe (Earthtone9 guitarist) has been touring with us on guest rhythm guitar on occasion. They're a great bunch of guys. Mark's (Clayden, 'Shifter bassist) side project, The Blueprint, features Karl from Earthtone9 on vocals. It would be easy to just blame the press, but I think it's to do with money. American labels have money for rock music. English labels have money for pop crap because they know it will sell. I think there are other great seminal UK bands that have been shafted through lack of foresight and investment. Rock has been a very dirty word until this year."
That may be so, but it is still pop music that dominates the charts. Just turn on ITV on a Saturday night for the evidence. It's overrun by "PopStars: The Rivals" and their "build a band live on television"" mentality. This is fine if it's what you're into, but obviously the Pitchshifter man isn't; he thinks it would be best to "ban everyone involved with it. Slap everyone on the wrist for watching it. Sue the UK government for making us pay for the right to be hypnotised by it. Leave music to musicians. The English guy just sold the rights for $1 million to the US for series two". He finishes by mimicking putting a gun to his head.
In what can be seen as an attempt to almost counter this passive attitude towards home-grown talent, Pitchshifter have always brought young bands that impress them out on tour and, this time around, they haven't made an exception. "We handpicked all the bands," Clayden reveals. "Kennedy Soundtrack impressed us on a festival we played with them in Leeds and so we asked them to join us. This Girl are a favourite of our bass player, Mark, so they got added. Taproot unfortunately couldn't make the Irish dates due to prior commitments, but I am stoked they're at half the UK dates. Finally it's also cool for us to add Vacant Stare to the London show. It's gonna be a great night out."
Live has always been the best way to experience Pitchshifter. It's an experience Clayden refers to as "a coming together of like minds. The world is shit enough outside, let's make the gig a few hours of joy inside."
Record labels and crap television programmes aside, there is something else very interesting happening in the Pitchshifter camp at the moment as JS is eager to point out. "In the break between albums we decided to have our 'side projects hour'. Mark and I have our own bands now - the Blueprint for him and Doheny for me. There are a lot of new songs floating around for the side projects!"
The Blueprint features alongside Mark Clayden, ex-Pitchshifter guitarist Matt Grundy, former Earthtone9 vocalist Karl Middleton, as well as Will Burchell and Chris Billiam, guitarist and drummer with Consumed respectively. JS is glad they are both getting the opportunity to work in other groups. "I think it's great. We both find it very rewarding to be involved in our side-projects. It's a whole different way to exercise our creative ideas without being pigeonholed for it. They just recorded with Andy Sneap, I can't wait to hear it! The Blueprint and Doheny are in their honeymoon 'just get out there and have fun making music' phases right now, so they feel as free as air. I love both. We have created something from nothing in our main bands and side projects and that's the important thing. To create."
Don't worry, though, this doesn't mean the end of Pitchshifter. JS hasn't grown tired of his old band just yet and he most definitely hasn't grown tired of touring. "I still enjoy it. The best bits are: the energy of the crowd, the fan gifts, the places, the freedom, the differing cultures and food, not having to wear a suit and say 'Yes Sir'. The bad bits are being away from our loved ones, being locked in a rolling sardine can with twelve lonely guys, never getting enough food or sleep... and having to eat German food. As far as 'Shifter goes we have a few surprising things. Some acoustic versions of songs from 'PSI' and some jacked up remixes. Hold tight!"