With a one-off return tour coming to the UK, we chat to JS Clayden from alternative metal icons, Pitchshifter (who’s now based in Los Angeles, California) about the band’s legacy, and the inspirations that led to these special series of dates back home in the UK to celebrate 20 years since the band’s now legendary ‘.com’ album.
How is it going and what are you up to today?
Great; thanks for asking. It’s late night here, but it was a glorious 90˚F today. I got a run in, mixed an unreleased demo, took a few meetings, volunteered for a party at my kids’ school, and finished the day with a glass of wine with my smoking-hot wife (no idea why she’s still with me after 15 years, but I’ll take it).
So, after so long – aside from the obvious anniversary stuff, why go through all the effort of pulling the band back together?
A question I have been asking myself more frequently as the pre-tour madness increases… I think that we seemed to naturally coalesce around the 20-year anniversary of the ‘.com’ record. We get gig offers all the time; but we’re all in different cities/countries and have our own lives and they just seemed kind of random prior hereto. There seemed to be an organic desire from the band to get together once that anniversary came around and DHP was kind enough to help us to make that feeling a reality with the tour.
People have wanted PSI to return for years, what kept you from bringing it back earlier?
Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say. I don’t think that Mark [Clayden] or I felt the need to play during our decade hiatus. I personally think that creative people find creativity in various forms and that doesn’t always have to be live music performance. I guess the time just hadn’t felt right until now. We’re not actually very spotlight hungry people; we’ve enjoyed our time on Ahch-To.
Do you think there’s any chance you’ll get hooked after this tour and want to start it up, despite assurance that these are the last shows?
The romanticism of returning to a life on the road may have its appeal; but we’re respectable pillars of the community now – what would they do without us (shhh, don;t tell them about our former lives)?
What are your inspirations outside of music, think specific people, places, games or movies for example?
Pitchshifter has always been a giant collision of multiple inspirations both in and out of the studio. I am personally as inspired by Herman Hesse as I am by Pink Floyd; Einstein and The Matrix 1; Lego Worlds on XBox as much as my six year-old’s imagination (who else can draw you a picture of robot pacman verses ninja dinosaurs?).
Are there any songs that you’re particularly looking forward to bringing out into the world again?
I think what I guess have now become “classics” due to their age are my faves: ‘Please Sir’, ‘Genius’ and ‘Microwaved’. They remind me of a time when we were in it to win it, and out on a limb musically with no other bands really laying down that kind of a vibe. I think those tunes was a little to early for the scene; but we share a greta bond with those that were affected by that music at that time to this day. We resurrected our social media accounts for the tour and the outpouring of love has been amazing.
How have you changed and developed over the years, as a musician and artist through the music that you create?
I think we all have to eventually grow up to some degree. For me, as a musician, that has taken the form of more guitar in the tunes, and more melody in my vocal. That doesn’t mean that the lyrical content is any less intense per se; but I find it more challenging and enjoyable to explore that avenue. Of course, that’s anathema to some; but you can’t please all of the people all of the time (and I can do whatever the hell I like with my own vocals!). I kind of explored both the screaming and singing angles in the collaboration with This Is Menace – something that I really enjoyed.
And what have you learned about yourself?
Well, that’s an open-ended Jean-Paul Satre-esque existential humdinger of a question; but back to earth, I’ve learnt that I’m a half-decent car mechanic and amateur chef, and that I’m not as good as writing lyrics as Jello Biafra; but that some people think I’m a wordsmith.
What have been the biggest challenges in pulling everything together, given that you’re all spaced out in different parts of the world?
Almost everything. The timezones make real-time conversations challenging, most of our equipment has aged out and so we’ve been replacing it, the G5 tower with the tunes in Log Pro 7 still runs but who knows for how much longer, we’ve been rehearsing separately and will only have one rehearsal all together in the same room before the the first show, a full set of tunes is a LOT of lyrics to remember, we’re all 10 years older than our last show, we have to wrangle kids now, a few of our crew are dead; we’ve survived cancer, divorce, heart disease, Brexit and Trump. Shall I go on!?
Will there be any things people aren’t expecting on this tour?
Depends, and ibuprofen.
We’ve found some unreleased demos of our unfinished seventh studio album that the fans have asked us to release; so we’re throwing those out on Bandcamp. We also found an acoustic demo of the song ‘Stop Talking (So Loud)’ that the fans have been digging and that’s led to requests for some acoustic Pitchshifter – which sounds insane on first blush, but that’s the kind of envelope pushing that actually appeals to me, and so you never know if we’ll decide to do that. We’ve even thrown the previously unavailable ‘None For All and All For One‘ EP up there at fan request.
What advice would you give to emerging musicians coming out now, who might be inspired by PSI’s work?
TURN BACK NOW! Seriously, though, you just have to do your thing. Stay true to yourself and enjoy the time–it goes fast.
How do you look at the success of your albums, and tracks like ‘Genius’ now?
I feel good about it. In the thick of it, you don’t have time to stop and smell the roses; but looking back with the luxury of hindsight, we made the best tunes we could and may have helped to develop a scene. When you think about it, it’s all from nothing: you start with twelve notes, a blank screen and your inspiration, and you end up with something magical from the dust.
What is your attitude to success these days, how do you define it?
Success is an internal perception; but being able to do what you’re good at, and what you want to do seems like a good marker. If others enjoy it and/or you can make money from it, great; but if not, as long as you have satiated that nugget within yourself, who can call you a failure? It is the mind alone that chains us or sets us free.
Why do you think Pitchshifter is still such a powerful force in alternative music in 2018?
Well, I’m not sure that we are; but I thank you for the kind words. I think that a lot of the trials and tribulations of our generation still ring true. The Military-Industrial Complex didn’t change much in the ensuing decades, did it? The rich got richer, the pendulum of politics swung to the right again, demagogues still tout the evil “others” as the cause of all ills. The same old tropes seem to play out ad infinitum.
Any final messages for fans around the world, or people coming out to the tour?
You have our respect, admiration, and appreciation. In reality, we were just five working-class punk kids from a mining town with some ideas above our station about making the music we wanted to hear and provide some form of Stentorian voice for the proletariat. To think that this message resonates with people to this day is pretty amazing. We have no idea what madness the tour will bring; but we’re looking forward to firing up the chaos engine with those of like mind. Come with an open heart and mind. See you down the front!