Pitchshifter's JS Clayden Speaks

About to enter the dressing room in the Leadmill, I think this is the most nervous I've been when about to do an interview. why? well, for one, JS Cylayden, Pitchshifter’s frontman can look an intimidating sight, and one where you think ‘I've got to get it right this time’. The other reason is because I’m going to try and get some stuff from this interview, which in all honesty, is probably out of my depth and where I don’t really feel very authorative. Maybe get a touch political. And so I’m not sure that I'm ready or going to do anything other than make an idiot of myself.

But I've got the ideas in mind. There are a few things I want to try and get out of this. A few subjects to cover, and I’ve tried to think the tact I’m going to take. Some stuff about the new album, try and understand some of what this drum'n'bass is, and how it differs to techno. I make no bones about not being able to tell the difference at the moment. I mean, how many dance fans can tell you the difference between metal, punk and hardcore? How do pitchshifter feel about technology, given the title of the new album. Is music the right, or most effective media to try and put across serious messages. And then are some recent events involving politicians actually warranted and of interest. Hopefully the ideas behind all of this would emerge during the course of the interview.

My first fear however is pretty much negated once I enter the dressing room. John greets me with a handshake, a smile and offer to take a seat. He is playing with a digital camera, which he continues to fiddle with for the duration of the interview. Although he is an intimidating presence, he is also intelligent and courteous, and you are soon placed at ease. As I turn on the tape, he shushes some of the others present, and asks whether the recorder will pick every thing up. Flashbacks to my first interview with Human Waste Project (told you I'd get them in here somewhere!) run through my mind. We stop and check the recording. Everything seems ok. Right, heads down and let's go. It could get controversial.

Having explained that this will be the third gig I've seen on the tour, based purely on the strength of the new material, I wonder if playing over three quarters of a a set filled with new material is a calculated gamble, a fuck you too people, or just supreme confidence on the bands behalf in the new material.

John laughs, It’s just the time is right. We’ve done four other albums and have so many old songs we’re just bored with. And the new sound is quite fresh for us, and so we want to play it It’s taking a bit of a chance playing it, but Pitchshifter’s always been about doing what we want. It seems to be going down alright, and people seem to be singing the words to them on the second chorus.

Sentiments I can agree with. Despite not being able to sing, I have found myself mouthing the words to most of the new songs at the gigs. John then continues...

It's the best album we’ve ever made, we're really proud of the album and hopefully the music will shine through, and people will go, yep, this is good music. And it's quite unique as well, I don't think anyone else is really doing this sort of thing,

Ok, so now I what I want to try and find out is the Pitchshifter stance on technology. The new album is called www.pitchshifter.com. As this is the common way of giving a Web page address, and indeed, is the address of the Pitchshifter website, Is this reflective of Pitchshifter embracing technology, being aware of it, or being aware but cautiously dipping their collective toes into the pool. Also, osome of the new songs have titles such as WYSIWYG, Microwaved. The past has seen titles which can have easy links to technology, and then of course, there is the name Pitchshifter itself.

Johns laughs and points to guitarist Johnny, who I noticed was hunched over a laptop as I entered the room. But it was one of those pre-planned questions, and despite the obvious answer, I'm still going through with it.

We’re writing tunes on that at the moment. Obviously any tool can be used for good or bad. You can use a shovel to dig a hole and plant a tree, or you can use it to smash someones head in. It’s how you use it. We try and use it for the good of the people rather than for the good of big government. I think it can be a very positive thing.

So do you think, like some people, that the Internet is the last free speech vehicle available to people?

I think the Internet's good, for example, England's got the toughest official secrets acts laws. You know, Jack Straws soon sells a bit of marijuana to someone, and you can't print his name in England. But you can't stop a person in Poland putting it on his website. Sp it routes around censorship, and that's why the Internet stands a chance of being a platform for freedom of speech. We're just updating the website. It's going to be way better. We can use some of the money we bagged from the Mortal Kombat soundtrack .

Well that's provided that you don't destroy too many ceilings at gigs (The week before at the gig at Rock City, a number of ceiling tiles and the insulation were removed by people while crowd surfing)

We didn't actually have to pay for that says John, much to my surprise I must admit.

So, back to the net. Do you think it's an opportunity for bands to help themselves, by placing demos, or videos on the net, and sidestepping the necessity of the ‘normal’ media if they are being ignored. Or do you go with the Oasis viewpoint, and seemingly want to ban anything unless it's ‘official’.

It could be a good thing for that. I mean, we're trying to put a lot of samples on the ‘net for free, kinda of increase the public domain of samples. It could be a very good format for bands to get around things, because it's difficult to get in the NME and Melody Maker because they’ve got the bands that they like and the style of music that they like. You don't see Korn in NME but they’ve sold millions of records.

I think it's a viable mode of communication as well, ‘cos I like talk to you now, I know you're a white guy, that you like rock music. You're jumping the gun on me there, I was going to come to that later. I know roughly your age, and from your accent I can tell where you're from. I mean, I'm immediately reacting in part to the way you are. On the ‘net I don't know if you’re male or female, black or white, old, young, gay, straight, fat thin, ugly, beautiful. So it's just two minds communicating rather than all the pre-conceptions. You don't act in a certain way ‘cos you don’t know what the other person is thinking.

Ok, you mentioned there that you could tell I like rock music. This was something I wanted to come onto with respect to the new album. From what I've heard live, and have read in the press, there are obviously quite a few elements to it which I would apply the general label of ‘Techno’ to. Coming from a rock background, to me, all the techno ‘sounds the same’, in the same way that to many all rock ‘sounds the same’ whether it be metal, punk or hardcore. Now I’ve read that you describe the album as having elements of drum’n’bass and backbeats, something again I would just label techno. So what is the difference. What was explained, may well be difficult to type into words.

Right, there's a lot more drum'n'bass breaks. He shouts to Johnny to play one of the breaks on the computer. Drum'n'bass is more drum loops, funky loops. Techno is very 4/4 bang, bang, bang, bang. The sounds we've used from the techno sphere are more the pad sounds, the squeally insane sounds. The actual core and rhythm of our music is very breakbeat, drum’n’bass orientated. And what we've done is mix punk bass lines guitars over these breakbeats. Because I think drum'n'bass and break music is the punk of the ‘90s. It's fast, it's faceless, it's anti-establishment.

I can understand how people can get off on the energy of it, but personally I just can't make any real musical connection with it. Whatever that may be, or however pretentious that may sound. But taking this further. From my point of view (the rock background), there is a lot of fusion and crossing over, which is good. But from where I look, I feel that sometimes it's more rock fans and bands opening their minds a bit more and stretching out, but am not convinced that it's a two-way thing and that dance fans are ready to embrace some of the ‘rock’ bands who dabble in this sort of thing. But do you think that drum'n'bass fans will get it?

We have quite a varied audience, you know, people write to us and tell us and they like a lot of different things. Someone who likes drum'n'bass might see us as an odd band that they like. But some rock fans might also see us as an odd band that they like, d'you know what I mean. Just outside of the genre.

I think that the people who like guitar music are a lot more loyal to the bands. Y'know, bands like Motorhead will always get an audience no matter where or when they play. People who listen to chart music at this point, Johnny plays the break that had been requested. I ‘think’ it makes things a bit clearer for me. But yeah, I think the people who listen to chart music, or buy the new Kylie Minogue single or Spice Girls, they don't care, they've got no loyalty to the band. They just buy the music that they like at that moment. I think when you play guitar music and try things, then they will follow you.

Ok, time now to try and turn to the lyrics, and to whether music is the media for protraying ‘serious’ messages or do people just listen for fun. It sounds like you're ranting on about various things, and trying to get a message through to people, but is music the right medium. Do you create the music because you have a message, or the message because you have to fill the music with words?

It's part and parcel with us. Primarily it's about music. If someone comes to one of our gigs and doesn't pick up on any of the personal politics, then that's cool, that's credible. It's about music at the end of the day, we're musicians, that's what we do all day. But there’ is an idea and a message with the band. But obviously the best forum for politics is the political stage.

As I mentioned at the begining, this is where I can start to get out of my depth. I have no political allegiance, apart from thinking they should all be shot. But don’t take me up on that. And so I am as guilty of apathy as the next person. But as the band have things to say, I figure it's important to try and ask these things and give them the opportunity.

I just wondered if you’d considered doing anything like (Jello) Biafra and spoken word as a way of passing the message on to an audience that is in that situation, more prepared to listen and think?

I think my voice is too horrible to do a spoken word album John laughs. The PA broke in Camberly and I had to do a stand up spot, a 20 minute spot. And it's too hard.

Which in a way is a shame, as the guy obviously has many things to say, and judging by the manner in which he handles gigs, would seem to be an entertaining enough person to be able to put forward his opinions in a manner which is both challenging and entertaining. Bit like Biafra's spoken word stuff. Check out the ‘Beyond the valley of the gift police’ 3-CD set.

At the end of each of the current gigs, JS has been flying out a flier. It's reproduced here for your pleasure! Anyway, the week that this interview took place also happened to be the week that John Presscott was doused by a member of Chumbawumba at the music awards. I don't know the reasons for it, but, assuming that like the flier, there is a message behind the action, isn't it a case that this is just provocation for the sake of it, and that the real message will get lost on the people that really need to hear it the most. That's the unconverted who will just look at it and call it a cheap jibe.

Well, I don't know the stance for it, that's something you'd have to find from the member who did it. I think it's hilarious. The Belgian pie-flinger gets all them. He got Bill Gates the other day. The Belgian guy, he's a bit of a terrorist, but instead of hurting people he just custard pies politicians. He custard pie'd Bill Gates the head of Microsoft the other day. You'd have to see. I mean they might just genuinely hate all the shit things he does, and want to get him. Impossible to say.

As for our fliers, that’s how I feel. John turns to ask his brother how much money was spent on flowers for Diana. 2 or 3 million pounds comes back the answer. People won't piss on a guy who’s on fire and homeless, but they'll give 2 million pounds worth of money for something that will decay for a woman they knew nothing about and had nothing in common with.

Which I tend to agree with, having had enough experience of that sort of situation. But it's still likely that people will simply look at it, and because the name Diana is being associated with something other than sainthood, will consider it to be sick.

Well, uh, good luck to anybody that thinks that. I think cynicism is the healthiest thing can you. What healthier disrespect for authority than cynicism.

Ok, with the Presscott thing. Couldn't people just see what was going to happen, or not as the case may be seen to be, when New Labour took over. I remember seeing a political broadcast during the election by the Tories which predicted the headlines in the 6 months that would follow a Labour victory. The headlines may be different, but the idea that was being portrayed seems to be coming true.

The government works this way. There's a guy with his hand up two puppets. One of them is red. It doesn't make any difference. Nothing's changed. You can't change it. What every party does, is they try to push through so many laws before they get out of power, so the next party spends the next four years trying to break down those laws and push in the ones that they want, y'know what I mean. So you don't just take over a perfectly running machine. The country is a diseased engine that you inherit. I think Tony Blair's not done anything. He hasn't changed the Criminal Justice Act. He's brought the party so far from the left of centre to get into power, that there's virtually no difference. 290,000 low paid blue collar jobs Blair wants to fill compulsory with 18-26 year olds who are unemployed. If that legislation had been in when we left college and shit, there'd be no Pitchshifter cos we would’ve gone straight into a shit job, and wouldn’t have had time to write music.

Isn't it similar to the Youth Training Scheme that used to be around though?

It's irrelevent what party though. 3% of the country own 100% of the land.

So is there anything that can be done about this then?

Well nobody knows anything about it. It's like what do people think about Saddam Hussein? (he’s onto what was coming next). They think he's some sort of loony that's got 1000 nuclear bombs. It's not like that. We've been fucking Iraq over for years. Selling him bombs, building them up, then telling him they have to let us have our bombs back or we're going to fly over and bomb the shit out of them. And then sanction them.

I was going to ask about him. Isn't it a bit hypocritical that we are threatening someone for not showing their weapons to us, when we and the States are some of the biggest producers of weapons anyway. Or are our ways of killing more moral than his. Does it matter. If you're killed, you're still dead wheather it was a chemical weapon, a nuclear bomb or a Scud missile.

Well we sold all the materials to them anyway. England sold "machine tools" to Iraq and America sold "farming equipment" to them which suddenly got turned into bombs. Well fuck me. I mean, what happened. Did they get the A Team in to modify them and now it’s a Scud missile. I don't think so. I think we sold them the parts because we knew we'd have better ones, be able to fly in there and bomb the shit of them, sanction them, and still make more money.

But if the A Team did it that's ok, ‘cos no-one ever got killed in the A Team.

Indonesia. I pay tax now, I never paid tax in my life before. I get paid now to play in Pitchshifter and pay taxes. 800 million pounds of English money goes to the Indonesiona government. The Indonesian government is eradicating (at this point, the door opened, and as a result I can't make out the name given. And as I don't really follow politics anyway, I'm too ignorant to know as general knowledge. Sorry) It's destroyed 2/3 of the population. In percentage terms that’s worse than the Jews in the Second World War. But nothing's on the news about it. They don't tell you on the news. On the bit at the end they don't go "and finally, your tax money is helping to destroy an entire race of people". It doesn't happen does it, but people need to know about it. Maybe if we knew more, then we'd kick up some kind of fuss about it. That's what we try to do.

And isn’t'it conveniant that the main topic of interest over the past few weeks has been the all important ‘did Clinton sleep with someone or not?’

I think this country is quite pitiful. We’re the only country that's never had a fucking revolution.

Is it more serious than whether he can actually do the job or not of running the country.

It's a Republican democracy. Bill Clinton, it's a citizenship. He wasn't ordained or fucking knighted by anybody. He isn't a King. He was hired to do a job. Just because his penis might be up somebody elses wife doesn't mean he's suddenly got no grasp of world economics or politics does it. Obviously if he's asked her to lie in Federal court then that's something different. But you're talking about a country that still denies that it murdered J.F. Kennedy. You know, why don't they just come out. Someone from the CIA just say "well yeah, actually we did kill him. He was doing to many good things. He was fucking up prostition and gambling."

So was Diana murdered?

I don't think Diana was murdered. I do think though that the Chinook hellicopter that crashed into the Mull of Kyntyre with 15 MI6 leaders on. They were killed. The Mull of Kyntyre, there's flat land for about 100 miles, and then there's a massive hill, and the pilot flew straight into it. Just happened to have 15 guys who ran MI5 and MI6 in it that was just getting changed over. "Let me see!!" They just don't tell you.

That super gun that's in Iraq. Complete lie. In the first Gulf War, this theory was that Iraq had amassed thousand of ground troops on the border of Iraq/Kuwait, which was later found to be completely untrue. And secondly the rumour was that Iraqi troops had turfed out Kuwaiti babies when they took over hospitals from incubators, so that they could use the incubators to make chemical warfare weapons. These are the 2 stories that made everyone in the West say "yes, it's ok to fly out and bomb the shit out of Saddam Hussein’, he's a lunatic." Both stories were proved to be completely untrue. A B.B.C journalist went out there and said no Kuwait babies had been turfed out. You can't even do anything for chemical weapons with an incubator. I remember it being hyped. "Iraqi devil army kills children. Millions of troops amassed with chemical weapons." And it's like, complete bollocks. The worst thing that happened in the Gulf War is all the British soldiers that went over there took all the anti-dotes to biological weapons and they're now sick. It's totally fucked up.

And of course, Clinton has a little victorious excursion that takes all eyes of him. Let's face it, Iraq does not pose any fucking threat to America. If America sent 1/100th of its military forces. it could fucking annihilate Iraq. There'd be a hole where Iraq was which says "America was here".

I mean, Iraq has let us inspect all its weapons since the Gulf War, and we’ve been buying oil from Kuwait, so they're getting richer, while sanctioning Iraq. They're saying "well, we don’t want the sanctions anymore, we want to be able to sell oil" They're sick of everyone being there. This is quite a controversial point of view JS points out about things. So what if they have got 6 drops of this lethal fucking chemical, what's he going to fire it with. The only weapons that they have got is last years technology now.

Ok, that's all probably got most people either angry or at least thinking about things, which is partly the point I guess. I don't know ‘the truth’ and whether what went on, or is going on now is wrong or right. What I do know is that the time I was given for the interview is rapidly slipping away, if it hasn’t passed already. So time to return to the more passive concepts of music and the band, and ask if Jim (Davies, new guitarist blokey that is sat in the corner) is now in the band for good?

Er, yeah alright then is the short and sweet answer from the man himself.

And, having done this tour before the album is out, any plans to do another one in a couple of months?

Album out March 8th points out John. We might do a quick tour of England before we go to Europe and America. It's been good. We've been playing venues of between 250 and 750 capacity. Sold most of them out. It's all on word of mouth really. So it's been quite refreshing to see the amount of loyalty our fans have. We will do some support slots.

Which seems just about the best point that I can think of to finish up this interview. It wan't so bad after all. I guess I've been lucky once more in that the people I've interviewed have been helpful and friendly. And this was no exception. So with another handshake, and the recommendation of John to read or get a CD to listen to, of Noam Chomsky, I leave the room and my face can start to return to it’s normal colour, instead of the bright red it goes whenever I interview someone. As I leave, they ask if I have a camera to take some pitcures. I explain that I have a fear of cameras, especially pointed at me. And if JS did take a picture with the camera he's been fiddling with during the interview, he's a dead man!

I leave by handing over a System of a Down tape (told you I'd get them in somehow. If only I could find a way to mention Goilla as well. Ah, there you go). And the gig was a blinder again, even in front of a less than enthusiastic crowd. The album is going to be immense.