With Infotainment? the genius of the band's metamorphosis only hinted at what was to come. Intertwining hard hitting guitar riffs, breakneck breakbeats and clever samples, 1997's www.pitchshifter.com found Pitchshifter shedding the last remnants of their industrial skin and emerging as a group of sleek, hard hitting, futuristically frenetic and snotty punkers. And proving that they could be just as impressive with their techno savvy beyond its musical applications, the band launched their official website along with the release of the album, inviting their fans to take a deeper look into the musical, political and social processes that they built their music around. Taking an avid interest in interacting with their fans on a personal level, it's one of the few music sites on the Internet where you can expect a ready reply from the band members to most any question asked of them.
Having signed to MCA earlier this year in the aftermath of the Universal/Polygram merger, Pitchshifter released their self-produced EP, Un-UK, and are currently in the studio with famed producer Dave Jerden putting the finishing touches on their MCA debut, Deviant--scheduled to be released sometime around April of 2000. Both releases once again find the band shape-shifting their sound into something more. Still containing familiar elements that even old 'Shifter fans will recognize, the new releases find the band taking many of the layered samples and loops they wove into www.pitchshifter.com and peeling them back to focus more on a fuller, more rock 'n' roll approach to their music. Don't be mistaken, the technology is still there and Pitchshifter are still at the forefront of applying their signature chaos...
I caught up with Pitchshifter's singer and mastermind of mayhem Jon Clayden--who, along with his brother Mark (bass,) Johnny Carter (guitars/programming), Jim Davies (guitars) and "D" Walters (live percussion) make up the band--outside of their L.A. recording studios in early November. It wasn't the first time interviewing Jon, I had the honor back in '97 when the band was touring in support of www.pitchshifter.com [click here to read craig's previous interview with pitchshifter. --ed.] With a wry smile and animated gestures, the always amicable Jon filled me in on Pitchshifter's new album, old sound, gifts from fans, black eyes from right wing nuts, people shagging sidestage at shows, and why we could all learn a thing or two from Guy Fawkes.
Jon Clayden: [laughing] Horrible. It's rubbish!
Waitress: Are you guys recording me?
No. [pointing to Jon] I'm recording him.
[Jon picks up the recorder and points it at the waitress]
Waitress: No, don't do that!
Jon: Too late, I've already done it. I'm going to play it back and it's going to say, "No, don't do that!"
[The waitress takes our order and hurridly leaves]
Jon: The album's coming along really well--surprisingly well. We did a lot of pre-production work in the PSI studios...about three months solid. So there's nothing to write. All we're doing is basically recreating everything through really expensive microphones. [laughs]
Is it taking the same direction as the Un-UK EP?
Jon: No. Umm... "Everything Sucks"--which is a song on the EP--is the song that's most like the new album. "Un-United Kingdom" was a bit of fun, really.
"Un-United Kingdom"--and the rest of the songs on the EP--definitely seem to be more organic in the musical approach. Fewer samples. Or at least the song isn't driven by them. It's more of a rock 'n' roll feel and it reminded me some of the Sex Pistols.
Jon: We didn't want to put that song on the album because we wanted to put something out between our last album and this upcoming one. It had been such a long time because we had been touring for so long. So we wanted to put a little EP out, and it made sense to put "Un-UK" on that rather than on the album because "Un-UK" is not like any other song on the album.
So what's the new album sound like then?
Jon: It's a lot more guitar based and there are a lot more "songs." We really tried to strip down to the essence of Pitchshifter. A lot of the songs are shorter and a few of them are a bit slower. Our last album was like a bullet train. You put it on and it flies all the way through. [laughing] On this album there's actually some different and difficult tempos. You'd be insane to have a guitarist of Jim Davies ability and not exploit it, which he wasn't on the dot-com [www.pitchshifter.com] album, really.
He seems to have had a big influence on the Un-UK EP. It has a much different feel than www.pitchshifter.com. I take it he's also been a big influence on Deviant?
Jon: Yeah, well it's been Jim and I who have written all the songs on this album. And I've done quite a lot of programming as well. Johnny's [Carter] only done a bit of the programming. It's just how it's worked out.
Jim's great to work with! He's just like me, just a big kid. Ha! One of us will have a stupid idea: "Oh, I can do this! I can do that!" And it just snowballs until the song is done.
Even as Un-UK and the new album are further progressions in the evolution of Pitchshifter's music, you can still find some of the fundamentals of your former sound(s) buried in the songs. The guitar harmonics in the opening of "Kerosene" remind me of Johnny's guitar work on Desensitized. And, as well, some of the bass chord progressions on "Everything Sucks (Again)" sound like vintage 'Shifter. Do you purposely try to incorporate these elements into the music, or is it that you're unable to entirely divorce yourself from them? Or are you even aware that they exist?
Jon: It just comes out. Uh... I don't really classify ourselves as "musicians." I think Jim is one--obviously--because he learned how to play his instrument and he knows what he's doing. I think if you're a "musician" you have a choice: "Oh, I can play this, or, I can play this..." And you choose the styles. We don't choose, it's just the way it comes out. There's no choice made in any of these songs, it's just the way they have to come out. It's just natural.
I don't think we want to divorce ourselves from those things. We happen to like fucking heavy guitars. Ha ha ha! And some of the elements from our older stuff is going to remain 'cause they're the best that we liked, and they worked so we're going to keep 'em.
People keep saying to me, "Are you going to become a dance band?" And all this and all that, and it's just...ugh! You use a sample and people think you're becoming a dance band. I'd say this album is more rock in a classical sense than any of the others. It's got real solid song structures and a lot of guitar work; there's choruses, versus, bridges...
What drives the song process? Do you have something in mind when you sit down to write or does it just come out?
Jon: I usually have the chorus... One verse and the chorus worked out, and I'll work backwards from that. Or I'll hum...heh...I'll hum guitar riffs to Jim and he'll play 'em. I can't really play guitar well, so I just sit in a room and make insane noises and stuff to Jim and then we work out what it's going to be.
I read an interview with Jello Biafra in Punk Planet a couple of years ago where he mentioned doing the same thing. He would hum, sing...whatever...his musical ideas into a dictaphone and go, "Okay, this is the verse, this is the chorus, etc."
Jon: Yeah, that's exactly how it is with me.
Speaking of Jello, I heard that he laid down some vocal tracks for you recently and I remember in our first interview you mentioning meeting Jello when you played Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco back in '98. At the time you talked about how you always wanted to work with him. Now it looks like that dream has finally came to fruition. How did it come about?
Jon: I've known Jello for a couple of years. We sent him our first album [Industrial] on vinyl because he asked for one. And since then we've sent him copies of all our albums over the years. I've had loads of correspondence with him. I wanted to get him to do a mix of one of the tunes on the last album, but that didn't work out. He's always been busy, doin' his spoken word stuff and what not. We were originally going to the this new album in the UK, so it was looking like we weren't going to be able to do it again. But then we ended up recording here in L.A. and Jello said, "I'm doing a spoken thing with Michael Franti [Spearhead], Ice T and Perry Farrell."
Was that the Spitfire Spoken Word Tour?
Jon: Yeah, it was the Spitfire thing. And he said he could come in and do it that day the tour was in town. He hadn't even heard the song! He came in and asked, "What's the premise?" Okay, the song's called "As Seen On TV," and the main lyric is: "I can't deny it's killing me / No one loses on TV." Jello came in and said, "Okay, I'll be the Ad man then," and he just made up these totally insane adverts! His lyrics go: "Each new generation has a statement it wants to make all it's own / Tattoos, piercings, that's for moms and dads / What you need is devil horn implants, an elephant man head, prosthetic tails / Third leg, fourth leg, everyone's a hermaphrodite!"
It just came out of his insane genius in like four takes within an hour. He says, "Do you like it?" Yeah! "Okay, I'm gonna go do my show now." He's a madman!
I actually went out with Jello and Vinnie SPIT. Have you heard of Vinnie? He does this like fetish porn band thing with his wife, Mistress Jackqueline, who's a dominatrix. They've got a band together and have songs like "Asshole Man." Heh. We went to Jello's show and then me, Jello, Vinnie and his wife went to Jerry's Diner--the big, famous Hollywood diner that everyone goes to. There's this huge table of girls, and one of them came up to Jim and she goes, "Excuse me..." I'm sitting there thinkin' that no one can recognize who Jimmy is. And she goes, "Excuse me, are you the singer from 311?" Ha ha ha! I was cryin...it was platinum!
But anyway, yeah, it was a great honor to work with Jello. Even band like System of a Down; that guy borrows so much from Jello...the things that he says and the way he says 'em. The thing that sucks is that there's a whole generation of kids who don't know who the Dead Kenndys are; they think that Offspring are punk. And I think they really need know and maybe they will if they listen to this tune, hopefully.
Were you nervous at all to work with him as he has been a longstanding idol of yours?
Jon: No. Although the first time I met him I went "OHMYGODTHAT'SJELLOBIAFRA!" But no, I wasn't nervous at all, it was really easy going. He's such an amazing lyricist; he's a natural. If he were black he'd be a rapper. He just has that natural ability with the way he uses word play and the way he thinks instantly, on his feet. He came in and said, "I'll just make something up," and I was thinking, "Oh, shit..." But he just did it. He did like five different verses and told me to pick the two that I wanted. And I was just, "You are the Man!" Jello is the Man...
The first time I met him I was chattin' a woman up after a gig and this guy shambled up to me and said, "Great gig." I just said "thanks" and turned back around to this beautiful woman. Then my brain kicked in and said "THAT'S JELLO BIAFRA!!!" So I turned back around to him and dropped the woman like a stone...which I'm ashamed to admit.