Dan Rayner on where they've been this time, social conscience, DIY and playing with the underdogs...
Photo by Matt Pritchard
In the nineties Pitchshifter grew out of the underground to become one of the bands at the forefront of British metal, with records like Deviant and www.pitchshifter.com cementing their reputation as the masters of electronic rock fusion. In 2003 the group disappointed many fans by disbanding, and although they always hinted at a comeback, never calling their time apart Ďa split', fans were never sure when they would get to see the almighty PSI onstage again. After a brief return in the Autumn of 2004, Pitchshifter are back again for 2006, with a new tour and EP release None For All And All For One. Louise Brown caught up with Dan Rayner to ask them where they've been this time, social conscience, DIY and playing with the underdogs...
Obvious question, but why have Pitchshifter got back together now?
Dan: Well, we never really broke up. If you read the small print, it says, indefinite hiatus. And I don't know, I guess that's a cover all clause, but Pitchshifter has evolved into something really quite interesting now. Obviously musically, we were always an interesting, progressive band, but as a group of individuals now, it's kind of a really nice network of people with divergent sorts of tastes and talents. We've all got a lot of other stuff going on. There's no label pressure because we are the label and there's no 18 months touring or recording schedule and people forcing us to do stuff we don't want to do. It means now that we're completely hegemonic and we can do whatever we want.
When we feel the time is right, we all put gaps in our schedules and we all come back together and that's what happens. We don't sort of sit down and have a strategy meeting. We don't all like fly in like Thunderbirds, but after a while it just starts to feel right and I'll have a conversation with Jase or John to see what's going on, and it just comes together like that.
But you've not all been quiet have you? Members of Pitchshifter have been in various bands...
Yeah, sure. John's (J.S. Clayden, vocals - Ed. PSI Ed.) over in LA. He's doing a lot of management for people but he's also spending most of his time running PSI Records. As well as being a regular record label for Pitchshifter they also released This Is Menace stuff, which is Mark (Clayden, bass - Ed.) and Jason's (Bowlds, drummer - Ed.) massive side project that's sort of taken over the rock world, with every singer you can think of appearing on their groups of albums. They're recording a new album as we speak. I heard some of it the other day, it sounds amazing.
Then me and my brother (Tim - Ed.), we're in Drawbacks, which is a sort of production thing, couple of producers that we are, and occasionally getting time to go out and do gigs and put an EP out. We've got a new EP called I-Bomb coming out in May, but we spend most of our time remixing other people, like 'Menace for instance, and doing production for people, and production music. John pushes our music into film and stuff in LA, that's how we hook up, still working within the Pitchshifter family when we're not Pitchshifter.
Interesting that you talk about electronic music because that's almost Pitchshifter's stamp, that's how you recognise the Pitchshifter sound. When you started the mixing of electronic music into rock music was very unusual. Would you say Pitchshifter is more based in the electronic medium than you are to rock?
Yeah. Well, no, not more. I mean, personally, my background was sort of skate rock and all that sort of thing, from being a kid. I just got into electronic music through film and the textural side of things, and then bands like Boom Boom Satellites, a sort of Japanese techno band. Me and Tim got involved with Pitchshifter through Jim, the ex guitar player. There was no sort of, you're fired and you're in, kind of thing. It was actually Jim, the ex guitar player, who brought us in to play guitar. They were in America, recording PSI and they needed more programming and we'd worked with Jim previously to that, so he knew we would be able to provide the goods. We went over to programme, so we covered all the electronic side and all the sort of remix production side of Pitchshifter, and that's something that's carried on now that we're like ensconced in the bands, if you like.
I don't listen to mainly electronic music. A lot of people that are into electronic music I don't really rate. I find it really hard to like electronic music, a lot of it. Maybe I'm not looking in the right places. I find a lot of it formulaic with people using the same machines. Anything electronic that's chart bound, people find a hit with one sound and one keyboard, in one summer, and then the record labels want a million of those. It isn't what inspires me. I come from a real rock background. My mum and dad went to see Led Zeppelin when my mum was pregnant with me and that sort of took me over from there. I love anything from the Beach Boys to Boom Boom Satellites really. If you ask what our influences are, you won't necessarily find out what we sound like, you know?
Pitchshifter have got a very original sound. Have you come back to fill a gap in the music industry for your style of music?
There's no strategy. It's not like, you know, a corporate mission, like, now is a good time to really push the band into the next stage. It's not like that.
Pitchshifter were one of the first bands to have a really strong online presence. No other bands are really getting online the way Pitchshifter is. We're a forward thinking band. We are always looking for new avenues to move into. And so we interface directly with the fans online all the time with forums and people can get in touch with us directly and you can go to drawbacks.net or thisismenance.com and speak straight to us, so we have a pretty good dialogue with our fans and what they want. And at the same time, because Pitchshifter is quite a broad church, from techno to metal and some in between, the fans also follow the other parts of the Pitchshifter family, Drawbacks or This is Menace. This is Menace is incredibly heavy, and Drawbacks' like really, really heavy electronic, but Pitchshifter sort fuses all those elements. The kids that come and see us, and some aren't kids anymore, they're pretty broad and open minded, so it's seems that the more diverse we can make our activities, the happier they are. A lot of fans just want their band like Motorhead to keep making the same album over and over again. Some people may want Dot Com over and over again, but luckily most people are happy to find something new and will be interested in what we're doing.
Lyrically, J.S. is quite outspoken. When Pitchshifter first started out, a lot of bands were very outspoken. Bands like Dubwar and Rage Against The Machine for example, yet recently bands have become less vocal about social issues. Are Pitchshifter still politically-minded?
I've got massive opinions about Global Politics. It's all I read about and care about. Well, not all about. I care about my family and my dogs and things like that. But it's a massive subject, if you look at how many people control the media. And what happens when there's another illegal war? Who isn't allowed to go on the radio? You can see how people are sidelined.
I think it's all about manufacturing apathy. You know, the Murdoch's of this world are really not acting in the public interest and providing them with details of what their countries are doing in their people's name. Having said that, neo conservatives have been a bit too greedy. It's reaching critical mass now where people are starting to give a sh*t again.
Political lyrics, political movements and politics are, you know, totally intertwined and irremovable from each other. You may go through phases where everyone thinks everything's dandy because certain, for want of a better word, wankers, control the media, but people will find out, especially with the web. You've got some of the most important media sources on the web, like Media Lens (www.medialens.org - Ed.), to look at every news story from the BBC, from all the organised media, and they will tell people actually behind the media what's going on. They've got people on the ground who aren't embedded, risking their own lives to get you actual news and stuff like that. We want people to know about that, but not care about it just cos we're in a band and we care about it. We're just saying go and find out about it and see what you think.
Going back to your online presence... You were one of the first bands to utilise the internet to your advantage but since you've been away there's been a real online explosion with Myspace Music and Pure Volume and the Downloading Issue. What are your thoughts on that?
My thoughts aren't clear about the downloading issue. I don't think you're really getting the full argument about the downloading issue. Musician wise we are independent. We are PSI records so we will not be able to survive so easily if people download our music, but I think downloading is a really good way of spreading new music. Then you get Sony BMG saying, oh we can't promote new artists because of the downloading. Well they don't f*cking promote any new artists anyway! They look at what's selling and what's damaging the share prices, and fuck new artists, no matter how important they are to music. Nobody's going to look after the music industry except musicians.
We give loads of music away. I mean, the only way you can get the new EP is to buy a ticket to the gig. It's not going to be released anywhere else. So we really care about what we do and we care about music as a whole. It's got to be looked after and nurtured. Downloading has to be seen for what it is. I think a lot of people do it not knowing what happens to musicians, how it affects them, and yet major labels cry wolf. Well, the reason no one's buying records is because HMV are charging you £17 for an album. You're not going to buy that on speculation. It's just greed. They're destroying music. Short term is greed... So we have less to give away but we're happy to give some of that away, in order to keep music safe from harm.
That brings us onto the Pitchshifter ethic, which is extremely DIY and very steeped in punk rock. You've got your own record label, and as you say, online you interact directly with your fans. They don't get some street-teamer or label dogsbody. How important is the DIY attitude to Pitchshifter?
Oh, it's a matter of importance. Pitchshifter has been around a long time now, but I feel that at this point, although we're not the most prolific we've ever been, we're really sort of satisfied with the way things are, because we do have that to and fro interface with people. We can respond to what they like and what they don't like, and at the same time, we respond most importantly to what we like about life. We do what we like, and not in an arrogant way. And there's no pressure, there's no marketing machine, and yet Pitchshifter has such a good fan base that we can do this. We don't need the leviathan of the music industry to be pushing our music because people know where to find us. You know, the DIY thing was there at the beginning and it's there now more than ever.
The one thing I've got to say about PSI is you use your influence and experience to support the underground and the underdogs. I think you were the first guys to take Lostprophets out on tour, and Skindred. And of course, This is Menace are opening for your tonight. Do you get to choose the opening bands? Well, we had Architects last night in Portsmouth and they were really pretty good. And we're friends with In At The Deep End Records at Nottingham, and of course we find out about new bands from them, find out what they're putting out, what they're interested in. Nottingham is a really vibrant town. I mean Mark is the only one that's based there at the moment. Most towns are shutting down all their music venues to make executive style flats, but Nottingham, luckily, has Rock City, the sort of nucleus of the music scene up there, so Mark's always got his ear to the ground with new bands. He'll always try and bring them out on tour to give them a leg up, and that's something we all really care about. Like I said before, we have to look after music, nurture it.
It must be quite tight-knit then. You call it a family, but it actually is! Is it fun being back on the road together?
Three sets of brothers, yeah, and the one and only Jason Bowld. Well, he has got brothers, it's just a good job there's not four of them in the band! It's just been great. It's been really good. I mean I don't get to see Johnny a lot with him being in LA. When he's over here, we sort of see him but we live at different ends of country. It's not just the band. You know, my guitar tech is one of my best friends. I love him to bits. So it is really like a family. I know a lot of bands talk like that and it's usually bullsh*t and it lasts for five minutes and then they all hate each other, but we're older and wiser. It isn't a massive pressure for us all to succeed, and so we're all laid back, so it is like a real family unit. These last two tours especially have been so mellow, so chilled.
Is that because you're getting too old for all of this?
Ha ha, not at all, no. I think you get better. Things like song craft production, you know, some of the best producers around are like 70 years old, you know, because it takes a damn long time to get super good at something. It helps to start with a raw spark of talent, which obviously Pitchshifter have, and then we just learn how to make it better.
Finally, what are your plans now you are back together?
Finish our tour. London tonight, Nottingham tomorrow, which should both be brilliant gigs. London is sort of a home town for me and Tim, then Nottingham is the spiritual home of the band and we're big friends of the owners of Rock City, so they always look after us. There's always a great crowd there, being the band's home town. So get that done, and then we're going off to do some remixes for various people. John's flying straight back to LA.
There's some discussion about a few European things in the pipeline, but again, we're not going to say we must do it because that's what our lives depend on. We'll see if everyone's around and if it's something we really want to do, and then we'll do it again. It's not out of sight, out of mind, but the more time we spend together, the more time we talk about Pitchshifter. It's funny in that way. If we don't do anything, we don't talk about it; do more stuff, and we talk about doing more stuff.
New limited edition EP None For All, And All For One is now available from www.pitchshifter.com in both unsigned and signed versions.