The Pitch of Pessimism
An interview with England's Pitch Shifter
by: Adrian Bromley
Imagine, if you will, an otherwise empty room, shrouded in darkness, the only light coming from the snow on a television set, then, as you stare absent mindedly at this machine that has held mankind captive for the last fifty years, you see before you...


... :click: ... tonight on CNN, bloodshed in Bosnia where a mortar has landed in a crowded market place killing dozens ... :click: ... police have seized a half a million dollars worth of marijuana, confiscated from a first grade school teacher's home in the quiet rural town of Lincoln, Nebraska ... :click: ... another teenager has been shot to death outside a night club in downtown Los Angeles, the second to happen this week ... :click: <fuzz> ... <static> ... This is the emergency broadcast system. This is just a test ... :click: ... :click: ... WELCOME TO INFOTAINMENT? <static> ...

The music and lyrics of _Infotainment?_, the latest noise assault by Nottingham, England's Pitch Shifter (PS) and follow-up to the successful 1993 opus _Desensitized_, shapes heavy visions and dosages of reality with the help of multiple samples, distortion, loud guitars and multi-faceted song styles of industrial, hip hop, techno, and jungle beats. _Infotainment?_ is the TV guide of our past, future, and present. The music and emotions sparked throughout this 'guide' pretty much makes the bloodshed on TV look like Romper Room.

J.S. Clayden, a power-packed individual not afraid to voice his opinions or stick to his own beliefs, is rather fatigued (two weeks of European press) over the phone from Earache Records offices in New York, but rather talkative. About the mindset and the construction of _Infotainment?_ he reveals: "What happened is that I hadn't personally listened to any guitar music for about eight months," says Clayden about the substantial amount of hip hop and jungle beats throughout the record. "It has all been techno, jungle, trip-hop and jazzy stuff that I have been into and it is natural for Pitch Shifter. We never have to force it, we intrinsically know. We just include stuff that we listen to.

"It is weird because PS has been more of a social experiment and a way of exchanging ideas with others around the world and more of channelling on their negative energy to positive energy. We are controlling our aggression. People find it hard to believe that I don't listen to this kind of music - ever. I do it, but I don't listen to this style of music. But for this album I was thinking, 'Well we are going to be playing this album all year' and I wanted to include elements of stuff I listen to so I can really get into it when I play."

While the record only took three months to record and assemble with the help of producer Simon Efemy, the recording of the record was slowly put together due in part to some untimely surgery for Clayden. He explains, "It took three months cause I had an operation on my leg and that took up a lot of time to recover, about six months. They had to reconstruct a muscle in my groin area (writer's note: OUCH!!!!) which is very excruciating and a bit too close to the family jewels," he jokes. "It took three months to assemble. We recorded it in two weeks and then took the whole package back to the studio where we bastardized it with samples and then we mixed it."

And while samples provide most of the intrigue about the record (quite effective on songs like "Virus", "Hangar 84", and "Product Placement"), Clayden notes the motives by the band to get back to a rawer feel with the recording and the type of music they were creating with _Infotainment?_ were essential. "We wanted a more musical feel," he says. "I came to the limit of the three chord monolithic sludge. We came to the limit of it... it is too limiting. We couldn't do anything else with it. So I do listen to more of dance style music seeing that I live in England and every car that goes down the street has that style of music blaring from the car." [he imitates music blaring from car] With a modest tone he says, "Nothing has been forced on this album. We didn't go like, 'Oh, we'll make this more dance.' The time was right to do this, to use these break beats and dance sounds."

Talking about the fact that the band (rounded out by guitarist/programmer John Carter, drummer D. Walters, and bassist Mark D. Clayden) has stolen numerous samples for the benefit of shaping their album into a frenzied noise-fest, he says, "Everyone makes out that they are the original 'God-like genius' that invented everything and that is bullshit. There are only so many chords on a guitar, drum beats or sounds from a drum. I think appropriation is an art of the 90s. There is nothing more that I like than billboard art, where someone has defaced a billboard to make it into art whether it be political or whatever. It is great. I like taking things and changing them.

"It is like the rave culture where they take logos that people know like Texaco and Shell and change them into their own thing. It is art, appropriational art." About being approached by any artists about their theft of material he laughs, "I hope not. I tried very hard to distort and change everything so that no one will ever realize. Funny thing is most of the stuff sampled here is from people that are dead. We're jamming with the dead people!" <laughs again>

Clayden is also a strong advocate of being honest and showing that through their music. He is first to admit that his lyrics are about his experiences, stuff many of PS's listeners can relate to. "I try to avoid storytelling and creating with a character because that can be pretentious. The thing with PS is [the music] is about life and if it happens to me and happens to the band it affects the music as well. If I got hit by a car, it would be a track on the album."

He goes on to say about other lyrical inspirations. "A lot of things piss me off about life and I just don't understand why things have to be the way they are. I don't understand why people have to hate people because they don't look like them. It is political but not necessarily topical politics. We are not like a band like Consolidated where we will wait for something to happen in the news to sing about it. It is personal politics in our music."

On the album title and cover image? "It is satirical. If you look at the cover you see the happy family and the PSI sign where normally you'd see CNN or BBC and a skull-faced journalist and it saying INFOTAINMENT with a question mark. People should get it... I shouldn't have to explain it," he says with sarcasm. "I just want people to get it."

The topic shifts from song lyrics to the world and its problems, primarily the problems that he has witnessed firsthand or read about daily in the United States. Is he worried about how violent and screwed up things have become? "Fuck yeah. Go to anywhere in the south and they are so full on racism. I don't take to that fact very much or that everyone has a gun here too, even parking attendants have guns. But there are a million things that bother me but everything will become the same. There are the three same things that make a 'shit culture' and Germany, England, and America have them all. They are: bad TV, beer, and pornography. They are bad for the culture. For example the news; the control is so subtle that we don't see it or realize that it is happening."

So do you believe that kids nowadays are being raised poorly because of their surrounding conditions then? "You don't get raised now, you drag yourself up don't ya?" he states. "I started smoking when I was eleven and doing a lot of other things. <laughs> I don't think people are raised any more. I think people are dragging themselves up and it is individualistic culture. Our generation, or at least mine, got lost. In England, my generation dropped out of school and became vegetarians and they challenged and examined a few ideas. Whereas the generation below us are like, 'This is my CD, my Sega, my trousers, my car and my drugs' and it is going onto a very individualist culture. It is not their fault. In the old days it was the 'duty' generation where my parents got married because it was their duty. You got your wife pregnant, it was your duty. You did stuff for your country, it was your duty. This generation is like, 'Look! We know the Earth is fucked and I want my seventy-five years as part in it before it goes under and who the fuck are you to tell me to pick up the pieces of the last generation and do my duty?' That is the generation we are in now and it is a very auto-destructive state of mind to be in. Everyone wants their seventy-five years as part of it and they are 'Outta here!'"

Future plans for PS include a possible summer tour with Neurosis in the United States. Clayden can't wait to tour and is not too picky about playing with any specific band. "I can play with any type of band. I love doing that. We have played with punk, rock and alternative bands like Fugazi, Girls Against Boys, No Means No and we have played with extreme stuff like Napalm Death and Carcass. Right now I am working on a project over here [in England] where there is a showcase where you have a DJ, then guitar band, then DJ, and again a guitar band that night with visuals. I think things need to be crossed. I think promoters under-estimate everyone. I don't want to go to a show and see six metal bands," he says loudly. "I want to see a mix of things, a crazy mix of all types of music. I want to express moods in the evening where people will get something out of the evening and go, 'Wow! I learned about different types of music today.'"

So deep down, and this has always been a real virtue for Clayden, he wants to act as an informer and not a preacher of the way things should be. "For this record to be successful is to have someone somewhere around the world come up to me and say, 'Explain to me what you mean about this.' And after telling them they'll say, 'Interesting idea and I think this.' That is success to get people to talk or understand what I do or the way they think about something. Or even to think about something they have never thought about. That is all it is about and all I want."

Slightly disillusioned he says, "I think ten people in the last five years have come up to me and told me that." Proud of where the band is at right now since their formation in 1991 he concludes, "If I wanted to make money I would have sold my ass on the street. I don't need the cash as much as I need the ideas."

(article submitted 10/5/1996)

5/10/1996 A Bromley 10 Pitch Shifter - Infotainment?
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