Saturday, July 30, 2011

Why did Earache sign Pitch Shifter?

Question from Marshall: Why did Earache sign PitchShifter back in the early 90's? They were highly influennced and sounded almost identical to Godflesh (in the early days), and you have been known to not sign bands in the past(Fear Factory etc) for sounding to much like other Earache artists.

Thanks from

Answer: Good question- I actually dunno why I bothered with Pitch Shifter, what a collosal waste of space that band turned out to be. The short answer is because they were a local Nottingham band, we moved in similar circles, they were on our doorstep and I'd seen their buzz building up close. In truth, the main reason is because they pretty much blagged themselves onto on the label. PSI are the only band I've worked with who kinda begged to be signed up to the label - and during their 4 year stint on Earache released 2 x EPs & 2 x albums. The band later also campaigned and begged- very vociferously, very bitterly and publicly - to be let go from the label deal whilst it was still ongoing. They got their wish.

Here's the early PSI sound on the Deconstruction clip:

It's true that for a few years Pitch Shifter were known within the scene as Poor Man's Godflesh.Also on the circuit were Londoners Sonic Violence who were affectionately known as Shit Godflesh. Both bands more or less aped & copied the Birmingham band's unique Industrialised Metal sound around 1990-2. PSI seemed to do everything Godflesh did, but a couple of years after them. Be it signing with Earache, varying their sound, doing film soundtracks, or signing a major label deal- which PSI inked with Geffen in 1997. Godflesh were released on Sony/Earache in the USA in 1993. They'll probably even reform 2 years after Godflesh!

Pitch Shifter didn't play grindcore or Death Metal, their sound utilised the latest music technology of the day- drum machines, early samplers, but with heavy guitars & growly vocals. It resulted in a sound which was very cool and contemporary for the time. Industrial Metal was widely viewed in the Music Industry as the "next big thing" after Grunge, so the Industrial Metal/Rock scene spawned a ton of major-label acts like Stabbing Westward & Gravity Kills in the early-mid 90s period. Though it must be said that it was Ministry & Nine Inch Nails and to some extent Godflesh who were the innovators and leaders of the scene. They put it on the map.

Back in the early 1990's though, scoring a major label deal was the last thing on the bands mind, they just wanted to get signed, and so Pitch Shifter's debut album "Industrial" appeared on Peaceville. Peaceville were presumably chuffed to get their very own Godflesh sound-a-like on the roster, and the band were up and running with a record in the shops.

During that period, I got on best with original PSI guitarist Stuart Toolin and from memory it was him who opened the discussions with me to see if Earache could get involved with PSI, citing severe lack of promotion by Peaceville as holding them back from progressing. Their shrewd and very persuasive manager Stuart Knight - he's the fella brandishing the flame throwers in the Deconstruction clip - also made the case for the band being on Earache. So a deal was duly signed and PSI walked away from Peaceville to become an Earache artist. Obviously I had no clue at the time they'd repeat the process some years later, to leave Earache and sign with Geffen.

Heres the Triad clip from their debut Earache album, 'Desensitised':

Almost as soon as the ink was dry on the contracts, the problems started. Stuart Toolin was ousted from the group, and in hindsight, it was from this time onwards that ours and the bands ideas began to differ, as the label's main contact in the PSI camp had gone. Frontman Jon 'JS' Clayden became the band leader and its fair to say I've never seen eye-to-eye with him. Despite this, during the course of their two albums for Earache, the Pitch Shifter fanbase grew steadily, and the band experimented with their sound, so as to not follow in Godflesh's slipstream anymore.I encouraged them to listen to The Prodigy and the burgeoning UK underground dance/rave culture for new inspiration, which they were reluctant to do at first. I remember well Jon Clayden's comment on the matter: "Techno scares me". The band seemingly absorbed the advice though, as rudimentary drum n bass/breakbeat samples appeared on 1996's Infotainment album, which finally shook off the Godflesh comparisons once and for all.

The album was a breakthrough of sorts, charting high on the Independent charts, which boosted the bands profile considerably. Behind the scenes though, things weren't as upbeat, as a looming sense of dissatisfaction began to develop between the band's camp and label.

In hindsight, I'm fairly sure the signing of local Notts/Derby hopefuls Bivouac to Geffen had a lot to do with the Earache-PSI deal ending. When Nirvana toured the UK in the early years, a crazy dancer would jump onstage with them. Kurt Cobain took a real shine to the fella, and he became an onstage fixture with Nirvana. The dancer was Tony Hodgkinson, drummer of Biviouc. This chance association with the world's biggest selling band at the time brought Geffen A&R's beating a path to Bivouac's door.

Bivouac and Pitch Shifter shared the same management team so around that time the possibility of Geffen getting involved with PSI too, became apparent. Just one snag stood in their way -Earache held the band's Recording contract for two more albums. It's impossible for me to blame any band for wanting to move onto a major deal from an Indie, because the difference in finances and promotional clout offered by Geffen, when compared to an Indie like Earache is seriously vast.Bare in mind this story happened in mid-90s, and the differences between Majors and Indies is less huge nowadays.

However, the underhanded way Pitch shifter engineered their move showed absolutely zero respect for Earache. Even though I cancelled the contract to allow the band to move on, Jon Clayden made absolutely scandalous and unfounded remarks about Earache for years afterwards, presumably to justify their move to their core fanbase, and themselves. The bloke has breathtaking arrogance, and no class whatsoever.

Pitch Shifter's last clip for Earache- Underachiever.

On Geffen Pitchshifter refined their sound to become a slicker modern industrial rock band and did enjoy a high level of success, with regularly charting singles in the UK and numerous placements of songs in computer games and movies. The band were dropped after a single album on Geffen, before moving onto a succession of other labels- MCA, Mayan/Sanctuary, while later releases post 2003, have been self-released under a PSI records label.

Here's their biggest Geffen-era single: Genius

Nowadays Pitchshifter appears to be on semi-permanent hiatus, consisting of the core duo of the Clayden brothers plus various touring musicians. Ex-guitarist Johnny Carter teamed up with ex-Bivouac Paul Yeadon and together they run a local Nottingham studio/production unit The Moot Group. The ex-PSI management run Xtaster which is a successful UK street team/promotion company for music and film.


The Thing That Should Not Be said...

I was playing in an industrial band back in the mists of time, called Recurring Images Of Torture, and Peaceville were interested in us, but couldn't sign us at the time as they basically spent all their money on Anathema! Hahahaha!
I knew JS Clayden a bit and, yes, he was an arrogant bastard.

Anonymous said...

JS Clayden was always a giant tosser. His brother Mark is alright though. Everybody in the Notts scene from back in the day will agree with that.

CernunnosTrismegistus said...

Wow, their stuff really gets worse as it goes along. I much prefer them as a Godflesh rip-off band. At least they were aping a band that got it right.

I've always found the "industrial metal" or "industrial rock" label a rather misleading because it's basically just a depository for any kind of mash-up of aggressive electronic music (not even necessarily industrial) and aggressive hard rock, irrespective of which sub-genre of each it comes from.

I mean, how is it that Ministry, Godflesh, and Nine Inch Nails can share the same genre space, or that Pitchshifter's changes in style could all remain under the heading "industrial metal" if the label wasn't woefully imprecise? Ministry sounds like punky thrash over top of EBM drum beats, while Godlfesh's roots are in Swans' doomy noise rock, Big Black's drum machines, and the harsh soundscapes of Throbbing Gristle and Whitehouse. And Nine Inch Nails isn't even close to sounding like the other two.

And then you have bands like The Berzerker being called "industrial death metal" when they're basically Carcass-esque death/grind over top of gabber beats - which isn't industrial at all.

Anonymous said...

I actually think Deviant is Pitchshifter's best album. It's actually one of my favorite albums. I don't really like their albums before ".com" though. I think their sound is more unique for that record (.com) and the two after it(Deviant & PSI). I actually met the guys when they toured with Cold/Gravity Kills in '98 and thought they were extremely nice and gracious with the fans. They hung out after the show and signed stuff for everybody. So, as a fan, I wish they'd release a new album.

Anonymous said...

Sonic Violence is totally underrated me thinks. Their "Jagd" LP was as a huge slab of raw meat, pure hate and loathing.
PSI is shit though.

Olik Nesnah said...

While I like early Pitchshifter, I definitely hear the Godflesh influence. I also disagree that Pitchshifter got rid of that title (Godflesh rip-offs.) while experimenting with drum'n'bass on Infotainment. Godflesh did a ton of drum'n'bass and breakbeat tracks.