That Was Then/This Is Yesterday

Interview: Justin Broadrick (Godflesh/Jesu), 2003

Posted in Interviews, Metal by wwyork on February 22, 2015

In everything I do, music is there as a dialogue to my existence. And most of the people I work with, it’s the most fundamental thing in their lives. Without making it, they ain’t breathin’ anymore.

This telephone interview with the Godflesh/Jesu founder Justin Broadrick was done as background for a blink-and-you’ll-miss it spot in the dreadful Alternative Press back in 2003. At the time, Broadrick was in between Godflesh (which had broken up) and Jesu (whose first releases were still in the works). Meanwhile, Godflesh’s Messiah (recorded nearly a decade earlier) had just been re-released by Relapse, while Curse of the Golden Vampire’s second album, Mass Destruction, was on the way.

So how did the [Godflesh] Messiah release on Relapse come about?

Basically, Messiah was something we recorded in, like, 1994. We recorded it around the time we did the album Selfless. And when we did Selfless—which was on Columbia in America—we did so much stuff at that time, so we had a glut of material and we wanted to be somewhat focused about it. We had this EP that we recorded at the same time, which was Messiah, and we just sat on the EP because Columbia wanted to do so much with the tracks on Selfless that we couldn’t really focus on this EP. And they seemed not to really understand the context anyway, for one reason or another.

So we just sat on it for a few months whilst we toured Selfless and blah blah blah blah blah. And at the end of working for Selfless—doing the tour and all that—we came back to the EP and discovered that we weren’t that happy with the mixes. So I think we mixed it again about a year later, and got on making the next record, and it just got shelved—it just literally went on the back burner and we forgot about it, almost. Yet, the annoying thing was, we really loved the main track on that, which was “Messiah.” And we just thought, “How can we deal with this? We’ll deal with it at some point.”

Anyway, years ticked on and eventually we left Earache. And then, obviously, early last year, Godflesh split up as well. So basically, I was left with this EP and had since been working with Relapse a lot and building a relationship with them. And Matt Jacobson, the president of Relapse, had always been such a huge Godflesh obsessive and he’d heard about this sort of legendary EP and wanted to know if there was any way he could release it. And I’m glad it’s coming out through a label that sort of understands the band a bit.

I wasn’t sure if it had been recorded during or right after.

It was pretty much recorded almost exactly during—I think it was just a little after. I mean, it was mainly focused around the “Messiah” track itself—that is really the most important thing. Not to discount the other tracks at all, but that, we felt, was a really focused track—we actually feel it’s one of the best Godflesh tracks out there, really. It’s just got a real classic sense of what Godflesh was/is. It’s also got—there’s something about the melody structure which is a bit beyond the trappings of …

It’s a little bit more involved.

Yeah, exactly. There’s a really nice sense of melody, something that was, I think, sometimes understated in Godflesh, or something that people didn’t see that often. Which was something that really frustrated me about Godflesh, always being perceived as just some noise thing.

So as far as the breakup, I haven’t actually seen that much about it. I know you guys were gonna play out here last year … but you were sick or something?

It sort of culminated in me being virtually mentally sick. [Laughs.] Things just got a bit too much for me. Basically, as you’re probably aware, Godflesh throughout most of its career was just me and G.C. Green—it was just a guitarist/vocalist and a bass player with machines. Basically, after we recorded the last album, Hymns, just before we were about set out on tour in Europe for the album, supporting Fear Factory, G.C. Green left the band. He basically didn’t want to tour anymore, and felt the tours we were being presented on were unsuitable; he just didn’t think it was right for the band.

And then we sort of tried to work out how we could still exist as Godflesh. I had Ted Parsons—who was in Prong and Swans and had been drumming for the band for years as well—and he was an integral part of Godflesh towards the end of the band. Basically, we just didn’t—without G.C. Green, it’s like half of Godflesh was gone. So we drafted in Paul Raven, who was the bass player for Killing Joke and Prong and stuff, and [indecipherable] that wasn’t really entirely inappropriate. G.C. Green, just because of his bass sound and presence, is not something you can replicate that easily, regardless of how accomplished the musician is. It’s about more than just someone playing the bass lines, you know.

And we did the tour in Europe, and I felt quite dissatisfied with the way things had gone. I wasn’t that sure about the future of Godflesh anyway. And already, an American tour was in the process of being solidified. I was going through a real crisis. Basically, I had a point where I thought, “No, this shouldn’t exist anymore; this is finished.” And unfortunately that was about a week before the tour was about to begin. And the stress of it basically caused me to become pretty ill. I just keeled under from the stress.

Yeah, I know the feeling.

Yeah, yeah. I think a few people can relate to that sort of “can’t take it anymore” feeling. It wasn’t remotely suicidal or anything, it was just stress mixed with depression and a whole bunch of things. And I felt numb, I literally couldn’t move.

Was it a surprise when G.C. left, or had it been building up?

It probably had been subtly building up. I mean, Godflesh has always felt at odds with everything around it, to be honest. I think that’s pretty much the charm of the band, to some extent—we’ve never really felt like we fit in, or didn’t know where to fit in, and we always feel like we’re being misinterpreted or misrepresented or whatever. We didn’t have that work ethic that bands have sort of always had, and probably in the industry now have even more.

Like, as far as the publicity thing?

Yeah, exactly. We just found it really hard to come to terms with having to sell yourself. We’re just really bad at that. We would just make what we considered to be heartfelt music that we’d do as purely as possible without having to accommodate the market and all this sort of business. And I still hold the same sort of ideals. Subtly, this was always underlying the band’s existence in the last year, just this total dissatisfaction with everything around us. And the last album, Hymns, pretty much displays that. I think it’s pretty disparate, pretty dry. It’s got some good stuff on it and some not—so-good stuff, and it sounds like a band in turmoil.

Are you on good terms with him [G.C. Green] now?

Yeah, well, funny enough, he’s here now! He hasn’t actually been to our house for probably about a year, and he turned up today. Yeah, we’re absolutely famous. We’re still totally gettin’ on. Where people fell out … I sort of fell out with Paul Raven. Just because he put a lot of effort into getting that American tour together, so he felt that I’d particularly screwed him over.

So what about Jesu?

Really, this is the band that a lot of people are gonna see as the Godflesh replacement, but it isn’t really. I mean, it is obviously me writing guitar/bass songs and singing, still. And Ted Parsons is in the band—there’s real drums and there’s machines—and there’s another guy whose playing bass—G.C. Green’s probably going to do some stuff at some point. But the point with Jesu is that I’m controlling the thing and I’m writing the songs I want to write, but I’m collaborating with whoever I wish at any given time. So it’s not gonna be trapped by a conventional band structure.

But the music is … well, I’ve already seen people speculating that it’s gonna sound like fuckin’ Godflesh when we did Streetcleaner and all this stuff, which couldn’t be any further from the truth. There’s actually a lot more use of melody, and it’s probably the most depressing music I’ve ever written, which I’m proud of as well. [Laughs.] I mean, I wrote a lot of this stuff after the split with Godflesh and all this sort of stuff. I was in such an emotionally strung-out state that I felt it was really therapeutic to be able to write this really indulgent, depressing music. I mean, obviously Godflesh has always been depressing, but it’s had that sort of attack with it. Whereas this isn’t so attacking, this is more … I don’t know. All this stuff is awesomely slow. It’s still very heavy, but it’s not heavy in the context of metal. I mean, it’s brutal, it’s heavy, it’s really slow, but it sounds more like Joy Division or [indecipherable] than it does some cheap industrial-metal thing. And it’s not about any sort of fusion either—it certainly couldn’t be branded anything like industrial metal. There’s no hip-hop beats. It’s just very … ten-minute songs that are very meditative, depressing, singular, um, very suicidal experiences. [Laughs.]

That sounds like fun.

Yeah! [Laughs.] It’s a whole barrel of laughs!

That reminds me of one thing I was gonna ask. The early Godflesh recordings are really angry, and it seems like it would be hard to keep that up. Do you feel like that’s true—that it would be hard to keep presenting that same kind of music fifteen years on?

Yeah, and really unnecessary as well. Something like Streetcleaner, when I wrote most of that material, I was like 19 years old, and I was 20 when the album first came out in Europe. I mean, I’m 33 years old; I’m 34 this year. So basically, I’ve just—like every human being—matured. A lot of things I was going through at twenty I’m not going through now. I don’t feel the same sense of nihilism or of raging at every target I can. I’ve learned a lot about life since then and become a much more … not content, but content with myself as opposed to wanting to lash out at everything. I see that as just pointless.

But I still find the world an incredibly bleak and totally depressing place—obviously more and more day-by-day at the moment—so I’m still writing the soundtrack to everybody’s fears, I think, but there’s really not much anger anymore. Jesu for me is more of a spiritual outlet now. That’s what Godflesh was trying to become towards the end, but it was still having to be reliant on creating the effect of a brick in the face, you know.

I wanna reach people on a really deep, emotional level but … of ultimate sadness, I think. It’s like, the anger is gone and there’s just sadness for me now. I think people will find Jesu a harsher experience than something like Streetcleaner, to be honest, because it’s much purer. I think it’s much more unnerving when things are drawn-out so much and so … um, so heavy, but without being reliant on the normal tools of being heavy, you know?

It’s funny how many different kinds of bands you’ve influenced. I guess you’re doing remixes for two of them, Agoraphobic Nosebleed and Isis.

Those are the sorts of bands I admire. It’s really great because, for years with Godflesh, especially in the early ’90s and mid ’90s, it seemed like anything we influenced was really shitty. So we really didn’t feel that proud of making a mark. And when Slipknot was a big hype, and I read interviews with them saying Godflesh influenced them, I just thought, “Oh my God … this is bizarre. Truly, truly bizarre, really.” I never thought Godflesh would influence something that was packing out stadiums, and is like a comic book, you know what I mean?

It kind of has to be watered down, ’cause I don’t think you could find enough people who enjoy this kind of bleak music to pack stadiums.

Exactly, it has to be diluted for any mass market, doesn’t it? Obviously, I’m totally against that form of delusion, anyway. It’s really fuckin’ boring. All that stuff’s just like Kiss or something, anyway. It just harks back to the same glory days of rock-and-roll, which I’ve got nothing to do with whatsoever. I mean, I actually find it a pain doing this stuff [playing music], even though it’s a joy as well. But that whole aspect of going out to the stadium … I don’t know, it’s just fuckin’ shit. But Isis and Agoraphobic Nosebleed, I think both hands are really, really awesome. It’s a complement to have influenced both those bands, because they’ve both got an edge, and they’re both doing something original. Not just with our influence—they’re influenced by vast ranges of music. But it’s culminated in something genuinely sort of futuristic, different, challenging, not reliant upon any corporate cocksucking on any level. Another ally of ours is someone like Neurosis. We share a lot in common with them—they’re good friends of ours.

Right, yeah. I’ve interviewed them … ’cause we’re in the same area out here.

Oh, you’re in San Francisco? Oh cool, nice one.

When Techno Animal played here [in Oakland in 2001], were you on that tour?

Yeah, yeah.

‘Cause I saw that show.

You saw that show?!? The one that was out in Oakland?

Yeah. I didn’t see much of it ’cause it was hard to see. I heard it. I felt it—it was loud.

That show was really funny. That wasn’t as confrontational as the one we played in L.A., though. We played one in L.A. where the audience really did not get what we were doing. And it turned into … there was a lot of abuse and people throwing things.

I can imagine that.

Yeah. Well, we fully expected it that night in Oakland, actually.

That’s another band [Techno Animal] that doesn’t really fit in anywhere.

Absolutely. We were going out with guests who’d been on our record, but obviously, Aesop Rock, Mr. Lif—the audience was just there for them. They’d see us and think, “What the fuck is this?” But the funny thing about that, if we played any of those shows and say the three of them came out and guested with us, then the whole audience would respond really positively. So we found that so fucking dubious and so insular that it really put us off.

So what about the Curse of the Golden Vampire?

Yeah, we’ve just done a new one for Mike Patton’s Ipecac label.

Oh yeah, has that come out yet?

That’s coming out in like two months [as of February 2003]. That’s really violent-that’s probably the most violent album I’ve made in years. We did a Curse of the Golden Vampire album for Alec Empire’s DHR label years ago, which was a collaboration with Alec Empire; it was basically Techno Animal and Alec Empire. But we stopped working with him. And we did this album, just me and Kevin Martin—you know, who are Techno Animal—as Curse of the Golden Vampire. And Mike Patton was like, “Can you do something even more extreme than the first album?” We were like, “It’s our duty to do that.” [Laughs.] So consequently, we’ve come up with an album that . . . it’s probably closer in attitude to the first album I ever made, which was the first Napalm Death album. But it isn’t really like that, as well, if you know what I mean. It’s like a futuristic version of hardcore jungle-meets-hardcore thrash.

Is there a lot of guitar stuff?

Yeah, there’s loads of guitars. It’s really hardcore—it’s really hardcore punk in the truest sense, like early Discharge—but meets really fucked-up effects processing and computer technology and jungle rhythms. It’s a real hybrid of lot of really, really screwed up shit. And we just tried to make the nastiest piece of shit going, basically. If you can imagine putting Whitehouse, Discharge, something really devoutly jungle like Dillinja, and putting it all together into the most fucked-up, surreal psychedelic machine, you know? With me and Kevin absolutely screaming our heads off on top of it. It was a real good release for us.

Mike Patton’s another one who’s gotten blamed for a lot of nu-metal.

Yeah. [Laughs.] We laugh about that. There’s a whole bunch of us who have been blamed for nu-metal! [Laughs again.] It’s the last thing I’d ever wanna be blamed for.

I think that stuff is finally kind of …

It’s dying, isn’t it? It’s dying, just like the music industry. [Laughs.] It’s all going down the tubes. [Laughs again.]

You’ve put out so many albums over the years. Would you say you’re a workaholic?

Yeah, absolutely. I’m just obsessive, really. I’m an obsessive music fan. And I guess to some extent I’m self-obsessed, or else I wouldn’t make this much music.

What are the things that you’re most proud of that you’ve done over the years? Is that a hard one to answer?

That’s an interesting one, actually. Throughout my entire career to date? Um … it is hard to say. I’m really proud—even though it’s been like an albatross around my neck—of the Streetcleaner album by Godflesh, because it was made without any ambition, and it seemed to change a lot of things in music and have a really wide effect. I’m very proud of the way that touched people. Um, I’m really proud of the Techno Animal album Brotherhood of the Bomb. And commercially, I think that’s one of the biggest failures we’ve ever made. [A portion of the interview is lost here as I flip the tape over.] It becomes comedy after awhile. It’s just like, for fuck’s sake … it seemed like in the beginning of the ’80s and the end of the ’70s there was a whole subculture of music where it didn’t matter about a rulebook anymore. People just made music and took chances, and there was somehow an audience there to buy it.

But everything is just so fucked now. It’s all just so marginalized. It’s just the way it’s sold to people now as well: it doesn’t seem like there’s any sort of choice anymore, really. It seemed like in the early ’80s you could be aware of anything. Particularly in Europe, the music media covered everything; it didn’t matter whether it sold the issues or not. But now, obviously, everything has changed. People would rather play around with their computers than with music. Maybe music is less important in people’s lives now. That’s some of the conclusions I’ve come to, anyway. Because for me, I couldn’t breathe without music. In everything I do, music is there as a dialogue to my existence. And most of the people I work with, it’s the most fundamental thing in their lives. Without making it, they ain’t breathin’ anymore.


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