an interview with Justin K. Broadrick
As a young mullet-headed headbanger growing up in the pre-internet late 80’s and early 90’s Cape Cod, my only resource for expanding my metal horizons was Metal Maniacs. Sure, I enjoyed the titans of that era (Metallica, Slayer, Iron Maiden, etc) but what I craved was the most vile, lightning fast death metal in the world. Thanks to Metal Maniacs, I was exposed to the likes of Deicide, Napalm Death, Carcass, Entombed, Morbid Angel, Repulsion, Gorguts, Cathedral, Morgoth, and many many more. The one album from that era that immediately blew my mind, and has stayed an important part of my life, is Godflesh‘s Streetcleaner. To this day the bassy-death-rattle-feedback intro for the lead-off track “Like Rats” still gets me amped.
For the past 19 years I’ve been avidly following the brains behind Godflesh, Justin K. Broadrick, and his incredibly diverse career. Starting in 1982 with band called Final, a project that is still creating music to this day, Broadrick has released dozens of records and EPs under a variety of pseudonyms and monikers. He’s remixed boat loads of tunes by other bands and has dabbled in many different genres including industrial, grindcore, and hip hop. With his latest project Greymachine (listen to a stream here) and many more projects on the horizon, it seemed like a great time for BV to catch up with Justin and discuss his past, present, and future.
It started as a solo project with a few loose concepts; something grimy, noisy, punk, absorbing most musics I find to have a strong sense of attack/defence, music that has influenced me since I was a kid. Once I had picked up pace recording, Dave Cochrane was someone I immediately hoped to get involved; we hadn’t worked together for a number of years and I considered him someone who would appreciate where this project was going and would fit in well to the sound. Aaron and I had been discussing doing something together for some time, seemed it would probably be something guitar drone based, but since Aaron and I had both been discussing our mutual like of extreme musics again, it felt natural to invite him into this project. Diarmuid Dalton was obvious too…
Did you have any personal goals going into Disconnected? Inspirations, etc…?
I wanted to do something that was as close as possible to the same set of emotions that would be unearthed from listening to, say, Swans‘ Filth, Sonic Youth‘s Confusion Is Sex, Dillinja‘s Thugs, No U Turn Input, The Stooges first album, Flipper, Abruptum, Public Enemy‘s first two albums, No Trend‘s When Death Won’t Solve Your Problem etc etc etc etc… this sense of excitement, threat and abstraction gleaned from these records, coupled with a general sense of misanthropy, which clearly fuels a lot of my work.
J2. How did that come about? Are there any plans for additional material?
Jarboe requested me to produce a set of songs she didn’t currently have a home for. They were fairly loose in some ways, not in others. I fleshed it out so to speak. It’s really her record. I simply mixed it and based everything around the skeletal parts she had. We may do something together again in the future.
Any additional collaborations in the works?
Always! LUSTMORD and I have a project called Dread in the works, loosely based around our mutual love for dub/reggae and our twisted interpretation of it. Andrew Broder and I are recording an album together since our Fog/Jesu collaboration worked out so well (7″ out soon). I’ve just done an album which is Final Vs. Fear Falls Burning, and Dirk Serries (Fear Falls Burning, Vidna Obmana) and I have a new project together called Loud as Giants, a guitar loop/beats thing… sure there’s some other things too!
What’s next for Jesu? Final?
The Jesu Opiate Sun EP on Caldo Verde for October 27th. I’ll begin writing the new Jesu album come October, which will lead to the recording of this new full length in January 2010. The next full length Final album is The Apple Never Falls Far From the Tree for the Tone Float label and will be a double vinyl… most of this is recorded and will be completed around the same time I write the Jesu album.
Any US touring in the near future?
Nothing planned as yet for the near future. Jesu toured the US twice around 2007 and it burnt me out. Touring is not good for my general state of health of late unfortunately.
Broadrick on stage with Jesu
The name Kevin Martin is pretty synonymous with the name Justin K. Broadrick. How far back does your relationship go with him?
He was the first person to ever put on and promote Godflesh’s first ever show in Brixton, London. He bought the first Godflesh album around the day it came out after hearing Godflesh on the John Peel Radio 1 UK show. We had our phone number on there then, that was Autumn 1988, and our relationship built from there since we shared a lot of common interests, musically and beyond.
Techno Animal‘s Brotherhood of the Bomb is often regarded as one of the most profound Martin/Broadrick collaborations, but it was released at a bad time (street date 9/11/01, released 9/25/01). Featuring appearances by Dalek, El-P, Vast Aire, Anti-pop Consortium and other great MCs of the period, it was way ahead of it’s time on so many levels. That said, do you have another MC-centric collaboration of this magnitude on your radar? Is hip hop still very much a part of what you’re listening to these days?
No, nothing planned for the immediate future that includes mc’s to any great extent, but I’ll never rule anything out. Kevin has taken it further with The Bug and his use of mc’s/vocalists on his latest London Zoo album. By the way Kevin will be involved in some future Greymachine, which will be a pleasant surprise for many. He’ll be returning to sax, synths, screams a la God, Ice…
‘Old School’ hip hop is always present for me, I just don’t hear so much that’s exciting these days. For the last few years I have found mainstream r&b/rap/hip hop productions more exciting than what I’ve heard from much of the underground, but I’ll always have the hunger for hearing fresh stuff. I mean, I even enjoy most Jay-Z albums, for example. The mainstream for a while there was quite thrilling.
Yeah, I hope so. A lot of people have asked for years to be able to hear this stuff. Digital releases and peoples’ acceptance of them have become a nice way to get the material out there. I can actually somewhat give people what they want in terms of my catalog that’s rarely been available.
Mastering powerhouse Bob Ludwig did work on the Godflesh albums Selfless and Merciless in 1994. Was it an enjoyable experience having such a legendary engineer work on your music? Or did having someone who has worked with the likes of Mariah Carey, U2, Springsteen, and The Rolling Stones (to name just a few) make you feel like you were being swept into an artless, more commercial arena?
It was very interesting. This was all down to Selfless and Merciless being on Columbia; it meant there was a budget to go with the ‘big guys’ on many levels. Selfless and Merciless were mastered by Bob Ludwig on top of the existing masters… interesting that he had no issue with that. They definitely sounded better after he mastered these records. We were aware of him prior to him being suggested by Columbia that he master the album. We were fascinated with how someone of this stature would deal with a band like Godflesh, but there were no real surprises… it was all done very well.
In All Languages didn’t succeed too well. I was still learning about self-mastering at that time. I wouldn’t say I was satisfied at all with the results a short time after and since. Some of the Godflesh albums have been repackaged and remastered recently by Earache into 3 CD sets. They’re quite good really considering how precious I am about these albums. I would’ve loved to have done a full deal with these albums – deluxe packaging, remastering of everything, rehearsals, demos, related live stuff, everything… but i wanted to do all that myself on Avalanche, but this just isn’t possible. I’m tied eternally to the Earache contracts so they can do what they want with the catalog without any input from the band and Dig, who runs Earache, will quite simply not allow me to release these for myself and do the job I would love to do. Shame.
The last song on Hymns, the sixth and final Godflesh record, is entitled “Jesu”. Your first major post-Godflesh project, which is still going on strong today, is under the moniker Jesu. Was this a deliberate bridge between the two projects, or just coincidence?
When I wrote the song Jesu, which incidentally was the last Godflesh song I ever wrote, I had this feeling that Jesu would be a new project of mine at some point. I didn’t consider for a moment at that time that this would become the project that replaces Godflesh…this just happened as I recorded/wrote music that was guitar oriented but wasn’t intended to be Godflesh. This was just before the demise of Godflesh.
I’ve always been a huge fan of the various Godflesh, Jesu, and Final album artwork. In addition to doing the bulk of the photography and layout work yourself, I noticed that you also borrow a lot from films; from more mainstream films like Altered States (Streetcleaner) to art house films like Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (Merciless), to super-obscure stuff by George Kuchar. Are you a big fan of art house and experimental films? If so, does this type of stuff also influence your music in any way?
Ben Green from Godflesh took a lot of the earlier Godflesh pics. He was the photographer back then. I’d sit back and discuss with him what we were looking for and go from there. He was really into the American art house stuff and I was more into the horror/art house stuff…but the films you mention helped shape Godflesh musically, thematically and of course, visually. The other wildly important film to Godflesh was The Devils directed by Ken Russell, particularly the first time we all saw it together on a lot of acid… it was so so intense. So yeah, a lot of these films had a huge impact on not only Godflesh but all the work I do… I see everything I do visually first, in a literal context, last.
Did Kevin Martin do all the Techno Animal album covers, or was the credited artist (The Pathological Puppy) someone else? I know Martin had a label called Pathological a while back…
Yeah Pathological Puppy is Kevin. With Techno Animal I left the visuals to him. I could trust him to be showing me material that I knew I would be totally into, and this was virtually entirely the case. We shared same visual ideas so i could let him run with it.
While in Godflesh, did you feel that your fans had certain expectations as to what Godflesh was supposed to sound like, and therefore feel pressured to create records that catered to those expectations?
Maybe. This filtered through eventually I think. The Hymns album may have somewhat subconsciously catered to these expectations, a handful of songs only, but I think this was there. I always felt Godflesh was essentially a post punk band. Post punk bands for me, when I was young, were the epitome of fresh and exciting and breaking down all barriers. I mean, Killing Joke not only sounded abstract and punky in 1980, they were also highly informed by dub/reggae and the space within this music….delay/echo on the vocals in Killing Joke was almost unheard of in regular punk rock during these periods, for example. For me Godflesh came from post punk and then infused a bastardized form of metal, even usurped industrial music in its, for me, truest form – Throbbing Gristle, SPK, Test Department, Whitehouse and so on. I think anything that absorbs so much eclectic music is destined to be marginalized to some extent both by critics and fans alike. It’s asking too much of people on a large scale to comprehend something that absorbs a vast breadth of sound.
Do you find that, after Godflesh, and with all your various projects including Final and Jesu, that you finally have total control and absolute creative freedom?
Yes, I think this is almost entirely true. Musically, I have never felt freer since the demise of Godflesh, possibly even techno animal to some extent.
Your remixes of other bands’ songs are always stunning. I almost fell out of my chair when I first heard your remix of Pelican’s Angel Tears. The remix of Explosions in The Sky’s The Birth and Death of the Day that appears on disc 2 of All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone is credited as a Jesu mix, not a Justin K. Broadrick mix. Why did you choose to have the track credited this way?
Thank you very much! I’m still quite proud of that Pelican remix; it’s got, for me, a fantastic main riff, which i wanted to magnify and explore in a myriad ways, using electronics to expand the palette and attempt to heighten the emotional content of the main riff. I wanted to use and still use the Jesu moniker in context but was too late to credit the Pelican remix as such. But from there on in and now, certain artists, for me, demand that it be remixed in the context of Jesu.
Are you generally inundated with remix requests? Is it often difficult to pare down which ones you ultimately decide to do?
I get a lot of requests. It has to get down to what it can do financially for me once I know and realize if I could do something with the song in question. I live from my music and have done so since 1991 and I need to keep doing so to keep everything afloat. So I have to be choosy, time is limited unfortunately.
I’m sure producing your own music is priority #1, but do your remixing obligations ever start to get in the way? And do you use remix opportunities as a way to mess around with technologies and effects you’re not quite ready to apply to projects like Jesu?
Sometimes yes, but I find remixing quite liberating and it often becomes an inspirational process. Listening and getting inside other artists work is endlessly interesting on so many levels. Then seeing how I can reinterpret these ideas is also eternally fascinating, and sometimes endless. It’s hard for me to see an end to anything I work on, be it my own material or others. It’s true that whilst working on other artists music I will try a lot of different methods and just generally experiment, whilst with my own music I have generally a very clear idea of what I’m trying to achieve. Even if the end results won’t be as close to what was originally intended, the journey is still thrilling…
I’ve heard some of the rough tracks for the upcoming Method of Defiance project and your guitar tone is absolutely crushing; it sort of takes up where the Godflesh tone left off. Are you doing something different amp-wise than what you’ve been doing with Jesu for the past few years? Have you ditched The Pod?
Thank you. Great that you like it. Yeah I got tired of the pod! The accessibility of the Pod attracted me first and foremost; to be able to achieve a half decent tone and be able to record at any point regardless of whats going on in the immediate environment. I always found the tone workable regardless of the struggle I would have, but playing live with my regular Marshall set up found me wanting to capture that tone again. I need the general warmth of amplification now, and certain mic techniques have enabled me to able to capture a texture I wasn’t capable of capturing years ago and certainly not with the pod alone. This is my way forward currently with my guitar; it’s back to amplification and pure amp to speaker heat…
The last two times I saw Jesu, there was no video component to the show. I know large scale, tech-heavy tours probably aren’t in the works, but is there a chance you’ll ever do a few shows with a heavy AV component? I feel like video could an interesting way to explore what is sonically suggested in your music.
Jesu live over the past year has been totally visual, the way it was always conceived to be. This is how Jesu works best without doubt but it was just impossible logistically to do this on both the US tours Jesu did around 2007. I won’t play without the visuals now.
Are you and Benny Green still in touch? I know he’s not doing much musically these days, but does he still have a presence in your life? Do you ever look to him for feedback or criticisms on your music?
We rarely keep in touch to be honest. His life is very different now to what it was in the thick of Godflesh. We also live quite some distance from each other – him living in Birmingham still and me on the coast of North Wales. I’ve personally seen him maybe once or twice a year for the last 4 years or so. Our lives and lifestyles are very different now. But I’m always sure we’ll be more in contact in the future. He still records privately for his own pleasure, but he’s one of least exhibitionistic artists I’ve ever worked with, quite at odds with the environment he spent all those years in Godflesh in. It’s not really important to him that people hear what he does. He is, though, one of the most genuinely talented musicians I have ever worked with; completely natural. I think the Vitriol album he made solo is one of my favorite albums of all time. It’s utterly honest; a quality so rare….
Thanks to Justin Broadrick!