Godflesh are greasing their gears

After a nine-year break, during which everyone (including leader Justin K. Broadrick himself) thought Godflesh was done for good, the band had more than just a few gears to grease to get back on track. Actually, the whole machine had to be tinkered with to be in working order once more.

A World Lit Only By Fire is not just the next album in the band’s career. After the timid revival EP that was Decline & Fall, it is the first full-length testimony of an artistic chemistry that had lain to rest for years. Godflesh took their time to get their new beginning just right, and this record only saw the light of day four years after the EP.

We asked Justin Broadrick to help us understand this reformation and what led to this album: the reunion with his mate GC Green, the first rehearsals, the first shows, a reflection regarding Godlesh’s sound, etc.

« Godflesh is all about volume and claustrophobia. »

Radio Metal: The band only reformed in early 2010. Since GC Green initiated the hiatus by leaving the band in 2001, what do you think motivated him to come back?

Justin K. Broadrick (vocals/guitar): When he left, we both thought we’d never do this again. When he left, he really didn’t want to tour anymore. He was really fed up with spending years of his life, like I did, touring the world and I think he was tired. At that time, after we just made that Godflesh album called Hymns, the band lost a lot of popularity and he felt we were going backwards. After the Hymns album we were about to do a tour, we were opening for Fear Factory and Strapping Young Lad with Devin Townsend, and I think he felt that we somewhat regressed a bit. He was uncomfortable and he didn’t know those bands either. When he left he didn’t really consider that he would even tour again but there’s nothing better than a break, you know! I mean that was like almost eight or nine years where we didn’t play together. I never expected him to want to do this again and when I asked him eventually, I expected him to say “No”. So I was very pleasantly surprised that he turned around and actually said “Yeah, I want to do this again!” Even though he chose another path: he went back to university, he got married, he established a very good job, etc. The last thing I expected was him wanting to do this again.

How did you handle this reunion between you two? What was the atmosphere?

It was funny because we had a very big amount of time to rehearse. When we first discussed it, we were like: “Wow, this is gonna take us some time to get back into being Godflesh!” And we allocated a really big amount of time to rehearse the old material. What was so funny is that it took us about two days to get comfortable whereas we expected it to be two weeks! So we were really pleasantly surprised! It was like putting on an old pair of shoes, like your favorite pair of shoes. It felt very natural, very comfortable, but, you know, we did Godflesh for so long. It’s such a part of who we are. It felt like these stuffs had never left us. We were rehearsing some songs from the first two records to play live that we had not played since the late nineties and we were playing them perfectly within about thirty minutes. Clearly, this was naturally a part of what we do. It couldn’t have been any more comfortable. So it was easy. And the first show, as you probably know, was Hellfest in France. Unfortunately there were a lot of technical problems which, for once, had nothing to do with us. Literally, the generator blew up before we started to play and there was no backup. So the things went a little bad but we still played thirty minutes when we should have played sixty [chuckles]. And a lot of people travelled from across the world for that reunion, so we felt really sorry for fans more than for ourselves. Besides this stuff getting wrong, it felt like we’d come home, you know, but unfortunately it took until the second festival we played for us to feel like: “We’re back to who we are.” The second festival we did was in our home town of Birmingham in England, and that was amazing and went without any silly technical stuff. It really was like coming home to ourselves and to our old home town. Ever since that show, we felt ugly. Ironically we played some of the best shows we’ve ever played and been since we reformed [chuckles]. So who knows!

Is this what motivated you to go further with this reunion?

In terms of playing live, yeah, we wanted to see how the first couple of festivals went and yet, it took the second show, which was amazing, to realize that, yeah, we want to do this as long as we can. Ultimately, the reformation was about making new records. Really, I didn’t want to reform this band just as a nostalgic thing. I really don’t feel that comfortable without the whole concept. For us, the impetus and the drive behind doing this was essentially to make new records. During the late 2000s, I really felt that I wanted to write Godflesh music again but I didn’t want to do it as another project. I really wanted to make more music as Godflesh. I was quite clearly missing and actually needing to do this again. So, basically, I was really hoping GC Green would want to do this so I could make new music because I didn’t want to do it without him. So, basically, this was all about making new music, making this new album and the new EP, and hopefully making more new records as well, that’s the intention. I want us to make records until the inspiration either finishes or my voice physically can’t do it anymore, because I’m not getting any younger. It depends how long I can roll for [chuckles].

A few bands actually chose the Hellfest to reform. What’s so special in the Hellfest that made you choose this place to do your first show?

I played Hellfest before with my other project Jesu and I really liked the whole festival. Even though some might consider it a complete metal festival, I felt that it was something more dynamic than just being defined by metal, it seemed to encompass all the areas, you know, metal, hardcore, punk bands play there as well… Yeah, of course, it’s a festival about heavy music but you have this atmosphere… You know, it still covers mainstream acts as well, which I find quite entertaining. I felt it was a great festival to use as a way of exposing Godflesh again to an audience that was both eclectic but also mainstream. It felt quite open to me. It’s a very good festival. It’s not as underground as, let’s say, Roadburn but it covers the underground and it covers the commercial metal. You know, I love European festivals as well, I think they’re more open, wider, than festivals outside of Europe. And I like the people it’s run by. So yeah, I really love it. It’s a fantastic festival.

« A drummer is a mere human. We wanted to go beyond the human being with the drum machine. »

And what was the response of the audience so far?

The response for the new record’s been amazing so far. I think we didn’t expect it be quite as positive. I was surprised. There was a lot of expectation but it’s taken us some time to make the record. I mean, we reformed almost three and a half years ago and only now we’re releasing music but we really wanted to be very certain about the music we’re releasing. We wanted this to be a very valid part of our back catalogue. For me this is the best album we made in over twenty years. This is the best album since the one we made in 1994 called Selfless – that’s probably my last favorite Godflesh record – , this is probably my favorite album since then, which is a very positive thing. The expectation’s great but mostly, we’ve had very good responses. There’s the usual cynics and naysayers that there’s everywhere. For us, we’re doing exactly what we want to do and we’re making records that we want to make. A lot of people think it’s fantastic, there are some who don’t, well, that’s fine. So we’re very happy. First and foremost the only people that we can please are ourselves.

You toured for two years before starting to write an album and it also took you two years to write it. So why those four years before releasing an album?

Basically we wanted to start playing again. I had lots of ideas for material. I’ve had ideas and concepts for the new material even before we reformed but I never committed anything, I never really recorded anything. I had a few beats and that was it. But what I wanted to do is feel comfortable again as a live performing band. I wanted to be a live entity and playing live was really the catalyst for wanting to make new material. We wanted to be in venues hearing Godflesh at monolithic volumes again. We needed to feel live Godflesh again. I mean, Godflesh is all about volume and claustrophobia, to some extent. So we wanted to feel that sound again as strongly as humanly possible. So, really, for us it was about needing to play live again and that was an inspiration and the catalyst for writing and making the new material become a reality. Like I said, I wanted this material to be really special. It would have been really easy for us to just write music very, very quickly and release it very quickly. You know, a lot of bands reform and they make music in such amount of time. We didn’t feel comfortable doing that. I really wanted to make music that felt completely honest, sincere and the truest expression of what we are, of what we’re trying to achieve. So for me, it was very important that we took our time to make this music. The recording process was averagely quick, really. I mean, it was the writing that took more time. Now I feel it’s a very fluid process and we could easily write the next album quickly but I don’t wish to rush it. Again we’re gonna take our time.

You mentioned bands that reformed and made albums pretty quickly. Were you disappointed by bands that did that?

Not really anyone specifically. The irony is that I generally don’t like reunions much anyway. Which is funny because, obviously, we did a reunion [laughs]. But no, there’s nothing specific, there’s no band that got back together and that I disliked. I loved the early Swans records but I didn’t really listen and enjoy much of their later records anyway, so when they reformed, I still don’t really enjoy the records. But I love the band. I think Swans’ one the greatest bands ever. So I’ve got a complete admiration and respect for the band but the later records are just not something I like. But I’m just speaking generally, really. The Stooges have reformed and made a new album, I’ve never even heard it but I love the early Stooges records. But I’m not cynical; I probably wouldn’t even hear it. I need someone to say to me: “You’ve got to listen to this, it’s great!” I don’t blame people if people don’t want to hear the new Godflesh. If they’re cynical about it, then fair enough. I can’t take that away from people. Everybody will always be cynical when you reform. I always feel that, so…

Was the EP Decline & Fall a way for you to taste the water before the full length album?

Yeah, I mean, the EP is somewhat misleading. It’s a little bit more diverse and dynamic than the album. The album I feel is very singular, very minimal and really brutal, and that was completely by design. But yeah, ultimately, the EP was a way of reintroducing the band with four somewhat related tracks. And these are songs that didn’t really fit the album. Again, that was the intention. We wished the album to be, like I said, very direct and the EP, by Godflesh standards, is somewhat more dynamic. But Godflesh, it isn’t dynamic, it isn’t progressive, it isn’t intended to be. But yeah I do feel the EP was a good reintroduction.

It almost seems like you wanted a fresh new start, as if Godflesh was a new band that releases first an EP and then an album, etc.

Yeah, that’s it for me. For me, we saw a new beginning. But also, in a way, we’re completely referencing in the past. But yeah, we feel we’re a contemporary band, even we feel the old records are contemporary, but there’s something old about our sound. But yeah, we still feel that it’s somewhat updated and contemporary enough. But we’re still referencing our old records because that’s our sound. Our sound was born in the late eighties and we still feel like we’re honoring that sound. We’re doing that because that’s what we sincerely believe in. We have all the faith in the fact that our sound is still a somewhat modern proposition. We fell we’re re-beginning, it’s like a rebirth but it feels like it’s happening in the circle of Godflesh. We left a bit what we were, we thought we’d never begin again but we’ve gone back to the circle and now we’re just continuing the same circle again, really.

« I use this music therapeutically to cleanse my soul, you know [laughs]. »

What is impressive about Godflesh in concerts is this huge bass sound. How do you guys get that kind of sound?

Really, we’re somewhat unusual in the whole sphere of metal because in metal, generally, the bass isn’t prominent but for us, our sound is pretty much all about bass. It’s a love of bass music, you know, essentially, this is what it is. I’ve always had a big fascination with music that has bass as a prominent feature and, generally, that’s not in metal. The bass for us is influenced by the early record by The Stranglers, by dub-reggae, by drum and bass, hip hop… So essentially, we take these wide influences of music where bass is very prominent and we put it into our sound. So in a way it is somewhat an unusual thing. It’s very rare. Even if one goes to a metal concert where the bass is heavy, it’s generally about the bass from the guitars but for us, it’s about the bass. You know what I mean? It’s about the bass guitar. And our bass sound is really dirty, filthy and very, very heavy. And the guitar is welded to that. The guitar reinforces that. In Godlesh music, the guitar doesn’t take the lead, whereas, in general, the guitar is the lead. But the bass frequency and the bass filth is the lead in Godflesh. For us, that’s a unique part of our sound and it’s achieved, like I said, by the love of bass [chuckles].

You play with a drum machine again now. Do you feel more comfortable working as a duo?

Yeah, that’s how Godflesh was designed. When we first formed, that’s what we were. The first three full albums, that’s what we were. It was intended to be a heavy drum machine that was inspired by the sound of hip hop, and then the guitar, the bass and the vocals on top of that or welded to that. It was intended to be this man-machine marriage. And that’s what it is, the drum machine hip hop and early industrial music and even old synth wave and stuff like that. So we were inspired by Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, SPK… And then we were inspired by the early hip hop and the sound of massive and monolithic drum machines. We wanted to weld that to the most low tuned heavy minimal bass and guitar, with shouted scream vocals. That was our sound in the late eighties. That’s the sound we wanted to get back when we reformed to that original line up of just the two of us and machines. That sound is really important to us. Some people don’t understand that. They think: “Where’s the drummer?” A drummer is a mere human. We wanted to go beyond the human being with the drum machine. It’s more mechanical, it’s more machine-like, it’s heavier… You know what I mean. That’s what it’s about, really.

Do you think a drummer could not achieve that feeling actually?

Well, you know, we’ve had physical drummers and they’ve been amazing. We’ve had Ted Parsons who drummed with Swans, Prong and Killing Joke, and we had a drummer called Bryan Mantia who drummer for Primus and, in fact, he’s been the Guns N’ Roses drummer for twenty years now I think [chuckles], he’s an amazing drummer. They’re all amazing. They’re machine like organic drummers but, no disrespect to the drummers, Godflesh always should have been with a machine. That wasn’t a mistake, we just tried it. We became more of a rock n’ roll band with a drummer, you know. It’s a different sound. But Godflesh should have always been about the machine. That’s our sound. It really shouldn’t be real drums.

You really seem to have a very particular working relationship with GC Green. Can you tell us more about it?

We’ve known each other now for, probably, over thirty years and we’ve been making music together, pretty much, almost the same amount of time, twenty-eight years or something. We know each other like brothers. We know each other longer than some people have been born and had relationships. We understand entirely what we’re trying to achieve. He understands how I compose material, how I wish to present it. So it’s almost instinctive. It’s very unsaid. It’s a very, very, mechanized process. We don’t even discuss it anymore; it’s that intrinsic to our souls. Even when we record this material or when I write it, I send him files of the material, he interpret it with bass and he knows what I want. We speak this musical language where we barely even have a dialogue. It’s an amazing relationship, really!

In the press biography provided with the album it is said that Godflesh is your Ying and Jesu in your Yang. So how would you further describe your relationship between those two projects? What is the impact of one project one the other?

There would be no Jesu without Godflesh, that’s for sure. But for me, both operate on different emotional levels. I use both as therapy. Essentially, that’s what this music is for me. Jesu is basically very somber, introspective, personal, melancholic, full of sadness and it’s a way for me to express these emotions. So it’s quite separate, in some ways, to Godflesh. Godflesh is very implosive, defensive, angry, aggressive, violent… So in way, it’s a catalyst, both are means of release of emotion and expression. I feel very lucky and very fortunate to have both avenues of expression. This music for me is functional, you know. Like I said, I use both as therapy, as a form of cleansing, as a sense of creative artistic expression that is absolutely necessary, ultimately. There is common ground, obviously. I mean, Jesu, ultimately, is heavy music exploring a very somber form of melody whereas Godflesh, ultimately, is much more brutal and unforgiving, it’s just about the exploration of minimal heavy music. So yeah, I find the two have somewhat of a relationship but, ultimately they’re quite opposites.

Would you say that Jesu and Godflesh represent two different sides of your personality?

Yeah, like I just said, really. They both are an indulgence of my personality and what I am, what I wish to be, what I can’t be… You know, at least it’s a very self-indulgent expression of my mindset. I use this music therapeutically to cleanse my soul, you know [laughs].

By the way, can you give us an update on Jesu’s future?

Yeah, I played a lot of shows and festivals this year with Jesu. The band still exists. I’m hoping to probably start writing and recording a new record towards the end of this year and the early part of next year. So, hopefully, even if 2015 will be filled with a lot of touring with Godflesh for this record, I hope to have a new Jesu album out, or maybe a new EP, towards the end of 2015. Maybe September or October 2015 I’m hoping for some new Jesu releases.

Interview conducted by phone 18th, september 2014 by Philippe Sliwa.
Retranscription and traduction: Nicolas Gricourt.

Godflesh official website: www.godflesh.com.

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