As the frontman and main songwriter behind U.K. industrialists Godflesh in the early-‘90s, Justin K. Broadrick became one of the most pivotal figures in underground extreme music. It was a surprise in the middle part of the last decade when, post-Godflesh’s dissolution, he launched the more melodic, melancholic and atmospheric project Jesu, putting the focus on emotional weight rather than the mechanical heft he’d been known for. Jesu—now influential in its own right—quickly set about an incredibly prolific string of releases from 2007 to 2009, then for the last two years slowed down considerably.
Don’t get me wrong, Broadrick still had at least one release for both 2009 and 2010, but that’s a big slowdown from the five released of 2007 or even the three in 2008. In 2011, along with pursuing an ongoing reunion with Godflesh—who were among the headliners and the highlights of this year’s Roadburn Festival in The Netherlands—he releases the new full-length Ascension. In the interview that follows, he discusses the imperfect nature of creation and much more.
It seems like you’ve established a pattern of doing a Jesu full-length every two years with EP releases in between. Do you feel like you have a good rhythm going of releases?
Yeah, I was probably almost too busy at one point with Jesu. I think it’s actually calmed down a little now. I found my balance of what I’m trying to do and trying not to do, hence there being probably in comparison to around 2007 [to] 2009 there was a complete glut of Jesu releases, but since I’ve sort of been a little calmer. In terms of finding my feet, it’s a case of releasing less of Jesu now.
I wanted to ask actually what brought on that change, because like you say, 2007 and 2008, there was an awful lot of stuff coming out.
Oh, it was ridiculous. By my own admission, it was absolutely ridiculous. Like most projects I do, I become quite obsessive in terms of chasing a sort of dream of what I want the sound to be, and I guess it’s feeling like I’m never quite getting there. So I just keep writing songs—or whatever project it is—I keep going at it until I feel I’m getting close to what’s in my head, just trying to transcribe it here in my head, you know, which I rarely ever get even close to realizing.
I think with Jesu is sort of an ambiguous project anyway, especially considering my lineage in more extreme music. Jesu just is not intended to be extreme, as in what’s inspiring the sounds. It’s not an extreme music. I think it was just trying to consistently chase a certain sound, a certain concept, and never quite getting there, and I was just consistently writing material.
I didn’t dry up with material, I think I just hit a brick wall in terms of not obsessing so much over it and trying to get into the concept of less is more. Trying to ease off. I mean, I could easily write a Jesu album every six months, you know. But also, I’m just never satisfied with this stuff (laughs). As soon as I release one record, I feel totally dissatisfied with it and I want to make the next one to correct what I felt was wrong with the previous one. Not the way to make records, really (laughs). It’s just like blowing up in public.
How close is Ascension to the Jesu you’re hearing in your head? Or now that it’s done, do you completely hate it?
Unfortunately, it’s that period at the moment. I spent so long doing this record that this is the period where I usually kick the record to shit, basically. It’s when I really do start ripping it to pieces, and I must admit, I have started to do just that. I’ve had to take a break; I haven’t heard it in about six weeks, which is a good thing at the moment (laughs).
I’ve been saturated in that record for what feels like a good year. Because I spent a lot of time writing it, and demoing the record, just purely for my own satisfaction, then eventually recording it, and then mixing it over and over again. As per usual, I immersed myself so much in it that I can’t listen to the record anymore.
There was definitely a point when I was mixing the record when I was quite truly happy with the record, that I felt it was a pretty clear distillation of everything I’ve been trying to achieve with Jesu. Particularly the songwriting. I felt it was pretty close to what I’ve been trying to achieve.
But it’s still some ways off, and that’s just my own failings, really. But, I’ve sort of become pretty accustomed to just dealing with my own failings and convincing myself that’s half of the charm of what I do.
Do you think this album was affected at all, in writing or recording, by bringing Godflesh back?
I’d say somewhat. I’d say, in a way, that imposed a sort of discipline, in the context that it made me stricter about Jesu being a separate entity from Godflesh. It is anyway, and sometimes the lines have blurred, but I think I really felt like I wanted to define this Jesu album as something other from whatever Godflesh has achieved or potentially could go on to achieve, or what it does in its existence.
Because I played live with Godflesh a few times around the recording and the mixing of the Jesu album. In a way, that was really cathartic, and it was all the frustration that had been in trying to make, yet again, a perfect Jesu record.
A lot of those imperfections, something like Godflesh will embrace, because Godflesh was ultimately dealing with imperfection, anyway. Managing imperfection. All our own imperfections. Everything. So it was good to have that cathartic release and rage with Godflesh, and then go straight back into something like Jesu, which is ultimately fairly somber, I guess, and relaxing, even though it’s still rock music to me.
It’s not like going from Godflesh to something ambient—although sometimes I read reviews and Jesu is perceived as “ambient drone” and things like this, and I just don’t get that at all. To me, a record that has rock guitars, harmonies and drums is not an ambient record (laughs). That’s all down to perception, but my perception of “ambient” is soundscapes.
Yeah, but, to me, Godflesh and Jesu, especially with Ascension, they’re fairly separate. Or I hope they can be.
And in the meantime, what are your plans with Jesu? Are you going to tour for Ascension, or are you writing more material?
With Jesu, the touring aspect is gone for me for now, for a multitude of reasons. I was really getting tired of touring and finding it quite fruitless and quite destructive. It was just becoming self-destructive, really. So I’m doing shows that are one-offs, or shows that are a small clutch of dates, which is definitely hard in the U.S., because that’s almost impossible to do.
But we’re still trying to work out how to bridge Godflesh coming to the States and Jesu coming to the States, but neither touring, per se, so we’re just trying to look at that for the minute, with our agent, who is also involved. It’s more just trying to balance all these things.
As I get older, I’ve just become more of a studio musician. I love playing live, but it’s so rarely right and so frequently wrong, and also the aspects of being stuck in a vehicle for a month, rolling around, is just something now that feels like a throwback to me. I’m 41 now and I’ve been playing live since I was about 15, and it’s not gotten any easier, it’s not gotten any better. But it’s a necessary evil.
Godflesh live I think is truly important. I think that really works. Godflesh is probably even more so a live band than it is a recorded band, to some extent. Jesu, I’m not sure.
Jesu is more of a studio thing, ultimately. It’s never correct live. I can’t even sing the damn shit right live, you know what I mean? It’s like I just cannot. I’m just not enough of a trained vocalist. My voice is too damaged. I can get it right in the studio. The Jesu records are as good as it gets.
Live, Jesu is never as good as the records, and it’s just an unfortunate truism. It’s just the way it is. Godflesh, it’s never mattered. Godflesh can rely on bluster, which is great.
Ascension is available now on Caldo Verde. More info at justinkbroadrick.blogspot.com.
JJ Koczan usually relies on bluster as well. That and sadness-induced ice cream binges. Whatever it takes, kids. firstname.lastname@example.org.