Exclusive // In-Depth
by Mattia A.
October 30, 2013
CVLT Nation Interviews
Hi Justin, can you tell us about the recent Godflesh West Coast tour cancellation?
Yes, we’ll officially announce new dates soon. It was really bad news. We did all the work on our end to get the visas in time, but once again this process proved to be cumbersome. We’ve been there before and we know how this stuff works. But due to the government shutdown, Immigration just delayed our visas again and again and again. Basically they tried telling us they weren’t affected by the shutdown but they most definitely were. It’s already hard to get a fucking visa for this country, and then along comes a government shutdown and that pretty much killed all our plans. Godflesh and Jesu have had visa issues with US tours as long as I can remember. Jesu bassist Diarmuid Dalton was busted years back for marijuana possession and decades later that was enough for Department of Immigration to deny him a visa. So once again this tour is fucked, just as other tours of ours have been fucked in the past regardless of the band, times, anything – it’s just how it is. I still remember the first time this shit happened. It was 1990 or something like that and Earache Records sent us to play two shows in the US with guitars, but no visas! So we flew into Boston to do two shows, and no fucking idea what we were doing. I was twenty years old, and had no idea. Flew in all excited to finally play the US, and instead we got detained, interrogated and shipped right back to England, we didn’t even have the chance to leave the airport. And now every single time I want to tour the US they ask me about that incident and I have to explain it to them over and over again. Now we’re shooting for April 2014, and we started work on the visas again, immediately, like six fucking months ahead of time, so let’s hope that’s enough to deal with the US’s crazy immigration bureaucracy!
Did you pick the bands to bring on tour with you on this run?
Basically, yes. It’s unfortunate about Prurient, but Dominick couldn’t do it, so at that point I wanted to get Aaron more involved, initially getting Old Man Gloom to play but they couldn’t, so at that point I suggested to him to get House of Low Culture to play. Nails are solid, they are from the West Coast, so they were never in question.
Why only a West Coast tour and not a full US run?
Since Godflesh re-formed, we’ve been very selective about dates and all aspects of things. So far, since the reunion happened in the USA, we’ve only played the Maryland Deathfest 2012. We don’t tour for months hitting every single city, and instead just try to go on short sprees that we deem important. Ten cities, no more; and since we did a big event like MDF 2012 on East Coast, we thought it was the West Coast’s turn this time, with a bunch of small selected dates.
Jesu releases seem to be a bit more infrequent and sporadic right now. Has a reunited Godflesh been stealing some time from Jesu?
Definitely, but I’m happy about that. Godflesh is alive and well and has refocused my creative output. Jesu was my baby for so many years because there was no more Godflesh, so it was a very immersive and indulgent project for me for so long. From 2005 to 2008 it got really intense and maybe excessively prolific, but that’s what I do, I’m prolific and can’t stop going. Maybe it went too far in that sense, but that’s how that project works for me. So yes, Godflesh gave me a good break from that chronic self-indulgence.
Does your music pay your bills or do you need to have a regular job to make music?
Music has paid my bills now for twenty three years. Quite an achievement I will admit, especially in this day and age. But yeah, somehow I managed to make it. But as you may know, I do a lot of work that is not only my work. I do lots of studio work for other people and especially remixes and the such. On top of that, I completely self-manage to cut expenses. I am my own manager, studio, producer and publicist. I had some good managers in the past with Godflesh but I eventually learned it on my own and saw how to do the job myself. I was giving people 20% of the band’s income to do something I learned very quickly how to do myself. Now I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s a smooth and seamless activity for me.
You had a kid recently. Even then, income from your music kept taking care of all aspects of your life?
It was hard, and it made me wonder at first. We have to put him in daycare half the week and that costs money of course. But my partner has a full time job that takes care of those types of things very nicely; it’s that steady wage coming in that is very helpful. And as I said, I have a very steady and consistent flow of work as well, and have managed to make this knowledge and creative aspect of mine productive also from an income standpoint, so in the end even with my son now here, I can still live from my music skills and activity. We’re not living in luxury, but we’re doing fine and doing what we love. That’s quite the achievement right there in my opinion. Sure, maybe I could do something else that makes me a lot more money, but that’s not what I’m interested in. This compromise right now is working perfectly for me.
With Jesu, artistically you’ve been all over the place throughout the years. You’ve done sludge-doom albums, shoegaze albums, more industrial sounding albums and so on. This time you came out with an album that sounds even a little bit like Telefon Tel Aviv at times or like Boards Of Canada even more and that is overall very electro-sounding, what do you think?
Totally. Jesu is surely influenced by Boards of Canada, and the whole electro thing overall has been very hard for me to keep out of my music as an influence, as it is something I have always loved and drawn inspiration from. They in their turn are influenced by early Aphex Twin, which is another fundamental influence of mine. So it all makes sense. I’ve see some negative criticism floating around the internet about this album. Criticism that honestly makes me laugh, cause some of these people have said my shit is out of tune. That’s a ridiculous statement to make. I mean I’m fine with whatever, criticize the songwriting, the style, the sound, whatever, but criticizing my ability to tune my instruments is fucking incredible. Most reviews, even negative, are valid because they make a point, but in these instances you see how people are just fucking ignorant and annoying. You don’t get it, that’s fine, but don’t make a fool of yourself saying it’s out of tune. You don’t see this shit in other genres. Metal is sometimes the most narrow-minded and obtuse genre there is. You never hear this stupid shit from people who are into hip-hop, electronic or even pop. It’s a metal thing to be condescending, conservative and out of touch with reality. For instance, another thing that pisses me off are the Godflesh fans that hate Jesu and are vocal about it. It’s almost like Jesu offends them. For me, it just makes it fun, I find it hilarious that you can offend someone by playing to a different audience. Someone went as far as calling Jesu “gay music” and being downright offensive. How can a gender thing ever even fit into this equation? I don’t get it. Plus Godflesh is a band that is at its roots anti-ignorance so they don’t even realize that the band they love is actually hating them! People misunderstand you as an artist all the time as soon as you make music that goes outside of their comfort zone and blends different styles or experiments with other elements. But I enjoy metal just as I do, say, folk. It’s all just music to me and I’m a music lover, and I just find it hilarious that many people can’t get this simple fact.
We also went as far as hearing old dub and glitch-styled elements in the new Jesu album. Is that something that came along in a more oblivious way or something you planned for this album from the get-go?
Totally. There are all those elements. I do try to sit down with a concept I have in my head that I then try to achieve. But then, as I keep working on stuff, rarely does that concept materialize in the end, as in the moment I get sidetracked by all other influences or moods that happen to come into the picture as I work. I think that is the beauty of making music. You know what you want, but then also the inevitable unpredictability of your emotions in creating plays its key role. It’s totally different from band situation, where you jam with other guys and concepts from the outside come into the music. It’s more of a masturbatorial kind of deal where you sit down with yourself in this really self-indulgent environment. You kind of jam with yourself and play around with your surroundings on your own. Almost everything starts as an electronic track with Jesu, everything is created with machines and then replaced later by real instruments where I think they are needed. Some Jesu stuff is more organic and straightforward, other Jesu Stuff is more instinctual and unpredictable, just depends on the mood. Also, in this project the amount of influences coming in is massive. With Jesu I really try to give a voice to pretty much any musical trait that I have ever liked. Ranging from all the metal you can think of to early electro-glitch bands like Oval. Kraftwerk being another gigantic influence on me, and another example of from how far Jesu influences can come. Jesu is a dynamic set of influences, ranging from early Sabbath to Teenage Fan Club, to Kraftwerk as I mentioned, to Human League, Public Image Ltd., Red House Painters, John Denver, Kate Bush, Sigur Ros, Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin and so on. It’s totally all over the place. Everything can be a vehicle for the melancholic sound I’m looking for with this project. The matter is just seeing in the end which influence and sound is going to predominate and determine the overall sound and feel of the work. Sometimes I self-doubt and wonder if it’s what I really wanted, but overall it’s a very seamless flow of work that comes out organically and usually naturally.
Looks like you gave up the band environment for Jesu for good, correct? The project started out as a solo project, then turned into a band when you added Diarmuid and Ted Parsons, and now it looks like you are back to the one-man-band project…
It’s true. I went back to the origins with this. I tend to get stuck in my own ways and that sometimes leaves people waiting for me and it’s just not right. I can also do the bulk of my work on my own now, saving money of course, so financially also this is a far better way to work. I think I finally found my element and environment now. If you work with a band, stuff sounds like a band, if you work on your own it sounds like you, and that’s ultimately what I want – I never wanted Jesu to sound like a band, but like something else.
So did you make Jesu into a band back then to compensate the absence of Godflesh and fill the missing gap in your life, and now that Godflesh is back your band needs are fulfilled so Jesu can go back to being your solo project?
In a way, yes, totally. It was hard to work alone and be alone in reality. Jesu is very lonely and detached music that needs to be done on my own, but I do also need the band environment, something I got back when Godflesh re-formed. At that point, once the band element was back, Jesu could go back and dwell in its natural environment, which is something definitely rooted in solitude and loneliness.
Can you also tell us about your record label Avalanche Inc.? Looks like you got rid of band members, managers and also record labels since you’ve been releasing a lot of your personal work on your own label…
Indeed, I still love to work with labels. Loved to do stuff with HydraHead and Caldo Verde etc. But that world has a logic behind it, you inevitably end up splitting your revenue from your work with someone. After all these years I have managed to put my self in a privileged and strategic position developing my own tools to self-produce and self-release my music, and in my eyes this empowers my music even more. Even Godflesh, a project which was big back then and is big now, will see a comeback through my own channels of production and distribution and become a finally 100% self-contained and self-sufficient entity. We’re talking to one label only about releasing the new album, but 90% certain we’re releasing the new Godflesh album through my label, Avalanche Inc.. I’m not going to say for obvious reasons who that label is, but all the way from big corporate ones all the way down to smallest indies, this one label is the only one we’ve had some serious talk with. I just told everyone “look, we can do this ourselves, we are going to do it ourselves and we’re going to reap the benefits from it, so don’t even try and come into the picture because this time it’s not going to happen”. I mean, we have drum machines, a guitar and a bass. We don’t need any full band space, it’s just two guys and a computer, we are really a self-contained entity that lives on minimal resources. We have everything we need to work on our own with limited or little means. I have my own studio, just for me and Ben, and that’s all we need really. Godflesh is as self-sufficient as ever and 100% DIY. We went back to how we were in the beginning before Earache came along. The only reason we’re talking to this one label is because they are very well known and respected and have come forth with a serious offer that flatters us and not just some lame proposal. We know them, know the people, and they are a serious affair, but I would still be very surprised if we end up going with them cause it’s simply so easy and obvious for us do it all on our own. The way Carcass did their last one is the way to go, even in the worst case scenario, do it on your own and pay for it if you can, and then have labels pay for it and give the band every penny it’s worth and even more if they wanna be involved in some way.
Are you going to release also other bands on Avalanche or only your projects?
I certainly will, I will release something by a really good band that I love called Transitional. They are very good and it’s a release that I’m looking forward to. I will release their new full length album. I will definitely do it in a very grassroots and realistic kind of way, I have a ton of friends who went the entire length to release other people’s music they love on CD, tape, vinyl and ended up sitting on a bunch of unsold copies at home. Not good, this will be a very limited deal that will make the product rare and desirable.
Can you confirm that new Godflesh album will be called “A World Lit Only By Fire” and maybe also explain this title?
Yes, that’s the title! And well, nothing new under the sun, it’s very familiar Godflesh imagery and themes. Very apocalyptic themes as always with the history of this band. Very loaded expressions and loaded words, and the band’s way of making a point in a substantial and direct way. Ben and I have been reading a lot of books on medieval existence in England and across Europe recently, and the state humanity was in back then was inspiring for us in recent times because of this. All the barbarity and violence that reigned in the human world undisputed back then and that was widely accepted and normal really struck our imagination, and the new Godflesh music indeed came along in the same way in the wake of this – barbaric, brutal, raw and merciless. It represents humanity’s violence and humanity’s regression back to the sword and blood, no matter how advanced we get. As long as humans exist, fires will always burn and someone will always burn. This album is again a resignation to the human condition and an expression of those sentiments. The whole feeling of this album recalls our initial albums and the same things that drove us in the beginning drive us again now. Making this album is almost like making Streetcleaner again. Like that one, this album too tries to dissect this industrial society and the brutality of man. We’re definitely back to our roots with this one, and even bringing back the decadence of Birmingham and the industrial urban areas we grew up in as kids. If you think about it, what has changed since then? Nothing. Humanity is still as brutal as it was then, this society is still as violent and nothing has fucking changed in Godflesh’s absence or even since Godflesh started. We’re as angry and alienated and confrontational as then, and anger and hatred and frustration are still the fire at the core of this band, cause this is where this band comes from.
Besides the themes and the motivation, is the sound also similar to your early work?
Very similar indeed, only with much better production I think. This new album will sound like the biggest record we’ve ever made. Production technologies have improved, instrumentation and gear have improved and over all we’re just also better musicians as well now than we were back then. We’re just a stronger unit now, more independent than ever, while also more skilled and well-equipped than ever before. It’s all-around fucking Godflesh: not technical, very minimal, brutal, raw, discordant, no leads, all based on rhythm and texture and layering, extremely simplistic and straight up brutal.
Were you trying to get there with early Jesu as well after the demise of Godflesh?
Jesu, in the beginning, was definitely trying to exorcise the ghost of Godflesh and trying to replace it in some way. I had done Godflesh for my whole life by the time it folded. Since I was eighteen years old all the way to my early thirties. It was so hard to shake the ghost of Godflesh. That band had literally become a part of me. The only way to shake that ghost was to bring it back to life. I wish we had re-formed Godflesh sooner in a way. Having Godflesh just benefits me in so many ways. It allows Jesu to be what it really is and wants to be and just allows me to have all the outputs I need. I have Godflesh for the heaviness and Jesu for all my other explorations, and the fact that the two are finally coexisting is incredible and I’m really excited about this dream state I am in.
So how did this reunion happen? Who pushed it first?
Well, at first people came to me to push me to do it again and I said no for years. I hadn’t spoken to Ben for like five years and it just didn’t seem possible. Then, eventually, I started to miss the band and I became the one wanting it and pushing for it but I never would have thought Ben would be down, I just thought he was done for good, especially after losing touch and just not even talking for so long. When I finally saw him and told him about my desire after so much time he immediately said yes, and I was really caught off guard by that, I was really surprised. I absolutely missed Godflesh for so many years and the fact that I had gotten used to missing it didn’t seem right, that band has always been so intrinsically me and part of who I am that it just felt weird to be without it at a certain point. The same for Jesu – I need both in my life, so that’s what I tried to accomplish and what I finally obtained. It was a hard and long road, all uphill, to get here. Re-forming Godflesh wasn’t easy. All of a sudden I was like “shit, I’m going back there again?”. It was scary at first, but then after the first show we played I realized we were back for good, back to what we know how to do best. It was great, I felt so proud to show people this music again. Godflesh can’t exist without Ben and his bass tone and style, and I’m just glad we both wanted the same thing and brought the beast back.