The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

In Extremis

Laughing In The Face Of Derision: Justin Broadrick Discusses Pale Sketcher
Rob Haynes , November 10th, 2010 05:48

Rob Haynes talks to Justin Broadrick about Pale Sketcher, Jesu, Godflesh and more

Adding once more to his already sprawling CV of projects, Pale Sketcher finds musically promiscuous noise-guru Justin Broadrick take a step into ethereal guitarless electronica. It’s not the biggest surprise – Broadrick already has established form with beat-heavy and six-string absent Techno Animal and Curse of the Golden Vampire – but nevertheless, the resulting album Jesu: Pale Sketches Demixed is his most commercial-sounding and melodic work to date.

Taking its origins from an album of offcuts from his shoegaze metal band Jesu called Pale Sketches, Pale Sketcher deconstructs the original songs into fragile, spidery gauzes of music, opening up a new direction in a route which stretches back improbably to the formative stages of Napalm Death.

Broadrick takes a few breathless minutes off from gigs with the reunited noise icons Godflesh to discuss the latest tributary of an endlessly restless career.

Pale Sketcher has had an unusual evolution.

Justin Broadrick: Yeah, around 2007 I put out the Jesu album Pale Sketches on my own Avalanche Recordings. They were leftovers from each Jesu record to that point - not because I didn’t consider them good enough, [but] it was more how appropriate they were conceptually to the record they would have been included in. So these odds and ends made sense on their own, as a stand-alone record. It met with a mixture of derision and excitement, and it’s quite predictable for me to get extreme responses [laughs].

Some people were bemoaning the fact that it was largely electronic. It was certainly met with more derision than some of the Jesu records of that period, Conqueror and Silver, which seemed to straddle that ground anyway. As a consequence of doing that record, the label Ghostly International got in touch with me, firstly to remix a band of theirs called school of Seven Bells. I really like the label, and they displayed a big interest in the Jesu stuff that was more towards electronica, and they were the catalyst for the Pale Sketcher project. I sent them a copy of the original Pale Sketches album and told them that it was the sort of thing I wanted to touch upon more, but not in the setting of Jesu. That gave me the inspiration to take the thing further. I’ve always been a huge electronica fan and for quite a while, I’ve wanted to do something that has the melancholy of Jesu that was purely electronic.

So the absence of guitars in Pale Sketcher is fundamental?

JB: Yes, absolutely - particularly the absence of down-tuned heavy guitars. Fundamental to the Jesu concept is this idea of quite obtuse pop songs but delivered in the context of ultra down-tuned heavy metal. That marriage is still the exciting thing for me, but I wanted to knock out the guitars and turn it into pure electronica. I’m well aware that a lot of people are doing similar stuff. I didn’t think for an instant I was doing anything unique. I feel Jesu is something fresh – Pale Sketcher isn’t about setting the world alight, it’s just something I really enjoy and want to do.

You’ll always bring along a section of your following from Godflesh and Jesu who will find this different - and maybe even controversial...

JB: Yes. It’s been met with some initial derision, but there’s also a new audience. Ghostly have presented it to a new audience that hasn’t got the baggage of my background. You know, I’m this guy who’s known for really brutal and depressing music, who is now doing this music that is more about lightness and texture. But I was resigned to the fact that a shitload of people would hate this project.

Does Pale Sketcher have any life outside of Jesu?

JB: Absolutely. For me, this is one of the most exciting ongoing projects I’ve got, and it’s designed to have a life of its own. I’ve already got a new four song EP probably coming out in early December, and they’re not songs culled from Jesu. They’re new, with a remix on there from King Midas Sound.

You’ve just completed a very successful resurrection of Godflesh. Will you be carrying on with this schizophrenic juggling of projects and genres?

JB: Yeah, definitely. It is schizophrenic, and I like taking those artistic risks. I’m not sure if it does me more harm than good, but if that’s the case then so be it.

When you do these different projects, does it involve different thought processes for the writing? Do you write in a different room, listen to different background music…?

JB: It can be a number of triggers or inspirations. I’m also quite disciplined about when I should be doing certain records, so I force myself to get into a mode. I intentionally set myself goals and parameters otherwise the results could just be a bit loose. It’s never forced – I could operate at any time in one of these guises in the studio. It doesn’t always work. Other times it will just flow and I’ll have too many ideas.

Also, I get bored really quickly. It’s an obsessional way of working.

Have you ever started work on one thing - Jesu, say - and it’s ended up as something else? A Grey Machine song, or whatever?

JB: It can get close, but I’m very singular in the way I apply myself. With Jesu, it’s more difficult for it to spread into the more brutal improvised side of something like Grey Machine. I’m sure some people wish I’d just fuse it all into one or two projects, but I enjoy working like this.

I wouldn’t say that here’s a huge difference between styles of your differing projects a lot of the time. You were singing on parts the first Godflesh album; it’s not like your melodic work came out of nowhere.

JB: Exactly. With Jesu I was obviously exploring new territory, but it was still in the same context, I felt - just that they were expanded upon. But I didn’t want to deviate too much. I didn’t want to turn Godflesh into the concept I had for Jesu. Each Godflesh album sounded a bit different, but if we’d have done one that sounded like a Pale Sketcher record it would have been a complete failure in a way. I like the freshness of things – even leaving Godflesh and coming back, it feels fresh again, not like we’re just doing it for nostalgia reasons. That Birmingham Supersonic show felt timeless for us, like we’d never stepped away from it. Funny.