INTERVIEW: Justin Broadrick

Ahead of a Baker's Dozen, the Godflesh man gives us the inside track on the new and long-awaited album, A World Lit Only By Fire

Photograph courtesy of VB

"Very singular" and "very brutal" was Justin Broadrick’s intention with the new Godflesh record, A World Lit Only By Fire, due on October 6. A declaration that even pre pre-order is music to the ears of the Godflesh faithful who waited 13 years since last album Hymns, hopeful Broadrick (above, right) and co-founder and bassist G.C. Green would reform after splitting in 2002.

Which they did, in 2010, first to play Hellfest and later Supersonic and Roadburn festivals where – in another thrilling development – they played their seminal first record Streetcleaner in its entirety. As a long-term fan who’s travelled wide at Broadrick’s side into many a collaboration and solo project, it is still those first two Godflesh records I return to most: that 1989 debut and 1992’s Pure. That Godflesh too was inclined to return to those roots felt both right and righteous.

It could have ended there, and fairly happily for those who saw the Streetcleaner shows, but punters were not the only ones energised by feeling the brute physical force of summoning those early songs to life onstage again. Broadrick and Green felt it too and it felt good. And for Broadrick, personally, nothing had replaced how effectively Godflesh could express and exorcise what he describes in one word to be the duo’s essence: frustration. Before the album’s release and his Baker’s Dozen, we got an update from Broadrick.

Why release an EP, Decline & Fall, before the album?

Justin Broadrick: That was a classic Godflesh move. In our history, we often released EPs before albums. I have a love for the format. EPs are essentially non-committal, somewhat experimental and were a format dear to me as a kid. Singles, I was never that enamoured with because I felt you had to spend too much to get very little. But four-track EPs I just adored.

Some of the first EPs I bought were early Killing Joke. They had dub versions, which has influenced my entire career. Birmingham was very multicultural and my parents were really into music, and sometimes at night I’d be sitting in cars with them, they’d be smoking dope and have the local radio on, reggae. So when I got into post-punk the fact that Killing Joke had some relationship with that culture fascinated me. EPs with dub versions has stuck with me ever since.

Ah. So they weren’t just the songs that didn’t fit on the album?

JB: People make the presumption they’re filler songs but some of the songs on the EP, I did for the EP. They’re a bit more diverse, slightly more dynamic.

The whole idea for the album was to make a very singular, very brutal, almost monosyllabic record. I didn’t want it to be dynamic or remotely progressive because even though these are often seen as positive things, they’re not for me. I like it to be as primitive and primal as possible.

Brutal, singular and monosyllabic. That sounds like familiar Godflesh territory!

JB: We reformed essentially to do what we do, we’re not overly ambitious. I don’t mean for that to sound regressive, I just wanted to continue to the cycle, so to speak. Though this album was intended to be far more direct than last three.

For me, this is the best Godflesh album in 20 years. Obviously, we didn’t exist for nine of those but that’s essentially me saying my last favourite was Selfless in ’94, which, not co-incidentally, was the last album we used purely drum machines on. I’m not as proud of the last three albums.

This new material is back to the machine, back to the roots of our sound. We wanted to get back to that stripped back, primal, man-machine marriage. To get back to Godflesh’s original blueprint.

It’s interesting, talking to you now. You’re cheerful, a dad, you’re gardening – is it hard to re-locate the hatred and angst? How do you go back there?

JB: Essentially it never left. It is somewhat compartmentalised, I mean, in day-to-day existence, I’m not that Godflesh guy. It’s a frustrated side of me that is only externalised through the music.

The whole time Godflesh didn’t exist I was becoming increasingly frustrated with not being able to express myself the way I do through Godflesh, definitely. The older I get the more I realise I use music as a therapy. I’m riddled with so many paranoias and very detailed insecurities that I exorcise a lot of that through music. 

I am generally known as a well-balanced, humorous guy and when I meet people who expect an ogre they are really disappointed. They say: "You’re Justin Broadrick? But you’re just a lighthearted, fun guy. What the fuck?" The music does it, I don’t need to do that personally. If I didn’t have the music, who knows? I am averagely schizophrenic – not on a concerning level hopefully – but my projects are a way of dealing with the extremes of my personality, each one fulfils and cleanses my problems.

In one word, what does Godflesh cleanse?

JB: Frustration. Frustration with myself, the world, with existence. I feel consistently frustrated, angered, disenchanted, disappointed, disillusioned – I could go on, but frustrated is word that most embodies Godflesh. 

It took a while to pull together this record right?

JB: We played live for a year and a half before I started committing to what was in my head. I somewhat fantasised about making this album but I didn’t want to make it real because I thought I’d disappoint myself.

Playing live was the catalyst. Feeling the music again at such a physical volume and becoming physically connected with it again. With my other main project, Jesu, the composition process is totally different, I could write songs almost acoustically, whereas Godflesh clearly needs to be as amplified and physical as possible really. 

How did it feel playing the old material?

JB: We were highly selective about song choice and only played from the first few albums and EPs which are the most honest representation of what Godflesh set out to achieve.

And eventually you started writing?

JB: By that time, I had a few beats, strangely, which makes me sound like Kanye West, but 50% of Godflesh is about rhythm and groove; a lot is born from beats. Often I’ll have a hip hop sample, or an old school beat and I’ll slow it right down and try to articulate that rhythm through my guitar, without being remotely progressive, and reduce it down to as few notes as possible to basically speak rhythm and groove. Everything for me is about reduction.

I’m actually really happy with it. I usually feel quite let down with my own music, eventually, but this was finished eight or nine months ago and I’m still happy with it, so I must have gotten close to it, you know what I mean?

You were worried you’d disappoint yourself. Were you also worried you’d disappoint others?

JB: That is always present and I knew there would be a weight of expectation with this record, since we’re in the lucky position of having attained some sort of legendary status over the years. That can make you get a bit self conscious about what you’re going to achieve, you know, so I think if we hadn’t been lucky enough to have that, I’d give even less of a shit.

But we expect to disappoint people. I’m one of those pessimistically optimistic people, I expect the worst and if I get anything better than that, it’s a bonus. I always think everything’s doomed to failure. I was stunned when the record started getting around and we got a positive response in the press because I expected to shit people off and I still do.

Essentially though, this album was made to satisfy our need and my need to make Godflesh music again that I’m really happy with. I love making this music – I love the process, the composing, putting the record together, it’s brilliant. It’s all generally downhill after that but when you’re isolated in that vacuum, I love it.

Looks like you’ve got a few unpacked boxes there?

Yeah, that’s the new Godflesh album, just delivered on vinyl. There are 250 limited edition copies for the webstore. To the left of me are the CDs. Everything’s in here because there’s a gate on my office door so my three-year-old son doesn’t break everything!

A World Lit Only By Fire is out on October 6 via Avalanche Recordings

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today