Godfles Interview at HMV Forum, Kentish Town
16th June 2011
Interview by Rhiannon Marley
Photos by Jo Blackenend
If someone turns the word ‘Godflesh’ on you, what do you think? At face-value, of course, there’s potential uproar from both ends of the religious spectrum. Your Bible-bashers will take offence at literalising that 90s one-hit-wonder about God being one of us, and a stranger on the bus. God’s far too good for that. Your Dawkins-delegates will laugh after the first three letters alone – and this is before you touch the idea that there’s something palpable about the old bugger.For the sake of controversy, then, it’s just as well that within the selective ‘Industrial’ sphere, Godflesh is indeed a holy term – but nothing to do with the big man in the sky stepping on temporal turf. Birmingham’s innovative metallers have been busy bees for over two decades. With six studio albums, career trajectories and flirtations with both niche and more widespread status, the respect granted them by acts from Korn and Metallica, to Danzig and Faith No More, coupled with burgeoning creative CVs, serves proof that they cut the mustard for content. Yet their experimentation, intensity and refusal to alter Kirk “Metallica” Hammett’s definition of them as “the heaviest band in existence”, have cemented their iconic underground presence into a cult legacy in its own right.
I was lucky enough to speak with the boys, before their first UK gig in 12 years, at the HMV Forum in Kentish Town: dressing-room, crisps and all. Godflesh? Welding your speakers with sonic steel since 1988.
Rhiannon Marley (RM): So gentlemen, how’s it been coming back and touring again after 12 years? It’s been a long while; is it a breath of fresh air or does it feel a bit strange?
Justin Broadrick (JB): “Err…yeah, yeah, very strange, we haven’t done that much really…we’re not actually even really touring, we’re just doing one-off shows. We’d never tour again, actually…” (Laughs)
Benny Green (BG): “We said we’d never reform again!” (Laughs)
JB: “Yeah, we said we’d never reform, but we did…but we certainly will never tour again. We just play one-off shows, ’cause it’s easy, and we’re too old to be traversing the world again, y’know. I had enough of that shit; I’ve have enough of living in bands, for the last…done with that.”
RM: Across your releases, you’ve experimented a lot with the nature of your sound – from your early underground classics such as ‘Streetcleaner’ and ‘Pure’, your Columbia Records involvement for ‘Selfless’ and the ‘Merciless’ EP, and even the more electronic-heavy sound of ‘Us and Them’. Is there any one style or album you feel you’ve been most at home in, or have you taken elements from all of them, to become the Godflesh of 2011?
BG: “I mean, each album progresses as you progress as a person; you mature, you change, you have different experiences, you feel different about life, and that comes out in the music. Y’know, we are obviously influenced by other music as well, like we’ve always tried to, sort of…add flavour, things that we like, into the things that we do. So for me personally, I don’t have a particular ‘favourite’ style, period or album; I think they’re all fairly unique, or fairly different, even though it’s ‘us’, essentially.”
JB: “Yeah, we never made the same album, once, basically…can’t even remember how many albums we actually made, was it 6 or 7?”
BG: “Something like that, yeah.”
JB: “But we never made the same record once; if one record was successful, we generally…the next record wasn’t like that record at all, and we’d usually lose some audience because of it. We’re pretty suicidal like that; we never capitalised upon our popularity, always did exactly what we wanted to do, and that was it. For us, it’s just about music and not commerce, or any of this business.”
RM: Leading on from the second question and in consideration of this range of styles in your music, whom would you say are your top 5 collective influences as a group?
JB: “Christ…Killing Joke…probably early Killing Joke…when I say early, it really is; it’s all the original works by these people…the first couple of albums…but Killing Joke, Swans…err…Black Sabbath…umm…then it gets vast beyond then, doesn’t it?”
BG: “Yeah…you can pick an album to have different influences, but those three…Hip Hop as a genre…”
JB: “Yeah, a lot of old-school Hip Hop, literally…80s Hip Hop, really…but you wouldn’t put them in the five; it’s genres, as well, as much as anything…those three bands I just mentioned. I mean for me, I wouldn’t be making music at all if it wasn’t for Crass…the old Crust-Punk band. I mean really, that’s the background I come from, was Crust-Punk, from the early 80s to the late 80s, so I was a smelly, trampy-looking, wearing all black clothes with dreadlocks down there somewhere (gestures to his waist) when I was 14 or whatever.”
BG: “I came sort of the other way, from Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, I had long hair: a rocker.”
JB: “Yeah, Ben came from more classic rock and stuff like that, in a way. And Indie stuff, and punk…but then, when I first met Ben, ultimately his favourite music was the Beach Boys, which obviously doesn’t bear any resemblance to Godflesh whatsoever. But there is something there; again, it’s really wide, y’know…”
RM: Let’s talk about your side projects. What would you say your secondary musical ventures, such as Jesu and Final, allow you to express or experiment with that you don’t in Godflesh?
JB: “Err…I think for me, it’s just the fact that once I discovered I could make music in any form…in any way an efficient form of music, it was quite clear that I enjoyed such a wide range of music, that I couldn’t exist in just insular musics, y’know…I like making many insular musics, if you know what I mean. I like things narrow, but once I do that so much, I get tired of it.
I wanna move up to the next narrow thing, but within a wide range of genres, y’know what I mean? So for me, it’s trying to constantly…for me, it’s therapy music, y’know, it expresses everything that I’ve been through in my life, and am still going through. I can’t paint very well; music is art, and music is the first for me. Obviously, I feel some compelling need to express myself all the time, whether people care or not…y’know what I mean?” (Laughs)
BG: “It’s about expressing people through lots of different music as well, that comes through collaborating with other people; they’ll bring their style into places, and also, you can’t just express everything through one style of music. Well, you could, but Godflesh would be pretty fucked up individually, if that’s the only expression you could make throughout your whole life.”
JB: “Yeah that’s it…it’s too narrow. It’s way too narrow. Music for me, is the only language that I’m somewhat adept at, and it is another language, so for me, it’s like…I can choose all these different ways of expressing. Again, language is the wrong word, ’cause obviously music transcends language, and transcends everything, so it’s like ultimately, again you’re using a form which is art, it’s universal. And that for me, you’re just tapping into this universal power, I mean, many musicians will say that they don’t ever even feel like the music’s coming from them; they’re just channelling something, from somewhere.”
RM: Luckily, you’ve both been able to make a career out of it. (To Justin): Is it indeed true that you were asked to join Danzig and Faith No More as a full-time band member?
JB: “Yeah…back in the day. Back when they were big, actually!” (Laughs)
RM: (To Ben and Justin): Do you feel your professional choices have worked out for the best for you, concerning everything that’s happened over the years to Godflesh (line-up changes, different directions, etc)?
JB: “It really is in hindsight to say, “oh, we fucked up with this, that, this, that, this, that, and it’s like…”
BG: “We’re only human, you don’t know, you know what I mean; the creative process in itself is…uncontrollable to some degree. Particularly with records, we always look back and listen to it and maybe…”
JB: “ ‘Oh, we should have done this; we should have done that…’ ”
BG: “I think overall, no, I don’t think we’d have done anything radically different. I think for us, we all try to be in control, y’know – had a bit of a flirtation with a manager for a while; it didn’t quite work…”
JB: “Yeah, yeah, we tried all these things, didn’t we? Game-playing!” (Laughs)
BG: “Yeah, wherever we went! The studio: it didn’t work, so we got our own stuff. And for us, it was almost an extension of…y’know, being in your bedroom, being a kid, and being able to indulge yourself completely in what you want to do.”
JB: “Yeah, because once you become so involved in the industry, you can become…um…almost overwhelmed by it, y’know what I mean? And that’s the thing, really: it is overwhelming. We’ve never been that adept at playing that sort of game, really.”
BG: “Business, business, at the end of the day. You have to do it: you have to play it a certain way.”
JB: “Yeah, you become a businessman. Which is not what we got into it for, in a way; you just got into it for music, but once it becomes…y’know, you’re making a living out of it as well, that’s even more…you’re clearly gonna try and sustain that living as well, but without compromise.”
RM: That’s a really good point about the commercial side of things, which I’m hoping a later question of mine is going to grill you on, but before I ask you that, I want to ask about your on-screen appearance in the movie ‘Hideaway’ and your being featured on the soundtrack. Is there an ideal film on whose soundtrack Godflesh could appear?
JB: “Oh God, that would be pretty endless, wouldn’t it? But soundtrack-wise, if we could have had our music in something that we would be huge, like, fans of, the director or something, that’s pretty endless, ain’t it?”
BG: “Err…yeah. I remember when years ago somebody said…err…what’s that Steven Spielberg film? With the guy driving around in it, the tour?”
JB: “Duel! Somebody’s got hold of that Godflesh song about a duel!” (Laughs)
BG: “The guy driving in that believed he was a street cleaner, that’s what he was!” (Laughs)
JB: “I think…Ken Russell at his best, I think we would have liked, because for us, a huge influence on Godflesh was…um, two movies by Ken Russell, which was ‘The Devils’ and ‘Altered States’, and that, for me…I mean, both those films we first watched on acid, and that for me was like…I remember the first time I saw the devils, and we were all insane on tabs and tabs of acid, and I sat about two feet away from the screen, and the devils were so fuckin’ full-on…Oliver Reed, y’know the whole deal…the sets…everything. It was like, “this is Godflesh in living…this is everything concerned with what this is about, on so many levels.” But that’s what we were trying to do, when we were doing things like doing loads of acid and watching films like that: we were trying to make music that could somehow…um…‘be’ that acid experience, if you know what I mean.”
BG: “Yeah, capture that feeling for us, that emotion…”
JB: “Yeah, that intensity, that emotional intensity, of…like, y’know…”
BG: “And somebody asked that before, that if we got asked to do music for a film…I’m not sure we would do Godflesh. It would be nice to make outside music more and have a laugh, rather than out-and-out Godflesh.”
JB: “It would be…it probably just wouldn’t work in something, really. It’s odd; it’s like an odd way of…yeah. I mean, there’s directors that, obviously besides Ken Russell would be brilliant.”
RM: There are, naturally, obvious comparisons between Godflesh and other forefront Industrial outfits, such as Nine Inch Nails and Ministry. Does the idea of a ‘cult’ or ‘underground’ status appeal to you as a band, or is commercialism important to you?
JB: “I think we’re fairly resigned to that sort of ‘cult’ status, really, I think. It’s like we’ve never…obviously, something like Nine Inch Nails is…y’know…it’s arguably pop music, ultimately. I think obviously, he’s made records where the confrontation could be construed as something approaching extreme, but um…y’know a lot of it is really pop music.
I think we know that Godflesh was never gonna be filling stadiums, d’you know what I mean? I don’t think we ever had any illusions. Most situations we’d be in where we were being took as being something bigger than what we are, we’d be like, “what the fuck are we doing here?” Even this show; we’ll be lucky if it’s half-full. And that’s something that we’d be resigned to. It’s not we’d even be surprised; we thought we’d be in the Camden ‘Dog and Turd’, or whatever (Laughs). So it’s always a surprise: it’s still like, ‘what are we doing here?’ ”
RM: Your lyrical and artistic themes are said to emphasise duality, oppression, paranoia and martyrdom, among others. Is Godflesh’s work related to your own personal introspections, or just hypothetical situations?
JB: “Oh, definitely personal introspection, yeah, yeah, definitely. World view, personal view, microcosm of life, seeing your own life as being ultimately just like others, all the cycle of existence: yeah, everything for me. I mean, for me, everything’s just…I’m that self-indulgent that everything is a self-documentary, to some extent. Everything lyrically: it isn’t superficial; it is a real pain, in some way or another that I’ve felt, and that’s what Godflesh is, definitely.
I mean, it’s just really emotional; I think we both relate to things that are highly emotional, y’know what I mean? Even if it’s really beautiful, sad pop music, that’s as important as something that has waves of violent noise, or whatever. I mean for me, I’d like to listen…I will listen, to the most beautiful pop music, and then an hour later, listen to Whitehouse or something, because it’s all…it’s the same, ultimately. As long as it’s really…it’s the emotional power of music which is…and it’s trying to translate these emotions, somehow, in whatever method, form. But it’s all ‘self’!” (Laughs)
RM: Last question, gents: Desert-Island Disc. If you could each take three albums with you onto a desert island, what would they be?
JB: “God, I got asked to do this for a magazine recently…I was asked for ten! And I did a list of 25…and stopped at 25, and I was like: “I can do more!” (Laughs) It’s too final, isn’t it? It really is virtually impossible. The first thing that come to mind was one I forgot in the 25: it was Brian Eno, ‘Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks’, so that would definitely be one of them.”
BG: “I’d have ‘On Land’, by Brian Eno. For pop music, I’d probably take ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, the Beatles album. I’d probably take ‘Nuuk’ by Thomas Koner – one of my favourite albums.”
JB: “Killing Joke: first album. Only the first album; no, I mean, I adore Killing Joke, but the first album, particularly, is life-changing. I think I’d have to go for something fairly extreme: I think I’d go for something in the context of Godflesh, maybe – that’s the easiest way to approach that, so those first two…totally significant. So it’d either be Black Sabbath: ‘Paranoid’, or Swans: ‘Filth’. Or we could split them up, and make a compilation out of them…45 minutes of each, all in one album!”
Witty, funny, and emotionally-charged, the Godflesh boys certainly know what they want. Treading the boards for 23 years has given unbounded insight into the virtues and vices of the business: for better, for worse. But such experience has also provided the presence of mind and musical integrity to retain a strong spine, and not allow the compromise of marketability to pull the rug from under their feet. I can’t wait to catch them onstage in a couple of hours’ time – hope they’ll save me some of those cocktail sausages from their dressing-table…