The Perils of Constantly Recording: An Interview With Justin Broadrick
Justin Broadrick’s band Jesu came as quite the surprise for those who followed his work in Napalm Death and Godflesh, because the brutality, the harshness and floating waves of dissonance had become only philosophical elements of Jesu’s electronic and guitar experimentations. But since the project began in 2003, Jesu has come into its own and kept Broadrick very busy recording for numerous releases every year, including splits, singles and remix projects.
Broadrick never stops moving, though. But occasionally he takes breaks. He even takes vacations, however most would doubt it because of his output. After getting back from a recent breather, he caught up with Noisecreep from his home in England. And he took a deep look back on the split with Envy that was just re-released outside of Japan for the first time. This look at the year-old release was hard for Broadrick, as he tends to not enjoy his finished products.
“Some things I let go, I’m somewhat happy with. And other things I let go I might be really happy with it at the time, but as usual with everything I make six months onwards later I have so much self doubt,” Broadrick told Noisecreep. He also filled us in on his upcoming EP, ‘Opiate Sun’ for Caldo Verde — which may be one of the hardest projects he’s ever done — because one of the musicians he admires most is releasing it.
When were the songs for the split with Envy actually written?
Oh God. I’m trying to remember. I think it was March 2008, that sounds familiar to me. I did specifically record those songs for that split. The beats for the first track ‘Hard to Reach’ … I had already been working on that concept a few months before the head of Daymare Records in Japan asked me to do the split with Envy.
I’ve often wondered if you just pull songs from a library of songs you have for splits. Like the ‘Pale Sketches’ album of unreleased songs.
When I got the split, I didn’t have that much on the back burner. With ‘Pale Sketches,’ that was the whole intention of it really — to clear out a lot of stuff that was sitting around unused for a few years, really. Even some of the tracks on ‘Pale Sketches’ came from things that were Final tracks that originated in 2000 or something.
That was all when I was doing a lot of writing and recording for Jesu and Final stuff simultaneously; the projects became a little blurred after a while because of my use of melody within Final was becoming full, and similar melodies were being used in the Jesu stuff. The ‘Pale Sketches’ stuff was a combination of this sort of work and me compiling the stuff and mixing it in the same period. It’s weird really because ‘Pale Sketches’ sounds sort of like a whole record in a way — or to me it has a similar sound to everything, because I mixed the tracks in the same period even though it all came from different periods of writing.
When your working on a few projects at the same time — for instance Final and Jesu — how do you separate what goes to which project?
Generally, I’m very direct with what I’m doing. It’s only with the limits I set myself that it all blurs really sometimes. In hindsight, when I’ve lived with a piece for a while then I can only commit to it, I think.
Jesu for a while there was pretty busy. I had an awful lot of material, and I didn’t stop writing and recording simultaneously. I’ve since stopped that. I’ve since tamed myself a bit and been more direct a bit about what I’m trying to achieve and not spread it so thin. There was two years there where there were like 5,000 Jesu releases and it was getting real ridiculous (laughter). It was just getting mad, I just collected up so many tracks. I may now be at the frame of mind where I just write specifically and I just don’t write and record; I’ve changed the way I’ve recorded, for the forthcoming Jesu stuff. And the way I think. And the way I approach these records. Instead of it being really open-ended, and I just come to thing, I have become more direct with a compartment of time and saying, “This is what I’m doing in that.”
In the last year maybe there has been no blur in the lines really, because I have gotten together a method of working in the studio and focusing on one single thing, even though there have been a lot more music and a lot more projects. Even though there have been more, I’ve been even more productive, but not spreading myself so thin in terms of what a project does.
Now the split with Envy was released almost over a year ago in Japan, and just now is seeing a broader release. How do you feel about the your two songs, looking back on them now?
I was quite happy with it upon release, but I’m so rarely ever 100 percent happy with anything I release. But I just have to let it go at some point, really. If there wasn’t any reigns or limitations or deadlines I’d probably still be working on the first Jesu album now. You know what I mean? I could spend eight years working on a record, there’s no reason why i couldn’t just do that so I have to let things go.
Some things I let go I’m somewhat happy with, and other things I let go I might be really happy with it at the time. But as usual with everything … six months onwards later, I have so much self doubt. Both those songs from the Envy split I wish I could have reproduced them or remixed them, or something like that. I’m still sort of happy with the intention. The first four minutes on ‘Hard to Reach’ still pretty much stands out to me with the beats that lead the song in, and I was very happy with my vocals on that — and still am. The guitar sounds at the start coming in over the beat I’m still happy with. I still get a vibe off of it, and I’m happy with how the vibe works. The second track, I still love the melodies and stuff, but it sounds a bit safe to me. I wish it sounded a bit rawer and rougher. It came out a bit smooth sounding, and I guess I’m just not into that smooth sound at this moment.
Every record I make is a lesson learned … I’ll feel like that for an eternity of making music. I’ll never truly be happy with anything. Sometimes the journey is probably more enjoyable than the destination sometimes. You know what I mean? After the release, I’m just never happy with these records. I just can’t be helped. I really love ‘Hard to Reach.’ I just wish it sounded a bit more like what was in my head.
You have another EP coming out this year called ‘Opiate Sun’ that has been rerecorded a few times. What’s going on with that release?
I’m literally just about to send it to Mark Kozelek, the guy behind Caldo Verde and Red House Painters and stuff. Even now I have doubts and I’m giving him a couple mixes of each song to choose from. That record, for me, has been a serious work — it’s been over a year, well over a year to be honest. Firstly, I recorded it as I normally recorded Jesu for the last few years maybe, and it just didn’t work. I just couldn’t get happy with it. I didn’t even give it to Mark.
We had everything ready for that record. We had the sleeves, the promotion sorted, and all that sort of stuff, and Mark was really excited to receive it. And then I just pulled it at the last minute. This was really due to the pressure of being a huge fan of Mark Kozelek’s work.
Oh yeah. He’s always been the person people point to as having the same sense and style of melody as you.
Exactly! His stuff is a mammoth influence on Jesu. I first discovered Mark via Red House Painters in ’92 or something. Obviously I was still doing Godflesh at that time, and it had a huge impact on me at the time. But it never really in any serious way shined through on the Godflesh sound. But when Godflesh crumbled, I really knew the influence of his work would start to come though in my music. Clearly, with him being such an influence on my work, I was really stunned when I found out he was into my stuff.
How did you guys meet?
The guy that introduced us — Zak [Sally], who played in Low — met me at a show in Minneapolis. And we were talking about Low, and about how much he liked Jesu. And he’s a comic artist, too, and was showing me some of his stuff. He then said, “I know you’re a big fan of Mark Kozelek and stuff.” And I was like, “F—ing yeah man.” He said, “He’s a friend of mine and he likes your stuff.” And I was really taken back. He said, “He really wants to come see you on this tour.”
Mark saw us live, but we really didn’t get to meet at the show … He e-mailed me after the show, telling me how much he enjoyed it and got a couple of the records, and then invited me to make a Jesu album for his label. He was open to anything initially, even an album, but I said, “Let’s play it safe and I’ll do an EP and see what you think.”
I’m such a sad fan of his stuff that I’m really self-conscious about giving him something that he really likes, but he seems generally enamored with the overall vibe of Jesu as it is.
Is there anything different about ‘Opiate Sun’ compared to other recent Jesu releases?
It’s very much a rock record. It couldn’t be anything further from the split. Let’s put it that way. Because the split had a lot of electronica and stuff like that, and the Caldo Verde EP is just straight up rock with guitar, bass, drums, vocals — a really huge sound with lots of harmonies. To me … it sounds like a Hüsker Dü record at half the speed and half the pitch. (laughter)
Because the split with Envy was initially release in Japan, it’s been all over music blogs for full download to share. Do you have any feelings on that record being so fully distributed before it’s full release?
The whole downloading thing is full of negatives and positives. The way it is now as a musician, and an artist who lives off music, you have to literary design yourself to the situation. There is no use in fighting it what so ever.
I think it was inevitable. I knew this when Daymare was going to release it first, it was just obvious that there will be more people downloading it for free than buying it. These days that is a fact. I’m fairly internet-savvy, and I go to places and see what’s going on. I look at torrent sites and see how many people have downloaded the s–t in general. A lot of time, it’s way more than what you sold, and clearly it would be better off if the people downloading were actually buying the record. But that’s just the way that it is now. I think this whole generation of kids, young people, who have no concept of getting records any other way than that fashion. Being an older guy who came from vinyl, when there only was vinyl, it’s pretty shocking that this is what it’s come to.
What’s a bigger shame is people are downloading these records at a 192 kbps rate and they think that compressed sound is how the record, and music, is supposed to sound.
It sounds like absolute shit! And a lot of these people listen through iTunes, which again iTunes sounds like s–t. iTunes is such a reduction. When you listen to an audio file hi-fi digital music streamer and compare the sound of that to iTunes playing the same MP3, it’s absolutely shocking. Myself, I own an audio file digital music streamer; I mean I’ll buy FLACs of albums and stuff, and I obviously release some stuff of marginal projects in digital format in FLAC format or high quality MP3. And honestly, audio file digital music streamer just s–ts on iTunes.
These kids are listening to, as you say, 192 kbps files and listening to them on iTunes. And it’s the worst f—ing sound I ever heard. That’s the sad thing, we have a whole generation of people now who think that is the bottom line of sound. This is beyond me.
As you said, that’s the standard of sound as far as they are concerned. It’s just so distorted in terms of the quality of sound. And I’m a real stickler for high quality and stuff. I have an expensive vinyl setup, and that means the world to me — hearing things in the best quality sound I can hear. It just makes music even more redundant in their lives, like another music commodity, like buying a f—ingg video game or something. I’m just resigned to it as well.