A few months ago, I took it upon myself to review the latest Godflesh album, Songs Of Love And Hate, and, well.....I lowered the boom on it! (See issue #46 for the gory details). So, about a month ago, when a publicist from Earache Records, rang me up and offered me a chance to interview Godflesh vocalist, guitarist, song writer and overall mastermind Justin Broadrick, I was a little hesitant to accept the offer. Okay, okay, I was scared stupid and I tried to weasel my way out of it. "Um, did you see my review? I asked. "Yes," she replied, "and I think it would be cool if you and Justin talked over what you didn't like about the record. He's a really nice guy," she assured me. I told her I would be on my best behavior and submitted to her request.
I spent the next week or so trying to figure out exactly what my "beef" was with the "flesh." Soon I discovered that, prior to our chat, my big gripe with Justin and Godflesh was their blatant thievery of lyrics from Leonard Cohen. Even their album title, Songs Of Love And Hate, is lifted word for word from a 1971 Cohen album. But what really bothered me the most was how Godflesh had never thanked Cohen in the album's credits. Armed with this knowledge, I thought "the gloves are off, this could get ugly." What actually happened was quite different from my ill-conceived pre-fight warm up. Justin, as it turns out, was friendly, talkative, and quite willing to explain his position to me.
GG: It's obvious Leonard Cohen has been a huge influence on Godflesh, with your borrowing of his lyrics and album title. But why haven't you taken the opportunity to thank him on any of your records?
JUSTIN: Probably because we could get our asses sued. If we were to thank him, it would draw attention to all the lyrics we've borrowed from him. As long as we can keep it quiet, we can get away with it.
That sounds fair enough to me. Chances are that average Godflesh admirers won't spend their time looking for Leonard Cohen lyrics on one of their records anyway. Still, what is it about a somber, twisted folk singer that attracts quite possibly the heaviest band in the world?
"Leonard Cohen is just really powerful emotionally. There's obviously something about his voice and the context is just so grand."
It's true that Leonard Cohen's voice isn't the most comforting the world of music has to offer, but he possesses a quality that most contemporary musicians lack -- sincerity. "He's really honest. We're a band that thrives on honesty. Most of today's music thrives on dishonesty and the painting of false images. What I really like doing," says Justin, "is being influenced by things -- especially something that's completely out of Godflesh's context -- and re-using them in a fresh context. That, to me, is quite exciting, because all music, as far as I'm concerned, is derivative in one sense or another. So many people try to paint this picture like 'yeah, it popped out an egg, like this.' But it didn't, something inspired it. We've always been really honest about that, even down to our contemporary influences like Swans and Killing Joke. We always like to pay our respects to these people."
Do you feel that with Songs Of Love And Hate you're paying your respects to Leonard Cohen? "Not really," Broadrick says. "Songs Of Love And Hate coming from him [Cohen] as a title, nobody would doubt that, nobody would question that because it's in his context. I guess with us using it, a lot of people do question it. Most people are really surprised that we actually have a title with 'love' in it, as if all we're about is hate. What we're talking about are depths of emotions. We aren't just cold, clinical machine-like characters. We want to meet people on every level. There's a lot of depth, and if we're talking about hate, then we're talking about love anyway. To us, there isn't really much dividing line on either extreme. Those are a lot of things I think Leonard Cohen was dealing with, those dualities, like love and hate meeting. There is a lot of love in our songs, but there is hate as well and it's really the examination of both. It covers all areas, all the emotional extremes that human beings are capable of dealing with. "
Justin and the rest of Godflesh will be splitting eardrums at Sea-Sea's in Moosic on Tuesday November 12th. If you're not familiar with Sea-Sea's (or with Moosic for that matter) don't fret -- you're not alone.
"We're playing some weird place in Pennsylvania," cries Justin.
"That's it. To be perfectly honest, I've never heard of Moosic before. I guess it's really quite strange that we're playing there. It's always funny when you have the prospect of playing somewhere you've never played before. There could be people there who have been buying your records for a number of years and have never seen you live."
Can you tell them what they've been missing?
"If you haven't seen the band, the best pointer I could give you would be to think of the record but about 500 times louder!"
Adding to the decibel level will be an actual, living, breathing drummer, the newest member of the Godflesh fold, former Prong skinsman Ted Parsons For the past two years, Godflesh have forgone the drum machine and have been using a drummer in live situations. I wonder if performing with a real drummer makes things easier on the band or if it's more difficult to connect with the person who is behind the kit?
"It's easier," says Justin, "it's much easier to achieve what you want to achieve. It's very strange though, because we spent many years where it was just two or three of us and a drum machine and a sampler. You find that most of the energy comes from you, solely. You really feel as though you've go to break yourself open to succeed. But now, with a drummer you've just go so much power coming from behind you. There's so much more energy. It's a very active show as well. It just attacks all senses. I guess it's still difficult, even in the live situation, to put your finger on what's going on. "
Difficult indeed, it's no easy task to listen to a Godflesh record and decide exactly where they belong in the record store. They've always towed the line between industrial and metal and over the past few releases they have gone so far as to implement hip-hop beats to the already complicated mix. "That's part of our achievement really," explains the frontman. "We didn't set out to confuse people, but we did anyway. As far as we're concerned, if people still can't pigeonhole it [our sound] 100 percent then we've succeeded. You just can't slot us comfortably into something, which is the ultimate problem with Godflesh. Godflesh will never be a huge million-selling band because it's so out on its own. In a broader sense, we do consider ourselves a rock band, I think, more than anything. Besides machines, these songs are essentially written on guitar. They are born from a riff just as much as anyone's songs, from U2 to Alanis Morissette. We're not that unusual in terms of process, guess just the way it turns out."
It's what you do to that riff afterwards that makes all the difference, I tell Justin.
"We heighten things, we just dramatize areas that other people wouldn't. We've taken metal and almost abused it really."
You've bastardized it.
"Yeah, exactly. That's what I like doing with metal. To me, it's there as a form that should be taken to pieces."
Metal has been taken to pieces as of late. More precisely, metal cats have taken themselves to pieces. Bands like Metallica have trimmed their golden locks in favor of full faces of make up in attempts to be taken more seriously by the Alternative Nation. I wonder if they've hidden their old bulletbelts in their closets or under their beds? Anyway, the metal scene in America is pretty grim right now, and I'm curious to see if Justin has noticed it.
"I've recognized what it's become because it has turned the same way in England. It's not cool to be metal anymore. Now you've got to play alternative rock."
Then surely you are aware of the Metallica 1996 edition, Metalligrunge?
"Oh yeah, big time," states Broadrick, "it's so extremely coordinated. You can just see these people sitting down and saying 'metal is the way it is so now we've got to change this.' It's just so contrived. You can even look at other bands and just predict who will be next. It's just gotten to that stage and it's just really shocking. When it's clarified like that, it's nightmarish for me. Sometimes when I over-analyze the situation, I think, 'Why am I doing this?' It's just making music and it's not about all this. I don't know, it's depressing."
From here I try to comfort Justin, assuring him that neither he nor Godflesh are wrapped up in the marketing aspect of their music.
"Yeah," he replies, "we've always had short hair."