"We're not the slightest bit traditional," says Godfiesh guitarist/mainman Justin Broadrick. "I think that sometimes creates problems for some people, which is good. Musically, that's half the idea." Well, the dictionary in my computer defines problem as "puzzle" or "question," so I guess I have a problem with Godflesh too, as in: How can two guys and a drum machine make such a beautiful noise? The answer: With a lot of thought and focus, and probably a bit of genius. As one might deduce from the intricacies of his(and bassist/partner Ben Christian Green's) music, Justin is not vague or casual about what he does. He's well aware of what makes Godflesh so different, so remarkable, and he intends to keep it that way.
"It's not meant to be easy, it's not a passive experience, so it shouldn't he simple," he says of the Godflesh listening experience, but he might as well be talking about his own creative process. Of Selfless, Godflesh's third LP and most recent release, he says, "We wanted to make a Godflesh rock album, almost an entire rock record, just to satisfy ourselves. We had a lot of stuff we wanted to get out of our system in a rock context and this album was the one to do it with." Of course, Godflesh's rock context is miles away from most bands'. Just as its "dance" context, as explored on the '91 Slavestate EP, wouldn't have your typical dancefloor habitu shaking his or her booty. "We've got a core sound," affirms Justin, "We examine a lot of different styles within that sound. We see music as being one big pool. For us, there's not that much to categorize about really, so we just do what we want within our sound." Lest this all come off as an overly clinical approach resulting in test tube-like music, it's interesting to note that there's actually a lot of feeling in Godflesh's music, though it is usually one of desolation. "Our music is primarily meant to be emotional," says Justin, somewhat surprisingly. "We're not here to crush people; we're here to give people something to feel good about, to some extent. I used to get the some vibe off powerful music as a child. I'd feel powerful through listening to it."
The first track on Selfless, "Xnoybis" is almost upbeat musically, an interesting choice to open an album. "That was a bit of a challenge in itself, to start on a really up note," asserts Justin. "The subject matter isn't that up, it's still bleak in a Godflesh way, but we wanted to create a high mood to begin with. We see rock music as essentially mood music. Everyone creates ups and downs in music, but we do it in a more brutal sense. We're playing brutal music but it doesn't have to be purely one dimensional." As for the word itself, "Xnoybis" is a Latin expression, like a religious thing. What it means is a spiritual transcendence, that form of escapism. We're always examining things like escapism, we're obsessed with people's different forms of how they can escape the world, or how they can become more involved, or how they can be a slave."
Mr. Broadrick's stark lyrics are like bare, wintry trees doffing Godflesh's desolate musical landscape; they're part of the scene, but don't dominate it. "All my stuff is really basic," he says. "Literally, each song has no more than two verses, and each verse is probably made up of four sentences which have no more than four words per sentence. It's meant to be just like a primal scream sort of thing, quick emotional explanations; not story-telling as such." Though he steers clear of the word "poetry", he does have a thing for words. "I'm always writing lyrics independent of any music. I just write words and expressions I like; sometimes they're influenced by other people's lyrics, not music that sounds remotely like us. Some of the lyrics on the album Pure are inspired by Leonard Cohen."(!)
In the past, Godflesh has consisted of either Paul Neville or Robert Hampson on second guitar, but Justin did it all himself on Selfless. "We always liked another guitar to fill a few gaps, but always primarily it was my guitar that dominated that sound," he explains. "Each guitarist that we've used, stylistically they had their own thing going, but it affected a lot of the vision sometimes. We had a very singular vision with this album and we want to continue on in this way, just the two of us recording, basically." The actual construction of Godflesh tunes can either start with a riff or a rhythm. "Selfless was primarily written off guitar whereas an album like Pure was 50% written from guitar, 50% written from samples; samples as in a rhythm sample or a sound sample, just something that inspired a different sort of guitar part." To get specific, "The guitar riff will be written around the rhythm, sometimes the guitar riff is sort of copying the rhythm, explaining the rhythm to some extent, it's working off the rhythm, it's being dictated to by the rhythm." As is evident by the previous sentence or to anyone who's ever had a hard time keeping still while listening to Godflesh, "Rhythm's obviously very important to what we do," states Justin, "And things like hip hop rhythms are really influential, the way you can use guitar in that context, in an abstract way as opposed to just a rock/rap sort of thing, because that's really boring, that's really traditional."
Those who caught Godflesh in their opening slot on the Danzig/Type O Negative tour may have been surprised to see a human drummer alongside the usual mechanical one, kicking the band's music into a whole other dimension. According to Justin, it was an important addition for this four in particular. "It's good in the rock context. We're playing with rock bands; having live drums just makes it more physical. It's not like we're compromising. We can just communicate easier with a drummer. The drum machine is there as well, and the samples. You have three layers of rhythms almost."
The man behind the drums is none other than the amazing Brain, formerly of San Francisco funkrock outfit Limbomaniacs. "He's done a lot since Limbomaniacs as well," informs Justin. "A lot of session work; he played on Tom Waits' album, Bone Machine, and did that tour; he's done stuff with Bill Laswell... he's our manager's cousin as well, so that was a good connection basically." (That would be Kristin Yee, who also manages Mr. Bungle.) Though the band had once before tried playing live with human timekeeper (Mick Harris, formerly Justin's bandmate in Napalm Death, now of Scorn), it didn't quite work out. "Mick's a great drummer, but he just wasn't experienced with working with drums and machine of the time. He's sort of given up drums now, anyway... We wanted somebody who's got a bit of funk and swing in them, as opposed to some really stiff rock drummer, because the machine does that. You want somebody to work against it and with it and do something a bit more intelligent than just be the machine."
In New York, at least, Godflesh went over surprisingly well considering the devotion of Danzig fans. For Justin, the tour has generally been a positive experience. "It was good to get to a young, sort of impressionable rock audience... That's the audience we wanted to get to this time, out of interest as much as anything, just to see if people would "get it" at all, if you know what I mean." And since Selfless is somewhat rockin' itself, "That's exactly why the four made sense." It's gratifying in these days of retro chic to hear a band that is truly experimental, yet remains listenable. Before the current LP, Justin and Ben released the EP Merciless, consisting of "biomechanical" remixes of music off Pure. "It was just taking our own stuff to pieces," clarifies Justin. "Taking half riffs and welding them with another half riff off another song and stuff like that. We're influenced by people like Brian Eno. Someone like that will take music that he recorded years ago and reaffect it and make something wholly other out of it, which would then become unrecognizable. That's the beauty of music. There's so much in just a single guitar riff. You can sample it, play it backwards, cut it in half, put it with another half. There are just infinite possibilities." Justin almost sees it as his duty to explore these possibilities. "We see music as an ongoing advancement. That's sort of our goal, to keep advancing music, as opposed to taking it backwards all the time."
Musical prospectors both, Broadrick and Green have been involved in a myriad of outside projects. Ben's most recently worked with Robert Hampson in an outfit called Main, described by Justin as "purely ambient guitar music, real textural music that has nothing to do with rock apart from the fact that they use guitars." Justin himself acknowledges that "I do work with a lot of people outside of Godflesh. It's always stuff that's very much more experimental, more risk taking. It's always fringe music, not in any way popular... Strangely enough, as soon as I turned up in America, we were hanging out with Kirk Hammett of Metallica who's a really big fan, and I recorded some stuff with him. Obviously, he's as popular as it gets!" A lot of people would probably like to hear that, but Justin isn't sure if it'll ever be released. His more typical extracurricular activities include "Techno Animal, which is me and a guy called Kevin Martin, who was in a London band called God... We've just done a double CD for Virgin which is coming out in March; it's like industrial ambient hiphop." As if all this weren't enough, J.B.'s been quite in demand lately as Remix Master for folks like Pantera, Murder Inc. and Lemonheads. "It's not like I was a big fan," he says of the latter, "But I got asked to do it and I thought "This is interesting." I just made them sound more like Husker Du than they should really." He's somewhat sad that he just hasn't had the time to do a remix for KMFDM. "I like working on other people's music; I like to be challenged," he claims, quite unnecessarily.
As for the future, after about a month and a half of European dates in early '95, it looks like Godflesh will be back in the States touring with Ministry, "A really great opportunity we can't really pass up." Then they'll work on their next opus. "It will be more brutal in the rhythmic department and much more abstract," predicts Justin. As usual, it will be self-produced. "We might as well satisfy our own vision as opposed to somebody else's interpretation," he figures. "Because we're not open to interpretation. It's very selfish, you know, very self-indulgent, but that's always what the best music is."