interview by: Roberto Martinelli
The following interview with ex-Godflesh, current-Jesu mastermind Justin Broadrick was conducted for an article on guitar amplifier modelers for EQ Magazine. Thus, most of the conversation centers around the technical aspects behind Broadrickís guitar sound, so all you six-stringers out there, get out your papers and pencils. The entire transcript of the conversation posted with consent by EQ Magazine.
Maelstrom: I donít know if Iím correct, but Iíd say Jesu has had more widespread appeal than Godflesh ever did.
Justin Broadrick: Seemingly, yeah.
Maelstrom: Indie kids like it, metal people like it, hipsters like it...
Justin Broadrick: Thatís the funny thing. As you say, hipsters are into it. Very rarely is my music trendy, but [Jesu] has become a like buzzword for hipsters. I think itís funny as the record is about as miserable and isolated as possible, and it turned out to be a scenestersí record!
Maelstrom: I guess thatís the thing. What the heck is it? I dunno. Itís kind of fuzzy.
Justin Broadrick: Part of the fun of making the record was that I had no idea, really. One of the goals was to make something so melancholic that it would become the ultimate wrist-slashing experience, up there with Joy Division and Red House Painters, people Iím into and who inspired me for this record. Of course, Iím doing something different, like using low tuning, extreme sonic frequencies... and using metal as a vehicle. Itís sad, but itís a sadness thatís conveyed in a more indie sort of sense, as opposed to a heavy metal band thatís doing so-called melancholic stuff that still sounds operatic and flamboyant. This isnít showy.
So in terms of appealing to someone whoís a devout Iron Maiden fan, Iím not so sure. But metal is so splintered nowadays. I havenít got a clue anymore. Last week, I was interviewed by The New York Times, whose piece was about art metal, and the guy was telling me, ďthis is metal, do you know what I mean?Ē And then I could be talking to a magazine like Magnet, and theyíll be telling me itís definitely indie.
I honestly expected this Jesu album to have a lot of problems. I made it without having any concept of [musical] scenes at all. I thought that when it came out, it would have met with a lot of derision; that it would be too indie for metal kids, and too metal for indie kids.
So of course beyond pleasing myself with this album, I figured Iíd be pleasing a very, very small crowd. And honestly it was the last thing on my agenda who bought the fucking thing. But it turned out to be an accident that itís most popular record Iíve done in over ten years. I do not expect to be a part of any trendy scene.
Maelstrom: But here you are!
Justin Broadrick: Thatís it, isnít it? Oh, well, theyíll probably all leave by the next album.
Maelstrom: Obviously, with Jesu itís just as much what it sounds like as what youíre playing. Letís start by talking about how you recorded your parts when you went into the studio.
Justin Broadrick: Iíve got my own studio, so itís very hands-on. Iíve had it since 1991, when I started on a Tascam 688 cassette-based machine. Now itís virtually all computer based, like on Macintosh G5. I have a lot of outboard stuff as well. On the Jesu album, the guitars were 90 percent DI, using POD. This was one of the two big things for me on the Jesu album, the other being AmpliTube. I used those extensively, much more so than micing up a Marshall [guitar amp], which is ironically what I spent virtually all my career doing in Godflesh.
Maelstrom: It seems to be a near universal opinion that POD isnít the same as micing up a real amp, but that the convenience of the thing makes it very attractive, like not having to make a ton of noise. But I hear you saying that even if you had the choice, youíd use the POD.
Justin Broadrick: See, thatís it for me. Initially, I must admit it was convenience that led me to record with a POD XT Pro. I could be in the studio at 3 in the morning recording songs, because I was completely inspired, as opposed to having to wait until the right time of the day to do a part with a Marshall up at full blast.
Maelstrom: So I guess your studio is also where you live.
Justin Broadrick: Yes. Since I moved to North Wales, my studio is quite literally in what would be a bedroom. Fortunately, itís in a detached house, so I can make a lot of racket. But still, I was getting so fucking bored with mic placement and the Marshall amp, and blablablablabla. I sort of got really disillusioned with it Ė to me, when I make records, I have to do it when I want to do it, and not this pocket of time that I have to cram everything into. I spent time in the late 80s and early 90s going into studios, being forced to record in a certain amount of time, get the fuck out, come back, mix it, get the fuck out again, and then spend the next four years moaning about the record.
Justin Broadrick: It just has to be done your own way. I want to do these things when I want to do them. What I used quite often with the POD was putting the signal head of the POD into an Avalon compressor. I have a big Avalon vacuum tube unit; I put my vocals into it, and I quite often run my guitars into it as well. Obviously, the Avalon alone costs about as much as my G5. It warms up the signal and boosts the frequencies, and it sounds like itís got multiple pre-amps on it. I also use a Joe Meek compressor, one of the larger, more expensive ones; not one of the tiny ones. Putting those in a chain with the POD gives me so much more control over the tone than I ever had with micing up a Marshall. For me itís a lot more exciting: itís not only convenient, Iím really happy with the tones I get. Iím spending even more time working on these tones for the next Jesu record. And thereís no looking back. I do not go anywhere near mic placement at all.
Maelstrom: What were you struggling with? What did you find that worked, and did it consistently work?
Justin Broadrick: Iíve never banged my head so much against walls as with which mic to use and where to place. I never worked it out. With Godflesh, it was like one day I could turn on the studio, have the Marshall in the bathroom, with an SM 58 about three inches above the cone, and it would sound amazing, and I thought, ďwow. Thatís the tone Iím looking for.Ē Shut down the studio, come back the following day, turn it all back on, nothing has moved whatsoever, and the tone is shit. And Iíd just be like, ďwhat is this all about? Did I not warm up the Marshall long enough? Is it this? Is it that?Ē I was so fed up of going through the chain. There were so many Godflesh records that were made where, to be honest, I just put up with it. I got used to it being an approximation of what I wanted. Now I donít have to put up with that anymore. Itís tweakable at any stage. I can even record the guitar clean, then loop it back into the POD, and change the tone in the mix.
Prior to the Jesu album, my guitar tone had always been talked about as being very specific. And ironically enough, people are talking about the Jesu tone, too, but itís via POD! People often think that you press a pre-set patch (on the POD) and everybody sounds the same. And a lot of people that Iíve talked to Ė even musicians that Iíve worked with Ė as soon as I mention that Iím using a POD and recording DI, they go, ďoh, my God....Ē Do you know what I mean? Like, itís horrific. Like, ďwhat the fuck are you doing?Ē And then they listen to it, and theyíre like, ďshit, that sounds like itís coming out of the amp.Ē And Iím like, ďyeah, [the POD] is not just a bank.Ē
I donít consider myself a straight-up guitarist, anyway. Iím not a slave to the guitar, like some people who are all about the guitar and the pickup. For me, itís more about what I can do with it on a computer. Itís about how to shape it and get something new out of it. Itís the end result and the big picture. Everything I record has been cut up anyway and put into this and that plug in, and put through an outboard piece, and back in again. Itís software and computers thatís allowing me to do this, rather than finding the next good mic or fantastic mic placement.
Maelstrom: Could you tell us more what the Joe Meek and Avalon do for you?
Justin Broadrick: The Avalon was something I got turned on to by listening closely to a production by The Neptunes, of all people. Itís a piece of equipment thatís so technological, but it ends up sounding like itís coming through an amp. I was thinking more along the lines of, surely if you record 24 bit guitar through a POD, take it out and put it through [an Avalon], itíll work just as well as it does for beats and vocals. And it works mainly because the compression is so awesome sounding, and the EQs are so warm and very clean. It also takes away a lot of the cheap nastiness in the mid-range... as much as I like the POD, it still has a lot of the problems that I get with the Marshall, oddly enough.
As far as mic placement, maybe some of the problem was my guitar. I use an old Japanese custom Strat 6-string, which I tune to A, and the strings are quite thin, which I find useful as I play quite softly. So Iíve had a lot of oscillation problems, and issues with strings going slightly out.
I guess I want the clarity of digital, but the warmth of analog. And the tubes of the Avalon give that to me. The Joe Meek is valve; on the computer Iím using valve emulation as well, like the PSP Warmer. Iím totally obsessed with making things sound less clinical, yet still get that separation and clarity that you get off 24-bit digital.
Maelstrom: And you donít find that suffers by using digital instead of tape?
Justin Broadrick: Yeah, thatís it! Iíve experimented. On the very last Godflesh album, we bounced tracks onto an analog 2", just to see if we would get any heat or something that we were missing. And it actually just sounded dull. And what Iíve found is that with these sort of compressors and limiters, I can get some of that heat anyway. Thatís what Iím always looking for: a top end that is sweet, but not too brittle.
Another thing I use is a TL Audio Power Electric Equalizer. Itís got like six valves in the back of it, or something. I put signals in the that as well to find the right top end. Chasing sounds is a day to day thing with me; Iím never 100 percent happy.
Maelstrom: I guess thatís what makes it fun.
Justin Broadrick: Yeah, exactly. Iím at war with eq.
Maelstrom: On your POD XT Pro, do you find that thereís a whole plethora of things that you like, or do you find there are only one or two?
Justin Broadrick: Oddly enough, itís about one or two. What Iím using now is the POD XT Live. I bought it for shows but I ended up using in the studio. All the new Jesu stuff will be with that.
Maelstrom: Why? Is the POD XT Live more simple? I would think that it wouldnít be necessary as a recording tool, as you could take your time and use the POD XT Pro, which has more functions.
Justin Broadrick: Well, unfortunately my POD XT Pro got dropped at a show. A couple of knobs came off it, and it started doing, ďcr..cr..cr...cr..Ē So I thought, ďI better get something that I can put on the floor.Ē Anyway, itís good because the Live has some new patches in it, and oddly enough the one I use is the same as the amp I use live, the Marshall JCM800. And itís that patch that Iíve tweaked to fuck with all the internal EQ and compression and limiters in order to boost it.
My big problem with the POD is that the sound is thin. But Iíve found that once Iíve got it into the Avalon or a lot of Waves plug-ins, Iím boosting it up to around 150-200 Hz, and then Iím adding more compression to contain that, and then Iím adding a limiter... Iím doing a lot, but I still think the basic tone is great, and nine times out of ten itís better than fumbling around with a Marshall and a mic for like, three weeks or so. But itís really funny that there are like eight million different sounds in the POD, but I only use a few.
Maelstrom: Iíve found it to be the same with my band. Out of all the tones that there are, we only found two that we like, which is the bare minimum as we have two guitarists.
Justin Broadrick: I must have spent weeks going through all of them, and always come back to the same couple. And even then I feel that it needs this and that. But by the time I crafted the patches and saved them, it was amazing. And then Iím really, really happy with it. There are also some clean guitar tones on it that I like.
Live, though, oddly enough I use my POD through my Marshall head and cab. Iím doing what you thought I shouldnít, but I like it because it goes though so many different gains.
Maelstrom: Indeed. In the documentation that comes with the POD, they have all these sample schematics of pedals and processors and amps and things, all daisy chained, and it looks like madness.
Justin Broadrick: Yeah. In the studio, I donít care how much is going on, but live Iím trying to make things as simple as possible, because to play Jesu live is already a headache anyway.
Maelstrom: Have you tried the Bass POD?
Justin Broadrick: No, but the bass player has been considering that. He uses the same setup we used with Godflesh, but with Godflesh we would tune between C sharp and B, and all of Jesu is in A, so he bought a 5-string bass, which has really helped the tone. But he still uses an old Boss Heavy Metal pedal and runs it through an Ampeg. We recorded the bass for the Jesu album the old fashioned way in about two days, and then I spent two months after that fucking with the recordings. Originally the tone was pretty bass-less. It had the dirt we wanted, but none of the wave whatsoever. I did a lot eq-wise; I think I put that through the Avalon, as well. Itís not built for bass, but who cares?
Maelstrom: Thereís a cult black metal project in the area called Leviathan.
Justin Broadrick: Oh, yeah, Iíve heard of that.
Maelstrom: Oh, you have?
Justin Broadrick: Yeah! A lot of people are into that stuff.
Maelstrom: Yes. Anyway, I know that the vocals that he did Ė on all his demos, anyway Ė were through a POD.
Justin Broadrick: Brilliant. Thatís excellent. Iím into stuff like that. Iíve put drum machines through PODs to get the distortion. I think [Leviathanís] is a fantastic idea. What I like about it is that the vocal tones Iím always after have everything to do with saturation, where itís above peak. Limiting and compressing, where the sound is really up front, really clear, but really sweet as well. I dream about these things. (Laugh)
Maelstrom: Do you have dreams where you find the perfect tone, and all is well?
Justin Broadrick: I think I have. (Laugh)
Maelstrom: Can you tell us what some of your favorite patches on the POD are?
Justin Broadrick: Keep in mind that Iíve modified all my patches, but here are the ones I use: for distortion, the main one is the Brit J800, which apparently is the emulation of the Marshall JCM800, which was the amp I always swore by. For my clean guitar, Iíve been using a lot of stuff derived from the Plexi 45, often with an infinite delay. And thatís it! All my sounds are contained within one bank: A, B, C, and D. And all I do is modify them.
Maelstrom: How do you feel about that?
Justin Broadrick: Frankly, itís ridiculous. But I think that if you know what youíre looking for in particular, inevitably this is whatís going to happen. Also, the music that I make is fairly narrow; itís not like Iím going to do solos like Yngwie Malmsteen with eight million sounds. I love effects, but most of those Iím using on the computer with software plug-ins. I was recording some guitars for the new Jesu single, and I wanted some effects. I reached for the POD, but then said, ďno, no, no, no. Iíll do it on the G5. Itíll be wider, itíll be stereo, and I can change it at any point.Ē
Maelstrom: Tell us about AmpliTube.
Justin Broadrick: Thatís a quirky little beast as well. Again, I tweaked the fuck out of it. But I got some really nasty tones from it for the first Jesu album. But I find myself using it less and less for the new stuff.
I found some really great plug-ins. Thereís one called Crunch. It gives the tone a weird, reedy sounding distortion.
Maelstrom: Justin, are you using Pro Tools?
Justin Broadrick: Logic Platinum. I swear by it because I use a lot of MIDI stuff. Pro Tools is fantastic, but its MIDI implementation isnít advanced enough.
Maelstrom: You have a real drummer for the first time in a long time. How did you record his parts?
Justin Broadrick: He recorded in Oslo, where he lives with his wife. They did a really nice job on the recording, and then I fucked it up: I made it much filthier and dirtier and lo-fi sounding.
Maelstrom: How did you record the vocals?
Justin Broadrick: I used a eastern European Neumann U87 ripoff mic, called the Rode NTT. I put that directly into the Avalon as a pre-amp, and used the on board compression directly into the G5. Then I used more plug ins on top. As you can tell on the album, the voice is also heavily processed. I do it like that because I do harmonies and stuff, and then Iíll use Auto Tune, shit loads of echo and delay, a ton of reverb and chorus doublers. On the first song, ďYour Path in Divinity,Ē I used Orange Vocoder, which adds like a fifth to the voice. Iím absolutely fascinated by what Vocoder and Auto Tune does to the voice. The new Jesu stuff is really going over the top with it. Iím really getting into more processed vocals... layers of them, like some bastard son of the Beach Boys.
Maelstrom: How many tracks of guitars are you recording?
Justin Broadrick: On some tracks on the album, thereís 10. Thereís never less than four tracks. For me, bass and drums are kept to a minimum, but guitars and vocals... and keyboards, to some extent, are getting layered and layered.
Maelstrom: Now, youíve only talked about Marshall heads. Do you not like any other guitar amps?
Justin Broadrick: Iíve found that Marshall is me. People I know go on and on about Mesa Boogie or Sunn, but thereís something about the mid-range thatís not right. Thereís a heat that Marshall seems to have. Thereís an audible electricity that I donít get out of these other amps. I also have a problem with all the new Marshall heads. Iíll always gravitate to an old Marshall JCM800 with the old cab.