(((o))): Hi Justin. How are you right now?
I’m good thanks. Things are just a bit manic at the moment. I’ve just come back from doing Moscow with Godflesh which was pretty intense. It’s the first time we’ve been out there actually, but the travelling was tough and we had to change flights and now I’ve come home to find I’m about three months behind everything!
(((o))): I can imagine you must always be very busy, but obviously at the moment especially so because the new Jesu record, ‘Every Day I Get Closer to the Light from Which I Came’, is about to come out. It’s such a wordy album title this time around; how come?
Haha, yeah I suppose most Jesu titles are usually just one word. This time around, however, I found that I couldn’t really condense what it was that I wanted to convey so, even though I’m not usually a fan of overly wordy album titles, I thought I’d risk it. I hope it’s doesn’t sound too pretentious!
(((o))): Not at all. What about the record itself? How do you feel that is a progression from previous Jesu material?
I think I’ve got back to somewhere I was around 2006/7 with the project, which I’ve found is a bit more satisfying than the last couple of records personally. I hope the fans will agree. I guess it’s a little bit more like the ‘Silver’ EP. The last couple of Jesu records have been structured in quite a linear way, and intentionally so actually. I think it was partially as a result of them being on Caldo Verde label which is run by Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters / Sun Kil Moon). I really wanted to make him these songwritery records, maybe just because I’m such a big fan of his music. This time I’ve done something a bit more dynamic as I’m on my own label. I wanted to do something more concise and open-ended; this record is intentionally just short of forty-five minutes. Hopefully it gets to the point a bit quicker without labouring anything, a bit like the EPs I’ve done so far.
(((o))): Everything on this record is you bar one guest appearance from Nicolas Manzan. Are the appearances of others something that you have in your mind when you’re writing the songs or does it usually come about later?
The latter, it usually comes later on as an afterthought. I’m quite a control freak really, and Jesu is a very solitary project in lots of ways as well. This time around it was just that I’d played a Godflesh show in Bologna with Nicola, who played a solo support set, and even though I’d already mixed the song in question, with programmed strings, he ended doing a whole string section for it by himself! We got chatting at the show and it turned out that, aside from doing this fucked up little grindcore project, he was a soundtrack composer in Italy and he offered to contribute the strings himself after I told him about using the programming on this one track. There was me trying to fake an orchestra and he then bettered that by miles for me so I’m very grateful to him for that!
(((o))): A few years ago you were saying you felt that Jesu may have become too focused on electronics and I assume that was part of the reason behind you going on to do the Pale Sketcher and JK Flesh records. Do you feel now that Jesu has become a more clearly defined project as a result of that?
Well, I think I’ve got that out of my system yes... but unfortunately I think that decision was part of the reason for the last two Jesu records being quite dry and guitar led. When I look back at my back catalogue I find that the records I personally prefer are the ones that feature elements of everything in a sense, in terms of the dynamics I suppose. That’s what I like about the new album I think. So Pale Sketcher has served its purpose but now is itself broadening out as well, just as Jesu is again, whilst remaining quite melancholy and slightly poppy. JK Flesh was more the flipside of Godflesh I suppose in lots of ways, if Pale Sketcher can be seen as the flipside to Jesu.
(((o))): You mentioned the “p” word there; “poppy”. How far do you feel you can take that aspect of Jesu’s sound?
I suppose really I can only take it as far as my own limitations. By my own admission I’m not a super skilled musician. I’m completely self-taught and I didn’t learn instruments coming from a pop angle at all. I learned the guitar in order to play punk rock really. The analogy I like to use with Jesu is Hüsker Dü. They started as this ultra-fast, brutal punk band, and then became a more widescreen alternative rock band. They still sounded quite rough on those later records, which I adore, but they still were trying to make pop music. It’s flawed but beautiful. I think Jesu is similar to that in a way. I have a love for pop music and Jesu is as close as I can get to pop. I’ve always wanted to have a marriage between the brutal, harsh music I love and the pop music I’ve always loved too, and hopefully Jesu is that in a sense. Prior to Jesu’s existence I don’t think that’s something I had the confidence to do, and I still don’t to a certain extent, but it’s fun trying to achieve that mix.
(((o))): You haven’t played that many Jesu live shows over the last few years but you have a few coming up. Is that a sign that you‘re trying to give Jesu another go live and to see if it will work?
Yes, definitely. I think before a lot of the issues I had with Jesu live shows were to do with my voice but, weirdly, since I’ve started doing lots of touring with Godflesh again my voice seems to have become stronger. All that shouting my head off every night seems to have helped my confidence and my ability to project my voice as well. There are a couple of live Godflesh songs we’ve been doing where I’ve been singing harmonically and I’ve been enjoying doing those. There’s obviously the aspect of the late nineties voice destruction I took part in where I was drinking and smoking too much. That went on until about 2007 really, when I had to address my problems in that area. That really knocked my confidence and obviously it had a negative impact on my voice too. I’ve become quite healthy now and I’ve cleaned up my act so I feel much more confident about doing Jesu live shows now.
(((o))): You’ve obviously mentioned Godflesh a few times. How much of your time is that taking up at the moment?
It’s sort of levelled out a bit now which is quite nice. It’s largely been live performances of course, but for the last nine months or so I’ve slowly been demo-ing a new Godflesh record. I think we’re actually going to end up starting to record the album properly in November and December. It’s a good band to record an album in winter with! Jesu and Godflesh are the two things that are most important to me musically, and the things I survive on as well really so I do dedicate a lot of time to them over other projects. I enjoy doing those things the most too I suppose but, whereas Godflesh was taking up about 70% of my time when we first restarted things, now it’s levelling out again.
(((o))): You’re a father now. How much of an impact has that had on both the new Jesu record and you as a musician generally?
It’s had a huge impact, definitely. It’s absolutely the main influence behind the new album really. A lot of the material represents the emotional rollercoaster that is waiting for a child to be born, and then having a baby, and then not being able to be with the baby all the time when I’m on tour and suchlike. For me it was just so overwhelming to have a child. I don’t just mean the stress; literally everything that goes with having a child has had a major impact upon me. It’s an unbelievably beautiful thing. You just feel like you can’t do enough. It’s incredible watching your child grow day by day... I can’t put it into words, sorry. This album is absolutely dedicated to the illiteracy prompted by this experience in my life. I could talk about it for days I’m sure! As a creative person as well I suppose it’s changed me. I have to be more concise with my time, and to be less self-indulgent. That’s a first in my life I guess... I’m no longer top of the list. It’s a great leveller too.
(((o))): Do you feel more comfortable now with all your projects as a whole? I mean you’ve reformed Godflesh, and Jesu is still very much an active concern. You’ve done shows as JK Flesh and White Static Demon at Roadburn as well. I guess I’m trying to ask whether you feel more comfortable now with all those things being a part of your musical creativity...
Yeah, I think so. Even if some things appear disparate there are always linked. Even between things like White Static Demon and Jesu. I mean the former of those two is my most marginalised project because it’s just noise. For most people noise does not count as music you know? They’re not interested. There’s a white light of some sort in both, an intensity I guess. That’s me I suppose. I used to feel quite uncomfortable about it. It polarises my audience, which I think is a good thing in many ways. It’s pretty stunning to hear people say they genuinely like all my stuff, but it’s no better than people liking one or other of my things. There are loads of people who love Godflesh but hate Jesu. I guess some people are just too precious about things, but I only want to judge things by my own standards really. It seems pointless to me to lambast musicians for having diverse outputs and tastes, but whilst it might have bothered me when I was younger it certainly doesn’t anymore.