From Jamming, a London-based fanzine, Issue 12, some time in 1981

Killing Joke

Killing Joke haven't got a reputation as the easiest group in the world to interview. In fact, following the absence of any decent article on them, in big papers or small (mainly due to the group's uncooperative answers), we were wondering whether it would be worth it or not. But a chance meeting with Jaz at Better Badges showed the opposite of the papers' slag-offs of him, as he proved himself very keen, very talkative and very interesting.
We arranged to simply 'call round some time' to do a proper interview...

This we did the Sunday of the Brixton riots (when as well as having to take a completely different route in London, I found Notting Hill - the group's home - crawling with 400 extra police - just in case), only to find Jaz wasn't in and Youth was not keen on unknown people coming round. We didn't even get past the buzzer at the front door of the flats. But a phone call from round the corner got it sorted out, and we returned to do a half-hour interview with Youth. The room looked exactly as I'd guessed, and reggae music was blazing from the speakers. We asked Youth if he could turn it down for the tape recorders' sake; he replied, 'No, I like it like this'. But all fair dues, Youth was a lot friendlier than he is made out to be, and Part 1 of the 'interview' got underway.

Youth: Come on then, give me a question.

Jamming: What's with the attitude with doing interviews, because everyone says -

Youth: A specific question.

Jamming: Yeah, a specific question: Killing Joke's supposed to be really awkward to interview.

Youth: We are.

Jamming: Yeah -

Youth: Yeah?

Jamming: Um - why is that?

Youth: 'cos we don't have a lot to say about ourselves. We're four individuals; the drummer and the guitarist get very manic when they're asked questions. Jaz really likes talking about the group, but there's a difference in that I really know what I'm talking about.

Jamming: People always say you're very awkward to talk to.

Youth: Well, we are awkward people. We don't compromise; we only compromise in as much as what we feel is good and in as much as leisure time is concerned, and leisure time as far as I'm concerned is 24 hours a day.

Even at this early stage, the talk drifts off to vague mentions of magic and astrology, related to America's being a nation of pirates, the riots in Brixton and the space shuttle. Well, it was never going to be easy.

Jamming: What would you call success for Killing Joke?

Youth: Success? Tons of groupies, a pound of grass a week ... I want lots of money. I want millions and millions of pound notes.

Jamming: Jaz was going on about that, about your wanting loads of money. But if you just carry on as you are now -

Youth: We've all got different ideas. I mean, I forgot how to play the bass last week, that's how responsible I am. But that's the way I am - when I play it, I play it the way I want, which is not technically perfect, but it's my way, which varies.

Jamming: So how are you going to get lots and lots of money then?

Youth: Oh, I've got lots of schemes lined up.

Jamming: What, outside the group or inside?

Youth: Oh, both. I'm not just a musician, I'm a blatant businessman.

Jamming: So how are you going to get money inside the group?

Youth: By selling a lot of records.

Jamming: You reckon you can sell a lot?

Youth: Yeah, we've got a hit single on our hands. Requiem got to No. 65, so this next single (Follow The Leaders) should be straight up there.

Jamming: But you need air play and things for that, don't you?

Youth: Yeah, well, that's down to subtle persuasion. I don't mean anything blatant, like altering the sales figures just to get in the charts - I'm against all that. A lot of people get their kicks out of it, but once you've had your one hit, what do you do then?

Jamming: Is the group like a really loose thing?

Youth: Well, we all hate each other, but we manage to compromise to the extent of making music. I'm the most difficult one of the lot because I'm so unconventionally cuntish.

Jamming: So could the line-up split at any time?

Youth: No, we ain't going to split up for about 2 or 3 years.

Jamming: Is that planned?

Youth: Well, when we first formed, we said we'd just make it last for five years to see what happens. And we've been going two years, so we've got another three to go, and not one of us is going to leave before then.

Youth sits down by the tape recorder, picks up his bass and starts playing along to the reggae music. Yet at no point does he try and ignore us.

Jamming: When I was up at Better Badges, Jaz was flogging a master copy of a Killing Joke record -

Youth: (stops playing) That would happen.

Jamming: He said all the band's always doing it.

Youth: (starts playing again) I was doing it before Jaz.

Jamming: Is that going to fuck up the group at all?

Youth: Nah, we love it. Paul gets a bit manic, Jaz gets a bit paranoid, and Geordie couldn't give a shit because he comes from Newcastle.

Jamming: So what do you reckon about money then? Because a lot of groups that people think of in the same terms as Killing Joke -

Youth: Listen. Now the Killing Joke syndrome according to other bands is pathetic, 'cos they just don't like the way we do things, which is their own problem 'cos it's nothing to do with us. But when it comes down to money, we get what we can have, which is everything and anything as long as it's a coin or paper.

Jamming: In the long run, would you like to see money become irrelevant?

Youth: Well, once I've got a lot of money I won't need it will I?

Jamming: You'll still need money to live.

Youth: But if I've got it, I won't need to worry about making it anymore. That's what I'm saying.

Jamming: Is that like saying you don't give a shit about other people?

Youth: Well, I don't really. I'm an individual. Like if I'm screwing a bird, I'll make sure she has a good time; I'll make sure she has some real in-depth inspiration! But if she asks if I love her or not, I'll tell her the truth. (starts playing bass again)

Jamming: Well, do you reckon Killing Joke have been successful?

Youth: Successful? We're fucking here aren't we? We're all right - we've got a new album coming out soon, an excellent single, we've got a good future ahead of us. The past has been great 'cos we've gone through squatting, we've gone through gigging, we've gone through heavy violence - we've gone through all that and we've learnt from our mistakes and we're still laughing. But we're serious.

Jamming: You say you've all got different attitudes. But there's supposed to be -

Youth: Well, at one time, Jaz had the idea of us smoking at the same time, eating at the same time, and regulating our life as a band totally. But I said that was a bit like communism, and I wasn't into that either.

Jamming: Yeah, but what I was asking is you say Killing Joke are all very different people -

Youth: Four different people, not including the management. 'Cos the management are very important - not as important as finance, but they're very important. We got a management contract that we specifically made, as that's what fucks most groups up. (He goes on to explain the difference between a 20% gross deal and a 20% net deal for management, and how their management - the EG company that handles Bryan Ferry and Eno - hardly make a penny out of them.)

Jamming: What I was trying to ask (3rd time lucky) is that Killing Joke are four different people. But isn't there also the Killing Joke attitude? I'd have thought it would have meant that you're all into the same thing.

Youth: Oh no, not all of us have the same interests in life. You've got to have a certain direction in which you want to go, and you can't regard that as like two directions, 'cos it can be 6 or 7.

Jamming: You know that picture you used for the tour with the Pope walking through the Nazis? Sounds said it was two photos -

Youth: No, they're lying. (Bad one Valec) It's genuine. It's from a book about the Third Reich. It's just to teach people a lesson.

Soon after, Youth kept to his promise and told us the interview was over as he was going out. He said we could call back the next day, when Jaz was about, and was very surprised when we did. Unfortunately, Jaz wasn't about and I was told to go downstairs, where Geordie and Paul were, and Youth would follow us down. Only Geordie was there, and we agreed this sounded like a fob-off, particularly as Geordie hates doing interviews. Luckily Jaz appeared and we went back up to recommence the interview. Geordie, despite making it clear that he didn't see any point in interviews, was very friendly and in fact hung about making occasional comments. Jaz showed great interest in the whole thing and again proved that, despite the image of uncooperativeness, he is as talkative as any band leader. He failed to remember me until looking at Jamming, and said, 'I hope the review of the Ants is a slagging', and then, 'I take it there is a review of The Jam as well'. He then remembered our argument about the two at Better Badges. It seems that Killing Joke have fixed ideas about big papers being all bad and fanzines being all good; they certainly treated us with a lot more respect than other papers have made out.

Jamming: Some people were complaining about the length of the first LP, that it was a bit short considering that it had two previously released tracks on it.

Jaz: Yeah, I agree with that actually. But there again, the price was a lot cheaper, so there's no shitting out or anything. It was only 3.99, though we could have put it out legally for 5.99 if we'd wanted. The latest album is a lot longer - there's eight tracks, but it's 43-44 minutes. And hopefully it should be a bit under the normal LP price.

Jamming: Do you believe in leaders?

Youth: Leaders?

Jaz: You're talking about 'Follow The Leaders' aren't you?

Jamming: Possibly - I haven't heard the track yet.

Jaz: Well, I mean, people following leaders is a bit fucking ... I mean, people have always followed leaders haven't they? It doesn't matter what stage civilisation gets to, they always fucking follow leaders. 'Follow The Leaders' is like the biggest, most grand statement that's ever come out yet - wonderful, you know.

Jamming: Do you reckon some people look on you as leaders?

(Laughter)

Youth: I don't think so.

Jaz: I dunno, I like to think that people get a little peace of mind knowing that there's others in the same situation.

Jamming: I just think that some people outside London look to Killing Joke for their answers -

Youth: You've got to find your own fucking answers.

Jaz: It's not hard to find the answer. It all comes down to your personal point of view again - everyone's got different points of view, and they're probably all as relevant as each other. I believe that before you start mouthing off about your fucking manifestos and ideals and all that - I believe in establishing them first.

Youth: Doing what you're saying.

Jaz: Before you start fucking talking about what you're going to do to change the world, change it and then fucking talk about it. Seems logical to me.

You want to be comfortable, right? You know, naturally, people want to fucking enjoy their lives and have a good time - we fucking do, anyway. But at the moment, it's on a very small scale. My faith is that I believe there's a lot of other people that realise the situation we're all in, and my faith lies with them, and their emotions and their feelings. Because I believe there's loads of people in this position, from Russia to Poland to East Germany to West Germany, and it's all the killing joke. There's people in Russia and everywhere, just like you and me, who are young and have no control over their destiny, just like you and me haven't. You see what I mean, do you? That's the killing joke.

Jamming: When you say there's a lot of people who feel like you, do you mean just everyday people who might not have heard of the killing joke?

Jaz: Well, I mean, Killing Joke is not just fucking music.

Jamming: that's why I'm asking.

Jaz: It's a gateway to put up loads of ideas, apart from music. Ideas, philosophies, films, music - anything you want, but it's just a frame of mind. You know what Killing Joke is. We don't want no manifestos, right, until we've done what we want to do. When we've got somewhere, then we'll fucking talk about what it's been like getting to that point.

Jamming: So you are aiming to do something?

Jaz: Fucking right we are going to do something! I'll tell you another thing I want to talk about, and that's the last album. When we recorded that we were going through a heavy nuclear thing ... I believe you live as long as you want to live, you see. Now, if you've got a lot of people thinking, 'God, there's gonna be a nuclear war', you're getting people who are invoking it; they're making other people feel fucking paranoid. Like when we play Wardance, that is just coming to terms, having a laugh at the situation, you know what I mean?

Youth: The music isn't exactly jolly music; it's an expression ...

Jaz: I tell you though - every time we play it we have a laugh with that one. From Germany to France, you get all the fucking headbangers - they know what you're talking about when you play that one. And it's like a laugh, you get it off your chest.

Jamming: When you were doing that thing at Trafalgar Square, you were taking the piss, saying 'You can't change anything'.

Jaz: Well, they can't! What have they changed since then?

Geordie: It was forgotten - two inches in the fucking next day's press.

Jamming: Are you saying they can't change anything, or that nobody could?

Jaz: I'm not saying nobody could; I'm saying they couldn't. The odds are too much against them.

Jamming: I think the Trafalgar Square thing was to make people notice it -

Jaz: Yeah, but what does that do? People have known about it since that Cuba scare.

Jamming: How do you see the group getting bigger?

Jaz: We might get a new flat! Fuck all changes - you hardly notice it. Money starts coming in, but we've got to pay back so much before we make any money anyway...

Youth: We're in debt.

Jamming: How long will it take you to pay it back?

Jaz: About a century!

Jamming: Do you reckon you will?

Jaz: Yeah, I mean, the point is, we're still in a position to be able to do what we want. We can do it, pull a few strings. Go on, ask us another question then.

Jamming: When you were at Better Badges, you were going on about going to America and going for the highest bidder.

Jaz: Well, naturally. I hate America though. It stinks. No one gives a fuck about establishing any ideas or views in America - they just wanna get their money. Over here, people don't mind establishing their points of view or their fucking interests or whatever. There are some decent people over there.

Jamming: When you go over there, do you say, 'America's such a shitty country we'll play anywhere we can get the most money', when you might not think like that in England?

Jaz: We take anything we can get our hands on mostly. We did that one on New Year's Eve, and it was the most memorable one for me. There were all these dumb, disco-type Americans standing in front of us with their mouths open. They were out looking for a nice boogie to celebrate New Year's Eve. And we were pretty extreme for them. But it was really funny - one minute they were all just like standing there, and the next minute they were all dancing like puppets. It was really pathetic. And there was that spastic Johnny Thunders. He asked to jam on stage with us. Spastic!

Jamming: What did you say?

Youth and Jaz: Fuck off!

Youth: He jacked up on smack in our dressing room.

Jaz: He comes up and he goes (American accent), 'Are you guys into jamming?'

Jamming: How are you selling in America?

Geordie: We got to No. 4 in the Billboard disco charts.

Jamming: You're in them as well?

Youth: We're quite popular over there. But there's only about 0.2% of the population who can think for themselves.

Jamming: Would you go down to play places like Cornwall where you'd lose money on the journey?

Jaz: We lose money on the fucking journey anyway. I mean, we sell out the Lyceum, and we get a fiver each - you work that one out!

Youth: They made seven grand on the door.

Jaz: We got paid a lot, but we never saw the rest. After you've paid for your van and your PA and that ... we always want the best sound possible.

Jamming: Who puts up the money?

Jaz: Financiers. Because legally, we're a management company, not a record company.

Jamming: So are the management or finance actually connected with Polydor?

Jaz: Yeah, I mean - it's Bryan Ferry's lot. We've got the distribution to reach a lot more people than the independents. As well as the fact that we're not signed to a major label, legally.

Jamming: So you can get messed about?

Jaz: No, we'd do them for breach of contract, because we spent about eight months getting the contract together with the best lawyers in town. If they make one fucking slip we can sue 'em.

Jamming: Do you believe in equality?

Jaz: I do. I mean, we've all got two arms, two legs - unless you're a thalidomide.

Geordie: People should have the opportunity to be equal.

Jaz: Mr. Brezhnev has still got more than the fucking worker, hasn't he?

Jamming: Is that your definition of equality then?

Jaz: No, it's a definition.

Jamming: You go on about wanting to make money, so if you became really rich -

Jaz: If we became really rich and had 700 in our pockets, we'd have blown it in a week. (Laughs)

Jamming: On dope, I expect.

Jaz: No, not on dope, but dope does come into it!

Jamming: Do you get raided a lot for that up here?

Jaz: No, I'd hear about it before it happened. My uncle's a councillor - he'd tell me before it happened.

Jamming: What about when the SPG came round here?

Jaz: No, that was when we were living over in Elgin Crescent. I went out in the dark with a gun. And this was around the time of the Iranian thing: some reporter said he'd seen 'a dark person with a gun' ... No, listen right. Any person with any sense will have as little to do with the police as possible. We live outside the police.

Jamming: What sort of deal did you do with Redbeat?

Jaz: We just put out their single. They can use our label because Malicious Damage is getting a big name. But they started demanding things we couldn't afford, like they demanded three grand, and we haven't got it. With Killing Joke, we take the 'we paid our dues man, we did our bit of grafting to get to this position' attitude, but they're not prepared to do all the gigs we did. We did all the shitty little gigs. And they want a deal like we've got with EG when they won't even do gigs. And 'cos of that they haven't even got a following. If you haven't got a following, how do you expect to draw money? Or fucking stay alive?

Jamming: Did you get a big following before you brought the first record out?

Jaz: No, we'd only done one gig before bringing the record out! But then we gigged like fuck. In one year we did a European tour, three or four English tours, gigs here, gigs there. We had no record company behind us then.

Jamming: Do you reckon groups should bring out records first, getting a name for themselves, or should they -

Jaz: They can do it any way they fucking want, mate. It's up to them. But it is fucking work - there's no easy way from the Marquee stage to the Hammersmith Odeon stage. There's no shortcut around that.