From Another Room, an LA zine, September 1981)
Killing Joke: An Interview
by Michael Lang
Since their earliest interviews, Killing Joke has made known in explicit terms their distaste for the press. During my preparation for the interview, friends warned me about this problem until I was left unnerved. The record and management companies, however, tried hard to dispel the arrogant reputation the band carried. "You'll quite like them," I was assured. But figuring that I was being softened a bit, I tried hard to count on myself for a tough stand if ever necessary.
Sitting on the floor of a room at West Hollywood's Tropicana Motel, I began the interview. It began with Jaz, the singer/keyboardist, and continued with band members wandering in and out. A tough stand was never necessary. Simply, the interview drifted. There would come a time when everyone would lose interest. The band tried, though, to live down their nasty reputation. But only rarely did they show any genuine interest in the discussion of the moment or even conveying ideas in general.
AR: The band's interest in the supernatural and the occult has been mentioned quite frequently. What about this interests you?
Jaz: It's been overblown with the English press ... a matter of ignorance. I don't like the word "occult." But I do acknowledge the science of the Earth. But that's quite personal. I don't care to preach about it. I want to stress that Killing Joke don't have any manifestos. We don't like them. Killing Joke, I believe those two words speak well for themselves. But feel free to ask any questions.
AR: What about fire? Some of your shows at home have a fire act, Dave The Wizard.
Jaz: I use fire as a term to represent will of energy. There's a strong will in Killing Joke. As for Dave, he's part of Killing Joke. So's his dog. A very famous dog indeed.
(The barking canine at the end of "Who Told You" [sic] is this dog.)
AR: You once said that the end of the world is near -
Jaz: (jumps up from his reclining position) Who told you that nonsense?
AR: An interview in the New Music [sic] Express.
Jaz: If you believe anything from those assholes then you'll believe anything you hear. They never give us a decent interview. We go through hours with them. They rearrange; they write nonsense. End of the world, fucking bollocks. I'm highly optimistic. Things may have to be washed away, yes. Earthquake, torrential storm, bombs. They're all the same thing. It's a reaction against the stupidity of man. My physical life objects, but I think it is great. I hate this urban environment, this torturous mediocrity. I want to see the end of the fucking civilization. Look at human nature: every sixty years or so there is war. Man needs bloodshed. Always has, always will. Until he can stand his own nature, forget it. We've gone as far as we can physically. We see the moon, we want to touch it. Technology has gone as far as it possibly can. But we have not developed ourselves. We are animals with expensive toys. That is all. The next stage is man developing himself. We need mass bloodshed to get there. That is the one thing that affects the human psyche. And if that is what's necessary to push us to the next stage, then so be it, ha!
AR: Is the Earth a conscious force?
Jaz: I acknowledge intelligent forces behind the universe, yes.
AR: You seem to reduce man to the function of only primal force.
Jaz: Since when has life been expressed in matter? Everything is positive and negative. The life inside me and you is the same as a cat. Ignorance, it all comes down to religion. Christianity, this is what western civilization has based all its morals and rules on. Quite terrifying. We live in changing times. What's about to happen has never happened before.
AR: Back to primal instinct, though. Are we all just cats? Don't you believe in any of the great thinkers?
Jaz: There have been many great men. All men have their virtues. (Dramatically) I believe man is God. Jesus Christ is a frame of mind. We all have the ability to be gods. We are gods. You can raise your consciousness as much as you like. It's up to you. I don't believe in restrictions. College, for instance. For those who want to think, nevertheless irrelevant, pathetic.
AR: In respect to the music -
Jaz: Music is just one side of it. Killing Joke comes from all angles. Killing Joke is our life. Our life is more than music. Music enables us to put across our frame of mind, enables us to travel, but it's only the visible point.
AR: Well, fine, but what does the music, the music itself, its "primal" power do for listeners?
Jaz: Our music inspires the intuitive. It is to break out from the fucking structure (makes the strained, mean face that he commonly uses on stage). I'm not concerned with the people who just sit there and gawk.
AR: Are you personally breaking out when you're on stage?
Jaz: On stage, I am another personality. That is another person. People think I'm joking. I assure you I am not. Restriction is a sin.
AR: Are your ideas of breaking out and the ideas of Killing Joke in general received well?
Jaz: In America we are not big. In England and on the continent people understand us better. We sell out all our big shows. And the media didn't do it for us. No favors from them. We did it ourselves.
AR: But wait, aren't you equating understanding with popularity?
Jaz: No, I'm not equating anything. You are.
AR: For what reason are the lyrics being pushed back behind the wall of music?
Jaz: The voice is a human element. In strange countries, they don't understand what we are saying, but they know what we're on about. Anarchists who still use the alphabet (laughs). Still go to the fucking supermarket -
AR: (Not knowing where he was leading with this change of subject, I decided to interrupt before he went too far astray, as he had done) Well, what are they to do? Go out and kill a goat?
Jaz: They're just not breaking down structures, using the same old tools. Idiots. But back to the sound of the lyrics. In "Fall Of Because" the words aren't really comprehensible. Great. It's just the human element. People learn lyrics if they want to. If they don't, so what? Don't you see, different combinations are open to different listeners? No manifestos, remember. If your interpretation is different than mine ... great. Killing Joke to some is the ultimate irony. Killing Joke can mean no control over your destiny. Killing Joke is how it feels to you. Killing Joke sums up an emotion. Two words to use where there are no words. To me it means a certain look in the eyes (he makes a face like the character of the album jackets). Killing Joke can be against the fucking society, it can be against us. It's a level of emotion that I despise putting words to ... "Unspeakable."
(Paul, the drummer, enters and sits quietly for awhile.)
AR: That look in the eyes, that smile you mentioned, is that the look of the guy on the cover of albums?
Jaz: Arthur. He's quite a guy. If we get some money, we'd like to do a film with him. He's very frustrated. His life is a fucking killing joke.
AR: How do you feel about the progress from the first album to the second?
Jaz: It is how it is. (Long pause) I'm looking forward to the third.
Paul: I don't think the second is predictable, as has been said.
AR: The music has been described with the words "tribal" and "disco." How do you react to that?
Paul: I wouldn't use either, but I wouldn't object to them either.
AR: How is your relationship with the record company?
Paul: They are looking for hits. Their type of hype has been used before. I'm tired of this tour ... of performing duties. Today we were supposed to go to this record store and sign autographs and sell ourselves. I'm not going to do that.
AR: You didn't go?
Paul: No, I didn't. In only a few cities have things really worked out. I want to sit and talk and learn. Instead, it's always the same things, the same questions during the same interviews.
AR: Back to the reference of "The Fall Of Because," is this describing a perpetual state of man or a contemporary problem?
Jaz: It just happened. It's one of the few songs that just happened.
Paul: It's the collapse of reason. Things have gone beyond reason.
Jaz: Original intentions have been lost.
AR: What changes are you looking for in "Change"?
Jaz: General change. Take it as you like.
(Discussion broke up during the question of a sound check. After a great deal of discussion, the band decided to stay. Jaz and Paul having quickly left, the band's manager assigned me to Youth, Killing Joke's bass player known for his supreme snottishness and childish selfishness. He developed this reputation after reportedly taking some Snoopy acid that considerably changed his character (he claims he was dosed). Band members were quoted as saying he underwent a complete change of nature. For a while, the band seemed to be in trouble. In any case, I spoke to him at poolside while his attention wandered to the Los Angeles bikini beauties.)
AR: When I stopped talking with those guys we were talking about "Change".
Youth: It meant the music. Nothing was changing anywhere.
AR: What about "Requiem"? Who was that written for?
Jaz: (Jaz approached out of nowhere) Why for you, of course.
AR: Have I died?
Jaz: No, just one of the boys, the old school, you know. (Jaz abruptly turned and walked away.)
AR: Would you say that rather than a discussion of some sort, your songs represent a notion of the title?
Youth: Yeah, that sounds right.
AR: If you were to do a solo project -
AR: What would it be like?
Youth: It would be different. The next album will be different. More experiments with the bass and synthesizer. But I wouldn't work alone. I'm writing a book though.
AR: About what?
Youth: (smiles coyly) Everything.
AR: Do you really hate America, as you've been quoted?
Youth: Well, sort of. Everyone is so self-righteous.
Youth: It's just a generalization. Not everyone. But I'm not impressed.
AR: Is the record company trying to make you leaders?
Youth: Don't be ridiculous.
AR: I'm not. Full page ads, give-aways, concerts. A great deal of push.
Youth: I hate leaders. The record company ... what they're doing is fine by me.
AR: That's all I care to ask you.
(Soon I was back with Jaz and Paul, but the interview was obviously deteriorating. Long pauses separated all discussion. Jaz paid limited attention to the questions while he glanced through Paul's new book on the sexual occult. Apparently, the band became unimpressed with me, since at first the responses bordered on enthusiastic if not overly extensive. Now I was being paid less attention than was the figure of the motel maid.)
Finally, as we all walked to our cars, I asked Jaz if the situation with Youth was working out all right.
"Hear this," said Jaz. "He wants to know if you're okay."
"No, I'm not," said Youth. "I'm liable to have a relapse at any moment."
I somewhat angrily explained that my question was one of a concerned fan, not a nosy hack. I did not ask if Youth was okay. The two nodded their heads and said nothing. I looked to my side and walked away.
The band tended to complain about the press' mundane questions and biased critiques. But while it was true that only at a few spots was Killing Joke arrogant, it is also true that they offered very little of themselves. They should not expect excellent or profound coverage if their answers are delivered so perfunctorily.