(From The Bob, a fanzine based in Wilmington, Delaware, USA, October 1981.)

Killing Joke

Interview by Marsha Gordon


Like their name, the Joke are a serious affair.  Formed in '78 by Jaz and Paul, Geordie soon joined and, after a monumental search, Youth became the bass player.  Together they conceived of what direction the band would head and how it would sound -- from the start they had their ends in mind.  From bucks gained in a one-off deal with Island for their "Turn To Red" 10", they bankrolled Malicious Damage and had enough to release "Wardance" on their own.  EG Records took notice, and signed MD for distribution.  The rest is history.  Their pounding heavy riff funk, bleak and direct, stared everyone in the face, daring to be ignored.  In their second LP, "What's THIS For ....!", the vision is more ominous than before.  Or they used all the good material on number one.  That's for you to decide.  In the following interview, done during their visit to Philly in late August, we tried to get some answers, to get closer to what drives them.  Well, don't just sit there.  Read it:

Bob:  I want to start way back because no one seems to know much about Killing Joke.  Paul, you and Jaz were the early core of the group, right? 

Paul:  Yeah.

Bob: How did you get started with the band Killing Joke?  Where did the concept come from?  nd when did the other members join?

Paul:  Well, I was playing in a band called Matt Stagger.  I'd been playing with them for quite a while.  And Jaz joined the band, and then he moved into this flat that I had in London.   We decided that we'd like to form a band of our own -- with our own idea.  We'd been talking with Brian, our manager, and that's where we started forming the idea.  "Killing Joke" was an expression that we had already.

Bob:  What does the expression "Killing Joke" mean?

Paul:  The name was sort of a summary of the particular time . . . .

Geordie:  (to Paul)  What you've got to do is give an example of a situation, a tragic situation, usually referring to . . . it sounds sort of easy, but it's hard to give examples.  Give her an example, Paul.  Give a bit of imagery.

Paul: It's like -- we didn't have any money.  Like me, signing on for getting Social Security, or supposedly getting in.  I went to this place and I got one pound.  One pound over six weeks.

Geordie:  Two dollars.

Bob:  That had to last you six weeks?

Paul:  That's all they gave me.  I mean, that sort of thing happens to everybody.  So we just say, "Yeah, it's another Killing Joke."  It's like Catch 22.

Bob:  It's a farcical thing that you have no control over.

Geordie:  Not so much farcical in that it's very real as well.

Paul:  It could be taken to any extreme, really.  The more you think about it, the more possibilities there are.

Bob:  Who coined the term?

Paul:  There was this near-crazy geezer that uh -- well, we seem to attract lunatics generally (laughter).  He was on the very first - no, really - he was an exceptionally intelligent bloke.  Hyperintelligent.  We couldn't -- no one could keep up with him.  So he was talking to himself most of the time.

Geordie:  He was so clever that he drove himself mad.

Bob:  They say that there is a fine line between genius and insanity.

Geordie:  Oh, yeah.

Bob:  Geordie, when did you join the band?

Geordie:  It was in about March '79 through an advert in the music press.

Bob:  How long was this after the band first formed?

Geordie:  Well, they'd actually decided to leave their previous band about a week before, or something like that.  (to Paul)  When you put the advert in the paper were you actually still in Matt Stagger?

Paul:  No, it wasn't as late as that.  I quit in mid-February.  And then he (Geordie) moved in.

Bob:  Into the same--

Geordie:  Hovel.

Bob:  You must have been crowded.  This was in March?

Geordie:  Yeah, March or April.

Bob: And how about Youth?

Geordie:  He came along in June.  We put out an advert.  We got all these people ringing up.  And we got this right idiot. (Geordie begins to imitate Youth in a dull, flat monotone) "Hi, my name's Youth", you know, in this idiot sort of slur over the phone.  So we didn't bother ringing him, right.

Paul:  Then we got desperate.

Geordie: Nothing happened.  Then we put another advert in and we got one geezer.  He stayed about a day after we met him.

Bob:  You didn't get along?

Geordie:  Well, you see, we put the second advert in and this geezer turned up.  As soon as he turned up there was instant friction -- so he left.

Paul:  All I did was ask him what he thought.  I said, "What do you think?" -- and he couldn't handle it (laughter). 

Bob:  Okay, so much for him.

Geordie:  We got so desperate that we rang up this Youth character who'd replied to the first advert, but we didn't look into because he sounded so stupid.  And we went to see him.  He was living in the Gay Brothel Hotel.

Bob:  I heard about this hotel, but I thought it was a joke.

Geordie: No, it was a hotel.  It's closed, condemned now.  What was it called?  Kersland Hotel.  There were three people in there sort of going on about halfway through sex change operations.

Paul:  There was a horrible man there.

Geordie:  Really strange.  Decadent, I'd say.

Bob:  So Youth was staying there--

Geordie:  He was living there with an old friend of his who's our roadie now.  But we couldn't afford to bring him over with us because he couldn't drive.

Bob:  He couldn't drive?

Geordie:  He couldn't drive so he's of no use.  When money's tight you have to be realistic.

Bob:  But you've got Prince with you.  Does he--

Geordie:  He's a friend.  He discovered Youth, actually.

Bob:  He discovered Youth?

Geordie:  Well, lying in the gutter about four years ago.

Bob:  Poor Youth.  It sounds like a tough life he's had.

Geordie.  Yeah, he has had a tough life, a very tough life.

Bob:  So finally by June of '79 Killing Joke was together as we see you now.  How much longer was it before the first album came out?

Paul:  The first single was about a month after we--

Geordie:  August . . . June, July -- no, no, no.  We moved to London in August.

Paul:  We recorded it in August.

Bob: You were living in London at this time.

Paul:  Yeah, we were living in London.  But we couldn't afford to rehearse.

Geordie:  Then the flat burned down, so we had to move back to the outskirts with Jaz's parents.  They had a part of the house we could use, so we stayed there a few months in this place called Cheltenham, a very English town -- the most English town in England, probably.

Bob:  The first single came out in August.  This was on your own record label, Malicious Damage.  How was that received?

Paul:  Well, we got a radio session the day the disc jockey got it.

Geordie:  We just got a really lucky break.  There's this program in England that's on the BBC about 10 til midnight four nights a week.  And it's the only program that plays the whole, sort of the underground music.  We gave them a copy of the record and he was so impressed with it that he played it that night, and raved about it.  He played all three tracks of it.  So we immediately were at a different stage of doing gigs, because gigs in England are not like here.  It's all tied up with -- even the smallest, grubbiest little hovel, even in London itself -- is tied up with promoters.

(slam of door as Youth enters the room)

Youth:   I just got stuck in the fucking lift.  Fifteen minutes going up and down.  It wouldn't stop on this floor.  Fucking. . . .

Bob:  We had the same trouble.  We didn't know if you'd show up or not so we decided to start, but hey, I'm sure you'll chime right in.

Youth:  Ah.  Right.

Bob:  So after the first single came out, Killing Joke began getting booked, and that was basically the beginning.  When did the album come out in the UK?

Paul:  August of last year.  It was a year's worth of material.

Bob:  I can see a difference between the first and second albums just in the basic beat of the music, the sound of the music.  On the first album, the last song was "Primitive," and I thought you were getting into a more basic beat -- more primitive--

Paul:  This album is more coherent, comprehensive, even.  It's -- well, as I said, the first album was a year's worth of material.  The second was recorded within six months of the first one.  And also, it was written and recorded over a very short expanse of time.

Youth:  A couple months.

Bob:  What was your message in the first album?  Did it have a message?  Did you have something you were trying to say in the music?  Or is it just music for music's sake?

Geordie:  It's more than just music, it's a fucking set of words, right, it is a description, an observation, which is there to inspire more lines of thought.  We're not trying to fucking spell anything out and say this is what . . . you know, it's nothing like that.  It's not a manifesto, it's just. . . .

Bob:  How about the second album?  Was this a continuation of your feelings?

Paul:  It was an intensification.

Geordie:  I think it's far more intense.  I think we sounded pretty conventional, apart from one track, on the first album.

Bob:  Which track was unconventional?

Geordie:  Well, not unconventional.  "Bloodsport" was my favorite track.  That's the only one I like.  Just the whole tone of it.  The force, the rhythm of it.  A lot of it (the second album) was more along that line.  Solid rhythms, constant, repetitive.  We made it sound a lot more intense and made the drums sound as good as we wanted them on the first album, but never managed it because we were inexperienced.

Bob:  The sound we hear on your second album is a product of your increased experience.

Geordie:  It's just a progression.  It wasn't any sort of preconceived, radical. . . .

Paul:  It wasn't a shift in direction.  It wasn't a shift in ideas or modes of attack or anything.  It wasn't a conscious, "let's try something else."  It was an intensification.

Bob:  Okay, but I still don't understand where this band is coming from.  You have a basic dissatisfaction with life.  In the song "Change", are you telling people that they must change or are you observing that they're not changing?

Paul:  All of our songs are really expressing what we see -- what surrounds us, what we're getting through the news.  And what we try to do is just to put that forward in some way that will make us think and make people think about situations and what they can do about them.  Just to inspire some energy and some thought into what is happening.  You know, because everybody knows that we are heading for some sort of disaster.  I mean, even if that isn't the case, there's such mass paranoia about the next few years and what's gonna happen that it's gonna happen anyway (laughter).

Bob:  Or at least people are worried enough about it to make the worry affect their lives.

Paul:  They're worried that someone's gonna worry overly and something's gonna happen.  So we just want to make people aware that time is precious and time is running out.

Bob:  People should think about things and, maybe, put their energies toward the problems that worry them?

Paul:  Yeah!

Geordie:  Put their energies into their own problems as well.

Youth:  Instead of making a fast buck.

Bob:  I'm glad you brought that up.  What's going to happen to you when your next album's a huge success?

Youth:  We'll make a fast buck.  A lot of this depends on the sort of scale, you know.  It depends on how much money you make.  It depends on the scale, and what we can do at the next stage of life, whatever that might be.  The idea of it isn't just to get money, you know.

Paul:  Making a bomb -- Killing Joke owns a bomb.

Bob:  That would be the ultimate killing joke.

Geordie:  It could happen, actually, because Jaz's brother works for NASA.

Bob:  I'm anxious to hear what you are planning to do now.  Any vinyl plans?

Paul:  We've got another single.  It will be released in England within a month or so of our getting back.  I don't know how long it will take to get over here.

Bob:  Can you tell me what direction you will be heading in, what you'd like to see for yourselves in two or three years?

Paul:  I don't know exactly what is going to happen as far as the music is concerned, but I'd like the third album -- or third set of music, because it might not be an album -- sounding different, not just taken from a different angle.

Bob:  Any ideas at all?

Paul:  I don't know.  Maybe I'll play a tambourine.

Geordie:  No.  But there's one point.  After the first album, there was a period of about six months where we didn't write a single song.  We were just really slow at writing because it's easy to write, it's so easy to write songs, I tell you. . . .

Youth:  But you really get sick of what you're playing.

Bob:  Do you mean you get sick of playing the same thing over and over?

Youth:  No, it's not the same thing.  You just get sick of the style you're playing in.

Geordie:  It's so easy to write songs.  You can write songs that sound like songs by using old cliches, old chords, and things like that, which is no good.  Or you can go to the other extreme and rely on novelties and become terribly avant garde -- but then you can't reproduce it live, which I want to do in England because you get some sort of reaction, an immediate reaction to your music.

Bob:  How about playing in the States?

Geordie:  Well, a couple of them have been quite good, but New York disappointed me quite a bit.  It was just -- they just have everything laid on there and they just stand and watch.

Bob:  They need a big thrill in New York, something to jolt--

Geordie:  They just want another fucking hero, that's all they want.

Bob:  So you want to try a bit of a different style to make things more diversified for yourselves?

Paul:  We always try to avoid the cliches.  The struggle is trying to be totally creative all the time -- not using standards, you know.

Geordie:  And not relying on novelties.

Bob:  It must be very difficult.  You don't want to use the cliches, but you don't want to rely on novelties.

Geordie:  Right.  We don't, or I don't actually -- putting in words, I describe it like that, but I don't actually consciously think that much about it, because all I've got to do is sort of think of one idea at a time and just play it to death.  I write a good rhythm track and just change it once -- you know, something I really like.

Paul:  I think that's what we all do.

Geordie:  You prefer to play something that you like.  It gnaws at you.  Nothing too delicate, that's all.

Bob:  What exactly was the reason for not working on the second album for six months?

Geordie:  We just couldn't think of anything.  We didn't like anything.

Paul:  We need inspiration as well.

Bob:  Tell me about this tour.

Geordie:  So-so.

Paul:  They've all been good reactions.

Geordie:  But it didn't seem very real.

Paul:  There have only been a couple that have inspired us to think that this is a good gig, that this is worth doing.

Geordie:  It's not just having people jump up and down, getting drunk and stuff and just seeing it as entertainment.  In England, where people are actually desperate, they find it a release.

Youth:  You get a definite atmosphere at the gigs in England.  It's a lot different here.

Geordie:  That's right.  Because we describe our environment, you know, and in England it's a lot more . . . people are poor over there.  There's no money.  They haven't got nice cars and they can't go to the beach in the afternoon.

Paul:  They know exactly what we're talking about.

Geordie:  They can relate it completely to their lives because they've got to go through it all.  It's just a matter of time -- it'll be like that over here soon.  When the money starts running out over here and people can't have their new cars and they can't drive around because there's no petrol.  And Reagan has neutron-bombed Arabia so there's no one left on the planet anymore.

Bob:  If they don't neutron-bomb us first.

Geordie:  Spoken like a true American.

Paul:  Yeah -- let's get them first.

Geordie:  Let's nuke 'em!

Youth:  (to Geordie)  Have you got some scissors?

Geordie:  I left them at home.  What do you want scissors for?

Youth:  To cut my hair.

Geordie:  Your hair?  What do you want to cut your hair for?

Youth:  I want to cut my hair!

Geordie:  Use a razor blade.

Youth:  No.

Geordie:  They're really good.

Youth:  They're no good.

Paul:  I'll do it with a razor blade.

Geordie:  They're better than scissors -- you don't get fucking chopped ends then.

The tape ends here.  At this point, we compared English anger (over poverty) with American frustration (often from having too much fun).  Geordie felt the answer was for us to send our money to England and make everyone happy.  Not me!