(From Zigzag, UK music magazine, August 1981.)

Killing Joke

So here we are, Fiona, Jenny and I, sitting in Jenny's (KJ's publicist) car, awaiting the arrival of Jaz and Youth.  Jaz arrives, gets in, moans a bit about his new contact lenses, and enquires of Jenny, who is doing the interview. She points to us and Jaz raises an eyebrow in our direction, possibly thinking "huh girls", "huh journalists", or maybe just "huh".  Two minutes later, Youth turns up.  Although I've met him roughly ten times before, he chooses this one occasion to look as if he's never seen me before in his life. Fiona and I shiver, and we move off towards the flat shared by Paul and Geordie where the interview is to take place.

We all go upstairs to sit in someone's bedroom, where (this being Wednesday) they all start scanning the music papers, looking for mentions of themselves. After a few minutes of desultory chat and some vehement comments over a gig review, we drift into the interview.

I suggest that their music hasn't radically changed since their first release and Jaz immediately accuses me (understandably from his point of view) of not having listened properly.

Jaz: I think it's changed quite a bit.  As far as feeling goes it's still pretty intense, and our environment hasn't changed.  We don't live in the Bahamas now, and until we do live there, our music reflects everything that goes on around us: shitty, horrible, room-to-room, mundane existence.  Music is the one focal point in our lives.  We have a pretty shitty time apart from the release we get from our music. Music's the only way out of this hole, but I don't like London. I don't like living round here.

Paul: In the Bahamas, we'd just end up playing depressing calypsos.

ZZ: Is your music just a release or do you consider the audience at all?

Jaz: Of course we do; we play some great gigs that the papers never write about. The loonies that follow us around, sleeping in bus shelters, they're the people that you feel this horrible twinge of responsibility for in a funny way, and when we get those great gigs, then we feel it's worth sticking around for.

ZZ: So you wouldn't just play in a room by yourself?

Jaz: Obviously we play for our own amusement, but we get something more out of it if there's loads of loonies there going absolutely manic and sharing the same overall feeling - no control over one's destiny. I think it's an achievement what we've done up till now, and what we've done is establish a certain frame of mind - the killing joke - it's not even a point for discussion anymore. It's almost established in its own right, everyone's got their personal interpretation of how they can relate to it, the horrible situation that's going on, but we're establishing a certain frame of mind and it's working.

ZZ: Do you think your playing is actually changing anything?

Jaz: I suppose you think we've got these funny ideas about changing the world, but we just get it right between ourselves.

Paul: Changing things is just getting people to accept what you're on about.

ZZ: And do you think you've done that?

Paul:  To an extent, yes. We get more people following us around everywhere.

ZZ: But are you getting more people? Aren't you just preaching to the converted?

Paul: Certainly a lot of people felt that anyway, but they do need someone to express it for them.

Jaz: Also I think there's a little bit more to us regarding direction, and where we get our inspiration from. We're not going away.  Killing Joke is here.

ZZ: What are you aiming to do with your music?

Jaz: What does music normally do? It inspires. It can inspire big events or small. We want it to inspire us. We want more out of this environment.  Ultimately I would like control over my personal environment. Only when you get to that stage do things change and I don't think the world is as destined to doom as people might think our music reflects. I don't see it like that at all. I see our music as highly optimistic; they see it as grey but I think it's the most optimistic music about at the moment.

Paul (laughing):  We sing songs of happiness.

Jaz: Yes, it does make us happy, our music.  We wouldn't play it otherwise.  We endeavour to practise what we preach. We're pretty righteous.

We then start talking about Killing Joke's modus operandi.

Jaz: We're all relatively good mates, but when it comes to music we're really strict. If someone doesn't pull their weight, we're like a pack of dogs; you go for them. When Youth was a bit weak we all turned on him.

ZZ: But he's still here.  You must have supported him?

Jaz: To an extent, but it almost got to the point where he was going to kill us, and so you do tend to react in a primitive way and turn on him. It's the natural thing to do. It's the survival of everyone else.

ZZ: So you do try to keep personal feelings out of what you play?

Paul: It comes from personal feelings, the way we play indy, it's the way we feel. Everything we do within the unit is personal feelings.

ZZ: But you're saying that you'll turn on anyone who isn't up to scratch and also that you all merge together as one unit.  Surely that's a contradiction?

Jaz (shouting down Paul): I don't believe it's a contradiction because I believe it's an extension of personalities. When someone loses their own suss of themselves, has self-doubts, the other three know how that one can shine, our own magical personalities, but when one of us has self-doubts, etc., that is when you get worried. But we do know each other and we are in a position to judge one another to a certain extent, and we all listen to each other as far as criticism goes before we attack each other.

Youth: It's healthy; it produces songs.

ZZ: But you do sound as if you have a blinding sense of loyalty to each other.

Paul: Yes, we have a loyalty to our achievements, to the band. We have a strong sense of destiny.

We moved on to discussing various music journalists and Geordie put forward the age-old theory that all rock journalists are frustrated musicians.

Jaz: These people cannot communicate, really. They are frustrated musicians. They can't express themselves except in writing.

ZZ: Do you think that's less valid than playing music?

Jaz: I do. I do believe it's less valid.

ZZ: Maybe if you are a frustrated musician then it would be, but some people write as their own way of expressing themselves.

Paul: They should write books then.

Jaz: I think we've lost the original means of communication altogether now. I don't have any real respect for people who use words to communicate.

ZZ: Then why aren't your songs purely instrumental?

Geordie: It's the human element.

Jaz: Exactly, it's the sound and shape, more so than the English behind it.

ZZ: You sound as if you're dismissing words because your particular form of self-expression is through music.

Jaz: Music is suitable. I've always found it a very strange form of communication.

Geordie: Because there are no barriers in music.

ZZ: But there are barriers. You just have to look at 99% of the bands at the moment. They're doing exactly the same as writers but in a musical form.

Jaz: That is true. I agree with that. But I just think that writing is a very limited form of communication. It doesn't appeal to me. Maybe it's just personal. I think the origins of the vowels and the alphabet is more interesting.

Paul: I think more people understand that than you'd give them credit for, Jaz.

Jaz: I just doubt it, that's all. I just think a lot of the original tensions of words are lost.

Paul: You're not the only one who's trying to communicate though.

Jaz: No, no.  You're right. I've just got my own opinion though, that's all.

Geordie: I think anyone can understand our racket.

Jaz: Right.  It's something you don't even need words for. When we're in the flesh playing music, you don't need words. It's nothing to do with words. It's instinctive, and we're trying to improve on that. I hate words. I hate words!

ZZ: But you can use ordinary words to build up a feeling.

Jaz: Yes, to paint a picture. I do realise that. As far as our latest album goes, there are some of the best lyrics ever written, and we couldn't afford a lyric sheet, and it's annoying because it gets misinterpreted, but the only people who do misinterpret it are the ones who deal in words. They're not the people who come to our gigs half the time anyway.

ZZ: So why print the lyrics?

Jaz: Well, they weren't. But some people like that form of communication and I like reaching those people as well.

ZZ: Do you feel you're not communicating then?

Jaz: I don't think my vocabulary is very brilliant. His (pointing to Paul) is much better than mine.

Paul: I just wish you'd give me a chance to speak some of the time. I don't like all this competition. (exit Paul stage left, not to be seen again)

Jaz: Now see what you've started?  See where words get you?

Talking to Killing Joke can be stimulating, it can be alarming, but it's never dull. I can sympathise with their desire for stimulation from interviewers rather than merely answering questions about how many records they sell, but I don't know if they go about it in the right way. Demanding a stimulating conversation from someone might possibly yield a satisfying response, but is probably more likely to either frighten the recipient into silence or to provoke some journalists into getting their revenge (for having their complacency threatened) by slagging them off.

Personally, I rather enjoyed it.

--Louisa Hennessy