Interview Conducted By Ralph Denyer
To get a real idea of what they are all about, there's no question, you have to see Killing joke live. Until the end of January, I hadn't.
I had been sent an advance cassette of their album Night Time featuring the single Love Like Blood and a 12" of the latter. I saw them on The Tube but, though impressed, was not prepared for the impact of their live show at the Hammersmith Palais. They've been developing their music and live performance since 1979 and the new album is their fifth.
The Palais was packed. Love Like Blood was barely creeping into the singles' charts so it was a few thousand of the band's regular followers who filled the place. Even ten minutes or so before they came on stage, the atmosphere and tension started to build. As an abstract piece of music by Conny Plank played over the sound system, the crowd surged towards the stage and the barriers strained. Then the band were there and the place went crazy.
The feeling between the band and the audience is hard to explain. Of course, there is the basic element of people having a good time at one of their favourite band's live dates. But there was something else, something more like the atmosphere generated at a political rally at the end of a long and successful election campaign.
Awesome is a word often used in descriptions of Killing Joke and it definitely applies. Their approach is almost Napoleonic. Singer Jaz has a look of pure joy on his face as he greets the crowd. Geordie, Raven and Big Paul are much cooler. They launch into the first number, Big Paul's drumming and Raven's bass guitar playing are fused together into a rhythm section that is tight, driving and unrelenting. Geordie plays hardly any single note guitar but provides huge washes of rhythmic chordal sounds. His guitar sound is massive.
Jaz is intense to say the least. Some people call him a creative visionary. Others would send round the boys in the white coats to take him away. Part way into the set, it was all too much for one enthusiastic fan who scrambled on the stage, at the same time sending a monitor crashing down into the pit and causing a howl of feedback. He ran past Raven once but on the return journey, the bass player neatly placed a knee and stopped him dead in his tracks. Raven didn't miss a beat.
Three days later I meet Jaz and Geordie and say a quick hello to Big Paul. On my way to meet them I spoke to a couple of people who gave me the impression that, from what they'd heard, if I was going to interview Killing Joke, I'd best do it from inside a Centurion tank, dangling a mike outside on a boom stand.
At their management company's office on The Kings Road, Chelsea, I meet Jaz on a stairway while on my way to get started with Geordie. Jaz gives me a friendly smile, shakes hands and say's hello. Then I sit down with Geordie, who spent much of the previous night working on a mix at Townhouse Studios. He seems a bit tired but quite amiable and happy to talk.
I told Geordie how much I enjoyed the band live and that seeing them on TV and listening to the cassette of the album didn't, hadn't really prepared me for the excitement and tension of their live performance. Killing Joke live is what the band is all about.
"It is, we're a live band. We've even started - especially on the album we've just done - recording the backing tracks live, in the studio. We did each song about five times, in various stages of alcohol, and just kept the ones that throbbed and had that undercurrent breathing."
By live he meant live together?
"Yes, live together. It was a huge studio. We set the drums up - it was like an old civic centre dance hall which is what Hansa studios used to be - we set the drums up in there, the bass in another room, my guitar amps were out in the hall on very long leads. We were actually in an area about the size of this (medium sized) room, so we were in a playing position. We just did the tracks until we were all sweating and it gets to a stage where you're not thinking anymore, about what you're doing, because you play it again and again. And you keep those tracks and put keyboards on top with the vocals. That is my favourite way of recording but the thing is you loose separation. We got it down by putting the bass elsewhere etc. There were a couple of overspills here and there but we actually got a good compromise."
Jaz, I should point out, plays keyboards at times as well as singing. What are Geordie's feelings about the way the band comes across on TV, on video and records?
"We definitely come across best live. We thrive on that, we always have done. It's something that's hard to explain. I would say that Jaz is a showman but it's not contrived. Most bands will observe other bands, see what they do, which way the guitarist moves when he puts his foot up on the monitor and leans over into the audience and such like that. We just let the music take care of itself and just enjoy ourselves. That seems to, I don't know, get a stronger feeling from the audience. It's a bit awesome for them at first when they walk in and hear us, it's quite a frontal attack. But I think they sense something more genuine about it. There's a stronger atmosphere."
We talked about other bands - like Whitesnake - that come across well live and the renewed interest in good stage bands. So much of the eighties music relies on record production finesse, with the result that many bands just do not sound as good live.
"That's an interesting point actually. Was it a couple of years ago? You had all these bands, they were going across to America. English people are great at slagging off Americans but one thing about them is, they know if there getting a good show. Bands were going out there and miming to tapes and things and it just didn't happen, they did nothing. Culture Club went over there and the boy - I don't like the music that much - but the boy has a good voice and they can play, and they did, and it worked. But the rest of them just died."
Geordie agrees that record production can bring out subtleties that just don't come over in front of 2,000 or more people, adding, "that's why Heavy Metal is still so big."
When I said Killing Joke have a take no prisoners attitude Geordie responded.
"Yeah, that's life, isn't it?"
And Jaz seems to be having the time of his life on stage.
"It takes him over. The boy's a medium, I'm sure he is. He can't remember it when he comes off stage. He's just gone - completely."
They play as a band yet come across as individuals through the music. Paul, Raven and Jaz seem to create an atmosphere of tight rhythmic tension - with Jaz illustrating this with his gestures - while Geordie comes in as another element, adding surging, strong chord layers over the top.
"Wandering around, (laughs) yeah. How do you explain personalities? Because it's just personalities coming out in the form of music. How do you explain that? You've got to see it."
Though not complex, Geordie's guitar and amp set-up has been finely honed during the five years Killing Joke have been operational. Currently, it goes something like this. The guitar is a rare, classic 1952 Gibson ES 295 semi-acoustic. The guitar signal is fed first into a newish Korg multiple memory echo unit and then fed to a Bell ADT/echo unit. The mixed output from the first Bell the goes to one of Geordie's two Burman amps driving an 8x10 cabinet. And there you have it. He's tried all kinds of guitars, amps and effects but finds that nothing else can give him the sound he wants.
"So I've got two slightly different chorus sounds, just to spread the sound and make it sound like more guitars. It's almost just a chorus effect but not quite a chorus because it's not swirling backwards and forwards."
In fact a lot of people don't realise that despite all kinds of fancy names, effects of the type that Geordie uses are in fact just delays of one sort or another.
"Yeah, that's all it is. I'll tell you what Brian May (Queen's guitar player) had exactly the same thing years ago. He just used tape Echoplexes with short delays. Three sets of amps, one going straight, one delayed and the other delayed as well just the same thing."
Enter Jaz. We talked about the Palais for a while and he asked me, "Did you enjoy it?" Yes I said. "Good" he said and sat down with us. Now Jaz is not a man short of a word or two. I say to him that he had an expression of pure joy on his face when he came on stage that I don't think could be faked.
"It's home (laughs) and it's great. We've had people who have stuck with us through thick and thin, through the most difficult periods. It's our live audience, our following if you like, that have helped our existence in the last three or four years. Now it seems our popularity is definitely increasing and it's great to see the same people and more. We just want to expand on it, you know? Killing Joke has got nothing to do with image or trend or fashion. It's our music, it's our music that we love and the people who come to see us, come because of our music. And they know we have a very close, frighteningly close relationship with our music and we can be trusted and relied upon in that. And I believe it's paying off, the concerts seem to be selling out and I hear Love Like Blood is doing very well."
And after five years, Killing Joke had a record going into your actual singles' pop chart.
"Yeah, strange for us but great. Love Like Blood is, the guitar sound is wicked. I listened to it again this morning. I find it a very moving yet very disturbing song. I want a lot of people to listen to it and the album. We got the right mix on the album, the sound. The drums sound spot on. We've got the size of Geordie's guitar, it's live but you can hear a hundred or so orchestras' within Geordie's guitar sound."
As Jaz heaped praise on Geordie, the guitar player said "but I could teach an eight year old to play. It is that simple."
I said could he could teach an eight year old where to put his fingers but asked, could he teach an eight year old how to get into the frame of mind to come up with the musical ideas?
Geordie: "That's another thing, it's just don't play obvious chords. Move your fingers around. When I write I never actually hear what I'm going to write first. I'll just be at a stage where I'm so relaxed and suddenly you've got a sequence of notes and you go: Yeah, those are the ones."
Jaz feels that the sheer intensity of their last four albums has tended to put some people off their music.
Jaz: "Now on Night Time and Love Like Blood especially - you can hear pure music. At the same time it's the most explosive music we've done. The function of music is not so you end up with words like 'interesting' or 'stimulating' the function of music is to move people."
Jaz agreed that everybody in the band has their individual roles but pointed out that at the same time, they are a very close unit.
"We are one of the few bands the writes collectively. Listen, the reason the band has stayed together is that the royalties have been split four ways, right from the beginning. (Laughs)"
"Killing Joke is a family unit. There's a unique relationship between the personnel. We live to extremes first and then the music is already there."
"When I look at Big Paul, the drummer, he's a man who lives for his drums. The way he tunes them, cleans them, his whole relationship with his drums, that's the only sanity within that mans life."
"Raven is the joker in the band, he gets drunk and keeps us laughing because we take ourselves quite seriously - sometimes. (Laughs). He's got a wicked bass sound. Him and Big Paul, I consider to be the Sly and Robbie of our style of music, definitely. I mean, the rhythm section is faultless now. Sly and Dodgy in fact. (Laughs)."
"Killing Joke is our lives. It's something we love and we'll keep doing it regardless of what our chart position is, or whatever."
So what, I ask Jaz, is all this I'd been told about needing protective equipment to interview Killing Joke?
"On one or two occasions, it's slipped out that a journalist prior to an interview, told someone he was going to do a number on us. Only we got to hear about it and dealt with the situation accordingly. It is not the rule however. I would say that Killing Joke is an intelligent band and those people who have a genuine interest in the band and the music, we can detect those people and treat them accordingly and give them the respect they give us. But those people who have a pre-fixed idea of what Killing Joke is or they don't like the band, we also deal with them accordingly."