|(From Sounds, 22 November
The Fatal Curse of Killing Joke
With the release of Killing Joke's new LP, Neil Perry finally gets the chance to do what no sane person would volunteer for - that is, spend a lot of time with the band's lead singer. Is Jaz Coleman really as mad as a hatter or is it just the way he laughs? In between wild car rides to wreak vegenance on unsuspecting rock writers, we find out the truth.
Jaz Coleman has two smouldering coals where his eyes should be.
He cuts through the boisterous chat of his three fellow jokers and announces, "It's occurred to me that we never play our records to journalists. Let's listen to some music!"
He places a copy of the new Killing Joke album 'Brighter Than A Thousand Suns' on the turntable and cranks up the volume. By the time the third song comes hurtling out of the speakers, the band are in a party mood. Wild bassist Raven, who has spent the previous hour getting increasingly out of it, leaps off the sofa thrusting his groin madly, guitarist Geordie sways hypnotically while drummer Big Paul makes do with tapping his foot. As for Jaz, he may as well be on the stage of the Hammersmith Palais, eyes closed, arms raised dramatically, DM's pounding the floor. They are all smiling.
We are closeted in an office no larger than the average bedroom and we're inside Virgin Records HQ, because it's that time of year again; Killing Joke are back, new album, another tour, and a whole round of interviews in which the press would once more try and gain the upper hand on a band who have long stopped caring what the papers think of their music.
Killing Joke or Killing Joke, it's never been an easy ride, whichever way you look at it. They've spent seven years laughing while people consistently failed to get the punchline, seven years of journalist-baiting, rumour and intrigue. And - lest we forget - there are five previous studio albums, one live, and countless singles. They are also the most powerful live act I have ever witnessed.
'Are Killing Joke the most horrible group ever?' screamed a pop glossy in a recent interview, and that's been the upshot of it all to date. Even this organ has been guilty of indulging in high-horse judgement, giving their second album 'What's THIS for. .!' five stars for the music but one 'morally'.
'Thinking man's metal', the 'new barbarians', or even 'a complete bunch of bastards', it's all been water off a duck's back. Killing Joke turned their faces to the horizon and never looked back, surging forward on a mission of broiling passion. I first saw Killing Joke when I was 15 years old - such an impressionable age, I've always thought.
And now we're 'Brighter Than A Thousand Suns', smoother than before, more reasoned, a more accessible way to tell a joke.
So there I was, stepping into a cage full of docile lions who are slowly waking up. Whether they are in a room or on a stage together, Killing Joke have a predatory nature which they seem unable to repress, no matter how good their intentions may be. Raven and Geordie are having hysterics because we've been discussing the effect that their music has on people.
"That was the first thing we ever set out to achieve," says Paul in a voice that is as: calm as it is deep, "a state where you play live and you leave such an impression on people that whether they love it or hate it, it can't be ignored. We want to reach a state of frenzy. We reach into our very souls and throw the excrement at each other. It's..."
"F****** horrible," concludes Raven.
And it seems to be true that people don't forget. Their long silences between each record/tour -18 months since the last - seem to increase their popularity rather than kill it off. But the silences are of equal importance to the band as their music. They travel. It's all part of the joke, you see.
"You can't do seven years in a band called Killing Joke and just point out the flaws in your immediate environment," says Jaz, getting quickly fired up, this being the first of many times I would hear those last two words.
."Sooner or later you become obliged to create a more desirable reality. I don't think we can accomplish that much here. Going back to these holidays we all go on, they..."
"Become recces!" smiles Geordie, which causes Jaz to throw back his head and emit his comically evil cackle, long and loud. And Killing Joke are now playing their favourite game, dropping hints, cryptic clues, toying with me.
"We intend ambiguity," explains Paul. "We don't want to be talked about in specifics."
"That you're here," ponders Jaz, "and attempting to express that which possibly cannot be expressed is very interesting. But it's something indefinable, and essentially completely unintellectual.
"My concern for all of us is that each one in the band ... we set up our own environment and we materialise what we've selfishly given ourselves to, all our dreams. And we're close to doing that. We'll do it, because we always get everything we need."
Jaz then announces that he wants to read some poetry and, ignoring Raven's protests, he recites a piece of Sanskrit writing, describing what many believe to be the first nuclear explosion about 7,000 years BC, and from which the new album's title is taken.
"That affected me. The whole thing fits into my idea that civilization, when it's reached the final stage of growth, always arrives at the same point. Fission, or the splitting of the atom or a natural cataclysm - it's irrelevant which."
So it's inevitable?
Raven: "What do you think?"
Jaz: "Yes! Yes! What will it be like?! How will you react?"
How will you?
"Mind your own f****** business!" He quietens down almost instantly, and waves at the world outside the office window.
"It's important to see beyond this, which I can only conclude is temporary. The atmosphere at our gigs relates to that. The future."
Five minutes later the rest of the band have departed and Jaz and I sit in the Virgin press office, waiting for a car. He hands me a recent cutting taken from a provincial paper, which tells of the death of a man who has been impersonating Raven for the last two years. Jaz is morose and darkly amused by the whole episode.
"Ha! We've known about him for some time. It was coming to him."
"It was coming to him, we knew about this chap."
But the fact that he got wiped out in a motorbike accident...?
"Raven took particular offence to it."
And it would be silly to draw any conclusions I know, but...
"It all depends on your intentions. If you associate with it, or use the name, it all depends on your intentions, what happens to you."
So this guy using your name was...?
"He was wrong! But he was taking it further than that. He was taking ... certain benefits in certain areas."
His eyes are burning now, and I'm thinking, How can you deal with this when the line between what is and what is not is so fuzzy, so indiscernible? I suppress a nervous giggle, but have no more time to think about it, because Jaz rises and growls, "Come on. We're going to Melody Maker."
We march out of the building to a waiting Mercedes. Jaz, you see, has just read something about himself that he takes offence to, so has decided to do something about it. We climb in the back, and I recall a tale Geordie related to me earlier about the time Jaz dealt with a person who was dealing in Killing Joke tapes without the band's permission. He strolled drunkenly into the poor sod's office, pulled up his own sleeve, slashed his arm and dripped blood over the guy's head.
On the way we stop off at a fishing tackle shop and then a butcher's, and I listen to Jaz calling Killing Joke "...a beautiful orchestra" and feel the first tremors of serious panic.
By the time we reach Melody Maker, Jaz is energised, possessed, a huge grin stuck on his face. We stroll into reception, where he asks to see various journalists and is refused. When one arrives. he asks who wrote the offending piece. He cannot be told, so he turns to the reception desk. He empties the tub of maggots he has been carrying onto the desk. then reaches into his pocket and pulls out hunks of liver which swiftly join the maggots. Various people start screaming. And I realise I'm enjoying this afternoon.
Jaz leaves, grabbing me as he passes, but not before leaving an order that the writer in question apologises over the phone within I2 hours. He did. That afternoon.
So we run out, Jaz shaking with psyched-up anger, and jump into the getaway vehicle. We arrange to meet again.
A few days later I meet Jaz at the plush King's Road offices of EG Records. He is in a fine mood, and paces around the room rubbing his hands together.
"Oh, I feel good today!" he announces, stuffing tobacco into his pipe and puffing away like a wise old sage.
"I'm looking forward to the new year, because it'll be time for me to transform what started out as a band into something. I'll be able to publish my book, and possibly my symphony, and I know precisely the direction I want to take the writing. I want to reflect total control of my immediate environment, and obviously to do this I'm going to have to change a lot of things in my life. I need a base from where I can achieve these ends."
His book, An Irrational Domain, is the story of the killing joke to date, as important a part of the Jaz-Joke jigsaw as the new album or his symphony (Jaz had classical music training from the age of seven until he was 18).
"In my book it's Killing Joke all the way through. It's a biographical outline of a philosophy or a way of thinking. My approach is anti-intellectual because all my conclusions are derived from experiences. There's a lot of adventures, a lot of things I've felt compelled to write about because no one would really know what the four of us have been through, and the people we've met. When you use a name like Killing Joke you meet a lot of nutters ... ha!"
He runs his hand through his jet-black hair. Today Jaz is warm, friendly and amusing, a man with an incredible reserve of mirth. All his waking, and probably most of his sleeping, moments are taken up with coming to terms with an approaching holocaust, or 'extremities' as he calls it.
"The week of the Libyan crisis ... ha ha! It was hilarious! We got onto the travel agency, we had our flights booked out the next morning. You've never seen anything like it when the record company got wind of it. Ha! We didn't like the look of things at all!
"Human instinct picked up on it, it was thoroughly interesting. My phone would not stop ringing, people getting hold of my number ... don't ask me! I familiarise myself with this nightmare to get over my own problems with facing the inevitable. I have to ask, what is my response? That has been the sum total, the motivating force behind book, symphony.
"It must dawn on people that after seven years I'm either a complete nutcase or have a healthy curiosity in something that I think is inevitable."
Are you a nutcase?
He pauses, for longer than seems necessary.
"No, I'm not a nutcase. Fanaticism is the only way one can react or respond to a situation of overwhelming odds."
He talks about the time he flipped and ran off to Iceland, the time of their third album 'Revelations', a period that saw the band lose original bassist Youth and gain Raven.
"It was a certain time, it was freaky. I was going mad then, seriously losing my mind. I'd decided ten months before to leave on February 25, 1982, the day before my birthday. We also started Killing Joke on the 26th.
"I'd made more money up until that point than ever before, and it was important for me to blow it all, get rid of it and go to Iceland with just £1. The idea of security was repulsive.
"At that time I was intimately involved with Norse mythology, and all the characters -Odin, Thor - had become as people to me. They were promiscuous, they liked getting drunk. Life in Reykjavik almost became like legend, the boundary between reality and legend was dissolved. It was a remarkable time for me, a big change.
I like seclusion, isolation from people. Sometimes the work I do is of such intensity and darkness that I can't stand it myself. But I have to persevere. The individuals I like to make contact with are few and far between, because there are very few people who have reached the horrible conclusion that all this is going to come to an end, ha ha ha! I love it! As Raven says, Less furniture, more sky! Ha ha ha ha!"
And if you could only hear that laugh, everything would fall into place, make absolute sense. Understand that there is no insanity, only certainty, and you'll be halfway there.
We leave the office, arranging to meet for a third and final time, and get on the tube. And I want you to picture Jaz pushing his way through a packed platform, shaking his head and murmuring, "Too many people. Too many people."
In a yuppie bar/restaurant in the King's Road, I suggest to Jaz that as a band Killing Joke are stuck between making their own plans and wanting a high level of success.
"I wouldn't complain at having a number one record. I don't think any of us would."
But surely you have to maintain a higher profile?
"What, little girlie magazines? One or two more TV shows, you mean? Let's look at the reality, one or two more TV shows, more press coverage, one or two more front covers ... huh? We don't worry about it. "
But you do want Killing joke to keep growing?
"It will, through word of mouth, through expanding in different directions. The book is part of Killing Joke. We have credibility with a lot of people that comes by just being yourself over a number of years. I don't see any massive changes, like suddenly we break really big. We enjoy international distribution and we play the music we want."
I tell him that people I know either see Killing joke once and never want to go again, or they keep getting drawn back, like moths to a candle. And they know there's something about Killing Joke, but they can't describe it.
"I understand this. You're talking about the fifth member?"
"Ha! I mean ... people ask me when I'm talking about my managers ... they think I'm talking about EG Records. Ha!"
He is chuckling now. What are you referring to?
"It's very difficult to explain. When you start crossing over on areas such as beliefs, convictions, to put them in print is ... I'm reluctant to be definitive, but right from the beginning ... there's been a guiding force which we have complete faith in. Something keeps giving us all the facilities to express ourselves with. That's what I mean when I refer to management. I suppose the next question will be, What is your local deity? Ha ha ha!"
And in the next two hours we discuss Mishima, love, hate, pity, Wagner,
morris dancing. Life and death, in fact...
"I don't necessarily like my dreams, you know?" Jaz confesses. ."That's just it, I don't necessarily like them. But I have to follow them, there's certain things you know. You know the sun rises in the East, you know the call of hunger. Existence is certain. To analyse my own imperfections, worries, guilt, all the impurities, to see them, and to create a reaction that will outlive my life -I cannot think of anything more, I can't see any other reason. Just owning that makes life worth living.
"The trouble is, the way we exist in our society, we settle with the assumption that we're frail, pathetic creatures who are blessed with error. And that's something I'm trying to unlearn. I'd rather see man foolish, proud, arrogant ... I have great difficulty in living by my own creed, make no mistake.
"But my values have changed since the beginning of Killing Joke, hit singles and all that. You think it's in the winning of the race but it's not, it's in the running. There's no start or finish, just go! Another single, more music, and you get onto the next. I don't want it to ever stop, because when you stop doing, you start dying."
And finally Jaz comes clean, of sorts. He tells me of the inspiration behind a song on the new album called 'A Southern Sky'. "It's a place I've been to, I don't want to say where - I've learned my lesson about that - one of the most beautiful places I've been to in the world. It's an island, a very small island. Geordie and I have been there. I would very much like to see more of this place, to say the least! Ha ha!
"Look at the imagery in the lyrics. It's not difficult to guess, untouched land, an ideal for me. It would be the kind of place for an anti-social character! "
You count yourself as anti-social?
"I certainly do. You've got to have some sort of idea of what your perfect environment would be, within the boundaries of your own lifetime. Plenty of 'Keep Out' signs, a few guns to back it up with ... and then we'll start talking about uniforms! Ha ha ha ha ha!"
And if Killing Joke are about anything at all, in my eyes it's making use, carving out a straight line and forging ahead with your only care being ultimately for yourself. No favours, no free lunches.
As Jaz puts it, "I enjoy the bitterness and contempt in Killing Joke, I participate in that. We despise in Killing Joke, that's where we get all our inspiration from."
And Jaz was laughing when I left him, so much that I expected him to burst into tears.
"People aren't going to like me! People aren't going to like me! Life must end tragically, so I can have a good laugh at it all. Ha ha ha!"
A tragic comedy.
"Yes it is! It's funny."