(From Melody Maker, 14 May 1988)
Amid gallons of goat's blood and a truckload of cloven hooves, Killing Joke have finally split. Mat Smith risks disembowelment to talk to Raven and learns about what really caused the band's collapse.
"I'm not a vindictive person right? It's just that ..." It's just that when someone goes to great lengths to convince you they're not a vindictive person, you know they probably are. And when they're puncturing a matchbox as they tell you, you know they definitely are.
In case you don't know, the approachable face of Killing Joke has been kicked in, and now, in time honoured Joke tradition, an almighty ruck is looming. No one is safe. I'll probably be found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge next week with my innards in a neat pile beside me. But some things have to be said. Unfortunately.
Last year it all seemed so different. Last year it was almost as if the band had undergone a spiritual rebirth. No "scum", as Jaz Coleman termed them, had been allowed anywhere near the studio where they were recording a new LP. The whole vibe was one of characteristic obsession but also immense excitement and above all happiness. The new music wasn't commercial but it was MASSIVE. A dense holographic vision where Arabian Nights met the Western Dream in a violent crash of ideals and technology. A fearsome Bacchanalia of sound as unsettling and disturbing as anything on "Revelations" - a real return to form. Nine months later, what do we hear on the radio?
"America, I can survive the rat race honey, time is money and money is honey, honey."
Even more distressing, however, was the news that Big Paul Ferguson had been sacked from the group and replaced by Go West's drummer. Bassist Raven had also quit calling Jaz and Geordie "a pair of ego-strokers", as he slammed the studio door.
Something, somewhere had gone mightily wrong. It's not that Raven's vindictive, it's just that ...
"The rot set in around the time of 'Brighter Than A Thousand Suns'. I thought that to follow up the 'Night Time' LP would be a piece of piss. We'd captured a certain feeling in the music that everyone got off on and it seemed to me silly to change track. Jaz kept on trying to get all this other intellectual stuff across. Now, I'm old fashioned in that I believe if you've already got something, you thrash the shit out of it and stuff it down people's throats until they're sick.
"Jaz and Geordie wanted to do it as a studio project. I could understand that but I didn't want to get dragged down by it. We weren't operating as a band anymore. In a way, I felt I'd failed and I'm sure the other three have the same feeling. Everyday this situation dragged on, something was taken away from what we'd had. If you wanna operate in a band situation you've actually gotta go out and do it, otherwise you'll end up like Kingdom Come or some other bunch of tossers - studio cats who've just put a stunt together."
The forthcoming Joke LP "Outside The Gate" is as disappointing as the single, the result, Raven says, of numerous overdubs and re-recordings undertaken after he and Paul left. Catastrophically, Geordie's unique, monstrous and devastating guitar noise which once pulped internal organs, is wedged ineffectually into the few gaps not choc full of synthesizers. Many of the lyrics are, to put it bluntly, piffle. Raven agrees. "There's one track called 'Tiahuanaco' and it's basically, 'What I did on my holidays' by Jaz Coleman aged four. I mean, who wants to know? I f***in' don't. l think he thinks that what he's done is commercial and destined for success but it's horrible. I like the music, but it sounds like the lyric and vocals were done as an afterthought ..."
Raven was so disenchanted by the LP's eventual state that he ordered his name to be taken off the credits.
"I don't want to be seen as part of their thing. I've always been more into Big Paul and I think they owe him one. Big Paul made my job a piece of piss cos when he laid down a drum track it was very apparent where I had to play. If you can capture that on record then Jaz and Geordie can do whatever they want on top. Without it though, you might as well have the Joe Loss Orchestra."
Last year Jaz told me Big Paul had had to leave the band because he couldn't drum the exact specifications the singer had laid down for the LP. Intrigued by, though not necessarily a disciple of magick, Jaz had written the entire LP during times he felt were magically sympathetic. It had been recording using Gematria - a cabbalaic numerological system which, it is believed, can unlock spiritual forces. According to Jaz, Big Paul was sacked because after much rehearsal time, he still couldn't play to the precise timings needed to exploit the system fully. Raven firmly disagrees with this.
"I think that was all a cover up. I think if you try to incorporate some kind of spiritual force in your music, the best way to do it is to come clean. you can't apply those equations to pop music. If you're gonna make pop records, phone Stock, Aitken and Waterman for your system - don't phone the devil!
"That whole side of it, for me, has never been an intrinsic part of the music. I've always said Jaz is guided by the last book he read. What it basically came down to was that it didn't sound like they meant it anymore. Jaz was going up to EG Records doing the sensitive artist bit saying he couldn't work with Paul and the pressure and the fights. Really, the band should have split then.
"Me and Paul decided we wouldn't play on the next album, then they couldn't trade on the name Killing Joke. They wanted Paul out but me in. Now I'm a straightforward person and if there's any backstabbing or f***eries going on I can smell them a mile off. Eventually Paul went in and put down the drums while I was in Berlin. When Geordie phoned me and told me, I realised I was in the minority. So I went ahead and played on the album. Then, of course, they took his drums off, saying they weren't good enough. I know Paul and when he does something he does it properly. If it wasn't right he would have stayed there 'til it was. In my eyes he's never been equalled as a drummer.
"The bottom line is that Jaz knows nothing about rock'n'roll. He's always said he hates it and he's always slagged off the whole pop thing. I agree with him, a lot of it is wank, but I happen to like it and there's never been a better time to do it. Jaz has got his head up his arse. I don't mean that in an insulting way, it's just that he's never happy, he has so much tension in him.
"I don't wanna seem like I'm whinging - the years I had with him, Geordie and Paul were a ball. I've got no complaints. It was always tight between us, however rocky it got. Even now, there's something linking the four of us, probably 'til our dying day. I've never tried to put my finger on what it is, but I remember the feeling when we tapped into it. In a way, I don't think Jaz was aware of just how right it was.
"He's always seen Killing Joke as very much him - which is cool - everyone needs a megalomaniac frontman. The problem is, if you get too serious, you lose grip on reality. Making records isn't so important to me that I'm gonna f*** myself up. Neither is commercial success. I've never wanted to suffer for my art - if I wanna do that I'll become a Catholic f***in' priest. It's a little distasteful that he feels he has to put himself through the mill for the end result to be of any importance. Maybe he's got to prove something to himself, but it's an expensive way of doing it."
Another bone of contention was Jaz's continuous refusal to tour America with the band. The singer has always described himself as fiercely anti-American and views the country as the complete antithesis of a creative environment. "I f***ing hate it," he once told me. "Their consciousness is the epitome of mindlessness." Raven sympathises in part but disagrees with the attitude.
"I think there's something good to be had out of everything. We're both in a game where if you're gonna make any money, America's the place. It's like a screwdriver - you need the right tool to do the job. If you want freedom you need money and there's money there. Everything Coleman has always gone on about falls down because he won't f***in' go there.
"I asked him why he wouldn't and he couldn't answer me. All he did was spout on about McDonalds and all that sort of stuff. Unfortunately he's still tied up in this colonial attitude that went out in the Forties. It's a very bigoted attitude. I mean, he spends two days in Tripoli and he thinks he's f***in' Gadafi!"
Raven and Les Warner's new band, The Hellfire Club, are slowly stoking the fires. They've recruited a singer from the Virgin Megastore check out and already have a guitarist who Warner refers to as "Steve Hillage". The name itself comes from a book on sex and the supernatural, and refers to a moneyed group of people who used to procure young virgins for dubious pleasures in the Middle Ages.
"Me and Les click really well. I found it surprising at first cos I never really liked The Cult that much although I thought the 'Love' album was quite good. In a way, they've gone the same way as the Joke but they've done it right - they owned up. With our music you won't have to sit there and understand it. It'll have an immediacy that will hit you straightaway. I'm a strong believer in the idea that if you get something right, you don't change it, you just strip away the bullshit. Killing Joke will never be the same again, so, if they're not gonna do it then I will, cos I still feel it."