(From Melody Maker, 22 June 1991)
ARMAGEDDON OUTTA HERE
The millennium is coming and Jaz Coleman is waiting. On the eve of the Joke's latest UK tour, he talks to CAROL CLERK about white heat, total darkness and a brave new world.
Jaz Coleman on Killing Joke, take one: "We are the nightmare. We are the scream. We are the pain that people suffer."
Jaz Coleman on Killing Joke, take two: "I think we play beautiful music."
Jaz is at it again. For him, there's no one extreme without the other, and no chance of camping in any middle ground. Both personally and professionally, he seizes upon life's most dramatic contrasts, feeds on them, digests them, and finally sends them bursting out through his music, personality and conversation.
And it' s good to have him back, tripping over his tongue, as usual, in his haste to pronounce the importance of his latest preoccupations: things which are gorgeous and things which are absolutely God-awful.
We're sitting in a cramped-up caravan backstage at Finsbury Park where Jaz has just played a "rough and ready" support set to The Mission. It was too early in the day for a band like Killing Joke, and to say there were sound problems would be generosity gone wild. The Joke, however, overcame in the end, emerging triumphant after managing to summon up the climactic throb of energy that has over the years inspired legions of young groups, some of whom are swooning around the backstage beer tent, awe-stricken, as we speak.
Jaz is in good spirits, ready with the familiar, hearty, head-thrown-back bellow of laughter, despite the set-backs of the day, the imminent departure of drummer Martin Atkins and the uncertainty surrounding the plans of the inimitable Mr Paul Raven, Killing Joke's bassist.
Since these internal upheavals are not common knowledge at the time of our conversation, Jaz is deliberately vague about the future constitution of the group, saying only this: "I genuinely enjoy touring with my colleagues, Raven and Geordie and Martin. They are tremendous individuals. They all make me laugh, they are all very real people, and whatever the future, I respect them."
Jaz further insists that since he sees Killing Joke as a living, changing thing rather than a group which stops and starts and goes through phases, his job is to learn from the past and look to the future.
"Out of Killing Joke, I want to create an environment that's essentially in harmony, a beautiful landscape," he declares. "That's been my philosophy since 1982. I want to buy a vast area of land in an area that's ecologically sound and invite people to work on the land and turn it into a place that's even more beautiful. It's a 10-year programme I intend to pursue.
"I want to live a lifestyle I believe is simpler and of a better quality in a place that I believe has a future, geo-politically, ecologically and in every way.
"I started the group when I was 18 and I'm 31 now. I've not lost my ideals and my dreams during those years. My dreams are very much alive. I'm going to continue with Killing Joke until the day I'm taken away from this existence. I think we play music at a level of intensity that helps people who have experienced a lot of suffering in their lives. There's a level of emotion in Killing Joke that no other group can ever get, and I love it and I believe in it. I want to stay true to that spirit of intensity and innovation and consistency.
"I want to gear everything towards the millennium, the year 2000. If you look at history, it's always a very, very powerful time. I want to capture the changes in my immediate environment within the music that I play."
The changes, it seems, are already beginning to happen.
"Next year is the 10th anniversary of my visit to Iceland with Geordie," says Jaz, rubbing a smudge on his cheek, a remnant of his blackened stage face.
"I intend to commemorate the anniversary with a ritual act of emigration to New Zealand."
Jaz, in fact, has already moved his family to New Zealand, owns a part-share in a recording studio in Auckland, and is about to launch his own label, Black Records.
His next step towards the creation of an idyllic paradise is typically perverse.
"My intention is to take Killing Joke to one of the worst horror spots on the globe, an absolute nightmare place, somewhere there's considerable suffering, somewhere that no western band would ever go, to absorb the atmosphere and the ambience, and to record and finish the new album there.
"The most significant Killing Joke LPs have always been done in places where there's a considerable amount of tension. The environment has always affected Killing Joke in the most profound sense. Killing Joke should be right on the edge."
At the same time: "There's a lot that disturbs me about Killing Joke. When our concerts are good, they're like white heat. We've had letters from people who've asked us if they could commit suicide onstage, real screwballs. On a bad day we might say yes ..."
That Jaz Coleman is in a different world from the average pop star, that he pours contempt on traditional ambitions far hit records, swimming pools and Harley Davidsons, gives him all the freedom in the world to carry on making the glorious, radio-hostile racket of Killing Joke in whatever way he chooses.
"Now I want to go so far left-field with music that I'm going to end up right of Genghis Khan," he announces. "I want to keep creating different sounds, and I don't think it ever ends.
"Gold records and what have you ... it's not my cup of tea. It's interesting what individuals do with the capital they make from music. Look at Duran Duran. They're all skint. They'll all be in the dole office next year.
"I've seen people go right to the giddy heights and plummet down lower than anyone can ever imagine. I do feel a bit sorry, cause it tells me they didn't have a dream. The only dream they had was the dream created for them in the rock'n'roll myth. Often it doesn't go beyond the penthouse flat, the beautiful-looking girlfriend, superficially, and the fast car. Then there are all the pressures of sustaining that lifestyle.
"I'm simply trying to exploit the music industry so that I can achieve a better way of life.
"Music pays far my holidays, it pays for my dreams, it pays for the colour in my life, and it has done for almost 14 years now.
"But I don't see it's that important to go out of your way for the acquisition of wealth. You don't take a lot of money with you when you go. When we die, we take f*** all except our memories. Human beings only live 70 years if they're lucky, and it's the quality, not the length, of life that matters.
"For me, the most outstanding achievements of Killing Joke are that we've managed to have a fantastic life, fulfill our dreams, go to places we dreamed about going to, met the most fantastic individuals and had same of the most fantastic moments of our lives through the incredible intensity of the emotion onstage."