From Seconds magazine, a US-based publication that has excellent interviews.
Killing Joke By George Petros
Last year, S. Barrymore Blush and myself were asked to provide MTV with a computer program for generating hit songs during the traditionally slow summer season. Our program only had to make the music; MTV would match it up with one of their many idle rock acts to create an award-winning video.
In the past, the network's producers had used their own contacts to provide the generating programs, and the results were devastating: Ratings dropped thirteen to twenty points from June through August. They decided to turn the project over to us and to double the budget. We were given access to an IBM SADC2, an experimental version of the Submarine Acoustical Differentiation Computer.
MTV desired a resurgence of the punk scene, since it an inexpensive genre to produce and promote. They wanted it to absolutely kick ass.
And so we went about developing the control elements of the program. First came the phony art posturing, for which we input examples of work by Siouxsie & The Banshees and XTC. Next we entered tunes by The Sex Pistols and The Jam to provide new wave authenticity. Then we input the stuff that was over our heads, like Pere Ubu and The Velvet Underground. Then we used some really fun songs from The B-52s and The Stranglers. From that point on, we put everything in: all the idiotic political opportunists, such as The Clash and Dripsnatch; all the hung-heavy-as-hell rockers, such as Lou Reed and Motley Crue; all the hottest punk chicks such as Debbie Harry and Joan Jett; all the satanists; all the glamourous goddesses; and so on until our expenses were way over what MTV could spend.
We delivered the program. It was a total failure, creating the worst summer ratings that anyone at MTV could remember. What could we do? If they had let us use Killing Joke, it might have been a different story.
Seconds: What sort of criticism about your work bothers you the most?
|Jaz: The criticism that is valid is from the people I'm working with,
generally. My colleagues understand what we're aiming for. And when something's
not right, I rely on my colleagues, essentially. I also rely on the regular
concert-goers. Like our soundman, he's been with us from the early days. And
when he's smiling, everything seems to be all right - it's a very instinctive
Martin: He's very honest.
Jaz: As far as criticism goes, I suppose that if you're insinuating about the press or the industry, we've had criticism since day one. I find that people who like our music like our music, and people who don't like our music don't like our music. It's very straight-forward, very black-and-white to me. In the British papers, I think a lot of their comments are inspired by fear. Because when they meet me, they certainly don't say what they think to my face, they normally keep their real thoughts to themselves until after the article's written. They never say straight to my face if they disagree with something or they find something they don't like. As far as the press goes, I don't suppose they bother me, really.
Martin: Everybody's entitled to their own opinion. It's our function to not be swayed in any way by criticism. W have our own idea and vision of what we're doing. If you start, especially in this business, to listen to everybody's opinion about everything, we'd be a reggae salsa band in spacesuits playing every Thursday night in Brazil.
Jaz: I mean the vast amount of journalists that have been sent to review a Killing Joke concert - and they normally pick journalists that hate Killing Joke anyway - have already made up their minds. So if they've got preconceived ideas about what we're like as individuals, they've already made up their minds about what it's gonna be like. Any band is up against all these things. See, we've had the staying power to last ten years and beyond. And a lot of people, they don't like that ... A lot of people in the industry think that a band's validity is dependent on chart success, and I challenge that.
Martin: Well, here's a case in point: Lydon, or what is supposedly P.I.L., just did a single with The Pet Shop Boys. I mean, come on, that's ridiculous. Talk about sycophantic input from ten different directions, it's unbelievable.
Seconds: What is the most complimentary thing that can be said about Killing Joke?
Jaz: Well, Depeche Mode was raving about us last week.
Martin: That's not really a compliment, is it? It's more of an insult.
Seconds: Does the American rock press have the power to destroy whatever it considers undesirable?
Jaz: I don't think the press anywhere has that power, though I think they have the delusion that they do. Whatever comments come from the press, be it in England or the United States Of America, it's all water under the bridge.
Martin: It depends on the attitude of the band it's directed against.
Jaz: When you're talking about press, statistics show that media like video and radio are much more powerful than news press anyway. So even if you get your front covers and people are raving about you in the press, it doesn't mean anything because it doesn't affect sales at all. I can tell you because there have been times in our career when trends turn full circle, and we become hip again in the press. We get front covers and it doesn't make any difference in record sales. I find the press completely invalid.
Martin: So why are we doing this interview then?
Jaz: I think it helps air views and beliefs, and you can use it to advertise what you are doing to a certain extent. But in terms of affecting record sales, it's a proven fact that it doesn't sell records.
Seconds: What does?
Jaz: Television, daytime airplay, BBC1, MTV, the major media outlets.
Seconds: Has the American music establishment ever made any notable attempts to manipulate you or your work?
Jaz: Being that we've never had any real distribution over here, never really had a record deal over here as such, I can't really say much about that. We were on Virgin for about four months; before that, we were with Jem Records, which was really just a warehouse. I do know that Virgin America had plans to make us into a new Cult, sort of heavy metal. I can actually remember them encouraging Geordie to break out of our style, and play more solos and riff-oriented kind of music. Of course, as soon as they met us at Virgin America, everything went downhill. Geordie and I told them to stuff off.
Martin: I had the same experience before. That's why I left P.I.L. in '84. I saw it first-hand, and it was sickening. Elektra Records had lots of ideas for the "new direction." That's why I said "fuck this" and I was out of there. We went from '79, doing our own thing - like Metal Box and the Paris album - to the complete opposite. Bollocks. That's why it was so refreshing and exhilarating to meet up with Jaz and Geordie, who still held those beliefs from day one.
Seconds: Are there any topics which you feel you are discouraged from dealing with in your music?
Jaz: I think so, yeah. As you know, the way the market works, to sell an LP you have to have a hit single. If you don't have a hit single, you don't have a hit album. So everything's geared toward the singles market. I would like to release a song like "Intravenous" as a single, but you're not gonna get a song like that played on the radio. Because of the lyrical content, they're full-stop not gonna allow it. Now, I've travelled extensively in the Eastern Bloc, and one can say that yes, in the Western democracies, we do have a lot more freedom here. But if you're dealing with subjects that the media really don't want to talk about, you just won't get heard, you'll just disappear because you just won't get any coverage. I mean, look at the song titles and content of all the top hit singles. I mean, even The Cult with "Fire Woman" - it's just naffness to the nth degree. So yes, I do think there's a lot of areas and emotions that we write about that we're directly discouraged from writing about. But you see, I have a belief that the market will change, that the introduction of the CD will cause things to turn around again. There will be less emphasis on the single, and I think we're seeing that already.
Martin: There's a lot of people around who have successfully demystified this whole process, quite happy to release their own records at times. I see that, ultimately, as the best chance we have against this huge industry. I mean, college radio and independent dance clubs are now just another way of gathering chart information on a different set of statistics. All that's left are some people, like ourselves, with musical and marketing ideas, using our intelligence to do things the way we want to. But even we have to compromise to a certain extent, we need major label help. We have ideas, like to bring our own sound system on the road, to blow people away with the bottom end. But it cost twenty grand. So there are always compromises for us to present our music the way we want. But we're making as few compromises as possible, and hopefully we'll continue to do so.
Seconds: In your opinion, what is the political agenda of the American musical establishment?
Jaz: I think the political agenda is to have a music that is clearly for the pleasure principle, and only that. I don't think it wants to go any deeper than that. It doesn't want to provide any other function.
Seconds: What will the music of the future sound like?
Jaz: I think the music of the future will be different rhythms. I believe there will be much more dissonance, because as people's anxieties increase, in a world where natural resources are dwindling and population is on the increase and the whole ecology of the world is changing, discordancy will be on the ascendancy because people will need a form of music that is on par with their anxieties. I see musical dissonance, as seen in Killing Joke, as the contrast of that to pure harmony and melody, as the music of the future. The music of the future is as harsh and bleak as the future.
Seconds: If you had started out today, would your initial success be similar to what it was?
Jaz: I don't really know how to answer that. Things have changed quite a bit since we started in '79. The whole music business has changed. Back then we had our own label, Malicious Damage, and we had different bands on it. But now, small record companies just aspire to be big record companies. It's not the grass-roots field that was going on back then. It used to be that music was the idea; now marketing is the ideal. Things are very different; there's very little idealism left.
Martin: I think it's true to say that if we were starting a band now, we'd be in amongst it, causing quite a bit of trouble. Whatever the situation, we'd be in the middle of it causing a ruckus. That's the nature of our personalities. If everybody else was making nasty, dissonant music, we'd probably be playing Top 20 polkas in the middle of it, just stirring up trouble.
Jaz: People say that with all these groups around, what chance do you stand? I say every chance in the world because there's so many mediocre, cliched shit groups about that I don't even listen to pop music really. I listen to old Can records, some Skinny Puppy, Alex Harvey Band, Clockwork Orange. My inspiration comes from the void in the music scene that has to be filled. My inspiration comes from what I want to hear that just isn't out there.
Seconds: In the past, you've spoken of mystical-musical connections. Is there any relationship between that condition and psychedelia?
Jaz: For me, music is something that we all accept: you can hear it, but you can't touch it or see it; there's an element of mysticism about it. Music is the one language I stand a chance of speaking properly. And music has the chance to totally overwhelm. I think music's totally connected to the soul.
I see Killing Joke as a generator, conjuring primeval images to a transfixed audience. I've noticed for ten years that when people leave a Killing Joke concert, they're usually very subdued, they don't talk amongst themselves. We work in atmospheres that other bands don't touch. It's like a vortex, I can't describe it. The greatest gigs are when I hardly remember anything onstage; it's like a surreal painting, it's just motion. It's the ultimate anti-intellectual music because there's no thinking process attached to it; it's primeval and spontaneous, and it takes me with it. It's a generator churning out images of a future world ... Music for me is my sanity. It's a way of channelling disturbing emotions into a creative process. Without it, I'd be an incredibly unstable individual. Our music is driven by a desperate need to express.
Seconds: Are you satisfied with the level of sophistication of the average Killing Joke fan?
Jaz: I'm forever being inspired by the people I meet. For example, in the last eight to ten years, I can honestly say that I've not replied back to a single letter, though I do read them. It occurred to me that our fan club, as it stood, had very astute individuals from all walks of life, and remarkable letters as well. So much so that we formed the ODIC Network, which I see as a network of like-minded individuals, contributing to various ideas and developing them. I share a lot in common with many of the people who appreciate our music. I also meet a lot of people, who on first appearance might have spiky hair or they might have gold-rimmed glasses, who are incredibly brilliant individuals, so you can't go on superficial appearances. If they want to speak with me, they just come up and do it. I love challenging personal questions as well; they're very stimulating.
Seconds: Is there an Odinistic influence on your music?
Jaz: Well, I went to Iceland and studies Nordic mythologies, if that has anything to do with it. If anything, I would say it's unconscious, as opposed to conscious. Our rhythms are often derivative from Nordic or Scottish tribal rhythms. My rhythms come from the Middle East or India, the kinds of rhythms that I personally like. So we've got a very interesting background. Our influences are not derived from Black influences ... I consider myself to come from a Hindu-Aryan background, and I've spent years drawing parallels between the ancient Nordic culture and the Hindu Brahmin culture. I'm very interested in Nordic culture; that's why I went to Iceland for a while. In '82-'83, I was going there regularly.
Seconds: Are there political connotations that are inherent to the Nordic influence?
Jaz: Absolutely. I don't believe that man is a sinner, like in the Judeo-Christian concept of homosapien. I don't believe that he should live in this guilt and fear of damnation if he breaks some ethical or moral code. The Aryan concept believed that man was God, and until he saw himself as God, he wouldn't achieve his fullest potential. At the end of the day, I believe it's healthier for man to see himself in his perfect context if he wants to achieve his potential. Like I see the music in a perfect context. It's just potential. I think that one should try to perfect oneself during one's lifetime somehow; it's a quest for self-development. And to see oneself as part of God is a much healthier philosophy.
Seconds: Isn't religion only a reference point to what you're doing? Isn't what you're developing philosophically a fusion of all these things that ultimately transcend it?
Jaz: I'm a very religious person. I have a great love for metaphysics and the magical style of interpretation of existence. I need religion, to a certain extent. I celebrate the moons. I like to go to the countryside and play my drums. Ritual is very important to me. For me, I see God in the opposite sex. I think that's natural. It's a question of polarity. For a woman, she would see God in a man; there's equilibrium in this. If we just have a father, son and a holy ghost, that's homosexuality I believe.
Our society's out of balance. It's a patriarchy. That's why there's justified raping of the earth and butchering of our entire ecosystem. I believe this is all a derivative from our patriarchal polar imbalance in our religions, in our society, be it Islam or Christianity. I believe that's changing now.
Seconds: When one speaks of you, the word "Pagan" often comes up.
Jaz: Pagan is a word derived from the Italian word pagan which means "of the country." And that is a natural condition, to be one with nature, part of the natural order. I would like that definition to apply to me. I aspire to that condition.
At the end of the day, I know that I'll be playing in this band for the rest of my life. I honestly believe that. As long as I'm alive, Killing Joke will be alive.