(From Deadline, UK music/comic magazine, August/September 1994.)
Killing Joke: Pandemonium in the Temple of Kings
Psyche, Wardance, Love Like Blood, these are track titles to stir the blood of any bona fide rock fan. Oh yes, ask anyone and they'll tell you Killing Joke were once as close as they come to being the bee's knees. Still are, according to Kak and Sam Spicer, who here meet Jaz and the boys to rap about civilisation, the Millennium, reggae, basslines and, of course, the All Blacks.
Killing Joke are back in their original lineup (Jaz Coleman, Youth and Geordie) and in their role as arbiters of chaos have completed an album. Recorded in Jaz Coleman's own York Street Studio in New Zealand, and in Cairo in the Kings Chamber of the great Pyramid, Pandemonium utilises time and place effectively to channel end-of-the-millennium psychosis into a powerful manifestation of energy.
Since their last outing together, the three have been following separate but convergent paths. Jaz Coleman has been composing classical pieces in his adopted home of New Zealand, where he has now settled. His first symphony was recorded with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. He is currently working on Requiem for two choirs about the war in Bosnia, and Fanfare For The Millennium to be recorded with Kiri Te Kanawa and the London Symphony Orchestra. He has also scored films ('I specialise in the romantic and the esoteric'). Geordie, who was out of the country when this interview took place, is according to Jaz a complete radical. Apart from playing his guitar as if his soul is exploding, Geordie has the equivalent to a degree in music and is planning to study architecture. Youth has his own studio and a company (both called Butterfly) to put out his own and other music, and has over the past few years remixed everyone from Transglobal Underground to Faith No More.
When we arrive at the majestic Matrix Studios in West London, Youth is in the process of remixing Pop Will Eat Itself. Jaz arrives shortly after with a fine bottle of wine, some Emmental and crackers. Wine and conversation flowed, and the significance of this becomes more obvious.
Counter to the inertness of their stage presence and the brutality of their music, Jaz and Youth evince a familiarity and warmth in person. The conviviality almost seems to mask any delving into the darker secrets of their music, which Jaz refers to as the personal side of Killing Joke. Youth, though, seemed happy to talk about the cathartic outpouring of energy experienced while recording 'Exorcism' in the Kings Chamber and even the specifics of the ritual aspects of the session, all of which were drowned out on the interview tape by telephones and studio doorbells ringing, Jimi Hendrix and Jaz, the more vocal of the two, taking over the conversation.
Where did your ideas concerning millennium and chaos that feature on the new album come from?
Jaz: They came from the tingle down our spine that we feel about living in this particular period of time. Getting Killing Joke together in New Zealand, and then letting rip with the music there. Literally letting go. I mean exploding to the music, your personal life, everything. Just letting rip with everything. It's something very personal to Killing Joke. It's always been a personal release, a form of release to us.
We jut clear ourselves about any preconceptions and we go for it. Killing Joke is just motion; it's probably the most anti-intellectual band you'll ever find because we switch right off, we let it overtake us. We aim to achieve a style of frenzy with our music where there is no thought pattern; everything is just motion. Doing, acting, being. This is what Killing Joke means to me. This is how I feel. We just let go, man. Release, absolute release. There's no analysis to it, so what's it meant to achieve. It's just dispersal of energy, of white heat basically.
I see so many new bands and they go out and they just don't have the energy. The energy that I know we are mastering much better than we have ever mastered it. It's a question of mastering what we do, which is under a continual process of under in order to be innovative, destroying all previous thought patterns. It's a massive challenge every time we get together, but it's also a lot of fun.
Youth: It's also passionate.
Jaz: We are ritualistic about everything and by that I mean the way we drink tea, the way we stop to drink tea, the way we stop to drink wine. Everything we try to ritualise, so that we are aware of every second, so we can take it in. I pride myself on my memory with Killing Joke in all the things that have happened. My aim in life as a person and I think our collective work with Killing Joke: Killing Joke is synonymous with awareness on every level. On every level. We are aware politically, of people, of cunning, of the world - we are well travelled people. I think we're all visual people; that's not to say so much academics; we don't learn and amass a lot of information and then regurgitate it at any given moment, we learn through trial and error and experience, by seeing, listening, touching. We try to heighten the experience of life. The secret that we've found is to write the best music, you've got to forget about music.
Youth: Yeah, it becomes incidental.
Jaz: Your life has to be colourful, it's the way you live your life.
Youth: Because the music's just going to reflect that.
Jaz: The great composers, and the great people, are basically characters, personalities, celebrities. Why? because of their personalities, they've located something within themselves. I like strong personalities. We are a group of individuals. That's the thing that really stuck in the music industry's throat like a fishbone sideways. The fact is that here are these four misfits. They don't look like each other. They don't wear the same clothes. They were such strong individuals. How the fuck are we going to pigeon-hole these people. They use reggae basslines. They use grooves, but they're using this fiery wall of noise. They're not punk. They're not this, they're not that. And these people don't fit into any images. They don't have a collective image. So the industry has always had a great problem in where to put us, and we don't fit into any of that. It's like the poor fools who when they meet Youth think he's a kind little hippy (laughs). A wolf in Youth's clothing.
Youth: It was just as bad when they used to think I was a punk. I am a creature of incredible contradiction. I think most people are if they're honest with themselves, really. We are paradoxically dualistic. Look at the word individual: it involves the word dual. It gives me the space to transcend that dualism, get into something more universal.
Jaz: I tell you what I like about Killing Joke is the ability for all of us to step out of the music very easily and enjoy life. We can enjoy other facets of life other than music, and then that enriches our music when we come together.
Youth: The music for us is our tools. It's like paintbrushes. It's not like something you're gonna get too obsessed about.
Jaz: This interview, for it to really work, it would be best to do it in two parts. One now and one when (Sam) meets up with us over in New Zealand, so you can see some of the lifestyle. That is an expression, for example, seeing a different facet of the band. I normally really hate interviews in that it's a forced situation. We're pretty good. When we have hotels we shine them up, and we sit down on cushions and try to make people feel as comfortable as we can - get some wine or whatever - and talk. But it is an unnatural situation. If I look at the bad press we've had - which has been extensive for years - gloriously bad press that's done wonders for us, actually. There's no bad press you see, that's the truth of the matter. Not when you're telling the truth and being yourself. And if you want to get angry with them, and attack them and freak them out, you be honest about it, you know.
Why did you move to New Zealand?
Jaz: It's a long, long story. Basically I have a fascination with islands at the end of the earth. I lived in Iceland for a while.
What's the fascination with islands at the end of the earth?
Jaz: In 1978 we were living in a squat in Ladbroke Grove - beautiful squat actually - three of the band were studying Norse mythologies and we ran across one that takes about an island at the ends of the earth. We all had different opinions about it and I ended up going to Iceland to study Nordic mythologies, and it was the prophecy about the island at the end of the earth that I became very much involved with. I wrote a big symphony about it.
Which is what?
Jaz: Oh, it warrants an entire workshop to explain it in detail, but basically I gathered a lot from prose, ancient writings, biblical writings - that's what I've been studying the past ten years - my relationship to the subject matter is close. It's part of the inner Killing Joke thing, really, it's nothing for the public.
What's your interest in Maori culture?
Jaz: Well, New Zealand's got two distinct cultures. Essentially you have the white, male Kiwi who doesn't express his feelings, internalises a lot. Then you have the Maori people and their spirit; they wear their hearts on their sleeve, you know. There's two types of parties over there. The white party where people will just stand around with their drinks all night. Maori party, man, everyone's in, rocking! Rocking. Everybody sings a song. Very different, and very interesting on a social level. And on the spiritual level. There's the haka. If you can imagine, they have fields of 800 people, bikers and all sorts, doing the haka. It's something to do with mana, power. When the All Blacks play - they picked it up from the Maoris. Ka mate, kam-a-ta. Koura, koura. I am Life. I am Death. It's the challenge. The whole idea is to challenge. At the studio, we've got a great big Maori carving called "The Challenge", which was done by a prisoner, actually, and it was a challenge for him to go straight when he got out. We commissioned him to do it, the challenge, the idea. The Maori people have this tradition: when another tribe or foreigners come they draw the canoe up on the beach and say "Welcome", then they do the war haka, which means "but if you try to take our fucking land, or fuck with us, we're going to eat you, man!"
When I lived in Iceland, I found that Nordic myths are very similar to Hindu myths. If you're an artist, the Nordic tales of dying with a sword in your hands means that you die with your paintbrush in your hands. If you're a musician, you die with your instrument in your hands, and so forth. The idea is to die in action, and I think there's an element of that still in our music. Basically, I think it's important to live until you die, fully. Waste no time, seize the day. It's important to do that, to extract everything out of every moment that you're living; that's why ritual is important, to give you a sense of gratitude for the miracle of existence, consciousness.
That's part of Killing Joke; we try to be in extraordinary surroundings. And extremes, always extremes. I love refinement. Even when you're on a tour bus, when someone bothers you to go out to a local market and a couple of bottles of wine - some olives if we're in Spain. The way you do the small things is art, isn't it? There are these basic things in life that people don't even think about.
Youth: The idea of progress is basically having a bigger fridge.
Jaz: How can we have a renaissance when we have media control - widespread media control such as this?
Is there any way of breaking it?
Jaz: Well, I think people are becoming more collectively aware that that isn't enough. Anthony Burgess, who wrote A Clockwork Orange and was very ostracised by the English after that, wrote a very interesting article talking about Thatcherism and after. He was saying that there was a big shift in the universities so that people now study philosophy and everybody is taking business studies. He pointed out, basically, a failure in society. Look at our definition of civilisation. Civilisation is where enlightenment can happen, where people not only write, they perform, they are creative, they express themselves. A widespread movement is called a renaissance. We can have neither civilisation nor renaissance under these circumstances. And hence I knew in 1980 that I didn't want to live in England, it's a low magnetic energy field in this country - you have to have a high magnetic energy field to have enlightenment.
Youth: Have you ever read Brave New World? Brilliant book, man. The whole thing of everybody being the same, no individuals and all that. In this country, when people are different, even visually, it's almost considered against the law. Like you could be arrested for it, so people don't express themselves.