May 1996 Fix magazine (free LA-based alterna-mag)

Killing Joke

by Debbie Jhaj


Killing Joke can be seen as one of the most influential bands of the past two decades. Their music paved the way for numerous bands, especially post-punk industrialists such as Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Prong, but also influencing bands such as Nirvana and Metallica (who cover "The Wait" on their Garage Days EP. The riff for Nirvana's "Come As You Are" was so close to that of KJ's "Eighties" that they sued (nothing ever became of this though)). The original KJ lineup consisted of vocalist Jaz Coleman, guitarist Geordie, bassist Youth, and drummer Paul Ferguson. Jaz started working with many orchestras while he still remained singer of KJ. Geordie also had some side projects: Murder Inc., which was recorded in the early 90s, a project that included Paul Raven (KJ's second bassist, who is now with Prong), Martin Atkins and Chris Connelly of Revolting Cocks/Pigface fame, and Paul Ferguson. Martin Glover, a.k.a. Youth, rejoined KJ in '94. He had been working as a producer in the twelve years he was apart from the band. He worked with techno dignitaries such as The Orb and The Shamen, as well as more pop-oriented music with The Cult, The Sugarcubes, and Crowded House. In '92, when Geordie was recording Killing Joke's Extremeties, Dirt and Various Repressed Emotions, he bumped into Youth, who was producing Bananarama, and they decided to get back with the original lineup. Out came Pandemonium, the most vital KJ album since the early days.

Now they have just released their tenth full-length album Democracy (Zoo), which concerns itself with today's political and philosophical issues.

"I believe a civilization is as great as its dreamers, the dreams of the artists, whether it be architecture or whatever," says Jaz. "I think everybody should be allowed to dream. For a democracy to work, the public has to be well-educated, and coupled with this is the idea of the arts. It should be mandatory. You cannot have a Renaissance, or any enlightenment, or any definition of civilization until everybody can write, read and are accustomed to the arts, music, architecture, or know a little bit about everything. I feel like we live in very dark times, but that's why we need more visionaries, not more people saying it's cool to shoot smack and more rock idealism and more rock icons. We don't need them! We tried to get rid of them near the end of the '70s; we didn't do enough of a good job, I think!" Jaz, now settled in New Zealand, is a speaker on the Board Of Education, and is involved with the arrangement of the music curriculum in the schools. He feels that New Zealand is the closest thing to a true democracy right now and he can create a change "working within the system." And "as destiny would have it ... I ended up there. I built a recording studio. The change I'm trying to make at the end of the day is quite practical, actually. I've created over a million dollars in employment there. I've taken up citizenship. I vote there now. I now am turning towards educating people about permaculture, permanent agriculture. I want to study it. It's the first country in the world where women got the right to vote. It's the first country in the world to start a welfare state and it has a very parallel history of ignorance and great innovation. When they brought in the referendum, they changed it. There was no longer a two-party system, just like it was with all the tribes there for the longest time. I believe it is reverting back to a modern form of that, a modern tribalism, which I'm not saying will work without conflict but is certainly a better system."

Since most of our conversation veered toward politics and creating change, I ask if he has ever considered entering politics or leading. "Only after I've studied religion," says Jaz. Ten years ago, Killing Joke were quite different; back then, they were still coming from an old post-punk pessimism. "Our music always had hidden messages," says Jaz. "There was always a romantic streak related to the music. There was always a promise hidden away. There are dreams on the second album as well that indicate our dream of one place, one idea. That was very obscure to a lot of people."

His dream of "one place" is obviously in his new homeland. "I feel like I can create change. I can see 100 years into the future, and it is positive. I believe homo sapiens can adapt to anything. I believe in reforestation. I believe in some positive things. I support ecological issues, the idea of self-reliance and sustaining an ecosystem and that being part of literally a whole referendum. Democracy can work, I mean, with the whole idea of idealism and tribalism, which I've always believed the world could move towards. We should have a 20-party referendum."

The new album talks about looking at new systems, social change, and artists being visionaries, a look at the possibility of the new American dream. "I'm sick of bands saying 'it's fucked' and reveling in 'it's cool to be sick', degrading stuff like 'The Faces Of Death' video and that whole thing. I disagree very much with those sorts of things." The new songs on "Democracy" differ greatly from your old classics like "Love Like Blood" and "Eighties." "You can tour the world over and over again with your songs. Ultimately it's the subject matter that matters. You can use the music for exorcism, if you like. You can use the music to say whatever your vision is. I guess in the end, you're forced to look at all the possibilities. In the end, you can't have children and not believe in the future. I have found that there are a lot of great things in human nature as well as dubious things about ourselves and our condition as homo sapiens."

"I don't believe in the death penalty. I have always believed in a country where there are no guns." Versus the death penalty, he believes in the "divine" power dealing judgement. Rumour mills had told me about KJ's involvement in "black magic" in the past. "Okay, you got me," says Jaz, feeling a bit uneasy. "I would like to call it 'the mysteries' though. I would like to say that no member of Killing Joke has experimented on anybody other than themselves. Secondly, whether using metaphysics or the idea of magic, I agree with it to create more beauty, yes, to romanticise, on full moons with drums, on impulses, as being more religious. We've tied that in with our music. We have had to study the 'outcast' philosophers -- Nietzsche, etc. You have to study good and evil." Jaz Coleman comes from a spiritual background: his parents are Brahman (one of the oldest Eastern Indian religions). Jaz, part East Indian and part English, grew up with both Eastern and Western philosophies. "I chose to go to church at the age of 6. The church of music, basically, so the spirituality with music was always there. Then, of course, I became interested in religions that were there before Christianity. I went through the process of awareness and being aware politically, and being aware of history and taking an overlook view. That's been part of Killing Joke, part of the whole debate that we force on each other. This is why we are so different from other bands: we challenge each other!"

Where will KJ be 10 years from now? "I see everything in terms of completed work; incomplete work is something I fear. I'm working now within the framework of society. I have residence in New Zealand, I'm speaking in the Board Of Education, speaking about the musical curriculum and I have an orchestra and an opera house to use non-stop for two years, programme, everything, all the top symphony orchestras of the world and I'm very lucky. I do that and I do Killing Joke." Jaz, in his four years of sabbatical from Killing Joke, has recorded his first two symphonies, one of them being Pink Floyd's new release, and is working on his third and fourth later this year. He's involved with orchestras from Minsk, Cairo and London, and done many live performances with orchestras. "I crack open a bottle of champagne at the podium. I'm happy. I endeavour to make myself happy, not by having more but by having less sometimes. I love working with symphonies. It's the way I arrange my life. I'm interested in sounds from the East; unfortunately, most of what you hear involved in western music is sampling."

Although their last album veered towards some dance/techno experimentation, the new album has been stripped down in comparison. "I write everything. It's all live music. When we first started off with this album, it was the same trip as the last. We set up loops and then started putting music over it. 'Medicine Wheel' started with this fuck-off sort of Harthouse Dutch industrial techno. Then it came to the mix, and Youth took out a lot of the loops and we ended up with something quite different." There are a few remixes from this album. Charlie Clouser (Nine Inch Nails) just completed one. Alex Patterson from The Orb did a 17-minute version of the single, and The Young Gods just completed a remix.

The album was written in beautiful Cornwall, England, during the summer. "We really connected after not being so much around each other for a few years, and we exchanged a lot of ideas and philosophies. It's been the most optimistic album that we've ever been part of. The ideas we have on this album are those of proportional representation, which is the only true democracy and is something we all believe in." The recording was done in The King's Chamber in Egypt. "It was amazing. Me and Youth were in the Minister Of Culture's office in Cairo and we set up a meeting so that we could get into the Pyramids. Youth threw down a thousand dollars cash and the Minister gave us three days to record in the Great Pyramids (capitalism at its best). It was an incredible experience. The Pyramids are huge. It looks like a sarcophagus at one end of the King's Chamber, and that's where we set up all the microphones. The whole recording was ritualised. I felt like I was looking back on the whole of my life and also looking forward. You feel all the great things that happened in that chamber from 10,000 years ago. I think we were all affected by that experience!"

"We once hid our dreams within pessimism, but later Killing Joke was used as a catharsis. We are now a pleasure principle. We're doing this for ourselves as therapy, if you like. It's not music you put on when you come home at 5:30, or you'll lose your job. The whole thing is a lifestyle and the closer we can get, the better. Youth with his empire, his studio, Bellflower, our home from home. Youth is an idealist; he's very fair to other musicians. He carried all his ideas there, he's now London-based. In the end it came down to three of us in Killing Joke. Geordie keeps his ear to the ground in America. I have Asia and the Pacific." "All these bands you speak of that are influenced by Killing Joke, like Ministry, Nine Inch Nails and Prong, there's some very good stuff coming out scientifically, but in terms of spiritually, no, there's no vision in their music, it's just 'shoot smack and die'. I'm just not in. I would never allow Killing Joke to go down that path. I'm not x-generation. I'm glad all these bands were influenced by us. It would be a sad world if they'd all been influenced by U2. We're optimistic about the future, and the optimist has more fun anyway. We're a very different band."

At the end of the day, what does "Killing Joke" mean? "There are many different meanings. It means that we are the masters of ambiguity. In the beginning it was about despair, politically, within the music industry, non-idealists. Back then we represented that feeling of having no control over your destiny. Now we are a homogenised version of that. We have evolved into the laughter that overcomes fear."