(From the US magazine Live Wire, January 1995)
The Last Laugh!
Killing Joke may be one of modern rock's most influential groups, but it's no joke that they're far from dead!
By Lorraine Gennaro
The party of 12 - three original members of Killing Joke (Jaz Coleman, Geordie and Youth), their entourage, the American publicist and four journalists, drenched from one of Manhattan's famous summer down-pours, shuffles into the Indian restaurant on 5th Street to the sounds of sweet Raga music. The owner hasn't a clue who he's just seated. He's probably going to poison us all before the night is through, because everyone keeps switching seats and confusing the waiters. See, the journalists outnumber the band, so it becomes necessary to do quite a bit of relocating in order for each journalist to speak, individually, with the band members, between bites of Shrimp Shaag. By the time the entrees arrive, no one is in his original seat, and no one ends up with the correct meal. But, that's okay. Because no one really came to savor Indian cuisine, instead, Killing Joke had a new album to promote and these journalists have been afforded the first opportunity to interview one of England's most influential bands.
Twelve years after the original line-up called it quits, vocalist/keyboardist Jaz Coleman, guitarist Geordie and bassist/producer Youth have reunited for Pandemonium. The Zoo Records debut is the first album by Killing Joke since 1990's Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions.
These really isn't another band who has had more of an impact on modern music than Killing Joke. This is where it all started particularly with regard to Industrial and Metal. Listen to anything Ministry has done, Killing Joke did it first. Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, Faith No More, Nirvana - are just a sampling of the bands who readily admit to being heavily influenced by these Londoners. Killing Joke was miles ahead of its time with its use of synthesizers and apocalyptic lyrics which foretold of societal decay. Evoking a ritualistic, almost primitive vibe, Killing Joke's characteristic sound is a conglomeration of exotic, cultural musical styles (particularly Middle Eastern and Asian), tribal rhythms, sampled noises and powerdrill guitars. The result was angry records of striking force with just the right amount of fringe weirdness. "We used to get so much God-awful flack in the early days for this form of music that we knew was ahead of its time. And then seeing subsequent generations cite us as their granddaddys, you know, it is what it is. I'm proud of Killing Joke. I've taken it by the scruff of its neck and it's been really bloody difficult at times, but not once have I thought about not doing it," states Coleman.
"The highest form of flattery is imitation. Fine, you know? But I think Kurt went a bit far (referring to the bass-line on "Come As You Are" by Nirvana being a direct take on the Killing Joke song "Eighties"). That was a terrible steal. Too much, too strong," states Geordie. It's no secret that the late Kurt Cobain was among the band's biggest fans.
All in their mid-30s, but looking even younger, it's hard to believe Killing Joke has influenced an entire generation of musicians, many of whom aren't much younger than themselves. Remarkably, given their influential magnitude and what they've accomplished in their 12 year career, Coleman, Geordie and Youth are three of the most easy-going, down-to-earth guys you could ever hope to meet. The trio is just as interested in getting to know their interviewers as their interviewers are in getting to know them. They act the way we with most of the people we call rock stars would act: warm, polite, sincere, witty - just fucking normal. Surprisingly, they don't display any of the ritualistic trappings of the counter culture they've helped create - weird hair, body piercings, tattoos, silver adornments, head to toe black death regalia.
Killing Joke rose out of the Portobello Road, Notting Hill Gate section of London in the late '70s. "Killing Joke was born and bred there. We had a lot of reggae music around us and so on. A lot of cosmopolitan and ethnic influences there seemed to have rubbed off on us. The whole punky, reggae vibe was very strong," states Jaz. The name actually came before the band, recalls Geordie.
"There was a group of characters who were Malicious Damage (Killing Joke's original record label), as it came to be. One was a graduate from Birmingham University in history. And there was this other chap who was actually working with the government - undermining the trade unions at the time, so the story goes, and he was taking loads of acid and freaking out. So they were always talking about subjects like this. And they came up with the term "killing joke" to describe situations. It's a term - you know? An amazing sort of comedy in really massive situations - there's comedy there," explains Geordie.
In 1979 they released their first EP, Almost Red. With a string of steady releases throughout the '80s, Killing Joke became vastly successful in the UK and other parts of the world, but aside from American musicians, a lot of other Americans just didn't get the joke, thereby reducing them to cult status in the states. With a terribly fanatical cult following, Killing Joke is perhaps the quintessential cult band. "Especially with what we do, we have a lot of fanatics. If we gave them a church and said this is what we think is right, they'd probably do. And that's not Killing Joke. Killing Joke is about finding out what's right for you," states Coleman.
Coleman doesn't seem bothered by the band's cult status in the states. "I'm pleased with how things are. The truth is, I'm not really ambitious for those sort of things. I'm hungry for new experiences, new adventures, new places to go, but in terms of lusting after the platinum sales - it doesn't really bother me. I've been lucky. I've managed to be professional with music since I left school, really. My definition of wealth is being with someone I love with a loaf of bread, some cheese, some wine and sitting on the rocks and listening to the waves, you know? Absorbing that, or sitting in the middle of a rain forest. Just different experiences. Simple things, really. These things mean more to me," states Coleman.
While Killing Joke is one of rock's most influential bands, they're also one of rock's most misunderstood. An aura of mystique had followed them since their inception, due in part to the members' maintaining low profiles and not leading typical rock star lives. Take Jaz who lives in New Zealand. When Killing Joke is on hiatus, the guy is a highly respected classical music composer for a number of the world's greatest orchestras including the Cairo and New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Minsk Philharmonic. Coleman was responsible for arrangements on the Symphonic Music of the Rolling Stones album, and he's about to begin work on two similar symphonic records for The Who and Pink Floyd. He also studies Arabic music and has studied Eastern music (in the Russian tradition) since childhood. Geordie, who lives in a suburb of Detroit, has been revered by such guitar greats as Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen for his six string talents. And, since his departure from Killing Joke in 1982, Youth has become a respected producer for The Orb, Crowded House and most recently, Tom Jones.
In its 15 year life, Killing Joke has had its share of turnover, and with it came musical deviations. Youth left after the third album, Revelations, and current Prong bassist Paul Raven replaced him. The albums that followed, Fire Dances, Night Time (which featured their catchiest and biggest UK single, "Love Like Blood"), Brighter Than A Thousand Suns and Outside The Gate toned down the trademark guitar thunder in favor of synths and dancier beats. In 1989 Martin Atkins (PiL, Brian Brain, Ministry, and presently Pigface) joined as the new drummer and a US tour followed. 1990's Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions, with the hits "Money Is Not Our God" and "The Beautiful Dead" [sic] saw a return to the earlier musical intensity and punk fury this band is typically known for. "I think we kind of got into over arranging a bit on some of the albums - a bit sort of twee and cute - the arrangements were really - which for Killing Joke sounds quite strange. But, we'd lost that sort of hypnotic vibe of just keeping on one sort of atmosphere and just letting the thing grow. I'm noticing how well a lot of the older songs went down because they were so simple and so immediate. The old stuff still had more of an immediate reaction. I think it was down to the arrangements and the rhythms. It's nice having four on the floor again and big, sort of sexy bass lines. I think the rhythms got a bit clever and a bit sort of arty for awhile there," states Geordie.
Friendship is not the impetus causing most bands to reform. But, that's what reunited the original line-up. Geordie explains the reformation happened rather unexpectedly. He had only seen Youth once in 12 years, and that was at Youth's birthday party. Later the two bumped into each other again at the recording studio in London where Killing Joke was recording Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions, while Youth was upstairs working on Bananarama. Then Virgin Records released a Killing Joke Best Of album and Geordie needed to contact Youth for old photographs. That's when Youth expressed his interest in reforming the original line-up.
Pandemonium is a new beginning for this band by virtue of the fact that it's the first record by the original lineup in twelve years as well as being the hardest Killing Joke record to date. "It's more riffy and pagan," states Geordie. The album starts out in fourth gear and stays put for all 10 tracks. With power-driven, sexy rhythms, simple, yet strong riffs, and Coleman's throaty vocals, the title track and "Exorcism" are relentless sonic assaults. The lyrics to the first single, "Millennium," read: "I was born to see 2000 years of man's effect upon the planet/Extinction seems to be a plausible risk/Whatever happens well, I'm part of all this." Coleman says the whole album captures the period right before the millennium.
In the recording of the album, Geordie used what he calls his "Mama's Les Paul," the guitar she bought him at 15 because he admits he was a spoiled brat. Youth like the idea of this particular guitar so Geordie brought it out of hiding. "Nice and chimey, you know? And it doesn't get in the way of the bass, because if you notice, in a lot of heavy metal records, there actually is no bass. It's all the bottom ends of the fucking guitars. We've always liked the real heavy dubbed bass sound, especially having Youth back," states Geordie.
The recording of Pandemonium took place around the world. Oddly enough, the vocal tracks for "Exorcism" and "Millennium" were done inside The King's Chamber of the Great Pyramid in Egypt. Through the years, Coleman had done a lot of recording in the country, as well as studying Arabic music in Cairo. It was Coleman's connections which gave Killing Joke the clearance to record in the pyramid. The rest of the album was recorded at Coleman's studio in New Zealand and at Youth's Butterfly Studios in Brixton, England.
Although Killing Joke has toured the states in its 15 year career, according to Geordie, this new record is the first real distribution deal the band has had in this country, ever. A major label like Zoo will insure heavy promotion of such a legendary band like Killing Joke. Pandemonium is poised and positioned to blast of with a U.S. tour planned for late September/early October. Whether the record broadens Killing Joke's audience or not, Coleman is secure with his position in one of rock's premier bands. "I like it at the end of the day. You win some, you lose some. I don't worry about it. It doesn't particularly bother me, you know? I'll be doing Killing Joke whatever anyone says," he says. This new album is sure to introduce this veteran band to a new generation of music listeners who will find out exactly where many of their favorite bands today earned a lot of their best tricks.