(From Q Magazine, UK-based music monthly, March 1995)
Stop! You're Killing Us!
|Blood, terrorism, dustbins, war paint, paranoia, breakdowns ... but seriously, Killing Joke have been splitting sides for 15 years. King of Comedy Jaz Coleman informs a surprised John Aizlewood: "People make me out to be an absolute nutcase."||
"I'm thinking of becoming a priest, you know."
Jeremy "Jaz" Coleman, leader of Killing Joke, probably isn't joking.
"Well, why not? Although it's totally at odds with my own philosophy," he muses, as reasonable as reasonable could be. "This year I've known five people who've died, an abnormally high number. While we were on tour in America, I counselled somebody who was dying, helped them to come to terms with it. It helped me too."
Do you accept Jesus Christ as the son of God? "Oh no. I see Christ as a prophet, a great healer. Killing Joke have been tearing orthodox religion to bits for 15 years and to do that you must become part of it. We need new Bible commentaries - we now know that an unmarried mother could be called a virgin and a trainee priest was known as a son of god. I try to pray with Muslim and Christian, it doesn't bother me. L try to find peace in my own way, that's something I have problems with, but that's part of being human."
Coleman, as is his unsettling habit, looks into the distance and sips his "special - don't have any of this" tea. He's at Butterfly Studio, owned by Martin "Youth" Glover, recently co-opted for a second stint in Killing Joke.
The affable Youth, once known as Pig Youth, once deported from the Bahamas and once a drug hog, makes virtually no sense whatsoever: "I'm the earth element in Killing Joke. I give them a kind of objectivity."
|Geordie Walker, Killing Joke's third member (drummer Geoff Dugmore doesn't count yet), chain-smokes menthol cigarettes, sounds like a suave James Bolam/Malcolm McLaren hybrid, is a trained architect and has never left the fold. He was inspired by Love Sculpture's Sabre Dance to break free from his classical guitar training and is delighted Youth is back: "I don't have to scream at Jaz any more. I just sit in the corner with a great big cocktail, smirking."|
Even as a little boy, Jaz Coleman stood out. There weren't many half-Indian kids in Cheltenham in the early '70s. His liberal, intellectual parents would take the family to warm climes three or four times a year (Jaz was ordered to write a journal of the things he'd learned each day), thus darkening the youngster's natural skin colouring. The playground arrangements were simple: kids called him Paki; he tried to kick them to death.
"I'd have this sick feeling in my stomach because I knew I'd be getting into fights every day," he remembers. There was much expected of him. From the age of six, Jaz would awaken each day at 6am to the sound of his brother practising the piano. Jaz would do the same from 7 to 8 and then go to school. On his return, he would learn the violin for an hour. By the age of 10, he'd reached violin Grade 8, won awards at international classical festivals and looked set for a virtuoso career. In his fifteenth year, the boy in the cathedral choir flipped out.
"I heard rock and went mental. I dropped acid and discovered girls. I had this vision that everything they were teaching me at school was useless and I could hustle myself into a better position than exams and qualifications. They asked me what I'd do without basic mathematics, I said I'd get an accountant. I have an abnormally high IQ but I'm not an academic, I'm an aural-visual person. I had to get cunning and learn about physical violence. I was pretty fucked off by the time I was 16, I started Killing Joke when I was 17."
At 158 Oueenstown Road, Battersea, Coleman moved in with "Big" Paul Ferguson, who happened to be a drummer.
"He was a potential mass murderer like me - he has a brilliant mind but extremely volatile moods. We were students of mysticism and the irrational arts, looking for two musicians who had a great sense of philosophy. We performed a ritual to focus our energies and put an advertisement in Melody Maker: 'Want to be part of the killing joke? Total exploitation, total publicity, total anonymity'."
"I thought, Fanatics! I'm in here," chuckles Walker.
Weeks later, Coleman was scavenging through some dustbins.
"I heard this voice: 'Looking for yer breakfast are yer?' Geordie, this weird-looking, red-haired guy had arrived .I told him what music I was into. He said it was all rubbish. I took him upstairs, he saw my fishing rods and we had a three-hour conversation about that. We had such a good time I said he could move in. He found Youth in a brothel in Earl's Court. Then we burnt the flat down and moved to live with my parents in Cheltenham - they moved out after a couple of weeks.
"I get flashbacks to our first rehearsal. Youth wasn't the mystical creature he is now, he was the hustler from hell and he couldn't actually play, so me and Ferguson got stoned with these lunatics we'd been bullshitting about our band. We said we were great and took them back with us. Meanwhile, Geordie and Youth had been playing one note: we started playing and tapped into what we call The White Heat, a spiritual intensity of playing. We jammed for 12 fucking intense minutes. When we finished, everyone was laughing hysterically. I knew there was destiny there. I knew I would never be in any other band and I knew what we started would have immense repercussions."
Coleman's girlfriend paid for the recording of Killing Joke's first EP, Turn To Red. John Peel played it to death and they became uncompromising indie darlings, allegedly financing themselves through taking a van to Rough Trade's distribution centre, loading it up with records and selling them. Plus a slot machine scam.
"This band would not just be a pleasure principle, it would have a social function, rather than something you put on when you get home from work. I guarantee that if you do that with a Killing Joke record, you'll lose your job. We knew we were different - we were articulate and intelligent, yet we were portrayed as thugs, which admittedly there was an element of truth in."
Backed by a disparate bunch including some East End gangsters and the royalty-connected Shand-Kydd family, Coleman and his girlfriend were soon living with an Arab terrorist in Notting Hill.
"Once, we went into his bedroom and found 60 machine guns. He supplied the arms for the Iranian embassy siege. I saw him on television this year in a Middle East country I can't name. I lived with a mercenary too, talked to him about killing, how he was desensitised. We had great parties. Anyone can kill. I've been close to it but I don't think I could live with myself."
Coleman was a regular visitor to Iceland. In 1982, just as Killing Joke were about to break through properly, he and Walker left for good. Or for a few weeks at least.
"People make me out to be an absolute nutcase for this," he blazes. "We used to have a lyric book in the flat. We kept it open and people wrote anything they wanted, from 'fuck off' to passages from mythology. We ran into this verse which talked about the island at the end of the earth. Two of the band believed it was the island of your soul, two of us that it was a prophecy and it split us. I moved there to study the parallels between the Hindu and the Nordic and because I wanted to spend more time in the elements than dressing rooms. I became part of a mystical order. Fifteen years later, one of us is producing Crowded House in New Zealand, one of us is building a recording studio there and the other has been going there for years. It's at the end of the earth that fits the original description better than Iceland. Doing an album there was life-changing; it's the original prophecy coming true."
Back in Blighty, they had their hit (Love Like Blood) in 1985 and moved to Virgin. Oh dear.
"I absolutely hate them," snarls Coleman, eyes aflame. "I'd like to take Richard Branson's Virgin Airlines and crash it into his island."
The litigation lasted for three years, most of it with the band on legal aid. Coleman had a nervous breakdown and made a "healing process" album in Egypt with Art Of Noise's Anne Dudley. Later, most copies of the first post-Virgin album, Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions, were impounded at Harwich customs after their German label owner hadn't paid VAT for three years. "I've never seen a shambles like it," grimaces Coleman. Luckily he bumped into Youth.
"I hadn't seen him for 10 years. There was a lot of bad blood. He'd lost my cat when I went to Iceland and that fucking hurt." Youth re-joined and all is sort of well with Killing Joke's world.
"Listen, we don't fit in with people; we're a collection of extremely strong individuals. We are avid readers of mysticism. We start off on the premise that man's natural state of being is poetic and go completely crazy, right into the irrational. To make music we forget about music and make our lives irrational, beautiful, colourful.
"We ritualise everything from drinking tea together to doing vocals inside the Great pyramid. The whole idea is to freeze the moment in time forever and to take that moment with you into death."
Now they're revered.
"I've never known a band who's had the musical influence that we've had. Ministry's AI Jourgensen -who married my ex-girlfriend - Billy and Ian from The Cult, Skinny Puppy, Metallica, Soundgarden. I feel absolutely honoured, proud, but I wouldn't swap my life with any of them."
"They just sound as if they're slamming their dicks in the door," deadpans Walker.
They would have sued Nirvana for using the riff from their 1985 song, Eighties, on Come As You Are. It doesn't seem worth it now.
"I've been labelled as mad, the band as nihilistic and aggressive," continues Coleman, "but we saw the new age before it fucking happened. We saw that spirituality would be fused with music. We tapped into fears and paranoia."
Jaz Coleman has sacrificed everything for Killing Joke. He has three daughters and was married to a doctor of psychology who hated music. They'd argue about the death penalty - she vehemently for, he fervently anti. He went to live in New Zealand and may yet publish his autobiography or open his centre for studying permaculture.
"It's Killing Joke and classical music for the rest of my life," he states. "I will do Killing Joke until I'm finished, six foot under. I walked out on my marriage and my children because, in 1990, I made a commitment to music. I still can't bear to look at photos of my children because it hurts so much."
In best Twilight Zone fashion, the father and uncle of the first woman Coleman dated after his marriage were both in the SAS. They broke into the Iranian embassy to be faced by his ex-flatmate's guns.
"Most people like the idea of being in a band, but when it comes to hard work and commitment, they're frightened. I believe in writing with my blood, total commitment 'til the day I die. I draw a parallel between my commitment to Killing Joke and the principles of terror and once you understand those principles you cannot lose. I do music because I love it - it took me a long time to admit that to myself. It's really difficult with the way I think about life, the way I feel, to get on with other human beings on a daily basis, but I have a sense of perseverance and I'm still on my path."
With his background and keen sense of discipline, Coleman seems to be taken seriously as a classical composer, so much so that he's off to Iran this year to study Persian classical music.
"Since February 26 - the same date as me and Big Paul did our original ritual - 1982, I've been studying under a Hungarian master. One of my greatest experiences was, last year, walking from my hotel in Wellington to Symphony House where 130 musicians were waiting for me to do my first great work. It's a massive symphony which I'd started in Iceland and it's coming together after 10 years' solid work.
"As soon as I get back to New Zealand I sit in a room with a piano. An orchestra costs £100 a minute, so you don't fuck up. All I see is manuscript paper and I work night and day on two hours' sleep. Then I go back to Killing Joke and go mental. A labourer works with his hands, a craftsman works with his head but an artist works with his hands, head and heart and it goes on forever."
He's still pushing that boulder up the mountain. Killing Joke toured the new album, Pandemonium, in America, 65 dates in about 60 days. Coleman was on Prozac.
"I'm registered manic depressive," he confesses. "I go from levels of ecstasy to deep depression. I have acupuncture twice a week when I'm off tour and I shouldn't drink coffee or tea. When there's a lot of stress, it gets out of hand, I fucking lose it, so I have to manage myself as carefully as I can. It's hard though - sometimes I just don't want to live and my pulse rate goes really fast. It lasts for an hour in the morning -I hate mornings. The only way I can deal with it is by meditation and prayer - but we've all got battles you know."
Killing Joke make things better.
|"After the great shows, I walk on stage, walk off and don't remember anything
in between. I leave my body, no question about it. Everything goes silent, you
can't hear any music, everything's in slow motion. Your heart never lies: if
you lie to yourself you get a lump in the solar plexus; if it's right you get
a sense of relaxation.
"Me, Youth and Geordie is like a collaboration between Dali, Miro and Picasso. If people want to see Killing Joke as a band, that's their problem. It's a consciousness, a level of awareness. It's like the last 30 seconds before you die; it's a massive learning process. It's gone way beyond desire. It's a lifestyle and it's a love. And I've had a fabulous life out of it."