(From Terrorizer, UK-based metal magazine, February 1995.)
Who can deny themselves the irresistible urge of Killing Joke & their highly original sound? This month sees the release of their mini LP,’Jana’, which, as Ian Glasper finds out when he meets up with frontman Jaz Coleman, should keep us happy for a while. Until the band decide to record another album that is….
I’ve been listening to Killing Joke for fourteen years, over half my life, ever since the tribal pounding of Wardance assaulted my ears & took them hostage. Since then they have done countless tours & records, suffered all the usual band traumas & more, & courted controversy all the way. Anyone who’s read their myriad interviews will know what an enigma they’ve become. This interview provides no answers, I’m afraid, just another twist or two to the insoluble puzzle that the band revels in being.
When I ask him what they’ve been up to recently, their roguish vocalist Jaz Coleman begins garrulously enough…
"We’ve been on tour in America for seven weeks. We’ve done 45 gigs, & every day’s been interviews in the afternoon, soundchecks, television, meet n’ greets, then we go onstage, & then we’re back on the bus for another 400 miles, & the next gig….bang…bang…bang bang bang. And it’s been fucking hard! But I fell like it’s under our belt, y'know? And we’re not fat fucks. We’re lean & mean! We’re 34, & enjoying it still."
I know you harbour more than a passing distaste for America….
"I despise it! But it’s been very interesting tapping into what’s going on over there – which is absolute despair. My God, we’re full-on romantics compared to what’s going on over there!”
And how were the gigs over there?
"They were great," he exclaims, "Some of the most incredible concerts I’ve ever done in my life, absolutely amazing. We’ve sold quite a lot of records over there…. but we’d do it anyway, even if we hadn’t. I do this for laughs!"
It's always struck me that you’ve got a very underground but incredibly loyal following – what do you think inspires such devotion?
"I don't think we live rock n’ roll lifestyles, we do different projects all the time. I think that our fans – well, I won't call them 'fans' because that's insulting – I think people who understand Killing Joke understand that it’s not just a philosophy, it's a lifestyle & it's their lifestyle, as much as ours, y’know?"
He pauses before adding, "Killing Joke is a level of awareness, a way of thinking. They feel this intuitively when we do concerts we put up a big flag, & we invite people who share our same consciousness…well we’re inviting them back home basically."
At your gigs there seems to be some sort of violence just bubbling under the surface, both onstage & in the crowd.
"It’s an intensity, but the whole thing is about catharsis, about ridding yourself of it. In 15 years, I haven’t seen much violence at all, & our gigs, my God, they're hanging off the ceilings sometimes. I've seen people literally going across the girders of the ceiling! We’ve had people jumping off balconies like lemmings, insane things…but violence? Hardly any of it. The energy we play at – the intensity of the music & the chord formations we use – we get it all out in the music. That’s why the music is exorcism, it’s a catharsis, you understand? It has a social function, as opposed to a pleasure principle."
The song Exorcism encourages the releasing of suppressed emotions….but isn’t there some emotions that are better kept suppressed?!
"If we all did the things we thought about, the world would be an atrocious place. We all – you & I – we think of murder, & atrocities; the fact we think them but don't do them, is the grace of God, basically. You can think wicked things, but acting on them is a different thing all together. So, sometimes you need a playground to let your imagination, that negative, side be channelled into something positive. But I don't think anything should be kept hidden – it’ll give you cancer if you keep burying something."
Can that help explain the vicarious fascination with murder & serial killers? Jaz relates it back to his distaste for America… "It’s part of the culture in the states. I remember when Black Flag were going on about giving their royalties to Charles Manson, ‘cos they thought it was cool, y'know? I think it’s a load of bollocks, basically – it’s cool to be sick. Shock values – they’re not coming from a personal life experience, they're not coming from anywhere. It's just wanting to horrify & revolt people for the sake of it."
It surprises me that band so seemingly fond of organic live music should employ remixes…I mean 5 versions of Jana on their new mini LP?!
"It’s great! Listen, mate, when you’re having your cornflakes for breakfast, the last thing you want to listen to is fucking Killing Joke, right? So we do different mixes, to get different impressions of the music at different times, y'know? And that's nice!"
But don't you think that a commercial compromise like that dilutes Killing Joke’s intensity? Jaz reckons, "Not at all! It’s not commercial – it’s just giving different impressions, & we’ve been doing it since '79. Turn to Black [sic]...Requiem remix..Eighties remix..all just different versions. We were into reggae music too....different versions of our songs are very much part of our tradition too, since about '78 or '79."
I've visited the king's burial chamber of the Great Pyramid in Cairo where you recorded some of Pandemonium, & I’m intrigued on how you actually got your equipment up there?
"We carried it in!"
Oh as simple as that! Well how did you ever get permission to do it?!
Again the answer is simple. "Bribes!"
Large ones, I take it? "Not really." By now, I'm getting the impression that he doesn’t want to discuss it that much!
"I’ve worked a lot in Egypt. I’ve been going there since '81, every year."
So, what attracts you so much to the country?
"Apart from it being the centre of Arabic music, I think it's that the whole race – unlike the Anglo-Saxon race – when they fucking hate you, they say, 'I hate you', or when they love you, they say 'I love you'. Whereas English people whisper to each other, & you find out what they really think 2 weeks later! I like hot-blooded people, 'cos I know where I stand. I like passionate people who’ll say just what they feel about you today. I get really annoyed with the Anglo-Saxon, Caucasian thing of going behind your back, & you never know where you stand. I don’t like it...that’s why I don’t live here."
What do you think is the purpose of the Pyramids? "I do not believe that the Pyramids were an Acropolis," he states confidently. "I believe they were places of initiation, end of story."
Some people say that the Pyramids are a result of the Pharaohs wanting to leave their mark forever – is that a - ?
"Fuck the Pharaohs wanting to leave THEIR mark forever," he interpolates, "You should have seen our lot dancing around the king's chamber with nappies on! If the Pharaohs had seen what was going on they would have been fuckin' horrified, mate. I tell you. Imagine the Great Pyramids, Atlantis & all that, then 6 or 7 thousand years later, there’d be these complete idiots dancing around in nappies, getting drunk. Isn’t it a marvellous thought?"
Once Jaz has stopped cackling I ask what he did in Easter Island? "Oh I had my usual fun…don’t pry into my life!!"
Well, it’s somewhere I would love to go, but it’s so difficult to get to…
"No, it's not!" he disagrees vehemently, "You can fly to Santiago, then get a land-Chile flight straight from Santiago to Easter Island, so fuck you!"
But it's the money that the flight costs, that's the real difficulty!
"Don't talk about money! You're as boring as the rest of them! Do you think that we’ve got money? I used to go to South America regularly when I was on £50 a week, so fuck you!'
Jaz has an usual way of saying "fuck you" which is as friendly as it is insulting. "You've got to have a dream first, a dream! You don’t need money to live like a millionaire – that’s what Kings & Queens is about.”
Yeah, but that easy for you to say because you’ve got money!
"No, you're making a fatal mistake! You don’t need money to make your dreams happen – you need dreams to make your money happen."
Do you still have a fascination with Armageddon?!
"Killing Joke is just about paranoia, or anything you want. We tap into things that frighten us – whether it be cold-war paranoia, or AIDS paranoia, or whatever paranoia…we'll write about what we are trying to bury, & we’ll try to face it."
Didn’t you write a book about the purpose of Killing Joke?
"Yeah, I've finished it," he says dismissively.
And will you ever get it published?
"I’m not in a hurry," he exclaims. "What’s the fucking hurry? There is none!"
Jaz then picks up on my Gloucestershire-Herefordshire accent, & talk turns to his old stomping ground, Cheltenham…..
"God, I've not been back there for so long! My parents still live there – I’ve not seen them for about a year. Me, Geordie & Big Paul all lived in Cheltenham for a while – we burnt our London flat down, so we had to move to my parents' place! We had nowhere to live & nothing to eat."
Why not come back & do a show there?
"I would never do a gig in Cheltenham! Fucking hate the place. Well I hate it & love it, but it did me no fucking favours!" he laughs gleefully. "I can see it now: 'The Conquering Hero Returns!' " more maniacal laughter. “We started off there, we rehearsed in the basement of No.3 High Street! We ought to do a party there or something, but not an official gig!"
What do you think about Christmas?
"It’s a good time for the family to get together & get drunk. We all know the calendar's fucked up. It's a time of your life when you’re dreaming of the sun, S.U.N & the son, S.O.N., rising again. The son Jesus symbolises the disc of the sun & the spring coming again. That's where it comes from, the pre-Christian religion….You should know all that paganism where you come from – haven't you been to Rollright Stones?"
I don’t tell him that I have, & my band as actually played there, because he is on a roll.
"The Christians messed around with the calendar. Spring, that’s the start of the year, Aries – that’s the beginning of the year, always was."
Tell me, are all the disparaging comments you’ve made about each other in the press in the past ever a source of tension?
"It just means that we attract attention to each other…& you fuckers fall for it every time! Look, families bitch…end of story."
What do you think of Prong’s Cleansing album, by the way?
"I have no opinion on it. White trash, actually! Don't try to turn me against people I've worked with, ever, or I'll bite your throat out."
But don't you think it sounds a lot like Killing Joke?!
"We all know that," he answers impatiently. "You know that. You don’t need me to answer that question."
Sensing that the topic is closed, I ask him what he thinks of Metallica’s cover of The Wait?
"Thanks for the memory!"
Whatever happened when you tried to sue Nirvana?!
"Well, we came into problems when he shot his head off…."
During all the lows of your career, hasn’t suicide seemed a viable option?!
"Frequently, but only out of celebration not out of despair."
Jaz seems to tiring of the conversation by now, probably because he & the rest of the band (made up incidentally of Geordie - guitar, Youth - bass & Paul Ferguson- drums) have been doing press none stop all day, & I’m the last in a long line! Do you ever regret the cult of personality that you’ve created, people thinking of the myth before the music?
"It makes me laugh, but they're right. There is a mythos & a mysticism about the band. We've seen the most incredible things, that no band has ever had the privilege of seeing. We're an unusual band!"
Do you ever regret anything you’ve said or done?
"I regret the fact that you're interrupting my meal," he says, only half jokingly. "No, I don't regret anything I've said or done, & I'd do it all again."
If you had to choose one song to stand as Killing Joke’s landmark, which would it be? "All 8 albums, fuck you! I love Pandemonium the album, but I'm not going to be pinned down on anyone track – no one song can satisfy all my needs, so fuck off!"
One last question before I do fuck off: what does the future hold for Killing Joke?
"You & I can not say what will happen tomorrow; no one can. No one can!! So I just deal with the present tense at the moment."
And with that, I leave him with his meal.