(From Total Guitar, UK magazine, 4 March 1995)
For over fifteen years, Killing Joke have been one of the most influential alternative bands on the planet. Paul Thomason waits for the punch line . . . .
From their earliest recordings, Killing Joke have been one of the major influences on alternative rock. From the tribal ferocity of early tracks like Wardance to the techno-fied riffology of their latest album, Pandemonium, and despite line-up changes, disputes and splits, Killing Joke have pushed back the boundaries of the rock format, seamlessly assimilating dance, techno, world music and a hundred different influences on the way. Now back in their original line-up, vocalist Jaz Coleman, bassist/producer Youth and guitarist Geordie have relaunched their assault on the norm with perhaps their best album to date, and a world tour.
I spoke with Geordie at Youth's Butterfly Studios in London, where the trio were re-grouping before setting off on the second leg of their UK tour . . .
How's the tour going?
Great - it's really fucking hard work though, seven or eight weeks on, one day off. It's an effort, but it pays off.
Are you happy with the album?
Yeah, it's about time we did a decent record, innit? I think this one and the second one are the best we've done.
It sounds a lot denser than your previous albums - is that something you've been working towards?
It just landed that way. Between the last album and this one, we took three years off, and I was just stocking up stuff on my own. We arrived in New Zealand, set up the ambient loops, and we tried this over it, tried that over it, wrote it in the studio basically.
You've used a lot of technology on the album, sequencers, samples, loops, etc. and your guitar is sampled on Pandemonium (the track) - was that something you would have done yourself, or was that Youth's input?
No, I wouldn't have done that, but I kind of liked it actually! (laughs) You know, with all these mixes that Youth does, you can get up in the morning, put Killing Joke on, and it's an ambient dub or whatever.
So you can be four or five bands in one?
I never looked at it like that; it's more so we can put out 40-minute singles, because CDs are such a rip-off, aren't they? Put loads of music on there . . . .
Are you going to stick with this type of sound for the next album?
Ah ... no. The record company were concerned that we got a good American sound, and that's why they got Ron St. Germain in - he was great, absolutely great, but y'know . . . you've got to remember that the first two albums, it was Youth and myself with our hands on the desk. Ron St. Germain did a great job, but Youth's quite capable of doing it on his own - he lets me tweak the guitars a bit and just gets on with it.
Has Youth's career as a dance music producer been a big influence on Killing Joke's sound?
Well again, it was me and Youth that were always into that - I used to teach the old Chic bass lines to him when we first got together - even early techno like Telex and Sparks, we were into that. It's just that the technology didn't exist then - you had a bit of echo and that was that.
We missed that (influence) when we had Raven (ex-KJ bassist) with us, 'cos he was from more of a rock angle. I was the only one still listening to disco, and I did all the 12"s in that period - Youth wasn't around - and I still had to do Killing Joke as well. It's nice to have that back in again, because without Youth, there's just Jaz and me writing. Jaz has a tendency to over-arrange and put in unnecessary bits for the sake of arrangement. It's nice to be doing one-riff songs again.
There's a lot of that in your songwriting - that trance feeling . . . .
Exactly. The thing is as well that when we sent the tapes over to Cairo to get some Arabic strings on them, the geezers who do that seemed to have a real laugh, 'cos trance is what they play all the time anyway. Most of that Eastern music is just one drone. They've got thirty notes per scale in there, so they can create so many kinds of different atmospheres within that one drone. That's the kind of thing that Jaz is getting into.
Moving on to you as a guitarist, what were your early influences?
I was influenced when I first started out, but after that I was always pretty much off on my own tip. There was Zal Cleminson though, from the Sensational Alex Harvey Band; listening to him got me into it - he turned up at the band's Glasgow gig, actually.
Was that a case of meeting your hero?
Yeah, absolutely - when we played Kings And Queens, I played Midnight Moses (SHB track) through all the verses, then started going into Faith Healer (likewise) at the end of Psyche, and it fitted lovely!
Your approach to the guitar has always been pretty radical compared to the mainstream - where does that come from?
One of the records that really turned me on was Sabredance by Lovesculpture. I remember jumping around the room to that when I was nine or ten. I used to go nuts to that, and then it was straight over to Radio 3, turned it full up. That's what it was, man - when I started playing guitar, it was like you have to be able to play the 'blues', all the solos, y'know, and that's crap. You don't have to do that, it's a fucking . . . it's a polyphonic instrument, you can do what you want. Make your own chords up, y'know, keep the rhythm in there, because it's a percussion instrument too - you get the best of both worlds. That's all I do it for; to keep finding stuff I haven't heard before, that's the best thing. . . .
Someone once said you were under-rated. What would you say to that?
Well, the thing is that the record companies and the press never got it. The kids got it, but they didn't. If you look at the actual reality of it, as far as other musicians and influencing people goes, I'm probably more well known than anybody.
Do you still enjoy Killing Joke? It looks like you're still having fun.
Yeah, I mean that's what you do it for in the first place - having fun, surprising yourself all the time, being excited about it. Not only in the gigs, but the writing too, everything about it.
So you're still into it?
Yeah, you've gotta be . . . as Peter Hook (New Order bassist) would say, "Best job in t'world!"
I'm still using Gibson 295s, because they're really expressive. With the old P9 pickups, you don't have to get them cranked up as loud to get that really bollocksy sound. The way the bridge is too, with that trapeze - I can use that to bend just where I want to. I'm not using my Berman amps anymore - they either broke or got nicked - so now I have a Marshall 9200 power amp and a little (pre-amp) head - I just use four settings on that. I've got a couple of ADT units that were made for bassists, for pitch bends and delay, and a TC stereo expander.
On the album I used a Fender Bassman reissue and the Gibson Les Paul. When I'm talking about gear though, I'm always reminded of something that Jeff Beck once said: "I'm not bothered what I plug into, as long as you can hear me." And to a certain extent, it's more about technique, what you play, not what you play through.
I live in Detroit, and I listen to the radio a lot, black stations, dance stations, y'know. I like some of the Veruca Salt stuff, Portishead - their guitar reminds me of "Tales Of Edgar Wallace", that old black and white show that was on late at night - and I think the singer (Beth Gibbons) has a great voice.
I recently picked up Phaedra by Tangerine Dream too, which I haven't heard in years, and that's fucking great . . . . what else - stuff like Kyuss . . . there's a band from Minneapolis called Flower that I like too.