(From Blistering, online "heavy metal music magazine," mid 2003.)

Killing Joke: From Iceland to Cairo

by Justin Donnelly

When a band's career spans some twenty-three years, you wouldn’t expect that some of their best work to date would be on their latest album. But then, not every band is like U.K. band Killing Joke.

From the moment their debut EP Turn To Red hit the streets in 1979, Killing Joke (who consisted of vocalist/keyboardist Jaz Coleman, guitarist Geordie (K. Walker), bassist Youth (Martin Glover) and drummer Big Paul Ferguson) have continually changed shape and form with their every subsequent release.

Killing Joke’s first three albums (1980’s Killing Joke, 1981’s What’s THIS For...! and 1982’s Revelations – Which prompted the band’s first line up change - introducing new bassist Guy Pratt, who replaced the departing Youth, are generally hailed as a huge influence on the humble beginnings of what is now collectively known as the industrial music scene.

1982 marked a troubled time for the band when Coleman fled to Iceland after convincing himself that world Armageddon was nigh, with Ferguson and Raven soon following in search of their disappearing vocalist.
Needless to say, the predicted end never arrived, and the trio moved back to the U.K. to start recording again, with new bassist Paul Raven in tow. 1983’s Fire Dances was proof of the groups tumultuous time captured on tape. The album wasn’t considered as strong as previous efforts, and was consequently frowned upon by devoted Killing Joke followers.

Throughout the eighties, Killing Joke continually changed sound, with 1985’s Night Time bringing forth a more synthesised dominated sound. Although it spawned the hit single ‘Love Like Blood’ and the controversial ‘Eighties’ (which was later reworked by Nirvana as ‘Come As You Are’, and a lawsuit later still), it failed to capture Killing Joke’s intense manic spark of before.

1986’s Brighter Than A Thousand Suns and 1988’s Outside The Gate (Which is regarded as perhaps Killing Joke at their lowest creatively) brought a conclusion of Killing Joke’s releases in the eighties, and also brought a close to the band itself.

Killing Joke soon reformed (Coleman, Raven and Geordie), with new drummer Martin Atkins (P.I.L.) brought into the fold. 1990’s Extremities, Dirt & Other Repressed Emotions signalled a return to the bands guitar fuelled edge.
After some four years later, the original line up of Coleman, Geordie and Youth reunited for what was to become Killing Joke’s crowning moment (and biggest selling album), 1994’s Pandemonium.

For one reason or another, 1996’s Democracy failed to generate the amount of magic within the group, with fan interest waning considerably. Killing Joke split up once again.

Seven long years have passed, and once again the mighty Killing Joke have reformed (With the line up of Coleman, Geordie, Youth, Raven and guest drummer Dave Grohl) with their stunning, and eleventh album to date, Killing Joke. The album proves once again that the world so sorely needs a group of such collective influence and talent.

I caught up with Coleman, who was apparently at his manager’s (Jazz Summers) house, hanging from the curtains, to talk about what’s been happening for the last seven years, the band’s stunning return to form, Dave Grohl and misconceptions about Coleman’s mental health!

“First of all, what you think is a band is not as simple as that. Part of Killing Joke for me is everything else that is done outside of the band. Let me give you a few examples. In between Democracy and the latest album (Killing Joke), I have helped play a part in changing the New Zealand national anthem. I had a big hand in that, and making sure it was sung in the Maori language. I did my first opera at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, which is about the marriage of this man we made into a God called Jesus Christ and Marie Madeline and her subsequent exile to La Provence in France and their arrival at St Marie De La Mer. This is with Sir Laurence Gardener, who is one of the world’s greatest genealogists, and the author of Bloodline Of The Holy Grail – The Hidden Lineage Of Jesus Revealed. So that was a killing joke in itself, to give your self a rough example. I also took this Czech folk band from Prague who performed weddings and funerals for a living, and I put them with an orchestra. They went platinum five times over. Now they’re doing twelve thousand seaters all over Eastern Europe. They’re actually selling out bigger places than Bryan Adams. A movie was made about it called The Year Of The Devil, and I actually played the role of the devil. I didn’t even know I even had the job until they had been filming me for seven weeks when all the weird shit went down.”

If that wasn’t enough, Coleman has also been doing a lot with orchestras throughout the last seven years too.

“I conduct the Prague Symphony Orchestra for a living. I have a lovely opera house, which I sort of work in. I get into all sorts of things there, I can write things there and go downstairs and conduct the orchestra at will. That’s a wonderful thing to have. I conduct on the same stage as Mozart and Dvorak. Prague is a wonderful city. I’ve also done two albums with Nigel Kennedy (2003’s East Meets West and 2001’s Doors Concerto: Riders On The Storm), and one with Sarah Brightman (Harem, which was released earlier this year). I’ve worked with some of the great symphony orchestras of the world such as the London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic. I’ve even had two number ones in America with my classical music. Unbeknown to both sides of my career, this is all between the spaces of these two albums. And all this is a part of Killing Joke. Killing Joke is like all our side projects collectively within all the members of the band. They’re all part of what we call Killing Joke. It’s basically a renaissance idea. If I want to be an actor, I’ll act. If I want to be a writer, I’ll write. If I want to conduct or compose, I’ll do that. I fucking do what ever I want. I’ll release whatever I want, and then move onto something new. What else can I say?”

So with all the fulfilling creativity that Coleman has amassed within his orchestration, one has to wonder why there was any need to resurrect Killing Joke once again. Orchestration however, doesn’t completely soothe the savage beast within Coleman.

“I sometimes live in New Zealand, and sometimes in Switzerland. I have a real colourful life. It wasn’t as simple as what you might call a reformation. I’ve seen everybody in the band in the last seven or eight years. I would see them all at least once a month within that time. It might be in a different country, but we still saw each other. So we knew that it was coming, and it was just the right time. There’s always got to be friction within Killing Joke. It’s just one of those weird things. Out of this mass amount of conflict comes progress. It was very much the case that when we had this huge turbulence within our lives, and with this build up to a war was happening simultaneously, all these things seem to make this work. I feel very angry about the situation within the world, and I think the other guys did too. We’re all very passionate about it all. I’m blessed to be in a band where the average I.Q. of the members is around 160 plus. I’m buzzing man. It’s going off! (Laughs)”

Coleman isn’t afraid to show his excitement about Killing Joke’s new album, or the influence that the band has had over their lengthy career.

“Well, you have to think that we’ve reached the quarter century mark of our career, and when I think of the earliest conversations we had in 1978 as a band, what we wanted to achieve out of it as a group, apart from personal freedom, it was renaissance. The idea was to inspire other people to go do many different things, and to join in. It was a very collective idea. When I look at the influence of Killing Joke over two generations, not just from the obvious ones like Nirvana and Metallica, but to all sorts of people like Kate Bush and K.L.F., you would be very surprised! (Laughs) My god, it’s so vast and wide. It shocks me the amount of influence Killing Joke has had. What can I say? It all came true. We’ve lived in so many different countries as a band, and Killing Joke really is a lifestyle, and also a way of thinking. The people that support Killing Joke are much more than what I would call fans. It’s the people around Killing Joke that have really given us so much in the way of love and support, and helped us be reactivated in such a spectacular way. Let’s be honest about this. It’s very rare that you get a band that are on their eleventh album, and find that they have more power, and have released the most explosive work that they’ve ever done. It usually happens on their first, or second album. Even possibly on their third album, but never on their eleventh album. Most would think that was crazy.”

If there was any doubt as to whether the praise lauded upon Killing Joke’s latest album was worthy or not, Coleman is quick to settle the matter for you.

“I see this as being the band's most powerful work to date, because of the fact that I’m still playing the album. Even though I perform on it, I’m still playing it myself. I’ve never had that before. Secondly, I can start the album and go all the way to the end and find that I love every track on the album. I’ve never had that with Killing Joke before. In the past, there have specific tracks that I’ve have been reluctant to listen to. But then in retrospect, and looking at the long term of it all, some things we’ve done should have been absolutely symphonic. I should have done some tracks with a symphony orchestra, and not with Killing Joke. But that’s Killing Joke too. I don’t think we should limit ourselves. It’s almost like a sculpture from an artist. I don’t think we should limit what we do. We should be free to do what we the hell we want to do. I don’t like this corporate world we live in. We’re out of line with it in Killing Joke. We are really out of line with this. I don’t like the fact that corporate giants such as Lockheed-Martin and Boeing are determining American farm policies. The corporate world is mentioned in one of the lines on the new album; ‘Five corporations earn more than forty-six nations’ (From ‘Blood On Your Hands’). I find it offensive. I’m very curious to see what will happen in the world now. Will we continually be giving the public servants and the greedy people the Vaseline and allow them to ream us up the ass? Are we just going to accept it? I don’t know. It’s a really depressing state of affairs. I feel angry about the situation. I think politically in the world, we’ve been had. I think we’ve been turned into economic slaves.”

There has never been a better time than now to release a new Killing Joke album, and while Coleman agrees wholeheartedly, he cares less about how well it sells.

“You know what? I don’t give a shit about how it will do! I lose money doing Killing Joke because there are so many paid jobs I should be doing. But it’s something that I have to do. I feel driven to push this record and this lifestyle and this wonderful thing called Killing Joke. It’s like a heightened state of awareness for us. The world needs us now. For those out there who are unaware of us, it’s too late. The ball has already started rolling. I see success, unlike you guys out there, as a major invasion of my privacy. I really don’t care for it that much, and that’s one thing that will happen with this album. You always end up getting what you don’t want! (Laughs)”

Now we can’t talk about the latest Killing Joke album without mentioning guest drummer Dave Grohl. As mentioned before, Nirvana used the riff from Killing Joke’s ‘Eighties’ in their single ‘Come As You Are’. Killing Joke sued the band several years later, but dropped it after the suicide of Kurt Cobain. In a show of no hard feelings, Coleman joined the Foo Fighters earlier this year on stage (In New Zealand) for a rendition of Killing Joke’s ‘Requiem’.

“There was this Dutch journalist, interview number one hundred and thirteen (Coleman has been keeping count of them for this album) who said to me; ‘You have Dave Grohl on your album. Is this like community service?’ (Laughs) I had to laugh my head off. But to be perfectly honest, that wasn’t the case. He loved the music, and he’s a huge fan of the band, and that was the sole reason for him being there. But I guess you would have to ask him about how he felt about the whole situation. We’re not really the most materialist creatures in Killing Joke. It’s a short life, and we’ve got plenty to drink, so we’re all O.K. Dave played Killing Joke patterns. In trying to become Dave Grohl, he became the drummer for Killing Joke. He worked with us, and those traditional Killing Joke tom-tom patterns that have been in our band and our style since we began. What a fucking great job he’s done, a fucking brilliant job. I’m really proud of the man.”

Unlike Pandemonium and Democracy, Killing Joke has decided to use outside producer Andy Gill (Gang Of Four, Red Hot Chili Peppers), rather than use fellow band member Youth.

“What did Gill bring rather than Youth? Cases of very expensive wine! (Laughs) Now you don’t want me to lie to you do you? O.K., he also brought a fabulous house to drink it in! (Laughs) I’ve known him for fucking twenty years, and he was like a referee to stop us all fighting. In Killing Joke, Youth, Geordie, Raven and myself are all producers in the band. So we needed some sort of referee there. Andy was the (unfortunate) lucky winner.”

Killing Joke isn’t about to let fans down touring wise either, with some one hundred and forty dates planned already on this current world tour. Dave Grohl however won’t be part of the line up (As he’s busy with the Foo fighters), and will be replaced by Ted Parsons (who’s played with Prong and Godflesh). Those touring plans also include some shows in Australia.

“I think we’ll be down there sometime in November. To tell you the truth, I don’t look at any tour dates. I just deal with today, and what I have to do on that date. We’ve just done our warm up shows here in Europe, which lasted around eighteen shows, and they’ve just gone off. I mean really explosive. They’ve been packed out, meaning they were wicked times on stage. Because of that, we’ve increased the set to beyond the hour and a half mark to just under the two-hour mark. For me personally, it’s like fifty thousand volts going through your body to be onstage with Killing Joke. I can’t tell you want it does to me physically! (Laughs) I don’t think the band has ever played better to be honest. Some things really do improve with age, and that’s our music and our erections! (Laughs) It’s going to be white hot by the time we get down there. We’ll have so many gigs down behind us. I look forward to drinking lots of red wine and eating some Skippy burgers! God bless Australia, and tell that Howard to piss off!”

Like most band that have a career spanning a quarter of a century, Killing Joke have a host of filmed footage (Both promotional clip and live) that has yet to be officially released. While details at this stage are sketchy, Coleman does have a vague plan to release something in the future.

“Well, what the band don’t realise is that I’m filming everything at the moment. They don’t know what I’m up to, so who knows. Maybe we can do better than that. It’s a possibility. I’m not filming everything, but I’m filming a lot of crazy things. Like when I first met Dave Grohl. I filmed all that. We got so blind drunk together, and it was like the day after I got ordained as a minister and a priest. We got blind drunk together the first time we met, and he’s on camera. There’s some really good stuff. We ended up falling down this hill because I was trying to attack these Americans. We were also interviewing all these Americans about George Bush and stuff like that. Dave is so funny on some of that footage. He talks about his alien abduction and a whole heap of stuff. And when you think about Killing Joke recording inside the Great Pyramid in Cairo, I’ve got all that footage. Amazing archives full of the whole thing. So the answer is yes. We will do something, and we are doing something.”

In the future, Coleman also has some bold plans in regards to another Killing Joke album with something quite different to what they’ve attempted in the past.

“I still have many aspirations with Killing Joke. One of them is to make a very cheap album with inferior instruments. I want to write four pieces of music in four different places in the world, and everyone has a two hundred pound budget to buy their instruments. It’s kind of unplugged taken to the extreme. That way we’ll be able to show just who we are as musicians, regardless of the budget. I want to make this as a documentary also. I think there’s so much fun to be had. It’s so much fun.”

And finally, we leave the last few words from Coleman himself. Clearly, the man isn’t as mad or deranged as many have labelled (imagined) him as in the past.

“People believe that I believe in the apocalypse. I don’t! The apocalypse is the end of the world. I believe in continuity, that we will always survive. I believe that the human race will go through a lot of suffering and what have you, but will basically survive as a race. I hang onto that belief. I don’t think people are aware of my fundamental beliefs of the resurrection of nature in the end, and that man has a place within a resurrected earth. There’s fish still in the ocean, and there are tree still. The most corrupt people on the planet, the oil men and the nasties, they want to chop down all the rain forests, crashing and burning away. They want more motorcars on the roads. We’re all just sitting back watching our world being destroyed. Science gives us less than a fifty percent chance of survival to the end of the century. I absolutely go against this. I think that what we need is scholars and think tanks to say, ‘What are the draconian measures needed to reverse this destructive process?’ Then I think we then need to abide by those rules, quite frankly.”