(From the Boston Globe, 23 October 2003.)
No Joke, Industrial Rock Gods are Back
by Jim Sullivan
"I'M AN ETERNAL OPTIMIST," SAYS JAZ COLEMAN,
LEAD SINGER OF THE ONCE-AGAIN RESURRECTED BAND KILLING JOKE. "HOW CAN WE DARE
HAVE CHILDREN AND NOT BELIEVE IN THE FUTURE?"
Coleman readily admits this might fly in the face of perceptions about his band, which is noted for its harsh, grinding industrial rock and attacks on the system. It's one of a few apparent contradictions: Coleman, who trained as a classical musician as a child, was the resident composer of the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra in New Zealand from 1992-95, where he sometimes lives. He wrote an opera, "The Marriage of Cana," about a performance portraying the marriage of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene at the Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden in December 2002. He is currently a composer at the Prague Symphony Orchestra. Coleman is an ardent environmentalist. And he earned a doctorate of theology while in New Zealand, partially, he says, because he "found it funny. A dreadful sinner like me could be a priest."
When punk rock hit England in the mid-'70s, Coleman put classical music behind him. Killing Joke formed in 1978, made a big nasty noise (which influenced Nirvana, Ministry, and Nine Inch Nails, among many others), and went away during the late '80s. They never officially broke up. They got back together, parted company again, and reassembled this year. It is noted, during a recent interview from London with Coleman, that it seems like every time the United States goes to war with Iraq Killing Joke rises from the grave.
"I don't know why, but the war years work well for us, we've no complaints about it," says Coleman, with a sardonic laugh. More than a few of the band's songs concern the issue. Killing Joke plays intense music for tense times. Coleman adds that Killing Joke's music - as evidenced on its new eponymous disc - is also about "the war that goes on inside, inner turmoil. What is it about human beings where we have to destroy and create havoc? It beats me, but there you have it."
The idea, Coleman suggests, is not to wallow in the miasma, but to find a way to rise above it. "It's not enough to criticize the industrial cities of the world," he says. "It's more important to create a blueprint of something better, an ideal. These are the dreams at the heart of Killing Joke."
When Killing Joke got back together this latest time to record with producer and former Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill, they needed someone new to man the drum kit. Initially, they had hoped to employ drummers from System of a Down and Tool, as well as long-time fan Dave Grohl, ex-Nirvana drummer and guitarist for Foo Fighters. "But," says Coleman, "when Dave heard the record, he said 'I want to do all of it,' and we said 'fair enough' considering the obvious history of the band." That is, for Grohl there might be a measure of payback involved. Nirvana nicked the main riff from Killing Joke's song "Eighties" for "Come As You Are;" Coleman was tempted to sue but decided to take the high road. "Remember," Coleman says, "Dave is a fabulous drummer: We all prefer him as a drummer."
On this tour, which stops at Axis Saturday night, singer-keyboardist Coleman is joined by bassists Youth, Paul Raven, guitarist Geordie Walker, ex-Swans drummer Ted Parsons ("Dave's favorite drummer"), and a new keyboardist named Nick. When asked Nick's last name, Coleman says, "I don't know. Never bothered to ask him." Killing Joke has been playing 100-minute-plus shows on its tour - shows that Coleman says, still feel like rituals with new songs melding with the older ones. "We're coming to bring comfort to people," says Coleman. "It's like a sanctuary to people from the outside world. It feels like 50,000 volts going through my body."
Next year, says Coleman, Killing Joke continues and he undertakes orchestral duties. He says he prefers one to the other on some days but notes, of his classical life, "You can't have a slug of whiskey when you're conducting an orchestra. Your mind has to be right."