(This article originally appeared in the online magazine Compact Disc World)

Jaz Coleman: The Liner Notes Interview

by Joel Gausten

For over two decades, Jaz Coleman has perpetually pushed the boundaries of modern music. As longtime leader of U.K. innovators Killing Joke, he brought a sophistication to the brutal aesthetic of punk with a rhythm-heavy sound that has influenced everyone from Metallica to Sugar Ray. As a classical arranger, he introduced rock fans to a whole new world with his symphonic interpretations of such artists as Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. His latest creation, Riders On The Storm - The Doors Concerto, is an intriguing new look at the music of the Doors, one of the most vital bands of the 1960s. Aided by virtuoso violinist Nigel Kennedy, Coleman puts a moving spin on such Doors classics as “The Unknown Soldier,” “The End” and “Spanish Caravan.”
Liner Notes recently spoke to the multi-talented Jaz about his long and varied career.

Liner Notes: I’m sure that creating The Doors Concerto was quite an undertaking. When did the idea for it first arise, and how long did it take you to put it all together?

Jaz Coleman: It came about two years ago, and then I dreamt about it for one year. I thought about which pieces I should do, and what associations I had and what images came to mind when I thought of those pieces. I focused on that. It was like superimposing another image on the image. For example, “Spanish Caravan” has a Che Guevara association and the Vietnam War is obviously associated with “The Unknown Soldier.” I dreamt about it for one year, and then put pen to paper and just went consecutive days until it was finished. I have to get into an almost feverish pitch when I take on a big score. I become a very anti-social person. (laughs) Just before I was about to start doing this, a colleague of mine said to me, “Look, there’s this movie soundtrack. Why don’t you do this movie soundtrack instead of doing those fucking arrangements? You do them great, but they’re just fucking arrangements.” I was so angry, I couldn’t sleep for four nights. On the fourth morning, I was so exhausted and I was so fucking angry that he said this to me. I thought to myself, “We’re gonna take on this Doors Concerto and try to move heaven and earth with it. That fucker’s gonna eat his words.” (laughs) The reason why people have never done good arrangements of rock music before is that they don’t care. It’s just a job to them. I did it with as much passion as I do with any of my own music. You can’t think about not getting publishing or this or that. I just wanted it to be the best that I can get. I got to meet all the living members of the Doors, and they just fell in love with it. You can feel that Jim Morrison’s very close to them, and when they heard the music they were visibly moved. I couldn’t get a better compliment.
I quite consciously did a couple of very strange things I’m sure no other composer would do. From the beginning, I set out to communicate with the soul of Morrison through a violin. I felt that I really touched on something quite spiritual bringing Nigel in. I felt that I was privileged to get closer than anyone could ever get to the spirit of the Doors. By having the endorsement of the guys themselves, I believe that I succeeded in what I set out to do.

LN: You’ve often described your dual involvement with classical arranging and Killing Joke as a “schizophrenic dilemma.” Do you find it difficult at times to balance the two extremes?

JC: It’s strange. One minute, I’m playing for a few thousand people and they’re jumping off the balconies like lemmings, and the next minute I’m on stage with a symphony orchestra. I can’t reconcile the two yet. (laughs)

LN: What is the current status of Killing Joke?

JC: We’ll have a new album next year.

LN: The band is featured on the Free The West Memphis 3 benefit CD. Why did you decide to contribute to this cause?

JC: We’re all opponents of the death penalty. It’s as simple as that. You know what? If I even find somebody who’s pro-death penalty in my presence they’ll fucking get it! Civilization must be compassionate and must forgive at the end of the day. I don’t believe that man has the right to take life. I just don’t believe it, and that’s why we contributed.

LN: You’ve said that the primary role of a musician is to forge a primal connection between themselves and the audience. Do you think that technologies like Napster and the Internet benefit or hinder this connection?

JC: Someone said the other day that technology is at the extent now that people who can’t achieve orgasm can get an implant put in and have the same experience. The next fucking thing, you’ll be plugging your head into the computer! To me, the idea of our heads growing larger by being plugged into computers and doing less and less is personally appalling. It’s not for me. But, there are good things about the subversive side of the Net that are very interesting. But, I have no deep respect for technology. At the end of the day, I think that intelligence will be better applied sustaining natural resources.

LN: After all these years, is there one moment that will be forever etched in your mind?

JC: Oh, God! There’s so many! I’ll list a few. The experience of recording (with Killing Joke) in the Great Pyramids and coming out and having all of these musicians outside welcoming (Killing Joke bassist/producer) Youth and me. That was pretty bloody sensational. There are thousands of Killing Joke gigs... I can’t list them. There’s just too many in 22 years. It’s just been orgasmic, really. (laughs) I think all my dreams have come true. All I seek now is just to master what I’m doing. That’s all, really. Let’s be honest. I can have a few grand in my pocket and there’s nothing I want to spend it on, except for maybe something to drink. (laughs)

LN: Your CD collection is on fire. Which one do you save?

JC: I’d fuck the CDs off and I’d keep me drum.