(From the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian daily newspaper, 14 November 2003.)

Died laughing

Dave Grohl (left) has heard Jaz Coleman's "groupie" anecdote one too many times.


November 14, 2003

Jaz Coleman ran away to Iceland in 1982, convinced that only the northern wasteland had any hope of evading an impending worldwide apocalypse. The occult-fixated Coleman's actions didn't surprise anybody in the music press - he'd already been dubbed "mad" by some of the British contingent.


Welcome to the seriously screwloose world of Killing Joke, the British industrial rock band that inspired Metallica, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana.


Here's a story: former Nirvana drummer, now Foo Fighter and longtime Joke fan, Dave Grohl, pounds the skins on the re-formed Joke's new and stirring self-titled album.


Yet a decade or so ago, the two bands were at loggerheads.


Nirvana's 1991 anthem, Come As You Are, uses a slowed-down version of the guitar riff of the 1985 Killing Joke song Eighties. At the time, the band didn't file a copyright infringement lawsuit due to financial and personal reasons.


No one denied it, though. The band's then manager, Danny Goldberg, owns up to it in the book Eyewitness Nirvana: The Day By Day Chronicle. In it, he says: "Kurt was nervous about Come As You Are because it was too similar to a Killing Joke song [Eighties]."


Coleman blasts past that with a cackle - truly, he cackles - and proceeds with his own agenda. This is not so much an interview as Coleman having a rant.


He's barmy, a cracked genius who also is the resident composer for the Prague Symphony Orchestra, was resident composer of the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra (1992-95), wrote an opera, The Marriage of Cana (about a performance portraying the marriage of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene), and has earned a doctorate of theology in his adopted homeland of New Zealand.


"I'm going to have a big party to give my British passport back now I'm a New Zealand citizen," says Coleman. "It's not safe to have a British or Australian passport, anyway, these days."


And with that, he leaps into a long and libellous rant about John Howard ("I hear he has no balls") and Pauline Hanson.


Coleman is in Denver, Colorado, where it's snowing. The Joke are on tour and it seems life on the road is as, er, fun, as ever.


"We had a day off yesterday, which is very hard on the voice, not to mention the body."


Why? "Oh, because we always pick on each other when there's nothing to do and end up in a fight.


"Our guitarist, [co-founder] Geordie [Walker], might have a broken bone in a leg, so he might have to play sitting on a stool. Not that it will make much difference; he never moves around much, anyway. And he's not much to look at." Add cackle.


"What's really funny is that he keeps all his drinks on top of the amps and now he won't be able to reach them so he'll probably have to sip water from a straw." Cackle.


Killing Joke formed 25 years ago. They have broken up and re-formed several times, recorded many albums and produced two true talents - Coleman and noted producer and multi-instrumentalist, Youth.


Coleman boasts that if you include his classical and Arabic records, he has made 38 albums: "I'm only 43, so next year I'm going to record five albums and catch up with my age." The cackle really is irresistible.


"I feel like I've crammed so many lives in my lifetime. Oops, there goes another one."


Lateral leap. "The thing about being on the road for us is that it is all about controlling the drinking. We have designated drinking days and designated non-drinking days.


"We're not alcoholics, we're drunks - the difference is we don't go to AA meetings. We stop every now then and smoke some marijuana, then drink some Scotch and have a fight again.


"It's like a band of monkeys on wheels. You know, people don't grow up with age. I wish I could say they did. They don't."


Coleman then confides that he has also survived two marriages, has a 26-year-old girlfriend whose IQ is at least 40 points higher than his own, and is creating an all-women chamber orchestra from the members of the Prague Symphony and Czech Philharmonic orchestras.


"It's been called my symphony of bitches," he says. "But they are all beautiful and talented. It's this weird, macabre chamber orchestra."


Music never really enters the conversation, except for Coleman inquiring a couple of times whether it should before beetling off on another sideline. And he does finally get round to the cranking, melody-laden, churning new record.


It's full of fear and loathing, ecological philosophising, clenched fists and passionate belief. Good yummy gear, just like the early Killing Joke classics such as the magnificent single, Wardance, and their definitive self-titled debut.


Punk? The Joke were beyond punk. A record company publicist summed up their live show once as like seeing "hell on Christmas Day".


"To make an album like the latest one you have to go through hell," says Coleman.


"All our friends were dying, our mums and dads were dying. It was like, 'Give us a happy ending; somebody give us a happy ending.'


"We recorded it in Britain where we were surrounded by a whole nation that didn't want to go to war [against Iraq] - a people having no control of their destiny and realising it. That was the vibe. But we triumphed, man. Even if the world is bloody stuffed."


Killing Joke, the wardance continues.


Where The Metro, 624 George Street, city
When Wednesday, 7.30pm
How much $54.40
Bookings 9287 2000