(From the Minneapolis Star Tribune, 31 October 2003.)

Killing Joke's Jaz Coleman is the Devilish Uncle of Punk

Christina Schmitt, special to the Star Tribune

Jaz Coleman is a wicked punk charmer from way back, a metalhead who is into mysticism and has a mother lode of things to discuss -- from politics to the other punk icons he has known and worked with, from Joy Division's Ian Curtis to the omnipresent Dave Grohl.


Talk with him long enough, and Coleman is guaranteed to mention prophecies from Isaiah (not a punk icon) and the search for islands at the end of the world.


Those who know anything about Killing Joke, which formed during the late-'70s U.K. punk explosion, seem to know much about its freaky history, including Coleman's leaving the band in the mid-'80s for Iceland because he felt a prophecy told him to do so.


Those who grew up in southern California during that time will tell you they couldn't go to a school dance without hearing the band's classic "Eighties." That song is now best known for supplying the riff that Kurt Cobain lifted for Nirvana's "Come As You Are."


On the phone from New York as the band begins a U.S. tour that stops at the Fine Line in Minneapolis on Monday, the 43-year-old Coleman is "delighted" to see two generations of punks bang their heads on the wall.


"I've had interviews where the people interviewing me, they've been brought up on Killing Joke, force-fed it by their parents," he says.


And of course he knows where Minneapolis is. "I've been coming through Minneapolis half my life," he says with a laugh. "I've been touring through there since 1980."


Industrial-strength Grohl


1980 might be four presidents ago, but his band's latest, "Killing Joke," is not an old man's record. It's hard, it's fast, and it sounds like the industrial and death metal the kids are still into today.


Coleman always has been known as a curmudgeon who spits out his world views. Current events, especially the war in Iraq, continue to be his fuel.


"It's in self-defense," he says of Killing Joke's angry tones. "I believe the war in Iraq has been a hasty, miscalculated course of action. [The song] 'Total Invasion' -- what we're talking about is that this action had no U.N. sanction, that we have basically destroyed all international law. The implications of this could be horrendous."


Killing Joke songs are complex, but they do rock. Grohl plays drums on the new CD, and Coleman says it's his heavy hitting that makes the industrial rhythms groove.


"Our original idea was to have three drummers play on the album: Dave Grohl; the drummer from Tool, Danny [Carey], and John [Dolmayan] from System of a Down. When Dave heard it, he said, 'I want to do the whole album,' " Coleman says. "He's a sheer delight. We got drunk massively together. He's a demon of a drummer."


When Coleman, a classically trained musician, isn't setting diatribes to hardcore music, he's busy with other projects, such as penning songs for classical orchestras in New Zealand. To appreciate the complexity of his songwriting, listen to the song "Implant" and its 6/4 meter. "That's six crotchet beats [whole notes] to the bar, my darling," Coleman says. "It's not a normal rhythm. Most rock records are in 4/4 -- how dull."


The record also features other Killing Joke trademarks: Coleman's growls and otherworldly rasps; the evil metal guitar from Geordie, the band's co-founder; bass lines from the two bass players who have done stints in the band through the years, Youth and Raven.


The whole thing was brought together by producer Andy Gill, guitarist from the legendary U.K. funk-punk act Gang of Four. "His very rare vintage wine has been very depleted," Coleman says of Gill. "There's not a lot of people who could keep up with this lot, my little nest of vipers, as I call them."


He and Geordie are touring with Raven on bass, because Youth is "a bit fat and going through a conservative phase in his life," Coleman says. On drums is Ted Parsons, a veteran of the very evil New York band the Swans. Things have been going well, Coleman says, "although I have already driven one of my assistants mad."


You could spend days asking him for stories from his other 20 years of touring, such as when Killing Joke played shows with Public Image Limited and Joy Division.


"They used to refer to us in the press as 'Northern Gloom,' as in Joy Division, and 'Southern Stomp' for Killing Joke," Coleman says with a laugh.


Word has it that he also worked with the Sugarcubes when they were just a nascent band from Iceland, but even if you didn't get the chance to ask him if he knew Björk, that can wait until another rap session.



Killing Joke

Opening: Amen.

When: 9 p.m. Mon.

Where: Fine Line Music Cafe, 318 1st Av. N., Mpls.

Tickets: $16. 651-989-5151.

Web: http://www.killingjoke.com


Christina Schmitt is a Minneapolis freelance writer.