(This article originally appeared in The Brag, an Australian music magazine, 4 August 2003).


Rattlesnake Ritual

Mysticism, the Armageddon, Iceland, Paranoia and Dread.

Killing Joke by Jake Stone


OK, know this: Killing Joke frontman Jaz Coleman is the weirdest and most bizarrely prolific musician to ever dress just as poorly as my dad. Leather. Sports T-shirt. Rumpled hangover face. Dirty black jeans and Adidas runners. If he got drunk and fell asleep at a train station, you might throw change at him.

He is also a supremely intelligent man, whose intellect and extensive classical study has allowed him to move between, oddly enough, rasping and screaming at the biting edge of 14 post-punk Killing Joke releases, composing and conducting original symphonic music for the New Zealand Symphony orchestra, collaborating with Phillip Glass, achieving chart-topping releases on the Classical Billboard by transposing and arranging Pink Floyd, The Who, Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stones tunes for orchestra, and writing the score to movies like Weird Science (a youthful favourite) and Showgirls. There's more, but it involves phrases like "studying in Minsk", "Cairo Conservatorium" and "Hungarian master", and is too Lord Of The Musical Rings for me to write up here.

Killing Joke are the only band I've ever interviewed whose fear of the Apocalypse forced them to flee to Iceland. They recorded a goddamn song in the goddamn King's Chamber of the goddamn Great Pyramid in Egypt for Christ's sake.

Oh, and Dave Grohl plays on their new album.

He [Jaz] doesn't sleep more than 4 hours a night when he is working, splitting himself between two jobs in a variety of countries and drinking up to two bottles of wine a day, a practise that can send him "right around the fucking bend".

He's managed to stop drinking for two months, something he periodically manages in order to get his head into gear for touring and conducting. Once those responsibilities are over, "the dam breaks". The drinking works to cope with the panic attacks he has trouble pinning down in our interview. He's evasive, talking about "lying to yourself", knots in his solar plexus, and the body as an "amazing machine". He talks all over me; he has his own agenda. He tries to underplay the success of his classical work (in an unconvincing fashion), prizing the thrill of achieving modest commercial success from within the "tribal and family-orientated social structure of Killing Joke". The structure itself has changed many times since the band formed in 1979, breakups and bickering credited to Coleman's fuckup rattlesnake temper.

He admits that Killing Joke "thrives on friction". It's not difficult to believe that in the space of 11 albums, the band have never recorded one love song. Hardly surprising for a band that used to share the stage with a young Joy Division, a period he describes as "an amazing time, a time when you didn't have to be a musician to play music."

"The best music is about freedom, and the fear that freedom is being taken away from us".

The latest release comes 8 years after the last album, and contains a significant element of Dali-esque "critical paranoia". I have no idea what that means.  Regardless, Coleman is confident about the latest record: "I've never had 100,000 advance sales before; we haven't peaked too soon".

He's an outspoken motherfucker, too. How's this? "I never liked Lennon-McCartney. Nice songs, but I never felt like this kind of music. I don't identify with that in the atomic age. Last year India and Pakistan really did get close to nuclear war. I don't relate to this hippy shit".

He credits the move toward sample-based music as being responsible for "the worst time in music's history", hoping that someone will "pull the plug out of the wall so we can see who is fucking who". He doesn't comment on New Order's interest in the genre directly.

At some point, Killing Joke fled to Iceland to escape an apocalyptic event they felt sure was about to occur. They came up with this hit prediction after dabbling with the fucking OCCULT and finding a bible passage that Jaz can quote verbatim (10 years later) that talks about "islands at the ends of the Earth". This was eventually his reason for moving to New Zealand, that and the fact that in New Zealand he can "see a hundred years into the future".

Although that sounds sort of scary, like something a homocidal bum might hiss at you just before he perforated your eardrum with a sharpened skewer, Coleman is actually talking about ecology. Permaculture. Doesn't mean he isn't a psycho. He suddenly says things like "it's good to attack when they least expect it, because you aren't really attacking, you are just moving into space". Yeeees. Oh, yeeeeeeeeeeeesssssss. Anyway, he freaks me out and interests me more and more, and then sums up Killing Joke as "catharsis, a social function for me to rid myself of my sense of dread and paranoia". Killing Joke: That's Grinnin' Music!