(This article originally appeared in Ragamuffin).
All that Jaz
Legendary punk band Killing Joke are back.
|Darkly mesmerising and wildly controversial, Belinda Nash discovers thereís more to front man Jaz Coleman than Killing JokeÖ|
My heart is beating, fast, the phone is dialing and I am about to talk to a man whoís life has taken such profound twists and turns: a classical composer, ordained priest and punk icon all in the same breath. "Hello, am I talking to Jaz?" "Yes". "I believe you live in my country. " "Uh?" "Youíre not Jaz? Jaz Coleman? " "No, not me, youíll be wanting to talk to Jaz, not me, Iím Jaz too... are you one of those people who say suvun instead of seven?" "Yis. I say yo-git instead of yoghurt and vite-a-mun instead of vitamin" (laughs). "Iíll get Jaz, heís sitting on the couch right here in front of me."
And so it begins. "We started Killing Joke in Ď78 but didnít get our first record released until Ď79 (Turn to Red, funded entirely with money from his then girlfriend). Assuming we donít get run over by a London bus, we have every intention of just continuing and playing our music, until death do us part," he laughs. And what a laugh. A laugh that carries with it the gravel-voiced echoes of a life lived in the dirtiest, darkest, most conniving shadows, yet still emerging to the brightest light. There is clearly nothing bland about Jaz Coleman.
Front man of Killing Joke, the punk band now in its 25th year, he now lives on a secluded island in New Zealandís sub-tropical climes where he fishes with fellow band member, Geordie Walker, and seeks the Truth. A truth he finds as a priest, and in his band, with guitarist Walker, bassist Youth and Paul Ferguson on drums. "What a band it is," he laughs, "Geordie is a qualified architect, can score for full orchestra and is a great producer having worked with the likes of McCartney and Crowded House."
Few bands can survive the turbulence of a quarter century, few bands can cite being the musical influence to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Metallica, The Cult, Skinny Puppy, Ministry, Faith No More, Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden, and no bands are like Killing Joke. "Recently I was forced to look back upon the years and see how profoundly Killing Joke has effected so many different artists, I feel quite emotional and very proud. I am really lucky to go out with the guys I really love and make this music."
With their new album The Death and Resurrection Show out now, Coleman is flying high. "The thing I find overwhelmingly shocking, is a band can get its definitive work, which I think this album is, in its 24th year. Itís the first time Iíve liked every track, ever. This album [eleventh] blows everything weíve ever done in our past away."
Produced by "a great musician and long time friend and referee of Killing Joke," Andy Gill (former guitarist with Gang of Four), The Death follows 1996ís Democracy and welcomes Dave Grohl on drums (frontman with the Foo Fighters and former drummer with Nirvana). As the group prepares for their worldwide tour starting this summer with the UKís V2003 and Reading, Coleman is forced to shake off any cobwebs. "Iím gradually adjusting my body to two hours of intensity every night. Iím not thinking of what it means to have 150 concerts in front of me."
Having Dave Grohl on the new album marks closure for Killing Joke and Nirvana Ė who blatantly stole the riff from Killing Jokeís 1985 track Eighties for their epic Come As You Are. But Coleman isnít bitter. "The first time I actually met Dave was in Auckland in January, and he listens to Killing Joke more than I do. Yes, of course we have an interesting collective history, there was tension between the Killing Joke camp and the Nirvana camp. When Dave first went out with me in Auckland, I went ĎDave youíve got something to confess to me, my soní. Laughs. He went ĎIím sorry Jaz, Iím sorry about Eighties.í We laughed (and got shit-faced). Iím struck by the manís sincerity. That chapter fortunately is at a close and what a lovely way to finish. It could have ended in court and I guess we could have been really rich from it, but lifeís too short."
Though, in what may seem an enviable life, what is enviable is not the life he leads, but the passion, fervour and commitment with which he leads it. A commitment that has often spilled over to become obsession, with devastating effect. "If Iím honest, before we did this record, I ended my second marriage and that process is pretty painful; I suppose. Iíve taken my music too far; It was only in my early thirties when I made a huge commitment to music: Iím going to do this for better, for worse, for the rest of my life. Itís a nasty, painful process." He walked out on his first wife, a doctor of psychology who vehemently loathed music, and his three young daughters in the early Nineties.
Not a man, then, to approach anything in half measures, Coleman has lived with a mercenary who supplied weapons for the Iranian embassy siege, been registered manic depressive, survived tours on Prozac and remembers a childhood of racism, bullying, fighting and classical music. He has an abnormally high IQ and was on the brink of virtuoso stardom when, aged 14, the final straw landed. And boy did it break his back; he dropped out of school and life as he knew it. Coleman went punk. "I was born in Cheltenham, white Anglo-Saxon place and my family were Anglo Asian. Being in a fight was very much part of my childhood. I used to go to school with a knot in my stomach. I think being bullied and dealing with those things at school is good, you have to deal with it. Yeah, I did have a lot of resentment for a long time about this.
"We were a pretty disciplined, academic family and my life was waking up in the morning, two hours on the piano, and two hours again when I got home from school and it was like that seven days a week. And when I started bumming out and becoming a punk I had a basic discipline with myself and music." He pauses. "Iíve got lots to thank Mum for."
The cathedral choirboy realised that what he was learning in school was basically useless, but sometimes youíve got to run away to be able to come home. "I donít really look back with any sense of nostalgia at the past. Thereís a lot of things I like about being in my forties, thereís a greater sense of articulacy (pauses) Iím as happy as a man can get. My band has affected two generations of music, Iíve got three fantastic daughters and I work with great orchestras." Coleman acknowledges what sets him apart from his contemporaries is his ability to be able to effortlessly move between musical genres. "I like the extremes of going from classical to keeping my role as a singer within Killing Joke. I canít find anyone else within the music industry who has such a diverse lifestyle with music. One day I was working with the Royal Opera House and then straight over to be on stage with Godflesh.
"ĎExtremesí is apt definition for the man. "Iím an ordained priest and Iíve got a church in New Zealand. When someone like me becomes a priest itís the end of all priesthood," he laughs (itís that laugh). "I like to shock myself. Iím breakaway: Iím Gnostic in my beliefs: I believe. I do not accept a virgin birth with the Virgin Mary impregnated by a ghost and donít go along with the literal meaning of the resurrection. I see myself as a radical. Iím still very much interested in the mystery traditions as well and I have no problems reconciling that with my faith. Ultimately, weíre pagan in Killing Joke. Weíve always celebrated moons with drums. So, in one sense, we donít differentiate between when weíre playing with drums and celebrating, or when weíre on stage."
Coleman is in Brighton this summer to share his accumulated wisdom of music and the occult at Occulture 2003. In his remarkable search, which has taken him to await the end of the world in Iceland in 1982 to the much more sedate man who now passes his days fishing on the ĎIsland at the end of the earthí (an island he sought since the Seventies), Coleman lends his own heartfelt exploration of the sacred occult traditions. "Iím demonstrating some aspects of the occult in Brighton. The word Occult just means hidden; there is a lot of unnecessary implication about using the word. The reason why views that were contrary to the Church were called occult, was because if you were caught practising anything other than Christianity, you were put to death for several centuries. I feel there should be less mystification of the mystery tradition. I think that itís to know the Truth, to not feel conned, about life, about where we come from. Itís just a personal quest. We lead such a short life and you have to gain some perspective on this existence. Although I donít wish to evangelise at all, our spiritual lives are really a very private and special thing."
After yet another epic world tour for Killing Joke, life will settle down once more for him as he wiles away his days (probably fishing) until the next album, the next global campaign, the next leap of faith. Meanwhile: "Iím as happy as I think Iíve been; nothingís perfect, but life is good, Iíve got absolutely nothing to complain about. You wonít get me moaning about the music industry, Iíve had too much fun and have no regrets at all." Life is a miracle, and thereís lots to be thankful for, especially if youíre Jaz Coleman.