(From Undercover, Australian-based music magazine, 11 November 2003.)
Jaz Coleman formed Killing Joke back in '78. From that day on the band has been impossible to pigeon-hole. They are metal, but then again they aren't. They have dabbled in dance, but don't even think about calling them a dance band. Basically this is a band who are forever reinventing themselves.
Coleman leads the band but behind him is a powerhouse bass player who goes simply by his last name, Youth. Youth are worked with everyone from Oakenfold to Bananarama and Crowded House to Paul McCartney.
Coleman is likewise musically ambidextrous. As well as conducting Killing Joke, he also conducts orchestras.
The story may sound bizarre but it is very interesting.
Jaz Coleman spoke to Undercover's Tim Cashmere.
Tim Cashmere: How are you?
Jaz Coleman: Hahaha! I'm in fighting form. The band is explosive! Things have been explosive, absolutely wonderful! I'm in Salt Lake City at the moment. It's freezing cold.
TC: Soon you'll be here, it's just starting to warm up…
JC: You're in Melbourne yeah? Ahhh yes, Melbourne. Know it well! Hahaha! Well you know since we played there in Melbourne… it was a long time ago. Never mind!
TC: Well you've just released your self titled album, which is getting great reviews. How do you feel to still be doing this after twenty five years?
JC: Surprised. Surprised, but my voice is stronger, the band plays better and our contribution to innovation is as it always was, well we're doing this now for the right reasons and it shows, it sounds like it. It's been emotional during this album, in fact it was emotional doing all mixes, it was fantastic putting the drums down with Dave Grohl, a great experience, it's a combination of two things. We did the album in the U.K., which you know, I don't live in the U.K., I can't stand the place… or the Queen… and of course it was the preparation for this blatantly illegal war. There was this horrible atmosphere in England. It was a nation who felt they had no control over their destiny and they felt that democracy was a complete sham. I guess you must've felt the same down under?
TC: Yes, but actually leading up to the war I was living in England at the time.
JC: So you know what I'm talking about, but I think [John] Howard is a traitor to your nation. Blair is a traitor to the British people and thank god I got four passports!
TC: Four passports?
JC: Hahaha! That's correct, yes!
TC: Where do you live at the moment?
JC: At the moment in the Czech Republic. I'm conducting the orchestras over there, Czech Philharmonic and Prague Symphony orchestra. I'm working with Czech Phil and I've done two Nigel Kennedy albums a concerto with him and his new one east on east. I did Sarah Brighton's new record. I did my first opera at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and then I switch over, like the schitzoid I am, to Killing Joke.
TC: When you're switching over like that, how easily does an album like this come to mind?
JC: I think we've all been through a lot of things. I think we've had a lot of people die on us and some pretty tragic things have happened around us and I think that must've played a part. Also there is wisdom in getting old and getting into your forties. My personal freedom now is far greater than it was twenty years ago, so I don't really have any major complaints then. I don't look back with nostalgia, but with great amusement.
TC: …and how did Dave Grohl fit into all of this?
JC: Well we were going to have three drummers originally on four tracks each or three tracks each or something like that. They were going to be Danny from Tool - who incidentally is upstairs as I speak - he was going to play something. We were going to have John from System of a Down and we were going to have Dave as well, but when Dave came in and heard everything, he said "I want to do this, this is mine." So there you go, that's how it happened.
TC: Danny from Tool is an amazing drummer, so that obviously shows how highly you rate Dave.
JD: He's a fucking killer drummer! Dave's fantastic too and the great thing about both of them is that unlike all the other drummers we've had, they're nice people! Hahaha!
TC: What do you use in the band for the live show?
JC: We've got Ted Parsons who is of Swans and Prawn tradition. He's brilliant too! We've got multiple options when it comes to drummers and that's me, Raven and Geordie, because you know in Killing Joke we've got two bass players, Raven and Geordie, so both of them have different qualities. I favor Raven live in more ways than one and he makes me laugh, but Youth's great too, so when you fall out with one you go with the other and when you fall out with one you go with the other.
TC: So if only you could have two musicians for every instrument…
JC: Well you see they've both done five albums each and of course you can see the political problem on the eleventh album! You could say that me and Geordie are the grandmasters of the union, the senior members! Those people who have done the most campaigns in Killing Joke, they're the people who make the major decisions, which is me and Geordie.
TC: Talking about the lyrics on this album, as has been the case with previous albums, it is quite political. Particularly the tracks 'Blood on your Hands' and 'Total Invasion'.
JC: Absolutely. Let me be very clear about this, the chorus of 'Blood on your Hands'; "Five corporations earn more than forty six nations" fact. I find that unacceptable and immoral. What ever happened to monopoly commission? That's not the world I want to live in. I find the whole GM crop thing, I find the whole American empire thing, I find it's a point of time in history where I look at the human condition where everyone is just accepting it. Accepting the fact that we've really been taken over. Tony Blair can't even fire a nuclear weapon because of the trident missile system; he needs permission to use it from Washington. You'll never get rid of Pine Gap unless a fucking great asteroid drops on it. That'd be good wouldn't it?
TC: Do you often find that people miss the point of the band?
JC: I couldn't give a fuck mate. You know what? Probably they can't understand a word I'm saying, but coherence is failure in a way, because people feel what I'm saying. If you don't believe it you'll have to come and see me, you'll have to come and see the band live. It's ritualistic, it's ceremonial. We don't use any light show or anything like that, we're completely anti all of this, it's just the music and we play and we play and we play.
TC: You're in America right now, so how does the American audience take all this, if they are listening to your point of course?
JC: It's not anti-America. I'm a Brit, fundamentally, although I would say my allegiance is to New Zealand primarily, but I'm a Brit and the fact is it's dangerous for Australians, Brits and U.S. citizens to go to many parts of the world because we're hated. I feel a sense of empathy with Aussies, British people or American people and I talk openly about it, well I have the last three gigs, and they've really responded to it well because no one likes to feel bad, these people here, because the American people are good people but corruption is at the highest level. What shocks me about it is that all these people just blindly say "We'll follow you and do whatever you say" and everyone woke up to the fact that democracy is hypocrisy and it's a farce, it's a lie, it's a sham.
TC: Is there anywhere in the world that it still does exist?
JC: Across the Tasman. The New Zealanders have more balls than your Prime Minister.
TC: Well that's very true.
JC: She said "No! We're just a little country of four million." Your country should've said no too.
TC: My plan for Australia is to get all twenty million of us over to New Zealand. That way John Howard can just sit there and do what he wants with it.
JC: Why not? Do it! It's a bit more expensive than Aussie though, I think so. A little bit more, but New Zealand, after you live in the Czech Republic, you realise it's a third world western country. In '97, the whole of electricity to Auckland was cut off because of a faulty power line and trains were better a hundred years ago! Hahaha!
TC: How long were you in New Zealand for?
JC: Seventeen years. I've crossed the boundary. My kids say "Yis" instead of "Yes" unfortunately. Hahaha! You know what? When I got citizenship of New Zealand I took it very seriously, it was a big deal. When I worked with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and became composer of Auckland Phil and then had an influence in changing the national anthem, I was a very proud boy, even though "60 Minutes" dubbed me as subversive and I got lots of death threats and rednecks.
Killing Joke Australian Tour Dates
19-Nov-03 Killing Joke Sydney Metro
21-Nov-03 Killing Joke Brisbane Arena
23-Nov-03 Killing Joke Melbourne Palace