(From Stool Pigeon, UK quarterly music magazine, Autumn 2005.)
by Tony Gunnarsson
Oh man, interviewed the singer from Killing Joke on
Thursday. That was fucking crazy. P--- told me the band were in a studio
recording vocals for their new record and I should go down, and, of course, I
was over the moon thinking that I'd be able to hang out with old timers and
maybe hear some new songs. Alrighty! I get the address (off Pitfield Street
in Hoxton), turn up and find out the place is essentially a squat. A white
stoner dude with dreads opens up and I walk in to find three old geezers
smoking the puff-puff-jammy and drinking rum and cokes. The singer, Jaz, who
looks a bit like Andy McCoy from Hanoi Rocks (black long hair, cowboy hat),
starts chatting a bit and then everything suddenly turns into some sort of
ex-criminal, ex-junky, and white-Rasta convention. The talk is about dealing
heroin back in the eighties and some other shit. After a few drinks and some
business, I'm pretty much part of the gang. He he.
Then the door knocks and in walks this fucking douchebag called George Dalston who's the Times Magazine pop critic. He's there to interview them for some CD biography or whatever. The professional journalist (notice the contrast with me - by this stage I'm starting to feel at home, glass of rum in hand, and so much the amateur journalist that I haven't even turned on my dictaphone or even mentioned the interview I'm supposed to do) looks like one of the Rolling Stones (same generation) and definitely has some sort of public school background. He's dressed up in a vintage-style denim jacket, a la Hawkwind in 1968, that he probably bought at Rockit (Brick Lane branch) for a meagre £185, and an Indian-style shirt with some fancy stuff on it. "Oh, the sixties were so hot, man," his clothes seems to suggest. He acts like he's at Buckingham Palace.
After a little while, the geezers, minus Jaz, retire to the basement to listen to the mixes (luckily, the music coming from down below was loud enough for me to get a sneak preview, but more about that later) and the pro, the am, and the rock star sit down at a table. Dictaphones and papers are brought forth, and the journos prepare their assault. The rock star pours a fresh round of vintage Jamaican rums, served ice-cold with Coke (although the pro journo declines, which reminds me of how the police are in the comic books I read as I kid - "No thanks, I never drink on duty") and the battle begins. Questions are fired left, right and centre, and Jaz responds in broadslides of proclamations and monologues lasting as long as 30 minutes. Hashish smoke, broken glasses, snus, Killing Joke CD-Rs, half cigarettes, wax candles, and a copy of Decline of the West litter the battlefield and produce a magnificent panorama of human consternation. The discussion is made up 90 per cent of Jaz's constant but intelligent delivery on subjects like global warming ("there will be a noticeable difference from March next year... air-flight will be the privilege of the rich"), his influences, literature, art, booze, drugs etc. etc.
After 1.5 hours, the pro from the Times declares his intention to leave. "I will certainly have this day to remember, Jaz," he says. I stay on to talk with Jaz on a more informal level. The engineer, whatever his name is, suggests a Vietnamese on "K" (meaning Kingsland Road - old slang?), and we all head out to eat, drink more, and talk about further interesting subjects - Easter Island, Israel, women, Iceland, tours, records. Finally, I say my good-byes and stumble home. Job done.
Killing Joke are playing soon, dude, and I can't stress how much we need to go - not only because their singer gave me free booze, or because I am totally unable to write anything sensible about them after enjoying such surprising hospitality, but because the band, which I have naturally been listening to every day for the last few weeks (not to mention a whole lot in the past), are something weirdly unique. I am unable to define why, but I guess it comes down to their first record from 1979, which is really great. And now after 25 years, they're releasing another record, which is just as good as their first. (Oh, I shoulda said that they've made records all through those 25 years, though not all good.)
In a few words: they are poetic in their message and they're more than just another band - not because they've been at it for 25 years, but because they genuinely work hard. They currently rehearse every day (what other dinosaur rock band do that?) and Jaz says things that he means, like: "If we can't make a contribution to innovation, we may as well pack it in." Damn, I am starting to sound like a freak now. Let me try another angle...
Here's a very short line from their song 'Seeing Red', which is on their last album: "They are dropping bombs again / And they're doing it in your name." I like it because of its simplicity. It's fucking CLEAR. The governments are killing in our names. AGAIN!
Overall, though, Killing Joke are seen as being something of a doomsday band - you know, singing about "the end" and nuclear war. But they have been largely misunderstood. What they are saying is: "The end is near, but don't worry life goes on and we should celebrate it in the meantime." I find this extremely attractive. It is anything but the "let things just be" attitude that seems to be common nowadays. Theirs is a message of rationale, intelligence, aesthetics, AND life. Don't ignore things, they're saying, but make sure you and this is a very important aspect of Killing Joke if I understand them correctly DANCE LIKE A MOTHERFUCKER!
Let's go to this show, get drunk and dance.
Here's a quote from Jaz that tells you something about them: "We were really cynical about the music industry. We saw groups that had high ideals and then, when they had come out through the machinery, theyıd lost all of their ideals. We did not want to end up like that. So, our first question was: 'What do we want to achieve out of this?' And the answer was: 'We wanna inspire other people to do whatever their gift from God is.' Or whatever their 'true will is, as we call it. So it was a renaissance at the end of the day - to inspire other people. We had this idea that Killing Joke is a mirror. And what you see in us, you can do too; that the stage is an audience and the audience is a stage."
Thanks for listening.