(From The Raft, music of all sorts site,  June 2005.)

Killing Joke- Interview with Jaz Coleman, JC



Killing Joke? "Who-hell-they?" you say. For the uneducated amongst us this is the band that created the rock scene as we know it. "Bollocks"- you cry. Let me clue you up, without these 'jokers' there would be no Nirvana as you know it therefore no Foo Fighters, maybe no Queens Of the Stone Age (God forbid), No Slipknot, no Rage Against The Machine and therefore no Audioslave... the list goes on. This group has been in existence since 1978, a date which doesn't register on my life scale let alone these charlatans donning black, playing electric with a screwdriver and calling it rock. They don't understand what's in the bones of this way of life.

With over 15 studio albums, Coleman himself with 39 recordings, this man is more than a rock star rather a rock- period. Oh and he composed New Zealand's national anthem... put that in your pipe and smoke it... literally.

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How was your gig last night with Motley Crue?

It was so hot that no one was absolutely, and I mean absolutely, nobody there in the audience! It was empty. We were told we had to do 30 minutes so we went on stage and did 30 minutes. I can't say it was an uplifting experience! [laughs]. The other 4 concerts were really great but I won't be doing that again. It was a good lesson, I do think we stole quite a few of the audience from Motley Crue, in Cardiff, Glasgow Manchester and... and....

CA: ...Birmingham

Birmingham NEC, that's right. We rocked the house. We came off really well. That's the last time I ever play second fiddle. Those big soulless venues have no decent bars. I'd rather book 3 or 4 nights in a smaller venue and have a great atmosphere, good sounds instead of those horrible barns these so-called arena bands work in. It's certainly not my intention for us to go down that angle.

Killing Joke has been around for 27 years

...over half my life! I was a teenager when I started [laughs]

and you've been rocking for longer. How have you managed to stay so aggressive and passionate about it?


I don't think we'd bother continuing if we didn't have anything to contribute to innovation. Other bands have re-formed over the last year and a bit. Obviously they're doing it because their accountants are telling them it's a good idea or something. That's not the case with Killing Joke, we have been putting gout records consistently since 1979, and I mean consistently. We do it because we really love the music and what Killing Joke means and it's incredible the knock-on effect Killing Joke have had obviously Nirvana and the American scene. Right across the board to the most unusual people. I'm proud we've had this creative influence. When you hear KJ on the radio or a band that sounds like KJ, we're always used as a reference point. It's such a short life, I mean, for god's sake. I have billionaire friends who have flown me and the band from Auckland to Frankfurt on private 747's- they're not happy people. I've still got all my boys living round the corner from each other. We have what we need to continue and we're not greedy beyond that, you know. I feel very proud of what we have accomplished.

 

You're obviously still going. Do you think killing joke has already left a legacy...a long time ago?

I certainly do...Yeah! We get people contacting us all the time. I can go through all the list of groups, that say that we... you know...it just goes on! It's just really funny. I really like looking over my shoulders seeing Geordie, we got a few lines on our faces, but we've earned them. It's great to have my people round me its not just that, I suppose what people don't know, is that we have this...we call them, the gatherers. There are the inner core of - we hate the word fans - people who appreciate Killing Joke and there the people who have really kept us going through thick and thin. Another generation after that most of the people who come to Killing Joke shows they were sperm swimming towards an egg.. (I think I was one of them...I was one of them!) [laughs]

It's a sad fact that John Peel pasted away recently. He was one of the boys that almost gave real music the chance because back then there weren't too many people willing to jump behind these.. he stood his ground.

Yeah he stood his ground. John we love you!

He stood his ground. He believed in what he believed in and he saw bands that in themselves and he brought them forward, and the people he brought forward have always succeeded without fail.

Sadly missed!

We need more people like him.. especially now.

You know, the other year, I went to one of those V2 festivals and all these festivals have all become so corporate. And the audience have become so corporate it's kind of... everything has to be done at the weekend because everyone has to go back to work on Monday. It's like the lifestyle, the dreams being forgotten. That's something that is sad. That's what makes you really old, when you loose your dream. My objectives with Killing Joke are really quite obscure; I don't think there is any band that has aspirations like Killing Joke. We don't want big mansions or anything like this...what we want is two villages with sustainable resources and we have village number one. On an island in the Pacific that's all in trust now. We're setting these perma-culture farms up that have springs. We're setting gardens up and we can invite people to stay there. We are setting the second one up in South America in Chile. This is the kind of legacy I want to leave. The world is hotting up really fast.. no one gives a fuck because there life is ok today. But our descendants are going to curse us. When they go to the oxygen stations, pay their ten dollars, to get some fresh oxygen because it's so polluted out there. We have had this kind of vision for years, and now is the time we actually put it together I bought the first area of land some twelve years ago, its worth 1.2 million. That is band property, we are setting up so it's ecologically sound the biggest danger to the world is not just the internal combustion engine, but its to flush toilets. When you see a city like New York where do you think all the shit goes? They just pump it into the sea...you wonder why we got no fucking fish left. Come on! We fly to the moon, we can do something. Well as Mahatma Ghandi said 'We shall nourish the crops and excrement of our people.' We have to find new ways of tackling what's coming.

People only care about it when it's too late. You know?

Well you see, the 'powers of be' have got everyone in debt, they keep everybody in debt, everybody busy, busy, busy. Thinking about stupid things like David Beckham so that they're not really aware of what's happening of in the world. What's happening...you can feel it in the air. It's an escalation of global warming that they're not telling the public about. There's probably a lot of other things the public shouldn't know about because it would threaten the infrastructure, everything.

You always.. I mean your songs and your opinions are always political, you've got a very strong political voice. Instead of classing your songs as political would you just say politics is something that runs in the blood.

I've voted once in my life. I've voted for the green party in New Zealand. So that's as far as it goes with politics. I don't believe in our system of democracy that we have at the moment. It's a two horse race and both horses are run by the same stable owner. When I was seventeen, I wanted to know two basic things. Who really runs the world in terms of the power structure - and it's not people like Mr Blair and Mr Bush at all. I studied international banking for three years in Switzerland and anyone who is interested should study Professor Carroll Quigley's Tragedy and Hope. It shows who paid for each war and why! No one had ever asked these questions before. Who pays for this war and why! And that's very interesting, you find out in the end like twelve families houses - banking houses - that run the whole damn lot... they should be hung! [Laughs]

I don't want to mention any names, since the French Revolution, in terms of the bankers in Europe funding the royalty.

European Union was set up with American money..
 

I mean.. ok, so what your saying is that Killing Joke have a political slant without being political?

Yeah I don't think we are political. What we seem to do as, best we can, alienate ourselves, from the status quo. None of us lived in the United Kingdom for years and years and years. Love my people, I love the way the British laugh, miss them to bits, but I just couldn't live here. There charge you for fresh air round here! I just don't know how you lot afford it.

We don't, we don't

When I lived in England, some, twelve years ago. I owned my own flat so there was no mortgage to pay. But it still cost me 500 a week, with the kids and everything. I just don't know how people manage it. They're in economic slavery, I don't think this is right. I don't like decisions that the government made about the Iraq war. I think, the force of it is it relies on the American contingence, behind the scenes, that seeks really global domination through privatization and globalization. If you own a nation's food supply, if you own their forest and their airports and you've got an air base there basically there an occupied vision. You'll never get the Americans out of this country. The owner is a fucking aircraft carrier, I love ordinary American people, but I'm very sympathetic to those small nations who say 'well we don't agree we don't want you in our country'.

The music scene these days is almost fashionable to come out and speak, be it about politics or the environment. Now that Coldplay and when Rage was still, Rage against the Machine, with all the members still there, they were quite out and out. What's your take on stuff like Live Aid concerts and concerts going on at the moment?

I got close to people, close to Geldof. I have mixed feelings for that man personally. What comes to mind is I remember seeing Paula Yates before she passed onto the next world. I know the god parents of their children who produced the last Killing Joke album. So I have quite a good insight to this character. I think that Mr. Geldof's intentions have been initially really good, you look at Live Aid, and anything that can help people suffering is good. We're going to Ethiopia next month so I'll be able to give you a much clearer picture on how it hasn't worked. Then there is this part of me has this sneaking suspicion that Bob Geldof is a sociopath. I'm not the only person who thinks so, I do believe that wet liberal, what's his name, David Steel also said something similar in the papers recently. I think a lot of these people. . . I don't think the first thought in their mind is the suffering people. They see it as a band wagon in a way that they can promote their new records and they can get a lot of publicity. The whole Saint Bob Geldof - I don't buy it at all. I think if you lot at his financial empire, I think he as guilty and greedy as the rest of them. [laughs] He is just using the occasion to help him and his mates. I don't like Bono. I don't like U2. I don't like any of those groups. I don't like how they live. They're just corporate beings to me, with antique shops. I have nothing in common with them what so ever.

Let's say someone comes in here now, and says 'can Killing Joke come lend their name to help with this cause,' would you go and do it?

I don't think we would do it to be perfectly honest. Not because I disagree with it, I think that all those people marching up there in Edinburgh, power to them and everything! I prefer to concentrate on writing about...that there should be a movement away from the cities to the rural areas. Not in Mr. Mugabe's way, [laughs] but generally speaking, that's what should happen. We need sustainable resources and my approach is that charity begins at home. Basically, looking after people in my group, looking after my own and setting up the two villages so they're models. So that hopefully other bands instead of having stupid fan clubs selling t-shirts, they can go out with 20,000/30,000 buy a whole area of rainforests and set up little eco-villages, that people could come and stay on and work on. I think it's a more positive vision at the end of the day.

I was thinking, having been very young when Live Aid was going on, then twenty years later it's coming about again, everybody that is performing should make a personal... like a....

Donation! [laughs]

More than a donation, more like a pledge that they will pledge to do something, or what you were saying, go out an actively do something. Because they have only just announced the African artists that were going to perform at a concert for Africa!

I know. It's embarrassing. It's all Geldof's mates that he hobnobs with. It's all the same people. These aging fucking rock stars - myself excluded of course!

Leaving these nicely freckled political questions aside, you guys have got what? Over fifteen studio recordings - I mean Killing Joke. Would you say your music has progressed? Or has it been what it has been since the beginning?

Oh it has definitely progressed, I mean if I listen to early recording, live recording especially, we are much better now. We are miles better than we were. We used to sound much worse. Certainly in terms of playing and energy. Oh shit , nah its better now, there's no two ways about it!

You still feel the fire in your bones?

Shit yeah! I wouldn't bother otherwise.

As a band you've pretty much been an invisible backbone to pretty much the whole rock. You've been the people whose influences have always been true. From Nirvana borrowing from "Eighties" which you didn't take any action against...

Well, you know, when some little kid's dad blown his head off there's a right thing to do and a wrong thing to do. I'd like to think in this band, although we are naughty boys occasionally, there are some ethics... somewhere! [laughs]

Well, there has to be a few just to stay alive really...[laughs]

Like I said it's a short life, my life these days is like four funerals and a wedding. Everyone's dropping off - Croaking it. You can have a huge house you can have all these trappings but when the body goes, that's it mate. It's all over. I don't put too much value on owning anything really...there's nothing I can't get rid of. I put more emphasis on human relationships between myself and people that I love.

Just talking about your influences, and people who have used you as an iconic influence. Obviously Nirvana...nobody's matched Cobain's angst that he had in his eyes when he was a songwriter and performing. Rage against the Machine, everything Dave Grohl's been involved in, Sepultura, Slipknot, Metallica.. all these people. They've got a couple of your genes in their bands, that obviously makes you feel good.

Yes, it's a nice thing. You know, when I see great artist like Toots and the Maytals. He must be late 70s. But anyway! He's out on the road, and he is rocking. Its wonderful music and it's amazing that their carrying on like this. When you see like... so many artists, well they must be twenty five years older than me, so there's no excuse [laughs]

I'm sure you've got at least a few more albums, having heard from the last one, Seeing Red, and just feeling a bit of the dance in there. It's strangely danceable music.

A bit spastic! [laughs]

Well you can dance like that if you like. Technically you shouldn't be able to dance to it but it's quite upbeat. I mean you've worked with Oakenfold as well, whose pretty much on his own when it comes to movie soundtracks or making dance music. What do you think about that scene?

I'm the one in Killing Joke, I never get involved in remixes or anything. I like live music I like drums... real drums. So I'm a bit old fashioned, I don't really have an awful lot of time, I've got no interest when they go, 'oh we're doing this remix and we're doing that'. What we're doing on this record is we're getting all the bands that you've referred to, we're all doing remixes of each others music - like swapping. That's quite interesting; I like the sound of that. But, I like the original live recordings. This new record we are doing we've basically done it in our basement. Because the music has just got... you have to have a huge studio, and this and that. We recorded it very cheaply and I'm really proud of it. I know that we've beaten that last album, in terms of originality, how the public takes to it I don't give a fuck. Every two or three albums we're suppose to be hip, I don't even listen to them. In fact where I live you can't even buy the music papers so I don't care what people say about me. All the band, it's gone too far they can't get rid of us.

When I talk about dance music I do include under that bracket, music you can dance to be it rock be it gospel be it techno.

Well lets have a look at Killing Joke's influences from 1979-1980. We didn't listen so much to punk music. We listened to chic and a lot of 80s disco music, loads of reggae. We always liked the groove, the base and drums which had nothing to do with punk. We took this hybrid and took what we wanted from it and that's how the sound was formed basically.

Was it a keen influence or was it just breathing in what was going around at the music scene at the time?

Oh, at that time we were listening to like the drum sound of Gary Glitter I know you're not allowed to say those two words anymore.

Poor old Gary! Where is he now in Thailand? [laugh]

We listened to Adam and the Ants, but the very early Adam and the Ants; they were mighty in their day. Poor Adam he's not a well man mentally, he's barking underneath the table. It's sad when you see people who haven't survived - there are a lot of them! The amount of bands you see as you go up and then you wave to them as you're on your way back down again. I can't even begin to tell you how many...

Didn't you guys go to Iceland for a bit of...

No, I got... everyone said oh he went to Iceland to run away from the apocalypse. They were never bothered to ask me - it wasn't the case. I was so bored of the rock and roll industry and I wanted to start studying classical music - orchestration. I was studying pre-history. There is a life outside of music as well. My philosophy with music is, the best way to write music is to forget about music. Make your life colourful, make it beautiful fulfill a few dreams, maybe you want to go to South America, maybe there's a nice girl over there you've always fancied. Whatever, make your life colourful, and then two glasses of wine, and away we go. I think music writes itself I don't think its something cerebral or intellectual process, I think its something you live, live really hard and the music just comes to you.

I believe eyes are one and the same and art comes from your own inner tensions. The reason I mentioned Iceland is because I have visited Reykjavik and just been knocked sideways by how...

Oh those girls would have loved you out there. When I lived in Iceland I was dark and exotic. [Laughs] They were waiting for Hitler, that lot... don't laugh! All those pictures of Jesus all got bright blue eyes.

It must have been a great place to even...having left.... Where did you go from?

We lived in Reykjavik and then we travelled round the place. As far as I could see it was like a holiday camp for the third Reich. Seriously racist people. I'm talking about early 80s, I'm talking about were you had to book a phone call to Iceland. Hashish was 22 per g and a bottle of southern comfort was 35!

That's outrageous!

I know! So we realised there was money to be made...but we won't go into that!

Ok, obviously, you like drums yourself. Raven and... actually you all drum.

Geordie plays drums. I've played congas, bongos but can't play a kit like Geordie can. Between us we are quite multi instrumentalist.

You've pretty much had the pick of the bunch but me personally thinking about drummers, Dave Grohl is possibly the best drummer about and has been for a while. You could of...well you did work with Danny from Tool and John from System of a Down.

Yeah we worked with both those people.

How did you manage to get a line up of....a few of the worlds best drummers?

Well, Benny our drummer now, is easily as good as Grohl because I've worked with all of them. Martin Atkins, not one of my favourite people but certainly a very fine drummer. It's a hard position to play, drums in Killing Joke because there is a lot of tom-tom patterns. It's a very physical thing there's only so many drums you get it. There's a style we demand any drummer to play in. These tom-tom pans these tribal pans. We expect any drummer who is working with us to play in the Killing Joke style. So we've been very lucky, we've only had the best. Big Paul our original drummer, tremendous innovator - timing was a bit wacky but amazing innovator. All the other drummers ripped off his ideas.

Is Grohl on your next album as well?

No, we decided after that last record, we wanted our band back. That means to say that if we want to rehearse tomorrow then...the word gets around, everyone phoned up, and we play. We've got our own little basement. We've got one flat above that and a recording studio above that. We rehearse when we want, we all live round the corner from each other. The Lord is merciful.

What's your take on rock at the moment? I mean we've just mentioned a few bands, Dave Grohl has had his fingers in quite a few pies over the years. For example Foo Fighters his latest offering, and drums with Queens of the Stone Age. What's your take on those bands? Do you what they do?

Do you like what they say? Do you like the music?

Truth..? I don't really listen to music. I listen to a lot of Toots and the Maytals and the rest of the day is spent listening to the music in my head, before I go into a studio. Or I take some manuscript paper round with me and sketch some melodies down on it for my classical music. So my heads so full of music I really like to be influenced by too many artists. I find if you listen to a lot of records you find yourself subconsciously influenced and you start playing like that. So I sort of stop all that and project my own propaganda into my own head. Geordie buys record a lot and I know Raven gets a lot of records. But generally speaking I don't listen to a lot of music I listen to a lot of music in my head.

Ok, wouldn't the battle be to take it all in and defend yourself against using it as an influence?

Well I don't want to be influenced. I want to find out that sound that's completely me. The only way is to shut yourself from the outside influences. So that's the honest truth. I hear a lot in my head. I have the ability to shut off from any conversation; I can play back any album that we know. I can listen to it perfectly in my head without any stereo system I can hear the whole album back in my head. Alternatively I can listen to five conversations at once, and similarly understand everything that's going on. I've trained in opera and I listen in a different way.

When I was just a little nipper, before I knew what I realised what a CD or vinyl was, I was being dragged along to piano lessons and violin lessons.

Shit that's a way to put someone off music for a lifetime.

No, but to tell you the honest truth, doing it for a while, I began to get my own taste. Just always hearing all these tunes that I had to learn years ago. When I can hear people trying to be smart at taking Mozart samples or Beethoven samples, mixing them off to try to be smart. I put my finger up there going 'don't you think your being too clever?' not everyone hasn't been to music school...

I reckon, turn the electricity off, and then we'll see whose who. I'm old school, I believe in musicianship and being able to do it- in a cave.

Are you down for things like, just out of the blue, Womad and festivals like that? Like the world musics?

Some of the music that I've written and worked on, like I worked with the Maori people in New Zealand. They're on my Oceania group, they're Maori girls are just singing in Maori. Yeah, they'll do Womad, nice, nice. [Laughs]

I don't even have to wonder...

Indirectly. I work with Czech music, and Czech folk music funnily enough.

There is a big void in Eastern Europe for mainstream. They get a few splashes of what we're pumping out...

Folk music, they sell out 10,000 seaters and 12,00 quite interesting. Whereas we don't have any folk music in England. If you ask any 500 people and say "sing a song of your forefathers" (excluding the Irish because they can do this), they'd sing a Manchester United song! There isn't that continuity with song in this country, we've lost it.

As opposed to it being inherent in other countries?

Yeah that's right. I guess that Killing Joke have made their own folk music. What was missing, what we needed was songs that really meant a lot to us for the rest of our lives and we'd like to pass them down. I guess that's what we've been doing- filling that void.

It would be an understatement to say that you've had a diverse career (obviously what we've just spoken about). You've been conducting and composing, how did you get round to the New Zealand national anthem?

Yup, I've changed that. I'm in the history books for changing the national anthem. Its been an interesting time- colourful.

(To say the least)

With a bit of fishing in between!

A bit of fishing? Is that all?!

Yeah a bit of fishing...a couple of divorces [roaring laughter]

Are you happy to exchange The London Astoria for the Royal Opera House, or have Killing Joke perform there?

Umm funnily enough I'm setting all my favourite Killing Joke tunes to a full Orchestra and choir... in Latin! I'll be doing it October 23rd at the Sydney Opera House.

Latin? not Gregorian chant or anything...

No No, Not Gregorian chant. I'm doing it in Latin because it puts a new perspective on the whole thing.

Why Latin? You're going back to the days of the Tridentine mass or is there another reason?

I think that what we are in the West is a Judeo-Christian morality with a Greco-Roman intellect. That's why when you make all your money you send your kids to private schools (because all the schools are rubbish in this country). That's where they learn Latin and Greek so they can understand the roots of Western civilisation. We don't have that in our comprehensive schools. Al we do is teach them computers and how to be slaves and Posh n Becks.

What do you think of the music biz today?

These days there are advantages as well as disadvantages. You can take a piece of music and sell it in 35 different places. In that way it's good. The fact that there are 3 record companies left in the world and soon one it's not so good! Then there's the DVD empire that's started and out, you can get these deals and i think it's put more emphasis on live music thank God. I really did hate that period (i know Alex from York is gonna hate me) but to go to a gig to see two people behind a turntable isn't a gig to me, with pre-recorded sounds etc...Back in the day when people used to go to raves, think they were on stage then go to their corporate jobs in the morning- I'm glad that period is over and never fucking comes back! [laughs]

Your album comes out on the August 2nd. You wanna give a little shout out for it..

Is it? I'll let them know when I'm finished! [roars]

I was trying to use my spider-sense to figure out the date...

No seriously, I think we'll be there.

Is Andy Gill on this one or was it just the last one?

No it was just the last one...only because he had a nice studio- he didn't do anything! Basically we pretty much do everything ourselves. Engineers and such-like are really just referees...if you know what i mean.

(I'm quoting you here) what can your "faithful tribe of idiots" expect from the new album?

With this record, even though we're going to all the war zones, i think people have had enough of being told what a terrible condition the world is in. We all know this to be true, what we need is a response to it. My lyrics on this new record are about keeping our spirit up and celebrating. This album is really for us as a big celebration, unlike our last one where it was recorded in the middle of an illegal war. Although we're gonna see people (next month) living in terrible poverty, we'll record after that. We're still taking our cigars and portable bar and we'll be celebrating and having a good time because life's too short not to!

I hear you completely. You say that you don't really gig you perform. I've seen some of your shows. Some of the ones you did in the 80's would've scarred me. Now I don't think anyone matches your aggression on stage...

Well, as I've never seen me I cannot comment on that! For me they're ceremonies. Every gig is a victory...

...that you're still alive

Yup we're still alive and we've got another one under our belt. We see some old faces, some new faces. It really is a ceremony and a ritual, a time of coming together. When we started Killing Joke we had a DJ playing dub stuff and sometimes we would just play over the supporting bands! We want to take everything back to our roots in terms of the new tour. We'll be doing it again, have a great reggae DJ and a band we like. They may have nothing to do with killing Joke. We've had Czech folk bands, we've had Arabic bands, we had Talvin Singh (when nobody knew him). We've had a history of a very eclectic approach of an evening, even have food on. It's a party. It's quite normal to see a member of Killing Joke (before we go on) walking around or DJing. It's an opportunity for us to see our friends and we enjoy as much as those coming to it.

Sounds like you've go it down to a Tee..

Well you have to fight. The last management I had tried to stop all this shit and they always try to get their own little bands on and stuff like that, which I put an end to (being the CEO of the band)- tough-fucking-shit! [roars with laughter]

You must be the music industries equivalent of Yoda having been in it and battled with various...well...everyone....

I'm grateful for what I've got. I'm grateful for the relationship I've got with my colleagues and the goodwill with people around us. I don't aspire to much more than continuing and making sure everyone in my band and around us is comfortable.

That pretty much wraps it up anything else you want to add?

We've written this album in almost two halves. There's the anticipation for going to some of the worst war-zones in the world and I want to see how that affects people in the band. Then we're gonna write when we're in those places. We'll be going to Taiwan for a few days, maybe write something new there- see what happens. On our way there we'll be in Bolivia. Then we're off to see what Pol Pot did, and to the Israeli border. Then to Ethiopia, Addis and then the Christian area. We want to see it's history as it's generally accepted the Ark [of the Covenant] is still there. Then to Kashmir because it meant to be very beautiful then end it in Egypt where I have friends. All this is to see how it effects everybody in the band. Hopefully we'll get 4 or 5 more tracks and add them in if we can. And there you have it, the 12th Killing Joke opus. I only have to do 6 more records and I've caught up with my age! [roars with laughter]

It's been an absolutely great interview- Cheers

The pleasure was all mine.