(From Bloomberg News radio, February 1997)

Varun Sharma interviews Jaz Coleman about Kashmir - Symphonic Led Zeppelin

VS: Jaz, I think is sacrilege turning great rock songs into classical music, just as you wouldn’t turn a classical song into rock, so why have you done it?

JC: On the contrary. I wanted to do something that wasn’t strictly Led Zeppelin, it was more ‘variations on a theme’, and really this is quite an old tradition. A lot of people, from Vaughan Williams to Beethoven, have done arrangements, I just choose to arrange rock music that I think has a timeless quality about it, and especially Led Zeppelin.

I happen to know one of the composers of Led Zeppelin and I took time out in Paris to listen to every single, not just Led Zeppelin symphonic rock record that’s been done, but every symphonic record that’s ever been done and they’re all so utterly abysmal I felt I had to go in and do … possibly the most difficult project of my career, and to do it with credibility.

I am a symphonist, I believe in the symphony orchestra. I believe we have to update our concept of symphony orchestra. For me the symphony orchestra is civilisation. I believe that I can bring, through great symphonic arrangements … I mean it is a symphony, it’s variations on a theme. It’s not strictly Led Zeppelin’s music, it uses this as a basic framework but I believe I’m in the process of changing the way we look at orchestra. For example, in this country the orchestra has traditionally been for the white middle and upper classes, and that’s changing now. So people are loosening up more with rock music. I like the protocol of classical concerts, but I like applause between movements, I like lights, I like people looking sexy and dressing up for the occasion. I like this side of the protocol immensely. No, I’ve taken music arrangement with great seriousness. A difficult project, I grant you, to take on …

VS: It’s just that a lot of ‘pop singers’: Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Elton John and now, obviously, yourself are turning back to classical music.

JC: Well, I wouldn’t say "turning back". My situation is really quite different. I started studying the violin and piano from the age of seven. I got my grade eight distinction and several international awards for performance with classical music and then got into the National Youth Orchestra …

VS: But you’ll always be known as the post-punk group ‘Killing Joke’.

JC: Well, that’s right. But, I mean, from the age of 21 I’ve been studying orchestration under a Hungarian master. The people who started me off in orchestra actually were with the Leipzig Gabanhaus (?) Orchestra in what was GDR, and they gave me a lot of support in my early days, and also the Minsk Philharmonic in what is now Byelorussia, and they were the first orchestra to really pick up on my work. Then I went off to study Arabic music in Cairo – the first westerner to study Arabic music there, and from then on moved to New Zealand and then I’ve done … well I’ve done twelve classical recordings. I do symphonies as well as the arrangements.

VS: Do you still think you have the rock persona though? I mean, you know, the leather jacket, the ripped jeans, the whole thing. I mean …

JC: I dress for comfort, y'know. Well, I am from a rock band. I’m from one of the most experimental rock bands in the world. I don’t think that changes. Y'know, it’s other peoples’ problems, the categorisations: I must adopt this clichéd role if I’m in a rock band and I must adopt this role if I’m working with symphony orchestra. The London Philharmonic and other orchestras, they know me well and we have a lot of fun together, and they’re after high standards of orchestration and quite rightly.

VS: Now, the London Philharmonic, I mean, they’ve been playing around with, you know with Oasis songs and stuff like that. Do you think that’s good?

JC: I think the fact [is] that there has been a lot of symphonic rock records made, none of them have sold except what I’ve done. On the basis of the arrangements that I’m doing my sales are more than Beethoven’s. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA !!!!

VS: "Better than Beethoven’s" the T-shirt you should be wearing?!

JC: That’s right, HaHa. But, I mean, I’ve written four symphonies and, um, which you can’t release every year. Basically, my company stockpiles my classical recordings and releases them in a staggered flow …

VS: Jaz, I’m going to gut you off there. Thanks very much – Jaz Coleman: composer.

JC: Thank you very much.