Killing Joke's Jaz Coleman: "The world's on a war footing"
Jaz Coleman speaks his mind on 2012, the trouble with modern Britain and the enduring power of Killing Joke
“So you’re a member of the ‘don’t know’ party, are you?” Jaz Coleman barks, disgusted by The Skinny’s reluctance to hypothesise about what really happened on 9/11 (in the absence of the full facts). “You’re frightened of speaking out, aren’t you? You’re frightened of saying what’s really on your mind. When something doesn’t sit quite right, you’re frightened of the implications of your job, of what people might think…”
Over an hour in his company, it quickly becomes clear that, in Coleman’s view, Britain has gone to the dogs – sick of its citizens’ hesitance to engage with the smoke and mirrors of modern politics, its ongoing complicity in an illegal war, and the corruption he sees at the core of our government. “It’s all gotten out of hand – it’s too far gone, hasn’t it?” he spits. “I’m not living in this fucking country. You know why? Cause I’m ashamed of it. I hate the class system here, with people like Osborne and Cameron – they’re probably very nice people to meet, and I’d probably like relaxing with a good cigar with them. But there’s your class system, look at the calibre of these people – they’re all Etonians with a sense of entitlement. Nothing’s changed in this country and I won’t be part of it.”
And neither he is. Since emigrating to New Zealand in 1991, Coleman found his utopian retreat in an island 100 miles off the coast. Not that geography has done much to inhibit Killing Joke’s output since the band’s original line-up of Coleman, Kevin 'Geordie' Walker, Martin 'Youth' Glover and Paul Ferguson reconciled over the grave of long-standing bass player Paul Raven in 2007, resurrecting the work ethic of their early days. “We’re trying to get back to where we were when we started,” Coleman offers, “which is putting a record out every year. And that’s good. If there’s any regret I have, it’s that we don’t all live in the same area and can’t on any given day just say ‘let’s go for a jam tonight.’
Fusing the elements of serrated industrial guitars, dubbed-out bass, propulsive drumming and anthemic keyboard melodies that made 2010’s Absolute Dissent a triumph, the forthcoming MMXII [read Jaz's track-by-track guide and have a listen here] reiterates Killing Joke’s status as a forward-thinking unit. And if Coleman’s confrontational manner and constant fits of maniacal laughter throughout our rollercoaster interview are any indicator, those jam sessions must be explosive rituals when they do come about.
There’s a Killing Joke documentary called The Death and Resurrection Show on the way this year, which documents three decades of the band. It’s difficult to think of many other groups out there who present themselves with the same conviction. Is writing and performing still rewarding?
Yeah, I often think, without the therapeutic benefits of Killing Joke, what would become of us all? Certainly criminals, possibly murderers. The whole motivation for making this noise in the first place is because we couldn’t find it in the bloody record shop. And it still is, really; you still get back what you didn’t expect, but you end up loving it.
The new album's quick on the heels of Absolute Dissent – presumably there was a sense that you had to get another album out at this particular time…
Oh my God – yes! I had two months off, did the recording and we all went bloody mad; it was a traumatic, painful, not always, but generally unpleasant recording process. As soon as I’d finished putting down the last vocal, I just fucked off with Geordie to New Zealand. I didn’t listen to music for two months.
Of course, with Killing Joke, whatever ideas you come into the studio with, it’s all going to sound completely different by the time you’ve finished it, so you don’t really know what you’re getting until it’s done. I heard the mixes for the first time about ten days ago, Geordie a week ago, and we’ve been playing it non-stop since. So, as you can see, we have a funny relationship with it – it sends you nuts and then you’re just about to catch up with what you’ve got to go and do live and familiarise yourself with it.
Does MMXII already seem like a new era for the band?
This year feels very different to the year we did Absolute Dissent. The whole climate of everything’s changed. Look, the world’s on a war footing, and this one could be nasty. Those are always good Killing Joke years – c’mon, let’s be honest! Apart from that, Killing Joke represents my dream of what a band should be like. Somehow, our career is an inverse model of most bands, where they have everything at the front end of their career when they start and they live out the end. Creatively, our albums are getting more intense, they’re getting better.
What an amazing passage of time with these guys, I’m blown away by that. To be in the same band as these teenagers that I started out with, I consider myself incredibly fortunate. I think the reason why we’ve been able to keep the vitality in our music going is that we just haven’t had it easy! Over the past five years I’ve been really hungry on several occasions, with no credit card and no money – Geordie has as well. At those times it’s been people involved in Killing Joke who’ve literally put food in our stomachs and given us somewhere to stay and sleep. So I never lose sight of the fact that, the people we’re making music for and the gatherers who make Killing Joke have given us longevity of 34 years now. I never forget that it comes from these peoples’ love of the music, which is why I want us to work so hard in Killing Joke, until death takes us!
After this year we’ll probably take about 6-7 months off, because since 2008 we’ve gone non-stop. We’ll record a new album probably in the next 10-12 months, and keep putting out music – always trying to evolve and get a record more intense and more different to the last record. There’s this perpetual aspiration of continuity with the band. I’m happy, but it’s tiring and it’s real hard – and I know this last recording was really hard on everybody. I wouldn’t have been surprised if somebody said ‘look, I don’t want to go on tour, I can’t deal with it anymore.’ I wouldn’t have blamed them. It really has been a hard struggle. But it’s been amazing too; it’s been an incredibly creative time. I get a great deal of relief in the company of my colleagues.
From a fan’s point of view, it’s heartening to see the four original members on stage and that it all gels so well. When you say the albums are ‘getting better,’ is the chemistry any easier for this particular incarnation of the band, second time around?
The chemistry is bizarre with the original line-up. I mean, when it comes to the creative process, everyone will give you everything you don’t want. Every bassline that Youth does will be the last one I want him to play, and probably vice versa. Everything just collides, and then it kind of writes itself out of the chaos. People talk about writing music and it sounds like this intellectual process, but if they only knew the truth – there is no fucking writing! We all get together and disagree: ‘Not like that, like this!’ It just happens when we get together. Preparation’s a waste of time normally because whatever ideas you come to the studio with, they’re all going to get smashed into a thousand pieces once it’s gone to the mill.
You’ve been living off the coast of New Zealand with very little in the way of modern conveniences for some time now, what is it about the way of life out there that appeals to you?
I don’t use mobile phones or internet. I don’t use computers. I use a pen, I write letters still. Obviously I need to get people to receive e-mails for me and stay in communication. How is it? Well, people ring up the next valley to tell me I’ve got to ring into the band’s manager – it’s like sending smoke signals. One example is a few years back, Sarah Brightman wanted to work with me, and she spent 18 months trying to find me until she came personally in the end. I guess it’s not good for business, this approach I have in life. But there you are – I’m very happy, my brain works just fine.
One of the reasons we won’t allow phone masts up on the island is that we believe they’re killing off the bee population, so ours is really healthy. Bear in mind that Einstein said mankind would survive four years after the bee was made extinct – these things are really important. The island is where I’m going to live out the rest of my days, make no mistake about it. That’s where I wanna be, that’s where I wanna die. I always look at a land or country in a different way. I remember being in America when the war was kicking off and thinking ‘whatever happens to me, I don’t mind dying, I just don’t wanna die in America.’ I don’t mind dying in Europe, I just don’t wanna die in America.
This land affects me. I’m so proud to have changed its national anthem*, to have worked with the Māori people there, to have built my studio…to have become involved in something better. The whole reason I went to New Zealand is because I’m so anti-nuclear. It’s the only place that offered a kind of English way of life without nuclear energy. It was a political decision. The Labour Prime Minister David Longley inspired me; in the middle of the cold war he stood up to the American government and said ‘we’re not having it, we’re not having your mess in our country. We’re not having nuclear weapons; we’re not having nuclear power. I can smell the Plutonium on your breath,’ he said. I just thought ‘this is the country I want to live in and be part of,’ which I’ve done. Part of our motto in Killing Joke is ‘let nothing be fantasy.’ And believe you me, I let nothing be fantasy. Most of the things I dream about, they turn up sooner or later.
Guest Question: Joe Cardamone (The Icarus Line)
What keeps you on the right side of sanity when you’re on the road?
Laughing with my mates, laughing my fuckin’ head off – especially when everything’s falling to bits, that’s when we laugh the most. That’s what Youth loves the most – he loves employing people he knows are going to fuck up. He knows they can’t do the job and he usually goes out of his way to employ them so we can all watch. You’ve got to laugh mate, laughing has been the best therapy of all. When things are going really bad, which they often do with Killing Joke, we find it really funny. Youth and Geordie are such good company to watch it all fucking go down with – we howl.”
Hero Worship: Bill Gould (Faith No More)
“The first time I heard Killing Joke I was 16 and it was so different, I didn't really get it at first. But when I did...wow. It made heavy music interesting...and groovy. But dark as hell...both humanly organic and extremely antisocial at the same time. I can't think of another band where, 34 years later, I'm still just as psyched to hear what they've come up with lately as I was when I first discovered them.”
* Jaz was responsible for having the New Zealand National Anthem translated from English into the Māori tongue in 1998.