Killing Joke has been the soundtrack of the end times since the late 1970’s. Singer Jaz Coleman has barked and growled lyrics of death and destruction from the Reagan era days of the Cold War through Bush Sr. and Jr.’s bad decisions and he’s also shed light on cultural and financial inequalities, on economics, the business of pollution and genetic manipulation. From Mutually Assured Destruction to Pole Shifts and the present economic failures, Killing Joke’s doom and gloom has always been tempered by a sense of beauty and hope for the coming world.
In 2008, after two incredible albums in their second self-titled release and Hosannas from the Basement of Hell, the original lineup of bassist Martin “Youth” Glover and “Big” Paul Ferguson rejoined Coleman and guitarist Geordie Walker at the funeral for longtime KJ bassist Paul Raven. Realizing their mortality, the four took to the road for select dates around the world, the first time they’d all shared the stage in over 25 years. In late 2010 Absolute Dissent was unleashed upon the world. A collection of songs that seemingly spanned KJ’s entire catalogue with Ferguson and Youth’s funky dance rhythms and metallic beats buoying Walker’s sometimes caustic sometimes melodic guitar work. Coleman was once again the shaman voicing his concerns for the fate of the earth, its people dealing with heartless money-grubbing businesses and the politicians in their pocket, agriculture businesses developing “foods” to kill off the population, uprisings, asteroids from the skies, and for hope, a beautiful elegy for Raven in the form of The Raven King and closing track Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove in reference to where the band grew up and bonded. Another round of live dates followed .
In the Spring of 2012 Killing Joke released MMXII, available to the states in physical form this past October. More focused and forceful than Absolute Dissent, MMXII again finds the original four covering dance beats, industrial and metal sounds in a way that only Killing Joke can.
The Mayan Calendar may or may not predict a pole shift or the end of the world. Killing Joke plan a tour in 2013 so we’ll see you on the other side of December 21, 2102. Killing Joke isn’t finished yet.
Hello Jaz, I don’t know if you remember me, but I live in Burbank and we talked about the Market City Cafe.
Oh, yah. Where you get…let’s see, what’s the fish I really like there? I remember the conversation and I used to spend a lot of time down there. Mahi Mahi, that was the fish, with the Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc. (Laughs) So how are you doing, anyway?
I’m doing great. When I heard you had a new album I tried to contact anyone associated with you to get in contact. So six months later I’m happy to see you have a great publicist and we’re chatting.
That’s great. It’s your agenda so you call the shots and I’ll try to be as frank as possible.
I will do my best. Do you know the commercial with the most interesting man in the world? I think they should have used you. I read an interview that said you were planning some end of the Mayan calendar parties. How is that working out?
Yes, I went and saw the promoters in New Zealand. Here’s the depressing state of affairs: there’s less and less people going to gigs. And its got so bad in New Zealand that the main promoters down there they’ve just pulled out of all the festivals there. So the idea of sort of a small festival didn’t get any proponents at all. There’s just no fucking market for it. So that’s not going to happen on the 21st. Instead, I’ll probably spend the day fishing.
That can be exciting too. (Both laugh). I know you’re topical and you write about a lot of things that are happening in the world and I don’t keep up as much as you about everything. Bill Maher had a guest on who c0-wrote a book about foods with GMO’s (Gary Hirschberg, “Label It Now“) and they talked about the big companies that are selling pesticides and the crops that are resistant to those same insecticides. So you know about Monsanto and the ilk?
I’m apprised on all this kind of thing. (Sighs) you know Bill Gates was a big investor in this area, from biotechnology. If you start feeding these modified foods to rats the next generation of rats will be one or two instead of like five. The next time they’re completely infertile and that’s it. It’s basically the power elites way of dealing with surplus population. We know this is happening. We can see the richest people in the world, like Ted Turner, Gates and Branson involved. These rich guys all get together and they talk about reducing the world population. But the point is that it is a problem, we do have a problem, especially our lifestyle. The Middle Class eating meat. So we do have a food crisis looming. When you have China expanding its borders because it can’t feed the population. That’s going to effect the politics of the whole world. The ethical problem with the population is: its easier to talk about other people having the right to have families and happiness. It’s nothing new, is it? Sweden didn’t stop sterilizing certain parts of the community until much longer, the Czech Republic as well, with the Gypsy, the Roma community it’s nothing new. We’ve all seen it all before, really. In fact, one of my ancestors, Indira Gandhi, she tried to reach the population in India by giving free radios with each sterilization. She was politically expedient (Laughs).
Speaking of trying to get rid of certain people, what is your take on Mitt Romney? [This interview took place before Obama won his second term as President.]
Any person who is a member of a religion where they wear strange underpants to keep their dick in place is gotta be suspect.
In Mitt’s defense what kind of underwear do you wear?
Not tight ones. Apparently it effects your fertility. The reason I’ve got three children and have no intention of having any more children. But you know, I just can’t bring myself to get the fucking snip. It’s like losing your mojo or something, isn’t it? As soon as it’s gone all possibilities are ended. Maybe the missus starts treating you differently or something. It could get really nasty. Taking that kind of plunge to get the snip… I don’t want anymore children at all. I’ve got three daughters, I tell them all: I don’t want you to make me a grandparent, I don’t want you to have children, I want you to be successful in your businesses and do everything a man can do. Leave breeding to other people. Go and have a good life, that’s what I tell them. I’m far too young to be a grandfather! (Laughs)
When you’re ready for the rocking chair, then it might be ok.
I’m never going to be ready for that.
You four got together to make another album and I would hope it went a little easier than the first one (Absolute Dissent).
It never goes easy with Killing Joke. It’s a fucking nightmare! Why does it have to be this way? It’s just the way it is. It gets a kind of result. It’s a traumatic thing, all Killing Joke albums are horrible. You think you’ll go somewhere in a nice desert island in the Caribbean and have a really nice time recording but it’s always fucking horrible. Always. And it is a relief when it is done. But the results are amazing. It’s just weird how the music writes itself. We don’t have to do anything, really. No real preparation. And it’s really pointless when you do that preparation, of writing music before. We do write some stuff, sometimes you come up with an idea or two but you throw away everything. If one person doesn’t like an idea, that’s it, we throw it out. There’s four members in the band, right? So you don’t want to do something that one of the other members, they’re not into. We write an excess of material and then after that it’s a big fight as to what goes on the album, what people like and what people don’t like. It’s very funny how we get contentious. I remember we did this song called Suicide Tribe and Big Paul loved it but Geordie made some gay reference to it. Ever since Paul’s been trying to resurrect it. You’re never going to see it ever again. So when anyone doesn’t like something we throw it out. Of 20 different ideas, nine or ten come out that we can find common ground on.
What is an example of an idea or groove that Youth came up with that really made the song that much better?
Youth is responsible and myself, for On All Hallow’s Eve. It started with the bass first and then the vocal melody and we did it without Geordie being there. But Geordie adds so much to it. We don’t do all that “I wrote that” kind of thing, we split everything equally. Financially, we’re communists.
I appreciate the closing song because after all the vitriol and hatred and topical information about the world you come to this song and it’s really about love and remembering all your friends.
Yes, it is. So many people like that song, it’s really nice, actually. Youth is completely tone-deaf so it’s amazing that he’s a musician, really. He’ll come off stage and he’ll say “I played the first three numbers in the wrong key.” But he’ll be smiling when he says it. Big Paul, he’ll play a number and it’ll sound like another song altogether because he’s doing what he wants to do that day. There is an element of Youth… I’ve had some nightmare scenarios back in 2008 when we first got the original lineup back together. Our management set up a world tour doing two nights in every capital city playing a different set each night. Which meant that we had to learn five hours of music and the stuff that Youth didn’t know. So I get to Youth’s recording studio in Spain and I said we’d better get started practicing, we’ve got a lot of songs. He says “I’m not doing two sets, I just want to jam.” (Laughs) You don’t believe people like this exist, but they do. And worse, they’re in my band. It’s very funny, there’s such an originality to Youth. What he does, it belongs in Killing Joke. And somehow, he just pulls it out of the bag when it comes to the gigs. Which amazes all of us, really. He’s very funny, though, you’re just laughing all the time in Killing Joke. Youth has an evil sense of humor. The man delights when things are going wrong. And especially if it is happening to one person, he seems to love it even more than anything else, when things are falling to bits. Geordie and Youth, they’re never happier than when things are falling to bits. They don’t like things going too well. There have to be scapegoats somewhere. They just love watching and plotting their downfalls. They’re probably bored. But they’re very funny people (Laughs).
So you’re up on stage and you just know they’re doing something bad?
Sometimes Youth will deliberately employ someone he knows cannot possibly do the job. He knows they can’t do it. So he can have the laugh of watching it. They’re really sick motherfuckers (Laughs). We have a lot of laughs. We’re the only band that got Ian Curtis to split his sides from laughter from the side of the stage. I never saw him smile until then. It’s great being in Killing Joke. We make fucking great music. The music writes itself. You just go along with it, the spirit of it. It’s better when the band is really hungry for it, when we haven’t played together for a while. We all live in different countries, so the chemistry is just fucking irreplaceable. Raven did really well, he fit in well with us, that chemistry thing. But the original lineup is something else. It’s really magic to watch. It’s great being with these guys for over half of my life, it’s just incredible when I think about it. Two members of the band left for a while but they were very much still part of the Killing Joke family. In ’82 I was well aware when Youth left that the original lineup would happen again only too soon in the future.
And I’m sure you’re happy to live this long and be healthier than you were before.
What a surprise! I thought I’d be radioactive dust by now.
I’m glad you’re still around.
All we hear is this 2012 bullshit, all these people saying it’s the end of the world are spoiling my fun. I’ve got things to do. If something happens tomorrow, if I drop dead, I’m fucking going for it. I’ve taken every opportunity that’s been given me, I’ve never missed an opportunity. I pride myself on that. So it’s been good. I’m strangely optimistic.
Are you still working with orchestras?
Yes, well, you know next year is Nirvana’s 25th anniversary. So as a present I’m scoring up thirteen or fourteen pieces of theirs and doing a huge requiem stroke symphony to immortalize them in the world of classical music. We’re so beyond money in Killing Joke, we’re so fucking priceless you can’t buy us.
What other bands did you do classically?
Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, I worked with Mick Jagger. It’s gone really well, that stuff. I want to take a break from that stuff and just concentrate on opera and pure symphony and concertos. For the past ten years I’ve been getting my wings as it were in classical music. I did my first opera for the Queen (at the Royal Palace), it’s a tough route but I did one. Part of being a composer is arranging another composer’s work but I was just lucky enough to be able to arrange rock music instead of another composer’s work. I think the greatest composers of the last century and indeed this century, have been rock musicians. What started off as just a bit of practice with me, with orchestras, to get my hand in it as it were became an art form in itself and one that has been very successful. I’ve tried to put as much integrity into it as I possibly can, into otherwise tasteless project, or concept as I should say. I hope to be conducting in Seattle and work with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra on the 13th of September of next year (2013). That’s one of the things I’m doing. I’m also doing a huge choral concerto which is about the end of time. It’s about the transition from our human consciousness to a collective cosmic consciousness. It’s in seven languages and a full orchestra when it’s finished. I’ve been quite busy.
You don’t do anything small, do you?
Ah, I take whatever’s going. For everything that you see me do there are eight or nine other things as well that just don’t pan out.
To wrap it up, do you think you’ll be touring the United States?
We’re going in April-May to the States. For sure. And this is after the end of the world has already happened and even then we’ll probably do it. We’ll be there before we go to Australia and New Zealand.
Thanks for the talk, I enjoy the album and I hope to see you soon.
Thank you very much, see you later, mate.
(Interview and Live Photos by Bret Miller)