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JAZ COLEMAN: [KILLING JOKE] STILL ALIVE AND ALTOGETHER - INTERVIEW BY TEDDIE DAHLIN

Jaz Coleman (keyboard/vocal) started Killing Joke in 1979 with “Big Paul” Ferguson (drums), Kevin “Geordie” Walker (guitar) and Martin “Youth” Glover (bass). The band was formed, not only as four people who liked to play together and did it well, but also as friends who share the same beliefs and values in life. Coming together as four young men who all believed there was more between heaven and earth than meets the eye. Their common belief in the study of a deeper spiritual reality that extends beyond pure reason and physical sciences has kept them together for over 33 years.

Their early music has been described as industrial rock with a form of quasi-metal touch to it due to its aggressive heavy metal like sound and Coleman’s voice almost growling the lyrics. It later evolved when they incorporated electronic, synth and gothic rock into their sound, but Coleman’s savagely stringent vocals still gives the music that certain edge that makes it unique. Into their 34th year as a band and releasing their 15th album on 2 March their music keeps evolving and they keep turning out better and better albums, in my opinion, every time. My old favourite has to be ‘Love Like Blood’ from the 1985 album Night Time.

You never know what to expect from these guys. Their music always reflects something that they are passionate about. They are very much in tune with what is happening in the world and this reflects strongly in their music. The new album touches on topics such as the Mayan calendar, which predicts the end of a cycle and the end of the world, as we know it on 21st December 2012 and is titled MMX11 (2012). The music is ritualistic and dark and full of pure energy. The albums themes are political, anti capitalist and forward looking. ‘FEMA Cam’p is about concentration camps in the USA. ‘Corporate Elect’ needs no explanation and my personal favourite ‘All Hallows Eve’, is about Jaz’s belief in ancestor worship, backed by quantum theories and that there is no death.

Mudkiss were lucky enough to be invited to London to interview Jaz Coleman last week. I’d been warned that he could be difficult to interview and didn’t suffer fools lightly, so it was with a little nervous trepidation that I arrived half an hour early at his West End hotel for my 45 minute slot with him. He was suddenly standing in front of me, jet-black hair and wide smile on his lips and I instantly liked him. We ended up chatting for the best part of 90 minutes and this is some of what we talked about.

TEDDIE: Back when you all started out in the late 70’s, you never finished school and were breaking and entering into a chemist, was there a certain point when you though “fuck it,” I’m not doing this any more?

JAZ: Yes there was.  There was two points. The first one was that I never used to listen to rock music at all. Rock came on a certain day in my life, but before that there was just classical music. I was exposed to rock music because up until I was 6. I used to see Brian Jones (Rolling Stones) on a fairly regular basis. He used to come to my house and he was fairly close to my uncle Bob. They’d been to school together and they moved to London together. He smashed at my parents’ house on several occasions. He used to pick me up, like this, Brian Jones from the Stones. My parents made a point of playing Stones records to me, but I wasn’t interested in rock music at all until quite a late age of about 14 -15, because I was just interested in classical music. And then I went off on an orchestral course to study the violin and I met this viola player who said to me “Don’t you listen to anything else other than classical music?” and I said “no”. And she said “Have you ever heard any experimental rock music?” and I said “No, no, not at all.” And so she invited me back to her room and she’d got all these tapes ready. By tapes I mean reel to reel tapes. Not cassette tapes that she had with her. Then she said to me “Have you ever smoked marijuana?” and I said “NO!!!” I was absolutely horrified and shocked as an innocent. So I ended up listening to this music, getting high and losing my virginity all in one go.

The next day I was wearing all black and I had already made plans to break the news to my parents who were away on holiday. By the time they came back I had already sold my very expensive violin at Sotheby’s and bought a synthesizer and an electric piano with the money I got. So that was it. And then came the second point at my school where I got into trouble. I made some enquiries and asked “how do you start a band or get into a band?” My friends said, “You either go to an audition or you audition other people.” So I thought, what do I need exams for? As I said I got into trouble, and I remember going through this process of fear and then this calm came when I suddenly realised that I didn’t have to work at school any more. I don’t have to pass exams, because I want to be in a band. This deep calm came over me and at that point I stopped work at school. I refused to write a single letter more or do anything from that point. And that was it. So Killing Joke has been the tradition of self-educating for all of us.

TEDDIE: Did you then interview Geordie, Youth and Paul?

JAZ: I met Paul first of all. There was definitely a sense of destiny about the meeting and then we decided to try and find the other two. We knew they were out there, our brothers, our soul mates. We needed to find people who had right-sided brain capacity. They had to have a natural aptitude for the mystery tradition and be revolutionary musicians and have an innovative style. This is a tall order we were talking about. Only way we could find this essential criteria for these two people, was magic. And that is exactly what we did and that’s why we are all still together today in our 34th year.

TEDDIE:  I’ll get back to the magic stuff as I’ve got a few questions about that. You seem to have answered my third question already, which was, if you have always been musically gifted?

JAZ:  No, I’m a plodder if you want to know the truth. I have a big passion and when I lack certain skills, for example; I had a big passion and I wanted to learn to orchestrate. I managed to get my first attempt at orchestration to Klaus Tennstedt, who was the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. And I often think about how someone like Klaus must have felt to have this crazy guy who wouldn’t leave him alone and wanted to become a composer and quite clearly didn’t have the necessary talents in orchestration at that time and how kind these people were. All they could see was that I had a deep passion to learn. Of course I didn’t really have an awful lot other than this basic musical knowledge but that’s very different to composition. And how kind some of these people were like Klaus Tennstedt who took me on and said “One day Mr Coleman you will be our new Mahler, but not yet because you have to study your orchestration.”

I do this repeatedly with people in different areas where I have wanted to study. I’d think of my five favourite living authors. Then I’d find one of them. I’d get their phone number off somebody and start hassling them. It’s just really banging on the door loudly. And they were so nice. No one told me to fuck off. I can’t really say I was a prodigy or gifted. Although I did win quite a lot of international awards before I was 12. I can’t really say that I was gifted. I’m just a plodder with a big passion.

TEDDIE: I’m sure you’re just being….whats the word I’m looking for? The Norwegian word just popped in to my head.

JAZ: Truthful in this case.

TEDDIE: [laughs] Modest! That was the word I was looking for.

JAZ: The only one of my GCSE’s I actually did was my music GCSE and I failed it. And I go to Universities and teach orchestration now.

TEDDIE: The other band members and yourself are now lecturing at universities and conducting orchestras, and doing opera’s for the queen and you don’t have an exam between you.  Killing Joke is quite anti-establishment and then you have your classical career. It’s like two different universes.

JAZ: It is two different universes and it’s two different “me’s” too.

TEDDIE: Do you feel that your classical achievement actually challenges the notion of what it is to be in a band?

JAZ: They are such different universes they never collide. The audiences are completely different; the tradition of when you do a gig is completely different. Although it’s music we are talking about and they share this common denominator. It’s quite lucky that the singer of Killing Joke doesn’t sing outside of Killing Joke. I reserve my terrible voice for Killing Joke alone. My only experience with rock music is my experimental music with Killing Joke and that’s where I am happiest. Geordie has had no desire to work with any other musicians in his life than Killing Joke. I wouldn’t like to be in any other band than Killing Joke. You could say that classical music doesn’t step on anyone’s toes. Also the personalities are different. If I wanted to describe something ultimately romantic, by that it could be landscape. I’m not talking romantic in terms of a Romeo and Juliet type of relationship. If I wanted to describe this, I certainly wouldn’t use Killing Joke. I would use an orchestra to describe this. I’m a neo-romantic when it comes to classical music. Principles of harmony and perpetual melody are rules that Killing Joke do not obey. Although we have basic melody, there is a lot of dissonance in the music and discordances. They have two separate functions. Killing Joke has essentially a therapeutic function for myself and the rest of the guys. I often think that my early teenage years were turbulent, as were the other members of my band. We could have quite easily ended up as criminals or worse, murderers, with this level of intensity and how we were as people and the level of anger. And if it wasn’t for the fire of Killing Jokes music, it could all have gone another way. I really do feel this. For the more violent traits within the band, Killing Joke’s music has a really therapeutic role in this way, for ourselves to make us better people. Which is why, from Finland to New Zealand, I’m going to be setting up education centres on rock music and Jam schools, and because I think it’s good for the soul. Then of course Killing Joke is a collective experience. It’s something that I share with the other guys. In contrast, I can remember being in a hotel room and the record company ringing me up and telling me that my record had been number one in the charts for weeks in America. So I put the phone down, had a whiskey and went to bed. There was no one to share it with. One’s a collective experience and the other is a hermit, a one man. When I’ve done a 100 concerts with the boys and we don’t want to see each others fucking faces, I’ll nip over to classical music.

TEDDIE: You have had a fantastic musical career over the last 33 years or so and your music has always been in sync with what is happening in the world. War, government control, anti capitalism. Your music seems to reflect the state of the world.  Are you all very politically engaged about what’s going on around you and on the same level, or does it lead to discussions and disagreements and does it reflect in to your music?

JAZ: Oh I think if you are talking about basic politics in a democratic system then Killing Joke is A-Political. I happen to know that there are only two of us that have ever voted - once. In terms of what’s going on in our world we are four avid observers of what is actually happening to our world on a broader scale. And then of course, we have never made so much money that we have been separated from the street or the ordinary person and that’s been a wonderful thing. When I think about the situation now and I wonder why Killing Joke is the reverse of so many bands, which is to say that it’s most intense work in the autumn of its career. I should say the autumn of our lives. No one can deny that the albums are getting more ferocious and more intense and I attribute Killing Jokes ongoing success in recent years to just one simple thing, it’s the empathy we have with people who are struggling to make ends meet. We are not separate from people. When I look at Youth, although he‘s the richest of us, he really likes to be close to the street. Geordie, as well. Paul is over in America most of the time, so I can’t spy on his personal life. Youths a hustler, but at the same time he is not a capitalist. I don’t think this band is driven by money. In fact I know it’s not. You can’t buy Geordie Walker. You could probably offer him 2 million pounds in cash. If it’s something he really doesn’t want to do he will go “No and take your fucking money with you”.  You know, he’s really so stubborn, but as a man, I have to admire him. He just hasn’t sold out as a person. He’s served Killing Joke so faithfully that when I think of it, he’s the only human being alive that has been present and correct at every single Killing Joke event ever and I love him so much for that. I will walk in to the mouth of Hell with him.

TEDDIE: It seems like you all have a very strong connection.

JAZ: Yeah. Take this Christmas for example. There was this very sad situation where Big Paul’s father died. It means a lot to us in Killing Joke because that’s the last of all of our dads. I was touched at Christmas because he spent all the time organizing his father’s funeral and stayed with Youth and meanwhile I was 100 kilometres off the coast of New Zealand on my island with Geordie. That’s after 33 years that I see people being loyal, good, lifelong friends and just by chance happen to be in the same band as well. It’s something that 20 number one hits and all the money in the world just couldn’t replace.

TEDDIE: It sounds like you all enjoy each other’s company.

JAZ: It’s amazing. We can actually drive each other mad and we clash gloriously, but I have spent more time with these guys than with my own bloody family and at this stage in our lives it’s continuing on. Geordie of all people wants us to record a new album every year. Beyond that and keeping up standards as this life is so dear to us in Killing Joke, our only ambition is to keep on going and bury each one of us until there is just one man left standing.

TEDDIE: The original line up of Killing Joke got back together after the death of Paul Raven. Obviously a unifying thing and you released your album in 2010 ‘Absolute Dissent’, which was very well received. It was said by you and the others at the time that this was the most important work Killing Joke had done. Is that still true after 2012?

JAZ: If you have a look at the press over the years, you’ll notice that I say the same thing every year. (hearty laugh) And it is true. When I look at the latest albums; ‘Extremities’, ‘Pandemonium’ and ‘Democracy’ and then ‘Hosannas’, which is our gatherers favourite album and then ‘Absolute Dissent’, and now our ‘2012’, these are our best records. It’s a strange band that seems to work in an inverted pattern of a normal bands career. It hasn’t been a bad run from the start. I’m amazed that we are all still alive and that we are all still together, as I’ve seen so many people pass. For the first five years of our career we used to practice in Notting Hill in the same place that the Clash used to rehearse. It’s all Youths fault. Youth went to their studio and they had a huge poster of the Clash, and he put a dollar sigh through the S of the word Clash. So every time we saw the Clash during the first 10 years or so, they would be scowling at us and we would be scowling at them. We always thought we were a tighter and better band than them. There was this horrible sort of atmosphere. Then one day I remember being in the pub down the road and Joe Strummer was opposite me and he said “Jaz, do you want a drink?” And I found him to be this lovely wonderful person. In fact we had this rule, every time we would bump in to each other, which was always in Ladbroke Grove, we would promise to go off on a three-day bender together. And every time I saw Joe from that time it would be “Lets go!!!” Whatever we were doing in life we would just stop it and go off on a three-day bender. Joe and Paul and so many people recently from my hometown are gone. Before I started Killing Joke there was this heavy metal guitarist called Weasel, and he ended up joining Motorhead two years after I started Killing Joke. He just died 3 or 4 weeks ago. There are so many people gone. Plenty of people around us have passed and are gone and we are still alive and I’m really grateful for that.

TEDDIE: The lifespan of a band normally is between 2-3 years but you guys have been playing together for 33 years or so. How do you explain that chemistry between you?

JAZ: Youth says it’s amazing if they get one album out these days, never mind two albums.

TEDDIE: There seems to be a lot of bands reforming these days. There is obviously a market for them out there,

JAZ: That’s an interesting point. I’m cynical when it comes to this trend in bands reforming. I’m kind of pissed off that people even bring it up in a funny way. The only thing that’s changed for Killing Joke in 2008 was that Big Paul joined us. Youths been playing on records all the way through the 90’s. It wasn’t like a huge “Killing Jokes getting back together”, we’ve been putting out records year in and year out anyway, with Raven. I love the incarnation of the original line up passionately. It’s only had one incarnation. We had our time with Raven, which was another glorious time. I’m just glad we’ve kept putting out music and going on tour, year in and year out. We are not associated with this nostalgic trend of reforming bands that should really split.

TEDDIE: The new album is out 2nd April, you have a sold out tour ahead of you, and a full British tour. You are using the warm up band ‘The Icaraus Line’ from LA, who are a heavy metal band. This is a question from Mel at Mudkiss. She’s my boss. She wondered whether there was a reason for choosing them.

JAZ: I’ve never heard of them before. Well we normally have two support bands. There is a tradition of “buy-on” in Europe, which is basically were a record company will pay for a band to actually support you. We don’t have any problem with this. There is something I have to point out, that the guys in the band have got a sick, black outlook on this. They will hire people for a job that they know they can’t do, so they can watch the whole thing fall to bits. And when it comes to support bands, we have had a very ancient and hallowed tradition of choosing bands that our audiences absolutely hate. This has been going on since 1981, since we started this and we have seen people being gobbed at, throwing cans at and all this stuff going on. It’s good sport. So the best of luck boys. (laughing loudly )

TEDDIE: The latest album 2012 is darker than anything you’ve done before. Explain why that is?

JAZ: I think everyone must be aware of the critical hour in terms of 2012 and what it means. It is predicted we are coming to the end of a cycle by several calendars; the Mayan calendar, the Inca calendar, the Rosicrucian calendar. Just about every calendar of every indigenous race in the world says that we are coming to the end of a huge cycle.

TEDDIE: But it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the earth though.

JAZ: No, I am sure many people will attend Jaz Coleman’s Champagne Breakfast Club, which is the day after the day the world is meant to end on.

TEDDIE: Well don’t pay the bill until after the event.

JAZ: hahha That’s right. I won’t pay the bill until after. That’s a very good idea. Fair as well. So no I don’t think the world will end, but I think we are in for a really, really rocky ride. It is the end of a cycle and I think the way we have all been living; travelling on planes and enjoying this life, which has been great, but I think that’s coming to an end. The bottom line is that our current rate of consumption of the resources, we will need a new planet in about 7 years time, to rape. There is no consciousness of sustainability with our slash and burn mentality that supports our current economic and capitalist system. So I think we are looking at nothing short of cataclysmic times ahead, but I don’t think it’s the end of the world. It is the end of the world that we have become accustomed to.

TEDDIE: It’s started already though, hasn’t it.

JAZ: Yeah, hasn’t it just.

TEDDIE: I read somewhere that you live your life by the Rosicrucian Principles. Do you use the chaos-cosmos stuff in your music and how does this work? Rhythm, vibration, pendulum, balance, poise and opposites?

JAZ: My passion for the last few years has been Earth Sciences. I’m a regular contributor to various traditions there. The Earths geomagnetic field and everything related to this subject. This crosses places like Stonehenge and stone circles and the great pyramids, these ancient places that have unusual properties. I approach these places with much reverence. If you have a look at photographs of myself in 2005 and you look at a photograph of me now, or indeed a photograph of me from the late 1990’s, you will notice that I look a lot younger now. All I can say it that it’s due to my adherence to the Rosicrucian principles. Beyond that, it’s a very personal thing that I don’t suppose anyone is really very interested in. Big Paul, since we started the band, was adamant that when it came to our spiritual traditions then we really shouldn’t say anything, since it’s such a personal issue. If it ever went to print it would come across like evangelising. So I don’t really like going in to those areas. When you look at me now and the smile on my face, that is the sum total result of the tradition that I follow.

TEDDIE: You are also known for being interested in the occult. By this of course I mean hidden esoteric knowledge and not this notion that all occultism has to do with the devil.

JAZ: There is a Christian notion that all occultism has to do with the devil.

TEDDIE: Occult in religion is often thought of as being something paranormal and not achieved through God (heretical) and therefore the work of an opposing and more malevolent entity. What it really means is that it’s hidden knowledge.

JAZ: One of the things I’ve had to accept about myself, because I have really done a lot of deep thinking about this. Over the years I’ve had to ask myself “Killing Joke, is it a force for good?” and then I’ve had to acknowledge the fact that my studies and my very close connection with the occult sciences, is this good or not? And then I   realise when I look back that when I was 6 or 7 years old, I had a large occult collection. When you take into consideration that I’m from an atheist family and I chose out of my own free will to become apart of church choir and Cathedral choir because I loved the ritual. I loved sacred music and ritual in all its forms. I ended up with a massive passion for the occult in my earliest, earliest years. By the time I was 9 I had a lot of occult masterpieces that I was studying. By the time I was 12, I was pretty well versed in Astrology. I wanted to know if there is any truth in magic. I wanted to see it. I wanted to see supernatural things happening and so in my early teens I decided to study magical tradition in all their forms all over the world. And that’s what I have done. I have written so much about it. You couldn’t get my studies into three books the size of Lord of the Rings.

TEDDIE: The reason I ask is that I feel that 2012 as an album reflects a lot on that.

JAZ: It does because we have to make this transition from the ME generation to the WE generation. We have to have a revolution of the human heart. Some people are so self-centred, and selfish and our society reflects this. It’s a dominant left of cerebral hemisphere mode that we are stuck in, where everything is represented by material value. If you look at something like architecture for example from 100 or 200 years ago and compare it to modern architecture now you will see our principles and values. Modern architecture is just boxes. Maximum output for minimal expenditure. Its utility based. It’s functional. Whereas if we go back a 100 years or more, we had the concept of beautifying the planet, of having a small space and trying to make it feel bigger. The concept of beautifying the planet has all been lost.

TEDDIE: So what happens now? What do you see yourself and Killing Joke doing in the future?

JAZ: I go on tour next weekend and I finish on the 16th. I fly to New Zealand on the 17th. Then I fix the sound on the Killing Joke movie. Then I’m doing a premier of the new Killing Joke movie in New Zealand first. Going to my youngest daughters 21st birthday. Then I jump back on a plane back to Europe to start the European tour. When all that’s done, I’ve got 10 days to tidy up a book, which is going out with my second symphony. Then I have to do Japan and Australia. Straight after that I’m meeting with the London Symphony Orchestra about doing my huge work, which is in seven languages. There are a few festivals over the summer. And that takes us to around September, where I have been asked to do another big tour of the UK with Killing Joke, and I may or may not. I don’t know. It’s with two other bands, The Mission and The Cult, and I’ve said No, I don’t want to do it. But then again I could be out-voted by the other three. If that is the case, I shall have to go and do it.

TEDDIE: Then you could tell them you want to come to Oslo. It’s only a 90 minute flight.

JAZ: If someone can find out the date of when we played in Oslo in 1983 or 1984, we’ll just try and do it. A dirty little club somewhere in Oslo would be perfect.

TEDDIE: I don’t think you’d be able to get everyone in to a dirty little club, but lets hope that happens.

www.killingjoke.com

Interview by Teddie 24/02/12