September 19, 2018 Interview – Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke
Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, and Soundgarden all have one thing in common, they have cited Killing Joke as a musical influence. Just a few of the many artists to claim inspiration from the England based band… who are these men who call themselves Killing Joke? A hybrid of musical ingenuity, Killing Joke have been around four decades – spanning every genre from Punk to Gothic Rock, to Electronic, to Metal.
Releasing fifteen albums, nearly all which broke into the top 100 of the UK album charts, they are not only prolific, they are pioneering. Unwilling to settle down within one style of music, Killing Joke prefer doing whatever the hell they want, and doing it well. Amidst their highly anticipated return to America, Killing Joke Vocalist Jaz Coleman took the time to chat about the last four decades of the band, their philosophy, believing in yourself, plus much more.
CrypticRock.com – Killing Joke has a rich history that dates back 40 years. Spanning styles, the band has become one of the most unique and influential Rock bands around. First, briefly tell us, what has the journey been like for you?
Jaz Coleman – The journey is an ongoing journey and out of this world. Currently, I am on a US tour I had mixed feelings about for a number of different reasons, but since I’ve been out in the US, I’ve just had the best time of my life. I can tell you now, if there is a US to come back to, Killing Joke will surely be touring the US again – we have all had such a marvelous time!
In regards to our style, it is one of those interesting things. When we have the summer season of doing outdoor festivals, you will find Killing Joke at a Dance festival, a Punk festival, a Metal festival, sometimes a Goth festival – you just never know what kind of genre we are going to find ourselves in. The same thing if you go into a record store and look for a Killing Joke record, you will find it in Punk, Metal, Rock/Pop, you will find it in Dance – they have a problem categorizing Killing Joke. If you see the four of us, we all have such eclectic tastes; it is hard to picture us all together, because we are all such different individuals.
As far as the journey goes, the journey hasn’t ended. The journey will end in the next life – I am committed to Killing Joke for the remainder of my life. The journey has taken us from teenagers, if you can imagine that, to so many great milestones – we recorded inside the great pyramid, we did our first New York gig in 1979-80 at the Rock Lounge. It is just an ongoing thing. They tell us we are one of the most influential bands in history now. It is all these wonderful things! I don’t know where to begin and where to end with Killing Joke’s history, we have done so many things.
When I’m not doing Killing Joke, I conduct orchestras, working in Russia and the Czech Republic a lot. I have a very different life: I go from Classic music to the extremes of Killing Joke. When you consider all of us left school around about the age of fifteen, none of us have any exams or anything. It’s a long journey from living in squats; it is a long journey from being underqualified and no university to becoming a maestro. I have also studied religion. With Killing Joke, what I am trying to say is, our further education – it is university for all of us. We have all accomplished so many things without any qualifications. I am actually an architect; I have designed three buildings now that have actually been built. While I don’t have any qualifications as an architect, I have actually designed and built houses. We don’t let anything get in our way: if we can visualize it, we just go and do it. We have no fear of failure as individuals.
What can I say about being in a band with your best friends forty years later? It’s the best thing in the world! The reason why we’re together and so many bands aren’t, it’s called communism – we split the pie four ways. There is no bitching – well there’s bitching, but not about money. (Laughs) We are still in the journey: it hasn’t ended and long may it continue.
CrypticRock.com – It is really wonderful and you have accomplished so much as a band, as well as individually. What is really special about Killing Joke is the band has had their commercial success without compromise, yet still have maintained an underground and independent persona. How important has it been to the band through the years to stick to their own philosophy, and has that been a challenge at times?
Jaz Coleman – In the ’80s it was kind of worse, because there was always the pressure to have a hit-single from record companies; I was always fighting against it. Whatever you think is commercial is not commercial, for a start. Often, the most surprising things you do are commercial. If you try contriving things for a market, normally it will fall flat on its ass. We’ve never done this with Killing Joke, I never know what to expect.
Whatever preconceptions you have about what a record is going to sound like, it ain’t going to sound like that; it’s going to be something different. You have to go into it with a real open mind with Killing Joke: it is a kind of experimental workshop. We get together and we lock into one kind of rhythm and something happens; I think it is a kind of friction between the four of us. You can have more professional players joining Killing Joke, and the same thing doesn’t happen. There is this friction thing between the personalities that makes it what it is.
Everyone challenges each other, nobody particularly agree with each other. Getting consensus in Killing Joke is one of the most difficult things ever – whether it is a setlist or agreeing over songs that go on an album. This is a microcosm of democracy in action. (Laughs) If we can reach consensus in Killing Joke, there is hope for democracy! (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – (Laughs) It is good to have different personalities and different opinions: that is what makes the world go round. The band continues to put out great new music and, in 2015, released your fifteenth studio album, Pylon. A great collection of songs, is there any new music coming soon?
Jaz Coleman – There will be another album. When we approach a new album, we always try and better every album that we have done before that. We are one of those strange bands that, as we get older, the music gets better. Normally you have records, you normally have your best records in your first 3-4 records, we are the other way around: as we get older, it gets better; It is bit like fine wine or a fine cigar, it really is like that. (Laughs) I can promise you the next record will top all of them, because I shall make it so. We start off like this – whatever you think is good with music, it’s not, that is fucking shit! Whatever you think is coming from God is still not there!
CrypticRock.com – You certainly outdo yourself each time. Is there any estimated timetable for new music?
Jaz Coleman – If I said something now, it wouldn’t be so. Whatever I say – this has happened or that has happened – and it probably doesn’t happen. So, I’m going to keep my mouth shut this time, but we are already kind of starting to work on it. As long as I keep Geordie to come up with as many riffs that he’s got, and the same with me, Youth, and Paul with his tribal patterns, the more we leave it, the more ideas we have and the better it’s going to be.
CrypticRock.com – Fantastic! You mentioned working with your friends for all these years – you have stuck together despite different personalities. What do you think has been the key to the bond you share, is it the friendship you share together?
Jaz Coleman – That is a very good point. Look, when you start off as teenagers together, you kind of grow together. Paul does some of the lyrics, and I do the majority of them, but you can’t tell the difference between our writing style. That is one of the great things about growing together as a band, you get a sort of similar writing style. That is the most important thing with any young band, to find their sound. Killing Joke has a sound that you just know as soon as you hear it; there are reference points straight away that you know that’s Killing Joke.
We are going to get into the esoteric if you ask me how come we’re still here. When it was just big Paul and myself in 1978, we thought, “How the hell are we going to find two other people that: A) Have a revolutionary style of playing music, B) Have a understanding of the esoteric, and C) Have an understanding of politics and basically high IQs.” So it was a tall order to find two other people to fit what our dream was. It was around 3 o’clock on the 26th of February in 1978, we did a prayer, or like a ritual, and within three weeks we had Geordie and Youth. Forty years later, here we are together. I attribute a certain amount of the magical to our continued success and union.
CrypticRock.com – It is wonderful to see it continue. You mentioned about coming back to the USA, and you are currently in the midst of an exciting US tour.
Jaz Coleman – I’m loving it! I never thought I could enjoy America so much, I really love America. Like all our countries, we inherit a government everywhere which is easy to be critical of. Once you forget about the machinery of government, then you have the people of a place.
I don’t think there is anywhere on planet earth we have a warmer reception than the United States of America. I love the American people, I believe they deserve the best! I am a lover of the US Constitution: I think it’s a hallmark for freedom and long may it be defended. My only thoughts on anything coming close to politics are beware of those people who would alter the existing constitution.
CrypticRock.com – Good point. Politics can be a sensitive subject with many people, especially nowadays.
Jaz Coleman – Well, I really don’t have any right to talk about politics anywhere, because I’ve never voted once in my life, not once. (Laughs) You know what, I don’t know whether I’ve ever seen a politician I like, anywhere at anytime ever in my life.
CrypticRock.com – (Laughs) Well, politics are not a pretty aspect of life, better off leaving them alone. With the touring going on, you are also busy with other things. Tell us a little more about your other musical endeavors.
Jaz Coleman – You have to remember, before Killing Joke, I had a Classical career and by the time I was 13-14 I had won many international awards for Classical music. I was already set, and to my parents horror, I went into Punk Rock when Killing Joke was formed. (Laughs) Around about the age of 21-22, I decided to study Classical music again. Some ten years later, after using the money I made with Killing Joke to go back in to study orchestration, my Classical music career started. I was very lucky, actually. I probably have sold more Classical records than Killing Joke records in my career, but most people don’t realize it. I had a #1 in America for 108 weeks in Classical music, most people don’t realize that either. I’ve done really well there.
As things exist now, when I am not doing Killing Joke, I work at St. Petersburg in Russia, which is a very different place to work. I work with the St. Petersburg State Orchestra, and also now with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. I do the summer festivals with the symphony orchestras there at the Czar’s Palace in St. Petersburg; I love working out of Russia. It’s a very different place and, of course, you have to adapt. It gives you a different perspective of the world when you work out of these places. That is my life on one end.
Then as things progress, I intend to work for the United Nations next. That is my next goal. You see, the only way warring tribes can talk to each other is through something called ‘united nations.’ (Laughs) If we don’t have that, where the hell are we going? I am a passionate supporter of the United Nations, and more importantly, it’s spiritual foundation – which is non-denominational and universal.
CrypticRock.com – We could use more unifying ideology: the division has become so intense around the world, especially in the USA.
Jaz Coleman – What we’re learning, after the so-called breakup of the United Kingdom, and of course the last American election, is the best people to look after a country are the indigenous people from that country. Then we have a system of tribals all around the world and they need to talk to each. We have to do that through the instrument we all know as United Nations. This is my feeling.
The idea of trying to homogenize everything, there are a lot of things about globalism I absolutely detest. One of the things I really hate is going to so many cities around the world and seeing the same shops everywhere; the same stores – it just so ghastly. My dream is tiny, family-run enterprises everywhere; that is a more interesting world than globalism. I am not convinced globalism is working and it is necessarily the right way. But there you go, as if my opinion is going to count. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – You raise a lot of great points. Last question. Beyond music, CrypticRock also cover films – particularly Horror and Sci-Fi. If you enjoy these genres or any other genres, do you have any favorites?
Jaz Coleman – The last movie soundtrack I did was Walt Disney’s Mulan (1998). Since then, I have moved out of movie soundtracks. That is because primarily if you go into doing movie soundtracks, you can never go back into Classical music, because they never take you seriously anymore in the business.
I kind of moved away from doing soundtracks. My favorite all-time movie soundtrack would have to be The Mission (1996) by Ennio Morricone. The music is better than the film, and you have to love Ennio. I love him.
CrypticRock.com – There are many films where the music makes the film.
Jaz Coleman – There are plenty. I am not adverse to doing movie soundtracks again in the future and if it suits my style. The thing I have with movies is, I hate music taking second place. (Laughs) Well if there is anyone reading this that has a movie where they think my music is appropriate, get in touch!