Killing Joke: Beyond the Chaos – the Jaz Coleman interview

Uncompromising post-punk legends Killing Joke are on the cusp of releasing their first new material in seven years and embarking on a series of Spring tour dates, their first UK run in more than three years.

The ‘Lord of Chaos’ EP, with a link to the title track here, features two new recordings plus re-workings of two songs from their most recent studio album, 2015’s Pylon, suggesting now provides the optimum time – with ‘the Doomsday Clock hitting 100 seconds to midnight’- to re-emerge.

As frontman Jaz Coleman (vocals, keyboards) put it, “I’ve never known anything like the time we’re living in now; not since the Cuban Missile crisis. But now in comparison we have multiple flashpoints, and ‘Lord of Chaos’ is about complex systems failure, when technology overloads and A.I. misreads the enemy’s intentions.” 

And this confrontational combo – having reverted to their original line-up in 2008 – display no signs of mellowing, as those who turn out for the tie-in 11-date tour – starting with an intimate warm-up at the Frog & Fiddle in Jaz’s hometown of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, on Sunday, March 27th, and concluding in a filmed appearance near the band’s West London roots at Hammersmith Apollo on Saturday, April 9th – will surely witness, the band promising ‘music as ritual – raw, uncompromising and precisely-targeted’. 

Joined on stage and on record by fellow ‘founding fathers of the group’ and ‘ongoing influences on both alternative music and (counter) culture in general’, guitarist Geordie (aka Kevin Walker), bass player/legendary record producer Youth (Martin Glover), and drummer Big Paul (Ferguson), they promise ‘collective nostrils flared and righteous anger carried torch-high’, this combative quartet determined to ‘take their music of resistance to fresh levels’.

But you can only surmise so much from press releases, hence me taking the opportunity to quiz Jaz on the lead-up to those live shows. At first, that interview was set up for when he arrived in Prague from his base in New Zealand, but between lost mobile phones and manifold other reasons which make him hard to nail down, our pencilled-in appointments were arranged and rearranged several times before the following conversation came to pass, Jaz tracked down to a pub on the Portobello Road in Notting Hill, where Killing Joke’s journey truly started in 1979.

And that was just a case of me trying to pin down one-quarter of this notoriously transient outfit. Think of that 27km ring of super-conducting magnets in the Large Hadron Collider doing its thing on the particle acceleration front in Switzerland, and maybe you’re not far off understanding how this band operate. Accordingly, when I finally tracked Jaz down, I asked first if it was something of a logistical nightmare in the space-time continuum getting the band together.

“Well, Killing Joke was working right up, pretty much, until Covid kicked in, we were on tour right up until that happened. And we knew something big was going to happen because we’d looked at the astrology, knowing something massive was about to happen. So, of course, we lost about two years, and in those two years, places and people have changed massively.

“We all live in different countries, and I never stay in one place. I can’t. I’m a nomad. I’ve tried staying in one place, but I just can’t, you know, I just can’t keep still. And no one place has everything for me.”

But the magic still happens when you, Geordie, Big Paul and Youth finally get together.

“Ah, it’s an amazing chemistry. Sure, it does. Can you imagine, between us all we’ve got 250 years of experience. Ha ha!”

Yep, there’s that trademark rasping laugh, and not for the last time during our conversation, I might add.

I was lucky enough, I mentioned, to edit Chris Bryans’ excellent Killing Joke band biography and fan’s history, A Prophecy Fulfilled, which landed mid-pandemic (This Day in Music Books, 2020). And within he calls his band ‘a dysfunctional family’, going on to describe a cartoon drawn by Youth, in which a despairing mixing engineer has his head in his hands while Jaz and Youth argue as to whether the faders should go up or down. Another day at the office, KJ style?

“Ha! Yeah, it’s like that. I mean, it’s one almighty clash of wills and personalities. But when it locks in, it’s monstrous! Everybody, I can guarantee everyone … probably except Youth … is going through massive stress at the moment. Because it is stressful before we all get together, every time. I don’t know why, but it just is for everybody. But one thing you can be certain of is that however bad you feel, it’s worse for the other person. Haha!”

And yet, as you put it, you regard touring as a complete celebration, and when you’ve put together those live performances and come back off stage, you feel spiritually cleansed.

“Oh, I do – it’s the best thing in the world.”

Is that something you’ve missed in the last couple of years?

“Oh, sure. Touring with Killing Joke is like … we go into this with loads of gatherers, wherever we are, whatever continent we’re on. It’s amazing. And you’re with your own people, you’re with your own tribe, and these are the people I’ve given my life to. And these people have put food in my stomach. This is the counterculture that I believe in, and these are the people I believe in. And that’s it. You see, it’s also much more than just music. It’s a life. It’s a way of life.”

On the other hand, again in your own words, you’re ‘the only fucker who’s been fired from Killing Joke’.

“Well, yes, it’s true. There you are, I’ve been fired, and all sorts of things have happened to me in my long, long career with the band that I started. Ha! But you know, you go through these phases, and it tells you all about human nature. I mean, for sure, I never used to believe that man needs tweaking, but I do now. The question is, who will make up the philosophical elect? Who is morally responsible enough to make up a philosophical elect that can, for example, regulate artificial intelligence, and our participation in that? These are the huge questions that lie ahead for humanity.”

And are we any closer to an understanding to find those answers, do you think, or does everything throw up more questions?

“Well, we do have the framework on the planet to make this happen. What we don’t have is the moral compass. There’s not a single politician I like. Show me one leader who’s prepared to live in a small room and eat a frugal diet. Mankind is in essence greedy. I’m a collectivist. I like living with people, in groups of people, and I’ve always lived in squats, wherever possible, and I believe in Earth communities. And that’s what I’ve tried to develop in different parts of the world, secretly, over the last 40 years or so.”

I get the impression you’ve at least found a bit of that inner peace during your time living in New Zealand.

“Well, absolutely, because you see in the end, I think we waste so much energy on fear, and I have myself – I’m as guilty as anyone else of missing out on life. Haha! And this is something Killing Joke can help with. When you’re at our concerts, we can channel that fear away and get on with our lives. I mean, to be honest I use Killing Joke as a means to not think about apocalypses and negative images these dreadful religions have created and put in people’s minds – these death cults, as I call them. Because, if you think about what the physicists say, which is to say we’re all participants in creating our reality, if we visualise apocalypse all the time, that in essence is what we’re going to create.

“So I always use Killing Joke as a social function, a means to get the shit out and use art as a means to channel the fear. So we can all experience getting rid of this fear together … collectively. And that of course is the essence of a Killing Joke concert.”

You put your own epiphany towards this path you set out on in music and beyond initially down to discovering Can and weed. Does that still help you focus?

“Well … I don’t … when I’m working I can’t take anything, to be honest. But when I’m not working … I’ll eat a space cookie. I’m not a big smoker anymore, because I have to sing. I like being high, but I’ve not had a drink for 17 years. And the rest of the time I get high on physical fitness, to be honest. Keeping fit.”

Stepping on to a stage to perform must provide a major high too.

“Ah! When you’re living, you’re alive. I don’t differentiate between fear and excitement. I don’t know which is which, y’know. I love it. What you call stepping out on stage for me is going into my front room, where all my friends are.”

That’s a neat way of putting it. And what was the first song you put down as a band that made you think you really had something going on? Or was there always that self-belief beneath the outward, confrontational stance created by the band’s music and stage presence?

“Oh, it was evident from the first jam, when it locked in. I remember the moment … I came from Cheltenham this morning, and of course, we’re playing in Cheltenham (on this tour) – for the first time in my hometown, which is pretty amazing. And I’m going to try and get the guys in the band to come to my family house to see Mum. They haven’t been there for 43 years, altogether in the house, since we were there when we started the band.”

Yes, the tour starts with an intimate warm-up show at the Frog & Fiddle in his hometown on the last Sunday of the month. I bet the thought of Sunday night in Cheltenham will conjure up a few memories too, reminding you of your past frustrations and so on, those initial feelings you had when putting a band together.

“Ah yeah, Sunday night in Cheltenham … that’s right. Well, y’know, I’ve got such a dodgy past in Cheltenham. I had four criminal offences before I was 16. When people start whining about their children, I go, ‘Really? Let me tell you about me, right, and what my parents had to go through with me. It’s nothing!’”

And what do you think Cheltenham makes of Dr. Jaz Coleman today? Not least being confronted by a giant end-of-terrace mural of him?

“I don’t know what people think. But actually, people are very kind when I walk through Cheltenham. What can I say? You know, it’s a big passage of time. I mean, what I’ve seen in my lifetime … when I was born, it took so many thousands and thousands of years to reach like three billion people. Then in my lifetime, it’s gone to about eight billion people.

“I remember being on steam trains and stuff as a kid, and seeing that technological transformation of the planet in a lifetime … well, I’ve been in the same band since I was a teenager, and I’ve had the privilege to be able to capture these huge moments in history, and living with the stresses and the fears of a nuclear age. We are a kind of Doomsday cult, in a way. Because we’ve learned to live with the fear of extinction and all-out thermonuclear war. We’ve lived with it. I’ve lived with it all my life.

“My father used to see me stressed out about it and he’d tell me what it was like in those days when the Nazis were coming, when they were coming to take over the UK. He used to remind me what the fear was like then, and that in the end we only have each other.

“And that brings me to Killing Joke, and all the divisions we always have in Killing Joke. I see it that we have to overcome our differences in our band. If we don’t, it’s a microcosm of a wider world and it means there is no hope for man. It is so important for me to listen to everybody and for us to come together, to draw together … as I expect all gatherers to do to help each other – love, care, protect and share, I always say, and I believe in this fervently.”

Only a week or so ago, you were in Prague. You’ve also got links going back to time in East Germany and even Minsk. You clearly see yourself as a world citizen, and it must make – knowing so many people across Eastern Europe – this current grim conflict in Ukraine all the more real. What’s more, it’s one unfolding right in front of our eyes on the TV.

“It’s been on the cards for the last 10 years. I visit Russia with music, as I do all continents. And I’ve noticed everything deteriorating in terms of Western/Russian relations, which I’ve seen consciously dismantled over that period. And the bottom line is this, right – if Tibet had oil, we’d give a fuck about Tibet! Ha! Russia is the largest landmass in the world, it stretches right the way to the Arctic, and there’s resources there, and we’re in the middle of a potential resource world war, and everybody’s out for themselves. But hopefully … well … diplomacy or extinction?”

I recall while travelling the world in 1991, the harrowing, car-crash spectacle of seeing the Gulf War unfold in front of us on all-night TV news channels. That was scary enough, but this time we’re not just seeing fighter planes, tanks and weaponry, but also refugees fleeing, and it makes it all the more relatable, because – surprise, surprise – they’re just like us. It could be us, despite all those right-wing rags and news networks stoking the fire, talking about invasions of migrants and so on. And, arguably, those are the kinds of horrors that until now we haven’t been able to see in past conflicts.

“No, but one way or another, nothing’s surprising. But look, let me tell you something – there’s something called the pendulum theory, which means to say that everything at the moment is swinging towards an extremely virulent form of fascism, which is ultimately ruled by corporations. But wait a minute, when the pendulum swings that far that way, where the fuck is it gonna go next? It’s gonna go the other way. And there you go, the 0.1% should be very, very scared. Because in the end, people are gonna wake up to this crap and … God knows what’s gonna happen. I don’t really know.”

Maybe that’s a more positive way to think of it, in the long run. There’s clearly darkness ahead, but hopefully some light as well.

“We are the torchbearers!”

And seeing as I mentioned that mural in Cheltenham, there’s very few of you from the music world with such an accolade in this country. Ringo Starr just this week and also John Lennon in Liverpool, David Bowie, Joe Strummer and Amy Winehouse in recent years in London, but not many others spring to mind. Does that make you feel proud?

“Not really, I don’t really give a fuck about things that stroke the ego, I don’t really know much about them. What I’m consumed with is having the opportunity to go back to my country and start a massive reforestation programme. That’s the kind of thing that would lift people’s spirits, when they see mass reforestation happening. This is the kind of message we need to put out in the world.

“I moved to New Zealand because I was inspired by the Rt. Hon. David Lange, who made New Zealand a nuclear-free zone. God rest his soul. In that tradition, long may New Zealand stay this way. And it may lead the world – and I believe it will – one day into a better way of living.”

With you a part of that?

“Yes, absolutely. I sign up to this, I believe in the restoration of the biosphere. I believe in the resurrection of nature and the planets and the goodness in mankind. I believe in this.”

A lovely point to finish on. Thanks for your time.

“A real pleasure, thanks Malcolm.”

And pretty soon you can get back on that tour bus for Honour the Fire, your first UK run of shows in more than three years.

“I’m looking forward to that. It’ll be real fun to see everybody after we’ve been gnashing our teeth and hating the thought of seeing each other. When you’re actually faced with everybody, it’s pretty wonderful, because there’s not many people that are witnesses to the all-incredible experiences of everything from the King’s Chamber {Killing Joke putting down vocal tracks inside the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt} and of time standing still and of the most extraordinary experiences. I happen to be in a band that have witnessed those experiences with me, and we’re still kicking arse … brutally kicking arse!

“So yeah, life’s good, come on, we must all march on! There’s a future ahead there. There’s no future in nuclear war.”

For a link to this website’s feature in February 2021 with Peter Hook about his K÷ side-project with Jaz Coleman and Geordie Walker, head here. And for this site’s feature/interview with Brix Smith, a special guest on the London date of the forthcoming Killing Joke tour, and her work with Youth, from the previous month, head here.

The ‘Lord of Chaos’ EP is available on CD, digital and three vinyl formats from March 25, its first two tracks – the title track and ‘Total’, both produced by Killing Joke and mixed by Tom Dalgety – setting the tone for the band’s next studio album, which is being worked on in Prague. Tracks three and four give a fresh spin to tracks from the Pylon album, with ‘Big Buzz (Motorcade Mix)’ remixed by Tom Dalgety and Nick Evans, and ‘Delete’ given full Dub treatment courtesy of Youth and named ‘Delete In Dub (Youth’s Disco 45 Dystopian Dub)’. To purchase or stream the EP, head here. And for the title track’s video, head here.

The Honour the Fire UK tour, with The Imbeciles supporting on all dates except Cheltenham, and Brix Smith a special guest in London: March: Sunday 27th – Cheltenham Frog & Fiddle; Monday 28th – Cardiff Tramshed; Tuesday 29th – Nottingham Rock City; Thursday 31st – Bristol O2 Academy. April: Friday 1st – Liverpool O2 Academy; Saturday 2nd – Birmingham O2 Institute; Monday 4th – Manchester Albert Hall; Tuesday 5th – Newcastle Boiler Shop; Wednesday 6th – Glasgow Barrowland; Friday 8th – Leeds O2 Academy; Saturday 9th –Hammersmith  Eventim Apollo. Tickets are available via www.myticket.co.uk. For more on Killing Joke, check out their official website and Facebook page.

With thanks to Carla Potter (CPM), Rob Kerford (Sonic PR), and photographer and Killing Joke fan, Gary M. Hough, whose www.shotfrombothsides.co.uk website is well worth checking out.

About writewyattuk

A freelance writer and family man being swept along on a wave of advanced technology, but somehow clinging on to reality. It's only a matter of time ... A highly-motivated scribbler with a background in journalism, business and life itself. Away from the features, interviews and reviews you see here, I tackle novels, short stories, copywriting, ghost-writing, plus TV, radio and film scripts for adults and children. I'm also available for assignments and write/research for magazines, newspapers, press releases and webpages on a vast range of subjects. You can also follow me on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/writewyattuk/ and on Twitter via @writewyattuk. Legally speaking, all content of this blog (unless otherwise stated) is the intellectual property of Malcolm Wyatt and may only be reproduced with permission.
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