“Writing with Killing Joke is always traumatic…” hmv.com talks to Jaz Coleman
One of the last bands standing from the first wave of UK punk, Killing Joke has steadily honed its sound into a titanic, metallic, political, industrial-strength powerhouse. Pylon, the band’s 14th album (which you can preview and purchase on the right-hand side of the page), is no less unrelenting than its previous two, 2010’s Absolute Dissent and 2012’s MMXII.
Naturally, for a band that’s been around so long, its history is convoluted, and includes: singer/songwriter Jaz Coleman moving to Iceland to avoid the coming Apocalypse (1982); an eight-year hiatus; and numerous lineup changes and reunions of various personnel. The original lineup of Coleman, Paul Ferguson (drums), Kevin “Geordie” Walker (guitars) and Martin “Youth” Glover (bass) came together again in 2008, and has been together ever since.
hmv.com spoke to Coleman in Prague. The voluble frontman, who is also an author and a composer/arranger (one of his upcoming projects is an album of symphonic versions of Nirvana songs), proved very voluble indeed. This is a necessarily truncated version of the interview.
What’s happening in Prague?
“It’s 7 o’clock here. I’m overlooking wonderful architecture and gloating over the new Killing Joke album. I use Prague specifically for writing, whether it’s classical music or Killing Joke. The ambience in this town is just something else. ‘You can never know Prague in a lifetime,’ they say.
“Last September we started the writing process and we finished all the tracking by February. And then it was mixed. It was all done in Prague. Except for the drums. We put the drums on last in Great Britain, just because there was a great drum room we wanted to use for Paul.”
What is the band’s songwriting process?
“There’s no fixed way with Killing Joke. I tend to use mostly my lyrics but not altogether. Paul writes in a very similar matter to myself, we both set off on writing on similar subjects. I basically synthesize wherever I feel it can work. We started off, all four of us, and found we got better results if it was just the nucleus of Geordie and myself, and Youth coming in every two weeks or so.”
You mentioned you were gloating over the new record. Where does it fit into the band’s oeuvre? What parts are you most proud of?
“The misconception most people have of this new record is that it’s 10 tracks. It’s not, it’s 15. We wrote 16 but we all fell in love with 15. No one could decide what should go on, we’ll call it CD 1. The five tracks you haven’t heard are not bonus tracks. They’re the rest of the record. And something that really infuriates Youth - I have to listen to him whining about it - is that tracks like ‘Apotheosis,’ everyone thinks they’re bonus tracks and they’re not. You haven’t heard the whole album until you’ve heard all 15 songs.
"It really is f***ing explosive, it just gets heavier and heavier and heavier. ‘Panopticon’ and ‘Apotheosis’ are two favourites that aren’t on the 10-track version of the CD. It’s the first time I’ve ever put 10 tracks of a new album in a setlist. So it’s been a bit of a renaissance, this last year. But I can’t say it’s been a pleasant year. It never is when you’re writing with Killing Joke, it’s always f***ing traumatic.”
A lot of the lyrics are informed by world events, and that’s been a theme with Killing Joke throughout its history. Do you ever look at your early lyrics and think they were naïve or has there been a very consistent outlook?
“I think the lyrics have been very consistent. When I see all the geo-engineering projects that are happening, and the first line we wrote in Killing Joke was ‘The sky is turning grey,’ it’s all incredibly relevant (laughs).
“It’s interesting you mentioned that, though. I’ve just compiled all the Killing Joke lyrics from 1979 to 2015, I’ve just done the whole damn lot. I’ve titled it The Sacred and Profane Verse of Killing Joke, and we’re going to be selling that kind of product at the gigs instead of just T-shirts and crap like that. We’re preparing to go on the road for over a year.”
As a world traveller you have more perspective than a lot of people. Does that make it into the lyrics?
“The lyrics are deeply felt. I have to point out that I’m a complete political atheist, I’ve only voted once in my life. I kind of follow the thinking of Socrates. He said that the duty of every citizen to engage in the issues of the day. I think it’s the responsibility of the citizen to assess what’s going on. One is bound to speak out, as Socrates exhorts us to do. I believe that. Maybe that’s because I was born 15 years after the last world war.
"My father fought in the Second World War. The idea that there ever should be a recurrence of what happened, or as nasty as what happened, in the last world war - one has to always been vigilant when it comes to extremism, whether it be fascism or communism or any sort of extreme-ism, if you like. Any totalitarian system that emerges or is emerging, we are bound to speak out. It’s a sin not to speak out when we see something is wrong. That’s exactly what happened the last time, in Nazi Germany.
“In this way, I kind of use Killing Joke as a means of catharsis, as a way to process the horrors of the unfolding world. The gigs and everything is something I immerse myself in. It makes me feel better afterwards. It’s a shared experience, it’s not like composing for orchestra, which is more hermetic. It’s a shared experience with the audience in quite a unique way with Killing Joke aficionados.
“One thing I cherish is the kind of consciousness of the people who are drawn to our concerts. I cherish these events. They are autonomous zones if you like, or gatherings. They’re places you can almost breathe a sigh of relief because you’re amongst your own. Which, in this day and age, is becoming rarer.”