'The best way to write music is to forget about music.'
29/06/2019, Danil VOLOHOV
photos: © Nic Serpell-Rand
Jaz Coleman is a person who needs no introduction. For the last 30+ years his name has been associated with Killing Joke. The band has inspired not only generations of musicians but also a certain sort of attitude they cultivated in their music with Killing Joke’s incredible ability to change lots of forms and not forget their background.
After a few years of hard work on symphonic music Jaz Coleman is ready to present the result of his work to listeners, two albums recorded in St.Petersburg. Before they came out “Peek-A-Boo” magazine had the chance to speak with Jaz Coleman about mysticism and punk-rock, about “Night Time” and “Pandemonium”, about early years and current activity, about coming records and the new Killing Joke record.
Speaking in terms of your inspiration - you always noted that, feeling anger, you decided to form a band with Big Paul ( Ferguson ). That was the factual start of Killing Joke. Of course lots of people know you as the band that criticised the politics of that period but how has your relationship towards these things evolved through the years ?
When I met Big Paul, he lived in this house, full of people living there. There was an interesting man who worked for a human relations institution. I don’t know what exactly he did there. It was behavioral science. We were 18-19 years old, respectively. We learnt shocking things about the modern world. We learnt about corporations that became the dominant force in the world we were growing into. And of course, it was Mussolini who said that economic corporations are fascism. We learned many things from this individual who was working…I guess it must have been classified beause he signed the Official Secrets Act. He would talk about not just a corporatisation of the world but technocracy and the way the world was going. Basically a high mind if you like. This was when we were 18-19 and add to this, we had a different world from most bands because of our involvement in studying ancient mysteries and magic basically, in many of its forms. So we had a very different understanding of the world. And we had an access to different knowledge. For example, my view on the current religious establishment was shaped by views on the historical Christ and different things like this. So anyway, we had access to different information and most of the scholars we were studying at that time…and I can tell you them! Alice Bailey, Blavatsky…but Alice Bailey in particular. I worked with Lucis Trust. She talked openly about evolving to one-world-government. So we had a good idea which way the world was evolving. There was another writer called Nima, who started the Maath. She talked about the high and about the high of mind. Crowley and Manly P. Hall later told us the same, stating the world is evolving. Before we were even 20 we had a good idea of the way the world was moving because we had access to different streams of knowledge, basically! And I’m very thankful for that! Killing Joke must have been realized from that. We signed a record deal in 1980. Killing Joke got the attention…and I’m very grateful for it…of one very high-ranking initiative mason. Basically, that bank-rolled another seven years of our development. We've got a very interesting and unusual background with the band…I’m trying to explain why we had such a different worldview to other people. Let me be frank about Killing Joke and its function for me, on a personal level. You might have discovered by now that human genes are flawed. There is a reason why young men are conscripted to the army at the age of 18-19-20 …it’s because we have a war impulse in us because of our maker. Our DNA-maker put a mixture in there…so anyway, to cut a long story short. Killing Joke has been an effective surrogate for war impact in myself and certainly in Big Paul. With our energy and anger we could have easily become criminals. And I think that Killing Joke is a force for good. It helps us to confront the centuries…that can be described as Leviathan. If you’d look at the force in our world for mass-centralisation, it’s a scary thought. So that’s a kind of background to it. Anger…I still feel anger after all these years because fundamentally I believe that all men are equal. And of course, we use the phrase 1% in industry and media but it’s probably 1% of 1%. It’s like saying: “We use 60% of world resources!” And yes, I do feel it. Every day of my life when Killing Joke processes the way everything is going.
Many times I’ve asked people about the influence of punk-rock on their creativity. So I’d like to ask you about it as well because, as a critic, I can’t help but notice the influence of punk rock on your debut album. Can you say that punk became the key element of your music or you were more inspired with the aesthetics of the movement ?
Oh…it was massively influential. Let’s put it into perspective! The first wave of punk was manufactured. It was manufactured as a boy band but what came out of it was very interesting. Then, we got the second wave of punk. Which is when Bob Marley came to England and we heard a fusion of reggae-bass-lines with punk music. That was second wave of punk. The third wave of punk, in my opinion, was when mysticism was added to the equation. Joy Division took this part and Killing Joke, etc. Punk was hugely influential on all of our lives. It allowed you to be and do anything you want. Like if you want to be an actor, the best way to start is by saying: “I’m an actor!” and believing in it. With punk there was a philosophy of no fear of failure that came there as well. And I owe punk so much because it allowed me to become a poet, a priest, an architect and actor. A performer, a conductor, a composer. Just few of the activities I think of, I can keep going on. But it was punk rock that gave me that sense of no-fear of failure and have-a-go sort of attitude.
You once said that being in Killing Joke was a system of self-education. What was the first important lesson you learned being in the band ?
The first important lesson I think we all learned was media-studies (laughs) because, we could play as headliners ten weeks after we started. And that was due to what I call “Two Johns”. It was John Peel – the DJ, who could been playing our new EP non-stop every night but there was a Peel Session. And then there was John Lydon, who was talking about Killing Joke in the press, at the same time. That’s why Killing Joke sold out its first concert in London ten weeks after we formed. It’s because of media studies (laughs).
After the release of “Revelations” you started your work on “Fire Dances” which became a landmark album for Killing Joke. Firstly, because of your collective changes, on one hand – you lost Youth, on the other – you got the brilliant Paul Raven. And of course, the result you got on that album. Could you please tell me a little bit about the process of work on that record ? And there was also another John as well! John Porter who recorded it with you!
If you really want to know the ambience about this record – there is no better person to answer than John Porter. Cause he’d seen EVERYTHING (laughs). At the time we used to go to the studio during “Fire Dances” there was never any less than 20 people around us. At that time we had this very kind benefactor, his name is Terry…and he just came out of prison. He’d been a part of a well known crime syndicate. He was there during “Revelations”. He knew how to move straight and softly but he still had all these people around him who we didn’t really think much about at that time. They were like the mob. I wasn’t aware until about the last couple of years how much terror we used to strike in people when we used to go from place to place. It was still 1983-84…so “Fire Dances” period. We had some interesting ways in Killing Joke, different from now. In terms of our devotional and spiritual activities we always celebrated the Full Moon. Which is funny - I still do that now! Of course I do that with Lucis Trust – Full Moon meetings basically. We always used to do this. “Fire Dances” was basically our pagan kind of spirituality. We’ve always said in Killing Joke that we’re ruled by ancestral forces. And I’m serious when I’m saying this – this is the truth. We’re a band that are completely UNMANAGABLE. For instance, in music, there is always a strange force that seems to provide everything for us because, it’s my personal opinion that Killing Joke has the most holy mission AHEAD of it, never mind the past. There is always an “ancestral spirit” as we call it. You can hear it on songs like “Song and Dance” which is really about invoking the ancestral spirit. When we’re talking about it we’d talk about ancestral spirit but the first thing that comes to mind is my Dad (laughs)! I’ve been in the band so long…we watched all our fathers dying, going to the next world. But as he believed – consciousness survives death. Our fathers all would get together managing us. To govern and shape what’s happening in this world. So in terms of ancestral spirit…it’s still what we’re doing up to this day. When we do a concert, for example, we always do it invoking, calling the spirits of the place we’re in to be with us and to help us in what we’re trying to do with music at that particular time. One thing that separates mankind from the animal kingdom is ritual. And the way we present our music is both ceremonial and ritualistic. We basically use rock-music to provide that sanctuary. We consciously do this with the band.
I can’t help but notice that at that point your shows changed as well because, when somebody says “Killing Joke” we all think about something phenomenal, almost theatrical, like a play. So performing on the stage what are you aiming to show to your listeners/fans ? What have you been provoking from them?
Well, I never think about that much in the way you’re thinking about it. Firstly, my relationship with music it’s like an arranged marriage. I’m anglo-asian. It was decided when I was four and my brother was six that he would do science and I would do music. It’s like an arranged marriage for me. So I don’t really think about it. How and why…it’s just the way things are. When I go on stage, I remember going on and I remember coming off. The rest is a little bit like surrealism. It’s like an oil painting. I’m not using my mind. I’m feeling more than thinking. You see, we have two brains. The cerebral capacity described brain but then, we have our heart. The heart is the moral brain, having to know whether things are right or wrong, we pass it to our heart. The mind comes with all sorts of subsidised ideas but our heart always tells the truth. For example, when you lie to yourself you get a burn in your solar plexus. And that’s when you’re f**king lying to yourself! So in the human body we have a proper physiology that allows us to understand when something is morally or ethically right or wrong. With regards to the concert – it’s a ritual that we’re doing for ourselves as much as everybody else and people know this, when they come to it. And let me be honest…let me be really, really frank with you - I never wanted to be a singer. I always just wanted to be a keyboard player but that was done to me by the other members of the band. That’s the first thing. The second thing would be that I can’t stand the sound of my voice. And the third – I can’t stand the sight of me…so I’ve never seen Killing Joke live (laughs). I’m at the point of not looking at myself on any screen whether it’s TV back in the 80s or whether it’s a computer screen there.
At that point your work was quite productive. In particular you released such cult albums as “Night Time” and “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” which represented a classical sound of Killing Joke. So speaking in terms of that period of your creativity, can you say, what affected these things ?
It’s interesting because both those albums were recorded in Berlin. We were pretty much living in Berlin during that period and it was a very exciting time for us. Everything that was happening since the Island experience of 1982 up to this time. I became increasingly passionate about classical music AGAIN. I came from classical music back then, as you know. But then, after 1982 I decided that I wanted to become a composer again. And between 1982 and when I worked with Conny Plank, also in Germany, I started flying to Berlin at least once a month, specifically to see the brilliant Philharmonic perform. And I’d always go when Herbert Von Karajan conducted the orchestra. I spent a lot of this time doing a lot of classical music and then of course when we started recording in Berlin. The effect of listening to so much classical music led into…you can hear in “Night Time” and “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” how things are becoming more tonal and harmonic, if you like. In fact, this music was orchestrated beautifully. And it’s these things I’d like to do on my next symphonic Killing Joke cause I already done one…but it was an interesting time where basically I became aware of, from my own perspective, using two sides of me. One part of me is in dissonance and chaos and the other part of me is perpetually searching for harmony, tonality and perpetual melody. So I used both of these sides of my personality there while going in different directions. You can hear the two conflicting sides of my personality on those two records. Where, basically I’m using a lot of harmony from the keyboard. And this of course changed again by the time we reached Extremities and got back to more experimental sounds by this period.
Nowdays, is it hard for you to find the balance between those two sides of your personality ?
I keep them in different places, in different times. Classical music is becoming more dominant in my life now than rock music but it wasn’t like that for the last 10-15 years of being mostly a rock-musician and doing less composing. Getting back to 2001-2002, back then, with classical music I decided not to take the commercial approach and concentrated on concerto symphony and opera, which I did! So I concentrated on doing live concerts in different parts of the world. I stopped recording classical music in 2003 and then I decided to work on live concerts conducting classical music. Then the next 10-15 years I just concentrated on Killing Joke. That’s changing now this year, now I have two classical records coming out in the same year – something that never happened with me! And then I have engagements to conduct orchestras and record later this year which is also very exciting. So this year, for example, a little bit less Killing Joke. I’m stuck on tour next month and I’m still touring in August I think but I’d definitely have some time this year for writing new songs for Killing Joke, for our next magnum opus. But from now, this year is dominated by my work with orchestras and with Lucis Trust which is the spiritual side I’m increasingly involved in.
While working on “Pandemonium” Youth came back to Killing Joke as a founding member of the band. And after 16 years you fully reunited with the original line up. In this connection I’d like to ask you, how your attitude towards the things you’re doing as artist during that period ?
On “Pandemonium” when Youth came to the band – we made contact with Bit Paul but he wasn’t ready by then, to come back to the band. His sister died just before “Pandemonium”. We had hoped that he’d join us but he wasn’t ready. It would take another ten years before he’d come back to us but I’ve never had any doubt that he would re-join the band. And how much it changed ? When you have Big Paul and Youth and Geordie and myself in a room I can tell you – nothing changes! The difference is we have a collective…there is quite a lot of wisdom that comes from the time we’ve spent together. But apart from that – nothing changes when you get together with the guys. Nothing changes! It’s like: we’re teenagers again! In fact, the whole way we talk to each other is irreverent as it always was. And the answer: nothing changes. Nothing and never! One thing that definitely changed – people are a little bit more polite with each other (laughs)!
Last year you celebrated the 41 year anniversary of Killing Joke. In this connection I’d like to ask you about your forthcoming record. I know that you’re working hard on it. So could you please tell me, what it will be like ?
I think…it would be the record of records because, we all know in the band that it has to be…a monster. We start from a phrase that when you create the music, anything you think is good – is shit! And anything you think is coming from God is not even touching the stand…so I have high expectations. And, let me tell you something, I’ll tell you a secret! The best way to write music is to forget about music. To make your life colourful, to make your life exciting, to travel to all the places you want to go to. To fulfill the boxes and all the things you want to do! When you’re living – this is how you write music. And when you get together, music comes out of you! Whether it’s classical music or it’s Killing Joke. I just sit down to piano…and I don’t really think too much about it! In fact, again, the cerebral process using the mind, I don’t use this for writing music. I use the mind for arranging music but not writing it.
One question about your lyrics. Now you’re travelling a lot, seeing life from very different sides. So in what way do those things influence your lyrics? And in what way is it different than in the 80s?
No difference now to back then. The difference is we have more control over our art-form then we used to back then. We’re better now! We’re definitely better now than we were back then (laughs)! But you know, the most important work of Killing Joke is ahead of us, not behind of us. As anything we talk about over the last 40 years is the way the world is gonna go. All these things will come to pass. And there are no other bands left addressing these issues. And so…again, we have a most holy and sacred duty, to not even just make the greatest record. Which we will! I give you my word – we will! But to go on tour in every country of the world next year! And interact with everybody we meet! When we make a concert we always walk outside of the building where people are standing and we shake people’s hands. It’s a part of our tradition! We don’t believe in that “hero” warship and “rock-star image”. These are people coming to our concert that put food on a table and put food in our stomachs. And I like to greet these people personally. The other thing that separates us from other bands – we care about an open soundcheck policy and the open dressing room policy. Which means, we like to meet as many people as possible on tour. Personally, individually. Whether its spoken-word lectures…I have a tour in the U.S. next month and I’m looking forward to spending time with different individuals that are trying to make their magic. The people who come to our concerts – I wanna listen to their stories! I want to listen to their problems and their struggles! I always said that Killing Joke is like a big mirror and people looking at us and seeing four assholes on stage and they think: “They can do this – anybody can do this!”. When you can see all the bands who were inspired by how we’re doing…the list is too long from beginning to end. And you personally know these bands but that mirror effect of inspiring the other people to go out and do their will because, I believe that everybody is born as a gifted person. Life is a location of your gift and the selfless execution of your gift. These are the things I want to talk to people about. When I get to the States I want to talk with people about how they could find their path in life. I want to spend time with people, communicating with people. As the great Paul Raven said: I love people (laughs).
It’s interesting to speak about the role of classical music in your life now. Could you please tell me a little bit about these two releases you’ve been working on? In what way are these things you feel different when conducting the orchestra ?
I guess there would be a huge list for all of us. From the point of view of our likes and dislikes and things we’re sharing with anybody else. The truth is I have more in common with the guys from the band. From the point of view of things I like to do for myself – again, classical music was long before Killing Joke and also choral music. This is my strength in writing chorus! The two records are coming out this year and both of them being recorded…I’m very proud to say – in Russia! The first one that is gonna come out is “Magna Invicartio”. From my own perspective, looking at all the records I’ve done in my life – it has to be my favourite record of all the times! This one! From all the records I've done, I like this one most of all! “Magna Invocatio” is Latin for “The Great Invocation” which is the official mantra for the spiritual arm of the United Nations. It’s a prayer I’m using in my personal life. It brought me nothing but good qnd that’s why I decided to use “The Great Invocation” mystifying it by translating it to Latin. It’s just such a beautiful piece of literature. This constitutes with the beginning and the end of work which is 1 hour 20 minutes long. I tried to capture everything I’ve been living through, both sides of my career – the classical side and Killing Joke, in the last 40 years. The unusual thing about this piece of music is the opening piece is the official ceremonial piece for Locus Trust of United Nations. I subtitled the abstract in the centre of life but of course it’s "Absolute Dissent" by Killing Joke. But with this, I did took some harmonic and melodical aspects of Killing Joke and I arranged it for symphony orchestra putting lyrics of the United Nations with it. Also, on one track I put the oath I took and Big Paul took when we initiated back in 1979. I put this in Latin with the third track on the album. There is also one track “Invocation” where I done everything in the Sumerian language. I get in there an ancient invocational prayer of twelve thousand years old. And we got the professor of Etymology in St.Petersburg to educate the choir on how to pronounce everything and it sounds UNEARTHLY (laughs)! Such a fantastic piece!
So “Magna Invocatio” agnostic mess, for a better description that was based on the music of Killing Joke, recorded with St.Petersburg Philharmonic. This is the orchestra Tchaikovsky was involved with. They’re just fantastic! I recorded this last year. I’m so happy to say about it, as I said before, the opening track is the ceremonial piece for the U.N. and the piece that comes after that – I recorded with St.Petersburg State Orchestra and that’s a requiem. A circular requiem if you like. I said “circular” because I’m not invoked in any particular dogma in the actual world. But speaking about my family…one of my daughters. Suicide happened. It made think about too much…and there is still a taboo about suicides if you’ve ever been to a funeral of people who committed suicide. But to cut a long story short, I did a requiem mass for people that committed suicide and I used the music of Nirvana to do this. I’m gonna put this work out twice. I’m doing a shorter version for the vinyl. And then another one, for double CD and double vinyl for it to be released with the whole work. It’s 1 hour 15 minutes long. There are famous Nirvana songs you can imagine, “Heart-Shaped Box” etc. It also would include chorus and it would have a different narrative. It’s more a Fantasia as opposed to a requiem mass. Because I looked at the idea of what we know about quantum physics and all possibilities…Kurt Cobain could live a happy life in another timeline and we know nothing about it – just the mysterious universe we’re living in! So, in a way, I considered the X-generation with all the grunge movement associating with it, as largely negative movement, from my perspective. I tried to turn it into something beautiful that would touch people’s spirit and give them perspective on tragedy.
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ANDY GILL (GANG OF FOUR) • 'You never expect Gang of Four to be very optimistic.Do you ?'
KILL SHELTER • There Is An Inherent Darkness And Sadness In The Music I Create
GNOSTIC GORILLA • WAKE UP! We are really in deep shit if we don’t snap out of this siege mentality and we need to stop killing the earth!
ERNEST MOON • “Our interest in the literary arts is equal to that of music.”
SHANE EMBURY • 'The one thing I try is still make the projects unique to themselves'
LAIBACH • 'In reality, nobody really wants to solve a Korean problem.'
JO QUAIL • 'I guess I’m a bit difficult to categorize!'