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Killing Joke

Killing Joke

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Monday 2nd April, 2012 8:42AM

Killing Joke will release their fifteenth studio album, MMXII this month, original line-up and all. We caught up with Great Barrier resident and Killing Joke front man Jaz Coleman to discuss, well, everything, from magic, to the 2012 apocalypse, to London in the early eighties, to the possibility of first ever New Zealand Killing Joke tour dates.

Hey Jaz, how are you?

I'm great. After we finished the British tour I was just so tired that I went over to the Barrier and I’ve just been sleeping from 5pm to about 1pm the next day trying to get my energy back. I’m getting there now.

How did the British tour go? Were you touring the new album?

Yeah it’s a strange thing to do; play music that nobody’s heard before. I can kind of see the record company’s strategy behind it though, particularly when I realize that we’ve shifted more records than ever before in my career for this record. We’re getting four and five stars review in The Times in England. I guess it has paid off.

Of course what it takes on the body to do two hours of Killing Joke these days at the ripe old age of 52 has made me change my lifestyle somewhat. I gave up booze about seven years ago so that wasn’t an issue but I was a big cigar smoker before the tour and I had a god almighty asthma attack and so I had to quit that. I also smoked a bit of the green but I quit that and everything else forever, just so I have enough puff in me to get through two-and-a-half hours of Killing Joke. I also run 3 miles per day; I’m probably the fittest I’ve been in ages.

Yep, I've renounced everything and now I’m just on tea and two sugars. I’m fit and I’m lean and I’m mean so my whole approach to concerts is one of joy. I feel like I’m in better shape than what I was in the eighties or nineties. I saw somebody in Auckland the other day and they hadn’t seen me since ’94 - I was drinking quite a bit of wine then - and they saw me now and they said that I looked younger than I did back then. A lot of things has changed and wow, Killing Joke is still here after 33 years. I’m still so touched how many people globally people love our little band. Last year I was in New Zealand for Christmas with our guitarist Geordie (Walker) and our drummer’s Dad had just died and it touches me to see that outside of music the four of us are the best of friends. We don’t even really talk about music we talk about everything except for music. All the wonderful things that have happened that are amazing but so mystical.

Then of course I’ve also got my classical career which I really wouldn’t have had if it wasn’t for being from New Zealand. The NZSO gave me my first break and after that I went through to the London Symphony Orchestra and did something for the Queen, and I’ve worked for Walt Disney. I can’t quite believe all this stuff has happened to me. When I was 14 / 15 I was in a lot of trouble. I’d left school and was living in a squat; I’ve got no basic high school exams. Without music each one of us would have become a common criminal. So it’s quite amazing.

I’m really interested in the time you guys formed. Tell me about the socio-political state of London in the late seventies and how it affected you guys personally and creatively?

Everything came together really fast if you consider that between the time I met Big Paul (Ferguson) and the time Killing Joke was known throughout the UK only ten weeks had passed, but we'll get to that...

I had this suspicion I wanted to start a band and I came from this very white, middle class part of England called Cheltenham and I hitched up to London and went to Portland Road because I had relatives there. I went into this shop where they sold papers and bongs and things and there was this guy behind the counter. I told him I’d come to London to form a band, he was really nice and asked me where I was going to live. He said he had a flat I could have for seven pounds a week. That day I hitched back down to my home town, got a mate to put all my stuff in a car and I moved into this guys flat before he could change his mind.

Monday came and I thought that I had better get some money from somewhere and like everybody I went to go and sign onto social security. I was standing the queue and there was this Indian guy in front of me and we started talking and told him I was going to form a band. This guy said ‘I know and I’m going to introduce you to the drummer'. He took me around the corner to 11 Portland Road and took me upstairs and opened this door and there was Big Paul. It didn’t just stop there. We knew we had a common destiny from the split second we saw each other. We were talking about how were going to find somebody with an understanding of the mystery tradition and at the same time had a revolutionary approach to playing their musical instrument; no guitar solos, blah blah. Paul goes ‘we can do it by magic’. He didn’t know that I’d studied wicker and the whole system of magic and I didn’t know that he had either. All of these strange things came together.

One of these things that changed the direction of what we were thinking to answer your question in a long roundabout way was there was this chap called Steve, and he was something called an industrial psychologist - he designed the Official Secrets Act and things. He talked about a coming world where corporations would have more power than nation states and he really did inspire us to start looking ahead at the world that was emerging. So this guy had a massive impact on us, if you want to call it political.

Of course all of this was happening at the same time Margaret Thatcher got into power. Maggie is somebody that you can’t help but admire for her resolve if you can exclude her politics and ideas for one second. Outside of that she was the woman who said there is no such thing as community or society there is only family and she’s largely responsible for the breakdown of communities across the UK in my humble opinion.

When it comes to politics more generally part of me leans towards the right. I’ll give you an example. I came to New Zealand and opened up York Street Recording Studios and didn’t get one week’s rent out of it. Here in New Zealand over 90% have a staff of seven or less and they’re the highest taxed people in the country. One thing they don’t tell you when you start a business is that you have a responsibility to the people you employ. They’ve got lives and families too, you can’t just sack people and they never tell you this when you start a business. So one part of me has some right wing leanings and sympathies and then the other part of me is communist really. It’s so far left; I believe in absolutely equal opportunities.

No matter who does the lions share of the writing in Killing Joke it’s irrelevant - we split everything equally. Four ways with everything and really I believe in this so much, and I’m closer to the ideals of France and the revolution; liberty, opportunity.

One of the big inspirations in my life is my uncle. My uncle has two PHDs and he was slandered by the rest of my family because he chose to become a dustman. He believes that doctors and dustmen should be paid the same amount. He walks his talk this chap and he’s more Christian than any Christian I’ve met. It’s sad that he’s a Marxist because I can’t stand Karl Marx, I red Das Kapital and I believe in the mystical and Marx believes all life is expressed in matter and he rejected meta physics. I’m a collectivist, not a communist and there is a difference there. I also don’t bother voting. Can you tell the difference between Labour and National? I can’t.

Are these the kind of ideas that drive Killing Joke. Are these the things you’re interested in exploring in your sonic work?

Well we have massive debates in Killing Joke on just about everything. The one thing we don’t talk about is music. Everybody’s horrified at the state of the world and the way it’s going. Let’s be honest about, I studied international banking with various international bankers. This affected my political outlook and it means I have great doubts about the democratic system. I don’t trust human beings; they’re greedy and lousy and we’ve lost all notion of what public service is. Most politicians seem to be sociopaths who serve themselves and not the public – the last honest politician was probably Gandhi. Show me a politician that would say: you can take all my earnings as long as I can put food in my stomach. You don’t get this anymore at all.

I do think there’s a solution though. When you look at something like jury service, that’s how government should be. The people who are in government this week or this ten days should be out in a week or ten days time and we should have a pool of intelligent people that we draw from and you wouldn’t know whether you were going to be in government.

Under that theory, how would government achieve any long term, or multi-term goals?

That’s interesting. I think everything can be done really mathematically. A democracy has to evolve. I’m not sure if you’re aware of something called The Wisdom of Crowds. This chap back in the 19th century worked something out at a fair. Everybody had to guess the weight of a cow and he worked out that if you divided the estimate of each member of the the crowd by the number of the people who were there you came up with the right answer every time. It has massive implications for a democracy really. I believe we’re evolving to the point where we can come at the right answer every time. It’s possible to evolve out of this state because our current democracy doesn’t seem to be working particularly well and we’ve got to find a fairer way. We can’t trust human beings because they just feather their own nests.

I’m just in a band and I can’t really make any significant impact other than change myself, and since 2008 I’ve been sleeping on floors and on couches; I don’t really have a real home. All I ever have is about 1000 pounds in the bank account and I get people to make sure I have enough food in my stomach. I don’t even have any running water in my house and I wash in the stream. I live the most austere life you can imagine. I not only have renounced booze and tobacco and marijuana, I’ve actually renounced money.

I’ve seen the conspicuous consumption of people like Bono and Geldof and rock stars in general and it’s absolutely disgusting. When you think that Bono has made one billion and he’s never paid tax and the Wall Street Journal listed ten ways how he could have alleviated poverty. I’m writing an article in the Irish Guardian at the moment with the gruesome details about the greed of people like this. I noticed as I left the country Sir Mick Jagger and Bob Gedolf have been held up on tax problems; it’s just obscene.

I come from the punk era where the idea of heroes and celebrities and rock stars was ridiculous. You could admire somebody’s gift or talent but this celebrity idea - like they're something other than someone with two arms, two legs and a head - I never bought it and I never will

Do you think this extreme celebrity culture has something to do with the technological platforms on which music and culture exists now, and how quickly fame and personality can spread? What are your thoughts on the new technological platform of the music industry more generally?

Well 33 years ago you had 20 middle men taking their cut. I was getting about 1 1/2 % of each record. I only got paid for my first gig ten years after I’d been touring all around the world; it’s pretty bad when you think about it like that. Fast forwarding to now you can get a much bigger slice of the pie as long as you stay away from these 360 deals that they pawn off onto these young bands, where they take the merch, gig money and everything.

The problem is – and it's the same with orchestras – that you still need to record a drum kit properly and you can’t record a drum kit in a front room unless you’ve got a massive house and great recording equipment. While sales have gone right right down we still need to do the job of recording to a high standard and we don’t have the money any more. If you look at London all the great recording studios like Olympic have all gone. I try to tell Jeremy and the rest of them at York Street that they live in a bubble because all the other recording studios have gone. There’s no money for them. It’s depressing as far as that goes.

As far as classical music goes an orchestra costs 300 pounds per minute and that’s why there aren’t any classic recordings any more and the focus is on contemporary music.

What we’re left with is people who have a passion for playing music live. If you can get your band so you’re super tight so you’re packing out little clubs or even bigger clubs and you can rock the house, you’re in business.

Going back to some of the ideas – democracy, the state of the international banking system – we’ve been discussing, are these present on your latest album MMXI?

Well yes, the kind of revolution I hope is going to happen is the revolution of people’s heart. So we can move away from a greedy mode of existence. The fact is that the money that we enjoy isn’t based on gold; it’s units on a computer in the virtual world. The ramifications when it goes crunch are immense. I’ll give you an example. If Greece defaults on its debt that will affect China. At the moment Chinese people spend about 60% of their income on food. If Greece defaults on its debt it will increase inflation in China so food prices will go up markedly which will create social unrest in China. If there is social unrest in China it would be logical that the powers that be would want a diversion and this could be Taiwan or North Korea that has possibly nuclear ramifications. So you can see how unstable everything is.

When you think about the central bank and you’re aware of the power they have. There are only three countries in the world that don’t have a Rothschild central bank and that’s North Korea, Cuba and Iran.

That being said, when you meet these bankers in the flesh it’s quite a weird thing because they’re just human beings, again with two arms and two legs and real problems. They’ve been transported into this life and you don’t feel angry at them at all. They’re people who simply don’t have empathy with the world’s population who live on $1.00 per day. I can’t say that the feelings that come out around these people are ones of anger and murderous thoughts; I’ve actually found some of these people incredible and very interesting company. What I’m saying is that the world is a lot more complex than we think it is.

I certainly don’t believe in bloody, murderous revolutions because I don’t think they work; it’s all about de-population though isn’t it. If you look at the time the French Revolution occurred there was a volcano in Iceland that send a cloud across Europe that meant all of the crops had failed. So a big part of the revolution was reducing the population because their simply wasn’t enough food, and these connections are lost on people.

That’s why in New Zealand you can’t blame the National government or the Labour government of the day because there’s so much pressure from outside. To be perfectly frank I’m talking about the food bill and the implications of the bill that has been surrepticously passed in this country. The responsibility of the people in a democracy is to engage and debate the issues of the day, so I’m not going to sit here and debate this bloody food bill, because people have to come to a realization about the ramifications of it, including you my darling.

It’s such a complex world, people say New Zealand should become a republic. When you think about it, if this country became a republic, Maori would suffer because the Waitangi Treaty would lose its power. I find myself supporting her Majesty the Queen in this part of the world and yet I also vehemently believe in the equality ideals of France. It’s just such a complex world.

The latest album also deals with the Mayan Calendar. Why do you think 2012 is a significant year for humanity?

If you think the Mayan, Masonic and Rosicrucian calendar and so many indigenous calendars all point to 2012 as a time of great change. I think the change they’re referring to is of cosmic proportions. One thing that’s for sure is that the earth's geomagnetic field is diminishing rapidly and this is part of a bigger shift.

It’s a waste of time speculating on life extinction as it were. If you go back to our history books there’s a roman historian who went to ancient Egypt and he talked to the priests there and they told him that in the entire history of the Egyptian civilization the sun has risen in the East and then risen in the West and then back to the East four times in the history of the Egyptian civilization. So polar shift has happened and mankind have survived it and we could well be looking at something similar shortly.

It’s my deep wish to throw the End of the World Party 2012. End of the world because we’re at the asshole of the world. Not that it’s going to be the end of the world because I don’t believe it is. I have planned a really busy year for 2013, that includes touring across every city in New Zealand where I’m doing the 'Big Thrash Master Class'. I’m going to bring eight noisy bands to every city in New Zealand. I’m going to give my services free and do a tour in May or June of 2013 and go to every single town. I’m going to Finland too and concentrating on the two countries.

Finland is a great example for New Zealand. They’re producing so many groups you wouldn’t believe it – they’ve only got a million more in population that New Zealand. We’ve gotta catch up because it benefits all of us if we have more bands. When I started Killing Joke every one person I knew was in a band regardless of whether they knew how to play an instrument or not. We’ve gotta get back to this sense of fraternity that’s been lost somewhere along the way and maybe technology has had a part of that.

Why did you move to New Zealand in the first place?

Now you’re hitting something very deep; it’s a very difficult one to explain but I will try my best. I’m of the Rosicrucian philosophy and back in 1980-'81 we used to have a communal lyric book where whatever you were reading you’d write things down and everyone could see it and then we’d have debates about it. Now three of us have been lecturers at universities but none of us have any GCSC’s, Killing Joke has been my entire further education – my university and all. It is the principle of self education.

What happened was we found all these references to the ‘ends of the earth’. It was a prophecy that involved leading the world into a better mode of existence. Two of the band believed it was the island of your soul and two of the band believed it was this geographical location on the planet and that is exactly what split us up in 1982. If you look at the history, Jordan and myself were off to Iceland and then of course we popped up in New Zealand didn’t we? That’s basically what we’re talking about.

I believe this country is blessed by god. Many people don’t believe in God or the divine these days but he’s been very very kind to me.

Do you believe in God in a traditional Christian sense?

My notion of the divine is a little bit wider than that and it’s a she anyway. Every day I say prayers to the Divine Mother. I don’t really want to offend those Christians out there but the Divine Mother is everything. The deity of the future will be feminine because as a race we somehow need to enhance our reference towards the biosphere and that’s why we need a female deity, not a patriarchal deity. We’ve gone through that phase. These are the core issues anyway.

Tell us a little bit more about this 'End of the Earth' party you want to have here.

I had a big meeting with the promoters yesterday and we just can’t pull it off in time. I so want to do it so you’re just going to have to petition Mr. Campbell but he said we couldn’t pull it off in nine months time. So what I am going to do which is I’m still going to bring my brothers in Killing Joke out here and I want to do talks and lectures and then I want to stand shoulder to shoulder as we move to a fifth world and a sixth sign; as we move into a new age. And you can tell people now that it’s not the end of the world but there will be some big changes for sure. We cannot go on living the way we’re living. If you consider that we get all our food from 1/300th of the planet and that the bio-organisms that support all life are being depleted radically we must have a program to turn this around.

Is there a particular doctrine, historical or otherwise that you subscribe to?

I’ve always been part of the mystery tradition of the secret doctrine. I consider myself very well read on Rosicrucian and Masonic history and I’ve studied the five levels of magic – Shamanism, Wicker to Hermetism to Rosicrucianism to Modern Chaos magic or whatever they want to call it. I’ve spent my life studying the magical traditions of many different countries with a hands on approach at times. I have to be clear I went into the more contemplative side of these traditions in the nineties, less ritual magic. But part of not drinking and not smoking tobacco and any of these things is because I need to go into the next stage which is a spiritual mode. Ritual is used really just for devotional purposes in my life; not to achieve any given end or lack or results in my end.

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