JAZ COLEMAN (KILLING JOKE): “We Look Like We Come From Different Worlds”

KILLING JOKE (Live at Northumbria University, Newcastle, U.K., November 4, 2018)
Photo: Mick Burgess

With a style that covers everything from Metal, Punk, Goth, Dance, Indie, Pop and Rock, Killing Joke are virtually impossible to categorise. It’s no wonder that they’ve inspired everyone from Jimmy Page to Nirvana and Mötley Crüe. They are about to hit the UK to celebrate their 40th anniversary with the same lineup that cut their debut EP Turn To Red back in the late ’70s. Mick Burgess tracked down their mercurial front man Jaz Coleman for a chat about the tour and the forthcoming orchestral album.

In a few days, you’ll kick off your Laugh At Your Peril 40th anniversary tour. Are you looking forward to it?

I’m really looking forward to it. I don’t get to the United Kingdom that much so it’s like an exotic country to me now. What I miss most of all about it is the people. This will be the highlight of the entire world tour for me. I’ve stopped listening to all media, alternative and mainstream so my only contact with what’s going on in the world is people. I try to meet as many people as I can and have as much interaction as I can. It’ll be a truly fascinating tour for me. I like to walk down the queue outside the venue and shake hands and run the gauntlet of 50,000 selfies.

If you’re not based in the UK at the moment where are you living?

I’m not. I’ve got the wanderlust again. For the last couple of years, I stayed in Prague. My partner said she’d had enough of this living out of a bag lark so I left her and now I’m living out of a bag. Prague is a beautiful city and it’s deep in my soul but I’m used to wandering from city to city, booking a house here and booking a house there. I have no plans so after the tour I’m just going to wander. Some people go for possessions in life whereas I go for mobility. It’s something I treasure being able to move where I want, when I want.

Where are you today?

I’m in Geneva with the band today. This also happens to be the day and the place where we had Paul Raven’s funeral and wake. It’s 11 years ago to the day in Geneva. Can you imagine the synchronicity in that? At 6:00pm tonight we’ll have a little ceremony for him where we’ll play some music and talk a bit and the first 100 people that arrive for the gig later on will be allowed in.

Does it really feel like 40 years have passed since you started the band?

I know, it’s amazing, mind you we’ve packed a lot in. It’s amazing that the average age of the audience is in the 20s and 30s and most weren’t born when we started. I meet parents all the time who force fed their children Killing Joke and now they’re hooked. 40 years, it means a lot to us and we have ambitious plans for next year.

You’ve been touring extensively over North and South America since the beginning of September and in Europe since October. How have those shows been going?

They’ve been amazing. Mexico City was a huge gig. The fans went absolutely berserk. It was incredible. The response has been incredible on the tour. I’ve managed to retain my voice so I haven’t been croaking every night. I’ve managed to keep my voice together so it’s been really enjoyable singing songs that are quite difficult like In Cythera. We’re having a great time on the tour. The tour schedule is hard and sometimes we do five consecutive shows. What can I say? Killing Joke are well hard. We’re having a ball.

What can your UK fans expect from you for the UK shows?

We’ll be changing the setlist by the time we get to the UK and we’ll be playing plenty of new, old numbers that we haven’t played live before as well some of our more well-known songs and also some from our newer albums so we’ll be doing a bit of everything. It’s a great set and you’ll enjoy it.

You’ve titled the tour Laugh At Your Peril. What’s the meaning behind that?

That’s an old slogan of ours back in ’79. I think it’s most appropriate when you see how precarious the world is at the moment. Things really could change rapidly with economic collapse at any moment or another world war at any time. Against this backdrop, it doesn’t matter that it’s another generation, Killing Joke shows are full because everyone is worried again.

What makes this 40th anniversary so special is that the four original members, yourself, Geordie, Youth and Paul Ferguson are here together 40 years later in Killing Joke. That makes you pretty unique as a band. What has kept you together for all these years?

It’s amazing isn’t it? We’ve done this journey together from being teenagers and I love these guys very much. I’ve spent more time with the guys in the band than I have with my own family.

Musically Killing Joke are impossible to pigeonhole, there’s elements of Punk, Metal Rock, Dance, electronic in there. What music influenced you back then?

Although there aren’t so many record shops these days, when you do go into one, you never know where to find a Killing Joke record. Is it in Punk, is it in Metal or Rock and Pop, is it in Indie, Alternative, Goth or the Dance music section? I never know where to find them so I think that says a lot about us individually. Even when you see us standing together, we look like we come from different worlds.

Did you each bring a different element to the band?

We do have very different tastes but we also had massive areas of common ground. We all loved Reggae music and we were all interested in mysticism and geopolitics. It was a melting pot of styles though as we all had very, very different tastes. I was mostly into Classical music whereas Youth, he loves everything and buys records every day. Our drummer Paul loves Metal and a lot of the modern stuff while Geordie is into music from Detroit. Our tastes are very different but when we come together Killing Joke is what we create.

Your 40th anniversary actually marks the year you first formed the band. Your first release came a year later with the Turn To Red EP. How did you feel when you first held that record in your hand?

It was amazing because everything happened so fast. I was in a supermarket with Geordie when I first heard Turn To Red on the radio. It had gone from zero to one hundred in ten weeks which is quite an experience for a teenager.

That got you a session on John Peel’s show on Radio 1. How important was he in getting the band off the ground?

It was very important for us but I always refer to the two John’s because John Lydon also gave us a big push in the beginning. He was talking about us in the press and we did a session with John Lydon that not many people know about. John Peel thought we were famous musicians going into another band. He played our first EP non-stop for weeks and then he gave us the John Peel Session so between the two John’s we got a lot of media coverage.

Were your parents supportive of your musical ambitions?

Can you imagine, I managed to burn Paul’s flat to the ground and we all ended up moving into my parent’s house. That’s quite a big deal. They moved out for a few weeks to go on holiday and left us to it but they were there for us. I’ve been very lucky and I had a little apartment above my Dad’s house and I had a lot of freedom in my life.

How did it feel to make your first appearance on Top of the Pops with Empire Song?

I wasn’t there. I’d cleared off to Iceland if you remember so I missed it. I’ve always been colourful.

2015’s Pylon shows that you’ve lost none of your edge. What keeps you driven to create new music?

I’d really like to tell you some of the things that drive me mad but these days we have to self-censor. Let me tell you an analogy. I like to look at the sky but when I look at the sky it’s not the same any more. You can take that any way you want to but that’s what keeps me fired up to write new music.

Do you have any plans for a follow up?

Somewhere around Spring time we’ll do three or four concerts in the Spain area with different setlists each night and we’ll do a five or six track EP first then the album will come after that.

There’s a great 16 album CD box set available. Does that cover all of your official releases from the last 40 years?

I only heard about that a couple of weeks ago and I can comment on it but the price is horrifying. There you go, a burst of reality. I don’t know anything else about it. I’m the last to know anything. When I go on tour, I don’t even know where I’m going when I get on the bus.

You also have a couple of projects on the go including a symphonic album with the St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra. How’s that coming along?

It’s coming along really well. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It’ll be an hour and 40 minutes long and it’s made with Russia’s elite orchestra and it’s sounding fantastic. What’s incredible is that not only did Killing Joke fans sponsor it but so did a part of the United Nations and part of it will become the official music of the UN. It’s Killing Joke’s music done orchestrally as a single mass along with a choir. I have done the orchestration as I had studied under a master for over 20 years so this is a culmination of all the work that I have done orchestrally since then. I have a real love for Classical music.

Once your UK shows are over what do you have lined up for the rest of the year going into 2019?

When the tour is finished I’ll be going to the Pacific to my little farm and some Killing Joke fans are coming down to help me do some more building work there. Then I’ll head over to South America and work my way slowly through there and get a place here and there and just wander. You can join me at any point, I’ll send some smoke signals. One of the things we will be doing next year is the hunter gatherers trip where we all go fishing for three days and then we’ll eat fish and chips. That’s the master plan. We might tour India too which’ll be a big deal for me being of Anglo-Indian descent. So there’s lots to look forward to and I think next year will be a very active year for Killing Joke. By the way, I was going to ask Geordie to sit in on this interview and translate but I think we’ve managed OK.

Killing Joke’s 40th anniversary UK tour starts in Nottingham on 2nd November. See killingjoke.co.uk for more details.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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