Interview: Jaz Coleman (Killing Joke)
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The reunion of Killing Joke‘s original lineup and the resulting album Absolute Dissent has meant busy days for iconoclastic frontman Jaz Coleman. His schedule has been packed with as many as 15 interviews a day, often in succession. But he doesn’t see the band slowing down. “We’re all going back into the studio next year, and we’ll probably do another American tour. And at the beginning of the year, we’ll work on a new album. Such is the vibe with us while we continue promoting this record. It’s a very prolific and creative time for us”.
Coleman is accustomed to change and fickle listeners and journalists, including the spike in interest in the band’s original lineup. This is, after all, an artist that has spent his life playing tricks on listeners. His success is evident in the face that Killing Joke is one of the few bands that could never be successfully pigeonholed. Listeners tuning into an ’80s station on satellite radio are likely familiar with “Eighties” and “Love Like Blood”. Fans of heavier music were seduced by Hosannas from the Basement of Hell. Devotees called Gatherers know the whole catalog. Killing Joke – and Coleman’s amazing, inimitable voice – have touched listeners of every persuasion.
It’s no surprise that Coleman often brings up actor Heath Ledger, who earned a posthumous Oscar for his riveting portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight. An interview with him isn’t a series of questions by interviewer so much as an interrogation by artist. Talking to him is somewhat reminiscent of the interrogation scene in The Dark Knight. Your illusion that you are in control and asking the questions is quickly dispelled. I didn’t expect anything less.
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I was reading a book recently called Enemies Within about conspiracy theories in American history. The author suggests that while many of us want to think there are sinister forces at work, that’s usually not the case. You’ve always been someone who believed there is a secret history.
I don’t care for the whole conspiracy culture. I certainly don’t buy into most of it. But I do buy into the fact that there is a secret history of the world. There’s two histories. There’s a history for the ordinary, and there is a history for the initiated or enlightened. It’s always been the case throughout history.
I was brought up in an academic family, and I was certainly brought up to think for myself. But my family was largely atheist, and I had three religious experiences before the age of six or seven. I was very involved in church, and by the time I was eight I had different books on philosophy and magic and shamanism. Different aspects of the mystery tradition have always been part of my life. It’s something innate. It’s something I’ve had to accept.
Do we even need to look for alternative history or conspiracies when what’s in plain sight is often just as frightening? When you are on the Internet, a virtual big brother tracks you all the time.
You could also live in a state of fucking paranoia as well that drives you mad. A lot of the things that drive conspiracy theories are phantoms. What makes you think anyone gives a flying monkey about half of our lives? Most of us aren’t terrorists or terrorist material, and I think half the time all the conspiracy culture is fueled by fantasists. But it sells, doesn’t it?
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“The Great Cull”
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The new album is called Absolute Dissent. In a world where about two percent of the population controls half of the wealth and thus the power associated with it, is real dissent even possible?
I think so, and I think it comes down to education in the end. We invariably create elites when only about one percent of the population understands the complex issues of the day. Look at the American electorate with the tea baggers and [Sarah] Palin. When it comes to foreign policy, many of these people aren’t very informed.
I believe in personal politics. I don’t really participate in actual politics. Civil liberties are very dear to me, something we must not relinquish. That’s the responsibility of every citizen, to ensure that civil liberties are maintained in a free and democratic system. Basically, what I’m trying to say is we are shaping the future. We all have to participate in finding solutions.
When you sat down with your original lineup to write this album, did it feel overwhelming knowing the significance people would attach to it?
It was always in the cards that the original lineup would get back together. And it has great meaning now. This is a golden era for Killing Joke. It’s taken a long time for people to wake up to our band’s significance. We also have no peer group. We have no people from our period that are together or even alive. So we’ve been forced to accept that we are now part of the establishment in certain respects (laughs).
One of the songs is called “The Great Cull”. You suggest nutrients are being systematically taken out of our food.
We’re inviting debate and discussion about what the hell we’re going to do about the fact that we are putting so much stress on the ecosystem because of the rise in the population. No one is addressing the population report. Every citizen should read the Global 2000 report. The findings are profound. We must do something about the population increase. Unless we do something, people will take things into their own hands.
The biggest problem is how to tell the subcontinent of India not to reproduce. Part of it is education. Gandhi tried this – [offering] free radios for sterilization. There needs to be mass education and taxes on people for every child. In schoolbooks, there should be no positive associations with childbirth. That would be a good start.
How the hell are we going to deal with China, even with a one-child policy? The population is still expanding. There’s huge stress on the world’s ecosystem when you have people who want to eat meat and are no longer happy with rice and vegetables. They want to eat meat, and there’s not enough arable land to provide enough meat.
How are we going to deal with this?
The only logical answer is to divide the world into four blocks. The Americas, the European Union, The African Union, and the Asia-Pacific Union. Then a world council that will be annexed onto the exiting U.N. That’s the only way to solve all of these problems effectively at once. And now you see! It could still go two ways. It could be the dream of Beethoven and Schiller, the brotherhood of man. Or it could be an authoritarian model. We have a choice there also.
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I took a train recently through California’s central valley. We passed all of these corporate mega-farms. We also passed huge junkyards and ramshackle homes. It was a stark contrast.
Terrific. Look, the only thing we can do is to look at models to increase biodiversity. If we don’t want to be dependent on petrol dollars, we need to turn every town and village into a republic. I understand the tea baggers’ call for less government because I believe each area must be self-reliant to have a sustainable ecosystem. They need to use produce from their area. Every village should be a republic.
Absolute Dissent has the heaviness of your self-titled 2003 release, but there are also moments that remind me of Brighter than a Thousand Suns.
No, no, no. Listen, we have no idea what a Killing Joke record is going to be like until we get together. And it’s never what you think. This album was jammed in the studio, and I had no idea it was going to land the way it landed. There are no preconceptions or designs on our albums. We just get together. Even if you do have ideas about what it’s going to sound like, they are usually thrown asunder.
Working with the original lineup, were you able to incorporate what made you so special as a band in addition to the things you learned playing when Paul Raven was in the band?
Again, it’s not something you analyze. Everyone has their own style and their own way of playing. We get the instruments and play, and that’s what it sounds like. End of story.
The cover of Laugh, I Nearly Bought One (a greatest hits collection) features that famous image of a priest blessing Nazi soldiers. That always seemed to sum up one of Killing Joke’s main ideas: seemingly good, benign forces are actually anything but good and benign.
That particular photo was the Pope blessing the Nazi Party during the last World War. As we can see with recent history, the Roman Catholic church is far cry from being a force for good in this world. You wouldn’t let your children alone with a Catholic priest now, would you? (laughs)
I certainly wouldn’t.
The demographics aren’t good, are they? The establishment, especially religion, is suspect. And I’ve got a problem with the Roman Catholic church telling Africans not to use condoms while trying to increase the population. They are irresponsible at best and largely a corrupt force based on repressed sexuality.
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Jaz Coleman on “the journey”
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With all of the biting social messages on Killing Joke’s records do you ever worry that you are preaching to the converted?
I don’t give it a lot of thought. These are very simple mantras to adapt to changes in the world. We do it for ourselves primarily. We don’t think about how the audience will respond. It’s what we like, and that’s the end of the fucking story.
What do you think of Ray Kurzweil’s idea of technological singularity, the idea that man and machine will become one a little past the half-century mark?
Kurzweil’s notion of singularity is a nightmare. The idea that we are evolving to a state where nanotechnology and biotechnology are inseparable from AI is a nightmare scenario. You would live to the age of 300 and lose all memories of what it is like to feel and love. Your soul would die.
Professor [Francis] Fukuyama also talks about the post-human world. I don’t believe it’s going to happen. The way things look, we’ll have so many natural disasters, we’ll have our hands busy trying to increase food production in a turbulent world where our environment is deteriorating. I don’t think it’s going to pan out like that. I’m thinking of the saying “God destroyeth that which displeaseth him”.
So it doesn’t even look like we’ll be around for technological singularity?
Kurzweil put the date of the singularity much later, but many other people put the date of singularity at 2012. So who knows? We may not have to wait (laughs). Who gives a fuck, anyway! The bottom line is, we’re living today, enjoy the now, and some things you can’t do anything about.
You’ve always worn makeup on stage.
I do that only to protect myself. We put on the mask and take off the mask. It’s very important. When I go onstage, I’m seeking transmission and I get in a trance-like state. The idea of taking the mask off…if you don’t take the mask off, you take that world into your own life. Take Heath Ledger, for example. We are well aware of the energies that surround us in Killing Joke and the peculiarities. The mask isn’t for other people’s benefit. It’s for my own protection.
It strikes me as similar to black metal performers who wear spikes and corpespaint and talk about how they enter a completely different frame of mind when they go on stage.
Well, I’m sure they haven’t been doing this for 32 years (laughs).
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KILLING JOKE – NORTH AMERICAN TOUR ’10
Dec. 02 – Black Cat – Washington,WA
Dec. 03 – Irving Plaza – New York City, NY
Dec. 04 – Paradise Lounge – Boston, MA
Dec. 06 – Cabaret Du Musee – Montreal, QC
Dec. 07 – Phoenix Concert Theatre – Toronto, ON
Dec. 09 – Crofoot Ballroom – Pontiac, MI
Dec. 10 – Empty Bottle – Chicago, IL
Dec. 11 – Empty Bottle – Chicago, IL
Dec. 14 – The Venue – Vancouver, BC
Dec. 15 – Showbox – Seattle, WA
Dec. 16 – Wonder Ballroom – Portland, OR
Dec. 17 – Regency Ballroom – San Francisco, CA
Dec. 18 – Wiltern – Los Angeles, CA
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BUY ABSOLUTE DISSENT
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