- Story by J. Bennett
Killing Joke frontman kills own jokes, loves it when Mötley Crüe give him money.
Like an English underground version of David Lee Roth, Killing Joke frontman Jeremy “Jaz” Coleman has been using the same one-liners in interviews for decades now, ever since his band’s 1980 post-punk/proto-industrial debut first corrupted the still-wet ears of everyone from James Hetfield, Kurt Cobain and Trent Reznor to Al Jourgensen, Dave Grohl and Justin Broadrick. In preparation for our own interview with him, Decibel perused many a Coleman Q&A online in order to avoid the same canned answers, but Coleman managed to work a couple of his well-practiced quips and asides into his responses to just about anything that was asked of him. He also tends to cut interviewers off mid-question, anticipating and providing the answer for a question that said interviewer had not necessarily anticipated. Which is fine by us—we love a fucking loudmouth when the tape is running. Today—in addition to fronting the Joke, who have just released a double-disc set called Inside Extremities (Candlelight), a sort of odds ‘n’ sods ‘n’ live collection from the 1990 Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions era—Coleman is a Composer in Residence to the Prague Symphony Orchestra, the nation of New Zealand and, as of October 2006, the entire European Union. When he isn’t traveling the world conducting orchestras, he’s living in Switzerland, New Zealand or his adopted hometown of Prague, where—as he’s told just about everyone who’s ever interviewed him in the last seven years—the beer is cheaper than water.
What was your initial attraction to Prague?
There’s a very strong esoteric ambience about the place. They say that carved in the masonry in Old Town Prague is the hidden history of mankind—if you can read the symbols. So it’s a very mystical place, and I’m drawn to that. The wonderful thing about Prague is that if I need to rehearse with an orchestra, I can have one in front of me within the week. It’s just one of those fantastic European cities where the architecture is completely intact because they’ve never had a war. It’s incredibly beautiful. And a normal Czech pub is like no other pub in the world. Beer is cheaper than water.
As Composer in Residence for New Zealand, the EU and the Prague Symphony Orchestra, what are your official duties?
Well, I’m commissioned to write a certain amount of work which I then premiere and perform. So it’s really just composing, and I do it about two or three times a year. It’s not excessive, but it’s different from Killing Joke. [Laughs] I whiz around doing different things with all of them and writing for all of them. I’m working with [French drum collective] Les Tambours Du Bronx—they’ve got 17 drummers and they’re all massive Killing Joke fans. I’m working with them and the Czech Philharmonic, actually. We’re playing in Paris at Zenith in November. I think it’s already sold out, actually. So, yes… I’m working with orchestras in diverse ways. I’m doing a concerto for Julian Lloyd Weber—for cello—and I’m working on a soundtrack for a Hollywood movie. It’s a trilogy, and there’s every chance I could be acting in it as well, but I’m not sure if I can mention the name of it at this point. I’ve got seven recordings ahead of me this year, so I can’t really complain. I’ve done 47 recordings in my life, and four weeks ago, I turned 47. [Laughs]
Do you think of Killing Joke differently now than you did when you first started the band?
No, not at all. Killing Joke is very much a lifestyle. It’s just gotten bigger, is all. I never thought it would last as long as it has. It means so many things to so many people, but for me, it means ringing [guitarist] Geordie [Walker] up, going round to his flat and working, talking, discussing. In the end, it’s Geordie and myself.
Do you have a favorite Killing Joke album—or a least favorite?
Not really. There are some mixes… when we did [1983’s] Fire Dances, everyone mixed it fucking smashed out their heads on vast amounts of cocaine, so there’s a bit too much treble on it. [Laughs] But I think we might go back and fix that in the very near future.
You’ve written and recorded all over the world. Do you find that different locations add something to the music that wouldn’t otherwise be there?
Absolutely—but where you write has more effect on the music then where you record it. When I get stuck in a certain landscape for too long, I just go. I have a reputation for disappearing—exercising my right to just go wherever I want on planet Earth whenever I want to.
Sounds like a rough life.
[Laughs] Well, it’s only taken 30 years. But it’s about the music first. And if your life is colorful, the music will follow.
Killing Joke just put out the Inside Extremities double-CD set…
I’m actually quite stoked about it, and I’ll tell you why: Extremities was the album that put us back on the map, basically. And the awful thing about that record is that when we signed to the German label [Noise Records] that initially put it out—this crummy German label—we did a promotional tour, and boy, did we do some concerts. We toured the UK, and because this record company hadn’t paid their customs taxes or some bollocks like this, nobody in England could buy the fucking record! [Laughs] Can you believe it? People managed to get copies on import, but it was never actually released in England. And what you gotta remember about this record is that we recorded the whole thing in three days, and we had about eight or nine days to mix it. So everything was played live in the studio, top to bottom, bang!—done. In that way, it’s a very honest record.
You had Dave Grohl playing drums on your self-titled 2003 album…
Geordie hates that album. He hates it, because of the way we recorded it. The drums are all tracked individually—Dave puts his drums down bit by bit. It’s logical in the sense that it gives the drums fantastic separation and a very, very big sound, but Geordie didn’t like it because it wasn’t spontaneous like Extremities was. That album means a lot to us, so to re-release it now is just fucking great.
There are four mixes of “Struggle” on Inside Extremities, three mixes of “Money Is Not Our God,” and two each of “Slipstream” and “Intravenous.” Do you consider a series of remixes of the same song a study in contrast, or just a collection of alternate versions?
I think it’s more of a collection. To tell you the truth, when it comes to remixes, I never, ever get involved. Never have and never will. [Ex-Killing Joke bassist Martin] Youth [Glover] took a great delight in doing them, and Geordie for a while, but I only get involved in the song itself. I just leave the remixes to the parties that are interested, because I’m not. [Laughs]
Do you have any specific plans to record a new Killing Joke album?
Sure. But the only thing we’ve agreed upon so far is that we’re not doing it in Europe. We’re gonna pick somewhere very out of the way to record the next one.
What’s the status of The Death and Resurrection Show documentary you’re working on?
I’ve been working on it for many years, but I’ve had to sort of slow down with it because of other things. The film is about a journalist who only knows about me through my work with classical music. The whole process is about her getting to know me and getting involved in all sorts of adventures all around the world. There are many musicians in the movie… it’s about different parts of my life, really. You could say it it’s a documentary, but there’re a lot of different scenes superimposed over the whole thing. I hope it’ll be out sometime next year.
What else are you working on?
Well, as I said, I’m doing seven recordings this year. One of them is a mass with two choirs and a full orchestra… the funding of it is coming from very peculiar sources. It’s actually being funded by a mystical order. It costs a lot to work with a full orchestra and choir—about 500 pounds a minute, actually. The piece is all about the symbolism of the dragon. And they want it all in Latin. So… yeah, my job takes me funny places.
Killing Joke did some touring with Mötley Crüe in 2005. What was that like?
[Laughs] What was touring with Mötley Crüe like? It was about 140,000 pounds alright—for doing five half-hour slots. [Laughs] You know, that tour, I had such a fucking laugh. The management made the first mistake by putting us in a really expensive hotel in Glasgow for a week’s rehearsal. I think Geordie’s room tab was 12 grand. You should’ve seen the road manager’s face when he had to fork out. [Laughs] But the tour itself was great. The army of Killing Joke fans just got bigger every night. At first, you know, I didn’t really want our fans to come because I thought it was a rip-off to pay vast sums of money to see us play for half an hour. But Cardiff was amazing. We must’ve had about 5,000 people in the audience chanting, “Joke!” By the time we got to Wembley, they put us on about two hours on before them. There were no two ways about it—we were definitely nicking a lot of their audience. When we were in Manchester, our manager went and saw Tommy Lee—and they tour a bit differently than Killing Joke, let me tell you: They were all staying at different hotels, they each had their own limousines to the gig, and then they were told by their different tenders and sub-managers when to go to their little tents by the side of the stage. They wouldn’t speak to each other; then they’d go onstage, do the show and go back to their little tents. And they were charging 150 quid for people to go back to the tents, meet the band and have them sign posters. [Laughs] Fucking hell! We didn’t meet them, but their crew was really nice to us. That was a funny adventure.
So what happened when your manager went to see Tommy Lee?
Tommy goes, “Right—Killing Joke. I love those guys. I’ve got like six of their albums. What are those guys doing these days?” [Laughs] He didn’t even know we were on fucking tour with him!