Tomorrow's World: Jaz And Youth Play Us The New Killing Joke Album
, January 20th, 2010 10:53
After meeting up at Paul Raven's funeral the original line-up of Killing Joke decided to record together for the first time since 82. John Doran got the invite round to Youth's house on Xmas Eve to hear the results
Band portrait by Chris O'Donovan/ATP Jaz by Stu Green for shot2bits.net
"Nothing says Christmas like a Killing Joke playback”, announces Youth with a twinkle in his eye as he turns the volume up to floorboard rattling volumes in his library-like front room. All around him are shelves sagging under the weight of volumes of poetry, tomes on the occult and world religion, music reference books, encyclopaedias and expanses of dusty looking classics. He looks like a groovy college professor about to go on his winter holidays to Goa, with a knitted hat and loose fitting bohemian clothes. Stood behind him is Jaz Coleman – looking trim and healthy since quitting the booze – dressed all in back with fat joint hanging out of the corner of his mouth, arms in the air, bellowing along to one of his band’s new demos. “ABSOLUTE DISSENT!” he roars tunefully along with what, on first play, sounds like one of the catchiest yet heavy tunes they’ve written since the early 80s. Youth notices one of his many cats stood by the door, arched and hissing like an upside down letter U and sighs: “Jaz, for Christ’s sake, will you let the cat out? I don’t want the RSPCA coming round on Christmas Eve accusing me of torturing my pets with the new Killing Joke album.”
The duo – the Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon of heavy alternative rock – are a revelation together. They agree on nothing. They contradict each other continuously. They seem to have little in common. But they do seem to revel in each other’s presence. They laugh uproariously at the other’s jokes. There aren’t many things you can be sure about from only spending a few hours with people but I’d hazard a bet they are good friends – love each other even.
That we’re seeing Jaz and Youth working together again is something but their thirteenth studio album Feast Of Fools is something more again: an example of good coming from a grim occurence. Their friend and colleague Paul Raven, who joined the group in 1982, died in October 2007 of a heart attack. The original line up of KJ, that includes Geordie Walker, Paul Ferguson, Youth and Coleman, met up after the funeral and decided to work together again as a unit after the intimations of mortality Raven’s passing gave them.
They played an amazing set at the Fans' ATP in Minehead last Spring (despite nearly getting thrown off site minutes before being due to go on stage after an 'incident' involving some weed and a bunch of security guards) and this led organically to the recording of new material.
The new songs they play us suggest a return to KJ mark1 with equally strong personalities pulling in different directions and plenty of the songs have echoes of tracks such as 'Pssyche', 'Requiem' or 'The Fall Of Because' but really have a much more modern feel. On 'European Superstate' (an admittedly guitar free mix) there is a very tough DFA disco punk feel with hard house/EBM overtones almost as if it were John Foxx and LCD Soundsystem working on 'Open Up' instead of Lydon and Leftfield.
Elsewhere 'This World Hell' calls to mind KJ followers Godflesh or perhaps even Justin Broadrick's most recent project the free industrial grind jazz of Greymachine or the post metal of Neurosis, with straight up metal breakdowns galore. There is also a freer element to Geordie's oppressive grind and dampened chord clangour on 'Depth Charge'. It's hard not speculate that the precision propulsion tribalsim of Paul Ferguson and bass space carved out by Youth have spurred the band on to greater heights.
Best of the bunch however is 'Absolute Dissent'. Youth, who is actually hearing the mixed down version for the first time as we do, whistles afterwards saying "That has made my Christmas hearing Jaz's vocals on that."
I’ll leave blowing the smoke up your arse to someone else, suffice to say that the new record is great. It must be bittersweet, the fact that it took Paul Raven’s funeral to bring this about. Is there something tangible – no matter how abstract it may seem to others – about the chemistry of the original line up of Killing Joke, that makes it different or special or am I just romanticizing things?
Jaz Coleman: It’s traumatic for everyone involved.
Youth: But it’s undeniable isn’t it? The chemistry of the four of us in the room . . .
JC: It is true.
Y: The presence of the four of us creates its own criteria...
JC: It’s more about people pulling their own weight. We all did the lyrics together as well. It’s pointless having one songwriter coming up with lyrics that the other three don’t feel. The lyrics and music were a synthesis of everyone pulling together. There’s no point in doing this unless you are going to be in a band.
Y: Often bands have one visionary and the others are supportive to that. Occasionally they have two.
JC: With us it’s all four. And we all bring something to the table.
Y: Now often this makes bands implode or split up but we’ve found a way, even with our diverse and oppositional natures and characters, to form a dynamic that creates. We’ve found a way after 30 years to make ourselves a conduit for all those things, for all of our viewpoints without compromising anyone of them. Normally you’d refuse to do it individually or collectively, to compromise on an idea. We’ll battle it out to the death to find a way to sit well with everyone.
JC: In the sessions it polarizes. It could be me and Youth, or Geordie and Youth or Geordie and Paul. Or any combination. And one person takes the reactionary position and the other takes the revolutionary position. They will take opposing viewpoints and fucking smash them together. Smash them together in glorious Hegelian synthesis and then see what’s left. [both laugh uproariously]
So does this kind of caper work better for Killing Joke now than it has done at various points in the past?
JC: Well we’re more equipped to deal with the consequences of that emotionally, physically, spiritually . . .
Y: It’s more upsetting for everyone round us to be honest. We used to just crash and burn in the past when it got too intense and now we’ve found different techniques that help us hold it in the circle.
JC: For example in the sessions during the day we did so-called structured songs and in the evenings we did jams. This way we have a revolutionary element in the organisation. And you don’t know which is which when you listen back to them now. You can’t tell which are the jams and which are the structured songs. This approach of taking a structured approach in the afternoon and an anarchic approach in the evening served us well on this album.
Y: Yes it did because you spend all day focussing on one thing and then in the evening you get this spontaneous release. It sounds a bit jazz doesn’t it? But it’s not, it’s a spontaneous release. And what we’re doing now . . . we used to project a lot of that energy into the circle, at each other and now we kind of project it out on to other people. [Jaz laughs in sinister manner]
Y: That helps a bit but it’s still very, very challenging.
But some of the genesis of this album came out of an unhappy occurrence. When you met up after the funeral did you have a lot of personal shit to sort out?
JC: Do you know what? All of us knew we were getting back together; we just didn’t know when? All of us knew from 82 onwards but we did know it would happen and Paul’s passing brought us together faster. Raves did really well stepping in after Youth because he was almost an impossible act to follow – that kind of character that Youth brought to the band. Paul did so well. He brought his own thing to the table. But in the end – and Geordie’s said this and so have I – with the original line-up there is a chemistry there. We started as teenagers together. You go through all these milestones, these huge parts of your life together. We had our first New York gig together. These things you do from your teenage years together bind you together. And really, we’re so lucky that we’re all still living to be perfectly honest and to have an original line-up to do this now. I give thanks every day, on a most spiritual level for this opportunity to be here now and do this. It’s mind-blowing.
Both on these tracks and on the output of the first incarnation of the group there's a massive stylistic breadth. Do you feel that this forward looking side to the group gets over looked? I mean, you always get kudos from metal people but not really from the other side of the tracks. For example I was listening to the B-side to 'Turn To Red' recently and that’s obviously really influenced by Giorgio Moroder . . .
Y: I think that most bands in the 80s had a specific sense of musical direction and fairly specific musical origins and with fairly direct reference points. We’ve always been fairly direct and deliberate about our references from the early days on but ours have always been a lot more eclectic. From the early days on we were bringing in disco, punk, dub, metal . . . all those elements were present but it does change from then to the ‘Love Like Blood’ more melodic, synth era to the much more heavier classic rock sounding Pandemonium and then we had the heavier, techno, industrial white-out phase. We’ve made a contribution to all those genres in a way but because we’ve spread ourselves across the spectrum and it’s not been in an obvious or predictable way, that does mean we have been overlooked a little bit. Or not taken so seriously. I say that but we do get kudos from our contemporaries today but we certainly didn’t in the 80s. Then we were dismissed as just . . . dirge. [Jaz laughs fulsomely]
That would be a very superficial judgement if you were to listen to ‘Change’, which sounds like ‘Me and Baby Brother’ by War.
Y: Well, exactly.
JC: But look at the old reviews of singles like ‘Requiem’, which they just slaughtered and then it became this reference point ten years later. But I don’t really care about that sort of shit. We were never too aware of our public image in the press. We were never that concerned about it really. We had a kind of arrogant attitude of ‘We do what we do and people either like it or they don’t.’
Y: We get the kudos, y’know and that’s ok. Metallica. That Nirvana thing. That’s all well and good and a validation and all that. On one hand it’s alright but on the other, what does it actually mean? What does it have to do with what you’re doing now? It adds a certain weight and gravitas to what you’re doing but part of the thinking behind the reformation was that it was going to be a new thing and it wasn’t going to be a nostalgic, sentimental journey. We wanted the project to exist in the here and now and that’s why we knew we had to do new material and focussed on this album as being the primary reason for us being here. And we always felt like that. I don’t think we ever had the luxury of being able to sit on our laurels because the reality of here and now has always been too challenging for us to do that. We never had the commercial success to allow us to retire and cool out in our mansions. We always had to reinvent ourselves and keep it moving forward.
’Absolute Dissent’ sounded, amongst other things, utterly euphoric and perhaps that’s not something that a casual listener might associate with Killing Joke.
JC: I always saw Killing Joke as a celebration.
Y: A glorious celebration.
JC: With the gigs that we did with Joy Division, they called them “Northern gloom” and us “Southern stomp” and the fans all went nuts for Killing Joke – physically - and with Joy Division they just used to stand there. And you could see for us it was a celebration and that’s why we had the dance rhythms and I think very few bands working in rock or metal would go anywhere near anything that could make your hips move or get your groin going. It was dance music. We wanted to see the girls going. To see the girls dancing. [laughs] Although our audience is predominantly male.
Y: [laughing] It has got better! But as soon as those disco rhythms come on everybody moves. It’s part of our culture and heritage. We used to listen to those records and still do and we found there was no contradiction to throw those elements together.
In that case – even though Hosannahs From The Basements Of Hell and the second self-titled Killing Joke are two of my favourite Killing Joke albums since the mid-80s – would it be fair to say that the new album is going to be a lot more eclectic and a lot more textured and up and down in pace and attack?
JC: I don’t think we really plan anything. The idea of writing a song before you get in with Killing Joke is ridiculous.
Y: I disagree with you. When we were rehearsing for gigs this summer we got writing during the rehearsals and Jaz was like ‘There’s no point, let’s just do it when we do it.’ But we actually got half a dozen in line for contention. And then Jaz and Geordie got another few ideas together in Prague, so when we started the album we had nine fairly well written songs and then we added another nine spontaneous jams while we were there. And I think we’ve kind of produced this album in a way that has given us the best of both worlds. We’d never had the luxury of doing that before. There are qualities in both areas. And spontaneity. We’ve been conscious of referencing ourselves on this album. Saying ‘Ok, well let’s get in to the mindset of this album.’ And then also doing stuff that we’ve never done before. We were jamming to ABBA loops . . .
Stop. Stop. Stop. Which ABBA song? ‘Does Your Mother Know?’ That’s got a good loop at the beginning. An acid-y sort of thing . . .
Y: I think it was actually Hmmm, mmm, mmmm [hums what sounds like ‘The Winner Takes It All’], off a later album. A slower one. But you know when we throw something in like that and come from the other end of the spectrum and go with that then we hit something way beyond what we would normally conceive of. There are elements of it which I think that could have been made today by a teenage band. It sounds really fresh.
What other unorthodox methods were you using in the studio?
JC: You’ll have to hear it! There were rituals. We were referencing certain orthodoxies.
Y: I’m the member of the band who has his ear to the ground with what’s going on in underground music. I was listening to a lot of metal, post rock, industrial, 80s post punk and . . . Bob Dylan’s Christmas album! Which in the context of it being him is quite radical.
I don’t know about that . . .
JC: I’ve never liked him. I went to a concert of his once and I ate a quarter ounce of fucking dope and when I woke up there was this horrible fucking din coming off the stage and there he was whining away and it was such a bad vibe so I just went back to sleep.
Y: It took me such a long time to appreciate him but now I’m a massive fan.
JC: You should produce him.
Y: I’d love to produce him.
JC: You should. Finish him off forever.