Jaz Coleman has got a lot to say. The frontman of post punk act Killing Joke has been building up steam as he waxes lyrical on topics ranging from bee pollination to his contempt for Bono. It’s when talk turns to his home country that he gets particularly direct. “I really don’t like going back to England at the best of times,” he says. “There’re a number of very good reasons why I haven’t lived there in a quarter of a century. The country I grew up in was so different. What it has turned into is an abomination that I can’t stand.”
Killing Joke started in 1978 in London, the outlet of Coleman and guitarist Kevin ‘Geordie’ Walker. A year later they released their debut EP Turn to Red/Almost Red on their own Malicious Damage label. The EP caught the attention of legendary BBC DJ John Peel, and twelve months later the band were picked up by E.G. Records (King Crimson, T-Rex).
From their inception the band were noted for their aesthetic – the sound urgently bled through the speakers, suggesting the space and darkness that would become features of later genres of industrial and metal music. Their album art and the images projected during live shows attracted notoriety due to their shocking and inflammatory nature.
The founding four members of the band – Coleman, Walker, Martin ‘Youth’ Glover and Paul Ferguson – were reunited at the 2006 funeral of former bassist Paul Raven. In 2010 the gang of four recorded together for the first time in 30 years, producing the album Absolute Dissent, which was followed by last year’s MMXII.
“Killing Joke – for us, anyway – has always been about having something to process the dreadful trends that occur around us,” Coleman says. “We honestly use the band as a place to debate and argue about the things that we’ve noticed. We knew from the start that our music never had that much commercial appeal. I knew it’d be a struggle that went on for many years, because the advent of MTV culture in the 1980s was never going to have much to do with us.”
The direction of popular music in the next decade saw Killing Joke’s star rise. Many of the bands of the Seattle scene – including Nirvana and Soundgarden – cited the Englishmen as influences. “It wasn’t really until grunge kicked on that the phone started ringing. Just to be clear, though, we’re definitely not bitter about our lot. There have certainly been a lot of laughs. If you’re an artist you can stay in bed all day, if you feel like it,” Coleman laughs.
Killing Joke’s Singles World Tour has taken them through Europe, and across North America. The exhausting schedule included 12 shows in 14 days, so it’s interesting that Coleman is resoundingly upbeat. “Well, that’s got a lot do with how I’ve been occupying myself. I’m on an island in Thailand, and I’ve been eating really well and doing a lot of exercise. It feels really good to bash a boxing bag sometimes. The good bit about the boxing is it means you’re ready to throw a few punches at a crazed stage invader, if needs be.”
The band is focused on a single task when they take to the stage. “The whole spirit of Killing Joke is about bringing contentious perspectives onto a common ground. We might have changed, but what we do is still so close to the street that when we all start pulling the fragments come together. Humans now have too many options, and Killing Joke brings (people) together to create a critical force.”
BY BENJAMIN COOPER
Killing Joke play the Metro Theatre Saturday, June 8. The Singles Collection 1979 – 2012 is out now on Spinefarm Records