by Oliver Sheppard
It was the kind of nervousness you get before a big job interview. Killing Joke frontman Jaz Coleman was spending the morning taking phone interviews from music journalists in advance of the October 30th US release of Killing Joke’s fifteenth album, the apocalyptic MMXII, on Spinefarm Records. Killing Joke had become one of my all time favorite bands over the past few years, and “I spoke with Jaz Coleman on the phone today” was not something I imagined I’d ever be able to truthfully say to anyone any time soon.
I was a little intimidated, partly because of the reputation Jaz’s volatile temper had earned him. In the 1980s, Killing Joke had an absolutely adversarial attitude towards the music press; there is an infamous incident of Jaz dumping a briefcase of maggots onto the desk of a writer at Melody Maker. But Jaz was in a good mood, gracious with his time, and able to converse easily and at length on a broad number of topics. His hearty, trademark laugh — Hahaha! — was never far off.
Dial into conference line; an assistant answers, tells Jaz my name and what site I write for.
Jaz Coleman: “Hullo, Oliver! How are you? Where are you calling from?”
Me: “I’m down in Texas, in America.”
Jaz: “Ah, Texas! People in Texas are always so nice every time I talk to them. Why is that?”
Me: “Could be the traditional Southern upbringing we all get….”
Jaz: “Well, go ahead and fire away. You can ask me about anything you’d like to know about the band, the album, or whatever’s on your mind.”
Me: “Alrighty, cool. I heard MMXII some months ago. I do like the album” –
Jaz: “–thank you–“
Me: “—and especially the song on it, ‘Colony Collapse.’ Is there a theme to the whole album? The title is MMXII, so a lot of people, knowing Killing Joke, will assume it’s about the idea that the earth is going to end this year.”
Jaz: “I don’t think the world is definitely going to end this year. There are things happening that we should be concerned with, but I don’t really put much trust in ancient calendars. I find them interesting. The song ‘Colony Collapse’ is about the rise of nanotechnology and the danger there is in that. You know, you have these scientists – and I don’t really like scientists – working on nanobots, microscopic robots that can be programmed to do whatever they like. The lyrics in the song about ‘grey goo’ – that’s what we could all become if nanobots start altering life at the microscopic level, which is what they are supposed to do. The scientist Eric Drexler wrote about this, and a lot of scientists talk about nanobots unintentionally doing things that could really mess up the planet, but I don’t think it would be unintentional. Scientists have tremendous power to unleash evil. They’ve shown before they have no problem doing it, so I think nanotechnology could be used intentionally for evil reasons. Almost any sort of scientific advance like this is used to harm people or the environment even though initially they’ll always say it’s to benefit everyone.”
Me: “I guess you do have examples of scientists like Dr. Mengele and that sort of thing.”
Jaz: “That’s one example. Of course, the Americans were doing much worse stuff than Dr. Mengele during World War II. Hahaha! And in the end, anyway, America took all the knowledge gained from Nazi scientists and used it for themselves, no matter how the Nazis acquired it. So we have to keep our eye on scientists and what the scientific community is doing. So much of the technology they produce usually ends up being bad for us and the environment. My brother is a scientist, a physicist over in America, so I know a lot about what goes on among them. He’s a good person, but over and over scientists have shown that they invent things that can’t be trusted. Surveillance technology, nuclear weapons….”
Me: “You did a musical project with him [Jaz’s brother, physicist Piers Coleman], didn’t you? A symphonic, orchestral thing?”
Jaz: “Yes, we did. Music of the Quantum….”
Me: “The first song on MMXII, ‘Pole Shift.’ That’s a song about the theory that the earth’s magnetic poles are shifting, and something could happen like the earth’s gravitational fields would be reversed, causing us all to die…?”
Jaz: “That’s one idea that’s out there. ‘Pole Shift’ is about that and also the differences people have with each other, when their views polarize and lead to violence. The earth is changing all the time. We’re tumbling through space on this planet and a million different things could happen to us at any moment. The magnetic north pole is shifting in a southeasterly direction; there’s a lot of research that shows this, but no one wants to talk about it. The axis of the earth is going northwest. Every time there is a serious earthquake, like the one last year in Japan, the earth’s axis shifts anyway. This is the kind of thing that could cause a serious global catastrophe. It may be that we have to develop underground cities to live in, as the ancients were already starting to do. There are already large underground cities in lots of places, like Derinkuyu, an underground city in Turkey, that they built because they knew we would need some sort of protection from this type of catastrophe. And there is a huge underground city in Egypt that they recently found, Avaris, that is 3,500 years old. But, will anything happen by the end of 2012? I don’t know, but people should know the information about the shifting poles and the related information that’s out there. If they do dramatically shift there’s not much we could do about it, really.”
Me: “There’s a commercial by a US investment firm, TD Ameritrade, that actually shows a cartoon of the pole shift event happening in one of their advertisements.”
Jaz: “Oh, there is? Hahaha!”
Me: “I heard rumors you all were planning a show on December 21 in case the earth does end. Is that true? Will you be doing anything special on that day?”
Jaz: “Oh, I don’t know about a show on December 21. Me, I’ll probably just be enjoying myself, fishing in New Zealand.”
Me: “Is the band getting along well – you, Big Paul, Youth?”
Jaz: “Yes, we’re doing great. We’re all getting along fine. If you can you believe that! Haha!”
Me: “So hopefully you’re also writing new material, then, maybe something for 2013?”
Jaz: “I’m always working on new material, but yes, we’re hoping to do another album next year. We had finished MMXII over a year ago … let’s see … November, October … it’s been over a year since we wrote and recorded MMXII. Next year we’ll be recording a new album over in Argentina. We’re still working on getting that all together.”
Me: “The previous two albums, Hosannas from the Basements of Hell and Absolute Dissent, those were relatively harder, more aggressive albums. MMXII sounds a little more polished. Was this a concerted, deliberate plan, to make a slightly more polished album?”
Jaz: “No, we never plan things out like that. Whenever we start making new music we don’t plan it out too much. We don’t know how it’s going to sound in the end; we just get together and start playing, and however it turns out is how it turns out. We don’t go in thinking ‘Let’s do this kind of record.’ It just happens when we get together, and it ends up different each time we do it. It’s always a new experience. I finished writing the lyrics by autumn last year and I did put a lot of thought into those. But musically we just play, and it comes out from all of us spontaneously, without much planning. It comes from beneath the level of our consciousness, on a primal level. I didn’t hear the finished album until late last year, and when I first heard it I thought, ‘This is fucking incredible!’ It always comes out differently and it’s always a surprise to me when we come up with songs, how they end up sounding when we’re done. It’s not anything we plan out too much. I don’t think that should ever be a part of how we make music – it wouldn’t end up as powerful as it is.”
Me: “Speaking of the end of the world, do you have a favorite between Obama and Romney? It’s all that’s on TV over here right now.”
Jaz: “Welllll….. The world is really nervous about the election. It is a big decision, but I don’t think any president can really do anything that affects much for the better. I think early on someone like Obama probably thinks he can get into office and change things, but whoever gets elected gets access to the JFK file, so they see what happens to them if they get too out of line. I mean, there are forces that do not want the president to do something he isn’t supposed to do. They call them… now they call them ‘lobbyists’ or ‘special interests,’ but those words don’t really describe who the true rulers are. It’s more sinister than just ‘lobbyists.’ Politicians are just the servants of people that are really in control. Rulers like the Federal Reserve, which there’s nothing ‘federal’ about, by the way! There are powerful forces who do not want things to be too shaken up or else they’d lose their influence, and they want to keep their influence at all costs. Of course, in general, I would say if you want more social programs, you vote for Obama, and if you want the military to be stronger, you vote for Romney. I mean, I do have an interest in this, and I think I should, even though I don’t live over there.”
Me: “Yeah, I saw this feature in the New York Times recently that showed people in cafes in China and other places, foreigners across the world, watching the US debates between Romney and Obama.”
Jaz: “Yes, and they have every right to watch it. They damn well should be paying attention. We live in the era of Pax Americana now, you know. You can’t get away from America, no matter where you live. What the US does affects everyone on the planet. Back after 9/11, you had people like Cheney and Rumsfeld imposing their foreign policy – and American foreign policy is really complicated, it would take too long to talk about it all – they ruined whatever moral credibility America had anywhere. They were starting wars under the most flimsy excuses, going wherever they wanted, enriching themselves and their oil industry friends, and on top of that developing new ways of torture and violating everyone’s civil liberties everywhere. Waterboarding and secreting people away into torture chambers. Hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq, the Middle East, and elsewhere have died because of this, so people will care a lot about who gets elected in America because they know it is going to affect them in some way or another. Europe has lost a lot of its moral authority now, too. One of the things that happened in 2003 that I thought was a good development was you had countries like Germany and France who were actually saying, ‘No,’ to America. ‘No, you cannot do this,’ about the Iraq invasion. I thought that was a good sign. Usually you just have people like Tony Blair or Jack Straw who go along with whatever America wants.”
Me: “Was the song ‘European Super State’ about this in any way?”
Jaz: “Europe can be a counterweight to American power if it ever got its act together and decided it really wanted to. In Killing Joke we’ve always wanted a true humanity, a truly peaceful, united society of people coming together across the earth. People should be liberated to live their lives with as much freedom as they want. Killing Joke’s music has always been about liberating people. The American constitution is about liberty. If you look at rock and roll, the history of rock and roll, it coincided along with a lot of liberating movements – things like the Civil Rights movements or the women’s movement. A lot of rock and roll channels sexual energy, and sexual energy is liberating. You had things like contraception becoming more widely available and the sexual revolution happening right after rock and roll happened. Music is a key to unleashing these forces that liberate. You know, there were people like Wilhelm Reich who showed that sexual repression is directly tied to fascism and political repression. When you liberate yourself sexually, you open up the heart chakra and the sacral chakra, and it enables you to become a freer and more loving person. That has to happen if people are going to live in a world that is really free and peaceful, where people care about each other.”
Me: “About Wilhelm Reich – I always wondered, is the song ‘Tabazan’ off Nighttime about that at all?”
Jaz: “No… ‘Tabazan’ was written before I had read much Reich.”
Me: “Well, as a fan, can I request you put ‘Tabazan’ back into the setlist?”
Jaz: “Uh, well … we’ll see about that! Hahaha!”
Me: “So you are a big fan of Wilhelm Reich?”
Jaz: “Yeah. Out of his stuff you can get some really ‘off’ ideas, like the stuff about group masturbation to collectively release orgasmic energy. Hahaha! But I think in the long run his stuff about sexual energy being a vital component of human liberation is right. Rock and roll is part of that. It’s all tied in together. Before rock and roll, we started having some advances in women’s liberation here in England — like, we have these things called Marie Stopes clinics that were started by this women’s equality reformer, Marie Stopes. They give out contraceptives and provide abortions, and it was a big step forward to women gaining equality. Except, Marie Stopes was also in with the eugenics movement, and apparently she liked Hitler. So, there’s that. Hahaha!”
Me: “That sounds a lot like Planned Parenthood and Margaret Sanger over here.”
Jaz: “But after rock and roll happened you rapidly saw women’s equality come into its own, and punk helped push that forward even more. Music and sex are mostly about the channeling of life forces – the more you can do that, the more liberatory a society inevitably becomes. Things were already going that direction, and music helps unleash these forces in ways that helps society open up and become more free. We are always trying to tap into and unleash these forces whenever we make music.”
Me: “A few years ago you used to talk about wanting to build sustainable eco-villages and green communities, as a kind of way forward for the future. Is that something you still believe in?”
Jaz: “Yes, I absolutely believe in that. I visit and live between a lot of eco-villages – there’s one near Argentina I go to a lot, in fact. We need an absolutely green future on Earth if we want to survive on the planet. We have to do this because we have only until about 2040 until the planet is dead and unable to sustain life. We have to start building these communities and planning now if we want to survive.”
Me: “Are you a vegetarian or anything like that?”
Jaz: “No, I’m not. I have looked at the research that says it’s more beneficial to the environment for people to consume less meat, though. I’ve read the stuff about it taking less land and resources to feed people who are vegetarians, so I do think it’s something people should look into. I think people should reserve the times they do eat meat. Eating meat should be something you save for feast days and other sacred occasions.”
Me: “Some people would probably never forgive me if I didn’t ask about this, so… A couple of months ago on the internet there was a message attributed to you about The Cult and some shows you were supposed to play with them and The Mission…. I think you probably know what I am talking about…. Is there anything you would like to say about this incident?”
Jaz: “Yes, I know what you’re talking about. I’ll be perfectly clear about this. We were supposed to play these shows with The Cult and The Mission, and it was an idea I never liked. It was this retro package of bands; Killing Joke have never been a retro band. It was really embarrassing because for one thing we were listed as the third band for this show in a venue we had already sold out all by ourselves before this. It made no sense to me, and especially playing with The Cult – we have nothing in common with them. They’ve been playing cock rock for a long time now. I mean, I don’t want to say anything bad about Ian or anything, but they act like rock stars. We’re not rock stars. I don’t have any regrets about ‘the incident,’ and I stand by what I said.”
Jaz’s assistant cuts in and announces time is up.
Jaz: Sorry, Oliver. We’re trying to do as many interviews as we can this morning. This is how it goes. Cheers, mate.
Me: Thanks, Jaz. Have a good day.
MMXII is Killing Joke’s fifteenth studio LP, the second since 2010′s Absolute Dissent with the original band lineup. It comes out in the United States on Tuesday, October 30th on Spine Farm Records.