“One person’s head exploded next to me”: inside the weird world of Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman

Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke
(Image credit: Ester Segarra)

Hash-dealing, near-death experiences and the impending apocalypse: nothing is normal when it comes to Killing Joke frontman Jaz Coleman. We caught up with post-punk’s shaman-in-chief to find out what it’s like inside his head

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You were given an honorary doctorate by the University of Gloucestershire last year. How does it feel to be Doctor Jaz Coleman?

“If you consider that, by the time I was 16, I had four juvenile offences, it’s a very unlikely thing. Ha ha ha! I was very lucky meeting my colleagues in Killing Joke, because we’re all very well-read. We had our reading lists for the month and everybody would join in. I thought all bands were like this. When I looked into the dynamics of other bands, I realised we were quite unique.”

You do keep putting yourselves into a position where you’re outliers. You’ve toured with Tool, Guns N’ Roses and Mötley Crüe, who are all so musically different to you.

“We like to challenge, especially by going out before them. When Killing Joke’s on form, you gotta watch out! As individuals, we rise to challenges. This time 40 years ago, I was in Iceland.”

Didn’t you move to Iceland in the early 80s, allegedly to escape the impending nuclear apocalypse?

“That was the way it was pitched and it was great fun. But, no; even back in ’82, cruise missiles and nuclear warheads could have reached Iceland. There was a US airbase at Keflavík. It’s not a good place to escape the apocalypse if that’s what your plan is. I went there to find the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle; for myself, that was realising that I wanted to become a composer. I had a lot of fun out there, and of course I got into a lot of trouble with Geordie [Walker, Killing Joke’s guitarist] as well.”

What did you do?

“We basically started a bogus record company in Reykjavík. At our peak, I had a grand piano and a great apartment with Geordie in Reykjavík. We had the hashish industry of the whole of Iceland sewn up. Ha ha ha! It went really well and then we got out just in time. Of course, I’ll deny everything if anybody ever comes to me. I’ll say I made it up for the magazines. When I look back on how we operated as a band when we were younger, we’d move into squats, then we’d send a raiding party out with something called a ‘trim’: this stiff piano wire. You’d go into an amusement arcade where there are fruit machines, bore holes through the side and put your trim in to empty the machine really quickly, basically.”

And now you’re a doctor.

“Ha ha ha! Yeah, that’s right!”

Do you still spend lots of time in New Zealand?

“I do, but I missed the lockdown there. Their lockdown’s pretty different to, say, a Mexican lockdown. In Mexico, there wasn’t really much of a lockdown. You don’t want to go to the hospital in Mexico; I nearly died in a hospital there [Jaz suffered a serious injury after falling out of a fishing boat in 2021]. One person’s fucking head exploded next to me.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Really?!

“Seriously. This Mexico City hospital, there were amazing people working there, but when I was brought in I was barely conscious, there were hundreds of people praying and people fighting. You’ve never seen anything like it. I was in a coma for half an hour after being admitted and then I was wrongly diagnosed, so I got even more ill.”

You recently said you’ve not seen anything like the world we’re in now since the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 60s…

“On the Doomsday Clock, we’re closer to nuclear annihilation now than during the Cuban Missile Crisis. That’s a fact. It’s a second to midnight or something like that.”

You’ve just released a new EP, Lord Of Chaos. Is it the prelude to a new album?

“Of course it is! How long will it take? Well, how long is a piece of string? You never know with Killing Joke. But, while I’m around, I’ll always be committed to Killing Joke, as long as the others can keep up with me.”  

Louder’s resident Cult Of Luna obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.