The weird and wonderful wisdom of Jaz Coleman

Jaz Coleman press shot
(Image credit: Spinefarm Records)

As Killing Joke step into their fifth decade as a band, ferociously intense frontman Jaz Coleman laughs loud and long in the face of imminent global apocalypse. 

At the tail end of last year, he was bringing his blood-curdling roar to bear on packed US arenas as Tool's US tour support. When we caught up with him, it was on the night he launched his classical magnum opus Magna Invocatio: A Gnostic Mass For Choir And Orchestra Inspired By The Sublime Music Of Killing Joke

Across an insubstantial pub table, a jet-lagged, adrenalin-pumped Coleman – eyes wide, soul ablaze – let rip with every ounce of his uniquely passionate fury. 

It was an awesome spectacle, like gazing into the abyss, but in a good way. Here, the world according to Jaz Coleman. 

On the cult of Killing Joke

"Killing Joke gave me everything. It gave me my life. It's my university. My best friends. My global family. 

"Things are changing so fast on the planet now and I have the feeling that we need Killing Joke more than ever. I see Killing Joke more as service, it's a mission that we took holy vows on, actually. When I consider the third movement of Magna Invocatio, and those vows that I took as a teenager with Paul (Ferguson), here I sit with you, 42 years later and Killing Joke is truly on the verge of becoming a global phenomenon like never before. 

"We're being guided, and for Big Paul and myself it is truly, truly a mystery, and the sense of being with everybody at this time – that we are all in this together – and you get this feeling with Killing Joke. When we're on tour in America, or anywhere, we see hundreds of people going from gig to gig. Hundreds. And you're like one big family, and everybody is in the same boat together and I'm so proud of what we've accomplished in Killing Joke. We open up our soundchecks, not for 500 bucks or 5000 bucks, but to Gatherers [the term for Killing Joke's devoted fanbase] where we meet and talk and see our old friends, and we don't need security people and bodyguards with guns because we personally throw people out of our dressing rooms if they're out of order. 

"It's our lives, you see. All of us signed up for counterculture. We're not part-timers."

On touring

"When you're on these tours, you're like a coiled spring. It's the only way I can describe it. You're in this holding position, and that intensity increases, the spring gets tighter and tighter, and then bang, you're onstage, and bang, it's released, and you're down again. And then the next day, the tension comes back again – unless it's a day off – and so you're in the brace position again.

"When you stop the tour, you go fucking mad, man, because your body's ready for action – 'where's the gig?' In the old days it used to be “I've been looking after the baby, it's your turn now... Catch.

"We all started going mad, so these tours that we're doing now, they ain't long compared to what we used to do. Long is like when you go away for ten months, you don't see your kids for ten months. We used to be like that after a lot of the long tours we did. So we used to go to a halfway house [when they were finished]."

On the United Nations

"I would never have thought in my wildest dreams that Killing Joke would be the official music of the United Nations. But it is. Last week I was a guest at the United Nations, an official guest, and they told me that under this Trump administration – because the US accounts for 23% of the UN's revenue, and the Trump administration refuse to pay the UN – everybody at the United Nations, and the United Nations do so many things, this is the last month that everybody's getting paid. That's it. Yeah, that's the state the world's in. I just couldn't believe it when they were telling me this shit."

On politics

"Bob Pandy, from the song The Pandys Are Coming, is the guy who gave me my political education, if you like. The guy who asked me to think about what a terrorist was, and pointed out that most of Israel's founding fathers were terrorists and later on Margaret Thatcher, in my lifetime, said that Nelson Mandela should be executed. 

"I don't know whether you are aware of it, but the United Nations officially ranked the United Kingdom a third world nation, and how they come to this conclusion is because they measured the disparity between the rich and poor, and that's what determines what a third world nation is. I didn't know this. Look at this country. You've got pre-school nurseries using food banks, meanwhile we're upgrading Trident which costs £400 billion. 400 fucking billion? What? Weapons of mass destruction? Did we just go to war for that? Think about it. It's insane. [Jaz realises he's shouting and takes a moment to throttle back while staring deep into our already ravished soul]. It's insane. 

"So we are here and they have mismanaged this nation, whoever 'they' are, but it's a bloody mess and I could probably do better. But I'm forbidden from going into politics. I've been asked. And that was the third time that I have been officially asked to go into politics, and I officially said 'no!' A daughter made me swear I would never go into politics. She said 'You can do more to change the world with art', and I believe this and I heed her counsel."

On keeping fit

"I'm in pretty good shape, mate. You wouldn't wanna fight me. I'm physically strong, you know what I mean [Jaz slaps his chest]. I'm strong. What happened to me is, I went fishing on the rocks, the fucking tide came in, I threw my rod away and climbed up this cliff face because the tide had come in, and at that point I didn't have enough upper body weight to pull myself up. One of my ankles is metal, from a previous accident and that wouldn't grip, and it was fucking scary, and I thought, 'If I get out of this I'm going to put some upper body weight on' [Jaz laughs explosively and implausibly loudly]. I can do ten pull ups, I can get over the fence in a run. I make sure that I'm fit enough to be in any police force in the world – that means you've got to be able to do 35 push ups, and that's easy for me. I can do that no problem. I'm a fanatic. It's mind over matter. I don't mind and you don't fucking matter. HA! [Jaz laughs and laughs and laughs].” 

On a new Killing Joke album

"Killing Joke's next album, that we're just about to do, is lining up to be the biggest thing we've ever done. We can feel it in our blood, and it excites us and terrifies us, and it's a wonderful thing. With Killing Joke, you just know when a monster's coming, and a monster's coming. And the thing is we've all got to live through the year that's coming and I have to tell you that it's the worst astrology that you can think of, this year coming. It's dire. We've just got to survive, mankind."

On the survival of mankind

“We're having this conversation pretty much on the eve of World War III. World War III has already started happening, it's a shadow war at the moment, but the feeling is that next year is going to be so awful for humans on Planet Earth. World peace is on my mind a bit, and the realisation that mankind is most certainly at war with himself. You see, I have an interest in the study of the human genome and I am convinced there is a part of us that doesn't belong here. That part of us doesn't really like food in a natural state, it doesn't like sunlight too much, and that's one of the reasons why I've come to embrace transhumanism [a philosophy that advocates for the transformation of the human condition by developing technologies to enhance human intellect] because I feel that mankind needs further augmentation. 

"I think that in his current state he is a very dangerous animal, human beings cannot be trusted in government, the only way we could have a secure form of democracy is if governments took on a form similar to jury service.

"So my time is spent thinking about, dreaming about the notion of world peace and mankind living in harmony with the Earth. And the Earth is, of course, intelligent and very much alive. And when you consider there's been over 3,000 atomic tests done on the planet you see how fucked up mankind is. If you consider for one second that if we effect a particle locally we effect it universally – meaning that if we let off a nuclear bomb of a billion horse power per cubic centimetre, it doesn't just happen on our world, it happens in the many worlds – that's why, after the first atomic explosion in 1945, in '47 we had mass UFO sightings that were seen by people such as [ex-US President Jimmy] Carter. We are at a very interesting time in human history, where potentially we will wake up to who we really are, and a really mysterious history of mankind."

On the revolution

"It's a climate for revolution, now. But I don't know. I think people have become zombie-fied, not that I think a revolution is always a good thing. Look at the terror of the French Revolution, and then after that Napoleon crowned himself Emperor, so what did it accomplish? But when you look at the background to the French Revolution, for example, four years before the French Revolution, 52 volcanoes erupted, and it plunged Europe into four years of darkness and crop failure, and that precipitated the French Revolution. That could easily happen again. For example, if India and Pakistan went to war we'd be in fifteen years of nuclear winter, or a super volcano, it could easily happen to us again. Look at Iceland the other year. Volcanic activity is increasing, so we're at that stage."

On climate change

"Is Extinction Rebellion the new punk? We're living in a sixth extinction period. If you go to Angkor Wat in Cambodia you can see the ancients marked out the old equator with a system of temples around the world so they could warn us about what's about to happen, and when you go to Angkor Wat you can see the bas relief of stegosauruses and stuff which were tramping over the planet when mankind was here, and what they are saying is that this is going to happen again. It goes in cycles. Here's the thing: disaster will probably dictate the next stage. I think that if we can reach planetary consciousness we can actually change events.”

On America

"America, since the concept of America started, has only not been at war for 64 days in its entire existence. It's a war-like nation, and it's a failed experiment, going the way of the Soviet Union. 

"I've just come from America and when you have 80% of the population who are just two paycheques away from homelessness, it's the end. We saw tent cities that reached for miles round every city in America. It's worse than they're saying. The worst thing about it is that it's so heartless as a society, there are more people in prison than in college in America and I don't feel that the United Kingdom and the people of the United Kingdom have ever been critical enough of America. That's why I left, because it's so reactionary in this country, there's no history of revolution and the people just bend over and supply the Vaseline. 

"It's been reported that 530,000 Americans filed for bankruptcy this year due to an inability to pay medical bills. Yet still the majority reject free healthcare, it's a baffling dichotomy. A throwback to the 'don't work, don't eat' pioneer ethic and it's hard to see what people in this country find so attractive about such a system."

On turning 60

"I'm two months away from my sixtieth birthday and my children haven't all met yet. I've got lives in different places around the world and all sorts of things like this that are strange. I do feel closer to the ultimate truth. One of the things I wanted to know at the start of our career was about the power structure of the earth and now I have a very good idea about that, and to see ourselves in the context of it. I want to contribute, I want to make life more beautiful. I feel that we are coming up to the most important time. Now. In Killing Joke's career for sure. And in my career.”

On the St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra

“Quite a few years back I had a very dodgy manager, and I was meant to go and work with the Moscow State Film Orchestra. When I got to Moscow it was a different orchestra, and more to the point, they couldn't play my music and I ended up throwing things at this orchestra. It's on film somewhere actually... Anyway, I was fucked because they ran off with the money, or some of them ran off with the money, and so I was then going to be sued by the record company for not delivering the record. 

"So I wrote a letter to the Minister of Culture, telling him about my predicament and the next thing I knew, I'm heading for St Petersburg and I go and do a press conference where they asked me what I thought about Pussy Riot. And I said: 'I think the members of Pussy Riot should have an extra six months in Siberia for making such terrible music.' And they all started laughing, so after that I got the job with the State Orchestra. 

"But then when I wanted to do Magna Invocatio last year, when I went to St Petersburg I was upgraded to the country's oldest orchestra, and so was my conductor (Yuri Serov). He's been with the State Orchestra all his life, and his father and his grandfather, so he was upgraded to the St Petersburg Philharmonic also and I suddenly had an elite orchestra that I didn't know I was going to get. It was just an amazing experience to hear the music that you have in your possession come back for the first time in Russia. It was transcendental. Out of this world. Magnificent. Beyond.”  

Magna Invocatio – A Gnostic Mass For Choir And Orchestra Inspired By The Sublime Music Of Killing Joke is available now via Spinefarm Records

Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor for the last 20 years, Ian stapled his first fanzine in 1977. Since misspending his youth by way of ‘research’ his work has also appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer, Prog, NME, Uncut, Kerrang!, VOX, The Face, The Guardian, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Electronic Sound, Record Collector and across the internet. Permanently buried under mountains of recorded media, ears ringing from a lifetime of gigs, he enjoys nothing more than recreationally throttling a guitar and following a baptism of punk fire has played in bands for 45 years, releasing recordings via Esoteric Antenna and Cleopatra Records.