Killing Joke's Jaz Coleman: "I Don’t Dig Typewriters or Computers or Whatever You Call Them"
He also won’t tell us how he met Jimmy Page.
It’s a moonlit night in Prague when we speak with Jaz Coleman. We know because Killing Joke’s gregarious frontman tells us so when we ring him on the cell phone someone lent him for our interview. He doesn’t actually have a cell phone of his own, you see. Or a computer, for that matter. “Of course it creates a lot of problems for me because some people just stop communicating with you when you don’t have a computer,” he observes. “I mean, I at least like to hear a voice. Otherwise it doesn’t mean anything to me—people sending notes to each other on the computer or whatever.”
Coleman’s latest missive to the world comes not via email or social media but in the form of Killing Joke’s excellent new album, Pylon. It’s the band’s 15th (!) full-length and their third since the original lineup—Coleman, guitarist Kevin “Geordie” Walker, drummer Big Paul Ferguson and bassist Martin “Youth” Glover—reunited in 2008, continuing an un-fucking-touchable political post-punk and industrial legacy that kicked off in earnest with their self-titled 1980 album and went on to influence everyone from Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana to Ministry and Metallica. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the one and only Jaz Coleman.
Noisey: Why don’t you use cell phones or computers?
Jaz Coleman: Well, I’m using a cell phone today, but generally I don’t touch them. I don’t dig typewriters or computers or whatever you fucking call them. I don’t think they’ve improved our lives. I think they’ve made our lives worse, frankly. I don’t see any benefits at all. Some people actually stopped communicating with me, but I don’t care. If they want to talk to me, they’re at the very least going to have to agree to a time when we can speak on the phone.
Any real losses to speak of among the people who no longer speak with you, or has it been a welcome thinning of the herd?
Normally, it’s people like tour managers [laughs]. But don’t worry—they’ll hear me and see me soon enough! We’re about to go on tour for a fucking year.
Do your bandmates ever try to convince you to get a cell phone?
No. They kind of marvel that one can actually live without this shit.
They’re probably jealous. I’m a little jealous.
Youth, you know, he spends so much time on the fucking Internet. He’s always on it. Frankly, I find it really irritating. You go out with friends and they’re all looking at their iPhones and their iPads. That’s the thing, you see—human interaction has been seriously damaged. Not to mention human attention span. When I started doing lectures in the 80s, you could generally do 20 minutes before you broke the lecture up with visuals or music. Now they won’t last four minutes. [Laughs] So I don’t know that it’s improved our quality of life. I just see people looking like zombies walking down the street, actually. But we’re so far down this path that it doesn’t matter what I say. I just don’t want to be part of it myself.
From what I understand, you’re not big on possessions in general.
No, I don’t really have anything. I’ve got a couple of pairs of boots, three pairs of trousers, two or three jackets and that’s it, really. But I’ve got books all over the world. I’ve probably got 15,000 books in different places. But I’m not big on possessions at all. A lot of the time I live out of a bag because I’m in Europe or the rest of the world. I just keep moving.
Have you always been like that?
Yeah. Some people see value in owning things. I’ve always preferred to invest what little money I’ve had into the human experience—into an adventure and so forth. I love perpetual motion.
You live in New Zealand but whenever I talk to you, you’re in Prague. Do you have a place there as well?
Well, I get a different one every time I need to come here. And then I stay at my daughter’s place in Switzerland sometimes. And then I pick a new place and just keep wandering.
You’ve been haunting Prague for many years now.
Prague is the last great mystery. This is where the magic happens. It’s a great city. It’s the city of cities for me. I know of no city greater than Prague.
Do you do most of your writing there?
All of it. I love writing here. You can see why this was a place of pilgrimage for Mozart and Beethoven. One is perpetually in a state of amazement in this city.
Did you ever visit when it was still part of the Communist Bloc?
No, I came here for the first time about six or seven months after the Velvet Revolution. I came here with Killing Joke and played here. It was very different to now. Life here is better now than it was then, I can tell you that. There are certain trends one doesn’t like, but it’s certainly better than it was back then.
Was it love at first sight?
Well, I started to work with the orchestras here in Prague in the 90s. I wanted to come here for two reasons—it’s a mecca for composers, historically, and I have a deep love of symbolism. I studied the history of the Rosicrucian movement, and this city plays a pivotal role in that, so in Prague you see arcane symbols carved everywhere you walk. It’s a truly beautiful and mysterious city.
A fellow lover of arcane symbols, Jimmy Page, was featured prominently in the 2013 Killing Joke documentary, The Death and Resurrection Show. How did you first meet him?
I can’t tell you that. I can tell you it was 1983, but the circumstances I just can’t tell you. It’s impossible.
Shit. Now I really wanna know. Well, how about this instead: Killing Joke will be touring North America early next year. Last time you were here you were robbed, weren’t you?
Yeah, in Vancouver! You know, we have a kind of open dressing room policy, and I made the mistake of inviting a couple of people on the bus and they stole Youth’s bag. Funny enough, the guy looked dodgy when he was leaving and I thought, “Maybe I should search him.” I didn’t, but I should have. And he stole Youth’s bag. It was sad because we genuinely like to trust people. But there you are.
A friend of mine interviewed you in San Francisco a few days after the robbery and you told him you felt there was no rebellion left in America. It must seem even worse to you now, given all the police shootings that have happened here since your last visit.
I have to be honest: I’ve stopped listening to the news. I’ve stopped giving a fuck what’s happening geopolitically because otherwise I’d go fucking mad. I can’t really change the things that are happening on a global scale, and if I can’t change them, I feel like I need to concentrate on the things that I can change in my immediate environment. So I focus on these things now.
Your book, Letters From Cythera, came out a couple of years ago and is already impossible to find. Are there plans to reprint it?
Well, I only did a thousand copies. I have to put my hand in my pocket to print another lot up. Actually, I’ve kind of updated it and I’m happy to say the second edition is being printed up as we speak, so for sure you’ll be able to get hold of one. And it’s a beautiful edition, this one, because I’ve changed a few things around, I’ve expanded it, and I’ve put in a few really rare photographs. It’s got a beautiful peacock blue cover, and it’ll be another limited edition. I’m calling this one “the cobalt edition.” So anyway, there’ll be another thousand copies. It should be available before the end of the British tour next month.
Speaking of the British tour, you’re taking out Jah Wobble’s Invaders Of The Heart as support…
It’s wicked, isn’t it? I wish I could go to the gig myself. I’d really like to see Killing Joke and Jah Wobble, but I’m on the wrong side of the fence! [Laughs]
Have you known him since his days in Public Image Limited?
When we did our first EP [in 1979], the first three tracks we had, I basically got my girlfriend to front the money for us to go into the studio. I’ll never forget going into Gooseberry Studios in London and Public Image Limited had been recording in there. When we got there, Wobble was there and he had a friend of his who was so blind drunk he was just slouched over a chair in the studio. Next thing I know, Wobble completely doused him with lighter fluid and set fire to him! He got right fucking up, of course. We had to go and put the fire extinguisher on the cunt. That was my introduction to Jah Wobble. [Laughs] I haven’t actually met him since then, so it’ll be nice to say hello.
Wait, wait… what happened to the drunk?
Oh, we just dumped him out on the street. He was seriously charred, mate. That was before Jah Wobble became spiritual, of course.
J. Bennett thought about becoming spiritual once and then came to his senses.