In Conversation With Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman

Photo by Tuomas Vitikainen, photo used with Creative Commons approval

By Kyle Harcott

There’s not any glib, off-the-cuff way of introducing an interview with the erudite, silver-tongued frontman of the most influential post-punk band of the last thirty years – and truly, why bother? Why not just let the words speak for themselves?

Without my telling it, Jaz Coleman’s reputation as the voice and de facto ringmaster of Killing Joke precedes him – as does the band’s wide swath of influence. One glance at their Wikipedia page provides a laundry list of the artists who claim direct or indirect inspiration from Killing Joke’s defiant stance and urgent, angular sound. Personally, I’ve been a fan since first being introduced to them at the tender age of twelve, by way of Metallica’s 1987 cover of the “The Wait”. Understandably then, it was not without some trepidation that your humble Hellbound scribe placed a couple of early-morning calls to Switzerland to speak with the intrepid Mr. Coleman. But I needn’t have worried – seamlessly, we slipped into conversation about the myriad things that comprise the Killing Joke ethos: Conspiracy, geopolitics, magic, the arcane, revered and fallen comrades, archetypes. I had my eyes opened wide on this one.

One last thing: If you have the option of seeing Killing Joke on their upcoming tour, I would encourage you do so. Their latest album, Absolute Dissent, absolutely roars. It is the band’s finest work in years and I predict it will inspire a whole new generation of bands. So without further ado…

HELLBOUND: Hello Jaz, Kyle Harcott from Hellbound magazine in Canada calling.

Jaz Coleman: Hello, thanks for calling me back. Whereabouts are you ringing from?

HB: I’m in Vancouver, BC.

JC: Ah, Vancouver! Great salmon to be had there! I’ll tell you: The last time the original Killing Joke lineup played Vancouver… my god – that was 1982! I remember we met these young fellas outside the gig, and they ended up forming a band called Psyche, and one of their members ended up in Skinny Puppy – who became part of our extended family. So it’s always special when we come through your city. You always get to meet everybody on the Killing Joke tour, we’re always very easy to find. Like, when we go through San Francisco, we always get Jello Biafra turning up at the gig. And when we go to Chicago, all the usual turn up at the gig as well – it’s definitely a brotherhood.

Speaking of brotherhood, what has kept the four of you so close all these years? Even with lineup changes throughout the years, you’ve maintained that a reunion of the original members was always inevitable?

I think, firstly, it’s because we all have so many common interests outside of music; there’s very few bands I know of that see each other on a social level the same way we do in Killing Joke. Wherever I live, Geordie’s not far away and whenever I go to Spain or England, I’m in touch with everybody every day. I mean, I go on holiday with these guys! How many bands do that with each other thirty years down the road? These guys I was with when we were still four teenagers – it all happened very quickly for us. I was eighteen when I started Killing Joke with Big Paul [Ferguson, drums]. And I was very lucky to have met Big Paul first, because he has such a brilliant intellect. And it was such a chance meeting as well! I can remember, the first problem we encountered was ‘How the hell are we going to meet the two others, whoever they are?’ Not only do they have to be innovative musicians but also great philosophers. They have to understand the mystery tradition, understand the foundations that we believed in – which was, at the time, a very magical foundation – Rosicrucian-based, to be precise. And the only way to find them was to actually prepare a ceremony, a ritual, to find the other two members of the band – which is what happened. And we found them within 10 days of performing that ritual! And within 10- weeks of that, the whole of Europe and the United Kingdom knew about Killing Joke! And here we are, almost 32 years later, and we’re still together. Killing Joke continues, whatever, however, but it’s great to have the original lineup back. Of course, well, it’s already happened… I mean, three years ago, Big Paul rejoined the family. And Youth has basically been playing with us for ages – as far back as ‘93. It’s a good place to be… We have no contemporaries that are alive, let alone making music for the right reasons. We’re the last ones of a certain era, really, from the second wave of punk. And our career’s been very different insofar as I think the most meaningful and exciting and perhaps vital part of our career has been from the middle to this point. The velocity of each album increases, and now with the original lineup back… wow, it’s great. But we’ve never stopped putting out records. And that’s it. Other bands reform, we haven’t, we just keep going.

When you mention that magic and ritual played a huge part in the formation of Killing Joke…

Sure it did…

…does it still play a huge part in your daily life?

In 1989 I stopped all magical practice and I started a life of prayer and contemplation. Keep in mind, any ritual I did -even during those earliest times- was always devotional, just in case people get the wrong idea about these things. We’ve always kept this aspect of ourselves quite close to our chests lest it be misinterpreted… Look, as it says in the New Testament, ‘A good tree cannot bear a bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.’ I’ve had to reflect long and hard over the years about whether Killing Joke… is it a force for good? And the answer is, unequivocally, yes! It is a force for good.

I think the countless bands you’ve influenced would be a testament to that.

I’ve had to really reflect on that – not just the inspiration, but inspiring so many different artists of every different medium and calibre – this kind of spirit, ‘the mirror effect’, I call it – where people see us and are inspired to do something themselves, whatever it may be. Apart from this, the whole Killing Joke phenomenon has evolved into a network of like-minded individuals. Indeed, if you go to a Killing Joke concert, it’s a kind of collective awareness of ‘Gatherers’ [Killing Joke’s dedicated legion of fans]. You can differentiate our Gatherers from any other audience on planet Earth. It’s the feeling of being surrounded by like-minded people that I find so utterly liberating.

With the whole tradition of Killing Joke, I’ve really got Geordie [Walker, guitar] to thank for most of this because he’s been the only other person -apart from myself- that’s attended every single Killing Joke event and concert in our entire history. He’s possessed of such tenacity that he just keeps creating, and he cares not for money; you can’t BUY Geordie Walker. And he only wants to play with one band. And I understand why he only wants to play with this one band because I only want to sing with one band! Because I don’t find any other musicians capable of sitting ‘round a table, and going from a in-depth discussion on world politics, geopolitics, moving to poetry, reciting it from memory, moving to earth science, moving to theology, philosophy, or surrealism in art, you name it – all of us can move with great ease in all these areas. We can discuss the various stages of magic from Shamanism, to Wicca, to Hermeticism, to Rosicrucianism, to Illuminism, to Chaos Magick – and have strong opinions about all of these things! My bandmates can discuss any political system on planet Earth, and they’ve had first-hand experience in all of it.

About Killing Joke… the Evening Standard said recently, “Are they thugs masquerading as intelligentsia, or intelligentsia masquerading as thugs?” [Laughs] The answer is, both!

The formative Killing Joke sound was unique amongst its contemporaries of the time, I wanted try and get a sense of where you were coming from musically, and how your beliefs tied into that formation as well.

One of our foundations was to inspire a renaissance, when I remember my early conversations with Paul – and this was before Geordie and Youth [Glover, bass] even came on the scene. That was the objective; that and also to have an understanding of the world’s power system, the world power complex; and more importantly – to see ourselves in context to it. That was one of the other points I remember discussing with Big Paul.

Apart from that there was strict musical form. We rejected ALL blues music as musical communism, because it was a musical form from a foreign land and not our country of origin. We would ask ourselves these questions on what an Anglo-Saxon rhythm is, so Killing Joke came out of fierce debate like this. We rejected ALL guitar solos, on the grounds that they were an expression of ego – and that tradition remains to this day. The drums were always considered the royal instrument. Big Paul drew from Celtic tradition on drums, and we meant to reinvent and establish modern tribal drums of an Anglo-Saxon style – so in many respects we were almost writing our own folk music, because England has no real folk tradition. And by that I mean, no one sings the songs of their ancestors or forefathers anymore. If you asked 500 people in England today to sing the songs of their forefathers, they’d probably sing you a Manchester United song! So it was always about reestablishing tradition. And of course that’s what we are today.

I’m forced to accept that we are part of the establishment now, in a funny way. About a month ago I had the surreal experience of my eldest daughter meeting my mother for the first time. She’s 27, my eldest daughter – meeting her grandmother for the first time at a ceremony [in France] where I was decorated as a chevalier of the arts, and then I had to go off and do a Killing Joke gig to 3000 people within 3 hours of that. And having done music for Walt Disney and the Royal Opera House, performing my first opera for the Queen, having achieved standing ovations in the Royal Albert Hall with an orchestra… All these gifts came from Killing Joke – all of them. [Killing Joke has] been my entire further education.

Going back the knighting ceremony, was there a nomination process? Was the honour primarily for your work in Killing Joke, or for your classical work?

It was for classical work, and my work in Maori and Arabic music, and I suppose Killing Joke must come into it somewhere as well [Laughs]. I suppose someone must have nominated me somewhere, but I was simply informed by the French Ministry of Culture. I wouldn’t have expected any of this – [it’s] truly an honour.

Can you give me some background behind [ex-KLF man] Jimmy Cauty’s artwork on the cover of Absolute Dissent? Who came up with the concept, for one?

Funny you mention, Jimmy’s really pissed off, because the original art showed an RFID tag on the cross, and lots of other things which the record company took the liberty of altering… Essentially the art is Jimmy’s creation and concept. As for the microwave-tower aerials on the crucifix… microwave towers have very interesting possibilities for the future. Indeed, these towers have unusual properties where they’re sighted, and as someone who researches earth science, I take great interest in them. Their official name is ‘GWEN towers’ [as in ‘Ground Wave Emergency Network’] and my concern with them, is that the biosphere runs at, I think, 7.82Hz, so all terrestrial life can grow at a certain resonance. And when we start fucking around with the human resonance, we start really messing with the biosphere. These are my essential concerns.

But then, there are controversial things that have been about how these microwave towers can be used for the future. Conspiracy theorists like to cite a film director who claims to have had a conversation with a member of the Rockefeller family -none of which has ever been substantiated- but he claims Rockefeller told him something to the effect of how the future population will be micro-chipped and run from microwave towers. And I think this is where Jimmy was coming from with the artwork. Myself, I think we should probably dismiss it as ‘critical paranoia’, as Salvador Dali would say. Wouldn’t you say, or do you think there’s substance to it?

I’ve seen the films of the director you refer to, and I’m aware of the attributed [unsubstantiated] conversation he’s alleged to have had with Rockefeller regarding the towers. But regardless of one’s belief in conspiracy theories or not, the world is definitely changing, perhaps not entirely for the better?

Where is it going, though? I mean, microchips are almost a thing of the past now, what with nanotechnology, biotechnology. I mean- where this could go…? Sure, it could develop into a nightmare scenario where human intelligence is inseparable from artificial intelligence. Whether that’s the direction humanity should go in, it just emphasizes the point that there’s no regulatory body that’s having any sort of control on science. I know my brother would hate me for saying this; we had a huge argument about this recently. He’s an American citizen; he works in America in the scientific community as a physicist. But I believe that more important than science, right at this time, is increasing the food supply. You must take into consideration that there are constant droughts, and global warming is having this effect. I would say that the vast majority of scientific contribution since the Industrial Revolution has been detrimental, really. We’ve destroyed our ecosystem, the biosphere is damaged – if science has any purpose at all, it’s about reversing this process.

Myself, I’ve got a problem with nuclear power stations, nuclear power – that’s why I became a citizen of New Zealand. I’ve got a problem with the fact that the UK has is gonna have ten new nuclear power stations in the next 10 years. Because this is toxic waste that just won’t go away, and that’s the problem so I don’t think it’s viable; I don’t think it’s good for us. I would slash the budget of all science in favour of agriculture, or making the transformation from monoculture to polyculture – where we’ve got biodiversity in every region and every village, so every village becomes a self-reliant, self-sufficient republic. It’s all very well to be able to fly to the moon but if we can’t keep our rivers clean… Where has our science got us? Ironically scientists worldwide are now unified in their opinion that at our current rate of consumption, were going to need a new planet by the year 2030. I’m afraid science is used, generally speaking, for consumption and production, and for constructive purposes. Hence it needs regulating. I’ve thought about this long and hard and [the argument’s] linked to huge debates on overpopulation. The only way we can get an effective moratorium on, for example, to stop over a billion Chinese using cars, and increasing greenhouse emissions. And how are we gonna stop one billion Indians from procreating so we’re putting even more stress on the ecosystem? The only way to do is it to get a universal moratorium by dividing the world up into unions: the American Unions, the European Union, African Union, and Asia/Pacific Union, and then having what is now the UN turned into a world government, where every region is represented in one super-government.

You are entirely in favor of a one-world government?

How the hell are we going to get to the point where we are a global family without doing this? How the hell are we going to stop almost two billion Chinese people from introducing into their lives a meat-based diet, so that they have to expand their borders because they can’t meet the demand for meat consumption, because before, their diet was largely vegetarian? How are we gonna stop that many Chinese people from owning refrigerators and emitting more CFCs, unless we evolve, and have a universal moratorium on this? You see? Look, there’s two ways this [one-world government] can go: there’s an authoritarian model, which all of us, I think, would agree is unacceptable. One that would be run by a super-elite of international bankers, another theory that is up for debate. I personally don’t think international banking has done the public a particularly good service period, and anyway there isn’t any money! [Laughs]


So that’s debatable – whether Mr. Rockefeller’s idea of a super-national elite of bankers [running the show] is such a good idea; but that we do need an elite of intellectuals and great thinker is absolutely right. I would say that people who strive for pubic office these days are probably the wrong people for the job! That job attracts sociopaths, generally speaking. And the only way round this is the government must work like a jury service, so that the government this week, changes next week, and so forth. Because otherwise, human nature being what it is, it takes advantage! So I do think [the idea of] having blocs is a good idea because the people who will look after their area the best are the people who are from that area. But I believe we must have a global council; that’s obviously the reason why the UN was set up in the first place. The one thing that was instilled into me by my father, who fought in the last World War, was – we must have a European Union because that means we’ll never be at war with France or Germany again! And so be it! I think that’s great and anyway I have more in common with the European continent than with Anglo-Saxon society. My personal opinions are that the people of the British Isles should be given a referendum if they want to become part of the European Union and opt in or opt out – we can’t have it both ways. 75% of people in the UK don’t want to be in the European Union but I am largely pro-European. From the age of four, I was travelling every year to Europe so I had a continental lifestyle, a European lifestyle to compare to the Anglo-Saxon model. From the age of four, every year of my life! And I have more in common with the European Dream than I do with the UK and its confused policy toward the union.

Do you that will change? Do you think the UK will eventually become part of the union? Will popular opinion sway that way?

[The UK] shouldn’t be a part of the European Union because I don’t think the majority of the people want it to be so. It should be part of an Atlantic Union.

You talk a lot about Malthusian tactics on Absolute Dissent. Do you feel like we’re at a ‘point of no return’ now?

What, with overpopulation? Are you referring to population problems?

I’m referring to these forms of authoritarian control that seem to ever sneak in under our noses. I suppose what I’m asking is, do you think that the spirit of revolution is still alive?

Here’s the problem. If I was to take you and put you in a room and you were surrounded other members of the so-called global planet, and all of you were exposed to all of the facts I don’t suppose you’d do anything different than would the powers surrounding you. That’s the frightening truth. Look, the research is there for you. Two American presidents signed off on the Global 2000 Report [To The President], and a good study it was – signed off by Clinton and initiated by Carter. [The report] takes a rather benign view on the population explosion. What’s curious about the report -conspicuous by its absence- is the omission of how to resolve this issue [laughs]. And that’s because it’s a fucking nightmare! Again, I mean, how are we gonna tell India to stop breeding? And even WITH Chinas one-child policy, it’s gonna be too little, too late, isn’t it? And so the range of options available to us, well, I leave that to your imagination… We can foment wars in population-dense centers – not that we haven’t been doing that already, they’ve been really effective. Indeed, Indira Ghandi, whom I’m related to, tried to resolve the population problem in India by giving to each person who consented to be sterilized a free radio! [Laughs sarcastically]

I can understand why drastic measures are probably being taken because it’s such a huge problem. We can’t allow the human race to get to ten billion, because it will be ten to the power of ten, and then the Singularity will occur. I don’t think it’s gonna get to that, and you know why? I think there’s gonna be collapse and cataclysm. And Mother Earth –the Divine Mother- will probably have to become the Dark mother and probably two-thirds of the world population will not survive.

Well, Mother Earth’s done it before. Extinctions, ice ages…

But I think that Malthusian options are out of the question because we lose our humanity in the process.

Could it be argued that some of these tactics are already in play?

Ha, I’m sure that the conspiracy websites are full of all sorts of people with all sorts of ideas.

So what, then, is your advice to the ‘awakened’, and as well, to those who remain asleep?

That’s a good question. That’s something we realized in the beginning of Killing Joke. That’s something you can’t affect. You can’t MAKE people wake up, you understand? It’s like telling a junkie to stop taking smack, or an alcoholic to stop drinking – it’s a waste of time. The only thing that works is shock. That’s what everybody seems to be waiting for, is the shock.

You mean people need to be shocked into action?

I think everyone still jumps on planes, still enjoys the benefits of modern life and casual consumption, and so, to a degree, everyone’s guilty. So I think the first thing we’ve got to look sty is community and sustainability. If each village, each community became self-reliant, then the whole planet will take care of itself. I do believe this. I believe in mass re-planting, the re-pollination of the planet, and the restoration of the biosphere, amen! I believe we can clean every river and we should mark every nuclear site and warn our descendents. I just think a series of shocks will wake the planet up. Because nobody wants to change from their current pattern – everybody wants to live like millionaires and it’s just not possible. I believe in a green revolution I suppose. But it starts in your backyard, growing food.

Victory Gardens are the first step to saving the world, sort of thing?

Sure! Ideally: You’ve got the café in the village, which doubles as an art gallery. It plays great alternative music, and outside the café is the farmer’s market with all local produce. The farmer’s market has diverse produce available because society has moved from a monoculture to a polyculture. And [the village] is surrounded by biodiversity. Then you stop using petrol dollars and every village becomes a republic, as Gandhi said. Gandhi is -if anything- my guide when it comes to ideas of the global family as opposed to the banking model. [Laughs]

Ah, but the banking model’s worked so well thus far! [Sarcastic laugh]

Remember, Schiller and Beethoven both talked of and wrote music on the brotherhood of man. It’s this vision, that everyone else’s problem is also our problem, and every person taking care of his or her own community. Community has a lot to do with it. The village is still a fantastic idea. In the US, you know, there’s a lot to be said for the people who fall under this ‘Tea Party’ banner, wanting less government involvement in their lives, but with that comes the responsibility of making every area they live in self-reliant and having sustainable ecosystems. I personally have had the privilege of being brought up in the UK, and living in New Zealand, where policemen don’t carry guns and the social contract between people in the street is still good. I’ve been lucky there. Guns go against all of my deepest convictions – I’ve never even held a firearm and I wouldn’t. I’d rather take the bullet than squeeze the trigger.

Would you argue that that the social contract you describe is still the same in the streets of the UK?

I think that largely so, yes, I would say so, in spite of all its problems. Look – there’s gangs, but firearms are clearly outlawed. Sure, you’ll see armed police at Heathrow but they have to be there, because of terrorist problems. But they keep a low profile. I mean, my uncle was killed in the Hungerford disaster, where you get these lone nutcases and they just go out shooting everybody – he was shot through the head in the Hungerford disaster in 1987. So I know firsthand about the tragedies [of gun violence] and even so I do not believe that we need guns, and at the same time, I guess it would help the government in the US if they could establish more trust with their citizens, so that the citizens don’t feel like they have to arm themselves because they think a New World Order is coming [laughs]. Gun culture is just out of hand. I’ve got a problem with, you know, you squeeze that trigger, and someone’s kid is gone.

It’s elementary, just biologically antithetical to everything that humanity stands for.

That’s right, so, all in all, I reject the bearing of arms. Now, if people were coming to take over my country, if they were coming to attack us… I mean, if they were really coming, it’s right to bear arms [in defense], then and only then in my opinion. When the Nazis were coming to England, I would not have been a pacifist at all – that was just. Look at The Art of War, which contains principles I hold dear: You must establish the moral cause before you begin military action, the moral cause. If you have established that moral cause you will win! That’s an unshakeable conviction. It means [your enemy] will have to kill all of you. That’s unshakeable, nothing can stop that. If foreign forces were coming to take over New Zealand, I would be immediately available.

Would I be incorrect in assuming then, that “The Raven King”, while a tribute to Paul Raven’s ideals, was also a call to arms, so to speak?

Yeah, but as well, a call to unity; the idea of… well, firstly within the band, the idea of never stopping. We don’t live a civilian life in Killing Joke, in that we’re gonna keep doing this, and indeed, we’re going to increase the workload – and tap into a prolific period now. And I believe that’s the will of Raven.

The raven is, of course, a very sacred symbol in the UK. You know, Tower of London, et cetera. And when the ravens leave the Tower of London, Albion –England- is lost. And so when the song starts, The raven’s flown and left the tower, and Albion feels all abandoned, it’s a wider metaphor.

In a couple of different contexts, I presume – would Albion’s abandonment in this case play as a metaphor for Killing Joke’s loss as well, not just England’s?

It was a tragic loss for all of us. Raven’s death was harder for me to bear than my father’s. I grieved for the man, ‘cause I spent more time with him than anybody -even his own family- and I didn’t realize this until the funeral. It was a tragic thing, Paul’s passing. I’m left with the feeling that I wish he’d stayed with us because he’d still be alive. I wish he hadn’t left in one sense but it was just destiny that he did, and of course if he hadn’t, then we wouldn’t have the original lineup back together now.

Hypothetically, of course, what do you suppose Raven’s beliefs and ideals…? [Phone static cuts me off]

Raven? He was like Youth, an anarchist. And by that I mean the original concept of anarchy, which was more of a confederation of people who elected their own leaders and had no hierarchy, before it split off into a sort of socialism. If you look at the history of the Basque region of Spain and how these people ran themselves, it’s very interesting. Essentially, Paul Raven believed in a confederation of likeminded individuals.

What did his staunch convictions lead him to believe about the current world situation?

Well… I can tell you what was driving him mad in my last conversation with him: he was furious about Tony Blair; he was furious about the Iraq war; he hated corporations. I guess from his perspective, he was a collectivist. He was such a great team player, Paul. His only real home was the tour bus. And he’d never sleep in his bunk; he’d always sleep upright, always in a chair. [He’d] never, ever sleep flat. And he loved people; he really loved ordinary, poor people on the street. And that line in the song sums up his life really… Confederation of the dispossessed, fearing neither god nor master.

“The Raven King” shares a certain personality with “Honour the Fire”. While these songs are a perfect foil to the rest of the album’s apocalyptic fury, I wanted to know how “Honour the Fire” in particular took shape among the rest of the songs.

“Honour the Fire” took shape in a jam on the seventeenth of June, 2009. The day we wrote the song was the first time we met our friend John Hicklenton who was a comic artist on 2000AD [Heavy Metal Dredd drokk the world! -KH]. John was also very close with Brian Bolland, the artist who drew Batman: The Killing Joke. These two were both advisors on The Dark Knight, and played a part in getting old footage [of me] to Heath Ledger [in his preparations for the role of the Joker] – footage of me when I’m drunk or [acting] in Year of the Devil, all sorts of bits and pieces.

So when I met John, it turned out to be the day that we wrote “Honour the Fire” in his presence. He was in a wheelchair, having suffered from ten years of multiple sclerosis, and he had just booked himself into Dignitas [an assisted-suicide organization in Switzerland] in order to commit suicide the following September. And we were jamming this song in front of him, and he told me later, he felt it was almost a transcendental experience for him. The whole song came together right then. We then kept commissioning more work from John to keep him going, to keep him pushing back the date of his assisted suicide back, just so he could come to the Killing Joke recording sessions, which he did. He told me that the music made him feel like he was on fire inside and that our music was stronger than any of the morphine they’d given him for pain. He sat there, in on the recording session over two weeks and finished off his last big work. And over those two weeks, I came to feel like I’d known him for centuries.

Two months later I was in New Zealand, when he called me from the Dignitas clinic on the day, to say his goodbyes, and he said to me, “There’s a woman at the end of the room and she says I’ve got to be dead by two o’clock!”’ [Sad laughter]. So while we were on the phone, he smoked a load of reefers, and he had some cake and he had the lethal mixture there [beside him]. He swigged it back, took a bite of the cake, and said to me “I’ll see you on the other side.”

Youth’s father was there during the recording of the song as well, and he died two weeks after we recorded it, so it was a profound time for all of us.

So although the song was written before any of this happened, what a tribute it turned out to be!

Well, it was written at a different time than the rest of the album. It’s funny you mention, that line in the last verse, Just one more winter, Geneva snow, I’m sitting in this same house in Geneva now. This was the house that Paul Raven made it back to just before he died. All of us in Killing Joke lived in this house for two years together, and I was thinking of a lot of things [as I wrote the lyrics]. I was thinking of Johnny, who was about to go to Dignitas, and about how Raven made it back to Geneva just as the snow was coming. And also how Raven knew he was going to die. I’ve not really told anyone else this at all, but Raven knew he was going to die. Almost to the day, he knew when he was gonna die. And he knew a good six months beforehand, and still he made it back here to Switzerland, back to Geneva, back this very house.

The line says, “Just one more winter, Geneva snow, Just one more Christmas, before I go, Just one more smile, just one more laugh, Beloved mother guiding my path.” That whole last verse is written about that experience and now here I am recounting that experience to you in this place now [laughs]. As far back as 1983, we believed very much in ‘ancestor worship’ [a belief system venerating the dead]. At that time we’d known many people who had died recently. Mind you, this was well before I knew anything about parallel universes. But the idea of ancestor worship, which you can hear on the song “Song and Dance” and all throughout the album Fire Dances, is interesting – because when you look at great anthropologists like Professor Christopher Knight, who say that future societies should be governed by their ancestral spirits – I believe this also.

I remember Raven’s wisdom on so many things, and when I need his wisdom or his trickery, sometimes he comes [to me]. It was All Souls’ Day the other day, and it was also the anniversary of Raven’s death. We celebrated his memory here in Geneva. A small group of people come out, and we go to all the places that Raven loved here in Geneva. And then we eat his favorite food, and we go to a place where we had his funeral and we celebrate. And yes, there are moments he comes to me.

He comes to you in the respect that it’s almost as if he never left? Do you feel like you have a dialogue with his spirit?

Yes, I do – very much. Like, for example on this most recent tour Raven’s son, Vincent came out on the road with us. Vincent had been out only one night with us, and Geordie said to me “He’s gotta get off the bus, he’s driving me mad!” [Laughs]. The very next day, we played, and we had all sorts of really strange things happen to us. I carry some of Paul’s ashes around with me, and bring them to every gig. And he was so pissed off –Raven was- that I had to take his ashes out of the dressing room while Geordie ranted. Raven was really, really, pissed off with Geordie. But everyone’s okay now [Laughs].

Going back to the album art, there’s something that caught my eye. Inside the jacket, next to the lyrics for ‘Fresh Fever from the Skies’, there is a photo of the flightsuit Yuri Gagarin wore on his first flight into space. And I was wondering about the juxtaposition of this image in relation to the lyrics. In honesty, the image seems a little out of place, so I wondered what it was meant to represent.

That’s the record company taking fucking liberties! Please register your complaint with the record company, never to fuck with our artwork again. There is absolutely no significance whatsoever! That art was never okayed by any member of the band. We’re actually furious about it.

Okay then – so much for my obtuse theory on your “Mother” lyric in the song being related to the song Gagarin whistled on his virgin spaceflight – Shostakovich’s “The Motherland Hears, the Motherland Knows”]

Ha-ha, sorry – no connection whatsoever.

Regarding the event that inspired the song “Fresh Fever…”, you and several others saw a phenomena in the sky a couple of years ago over Ladbroke Grove. Was there any similarity to the reported Norway Spiral phenomenon seen at the end of 2009?

No, not at all.

You’ve mentioned seeing some sort of craft in the sky with symbols on them. What did these symbols look like?

I can’t comment on whether it was craft. Many of us saw it – in fact there were about fifty people who observed it – they were lights [in the sky]. I don’t know exactly what they were. It was reported in all the papers around d there at the time. They were glowing orbs. I don’t want to discuss the symbol I saw because people have a tendency to read all sorts of stuff into it. I don’t believe what I saw were spaceships either.

Okay, once the tour for Absolute Dissent is completed, what is the status of the next Killing Joke record? Have you already begin the writing process for it?

Yes. We’re writing it so that we can perform it in 2012.

All four of you shared lyric-writing duties this time? I was always under the impression that lyrics were solely yours to write in Killing Joke.

Well, no – all four of us are invited to write lyrics, but Big Paul is the only person who bothers to write any, apart from me. And Youth co-wrote “Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove” with me. How it usually works with the original lineup –as people in this lineup seem to contribute more to lyrics- is, once I’ve got a theme for the song, everybody can write whatever they like within that theme. And then I synthesize it with my own lyrics.

Okay, winding down here: You mentioned Heath Ledger previously, and I noticed his name among your personal thanks on the album. I don’t know what your relationship with Ledger was, but I wondered, respectfully, if you had heard the recent stories about the actor Randy Quaid seeking asylum in Vancouver, claiming that a corrupt Hollywood system is out to get him ‘the same way it got Heath Ledger’, quote unquote. I wondered if you had any sort of comment in relation to Mr. Quaid’s claims?

I don’t know, it sounds to me like this man is suffering from some paranoid delusion… [Pause]

But… What I can tell you about Heath Ledger is that this archetype of the harlequin, madman or fool [that he took on in his role as The Joker], we have had quite a lot of experience with it over thirty-two years in Killing Joke… I’ve never used the facepaint [onstage] to look pretty or for any other reason than that it’s a mask – you put it on and you take it off. And I understand about what a mask is and what it’s meant to represent. The putting on and taking off of the mask is very important, very elementary, from a magical perspective. To be quite precise, we in Killing Joke refer to this energy of the harlequin, madman or fool as “the Eleventh Path of Divine Madness”. It’s an energy that constantly surrounds Killing Joke and what we’ve noticed about this energy is that it has its own consciousness, and its own agenda. And that can be a very dangerous energy to work with, unless you take serious precaution.

One of the things that we noted about this energy is that it doesn’t like money; not at all. It’s Mercurius’ path that the alchemists aspired to; Mercurius is the one that would metaphorically change their lead into gold – and he’s associated with the trickster spirit [of the harlequin]. It’s an incredible path but you have to take precautions with it. And I don’t advise anybody to traverse that path without some heavy studying and knowing just what the hell you’re dealing with.

I truly wish I could’ve met Heath, I feel I could have helped him prepare before he took that role on. Jack Nicholson warned him! Before he took the part on, Jack warned him. Have a look in the history of the character of The Joker – because it results in delusion, insanity, believe you me I know [laughs]. Unless you understand beforehand just what it is, treat this force with the utmost respect and observance. It doesn’t like money; it doesn’t like anything that goes against its agenda. It can burn you, and it can send you ‘round the bend, if you turn against it or you’re disloyal to its principles in any way. It can be dangerous territory and, possibly, this might account for the fact that we never ever did anything with Nirvana. That’s the only way I can describe it. I’ll probably never speak about this again.

When you refer to this energy’s ‘agenda’, are you referring to an agenda of complete chaos?

No! No, it’s not always chaos. The fool/joker/harlequin/madman is interchangeable with the path of the magician – if you look at the top of the Kabbalah. And to turn against this archetype is dangerous.

Sure, I’m speaking in metaphors now because it’s so hard to explain this unless you have a rudimentary knowledge of Kabbalistics.

Alright, since my knowledge of the Kabbalah is next to nothing, I’ll one last question. Who is opening for Killing Joke on your North American tour?

I have no idea. If they’ve been booked to join us already, I have no idea who they are.

Well, I thank you for your time. It was fantastic to get to talk to you.

Thank you as well. This has been a very interesting conversation! I’ll see you in Vancouver!

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.