I’ve interviewed Jaz Coleman once before. So when it comes to the worlds of this Killing Joke frontman, industrial music pioneer, post-punk godfather, record producer and classical composer, conductor and arranger, well, I know the score. I remind him of this, and he cuts me off by saying, “Yes, yes, I know who you are, bloody BBQ Reggae, fantastic man. I know who you are…BBQ Reggae, fucking John Key’s soundtrack…”
I’m talking to Coleman about his announced-at-last-minute spoken-word show at The Classic, This Sunday, February 28. But a quick stocktake first.
I mention that when we last spoke, less than three years ago, he told me he was planning a new Killing Joke album (there’s been a couple), a new symphony based around rock music (“The Nirvana one…yep, all done”), a second Island Symphony (“tick!”) and a book (it’s about to be reprinted (“I’m adding more to the second edition…it’s more of a reference book than a memoir”). He also returned to work with Shihad, producing their best album in years and, as usual, divided his time between his “Island sanctuary” in New Zealand, where he walks a mile or more to take and make phonecalls and eschews all social media and computers, and all sorts of pressing work commitments all around the world.
“This talk is really the end of my time in New Zealand – for this part of the year”, Coleman tells me. He frequently cackles to punctuate sentences, as if laughing in awe at the wonderful absurdity of his life. “Shortly after this I’m off to Prague to work on a new symphony, I have a Requiem Mass to deliver in July, and I’ll be writing a violin concerto. Then it’s on with the Killing Joke Symphonic Album [the latest in a long line that includes mega-sellers where the works of Pink Floyd, The Doors, Led Zeppelin and most recently Nirvana are stripped of their vocals, turned on their side and pumped full of strings and bells and if not whistles then most certainly horns]”.
But this is only half of the year’s plan. There is another Killing Joke tour to come, he reckons, and he just might give another lecture or two. There’s also more symphonic work to ponder, commissions to consider.
“It’s really been a blast, Simon. A somewhat charmed life, considering I never passed an exam in my life. I’ve wandered off, after the age of 14, and just really taught myself”. Cackle-pause. “I mean I’m lucky I even get invited back to some of these places”, and here he’s pausing to set up something resembling a joke. You can just feel it. He knows this too. Jaz plays an interview as if it’s one of his arrangements. “I was in St. Petersburg for a press conference and they asked me what I thought of Pussy Riot and I said ‘they probably deserved another six months in jail at least for making such terrible music’.” Huge cackle-pause.
“I guess I’ve been lucky to make a career out of what I call Disaster Capitalism, really…I go to these places war-torn and ugly, a political mess, and I get to make lovely music. And I do think of that as being an area where I can help, I try to give something back in the music I make that promotes peace, and tries to offer some beauty, music helps foster understanding, so I’m doing my version of United Nations work in a way”. We both wait for the laugh. It’s a bit slower…but it comes.
Jaz is speaking at The Classic on Sunday, February 28…later this week…and he’s doing that “as the album launch for the latest Killing Joke record, Pylon; that’s really the reason…a chance to send the album out and have a bit of a chat, but I do lectures from time to time and this seemed a good opportunity to share a bit of what’s on my mind”.
So, what is on his mind?
“Well it’s this bloody TPPA thing init. And all this ugliness, the protesting and the anger that people are feeling is because New Zealand is morphing, it’s changing into a version of the country that a lot of us [remember – Coleman is a New Zealand resident] just don’t recognise anymore”.
I tell him it’s starting to feel like a version of New Zealand I never signed up for.
“That’s it. That’s exactly it. And so I’m speaking, really, as just a citizen. I’ve got a platform, I’ve made one, whatever, but I’m not speaking as any expert. I’m just sharing my thoughts, I’m going to be talking about the raping of the land that is going on under this sneaky agreement, because New Zealand is being chewed up and spat out and it’s becoming a shithole that will go on to be sued by corporations if we don’t give in and let our precious places – like Stewart Island and Great Barrier, these precious resources – get drilled up, milled up, spat out and shat on”.
So, that’s pretty much how he really feels.
“New Zealand is waking up, slowly but surely to the fact that it’s no longer really New Zealand, it’s a protectorate – a wee shell for America’s activities, so you know they’ll be listening to this conversation, the NSA are listening and they can get fucked…”
Here we have a laugh. I’ve learned the routine well by now. And when Jaz continues he’s high on a roll but speaking about grave concerns.
“Nobody has been briefed, and that’s just insane – and we need to start waking up to the real concerns. National recourses will be raped by outside forces, it is already happening. New Zealanders are not being consulted. We’re going to be forced to eat GE-food and our armed forces, our police and people doing those sorts of jobs are going to have no idea who they are meant to protect. Are they going to protect us, the citizens? Or are they going to protect the evil corporations from the citizens and essentially work against their own country. They will – because they’ll do what they’re told. But it’s an outrage. And it’s ridiculous. And more people need to on board and get angry and point out they’ve had enough”.
“So”, he slows right down, “that’s really it. That’s what I’m going to be talking about…Helen Clark and other apologists, just waiting for the good new jobs they’ll get, they’re traitors and it’s a fucking disgrace…”
Winding back up again…
“I mean, earlier this morning, before I talked to you I did a radio interview, and he was nice and all and it was fine when we talked about the music – but every time I mentioned the TPP I was cut off, he moved me on. I mean, yeah, I can talk about other things, but that’s your media being trained there to just shut down any discussion and talk around this. They’re bought and paid for and just doing the job for Key and the National Government and the corporations”.
Not concerned with saving any of this for the show, Jaz says “we’re just getting started” and gives a hearty chuckle.
His passion palpable, he quotes Socrates – saying democracy cannot survive if the people don’t know, aren’t being informed; how it is the right of everyone to engage in discussion around the issues of the day.
But Coleman isn’t about to give away music and reposition himself as “just a ranter”.
“Rock music is freedom – that’s what I think, that’s what I think it’s trying to be, and what it offers, that’s what I’ve had from it and what I seek and the best music is rebelling, so I’m starting to get sad about losing people from my generation, like dear old Lemmy and of course Bowie, and because I think the best music is about rebelling or trying to, that’s why I can’t really give a fuck about the Eagles, you know…”
“I realise too, I’m a dinosaur, the last of a generation…it’s feeling that way. We’re definitely dinosaurs. The generation that came after me, it’s the first generation of fucking runts…”
Careful Jaz, I’m about to cut you off.
“Basically, I’m just trying to engage people – create some talking points, hopefully start some conversations. People should come along and listen and then go off and have their own conversations, start talking about some of these points and anything else they’re not happy with. We’ve got to celebrate the good stuff, and we do that through music and arts, but we’ve got to talk about what’s not right as well”.
“You get what you put up with, basically. That’s what I’ll be talking about. You get what you are prepared to put up with, that’s why we, New Zealand, are getting shit right now. We’re in the shit, and getting shit because we’re putting up with it. This guy [John Key] sneaking about the place, not fronting up when it doesn’t suit him, pushing 700-page documents past the people of the country he was elected to represent. Fuck him.”