On The Bus with Killing Joke's Jaz Coleman

Jaz Coleman is known for tackling big subjects in interviews: climate change; the degradation of the food supply; technological singularity and the Renaissance. Spending some time with him in person -- not in a Conga line of press interviews -- is a much different proposition, even if he still hints at his scholarly pursuits. Decibel was lucky enough to get to spend an hour on the bus with Jaz prior to Killing Joke's set last week in San Francisco and can confirm that he's a gracious host.

On the menu for this coversation: friendship, food and fate. Coleman and Killing Joke later played an amazing career-spanning set featuring early songs like "Wardance" up to the recent "Corporate Elect." Here's portions of our conversation on the bus with a legend of alternative and extreme music.

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Here you are, back in the States…

Killing Joke isn’t without its drama. My voice went completely at one point but it came back miraculously. It went when I had two shows to do in one day. I just mashed it with medication and we managed to get through it all. Which is good for me because I’ve never missed a show in 35 years. Then, we had stuff stolen from the van.

I think that was mentioned on Facebook.

It’s the first time people have stolen from us. We feel a little violated, to be honest. It’s shocking. They took Youth’s bag with everything in it – iPhone, iPad, credit cards, money. It was pretty horrible. But we march on. You need to keep looking for the good in people.

You mentioned voice problems. What have you been doing to keep your voice up?

There are no books on it. I sing every night. I don’t just do cookie monsters. Killing Joke is pitched and you need to scream in tune. One of my big secrets is to gargle with honey and cider vinegar and warm water. That’s gotten me out of all sorts of shit. Or just leave a kettle on and steam it. When we finish I’ll go to the gym and then steam it until about 10.

What’s your workout routine?

I try to do something every day. I do weights. I do 100 to 500 sit-ups and I run two miles. In 2006, I was almost twice the body weight you are looking at now. I was boozing and everything so I quit then. It’s taken time for me to get into warrior mode. I also box for a workout. The yoga thing doesn’t work for me. I need to hit something.

So, you are touring on the Singles Collection

Well, I’m always the last person to know this because I don’t use modern forms of communication unless it’s a land line. I don’t use computers as everyone knows. I knew a singles collection was coming out when I came on the tour. I wasn’t consulted. But that’s the way it goes with some things.

When you have so much to pluck from how do you pick a set?

From my perspective, Killing Joke has never been a singles band. We were forced into a singles market. They started by just taking one song off the album. But we’ve never been a radio friendly band; it was just the format we were brought up in. We love all of Killing Joke’s music but our hearts are always on the new thing. We know we can beat every album we’ve recorded on each new album.

What are your impressions of being on the road in America in 2013?

The thing that’s really different from three decades ago is that there is no rebellion left. People are just passive zombies. I’m sure the food supply has something to do with it. Thirty years ago, we played in Trafalgar Square to 200,000 people in an anti-nuclear demonstration. Now there’s eight new nuclear power stations being built in England. So many people are unemployed or heavily in debt. People seem worn down and there’s less traveling, just less money. The sad thing is there is much less of a community than when we started. And part of that might be modern forms of communication. If you walk down the street everyone is on their iPhones or in their own virtual world. It’s kind of a fragmented society.

And yet I’m actually recording this interview on my phone.

People have access now to amazing amounts of information, but their attention spans are getting shorter and their ability to focus is gone. A lot of the great thinkers couldn’t achieve what they did through a computer.

They say that most people on computers now won’t read much more than 200 words.

There’s so much going on the world, so much negativity. The most important thing is to try to see yourself as the answer. You lead the way. Don’t worry about other people. You need to be the answer. You lead and others will follow. People probably won’t wake up without a series of shocks.

I find this country has evolved into a heartless place. You wouldn’t dare say the word socialist here.

In some circles that’s probably as bad as being called a racist.

There you go. I dislike Karl Marx but I’m a collectivist. Look, this is how we keep this band together: we split everything equally. Take all the instruments away and Geordie, Big Paul and Youth are my dearest, closest brothers. They are closer to me than my own blood brother. That’s my value system. In the East, they cherish humans being more than properties or possessions.

What’s the secret to keeping your relationships going?

Just keep going and work. But work isn’t the way to describe what we do. How else would I meet my best mates if we weren’t touring or doing recordings? I feel so utterly blessed. It’s all by the grace of God, however you perceive he or she. If you would tell me in my teenage years that we’d be together in our 50s I probably would have believed you. We have interlocking interests outside of music.

There are some records here on the seat…

Youth is such a collector. During our last tour Youth bought so much stuff it looked like the room had been around 100 years. He needed crates to ship it back to the U.K. I just have three pairs of trousers including my stage clothes. So I don’t really have any possessions.

Do you pick up stuff on the road?

I tell people not to give me anything.

Are you seeing the same faces from the decades?

In Seattle, I saw some people I remember from back in 1981. We look at the passing of years together and we just laugh. The majority of the audience was born when we did the tenth album, whatever it was.

The album you did with Dave Grohl (self-titled) was ten years ago.

Well, the universe is speeding up. One of the advantages of that is that you can absorb so much more information.

Do you see yourself on the road in two decades?

(laughs) I wouldn’t take such liberties. I don’t think like that. I’m, just amazed and grateful that I’ve gotten this far. I’ve seen such incredible things and I’ve met the most incredible human beings. It’s been a real privilege and an inspiring life. But I don’t feel like I’ve done everything. There’s so much more I want to do. I don’t get my inspiration from other music. I get it from other people.

I think you are a lot less grumpy in person than after a day of phone interviews.

(laughs) When I do promotions I’m willing to do everything the album company will give me. I’ll do the smallest fanzine, for anyone who wants to interview me. It seems like it’s 600 interviews an album. Even though you get similar questions people do seem inspired to ask interesting things.

The first time I interviewed you, I definitely felt like I had to being my A game.

It’s funny how one is perceived, isn’t it? I might feel the same about you. I can see how Killing Joke has been seen as menacing in the past. But you couldn’t meet nicer, warmer, more open people. The mask is a different thing.

You’ve talked so much about healthy food but the reality is, here you are on the bus…

I try to eat salmon sashimi every day and then people tell me about the mercury I’m pumping into my body. It’s a real problem to get clean food. Processed, poison food is the only option at the moment. My biggest problem is sleeping.

Especially in a van.

I sleep great in these. The tour bus was the only home (Paul) Raven ever knew. If you asked me where the perfect place to die would be it would be one of these bunks.

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