Before speaking in-depth in downtown Los Angeles, Jaz Coleman lights his cigar, takes a puff, and places it in its sterling metal holder set in front of him. He then leans towards me from his chair, a solemn expression blanketing his face and proclaims, “Before we carry any further, we must be mindful of Paul’s (Raven) spirit. He’s here with us right now, I feel him with us.”
Those words carry significant weight in the Killing Joke world; today marks the twelfth anniversary of the band’s former bassist, Paul Raven’s, passing, who succumbed to a heart attack in Geneva, Switzerland in 2007. His death was a massive blow that rippled throughout the heavy music community. It especially shook Coleman, who at the time was scoring a cello concerto for Julian Lloyd Webber and the London Symphony Orchestra when his manager broke the news to him.
Coleman, stoutly seeing his work to the end, grieved through the rest of the scoring and reunited with the core members of Killing Joke (Kevin “Geordie” Walker, Paul Ferguson, and Youth) in Switzerland at Raven’s funeral shortly afterwards. It was there that the four put differences entirely aside and acknowledged the impact Killing Joke had left upon them and others; they made an oath to carry the band together. The decision has seen a resurgence of the group’s power and influence in its original form, with three new albums to date; their last one, 2015’s Pylon, peaking at #7 on the Billboard 200. Multiple world tours and festival appearances ensued and the group is firing on all cylinders as if nothing can or will stop them.
Taken from Pylon, watch the music video for “New Cold War:“
This warm late morning has Coleman in a deeply reflective mood with discussions about Raven, his work, The Gatherers (Killing Joke supporters), and the milestones in his life. He learned he became a grandfather the previous day; he’s set to release what he calls, “the most important album in his life” with Magna Invocatio - A Gnostic Mass for Choir and Orchestra Inspired by the Sublime Music of Killing Joke at the end of November (pre-order now); and is currently on Killing Joke’s third tour of North America since their milestone fortieth anniversary world tour began in 2018. This tour sees them performing as direct support for Tool, and also marks their first U.S. stadium tour, yet another milestone for the band.
Despite Killing Joke’s remarkable achievements to date, forty years doesn’t come without its share of fallouts and differences. Youth’s first run with Killing Joke lasted for four years (1978 to 1982) before leaving for a career as a highly in-demand producer. Youth’s return to Killing Joke occurred in the mid-1990s under a limited capacity until Raven's death led him to take the bass position full time. The tension between the band and co-founding member, Ferguson, reached its boiling point during the Outside The Gates sessions leading to his departure in 1989. It wouldn’t be until 2007 that the full force of these four would reunite at Raven’s resting place to record and tour the world once again, their first collective effort since 1982.
“It’s truly beyond words. The shared experience of being with the same guys from the time we were common punks at age 18 onward is bigger than any knighthood. I wouldn’t swap my boys for a billion and another sixty years, growing old together has been an absolute journey I can’t describe,” states Coleman about the experience of sharing part of his life’s work with the same group of men spanning four decades.
The album Magna Invocatio drops on November 29, 2019, via Spinefarm Records.
On this twelve year anniversary of Raven’s passing, Coleman’s jubilant and celebrates his longtime friend by telling stories about various safe houses around the world that Raven and he would visit, as well as Raven’s fondness of an anarchist bar he often frequented in Geneva. When asked how he can summarize Raven best, Coleman puts his cigar in its holder, leans in with a smile, and states, “Raven is an absolute sweetheart. Plus, he’s funny as fuck too.” (laughs)
Throughout his amusing recollections, Coleman uses the present tense as if Raven is physically here, partaking in this interview alongside him. There’s a reason for this per his belief system: “The dead don’t appreciate their reference in the past tense; it’s as if they’re not with us, when in fact they are. Always refer to them in the present tense, out of respect.”
When talks of Raven conclude, Coleman turns his attention to his observations on Killing Joke’s effect on their audience. He recounts a show in Hamburg in 1981, where a large scale riot ensued outside the venue by people who were being turned away due to capacity reach. While he and Ferguson saw it occur, Coleman had questions about their impact on people.
"After seeing that fight, I began to question if Killing Joke is, in fact, a force for good. Big Paul and I spoke about it at length and helped me realize what we’re doing, and that’s why I stuck with it for a bit longer. Over the years, I began to realize that Killing Joke has a mirror effect. People see us, and then they’re inspired to find their god gift and transcend us, sometimes they even end up doing better than any of us in Killing Joke.”
Perhaps Killing Joke’s most popular song, check out the music video for “Love Like Blood,” off of Night Time:
Coleman’s words resonate, and their accuracy is further confirmed by the various covers of their songs by the likes of Metallica and the Foo Fighters, remixes by Nine Inch Nails, and stolen riffs by Kurt Cobain.
As Coleman reflects, an orchestral rendition of the Killing Joke track “The Raven King” plays in the background through two small JBL speakers. The serene arrangement is a part of Coleman’s latest compositional work entitled Magna Invocatio, an effort he and Russia’s oldest symphony, The St. Petersburg Philharmonic, worked together on arranging thirteen Killing Joke songs into symphonic form over ten days. Magna Invocatio is on a different level for Coleman, who reiterates that it is “the single most important album he’s been a part of.”
Coleman’s life as a composer is rooted in his childhood. Alongside touring the world with Killing Joke, his other life has led to opportunities to score and arrange with high-level orchestras all over Europe, New Zealand, the United States, and the UAE. His interest and development in this genre predate his Ladbroke Grove years, while still a child residing in his hometown of Cheltenham, a village two hours west of London. Profoundly interested in choral music as a child, Coleman regularly sang in cathedrals and remembered missing periods of school to perform violin with orchestras and chamber music groups of his area. From age six up until his start in Killing Joke, he received training from the leaders and various personnel involved in the London Symphony Orchestra. When asked about being trained at a young age by people of this caliber, Coleman affectionately refers to his old master as “Spitfire pilot,” and proclaims, “the gods were looking after me at an early age.” With rock music, he became a significant scale name, but classical was his earliest passion. His introduction to rock music came at an early age as well, just from a different angle.
Check out the music video for another staple from the Killing Joke catalogue, “Euphoria:”
“A person’s formative years indeed shape them, that’s the case. Who’d have thought of the coincidence of being born in a house where a regular visitor would be Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones, that is my reality. Jones was a big part of our household because my grandmother was his mentor, so by the time I was four years old, he would come to my house a lot. He’d smash our house up though, he was banned for a while but eventually came. So, rock n’ roll was there from the beginning for me; I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth in a way. Reality is, I didn’t listen to rock music until I was 15 years old.”
In 1982, at age 22, Coleman decided to study classical compositions as a career path while in Iceland. During that time, Coleman would fly to Berlin bi-annually to see renowned Austrian composer Herbert Von Karajan conducting in Berlin. “I did it for his art even though he was a card-carrying Nazi.” Crediting his first wife’s best friend for introducing him to renowned composer Klaus Tennstedt while in East Germany, his meeting left an impression and a need to be an understudy again. “He reviewed the scores I made in Iceland and said one day I’d be the new Mahler, but I needed to study orchestration first.” (laughs)
That meeting saw him relocate to Leipzig, where he briefly studied under Kurt Masur before traveling to Russia to be an apprentice to Hungarian composer, Dr. Peter Saunders. The money Coleman received from Killing Joke supported his studies with Saunders. Coleman muses, “back in the 1980s, it was 100 English pounds for a 45-minute lesson under Saunders, and I’d do two lots of them. He made me stand throughout those lessons so I could receive the info a lot better, your mind is more receptive that way with all the cerebral activity while standing.”
Listen to the Rolling Stones classic “Angie“ performed by the London Symphony Orchestra in 1994:
A move to New Zealand in the early 1990s under the advice of Youth was where Coleman’s big break occurred. He led his first symphony with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and five weeks later, he returned to his home country to work with the London Symphony Orchestra and Mick Jagger on one of his first of many rock symphony arrangements, The Symphonic Music of the Rolling Stones, for which he arranged six tracks on.
“It went like dominoes. Iceland and New Zealand brought me a new career basically, and considering classical music was there before Killing Joke for me, it was meant to be.“
Coleman’s other symphonic rock arrangements include material from The Doors, The Who, and Led Zeppelin. For Magna Invocatio, Coleman scored the thirteen tracks for the entire orchestra’s participation using the same logic he applies when writing for Killing Joke.
“I never think about music when writing or arranging, I switch the cerebral process off and use what’s here (points to his heart). We have two brains you see; the Egyptians always thought the heart is the most important because it gives you the ability to differentiate between right and wrong, you pass it through your heart, and that’s when a knot occurs when you know something isn’t right. It’s also where all the music comes through, not in the head. Another essential thing, add contrast to your life, whether it’s traveling or falling in love, you need colours!”
Another part of Coleman’s life that’s reflected in this album is the deep spiritual beliefs he’s carried with him since the origins of Killing Joke. The Lucis Trust, the spiritual arm of the United Nations, established by Alice Bailey in 1922, is reflected in the album’s framework with the title’s English translation (The Great Invocation) deriving from the world prayer given to Bailey in 1945, which has been translated into 80 languages and dialects. Coleman’s passion for this organization and the United States is rooted deeply in his political beliefs, which he expands on below:
Watch the official Killing Joke music video for “In Cythera:”
“Since the events of 9/11, many people in the UN, and I understand that the event was a coup d’ etat to get the American public who aren’t interested in foreign affairs with expansion. America being the liberal arms of creating wonders from the planet, now seems more authoritarian than anything. It hurts me that so many people in the world see the United States constitution and the American experiment as something tyrannical when it was supposed to be set up completely the opposite. Think about it, how many U.S. bases are set up across the world? You have more than Russia, and there’s no way that the ordinary American can deny this isn’t imperialism. Let’s take it further with nuclear weapons; it’s not just America, we’ve got China, France, the UK, Israel, and others. It’s not the gold old cold war days anymore; there’s no hotline between Tehran and Tel Aviv, we’re one minute to midnight on the Doomsday clock. This is why I believe so much in the framework of the United Nations; warring tribes can still communicate with each other through this organization. It’s the last means of this kind of communication where different interests can come together to speak to one another.”
Is there a future for Coleman in public service? “I swore to my daughter I won’t get into politics (laughs), so you’re all safe then! She’s the daughter I have who gives me the most shit too; she says I can achieve more with the arts and that I shouldn’t go near a politician because they’re all salesmen! I believe she gives good advice here.”
Coleman doesn’t hesitate to elaborate on how Magna Invocatio was set up and the obstacles he faced initially. “To be honest, I didn’t know what to think of it. I had a very dodgy manager who set this up at the time; he’s fired now, thank god.” He told me, “if we do a pledge off Killing Joke, I’ll peel off 10,000 dollars and it in your pocket to do this, well that never fucking happened, so I walked into this without a penny to go towards expenditures. I went out of pocket to finish it; it’s called honor and finish the work. Unfinished work is a sin to me, if it’s scored and not recorded, it’s unfinished.”
Upon scoring completion and first directive, Coleman hesitates to describe what he felt during Magna Invocatio’s first movement; overwhelmed is one way to put it, but he summarizes it best.
“When you’re looking at 40 years of Killing Joke coming back to you in a different form, my god, it’s unbelievable, and I can’t describe the feeling. It was so overwhelming, that’s all I can say. Forty years of my life came rushing back to me right in front of my eyes during those ten days in Russia; it’s the peak of my existence.”