The bottom of the headbanging barrel
Here they are: the Top 10
The Top 20 commences: #s 20-11
More runners-up: #s 30-21
Unfortunately, it's a farewell tour
Runners-Up: #s 40-31
Symphonic rock, onstage out-of-body experiences and public nudity
Around the time Killing Joke emerged, a lot of music journalists were very excited to draw lines in the sand between punk and postpunk acts and the classic rock of the years immediately prior. But you’ve worked on symphonic albums based on the music of the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the Doors. Should this be taken to indicate that you have no such biases?
Actually, that’s a very good point. It’s interesting. Of course, I talk with a lot of people my age who were very hard-line with their musical tastes, you know, and no one listened to the bands that preceded punk like Zeppelin and the rest of them. No one was seen dead listening to them at the time. But of course, you know, over the years, this kind of stonewalling, it doesn’t seem to last, and I think great music’s great music. Come on. If it’s that great, it passes the test of time. It’s very interesting to see what passes the test of time and what doesn’t. Obviously Killing Joke has [laughs]. Which is a huge surprise to me, but it’s beautiful. But you look at a lot of bands and they don’t pass the test of time, [their music] gets consigned to the bin when it’s served its purpose.
My reason for doing symphonic rock, let me be frank and candid, was always really to get hands-on experience with a symphony orchestra. The fact that it sold millions of records was a complete mistake [laughs]. I never expected it to, or wanted it to, because the whole idea of turning rock bands’ music into symphonies, well, all the attempts to do it prior to my attempts were abysmal. I remember being in this room in Paris, and we went through every symphonic attempt at rock music, and I was drinking champagne and we were laughing our heads off because we realized you couldn’t lose! It was all in such bad taste. So I set about learning the structure of a symphony by orchestrating rock music, and I was very cynical when I started, but by the time I finished the Doors concerto, what I’d discovered was that the reason why the orchestra hadn’t worked really at all in the 20th Century, it just basically declined to the point of extinction... Let me give an example. I went to New York, to the office of Deutsche Grammofon, the record label, only to discover it was little more than a cupboard, a warehouse where no one was manning it. You know to hire an orchestra costs a hundred grand for a couple of days, and big classical sales are barely 10,000. Right? So it just all petered out, basically. But one of the reasons for this was that the composers evolved intellectually. They went to music college and they did all this Schoenberg and all the modernist music, which is completely fucking unlistenable. It’s like listening to an echo machine. It’s just an effect, and there’s no musical substance, or very little of it. So what I learned in the whole process of doing symphonic rock is that the greatest composers of the 20th Century and coming into the 21st were actually the rock musicians. And I feel that the orchestra can learn from rock music rhythmically, and in so many other ways I feel that’s where the great innovations in composition were done, really, in rock music. So I started out cynical and discovered something amazing. So apart from giving me the hands-on experience of working with some of the greatest symphony orchestras in the world, and learning my harmony and orchestration in the process, it allowed me to learn to look right inside a band and understand how their music works, how it was all put together. I mean, I went inside the Who, Floyd, the Stones, the Doors and of course Zeppelin, which in the case of the Doors and Zeppelin I was invited to do this by the actual members. Well, I was by one of the members of Pink Floyd, but not the rest of them [laughs]. And Mick Jagger—most people aren’t aware, but he sang on our version of “Angie,” which was used at Keith Richards’ daughter’s wedding, actually. I don’t think anyone’s actually heard it who knows anything about my work with Killing Joke. So it was a good learning curve, and when I finished the Doors concerto with [violinist] Nigel Kennedy, I thought, well, this is the end of this symphonic rock stuff, it’s served its purpose. And then I took the hard route by doing an opera for the Queen, and writing symphonies and concertos and performing them, and you know the amount of work that goes into a symphony, and then you perform it in front of one and a half thousand people and then that’s it, because there’s no money to record orchestras these days. You’re on to your next job. So it’s heard by maybe one and a half thousand people and it’s taken three months or more to compose and do all the rehearsals and then it disappears like incense smoke. But I’ve kind of been doing that side by side with Killing Joke. I did the Royal Albert Hall in 2006, and I work in Prague regularly and Berlin regularly with orchestras, and now France. And between the people in classical music and my lot in Killing Joke and the Gatherers it’s very different. [Laughs]
The cover art to this album raises a question: You’re known for your interest in occult and esoteric knowledge, the paranormal and things of that nature. Technology obviously has done a lot for the spread of religion, but in your view, does technology help or hurt in terms of the dissemination of nonstandard belief systems?
Well, obviously the Internet is like a global brain, isn’t it? People are finding things out all the time, educating themselves about all sorts of things. Do I think—yeah, I guess it can [help]. I don’t know if it benefits the soul or the spirit, but you can definitely find a lot of information that can lead you on to further experiences. My real concern these days is when I see the majority of people around me living in virtual worlds, and their own existence is actually so dull, and that really concerns me. People are living more and more on the computer, on the net, and their own lives have just become vacuums. Anyway, it’s a personal choice, but everybody knows I don’t even use a mobile phone [laughs]. Because I don’t know how to use it, and I don’t use computers because I don’t think they enrich my life. Actually, the only time I watch television is when I’m in a hotel room.
I want to ask you about live performance, because concerts, particularly in metal and hard rock, which is a community that’s embraced Killing Joke…
That’s an interesting thing, I have to stop you right there. We started in the second wave of punk, and there were certain no-nos. And one no-no was fret-wanking, which is basically guitar solos. Melody was permissible, that was one thing. But guitar solos always somehow symbolized ego, and they’re still anathema to Killing Joke to this day. So in that way, I guess I still keep my punk roots, and I guess we all do in Killing Joke. But I can remember among the punk music we all listened to when we were teenagers starting out, one of the albums we listened to was Let There Be Rock by AC/DC [laughs]. Because it was unpretentious. Not that I like blues in any way, but we loved AC/DC because of the performance they put on, and we always found that a great party record for us. So in that way, and there are other artists who don’t like the term heavy metal, or indeed any categorization—I find it limiting. You see the problem with Killing Joke—you don’t know where to find us, whether it’s in punk, or in metal, or in rock and pop. I don’t fuckin’ know. I don’t know where to find it, and it’s because somehow we’ve evaded categorization. Cause individually we’re all so different, it’s hard—even when you put us in the same photograph it doesn’t look right [laughs].
So my question is this: At rock concerts, the songs are supposed to sound exactly like they do on the CD. People are there to be guided toward ritualized catharsis. But what sort of transcendence does live performance offer the performer? As the priest in that ritual, so to speak, does it become rote doing it night after night?
Thirty-one years, and let me tell you, I go onstage and I come offstage and there’s not a lot I remember while I’m there. To be perfectly honest, sometimes I’m barely in my body. For example, if somebody spits at me and it goes in my mouth, as happened on one occasion and I went ballistic, I come out of the trance [laughs]. And jump over the orchestra pit and start pounding them. Actually, on the occasion I’m thinking of where someone actually spat on me, it was in Liverpool Royal Court Theater, it was quite some time back, I jumped over the orchestra pit and landed right on top of this guy, crunched right on top of him. I was so mad. And then the crowd grabbed me, and then the roadies jumped in the orchestra pit and they grabbed me, and they were all pulling me different ways—I was feeling like I was on the fuckin’ rack. And then I heard this great big ripping sound, and the unfortunate thing was, my whole jumpsuit had ripped, and I found myself in this dreadfully embarrassing situation of having my ass pointing at the audience and with my bollocks hanging out, but worse, I couldn’t find my knickers that morning so I got my missus’ knickers and put ’em on [laughs]. And I had the roadie coming around me with gaffer’s tape sticking me together—I laughed so much. Utterly shameless, my friend. Utterly shameless.
So you actually do achieve a sort of transcendence during performance.
Oh, absolutely. During performance, I’m not quite there. I don’t know what I’m saying, I don’t—I literally go out of my body. Yeah, it’s not like when I go out and conduct an orchestra, where you’ve got to have all your cerebral faculties, really, looking at the score and bringing in instruments and thinking ahead of everything and you’re counting and measuring everything. That is a really different thing to Killing Joke. It is the opposite experience.
So given that you've done symphonies and all this high-level musical work, what still draws you to the relative primitivism of Killing Joke?
Well, let’s put it like this. An orchestra is never gonna get two and a half thousand people or more rocking and absolutely shaking the house down. Pulsating the whole thing physically, throbbing. An orchestra’s never gonna get this. But then again, if I look at the last 13 albums of Killing Joke, we haven’t done one love song [laughs]. The orchestra’s a great medium to express more romantic tendencies, and by that I don’t mean kissy-kissy, I mean landscape and perpetual melody, this idea that I’ve obviously got needs for but which doesn’t belong with the experimental work. So I keep em in different areas. Not exclusively, there’s a lot of melody in Killing Joke, but it’s different.
Arrive early, leave early
SEPULTURA, BELPHEGOR, HATE, KEEP OF KALESSIN, NEURAXIS, BONDED BY BLOOD
04/18/11 The Opera House – Toronto, ON – CANADA
04/19/11 Imperial de Quebec – Quebec City, QC – CANADA
04/20/11 Club Soda – Montreal, QC – CANADA
04/22/11 The Palladium – Worcester, MA
04/23/11 Starland Ballroom – Sayreville, NJ
04/24/11 The Trocadero – Philadelphia, PA
04/25/11 The Gramercy Theatre - New York, NY
04/26/11 Tremont Music Hall – Charlotte, NC
04/27/11 The Club at Firestone – Orlando, FL
04/28/11 Culture Room – Ft. Lauderdale, FL
04/29/11 The Masquerade – Atlanta, GA
05/01/11 Clicks – Tyler, TX
05/02/11 Scout Bar – Houston, TX
05/03/11 Trees – Dallas, TX
05/05/11 Jake's – Lubbock, TX
05/06/11 Sunshine Theater – Albuquerque, NM
05/07/11 The Clubhouse – Tempe, AZ (w/ D.R.I.)
05/08/11 Club DV8 – Tucson, AZ (w/ D.R.I.)
05/09/11 House of Blues – San Diego, CA
05/10/11 The Knitting Factory – Reno, NV
05/11/11 The Grand Ballroom at Regency Center – San Francisco, CA
05/12/11 Hawthorne Theater – Portland, OR
05/13/11 El Corazon – Seattle, WA
05/14/11 The Knitting Factory – Spokane, WA
05/16/11 Gothic Theater – Englewood, CO
05/18/11 Station 4 – St. Paul, MN
05/19/11 Reggies Rock Club – Chicago, IL
05/20/11 Blondie's – Detroit, MI
05/21/11 Montage Music Hall – Rochester, NY
05/22/11 Peabody's – Cleveland, OH
SEPULTURA, NEVERMORE, HATE, KEEP OF KALESSIN, NEURAXIS, BONDED BY BLOOD
05/23/11 Expo Five – Louisville, KY
05/24/11 The Rave – Milwaukee, WI
05/26/11 The Zoo – Winnipeg, MB – CANADA
05/27/11 The Exchange – Regina, SK – CANADA
05/28/11 Dickens – Calgary, AB – CANADA
05/29/11 Starlite Room – Edmonton, AB – CANADA
05/31/11 Rickshaw Theater – Vancouver, BC – CANADA
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