“We’re all gonna die!”
The Pill's exclusive interview with the most notorious musician in Prague
Prague-based musician Jaz Coleman is said to have the most diverse career in the music industry, ranging from his early punk band Killing Joke to the Symphony Orchestras of the world. The child of academics, he studied piano and violin from the age of six and at eight was admitted to sing for the Addington Palace Choir. Within two years he had sung in many of the great cathedral choirs of England. By 14 his prizes included the Gold Medal at the Bath International festival, the Rex Watson Festival challenge cup at the Cheltenham festival and Grade 8 with distinction for the violin. In 1979 he founded Killing Joke, whose heavy sound influenced Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails and Ministry. Never one to run place for long, in 1982 Jaz began composition and orchestration studies that led him (five years later) to Minsk and Leipzig in DDR and later still to study with Hungarian master Dr. Peter Saunders. In 1989-90 Jaz began a study of quarter tones and instrumentation of Arabic music at the Cairo Conservatoire and in the studies of the celebrated composer Ammar El Sherie.
Most recently, here in the Czech Republic, Coleman has been working with the Prague Symphony Orchestra and the folk-rock band Čechomor, which just won three Czech Music Academy awards. The Pill's Mike Kyselka caught up with Coleman last month.
Pill: I saw Killing Joke in Georgia, at the Atlanta Mascarade, maybe ten years ago…
Coleman: The Germans suffered terribly.
Pill: What? You mean right now?
Coleman: The Germans, in this country…
Pill: No GEORGIA, I saw Killing Joke in Atlanta Georgia, at the Mascarade.
Coleman: Oh, GEORGIA. The Mascarade is a great place.
Pill: Yeah, it is. First question – what was your relationship to the punk movement?
Coleman: Punk inspired me absolutely, because it was a renaissance where suddenly everybody could be in a band and everybody could play an instrument. And that’s what I loved about it. If you go back to the beginning of the last century, every house had a piano, and there was no radio and no television. And after dinner every night the family would get down and someone would play the piano and everybody would sing. Or in [poorer] houses throughout Europe they’d sing the old folk songs without a piano. This tradition of singing regardless of whether you’re amateur or professional is gone. Now you have to be a professional to sing, supposedly. The fact that we’ve won, have a look, have a look at it, we’ve won three fucking Grammy’s, we’ve won three Grammy’s with folk music, with folk music. [He is referring to ………] This is unheard of in the world. Folk music suddenly wins three Grammy’s, is suddenly more popular than pop music. This is so fabulous, right, it’s a great victory, it’s the ancestry of a nation overcoming all foreign influence, overcoming all pop music, MTV, the nation and centuries old spirit of the country overcoming everything in three categories. Folk music rules. In no other country in the world – show me a market where folk music has won to this extent, then fuck, you get a bottle of Dom Perignion.
Pill: What do you think about the conflict between art and commercial success?
Coleman: Of my own CD’s, and I’ve done 35, one out of every three is successful. There’s actually a pattern, I’ve worked it out. Cycles go round, and fashions, you can’t be popular all the time. The important thing is to keep going, keep going as an artist.
Pill: What made you go from a punk rocker to a classical musician?
Coleman: Fuck off.
Pill: Okay, that’s cool. I’ll take it. What about your use of Indian music and eastern stuff generally.
Coleman: East. East is East. It begins in the Czech Republic and goes on and on. But it is definitely not London. My mother is Indian and my father is English. They fancied each other, they fucked, and they had me. Love conquers all. Love conquers all.
Pill: Do you like blues? Is it essential?
Coleman: No. No, no and no. I am part of a European group of artists that does not draw from blues or any Americanisms, and I’ve been part of that group now for 20 years. Brian Eno is part of that group. Some of Joy Division was part of that group. Can, Moy, DAF, Kraftwerk, Rammstein. We’re looking at a European identity. To make Europe strong, to balance the power between…well between America and China, one hopes. I’m not a political preacher, but the world is changing and musicians have to be aware of this fact. But blues, blues is a foreign influence. Goodbye blues. Goodbye.
Pill: Do you remember a guy named GG Allin? [late 70’s NYC raw punk act]
Coleman: Oh god. One of my band members beat him up once, so bad he couldn’t walk. I was ashamed of that personally. About his work I have only one comment: any man who has to shit on stage because he can’t write a good song, well, like, you know, I rest my case.
Pill: Do you consider Charles Manson responsible for the California massacres?
Coleman: I think Charles Manson should have his beard burned. I think we should burn his fucking beard, right.
Pill: Would you ever sign a burned copy of one of your CD’s?
Coleman: I’d burn your house down. I’m a hard working musician. You know why Metallica fought against Napster? Because the only musicians who agree with this Napster shit are musicians who don’t sell any records. But I do, I make my living doing this and it’s a hard life, I work 17 hour days. So no way is someone going to burn a CD off my time. First we go in the legal way, and then, well, the Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1952.
Pill: What’s your source of inspiration?
Pill: Are you out to entertain, or is it a personal mission…
Coleman: It’s all entertainment. Because we are going to die. All of us. It’s all entertainment. Nothing matters, don’t you understand? You can have everything, buy anything, you’re still gonna die. So what’s important? Your children, your loved ones, your music, your culture, your people, your home, your values, your ethics, your morals. And by entertainment, I mean SAVAGE entertainment. Savage amusement.
Pill: Do you ever get depressed?
Coleman: Yes, I do. Two per cent of my life I do. Very depressed. But 92 per cent I’m so high. I’m so high. Do you know what it’s like waking up every morning being Jaz Coleman? It’s fucking fantastic. It’s such a privilege. I have an IQ of over 190. All the things I can think of as soon as my mind is awake – can you imagine what that’s like? You can discuss architecture with me. Or numbers. Or anything you like. You can choose any art you want, I can go into it with genius. It’s wonderful being me. Do you want me to lie? I love it. It’s fantastic being Jaz Coleman. Fan-fucking-tastic. I traveled economy class some 13 years ago, so fuck off right.
Pill: Do you think a man needs one mate to be happy, to be complete?
Coleman. Very good point. Yes, yes I do. It may not be conventional, it may not be like a nuclear family with 2.4 kids. It may be something much more interesting, like laying in bed in a 5-star hotel till 11 o’clock in the morning, ordering a bottle of champagne with truffled scrambled eggs for breakfast. And then, and then, like, fucking until 2 o’clock with no interruptions.
Pill: Do you like to go to England nowadays?
Coleman: Yes for money, and no for pleasure. I like it here better. The revolution is continuing in this country. I came here to join the fun in a country I’ve loved since I was six. When I was six I started listening to Dvořák. I’m a foreigner, but I love it – the music, the black humor. I love the mysteriousness of Prague. There’s nowhere else in Europe I’d rather be. I’m here till I die. My soul will rest here. And we’re all gonna be dead soon.
July 7th, 2006
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