When Killing Joke put out their first album in the summer of 1980, no one could have predicted they'd be here, thirty-five years later, talking about their sixteenth long player. Least of all the band themselves. Nevertheless, that's where they find themselves having released said record Pylon some five days earlier. Today's midweek charts reveal the album currently stands at the heady heights of number eleven, their highest chart placing since 1985's Night Time. For a band who've operated outside of the mainstream throughout their lifespan, these are celebratory times.
Currently halfway through a near sold out UK tour that will see them enrapture a jam packed Rock City in a few hours time, the four-piece - Jaz Coleman (vocals), Kevin "Geordie" Walker (guitars), Martin "Youth" Glover (bass) and "Big" Paul Ferguson (drums) - might be in their twilight years yet their music still pushes boundaries with every subsequent release.
Having just returned from an in-store at the city's Fopp Records, DiS sat down with Youth - himself an esteemed producer in his own right - to discuss both his and the band's currently hectic schedules. But first, the conversation starts right here...
DiS: You've played Nottingham Rock City numerous times over the years. What's so special too you about the city and the venue?
Youth: I think we've played here fifteen times. Its got a special connection for me because one of my great aunts lived here. She was deaf and blind and worked on the local newspaper. Even in her late eighties she was still working for them. Whenever we played here I'd go round to her flat and fetch her. She'd be chain smoking Gauloises, have the TV and radio on full blast and she would this thick, gloopy coffee.Which she'd drink constantly while tapping away on her typewriter doing local stories. So we'd bring her down here and the staff were always really good. They'd bring her in with her wheelchair and look after her. And she loved the band. I think we were always loud enough for her to hear and get the experience. I've still got a cigarette box of hers I carry around. She was a favourite aunt of mine so I've always got fond memories of coming here and seeing her.
DiS: Do you feel there's quite a connection between the band and Nottingham audiences? I remember as a teenager whenever 'Pssyche' or 'Love Like Blood' came on during one of their club nights the Rock City dancefloor would fill up in seconds.
Youth: Nottingham's the heartland of England isn't it? It's not quite the Midlands - East Midlands right? - but it's got a great rock heritage. The shows have always gone down well here and we've enjoyed playing them.
DiS: Your latest album Pylon came out last week. Did you think you'd be sat here 37 years after the band started talking about the releae of your 16th long player?
Youth: No I didn't. I thought the band would last six months to a year really, so it's amazing. But we were ambitious, there's no doubt about it. We always had our hearts and eyes set on the same targets and we had every intention of taking them on in a big way. Yet at the same time we weren't bothered about it! We were just happy to get away with doing it. It's especially great now because we finally have the experience and expertise we've learned to make records the way we always wanted to. Which is possibly why the new album's going down so well. We worked out a good modus operandi how to make them well. We might have got lucky with this one? All of them have really great lyrics but this one seems quite complete. Even though people still talk about our early albums as being great records - which to a degree they are - we were never entirely satisfied with them at the time. We're never very satisfied anyway but with this one I think we managed to get everyone fairly satisfied. And that's a good feeling. Plus I think it's great we still have something to say as a band and we're still engaged, present and relevant.
DiS: Your last three records - 2011's Absolute Dissent, MMXII the following year and now Pylon rank among your finest for me. So I'd wholeheartedly agree that Killing Joke are as if not more relevant now than they've ever been. Particularly when put alongside many other bands who've reunited purely in the name of nostalgia, which is something you've never done.
Youth: It's interesting because a lot of bands of a similar age to us - they're not up for making new records. Most of them haven't made a record for at least twenty years, and the further up that mountain you get, the colder the wind blows. So they end up deliberately avoiding it because they don't know how they got there in the beginning. Or things have changed so much they don't have the urgency or passion to do it again. Whereas luckily for us we've never really stopped. The band have made three albums in the last five years and I'm making records all the time with other artists. It's brought the whole band up to steam a bit. Absolute Dissent was more of a regrouping and a little self referential. MMXII was a bit more focused but we also experimented a lot on that. With this one we just decided let's go really heavy and that's how it came out. We also spent a lot of time writing this one. Two or three two-week heavily focused sessions in Prague, which ended up garnering thirty or forty really strong ideas. So eventually we worked them down to sixteen songs and then we finished up with the ten that made it onto the album.
DiS: Of the six that didn't make Pylon, do you see yourselves revisiting them in the future?
Youth: Well, originally when we were making MMXII we had this track called 'In Cythera' which our guitarist Geordie really hated. But eventually it became the lead single off the record and I actually think it's the greatest single we've ever done. With this album we had a similar track called 'Love Is The Law' which again Geordie doesn't like because there's very little guitars on it, and I think it's possibly the second greatest single we've ever made. So we decided as a group - reluctantly on my part - to leave it off the album although Geordie has said he would consider revisiting it with extra guitars on. So maybe we'll put it out next summer? We're certainly not short of material. We're all writing a lot. There wasn't a dull moment during the writing sessions. We had lots of ideas. It was just a matter of getting them all down.
DiS: That sounds quite frustrating. Are there a lot of disagreements when it comes to deciding which tracks to release?
Youth: We are a workers collective and we're all very strong alpha males with strong opinions. Sometimes we have a tendency to murder songs early on, just to give them a chance. It's about putting them in the ring and facing the seven-headed hydra, and if they work we're generally in unanimous decision. If it doesn't - if two of us want to work on it a little further it usually gets to the point where all of us are on board or none of us want to fight for it. It's difficult, it's challenging and it's frustrating. It's also really democratic so if three of us don't like something but one does and they've pushed at it we'll usually give it a chance. It all depends how hard someone is prepared to fight for that song. And even then, by the time the lyrics are added and a few other things are changed it's completely different to the song you first brought to the table anyway!
DiS: Were there any other songs on the record which you had to fight for?
Youth: Yeah, and a lot of them didn't make it. Two of my favourite songs didn't make it, 'Apotheosis' and 'Panopticon'. They're both on the bonus disc. There was another song which was based around a Barry White bassline. We got quite far down the road with it but then it got dropped late on. But they're the classic sabotage techniques we know and love Killing Joke for really. And I do like that. If the songs are good enough they'll end up on a b-side or EP anyway. I guess it's our infantile arrogance which allows us to self-sabotage to that degree. And get away with it!
DiS: You've described the last three albums as being a triptych of ideas. Will the next record be in a similar vein or are you hoping to do something completely different?
Youth: Every record we make feels like the last record we'll ever make and then we're here again so I don't know. I would imagine we'll make another album and I'd expect it to have a different vibe. Our records tend to reflect where we are emotionally as individuals and that's generally changing.
DiS: Pylon is currently number eleven in the midweek charts which is your highest position in thirty years. Do you consider the charts relevant?
Youth: As relevant as they ever were I guess. It's a great result for us and good affirmation that we're still relevant. Even though they're not that important every band would like to be number one when they put a record out. So to go top twenty is an amazing thing for us and a bit of a surprise really. We've always found ourselves tucked away in a cult minor league somewhere so this shows there's still a lot of support for the band out there.
DiS: Tom Dalgety produced the album having also worked on the last record. Are you big fans of his work, particularly what he did with the Royal Blood album?
Youth: We liked what he did on MMXII so we were happy to let him do a big chunk of the engineering and production on this record. Most of the recordings were done by the three of us - me, Geordie and Paul - with a little in-house engineer in Prague. In fact, he wasn't there a lot of the time so I engineered most of it. Then Tom came in and did some individual tracks with us. Paul didn't want anyone there when he was doing the drums so it was just him and Tom with me ringing up every couple of hours saying "Make sure he does this!" or "Forget that!" or "Cover yourself with this!" And it worked out fine. His drums came out fantastically well and we were all happy with how it sounded. Then Geordie did some guitar overdubs with Tom and mixed it. That was great because when I take the full weight and responsibility for that side of things it incurs a lot of resentment from the rest of the band. Because I'm in the band. You know, why should he have more power than the rest of us? Especially when I signed the band to my label. That was a nightmare! It's better to just be the bass player and a co-producer, so another co-producer can take some of the flak.
DiS: Does your work with other artists impact on what you bring to Killing Joke? For example, has there ever been a time when you've heard something in the studio and immediately thought that would work on a Killing Joke record too?
Youth: Whatever I do informs everything else I do to some extent. I tend not to compare or compromise projects with other projects I may be involved with. I have clear boundaries. They are two totally different disciplines so in lots of ways, no. The only time it becomes a problem is if the managers fuck it up and they double book me. It's been fairly smooth in that department mainly because the others are always busy as well. If it was just me the band were waiting around for that might cause a problem but it's not, so everything usually works out OK.
DiS: What other projects are you working on at present?
Youth: I've been working on the Spiritualized record and more recently, the new Jesus & Mary Chain one which is a big deal as it's their first record in seventeen years.
DiS: How are they getting on?
Youth: Well, the Reid brothers are still talking to each other! That's good, and the songs are phenomenal. It's sounding great. We're at the halfway stage now so it should be ready by the end of the year.
DiS: What about the Spiritualized album?
Youth: I recorded around twenty-two tracks with Jason (Pierce) then we took a break so he could do some summer festivals. And then he came back and decided he wanted to throw the whole thing away and start again. He does have the capacity to do that every now and then. He's a very challenging artist who has a very high criteria of what he's looking for. So I don't know what's going on there at the minute or whether I'll be working on it again.
DiS: With such a vast back catalogue to choose from, are there any records you're not particularly fond of or try to avoid when putting together a live setlist?
Youth: I don't really go towards Revelations or Night Time that much, but the rest of the band really want to do them, so we've agreed to do 'The Hum' and 'Eighties' at some point. I don't really like those records so I'd prefer not to but then there are other songs I never really liked the recorded versions of yet we made them sound killer live. We're in a good position having such a big canon to play around with.
DiS: Your fanbase also covers a wide demographic, especially since the last three albums.
Youth: That's right. We travelled that journey throughout the demise of the tribes. People are more open to diverse sounds now. We've opened everything up from just dub and trance mixes which is a reflection of how people are today. Acid house changed a lot of that. I remember hearing Phil Collins play George Clinton followed by U2 followed by Phil Collins and the place would be going crazy!
DiS: You're already scheduled to tour America in the early part of 2016. What does the rest of the year hold for the band?
Youth: We're also planning to go to Europe, Australia and Asia so a large chunk of next year will be spent touring with possibly a few festivals in there as well.
DiS: What advice would you give to new bands just starting out?
Youth: Get your vision and manifesto together and if you're really connected with it, see what happens.
DiS: Are there any new artists you've been impressed with recently?
Youth: I really like the new Tame Impala album. The new Fuzz record is great too.
The album Pylon is out now on Spinefarm Records.
For more information on Killing Joke visit their official website.