By Brad Lopez
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"The next day, I was different," he continues in an almost reverential tone. "I was a man, I guess. When my parents came back off holiday, I had sold my very expensive violin at Sotheby's and bought synthesizers instead and started wearing all black. They were horrified."
Coleman couldn't stray far from his cultured upbringing, though. In 1982, after making three scorching albums with Killing Joke, he took a sabbatical from the group and settled briefly in Iceland before resuming his classical studies. More interested in composing than performing, he began wielding the conductor's wand across Egypt, Russia and Germany, eventually building a prestigious resumé in the world of contemporary classical music. Besides engagements leading the London Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra, he's made fifteen classical recordings, including two with famed violin virtuoso Nigel Kennedy. Still, his most recognized forays into classical music have been Symphonic Music of the Rolling Stonesand Us and Them: Symphonic Pink Floyd, two albums that rode the Billboard classical charts in '94 and '95. Coleman currently conducts the Prague Symphony Orchestra, splitting his time between the Czech Republic, Switzerland and New Zealand, where he lives on a farm and admittedly loves his "peace and quiet."
"I wouldn't swap my life for anyone's," he remarks. "I get to conduct great orchestras of the world on wonderful stages, and I get to be in the heaviest underground band in the world. I don't have much to complain about."
During his rise through the classical ranks, Coleman remained sporadically active with Killing Joke, touring and releasing records every few years. But regardless of the different masks he has donned over the decades, his work has sent shock waves throughout the world of music. Killing Joke's hardwiring of steeliness and aggression became a template for the harsh, cybernetic strains of industrial, and this influence radiated out to such prominent groups as Big Black, Godflesh, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Neurosis and Tool -- not to mention Nirvana. In fact, Kurt Cobain and crew were almost sued by Coleman in 1992 after the release of the single of "Come As You Are," a track that Cobain admitted was just a slowed-down version of Killing Joke's 1985 song "Eighties."
"There was definitely tension between us," Coleman says. "It's the whole idea of intellectual copyright, isn't it? We did feel that the riff was taken from us. The last interviewer I spoke to asked me, 'Did you know about this guy who worked for Killing Joke who got up on stage once while Nirvana was playing and bashed Kurt Cobain in the face?' I'd never heard of it before, but apparently it happened."
Karma swung back Killing Joke's way, though, when Dave Grohl enthusiastically agreed to drum on the band's new disc. As Coleman elaborates, "The original idea was to have three of our favorite drummers play on the album, Dave being one of them. We also wanted John [Dolmayan] from System of a Down and Danny [Carey] from Tool. But when Dave heard the songs, he said, 'I want the whole thing.' We love him to bits. You know, he's one of those funny kind of guys who can drink a whole bottle of Crown Royal whiskey and still be the same, nice, affable man -- not like our lot."
Besides the assist from Grohl (who, due to his hectic schedule, is being replaced on tour with Ted Parsons, formerly of the Swans and Prong), Killing Joke's new full-length features contributions from Raven, one of the group's longtime bassists, and Andy Gill of Gang of Four, who also produced it. "Andy is an old mate of ours from years back," explains Coleman. "We brought him in because all of us in the band are producers, and it stopped us from fighting amongst each other. It worked out quite well. It didn't work out so well, however, for his very expensive and rare wine collection."
While quick to kid around at a friend's expense, when it comes to his new disc, Coleman is dead serious. "It's so fucking now. I don't know how else to describe it," he comments. "There's no comparison between us and other bands that are simply re-forming. We never broke up; we made a pact never to break up. We did this album for purposes of contributing to innovation as opposed to our accountants telling us we had to do it.
"Certain things just get better as you get older," he continues. "One of them is playing. I wish we sounded back then like we do now. It's a real spiritual experience every night for me. Don't ask me what I think about when I'm on stage, because I barely remember anything at all. It's like one big oil painting with the paints all thrown together. It's almost addictive after a while. It really hurts your body. It's like fifty thousand volts going through you. A strange phenomenon happens sometimes on stage: The place might be going crazy, but everything goes silent to us. Everything looks like it's going in slow motion. We call this 'the white heat.'"