Perfect Sound Forever

White Hills

photo by Chris Carlone

Interview by Billy Hell
(October 2012)

Killing Joke were touring the Un-united Kingdom so it was time to hit the fuckin' road! As luck would have it, the most anti-authority band in the world finished their tour on the same day the North American band who made H-p1, the album that gave the biggest middle finger to the powers that rape Mother Earth to keep the economies growing like cancer, began theirs. I missed the first White Hills gig in Birmingham as I was in Oxford at the last of ten Killing Joke Gatherings I'd attended so far in MMXII. There, singer Jaz Coleman announced his impending marriage and asked us all where we were off to now the tour was over. He was going back home to New Zealand and drummer Paul Ferguson was holidaying in the Caribbean. I was bound for Leicester, to catch the second White Hills show in a small pub called The Musician. Earlier that day, I'd exchanged a small piece of metal for the experience of viewing Oxford from the mound next to the castle. Whilst that very nice man the prime sinister David Camoron was out of the country scoffing mashed up dead animals in buns with Obama, I was above his constituency city performing a magic ritual to hasten the end of the Age of Greed, or Kali Yuga. I had the Killing Joke compilation Laugh? I Nearly Bought One! on my Walkman and sang along very loud and got real slow as the batteries ran down on "Age of Greed." Everyone in the vicinity got to hear it. Camoron and Napolean Pig facsimile George Osborne should have that song played to them all day so that they could pretend to be down with the Gathering and really diggin' it man. Up there, I met five Spanish girls who asked me to photograph them, and a Persian called Mohammed who shared food with me. It was a damn fine way to start a day that would end with a fiery blast of heavy psyche-rock from a band I'd only seen once before, at Manchester's Ruby Lounge. By the end of their March tour, I'd upped my White Hills gig count to six, the same number of times I saw Nirvana. I travelled on to their gigs in Bristol, Nottingham, Leeds and Liverpool and each night they burned more brightly than the last. The latter two shows had the sublime bonus of support from the greatest psychedelic rock band in the land, Mugstar. Before the Leeds gig, I sat down at a table in the Brudenell Social Club with White Hills guitarist Dave W to ask a few questions which were mostly about H-p1 because at that point had yet to hear their latest Thrill Jockey album Frying On This Rock.

PSF: I'm just getting used to this new tape recorder.

D: I like the fact that it's a cassette!

PSF: I don't trust digital. If you press the wrong button, you can erase everything! You have to rely on technology, playing in White Hills. Has it ever let you down?

D: All the time. When I was mixing the self-titled album, my computer totally shit one me. Then not only did it shit on me, I had to buy a whole new set up. I use Pro-Tools, so I had to buy a whole new Pro-Tools.

PSF: Couldn't you have used the old set up?

D: No, because of the different platform. I had an older Mac and it wasn't in that- I bought just a laptop. I had a Mac Book Pro and a G4 and so the Mac I had before wasn't Linux.

PSF: I get so frustrated with all these updates that I don't need that, I just give up and use a tape recorder!

D: Unfortunately, recording on 2" tape at this point is way too expensive and if you're running at its fastest speed, it only fits fifteen minutes onto one reel, so you figure we're playing songs that are like thirty minutes long...

PSF: It's not practical.

D: No, not practical at all; way too expensive.

PSF: It can even be difficult finding cassettes these days.

D: Yeah, exactly.

PSF: There's an interview you did where you said that playing music is a magical thing. You were talking about the synchronicity of the three of you all stopping and starting at the same time on songs you've never played before...

D: Well, it's just like playing in general, it's like when you are improvising- sometimes it works , sometimes it doesn't work, but when it works it's like magic.

PSF: Do you think a group mind functions?

D: Yeah, it has to be because everyone's in synch. When everyone's not in synch, you don't feel connected, but then, once everyone becomes in synch, you feel this connection, you know? The difficult thing is, you don't always feel that way. It's impossible, it can't always be that way. I think it's interesting, the bands who say they improvise all the time and their performance is purely improvisation; I think a lot of those bands aren't really improvising as much as they say they are. That's what I think, because if they were, they'd have a lot of performances that were just pure shit.

PSF: Sometimes, improvised gigs don't work. I saw Otomo Yoshihide and the late Derek Bailey play an improvised feedback noise turntable/guitar duet in Liverpool that was dreadful, and they're usually capable of extraordinary excellence. The elements just didn't gel.

D: Sometimes it doesn't gel, but then you know, you're playing songs you know that have a structure to them and sometimes that doesn't work! It's a hit and miss thing.

PSF: Being negative, what's the greatest disaster you've had at a gig?

D: Me playing the wrong song while the other two are playing the right song.

PSF: That's not such a terrible disaster. People have died on stage, it could be much worse. In fact, Jet Black, the Stranglers' drummer, said that's the way he wants to go. Did the gathering notice you were playing the wrong song?

D: You should ask them. It was last night in Glasgow. It doesn't put you in the right frame of mind. (much laughter)

PSF: But surely you can't be too fussy about things going wrong?

D: Well what can you do?

PSF: Some bands are fussy!

D: But that's bullshit. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who used to play a lot and is getting back into playing again. He asked me, "How often do you guys rehearse?" And it's like maybe two times a week. It just depends. And he goes, "When you practice, do you play the songs?" And it's like, "No." The only time we play the songs is when we're working out the set. We tend to just play because the song is there. Why do you need to play the same song over and over again?

PSF: You'll get bored of it.

D: Yeah, and he's sitting there talking about how this last band he was in was all about playing the song. The thing is, I was asked a question recently and the interviewer said, "What's more important, the song or the sound?" My answer was there's no difference, because the song is the sound and the sound is the song, OK? So in that respect, whatever happens when you play that song, that's what the song was supposed to be in that moment and that's all it's going to be. So last night for the first minute of the first song we played, it was meant to be that I was playing the wrong song. It's not the end of the world.

PSF: Not yet! Just wait for nanotechnology and genetically modified viruses to get out of control!

D: What are you going to do? Get really pissed off and take your guitar and throw it down? That's just being a baby. What is perfection? It's like, even if you achieve what you think is perfection, it's gone. You have this concept that you achieved perfection but it's already behind you, so what's the point?

PSF: You've just got to have a good time.

D: You've just got to allow things to be what they are and be OK with it being like it is. That's how I approach my life. I don't want to be stuck looking at the past and there's no way I can tell what the future is, so why focus on either of those things?

PSF: Sometimes elements of a dream turn out to be from the future, so maybe that's somehow telling you what the future could be but you don't know for sure.

D: That's the beauty of having a mind! Because you don't know...

PSF: Our minds are constantly editing so-called reality. (ED NOTE: brilliant!)

D: Exactly, and there are so many things that we don't know and that's cool because weird things can happen and there is no way to explain it.

PSF: You don't want your mind completely open all the time or you wouldn't be able to function anymore.

D: Yeah, exactly.

PSF: You've played with quite a lot of other bands, including Mudhoney and the Flaming lips, both of whom I've seen more times than I can remember over the years. Are there other bands you've played gigs with who you like a lot?

D: We've played with Sleep recently. That was another big show.

PSF: Two of them are Om, right? I've seen them play at All Tomorrow's Parties and supporting Sunn O))).

D: The bassist has Om and the guitarist has High On Fire. They have gotten back together and they play a handful of shows every now and then. The last one they played in New York in April 2011, they asked us to play with them. That was a great thrill for me. Another one was playing with Michael Rother's Hallo Gallo; he was in Neu!

PSF: I saw them play at the Supersonic Festival in Birmingham.

D: Obviously Neu! has been a very big influence. We played with them at All Tomorrow's Parties In Between Days. That was after the Godspeed one and before the Nightmare before Christamas.

PSF: I was at the Godspeed one, and really enjoyed it, epsecially their performances, Nomeansno and the Ex. I helped put on their first gig in the UK over a now defunct Mexican restaurant on Oxford Road, Manchester.

D: The problem with playing these festivals is you don't get to see enough of the bands when you're playing, because it's overkill in a lot of ways.

PSF: You can't even see all the bands you want to as they always have annoying clashes. Two bands you love who've travelled from the other side of the world will be playing their only gig in the land and they're both on at the same time in different rooms! Even if you run about like a headless chicken, you still can't catch all the bands. Some annoying clashes have been Shipping News and Blonde Redhead; Godspeed and Philip Jeck; Shellac and the Dirty Three and Nomeansno and the Ex, although to their great credit, the Ex refused to play until Nomeansno had finished downstairs, or so I was told. That meant I walked in at the exact moment the Ex struck their first note. One clash worked in my favour though: most folk wanted to watch Grinderman so I got right on the crash barrier for some awesome killer rock'n'roll action from the Scientists!

D: We did a lot of touring last year and we're actually going to do a fair amount of touring this year with Sleepy Sun from San Francisco. I love playing with those guys, a great band. I don't think I've ever seen them do a shitty show.

PSF: I saw them at All Tomorrow's Parties but found them to be too hippy dippy.

D: Well, the girl isn't with them anymore. They've got a new album.

PSF: A funny thing about "H-p1" is that you've used a lot song titles that other bands have used previously. "Movement" is the first New Order album, "Paradise" is a Stranglers single from the "Feline" album, "Monument" is an Ultravox live album and "Hand in Hand" is a song on Elvis Costello's best album This Year's Model.

D: I had no idea about any of those.

PSF: I thought these would all be coincidences.

D: I guess now that you say New Order...

PSF: You must have heard that one?

D: Of course, but I titled that track "Movement" because it's a movement between the two songs.

PSF: "Paradise" is an instrumental, isn't it? Why is it called that?

D: That track was recorded with Kid Millions and it was supposed to be on the self-titled record. It didn't have a title at that time and I ended up not using it because I didn't like the guitar and bass line in it. Then when I was working on "H-p1," I went back and listened to it and I took away the bass and guitar and heard the drums and the drums made me feel like I was in paradise so that's why I named that one that. I just did the synth tracks over it and it was done, real seamless. I played two of the synth parts and Ego played one.

PSF: Are you going to do anymore gigs with the synth player Shazzula?

D: No, not in the near future, I don't see it. Our schedules haven't corresponded, but you never know. There's a guy that we have in California who's been doing shows with us in the U.S. who is fucking amazing. It's just when the schedules are right.

PSF: What other bands does he play in?

D: 3Leafs; White Pee is another and he has. He's Daevid Allen's secondhand man right now, so he's the University of Errors and he plays in Gong. He's been on those Acid Mothers/Gong collaboration things. His name is Josh Pollock. He's a genius; you don't even need to rehearse with him.

PSF: Why is "Monument" called "Monument?"

D: Because that track was so massive, I felt of it as a monument.

PSF: And "Hand in Hand?"

D: That was actually the very end of a very long jam that we did. It was the only part of that jam I used because I thought that was the best part of it. I wasn't playing guitar, the drummer had stopped, it was just Shazzula and Ego. Their interplay was like them walking hand in hand.

PSF: What does the album title H-p1 refer to?

D: It means absolutely nothing.

PSF: "The Condition of Nothing!" [first track on the album]

D: I wanted something that had the sense of it sounding clinical. At the time, we were working on the record there was all this shit in the news about the H1-N1 virus. The bird flu killing everyone. So I was thinking it's the media and fucking government killing everyone, so their virus is H-p1.

PSF: pH1 is very strong acid (I learnt that in chemistry class, which is another Elvis Costello song).

D: I guess so. Hp1 is a protein compound. I found that out later, which is funny.

PSF: It's funny how things like that often happen. You probably find different meanings to songs emerge later that weren't what you intended?

D: Yeah, I think a lot of people have said things like that about titles to our songs. On the self-titled record, there was "We Will Rise" and everyone though that I was taking the piss out of the Stooges "We Will Fall," which was completely not on my mind at all.

PSF: It makes me think of a new uprising, a political revolution. Is that more along the right lines?

D: No, it was because that jam had a sense of rising to me. It was a straight-up jam.

PSF: Earlier in the tour you told me Absolute Dissent by Killing Joke was your favourite album of 2010. What was your favourite from 2011? You're not allowed to say H-p1!

D: I would never say anything I'd ever done. I mean I don't even listen to the shit afterwards. I don't even know. An album that came out last year that really floored me?

PSF: I could give you a clue with what I like

D: Magazine, Arbouretum, Enablers, H-p1 and PJ Harvey... All and everyone loved PJ Harvey!

D: I didn't get that one. I love PJ Harvey but that one didn't hit me. I think last year I spent a lot of time discovering bands I'd never heard of from the late seventies, eighties; Belgian bands or bands from the Netherlands. There's a Belgian band Mechanik Commando that I got really into last year.

PSF: Have they done a lot of albums?

D: Yeah, actually they are performing again. Another band I really got into last year was De Fabrik who were a Dutch band, they're a husband and wife and their daughter.

PSF: I thought you were going to say a husband and wife and a dog!

D: No! They're really interesting, they use just household utensils and manipulate them through samplers and make really interesting music with it. There was a label out of San Francisco called Dark Entries that was releasing a lot of dark late seventies, early eighties synth-based things and I really got into that label, just sucking up anything they were putting out last year. Those are the things that stick out in my head from last year.

PSF: Another thing about 2011 was the total domination of Thrill Jockey records, with so many great albums, and I didn't even hear them all!

D: Yeah, It's really cool. I really liked the Eternal Tapestries record that came out last year. That's a Thrill Jockey record.

PSF: I haven't heard that one yet.

D: It's cool Thrill Jockey has been forging forward and has taken on psychedelia and guitar music.

PSF: I was listening to the song "Upon Arrival" and it struck me as being quite similar to some of the music that Killing Joke play just before they go on stage. Do you think that song would be a good one to play over the PA as a warm up to your gigs? It has an atmosphere that says a band is about to start playing.

D: I never thought of that. We always try to do an intro thing but unfortunately, when you aren't travelling with your own sound person, it's a bit difficult to create those certain things. Or if you aren't with a lighting person, you know? You want to be able to create those atmospheres. We're getting closer to that point of being able to do that.

PSF: If there was any change that was inspired by your music, what would you want it to be?

D: Just that people think, just critical thinking. Don't believe...

PSF: The hype!?

D: Just don't believe! I mean, I'm not saying don't believe, you should believe in things and you should feel strong and have conviction.

PSF: Don't believe the bullshit!

D: I just think that it's not OK socially to be a thinker. To have critical thinking. I speak of that from what I see in the U.S.. The thing is, I don't want to change anybody's life. I'm not out there to tell anybody what to do.

PSF: But you could do...

D: Well sure, but that's not my responsibility. I just hope that what I do causes someone to think in the same way things that I have been exposed to in my life have made me think and even to this day, it still happens.

PSF: It's enjoyable to be made to think in different ways.

D: Yeah, keep your mind active.

PSF: I used to write reviews for a Liverpool based fanzine called Dregs and each issue would have a theme. One was risk, wherein we asked everyone we interviewed what the biggest risk they'd ever taken. We got some diverse and interesting responses, from the tame to the ridiculous. Chris Brokaw of Come told me he once took LSD and laid down between rail tracks and let a train rumble over him!

D: That's pretty fucked! That's a risk!

PSF: What's the biggest risk you've ever taken?

D: Actually, I think one of the biggest risks I took was starting this band because i'd never thrown myself into being a driving force. I was always someone who wanted to someone else around and kind of latch onto. So for me, it was a risk because it was something that was solely mine and you put yourself on the line like that.

PSF: It's been a risk worth taking so far...

D: Well, of course; you have to take risks in life. You can't just be common place and not try. At least that's the kind of person I am. There are obviously people who don't take risks. I think that was a fairly big risk. Also moving to New York City, the same thing, that was a massive risk and that was part of the whole thing , so...

PSF: Another theme was fear. What do you fear?

D: I don't think in those terms!

PSF: Ha! A Killing Joke fan! "'Til the fearless come" (from "Love Like Blood," their biggest hit from the excellent Night Time album).


I documented my trip around the island of Gross Britannia to see ten Killing Joke gigs on my blog. Here's the first one, from Bristol, Norwich, London, Sheffield and Manchester.

There are earlier shorter posts on Glasgow here and this one here and Portsmouth.

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