Killing Joke's art is more than music
The post-punk icons create more than melancholy in their spare time
Having been a part of one of the strongest albums of the year, namely Killing Joke’s latest opus Pylon, and currently touring with the band in the UK and soon the US, you would think ‘Big Paul’ Ferguson would have enough on his plate. But as seems to be the case with every member of the acclaimed post-punk/goth/metal alchemists, Paul is a man with many strings to his bow. Though of course most famous in music circles for his stellar drumming abilities, Paul has long been active in the art world as both a sculptor and painter and perhaps more prominently has carved out a strong reputation for himself in the art restoration world, particularly in the area of ancient sculpture.
Such interests and skills have now spawned an intriguing new venture called Boneyard, a unique jewellery line carved and cast by the man himself and focussed upon immortalising skull ‘n’ bones imagery in solid silver. But though these hefty items are certainly pretty mean-looking pieces in their own right, the intention for these objects goes somewhat further than merely ‘looking cool’, instead carrying something of a spiritual significance. We caught up with the multi-talented creator to learn more…
**First of all Paul, can you explain how the Boneyard project came about?
**“I don't know if I can call it a project; it's a spin-off in a way of my art restoration where I go from working on very large, very ancient stone carvings that need hammering, drilling and pinning back together, to very intricate and elaborate reproduction pieces for Tibetan gilded bronzes. I found myself with very little to do last summer – there wasn't much work going on and I really need to keep myself busy – and I had a block of wax and my tools from my restoration work, so I just started whittling. I wanted to make a ring for myself and one thing led to another and I made a skull ring. I had Tibetan imagery in mind; it doesn't really look that way, but I was very conscious of that because they use skulls sometimes for their mantras and meditation. So I had that in mind when I made the skull, and then another came to mind, and then another one, and I cast them and was quite pleased and posted them on Facebook. Then a few people started asking if I could do one for them and that was really the genesis for the whole thing. As you can understand I've been quite chuffed that people like them.”
**So the reception has been very positive so far?
**“Yeah it's been really good. It's very low key; I've done very little to promote it as yet because the launch coincided with getting ready for the new Killing Joke tour and a lot of sculpture restoration work so I haven't really put any promotion into it yet, but I've been very encouraged by the result. When I get back from the tour I hope to produce more things, though it’s not my ambition to become a jeweller by any means, this is just something I really enjoy doing and if I can spread the objects around to those who appreciate it, that's really great.”
You’ve included one design based on a jester motif, which is of course one of the more familiar symbols used within Killing Joke…
“Well yeah, I almost felt obliged to do that. I don't want to say this is specifically a Killing Joke thing, but I've had a lot of input over the years into the artwork in Killing Joke so it was inevitable that I would do something with that flavour, and I hope Killing Joke fans might see some value in having an item like this. I have made some jester pendants to bring on the road with me so if anyone is interested in having one of those just have a word with me.”
You’ve just launched a jewellery line, [Killing Joke bassist] Youth has just released The Anarchist Colouring Book, is there a theme going on here?
“Yes I'm very proud of Youth's other activities, he's a very creative and productive mind. I don't want this to become an ‘arts and crafts’ Killing Joke tour though ha ha! This is an album that we're all very pleased with and the focus is of course still the music.”
Pylon is the third album the band has released since you reunited with the other founding members in 2008, and all three have been very well received by both critics and fans alike. There seems to be a real creative momentum behind the group, which is perhaps unusual for a band that has been around over 35 years. What's the secret?
“We try and stay out of each other's pockets between tours because we've all got busy lives elsewhere, but it's a sort of cathartic experience for us all when we get together. We've got a sort of explosion of pent up angst and it just releases itself into the music. None of us are really mellowing with age and I'm glad to say the music still has an urgency to it. You know, we're all getting on now so we've all suffered a lot of loss over the last years and I think there is a sense that Killing Joke is a precious thing; we have to utilise this opportunity – it's nothing that we can take for granted and life isn't something we can take for granted. Actually, going back to the jewellery and the Tibetan thing: I know these rings are a bit rock 'n' roll, but the intent really is that they should be contemplative tools and perhaps a way of reflecting on one's own mortality and the value of life. Ha ha, sorry, I just went off on the deep end there.”
**It's an interesting point though. Seeing the prayer beads you’ve made really puts the skull symbol in a very different context than when it is in isolation on the rings, which carry a very different set of connotations; rock n' roll, bikers, heavy metal, and so on.
**“Right. I made the website quite quickly and though I like it, I think I would like to elaborate on the contemplative side of things more, I think maybe that didn't quite come across quite as strongly as I hoped.”
**Returning to the subject of music, there are currently a lot of new and relatively young bands coming up who have very obvious gothic rock and new wave influences, many of them recalling the work of bands such as Killing Joke. Have you noticed a rejuvenation of that sort of sound lately?
**“You know, I haven't with regard to Killing Joke specifically, but certainly I'm aware of more eighties sounds occurring. I've noticed bands sounding more like Joy Division or Bauhaus. Listen, we lived it, so it's flattering. It's a bit sort of, 'Here we go again', but I have to say it's also very encouraging because I live in the States and all they're playing is Taylor Swift and... I don't know, people that I don't even want to say their names because it gives them a nod, so it's refreshing to hear this territory being explored again. It's taking music out of the corporate inevitability that has become prevalent.”
**On a similar subject, do you notice a wide mix of ages at Killing Joke shows these days?
**“Yeah. At first I thought it was reluctant teenagers being dragged along by their parents, because there's a preponderance of people of my own sort of age. But definitely these three albums have had an impact on a younger crowd, so that's really encouraging. I think Pylon in particular, I hope it will break out of the mould in some respects and get across to a younger crowd. I don't really see any weak points with it, it's really pacey, it's a strong record. The last two, as much as I like them, I can see some inconsistencies in them and this one, in a way, it sums it all up.”
**With so many irons in the fire, how are you planning to balance your activities with Killing Joke, Boneworks and your art restoration?
**“My life is a complicated affair ha ha. When I get back from the tour I already have a studio full of art restoration that I have to do, including some Picasso plates that are particularly difficult to restore because they're so plain that there's very little to hide behind. I teach a blacksmithing course as well – I say I do that, I've volunteered to do that but I've yet to do my first class – and I do metalwork as well, so I've got my hands in a few projects. And I try to always give them all my full attention!”