Twilight of the Mortals: CVLT Nation Interviews Mont Sherar, Creator of the Iconic Killing Joke Book
Hey Mont, thanks for talking with us! When did your journey of documenting Killing Joke start?
I’d been ‘promoting’ the band as a DJ since about 1981, including the exchange of a couple of handwritten letters to Jaz – his returned with silver ink on black paper! This was a pre-internet world with a very different appreciation for life back then compared to the ‘insta-click, take-a-bite, and throw away’ pattern of today. This meant that discovering a band as unique as Killing Joke was not simply a joyous moment, but a life-changing one. The fact that I’m far from alone on that front during that same time period, speaks volumes for this once in a lifetime kind of group.
The first time I photographed them (or anyone for that matter) would be several years later in 1989 in Miami Beach, Florida, when I booked them to stay and play at the infamous Kitchen Club/SeaGull Hotel for which I was the resident DJ at the time. During this time period, however, the band no longer had the original members of Youth and Big Paul, which was a historic experience I had missed out on and assumed was lost forever. Unbelievably, this opportunity would in fact present itself once again, years later when the band decided to reunite after the untimely passing of bassist Paul Raven in 2007. Twilight of the Mortals focuses exclusively on this ‘original lineup’ time-period that stretches between the years of 2008 to one of their very last concerts of 2016 during their ‘Pylon’ album tour. So really, although these specific years are the exclusive focus of the book, it took an entire lifetime to gain the trust, confidence, and indeed blessing of the band to photograph them in such an intimate and unrestricted way.
What was the process like for creating the “Twilight of the Mortals” book?
Originally, it was going to be a self-funded, self-published book which I had already designed in a virtual, animated model using 3D software. I presented this and other imagery to the band members in the hopes that they might be impressed enough to give me their blessings to proceed with it. Thankfully, based on what they saw, their response was a resounding, ‘love it Mont — go for it!’ You can imagine the euphoria. That was no small achievement because a band is not simply a single entity to persuade, but four independent personalities, all of whom have their own very different positions on different issues. Getting consensus was never going to be easy. But, not only did they collectively provide me their full endorsement, but they were also willing to contribute a solo track each to a request for an exclusive vinyl record (two 7” singles) that would be included with the book in a limited edition. If that request were to have been for the production of “just another” digital CD, there would have been no appetite for such banality. Furthermore, a non downloadable, vinyl-only record, is not only a nod to the band’s past, but elevates the entire package to a level rarely seen in the book world. Additionally, my friendship with writers such as the legendary John Robb, Fletcher Stewart and Rahman Baloch, (all of whom share a deep passion for Killing Joke), ensured that the book would be more than just ‘eye candy.’ Eventually of course, I had to begin the process of deciding which photos would be included and which ones would have to be left out. That is an excruciatingly difficult thing to do when you have over a thousand to choose from, but can only fit a few hundred in the book! Furthermore, its really hard to decide which child of yours ‘gets in’ and which child must be ‘left out’. It’s a necessary evil to the process and a most painful one at that.
Because of things like this and some of the less creative issues that go along with publishing, I was pleased when Peter Webb contacted me asking if I’d like to publish the book via his label, PC-Press. Also, I had seen PC-Press’s previous publication on the industrial band Test Dept. and knew from that, that the production values would be of the highest quality. That would begin what would become an unexpected, long and slow ‘back and forth’ between both of us, and layout artist Glenn. We worked this way for almost two years, until the final layout was ultimately agreed upon.
Regarding the vinyl sleeve, I had pondered the idea of designing it myself, but one day realised that one of my oldest friends happened to be not only one of the greatest and most prolific sleeve designers in vinyl history, but also the very person who introduced me to Killing Joke music in the first place! It was so obvious it should be Steven Gilmore. And with Steven being a huge KJ fan himself, he agreed to do it. The results were a beautiful work of art (as always), and well, talk about going full circle!
Although the general look of the book was already pre-conceived and designed in a 3D virtual format, ie. colour concept, logo, title, typeface choices etc, my general idea for how the narrative should flow (sequencing order of the photos) was very different than how you see it in the final product. My original thoughts on that issue were to show the images in a deliberately random order, based on how things looked visually as you turned the page and not via a sequence of events. But Pete suggested a narrative that was just that – a timeline of events. My wife suggested the same approach as well, so I really had the push back headed my way! However, upon seeing an actual chronological layout, I conceded that this was in fact, the best way to do it. Sometimes, ya just gotta ‘let it go’ and thank god for that, because the end result is perfect. And from there, we proceeded to tweak, buff, and polish to the finish line!
Share with us one of your favorite Killing Joke stories.
Ha! Well, what could be better than my own story of Killing Joke ‘incompetence?’ One of the first times I heard Killing Joke’s music was at a club in Vancouver during the early 80s called Luv Afair. The DJ at the time was none other than Steven R. Gilmore and the lightman was a very tall soul named Kevin Crompton, who would later become cEvin Key of Skinny Puppy fame. Gilmore frequently played what would become my all time favourite song, and I misinterpreted the chorus to be, “Are You A Seabird?” Can you guess it now? Once you hear this, you can never undo how that song will sound to you again. My apologies ha ha. One night, knowing that it couldn’t really be those silly lyrics, I crawled up the wall to the DJ booth above, to ask Gilmore who did the ‘seabird song’. After a brief look of bemusement, he actually guessed which one I was referring to, and showed me the bright red sleeve of ‘Are You Receiving.’ And just like that, a poor white bird had died and a life changing moment was born!
Can you talk to us about the Killing Joke gig at the KITCHEN CLUB in Miami?
The original Kitchen Club on Miami Beach, was an iconic dance club with its own (decadent) beach-front hotel attached, run by a bunch of young anarchists, and on rare occasions, featured live post-punk/industrial bands of the highest caliber. Brian Warner (Marilyn Manson) hung out there including my DJ booth, asking who did this and that regarding the music, as well absorbing the performances of groundbreaking acts who performed there live. Al Jourgensen visited and stayed there a few times. It was always my dream to have my fave band Killing Joke to play there – right on the dance floor – so when the opportunity presented itself, I made sure that would happen. The timing of their arrival to the hotel/club was unreal. Both cEvin Key and Dwayne Goettel were staying there at the same time, making for a truly magical moment in music history. There was talk about a ‘collaboration’ over beers and tequila at the VIP bar, and the real creme de la creme was taking both Jaz and Dwayne out to a university where Jaz sat down to play a Steinway. No one had heard Jaz’s classical talents up to that point, so this was quite astonishing to everyone who witnessed it.
The gig itself was filmed by yours truly who had never used a video camera before. The lack of ‘professional’ polish is lacking, but not the ferocity of the performance. I handed the master over to drummer Martin Atkins who later released it as a bootleg VHS tape. There is often more hyperbole than reality when people reminisce about how intense or significant a particular concert of the past was, but in this case, it was filmed raw and unedited, for all to see for themselves.
Other than the primal intensity of the performance (both band and crowd complete with slam dancing), the most memorable thing for me, was the fact that there was only a small bump away from being another ‘Great White’ style fire tragedy from 2003.
Prior to the gig, Jaz requested that a team of fans should lead the way into the club from the outside lobby of the hotel. A dramatic idea it was, but not without life threatening risks. Fire standards were not at all what they are today, nor was there a sufficient escape route within the club as tightly packed as it was that night. At any rate, I asked bar manager Jasper Fair if he could construct these torches by hand and he valiantly did just that, bless him. What he came up with was brilliant under the circumstances, because its not like he could just type in, ‘how to make a flaming torch’ in Google! At any rate, he completed the task, not realizing the implications about what it might cause, and joined the team of 5-6 fans to lead the way into the densely packed club crowd toward the stage. As they entered the door, torches flaming brightly, it was clear that getting to the stage was going to be a tight squeeze. It’s one thing to worry about spilling your drink in that kind of situation, but something deadly serious when you’re carrying fire on a stick. David Labrava, (who was my personal club bodyguard at the time, and would later star as the character ‘Happy’ in Sons of Anarchy many years later), came to the rescue, shouting for people to move away with his very intimidating voice and persona. It looked like Moses parting the Red Sea. I was perched up upon the subwoofer overlooking the crowd at the opposite side of the stage with a video camera (S-VHS!), and noticed an alarming new issue – the ceiling could ignite! There were all kinds of flammable things hanging from the ceiling all over the place and I could see how close those flames came to lighting it all up as they were winding through the crowd. If one hanging banner had ignited, it was game over. But also, what if one of those torches were to fall off it’s staff and in amongst the crowd? That would be the same as throwing a match onto a pile of dry leaves with gasoline! The addition of the very eerie instrumental track, ‘Kaliyuga’ playing in the background created an atmosphere both tense and anxious. Eventually, they all made it the front of the stage as the band members jumped up on top to take over their instruments. Now picture a row of torch bearers lined up facing the crowd at the front of the stage while flames hover above a flammable ocean of spikey Robert Smith haircuts. Suddenly, I notice one of them about to fall off, and begin shouting ‘PUT ‘EM OUT! PUT ‘EM OUT!’ hoping that Labrava can hear me and will relay this to the torch bearers. You can hear this clearly on the video. Crucially, he heard my screaming, saw what I saw, and proceeded to march the fire starters promptly out the door. Suddenly, Jaz appears. The concert with the most dangerous intro ever staged begins, and the rest is history.
You can see a link to this actual episode mentioned here:
If you had to pick two songs from the band that were an inspiration for this book, which would they be and why?
Oh thats a question I’d never expect to get, nor have I ever thought about before! Well, one of them would be an easy choice: “Are You Receiving.” This track is both my all time fave KJ song as well as the first one I ever heard by the band. That means it was the song to kick it all off for me regarding Killing Joke, and ultimately, the book.
The other one might be “Darkness Before Dawn,” which lies at the other end of the spectrum musically. I suppose this song’s mature, beautiful, yet powerful melody with brilliant lyrics, best reflects the way I’ve portrayed the bands individual personalities.
I might mention as well, that there is an as yet unreleased track I filmed/photographed being performed and recorded during the Pylon sessions that didn’t show up on the album. I was blessed to see Geordie laying down the finished guitar parts for it, together with Youth on bass in the studio. My wife Pia was there with me and we looked at each other like, ‘holy fuck!’ the first time we heard it. It was easily the most epic track I think they’ve ever written, possibly Geordies most grandiose riffing, and I say, it better damn well appear on a future album! Much of this entire session appears in the book as well.
How would you describe the brotherhood amongst the members of Killing Joke, and what kind of emotions did you feel while documenting them?
There is no question that these four talented individuals share a common outlook on the world which is reflected by the almost indistinguishable lyrics of both Jaz and Paul. On the other hand, Jaz, Geordie, Youth and Paul couldn’t be further apart from each other in certain areas of their individual personalities. Well, aren’t we all as human beings. But to give you a sense of feedback in a simple, non rock-star way, let’s say we were playing a game of, ’Name The First Thing That Comes to Mind’ with only a second to reply. I’d describe them thusly: Jaz, bold and vocal. Geordie quiet and relaxed. Youth the poet, and Big Paul the gentleman. All of them, despite the angry, heavy, serious music, are equally filled with a whole lotta love and humour. But still, as the hours drag on, they can be very, very hard on each other, with a sometimes dark cloud of tension filling the air. Yet somehow without fail, they always seem to find that magical moment (perhaps at a tea break) where the ice is cracked by a joke or two, transforming the collective mood to one of joy and laughter.
Seeing the band behind closed doors and in song-writing environments is completely different than that onstage of course. There is a unique magic that happens when they play together no doubt about it. But on the personality front, there are peculiarities one must be aware of and adapt to, when doing something as intimate as photographing/filming them in various environments. For example, Geordie is very unpredictable. He is always aware of your presence even when you think he doesn’t see you. He seems to have eyes like a fly – on all sides! One time while he was recording a guitar track, I was off to the side and slightly behind him with my film camera. I was making a very slow panning move from the side – and in the dark at that. There was no way he could even know I was there. Or at least, thats what I thought. A couple minutes in, Geordie puts down his guitar, stares me straight in the face and yells, “Mont – if you’re going to be here, stop moving around!” Shock! How does he do that? But also, despite this kind of thing happening more than a few times, he has never, ever told me to leave or stop what I was doing. Another time, while onstage during a gig, Geordie actually pretended to step on my camera while I was laying down on my back attempting to get a dramatic shot of him. This photo of the bottom of Geordies foot is actually included in the book! Really, it’s nothing more than his dark humour at play, even a sign of respect and friendship — but it can be unsettling at times!
The quality of the “Twilight of the Mortals” book is unreal – can you talk about how important the presentation was for you and the band?
It’s really great to hear how impressed CVLT NATION is for Twilight of the Mortals! Generally speaking, there are two elements that determine the perceived quality in a completed product, or in this case a coffee table sized photo book. The most important one is the quality of the content itself. If that isn’t there, there is nothing — no matter what the paper quality or packaging. This includes the general design, choice of colours, typeface choices, logo/title and of course, most importantly the strength of the photographs themselves. If these elements are strong, even poor quality materials will take on a perception of high quality. But, if both the content and materials are of superior quality together, the combination is a recipe for something truly special. I believe that this is what has been acheived with Twilight of the Mortals. For me, an exceptional band like Killing Joke deserves an exceptional effort for any production that bears its name.
What kind of personal sacrifices did you have to make in order to get this book made?
Well, that is a deep question indeed, but I’m going to be completely honest with you. I literally gave up my full time job of 20 straight years to devote myself to the creation of this book. That alone was a huge sacrifice, but there was far more than that. To achieve something of this nature, full time focus is necessary. It is why something like this is so rare – who has the time or resources to dedicate to the effort — not many to put it mildly. That meant seven days a week, more hours per day than you’d ever believe, no holidays or weekend breaks, and very little family time if any. It was simply not possible to do this in a ’spare time’ life structure, because there was no such thing as spare time. Age-wise, it was a ‘now or never’ scenario as well, and crucially, my wife Pia fully backed and encouraged me to do it, despite knowing this was going to take a lot of time and even more lost income. What could possibly go wrong. My expectations were that this project wouldn’t take more than 6 months to complete — maximum. Unfortunately, it ended up dragging on for almost 2 very difficult years and by then, there was no chance to reverse course even if I had wished to. Halfway in, financial jeopardy reared its ugly head and Pia and I wound up losing everything we ever owned to our names. Everything as in everything. When I began this project, ‘sacrifice’ was certainly expected, but we had no idea that it would mean we’d have to literally start life over from scratch! On the positive side, fans and critics have shown an amazing love for the results, and even more importantly, the band has as well. In that way, we are happy and positive for the future.
Considering the state of the world now compared to what it was when the band first formed, how important do you think a band like Killing Joke is to underground culture?
The biggest difference between ‘back then’ and now, is without a doubt the digitalising of the world and in particular, the internet. We’ve gone from the ‘information age’ to the ‘misinformation age.’ Because of ultra-short attention spans today, and the ability to cherry pick whatever subject, position, point of view etc that one so desires — regardless of the facts at hand — the once-upon-a-time goal of seeking the truth has been replaced by simply jumping to whatever side fits one’s comfort zone best. We’ve been both ‘dumbed down’ in our quest for the truth, and ’numbed down’ in our threshold for what tolerance we have for violence. Reality has been replaced by whatever message lurks inside a square box that randomly pops up on our so-called, ‘news feed.’ News feed? This is frightening stuff – take me back to the 80s haha!
Killing Joke has had, from the day they were formed, a message that accurately reflects the darker side of the world at hand. It should be no surprise then, that their popularity today is greater than ever – because their reflection of the truth in a sleeping, misinformed world is needed more than ever. They are a genuine source of everyday survival for many, something mainstream culture would never understand. Its always been frustrating for me however, to know that even in the world of ’the underground’ media, Killing Joke is criminally under appreciated, and in many cases ignored completely, unless ie. it is to mention the anniversary of ‘Love Like Blood.’ Its one of the reasons I’m such a fan of CVLT Nation and its readers because Killing Joke – in all it’s forms – has been a regular feature here, not just their universal hit single. CVLT was even the first media outlet to cover my short film documentary, ‘Chapter Big Paul Ferguson’ back in 2015. So thanks again to CVLT Nation for all that, and for this interview regarding Twilight of the Mortals.
Any closing thoughts you want to share with CVLT Nation readers?
Many thanks to those CVLT readers whom have already ordered their copy, and especially thanks for all the love and support shown during what has been a long journey of hard work and sacrifice! And for those readers with a passion for Killing Joke who are only finding out about this now, and would like to own something that brings you closer to the band than ever thought possible, please check out the website and see if Twilight of the Mortals doesn’t live up to all your expectations — and beyond.