Ha! It has been already one year since Finnish author and journalist Jyrki “Spider” Hämäläinen’s heartwork, “Are You Receiving” – Killing Joke -biography saw the light of day as eBook. “Are You Receiving” is the first actual biography ever published about the cult band of post-punk and predecessors of noisy industrial rock. The physical hardback version of the book came out two months later to the digital one. Luckily, we got a chance to interview Jyrki about “the year of receiving”. Let’s go and find out, what he has been up to lately and how are we receiving today.
Hi Jyrki! Welcome to Chaoszine interview. How are you and what have you been up to lately?
Spider: Done some writing for Vive Le Rock magazine as usual and then I’ve also been working on a documentary about the d-beat/hardcore band the Varukers. I know the guys from my days in the UK when I played in Defcon Zero. We played at some of the same shows over the years and in fact the guitarist Biff was my next-door neighbour at one point when I was living in north London.
There are a couple of book projects I’ve discussed with a few publishers, but it is too early to say anything more about those at this stage.
It has been year since the digital release of “Are You Receiving?” How would you describe the time after your book was released?
Spider: Very exciting indeed. As it was the first book I published, it has been a great ride seeing how the reception to it has been around the world. Also, I’m very grateful that I got to give interviews to magazines, newspapers, radio shows, podcasts etc. globally. Had a brilliant talk and interview at the local library in Porvoo, Finland about writing the book, which was a great success. Covid put the brakes on some of these planned appearances elsewhere, which has been very unfortunate, but hopefully there will be more in the pipeline.
Also being recognised as an author by random strangers in the local supermarket has been very unexpected. Nothing brings joy as much as someone telling me they’ve purchased my book and enjoyed it.
What kind of response have you received from Killing Joke -fan community and press about the book?
Spider: Overwhelmed by the positive feedback I got from the book. When the first review appeared online a couple days after the publication of the eBook I felt a bit more relaxed as I wasn’t sure how it would be received. The reader gave it 5 stars and said “Surely this band are a journalistic dream for an author of this high standard? The work that must have gone into this is impressive. The reality on paper is a very well written and informative book which will be loved by people who get the joke.”
The gatherers, the dedicated fans, such as myself, have enjoyed the book and that was my main purpose as it means I managed to write a book that was able to satisfy the needs that were for a biography like this. Someone went as far as saying that it is “music book of the year for me”.
Vive Le Rock gave the book 8/10 saying “All KJ Fans need this. Receiving loud and clear!”. And while someone might say it might be nepotism other members of the press felt very much the same way. The book was honoured the main book review in prestigious Classic Rock where it was said that the “…the magic and madness surrounding Killing Joke seeps through…”. US publication Punktuation! said that it “is a well-researched book and a great read for any fan of Killing Joke – well worth getting your mitts on!” while the UK academic Punk & Post-Punk Journal said that “Are You Receiving? functions as a well-deserved retrospective for such an iconic band and a worthwhile ancillary release as fans endure the wait for new original music.”
Have you managed to make further contacts with the band (KJ) after the biography was released, if, please describe what sort of?
Spider: When I worked on a piece for Vive Le Rock earlier this year about the Killing Division (as it became to be known) project involving Jaz Coleman, Peter Hook (from Joy Division/ New Order) and Geordie I was meant to interview Jaz for it along with Peter Hook, but unfortunately Jaz was ill with covid at the time, so I didn’t get to ask him if he had read the book. Youth regularly likes posts regarding the book on various social media sites, so I’m assuming he has probably read it – or at least appreciates the fact that one got made.
Probably worth clarifying that this was a completely independent project and wasn’t done under the instructions or scrutiny of a label, management or the band themselves, which also means what I was able to do is to deliver a completely honest account based on the people who were there.
Been invited by the band’s publicist to attend their “Honour the Fire” -tour next year, so I can imagine anyone involved with the band has been pleased by the exposure the book has given the band.
What was the most valuable lesson you learned during the writing and publishing process?
Spider: Never give up. Believe in yourself. I had my doubts about the project many times as I didn’t have a publisher when I first started and a couple of possible publishers’ sort of fizzled out throughout the process, but I’m glad I got there in the end. Huge thanks to those over 20 people who gave their time to be interviewed etc. As Jaz Coleman said to me “Dive into the deep end and start fucking swimming.” That’s exactly what I did.
Worth nothing, I didn’t pay anyone for the interviews. As financial gain wasn’t the motivation behind this. It was a new challenge for me and I believe, like many others, their story was one that deserved to be told from all perspectives.
What subjects did you need to leave out of the book and why?
Spider: The publisher told me to shorten the book by about a fifth. This mainly meant trimming the chapters down. I think there was only one person whom I interviewed briefly, which got left out from the final version, but everyone else involved were included. Also, there were a couple instances that the person being interviewed got a bit carried away and said something they liked to have retracted, so I did so. I didn’t want to go and stitch anyone up, especially if they had so generously given their time for the project.
What was left out was a chapter about Youth’s work as a producer with the likes of Guns n’ Roses, the Verve and Pink Floyd. Also, I did interviews regarding some of the collaborations that the members had done with other bands such as Tribazik, but those are just side notes in the grand story of the Joke. Same goes for the other side projects the members have such as Jaz Coleman’s career as a classical composer, Big Paul Ferguson’s BPF, Brilliant, the Damage Manual etc. I mean I do mention this in the introduction of the book just to make it clear to the reader before we embark on the journey.
As the book was published to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the debut album, maybe there will be an updated and expanded version to celebrate the 50th anniversary with additional content. Who knows?
How has the book been selling globally so far?
Spider: So far there have been over 900 paperback copies that have been sold, so with the eBooks on top of that it would be over a thousand copies, which is far beyond my expectations. To put this in perspective your average music book sells about 300 copies. It has been one of the best-selling books New Haven Publishing have published and it is great to say so as they’ve published books by journalists such as Garry Bushell and Kris Needs as well. So, overselling some of the journalists that inspired me to write in the first place is of course fantastic. To say I’m over the moon about the success is still an understatement of how I feel.
Has “Are You Receiving?” Opened new doors for you on author’s coureer, and have you made new useful, professional contacts in due to the book release?
Spider: Well now dealing with publishers is different as I have published a book that has been extremely well received and I’ve proven that I’m able to pull a project like this together successfully. Also, I’m sure it is very apparent how effective I am when it comes to promotion as well. There is no doubt in my mind that at some point I’m going to write more music related books. I mean I’ve devoured music biographies and books my whole life, so I don’t think anyone was surprised that I’m now one of the authors of those. I have over 15 years of music journalism under my belt, so it was really only a matter of time.
In fact, if anyone has a project in mind that they think I’d be suitable for do not hesitate to get in touch! Always up for new suggestions – as well as feedback from the readers.
Have people’s reactions to the book release surprised you anyhow?
Spider: I’m positively surprised that with over 80 reviews currently on Amazon the book has the average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars. As I had my doubts if I had succeeded in what I was set out to do with the book. While Jaz Coleman wrote in the preface of his book “Letters from Cythera” that it wasn’t a typical rock ‘n’ roll biography I believe “Killing Joke: Are You Receiving?” fills that void.
I’ve very much enjoyed the e-mails and messages I’ve got from various fans and other journalists regarding the band and their experiences and stories. Killing Joke really are an important band to a lot of people. The fact that they were the subject of my first main cover feature in a magazine is apt that they were the subject of my very first book.
Do you have any future plans considering the author’s work, what will you be writing next about?
Your best wishes to Chaoszine readers
Thanks a lot for supporting the Finnish (and global) music scene. Great that you’ve launched the English version as well. And especially huge thanks to Mikko for reviewing the book and doing this interview. From your Killing Joke articles, I can tell you really know the band inside out and are definitely the man for the job.
Keep supporting independent publishers and publications! And don’t forget to laugh at your peril.Best regards,Jyrki “Spider” Hämäläinen
Thank you, Spider for the eye-opening interview from Chaoszine-crew. We wish you all the best in your future endeavours!