KMFDM: technology, I hate you, I love you

KMFDM is an acronym that represents one of this oldest, more prolific industrial metal bands. This year, the combo led by Sascha Konietzko makes its way without weakening, armed with a new album entitled WTF?! whose quality and variety are exemplary, as usual. Here’s maybe KMFDM’s secret: not caring about trends or rules, and making it through the ages without having any limits while others stumble reaching for them. Actually Sascha himself confesses that he never felt quite comfortable with the “industrial metal” label. All he did was trying to make the music he wanted to.

Unlike what one would think about a band like KMFDM, Sascha admits not being really interested by the current profusion of technology. He’d rather devote himself to the music, especially its creation, than to the more and more sophisticated means of doing it. A sense of priorities that contributes undoubtedly to this unique band’s longevity – almost thirty years!

The band’s mastermind Sascha Konietzko himself tells us everything about this and more, on the eve – literally speaking – of his European tour.


« If I do something and then a month later I listen to it and I’m not totally blown away, then I know that it’s not good and that it needs something. »

Radio Metal: From what I’ve read about the new album, it took 13 months from start to end to make. Can you explain the process that led to this album and why it took so long to make?

Sascha Konietzko: The process wasn’t really all that different. Typically what happens is: I start with little ideas for tracks, then over time it develops into songs. Once I have something going, I send it to my guitarist and my drummer in Florida, then to Lucia [Cifarelli] and they start working on it. But this time, it was kind of bad timing for the rest of the band members because they were on tour a lot with their own projects, so Lucia and I ended up working on it mostly by ourselves. And when you just don’t have people to bounce stuff off all the time, you start going into self-study mode. You just go like “mh, I wonder if this is really good or I’m just crazy…” So you start double-guessing yourself and it takes a long time, so what we did was change things around a lot. There were for instance some lyrics written for one track than we adapted to become the lyrics for another song. Some things were started and then completely redone… It just took a long time, but it was also a lot of fun. When I say “it took a long time”, it doesn’t mean that it was a drag or a burden. It was really cool. I knew it was gonna get better and better.

You say that you changed things around a lot… Why did you feel the need to re-work things over and over? Are you one of those eternally unsatisfyed artist?

Well, I’m definitely a person with a passion for details. If I do something and then a month later I listen to it and I’m not totally blown away, then I know that it’s not good and that it needs something. I’m very critical of my own work really. I’m a perfectionnist when it comes to final mixes. Everything as to sound just… perfect. And I think that with WTF?!, we really made a record that totally owns up to my standards because the last time I’ve heard any of the music was obviously when we played shows in the US, then yesterday I took out the album to refresh my memory because like I said, we’re starting a tour tomorrow, and I was like “hey man, that sounds fuckin’ great!” I’m really happy with it [laughs], so much for two being my own.

The name of the album is an exclamation meaning “what the fuck?!”. It’s expressing a kind of a shock. What are you shocked at?

This album, like many albums before, had different work titles, and then in the end you just go like “ok, the work title don’t really works with it”. “What the fuck?!” was just something that I said a lot when I was making this album, so in the end I just decided to call it WTF?!. It’s something that perfectly fits. It’s a very timely title, I think. If you just turn on the news right now, all you can say is “what the fuck?!” [laughs]

The song Panzerfaust is sang in italian, which is a first for the band. Apparently, it’s a remake of the song Lieberslied from the album Naïve, but what’s the story behind it?

It’s not a remake, it’s just a different interpretation of the lyrics that I wrote for Lieberslied in German language back in 1989. They were also recorded once in English, translated into English and became the song A Hole In The Wall. They’re just one of my favorite lyrics. I wanted to do a song in Italian. The first idea I had was to cover an Italian song I’d like a lot. Then I thought it would be much cooler to do something actually in Italian. So I started to look into lyrics that I had written previously and it just came to my mind… A friend of mine from Italy and I, we translated into Italian in such a way that it was actually lineable, singable, if you want. Then I just basically recorded yet another version of that idea. It’s actually my favorite song on the album.

It sounds like you like to try different languages. You had other languages in other songs in the past. What draws you into singing in other languages?

Well, first of all, I’m bilingual. I speak English just as well as I speak German. When KMFDM started in 1984, we had a singer who was from Indonesia, so the lyrics back in those days were in Indonesian, in German and in English. It always had this kind of international thing to it. Language is always very interesting to me because I don’t believe a certain language has to dull itself only to do only one thing. In French, you can do hard rock or rap just as well as you can do “chanson”. In Italian, you can sing lovesongs but you can also do some pretty dark stuff. Russian actually is not very suitable for industrial rock I found out [he laughs]. I think it’s important for KMFDM, it’s important for my work to cross language boundaries, barriers and to reach people that maybe just automatically won’t listen to English-only music. It’s very stereotypical to say that rock music has to be in English. I don’t think so. Some of the most rock-sounding songs than KMFDM has ever made are not in English.

« I support absolute and unlimited freedom of speech and information for everyone. »

The song Rebels in Control was made in support of Wikileaks…

No no, it was not actually. It was not made in support of Wikileaks. It was made a long time before that happened, but when Julian Assange was put in prison, that’s when I decided to release that song because I thought it was a total outrage. The lyrical content of the song had elements that were at the time reminding me of that situation. But it wasn’t written or intended to be in support to Wikileaks, no. I basically send a signal at the moment so that Julian Assange would be released. He was still emprisoned when I released that song. That was another “what the fuck?!” moment.

But yourself, do you support this?

I support absolute and unlimited freedom of speech and information for everyone, yeah.

Do you think that all the currently private and classified information should be brought to the knowledge of people?

Absolutely, because the people that compile and produce this kind of information are for the most part, democratically elected. They’re representatives of the people, so if they do something that is that fucked up behind the back of the people that put them into this place of power, then the public should definitely know about this.

So you’re for an open government.

Absolutely. The mistakes of the past can’t be undone, so we might as well hold it open. As they say, information is power. More power to the people.

The song “Vive La Mort!” is again a song in which you speak against organized religion. Can you further explain your opinion on this subject?

Organized religion is the source of all the bad stuff that’s happening in the world right now and all the bad things that have happened historically. I’m on the firm opinion that everybody should have freedom of belief, freedom of whatever they want to think, but as soon as it takes on the hysterical, faithless, radical christianity and extremist islamist movements, it’s just all becoming something that spreads tragedy and death in the world. That’s just a terrible thing. I’m as much against the Pope as I’m against those islamist types. They’re just preaching hate, destruction, intolerance, oppression of women, all that kind of stuff. It’s bullshit. We’re just a few people that live on this one planet. It’s pretty marvellous and unique. If we don’t understand this pretty soon, then it really would be a shame… Religion as such is a beautiful thing, call it religion, call it spirituality… I’ve got no problem with people that form in communities of the same beliefs. What I’m totally opposed to is the missionary aspect of organized religion. It’s one way or it’s no way. “It’s our way or it’s death.” : the crusades, the Albigensian crusades especially in southern France where the Cathars where murdered by tenths of thousands… Any form of organized religion that have a missionary dimension lie to us, it’s just totally destructive, inhumane and counterproductive, really.

WTF?! features several guests like Sebastian Komor. How was your collaboration with them, and how did it happen?

Sebastian and I have been in touch for several years, doing this and that together, little projects… He asked me to do some vocals on his latest Komor Kommando album on a track and then I asked him too because I love the stuff he does. He just manages to make things that speak to me. I’m always asking him “How do you do that? How did you get this one sound out of this one thing?” Whatever I try, I can’t get it, so I just asked “Hey, do a couple of things here to the drumtracks? Give it that sound. I love it.”, and he did! He lives in Canada and I live in Germany currently, and every couple of months we exchange something. So that was good! He’s a great guy.

Ok. And for the other guests?

Bill Rieflin is a very old friend of mine. He’s been collaborating with KMFDM very often over the years. Koichi Fukuda from Static-X and I got together over a remix that he did for the KMFDM Krieg remix album which I thought was astoundingly cool. I really liked what he did to the track that he remixed so I contacted him and said “hey, how about a little collaboration for a track for our new album?”, and he was very happy to do that.

« I have a telephone, a mobile telephone. And this mobile telephone doesn’t take pictures, and doesn’t play games. It just does one thing: it makes telephone calls. […] I like phones where the thing is actually attached by a chord to the body and you just dial with a finger [laughs]. »

KMFDM exists since 27 years if I’m correct. Do you think this longevity is the result of you doing your own thing without caring about fans?

Yeah, absolutely. For one it’s that, and secondly, certainly it came from the fact that KMFDM had had major success somewhere down the road and that wouldn’t ended up eating up the spirit too. It lives on the underground kind of cult status that is the view of the fans of KMFDM, and it lives on the absolute freedom that I have to do what I want, because I’m not bound to anyone contractually to do this or to deliver that. If I wanna put out a record tomorrow, I do it, and if I don’t, I don’t have to.

I suppose that KMFDM, as most industrial bands, rely heavily on technology. Technology has greatly evolved in the past 20 or 30 years. How has this impacted your way of making music?

First of all, the main thing that changed in the past 20-or-so years is that the access to work with technology has become affordable. Back when I started, everything electronic was costing a fortune. It was so expensive I couldn’t even dream of owning my own synthesizer. A sampler was costing something like 6000, 8000 deutschmarks. It was impossible to have something like that. Nowadays you spent 800 euros on a Mac laptop and you have your own techno studio sitting in your lap. Also, back in days we also had to go to studios. Studios were also quite expensive, and it also meant that you had to rush. Time was running out so you had to finish things up quickly so you can do everything. It’s been a good thing, but I think in the end it was really detrimental to the creative process. Over the years, I managed to, first of all, not have to go to studios anymore because I had my own studio, then later I downsized my studio so it became portable. Now I have everything and more that I had in a big recording studio 20 years ago, and just about more room in my house. I can make records, take all the time in the world to fiddle around and bring it to a state of perfection, nobody breathing down my neck, and it doesn’t cost me any extra money.

But do you think your music is so bound to technology that it wouldn’t have sounded the same today if there wasn’t this evolution technologically?

I think for the most part it would still be done with the same approach. Nothing has changed in the approach of how we do or how I do things when I make music. The point is that I’m not using software, synthetizers and stuff. I work on a platform, I’ve my ways and my own methods to go about shaping sounds and doing all the sound design. They haven’t greatly changed from the way I would have done the thing in the early nineties. I’m never running after the newest gadget, if that’s what you mean. I’m not a preset guy, I work mostly with synthetizers from the 70s’ and the 80s’. There’s very few digital screens in my studio.

KMFDM’s music is probably one of the most diverse in the industrial genre. Do you consider yourself more than a music lover in general rather than an industrial metalhead?

Yeah, the label “industrial” never really fitted me. It was first used when KMFDM came to America in 1989. People called this industrial music even though I always thought that industrial music was Throbbing Grittle, SPK, stuff like that. But apparently, the label “industrial rock” has kind of spread all across the world now. The roots of KMFDM lie totally elsewhere though. At first we did a lot of dub reggae and stuff that wasn’t really guitar-driven at all. It was just in the lates 80s’/early 90s’ that there was some sort of crossover and all of a sudden we found ourselves being compared with band like Ministry and so. I’ve never considered KMFDM any sort of genre, specific style or anything. It’s not very easy to pinpoint what KMFDM is, but I think that’s also part of our longevity.

You’ve mentionned in the past your attachement to the physical objects, whether it’s music or books. So how do you live the current progression of the digital format slowly replacing the physical format?

Well, I think I’m just sort of removing myself slowly from the influx of modern technologies. I find that to be more and more true. Some days I’m not even really interested in looking at my emails anymore because it’s just so boring, it’s always the same shit [he laughs]. I’m getting tons of emails a day and maybe twelve of them are actual emails in there. The rest is just, you know, fuckin’ russian women and viagra and “grow your dick longer” and “stop your dog from barking” and crap like that [he laughs]. To say it precisely: I have a telephone, a mobile telephone. And this mobile telephone doesn’t take pictures, and doesn’t play games. It just does one thing: it makes telephone calls. That’s all I expect from a phone, you know. I’m not travelling around with an Iphone or a Blackberry or anything, it just doesn’t interest me. I like phones where the thing is actually attached by a chord to the body and you just dial with a finger [laughs].

That’s actually far from the idea that people have of industrial metal musicians, because people think they are up to date with technology etc. and actually that’s not the case apparently!

It just seems to become as fast as a spiral. In the 80s’ and the 90s’ when I first got an Apple computer we got a new software maybe every two years, and now you have software updates every week or so. It’s like “get this”, “get that”, but frankly my day as only 24 hours as well, and there’s only so much time, and I’m not willing to spend so much time on chasing software updates and getting the newest gadget. I like to make music and I like to spend time with my family. That’s the kind of stuff that keeps me happy. To everyone their own. I totally understand and share the fascination for technological progress, it’s just that some of these devices, gadgets totally grade in useless. I’m just very much not a person who likes to read manuals, “manuels d’utilisation”. I hate them.

KMFDM family at Hellfest (French festival)

I’ve read you said you lived a rather isolated life. Is it music that isolates you or is it your personal choice?

I think it’s a little bit of both. Since I don’t go out much, I have a lot of time to work and I love working a lot, so… One dictates the other. I’ve a lot of friends, like everybody, I know a lot of people, I have few good friends and I like to spend time with them, but I don’t like to go out to bars and do small talk. I’m not chasing for a career or something like that. I’m not a networking dude.

During the Hellfest 2009, I saw you and Lucia with your child. Do you always bring her when you’re on tour?

Oh yeah! We’ve been traveling since she’s in this world. She’s been to 16, 17 countries already.

And how the fact of being parents changed the ideas you put in your lyrics or your way of thinking?

I think I had a lot of time to prepare myself to be a parent and it hasn’t really changed me that much. Of course it’s different so far as you have to have a third eye out on your child all the time. You always have to make sure that everything is cool, that you don’t do things too dangerous or too crazy, stuff like that. But other than that, in my mind, nothing changed. I don’t think so.

You have released in April an EP with your solo project called OK•ZTEIN•OK. What motivated this project?

When I was done with the WTF?! album, I had so many ideas still cooking around, so I thought I had to realize some of them before the thing gets cold. So I just jumped on it and knocked it all out.

You have also stated that you and Tim Sköld have plans to do a follow up to your 2009’s collaboration. Where is this project at, currently?

Currently, it’s on ice. Nothing has happened on the meantime. I’m very busy with what I’m doing right now, and Sköld seems to be quite busy too. He’s done a release with a bunch of other Skandinavian guys. Actually we haven’t spoke in quite some time. That’s normal, he and I are totally tight and crazy when we’re working together, then we don’t speak for several years and another cycle begins.

It seems that Tim Sköld has had a key role in the history of KMFDM. What do you like about working with him?

I wouldn’t say a keyrole. He did one song on the Symbols album, he and I did the entierty of the Adios album, then he contributed at like a couple of songs from Attack and after that he was off with Marilyn Manson for seven years. So I wouldn’t say “key” but at the time, definitely… Of course, we did MDFMK together. It’s like we jumped on the same train and rode it for a couple of years, then he had a big career opportunity, so he jumped on that with heart and soul.

Haven’t you ever thought about integrating him back in the band?

Right now it hasn’t really been brought to the table, no. When we did Skold VS KMFDM I said to him “Hey how about you come on the road and we do a couple of things?”, but he was just like “No, I don’t wanna be in a tourbus again.” To each their own…

Ok, that’s it for me. Do you have something to say, maybe about the tour that’s coming up in Europe?

Oh, I’m just looking forward to hit the road tomorrow. Everything is packed, I’m just sorting out the last little details here and there. Then tomorrow morning I’ll be shipping everything to the warehouse, and tomorrow afternoon the tourbus will show up and we’ll be on the road. My bandmates are on the plane right now from Seattle to New York, and tomorrow morning they’ll be here!

They all live in the USA?

Some of them, most of them actually. Jules [Hodgson] and Steve [White] live in Seattle, Andy [Selway] is in Florida. William is also in Seattle and Lucia and I are here.

Isn’t it complicated to work with people spread all over the world?

Nah, that’s just expensive [laughs]. You can only hope that there’s no volcano in Iceland that explodes or something. At least not until tomorrow morning.

Did you have any problem when there was this volcano errupting?

No, fortunately not. That happened at a time we weren’t travelling, thank god. That could totally ruin a tour, really.

Interview conducted un Sunday, October, 23rd, 2011 by phone
Transcription : Chloé

KMFDM’s official website : www.kmfdm.net

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