KMFDM Sascha Konietzko interview

It’s hard to believe that KMFDM have been around for 30 years, as with each new release they bring fresh new life into their “ultra heavy beat” sound. Their latest is “Our Time Will Come,” an extremely tight album that features an interesting assortment of guest collaborators. In a phone interview, KMFDM leader Sascha Konietzko talked about the new release, the upcoming KMFDM sound library, and more.

Compared to other albums, what was the process of making “Our Time Will Come” like?

“Well, every album is different from every other one. This one was marked by the fact that we interrupted the making of it three times to do various tours. We toured the US twice in 2013, and we did a European tour. So we were in the studio on and off. That sort of created a problem in a way, in the sense that when you’re working on something you’re focused on and go away from it, then you’re kind of like ‘eh, where was I?.’ But it was also good, because coming back to it after a while really sort of lets you focus a bit better on what it is that you have there, and where there are areas that need some help. So, it was a big hodgepodge, more so than ever. And even more so than ever, lyrics were written and found to be good but not working with a particular track. So stuff that was written for one track was used on another track.”

Do you feel that the time on the road influenced the album, in terms of perhaps audience reaction to particular old songs, or just the energy of playing live?

“Probably, yeah. You can’t really sequester yourself from the influences in the timeframe that you’re working on an album. That’s impossible, pretty much. That’s why sometimes in the past, I really tried the sort of hermetic approach, just really not watching anything, not listening to anything, just trying to let this shit come out of my head. But, this time there was a lot of influx happening. In a way, it was interesting because the live band had very little to do with the making of this album. This was largely just produced by Lucia and myself. Jules was playing guitar on the tracks, but it’s not so much a rock and roll album in that sense.”

Since the making of the album was broken up, did you tend to finish batches of tracks between tours, or was the whole thing just evolving all along?

“I think the average number of tracks I’m working on with each album is thirteen to fifteen, and then ten or eleven make it on the album. With this one, I was probably working on twenty-five or thirty tracks at some point. I’d put things down and then, having not listened to it for four months, I’d come back and go ‘nope, this is crap, just erase.’ It also feels very different to me because normally I really can’t wait until the time when I don’t have to listen to it anymore. Once it’s in mastering and it goes into production, I’m like ‘ok, I’m done with this one.’ This album somehow is still on heavy rotation in the car, and I’m discovering things where I’m going like ‘this is different.’ There are always a bunch of people going ‘yeah, this is KMFDM, they always do the same shit.’ On the one hand, that’s kind of what is expected from KMFDM, but on the other hand, I beg to differ. The approaches are very different each time, and this one still strikes me as being quite experimental in some ways.”

Do you feel that KMFDM being an established act has changed your approach to making albums, compared to when you were starting out and perhaps striving to find your audience?

“I don’t really think about the fact that maybe KMFDM is established. I’m just really making music because I like to do it. If you’re a young band, yes, you have to expand and really find your way, figure out which niche to live in, find out where people appreciate what you’re doing. But for an established artist, you have people saying ‘oh come on, why does it sound like the Rolling Stones after forty years?’ So yeah, why the fuck does it sound like KMFDM? At the same time, I’m not stupid. I don’t want to do something paint by numbers and do the same shit all the time. If you’ve been witty once, next time you’d better be wittier. From the reactions I get from some people, I get the idea that they probably don’t really listen to music anymore, and just sort of revel in hearing themselves talk. I make music, I don’t review it, I don’t promote it. I just make music and go on the road, that’s my schtick.”

Especially since the making of the new album was broken up by touring, were you thinking about how music will come across live while working on it?

“When the album is done, for the most part, I’m thinking ‘I guess this song is going to go over pretty well,’ but in the past I’ve been mistaken more than I have been right. For instance, on the last album I thought that “Pseudocide” was going to be a killer live track, and it just didn’t come across at all. I know for a fact that on this one, “Brainwashed” is going to be where everyone is just going to head bang. Even though it’s slow, it’s going to be the mosh pit from hell. ”

“Salvation” utilizes parts of “Naive” – what made you do that?

“I was working on transfers from the old 16 track tapes, and I was thinking, hmm, somehow this needs to be inserted into one of the tracks on the album. And finally, I got it, ‘Salvation,’ that’s it. Of course at first I thought a sample would do, but it turned out that ‘Naive’ was in a totally different tuning than ‘Salvation,’ so I was like hey, you know, this is totally KMFDM, this is what we need to do. ‘Salvation’ was one of the tracks that was surgically taken apart and put together several times in the process of things. There were elements of it that I really liked, but the approach to it wasn’t right until basically the day before mastering. Everything is live until the morning when the guys in LA wake up and go ‘It’s time to master the KMFDM album!'”

Were you able to work on new music while on the tours?

“It’s kind of hard to do that. I did it once, with Tim Skold when we worked on the ‘Adios’ album. We actually had an extra tour bus with a studio in it. But touring, playing live, is a whole different animal. It’s not really compatible. But what I did, though, was bring all the tracks in the various states of completion, or incompletion, with me and popped them on in headphones when I went to bed. So I jotted down some ideas. But for me, with all the rigors that come with life on the road, it’s not really time to write or focus on making [new] music, it’s for performing.”

Why was it primarily you and Lucia making the album? Why not the live KMFDM band members?

“It was kind of like, well, there’s no compromise here [laughs].”

There were quite a few collaborations on the album. Could you talk about some of those?

“A friend of mine is Mickey Duwe from Ash Ra Tempel. He performed on at least one Ash Ra Tempel album with Timothy Leary. And he had his own band which probably means nothing to American ears – Mickey D’s Unicorn. This is like krautrock, early 70s. He and I were talking and I asked ‘so, do you sometimes still play that space guitar’ and he was like ‘I sure do!’ So I said ‘well, here’s a track.’ That was part of the problem with ‘Salvation’ because it had so many influences from so many different corners and angles. To get it all to come along smooth like it does now, it was just an uphill battle. Another guy was someone I met, just by chance, because I needed a piece of equipment that broke. I found someone who had it on ebay and I emailed the guy and said I was in the middle of production and I need this thing, can you expedite it? He said ‘oh, what band?’ and we became tight friends. It was a MIDI interface, a relatively old fashioned piece of equipment. That was Tom Stanzel. He and I collaborated on two tracks, “Make Your Stand” and “Respect,” where he does some vocals, too. Other collaborations were with William Willson from Legion Within, from Seattle. And my old buddy Pontor Vodox who had a P-funk band back in the early 80’s – I jammed with those guys before KMFDM even existed, and we’re still friends even though we don’t see enough of each other. His specialty is basically killing a guitar, very slow and painfully. So he did that, he just completely killed a guitar and recorded it, and we went and sped it up. I thought, I wonder what that sounds like four times as fast? And that became the funky guitar part at the end of ‘Get the Tongue Wet.'”

Going into the making of the album, did you have themes in mind that you wanted to encompass lyrically?

“The album had a number of approaches, graphically speaking, and hence a number of working titles. There was so much going on this past year that I was totally torn, I was like ‘what is this going to be?’ One of the working titles was ‘Blood Versus Money’ but ‘Our Time Will Come’ was the winner. Because it’s so ambivalent, it depends on who YOU are, and what you mean, you know?”

Did you have a strong idea of the overall sound that you wanted for the album? What determined which songs didn’t make it on?

“Image a track going westward in the old settler days. Eventually some fucking oxen or horse will lay by the wayside, and you just have to move on. They just didn’t make it, for whatever reason. They were too fast, or too slow, or didn’t groove.”

Is it a challenge combining heavy music with strong pop hooks?

“I think that is one of the specialties of KMFDM, it’s one of the standing traits of this band to combine melodic female vocal choruses with hard-hitting industrial or metal or whatever. It’s just something that I think works really well if it’s done right. I’ve heard examples of it being not done right, and it’s pretty terrible. I think that sort of playing with pop elements, but not really going into it all the way, is kind of fascinating and creates a tension. It’s kind of like swimming with great whites, but without the cage.”

Do you ever worry about KMFDM  being pigeonholed, given that the strong melodic aspect of your music allows it to crossover to audiences other than those who might follow dark electronic/aggressive music?

“I think it does crossover, it’s just not widely publicized or recognized that it does. And I have to say, since KMFDM starting getting press, I’ve seen so many fashions in interviews and reviews. Journalism is changing as much as music is. I don’t really listen to what people think, I listen to what I think. The feedback I get from the people that come to shows and hang out and come up and talk – that is worth more to me than to read a review in, say Rolling Stone. Basically, everybody can be an authority in the field that they are active in. That fact is the reason I started doing KMFDM; I was thinking my whole teenage life ‘how come these people are on stage and get to wear cool clothes and play and get all the girls and shit.’ At some point, it dawned on me, this punk rock mentality. If you do what you want to do, and if you do it convincingly, then that’s the ticket. It’s important to me what our fans have to say, and that really is the core of KMFDM.”

Could you talk about the KMFDM sound collection you’re working on?

“I’m working on feverishly putting together the sound library of all songs of KMFDM. We’re talking sounds, not vocal or guitar performances, so this thing will have loops, drums, basses, electronics, Synthesizers, leads, all that kind of stuff that is the meat and potatoes of the tracks.”

What inspired you to do it?

“I thought that it would be really cool to make that available to people, because I know for a fact that a lot of KMFDM fans are dabbling in music to a certain extent, whether it’s just putting stuff together on laptops or working professionally. It’s also a statement in terms of nothing being sacred, nothing is holy. This shit was made for you, so here you have it. Obviously there will be some sort of price tag on it to warrant the time and effort that I’m putting into it, because I’m going at this meticulously.”

Have you been surprised at all, going back through the components of old tracks?

“It’s totally inspiring, I’m finding out about things that went into these songs at any given stage in KMFDM’s life, where I am just blown away. I made notes on some tracks going ‘wow! I’ve got to dig this one up.’ Nineteen studio albums is, I guess…let’s just say it’s fifteen years of compressed energy and focus. It’s cool, and something that shouldn’t be lost in the archives. It should inspire people to work with the sounds, free of license, and have some fun with it. Whether you want to remix or remake your own versions, or just have a go at it.”

Do you have a sense as to when we can expect it?

“Well, I’ve been really cautious talking about the ‘when’ because every day I’m working on it, I’m opening more cans of worms. Today, I just got my hands on a sequencer program I used in the 90s, and lo and behold, all of a sudden I can open all of these sequences. So, there might be a plethora of MIDI files that can be made available. I also found my SYSEX files for some of the instruments that I used at the time, where I saved the settings. So now the question is maybe can I find some of these instruments in working order and get them to sound just like they did in back in the day? Obviously, there are limitations. The first album, ‘What Do You Know Deutschland,’ that was recorded in a professional studio but we were so poor that we had to record over the actual tape in order to make ‘Don’t Blow Your Top.’ So the masters for that are completely gone. All I have are some sample libraries. But each record following that one has more stuff that was preserved for the afterlife, so to speak.”

Do you have plans to tour again?

“We’re working right now on a tour to be put together; something like late spring or early summer.”

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