has spent the last 2 decades doing its best to stay under the radar. For some metal enthusiasts out there who don't delve into the synth rock scene, you may be saying, Job well done.
But the eclectic group has earned a dedicated group of fans that has carried the band through several revolving door
lineups and 16 studio albums. Among the multiple musicians to come and go from KMFDM, vocalist/sampler/programmer Sascha Konietzko
has been the only member to appear on every record and has essentially been the mastermind behind the project from day one.
While there are KMFDM devotees out there that may consider Konietzko
a musical genius, the German frontman is hesitant to take on such a title. Much to his fans surprise, he calls himself more of a producer than a musician. His latest record Tohuvabohu
is a credit to his production skills with its exploratory nature, dabbling in everything from metal to tradition club tracks and featuring several languages. And while Konietzko is the main man behind the prominent programming on the record, he told Ultimate Guitar
that he still lacks the whole aspiration type of thing
to commit to any other instrument besides his vintage synthesizers.
UG: In the liner notes of the latest album you mention that the title Tohuvabohu was a word that your mother used quite often growing up. Have you always intended to use that title in some capacity?
No, I had really pretty much completely forgotten about the word. Last year on tour for some reason I remembered it. The way it works for me is that whenever I have ideas, I would just jot it down on a piece of paper or something like a matchbook. After a while, I would find things in my pockets, like little stacks of things with ideas totally taken out of context. I have no idea what inspired it or whatever. But that's kind of how it goes. Out of these notes, that's always sort of the stem cell for lyrical ideas or just cool words or cool phrases, stuff that somehow peaks something in my head.
Does that on-the-spot inspiration happen for the music as well as the lyrics?
Oh, yeah. Among those scribbles, there are things that people would probably think is Morse code! It might be a dropped beat or something I hear sometimes. It sounds really stupid, but I would walk down a building site and there's something driving down a huge giant pole into the ground and there will be something that peaks me. I'll just jot it down that way.
There is often something to be said for an idea that just comes, and you really quickly get on it and capture it. Or there's something to be said for ideas coming and at that moment you jot it down and think, Well, I'm going to remember that for sure.
But after a few months you have absolutely no clue what it is. You don't even know if that's your handwriting!
Some might say that is a creative genius at work.
I think it might be the opposite in my case! They're little crutches that help keep your mind together.
On the opening track Superpower, it sounds like there is a lot going on in terms of instrumentation. How did it originally take shape?
|"I see myself more as the person that has this sort of catalytic thing to himself."|
Different songs have different approaches. On Superpower it existed as 2 or 3 little parts and it just had this slightly kind of funky vibe, like a little bit of hip-hop. I just didn't really get anywhere with it. Then totally unrelated, this idea came up. I thought it would be great to actually get real people's voices that say something that is not choreographed. So we started this KMFDM phone line, a 1-800 line where people could call and leave us messages. The question on the answering machine was, Leave us a message and tell us what KMFDM does for you.
It was based on the old KMFDM Light song, What we do for you, so good for you.
So what is it that we do for people? That was the idea and we got a couple hundred messages!
In the meantime, I had given the song to my guitarist, Jules (Hodgson). I had said, I don't know what to do with this. I think it's a good beginning, but I can't put the parts together.
So he came back with the track and pretty much the form it has now. So I had all these samples and sampled them, inspired the lyrics like a totally boisterous, self-tooting horn in a KMFDM song - one of those that so many people love to hate.
Principally in the past, there used to be 2 people that would start songs: me and Jules. On this record I said to the other 2 guys, Andy (Selway) and Steve (White), Why don't you guys come up with something?
Andy was twiddling around with a bit of a computer setup. As a drummer, he just never had the idea or the incentive to actually come up with a song. But I thought it would be really interesting to see what he would come up with. So ultimately on this record, it's not so much a cohesive album where everybody works on every song. It is really a compilation of collaborations. So Superpower is a Jules and Sascha song.
The record makes for a fascinating listen, particularly because you don't know what you'll get in the next song. For example, after a few club tracks the metal song Saft Und Kraft comes out of nowhere.
If you have a guitarist come up with a track, what will they do? They're going to say, Well, I want to do something where I can play a lot of guitar and I want it as fast as possible!
So when I got the song I was like, Wow, this is really, really clich in a way.
But then I realized, Well, the whole record is really thriving on a lot of clichs and it's really fun a there's a really good energy to it.
Then you juxtapose it with the most unlikely thing, a German lyric and it's a very un-metal juxtaposition of vocals.
Besides the German and American lyrics, you cover quite a few other languages on the album as well. What was the inspiration behind that move?
Yeah, the publicist sort of made it sound like we were in a contest to get as many languages into this album as we could! It was not even a thought. It was just at the end all of the sudden someone remarked, Man, there are a lot of different languages on that.
But never at any time had it been a goal to be like, Oh, let's cram in as many languages as we can.
Did you know all of the languages before writing the tracks?
As a European, I think you're more accustomed to trying a number of languages. I know pretty good Spanish, German, and English. So once you pick up a language, it's not really hard to at least pretend you can do it! Maybe I'll try myself at Russian and Japanese on the next one.
Growing up around the German music scene, was it a creatively inspiring environment?
I was playing in a school band at age 11 and played bass. I really didn't enjoy it all that much. I fiddled around with bands for a while in my early teens, and then at some point punk rock came around. That was sort of, Here we go!
It kind of was very short-lived and then in the early 80s, pretty much everything that was around was relatively boring. I remember Mark Stewart and The Mafia, and maybe Sisters of Mercy were cool in the beginning. Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, that was about the highlight. There was this void, where none of the music I really wanted to listen to was made by anyone. So we just started. Kids that we were, we just sort of basically took the piss out of everything. Nothing was serious and everything was just fun. I would have never thought that it would catch on the way it did!
How does it feel to still be a working musician over 20 years later?
I think the key to it is that I actually am not a musician. I'm not a player. I'm not a master of any instrument. I see myself more as the person that has this sort of catalytic thing to himself. Whenever I want to do something, I think that I can organize people to do it and I can raise the funds to see the project through. There's mixing and popping out a couple of synthesizer bits here and there or do some programming. But I'm not the musician. I'm lacking the whole aspiration type of thing.
So would you consider sampling or programming a musical talent?
I think it's more like a producer quality. If someone plays me their guitar, I hear what is good and right. I know when it's not quite done yet. But that's not really a musician quality, I think.
What type of equipment do you use for your studio programming?
I have a small array of old, vintage synthesizers such as Korg MS-20s. I'm using Korg MS-20s, 2 of them with an SQ-10 Sequencer. A Sequential Circuit Pro-One, which is an old monophonic keyboard from '81 or so. An Access Virus, which is a newer, hybrid synth and a bunch of little boxes stacked together. I'm running a Pro Tools setup.
Basically, the way we work is with 3 rooms. One is the Black Lab Studio, where we do all the guitar, bass, and drum work. We have the remix room, which is the Pigsty, where Andy and Steve live and work. Then you've got my studio, which is where all the vocals are done and everything comes together. Everything is produced in the rooms and ends up on my desk in the end. That's where it all gets put together.
Do you find it necessary to interconnect the vintage synths with a more contemporary Pro Tools setup?
|"The publicist sort of made it sound like we were in a contest to get as many languages into this album as we could!"|
It's a matter of necessity, really. If I wanted to stay strictly in the old-school analog world, I would need a lot of room and tape machines. I would spend a lot of time calibrating tape machines and all that kind of stuff. So Pro Tools really is a platform where you can work broadband. It's especially important for us to be exchangeable, so if I'm working on something and I want the boys to add something to it, I just take the hard drive and go over there. It's 5 minutes away from and I just drop off the drive. Then they are continuing to work exactly where I left off a half an hour ago.
How hard is it to recreate your sound during the live show?
It's not really hard at all. It takes some time in rehearsals and obviously the drummer has to get his bearing on a lot of stuff. Especially on this record, there isn't really that many live drums. On the 2 previous albums, we had a lot more real drums. I wanted to get away from that sort of live drum feeling because it automatically makes thingsI don't know. I want to say metal sounding. That was not really the course I wanted to take with this album. Other than that, it's basically programming the sampler and bringing the gear up.
Do you filter your vocals through any type of effect?
There are very little effects on the vocals, besides the classic combo of the delay and reverb. Every once in a while, there is flanging or a little chorusing effect. There is a slight distortion on pretty much everything to make it cut better. But live, I work with minimal vocal effects setup. It's basically a delay and a reverb.
Does Lucia Cifarelli (vocals) play any instruments?
She plays the piano and keyboards, but she is mostly more inspired to do lyrical stuff. She basically leaves the musical development of the tracks to us, to her boys,
as she calls us. She works out arrangements and stuff, lyrics and other things.
Even with the band's tradition of a revolving lineup, could you foresee working with the current band indefinitely?
Yeah. I could, indeed. When it was the revolving door thing you never really knew what to expect. Well, I never knew exactly how far or how hard I could thrive with the guest collaborators before it was asking too much or they would get pissed off or something. I think, for me, the part I really like about this lineup is that I know exactly that these people will go through the fire for me and I would do the same for them.
That was something that was always missing in the old days, where it was more like sort of a loose thing. You would always run the risk of someone getting pissed or saying, I'm off. I'm just taking the next plane home.
And obviously with the situation with the band on the road, with like 3 buses and a couple of trucks and what not, if the guy that is the guest lead singer goes back to England, it's not really fun!
Are you planning on setting up a tour in support of the latest record?
There was a bit of thinking going on, What are we going to do? Are we going to continue with what is expected of us - the sort of make a record and go back on the road? Are we going to take a break from that?
The decision was made to take a break from that. So we're not going to be touring this year. I just packed up my belongings and I will be moving to Germany in the next 3 months. We will start building up our fan base in Europe for the next year. The next year's tour is schedule for the 25th anniversary, which is early 2009.
Are the wheels already turning in terms of what kind of production you'll have for the 25th anniversary show?
The wheels are definitely turning! The idea was that we toured 5 years consecutively pretty heavily in the US, in Canada, in Europe and Australia and Russia. If we continued it, there would be no build up to the 25th anniversary. Since absence makes the heart go fonder, we just decided to take this year and next year off, at least in the US. Then we'll come back with a big surprise for the 25th anniversary.
Do you anticipate larger venues as well?
|"The genre of music that KMFDM is representing is not everybody's cup of tea."|
To talk shop with you, there are certain rules over every aspect of this operation. First of all, the genre of music that KMFDM is representing is not everybody's cup of tea. So there are certain limitations. Obviously, if someone came in with a management attitude, they would probably go, Well, you should be on David Letterman and double your fan base.
But that's not really how KMFDM works. It's been very underground and very sort of, shall we say, elitist for the past 23 years. Elitist not in the sense that it's meant for a few, but it is guarded by the few that know it. Some might be reluctant to share it.
I have spent more time and effort to avoid mainstream exposure to KMFDM than I have actually spent gaining it. So that said, there are rooms in the country that we are meant to play for and there are certain places I know we should try. I know there is not going to be all of the sudden 4,500 people coming out of the woodwork. I know there is going to be 1,600 in that market. So we'll play somewhere for 1,200 and make sure the place sells out. That way you're always welcome back.
So are you the brains behind the whole operation?
It wouldn't have lived that long if there wasn't some sense that we kind of know what we're doing!
If there is one thing that definitely sticks out, it's the fact there is almost a cinematic or video game quality to your music.
What I'm a little surprised about is that we've submitted global copies of it to a bunch of film companies, game companies. What I'm surprised by is that people aren't jumping on songs as soundtracks. It's kind of weird.
The title track definitely sounds like it's meant for a video game.
Yeah, it's a total gamer song! On the other hand, it just got released. So give us time, I suppose. If I didn't feel as good as I do about it, I probably would be touring it. I think it's a strong album to say, Here it is and see you soon.