Most of us know Richard Kuspe as the mastermind behind the massive Rammstein guitar sound. Recently, Rammstein announced that they would be "taking some time off" as a band while they release some long awaited live DVDs. The news might sound like bad news to Rammstein fans as the band has not released new material since 2009, but there is some silver lining.
When you have someone as driven as Richard Kruspe, "taking time off" just doesn't seem like an option. Rather than taking a sunsoaked vacation to a tropical island, he will be gearing up for the sophomore release of a side project called Emigrate. The project sees Richard taking up singing duties (in English) and expanding his guitar tone beyond the confines of the Rammstein sound. The new album, titled "Silent So Long," also features guest appearances by Lemmy Kilmister, Jonathan Davis and Marilyn Manson.
In the following exclusive interview, Richard talks to us about the new Emigrate album which is to be released October 17th 2014. He also talks about the album's guests and gives us a glimpse into the Rammstein studio experience.
UG: You're a busy guy; I appreciate you taking some time to chat today.
RK: It has been busy. On top of the new album and everything, I'm building a house at the moment and it's the biggest challenge in my life. Have you ever done construction before?
I did work construction for a while, building houses and I'm hoping to start building my own house next year.
Good luck. We have a saying in Germany; the first time you build, you should build for your enemy, the second time you should build for your friends and the third time you build, you should build for yourself. There is a lot of wisdom to that, I tell you that.
Are you back living in Berlin now?
Yeah, I moved back about three years ago. I became a father again and I decided that New York is not a good environment for the little one. I was in New York for some promotion a couple weeks ago and I realized it was a good move for me. I still miss New York and it brought some of the best things out of me but family wise, it was definitely the right decision.
The first album in 2007 seemed to be heavily inspired by that move to New York.
Yeah it was quite interesting. I was kind of surprised how rocky the first record sounded. I called the first album the New York record and the second one the Berlin record because I was picturing myself to be darker and moodier and more electrified which is how the second album ended up sounding. I guess I needed to move back to Berlin to get some of those elements back into my music.
What ultimately made you decide that the time was right for a new Emigrate album?
Depression. Big depression. I just came out of a Rammstein tour and I was really down. I constantly write music, it's not like I decided that it was time for a new album and started writing. So I'm constantly writing and I remember about two and a half years ago I was going through the folder of all the stuff I had written and it got quite inspired and it brought me out of the mood I was in. So I called the family and said let's get together and see what we have here. So we spent about two months in Berlin just doing a lot of listening and changing things here and there and we decided that it was time to make a record. On the first record I thought that Emigrate should be an open source, the opposite of Rammstein, basically. Somehow I lost track by being too busy refining a sound of my own. Like becoming a singer and being a singer, there is a big difference between the two, I learned. I needed the last 7 years to learn to be a singer. I also needed the confidence to reach out to all of the great musicians that those tracks were asking for. So everything I was looking for on the first record, I've found on the second record and its brought me to a point where I can now see a future for Emigrate, which is something I've never seen before. Also, this is the first time in my life I feel like there's nothing I want to change in a record. That's quite rare in my life because I've done a lot of records and there's always something I would listen to later and want to change. It's a very good balance in my life right now. It's almost scary. I always feel like sh-t, man, now I'm too happy, what's next?
People are very excited about the new album. You've also mentioned in the past that you would not tour with Emigrate, has that changed?
I don't really think about things like who I want to target. I'm kind of selfish in that way. I'm like the guy in the stock market when everybody runs one way, I run the other direction. That's what I do in music. I think that right now we're living in a time where there's so much music out there but the quality sucks. The reason why is because there is no time or money for making good records. Everything becomes a promotional tool for those bands. They do video promotion and record promotion and all these promotions and then they are apparently supposed to invest in their live show too. It isn't gonna happen. I have the privilege that I have a big band that gives me the money to do good records and have the time for it where there's no pressure from anyone else besides myself telling me what to do. So making records is the main focus of what I want to do. But now there's a lot of demand and a lot of people contacting me and they want to have Emigrate play live. I just haven't really had the urge because I have a perfect balance in my life; I have Rammstein with the big show and then I have Emigrate making good records. I'm quite happy with the situation at the moment. Also, how do you compete with a band that has one of the best live shows? So for now, Emigrate is a studio band. There are some little plans that are growing but I haven't planned anything regarding playing live.
I would imagine that the studio experience with Rammstein would have to be somewhat enjoyable.
No. No way. It's not. Not for me anymore. It works but I went through a lot of suffering. I love Rammstein and the way that we work is the only way that it works and I understand that. But especially being in Emigrate and realizing what kind of person I am, I like to be the one who is in control and has the last say on things. It makes me a better team player at the end of the day. Rammstein is so democratic and often decisions are being made because of the egos, not because of the music and I don't have that in Emigrate. It makes the studio experience so much more pleasurable in Emigrate than in Rammstein. But there is a responsibility that we have, being in a band like Rammstein. So if you're asking if I enjoy recording with Rammstein, no I don't.
That must make recording with Emigrate all that much more freeing. That's why people have side projects, I suppose.
Yes. It brings me the balance to still me in Rammstein. Without Emigrate I couldn't even think of staying there, now it's doable for me. Emigrate balances me out which is something I was always looking for.
One thing I'm really excited about with the Emigrate record is the slew of amazing guests that are featured on there. How did those guys come into the mix?
Well, as I said before, I always wanted Emigrate to be an open source where people can come in and leave as they like. It's not like a band of six guys and that's it. So I was missing those elements I grew up with in East Berlin where there were so many bands coming out every day and everyone was doing music together. Rammstein was the opposite of that. It was a really close environment and it worked but I longed for doing something else. Now this is a great opportunity for me to reach out and collaborate with people. So when we did the record, we didn't have a list of people. We just really listened to the tracks and the tracks would lead us to singers. Sometimes it was really easy and sometimes it was full of drama. Every song has a different story. For example Lemmy [Kilmister], I had a little pop song and it sounded like a mix between Depeche Mode and Motorhead so I was like, which one should I ask, Dave [Gahan] or Lemmy? I went for Lemmy but he was really sick and he was cancelling shows and I didn't see him being able to do it. A couple days later, I found an email with Lemmy's voice on my track. There was no explanation, no comments, nothing. That just describes the guy, you know? I've got a lot of respect for him, man.
You just can't stop that dude.
No, he doesn't stop and also there's no f--king drama with that guy. He's just so grounded. When you hear the song, you can hear that his voice is a little shaky but it gives such and emotional attachment to it. With Johnathan [Davis] we had met back on the Family Values Tour in 1997 but I couldn't really speak English so there was not so much of a communication going on. So later on we saw each other again and he's really busy, he's got a lot of stuff going on. There was this one song I had in mind and I reached out to him but it was hard because he didn't have email or a phone so he's really hard to get a hold of. But he was always trying to contact me and saying, let's do it, but we were running out of time and so I just said screw it and I sang it myself. I was in the studio in LA mixing the record and I got an email from him saying that he wanted to sing the song. So we waited for him for two hours to record the song and send the track to us. So I heard his version and there was some kind of high note missing in the chorus. So I emailed him back and asked him if he could take his hands and squeeze his balls as hard as he can to reach that high note. Then one hour later he came back with the perfect chorus. It's such a great feeling to write a song and then have those great people sing on it and still have control to shape the song the way I want it.
I believe on the press release it mentioned that Marilyn Manson was a guest on the album as well but it didn't mention which song he was on.
"Hypothetical." That was the first song that I felt his voice and personality really fit. From the first time I heard it, I always pictured him singing that song. So he was listening to the song with my vocals on it and he said, it sounds good to me I don't know why you'd want to change it. He wasn't really convinced that he could do a better job. So he tried something and I felt that it wasn't really right for the song. He was doing his record at the time and was in his studio doing his thing. So I wanted to get him out of his environment. I called up a friend of mine who has a studio in LA and we brought him in there and he worked for eight hours on this track and it came out exactly like I had it in mind. There was a little drama involved with him but that what you get when you ask for him. He ain't Lemmy.
Did you record in LA or just mix there?
I recorded everything in Berlin. I just mixed in LA. Normally for mixing, I would use my guy in Sweden but he lost his studio and he was trying to mix it in a box which I'm not saying is bad or worse, it's just different. But I had 21 tracks and I felt like being in Sweden for the three months in the winter, I would kill myself. So I was thinking LA, I was thinking sun. So I started thinking about who was out there so I started going through my records and I found one from Disturbed that I really liked sound-wise and the guy's name was Ben Grosse so I called him up and asked if he could be in a budget and he said he could and we went from there. I think he did a great job with it.
You had a unique opportunity to be, for maybe the first time in your life, a producer and artist. Did you struggle to separate those two roles at all?
That's a very interesting thing. I was able to take a step back and get into the producer role. The only time I failed was when I was doing guitars. I'm such a perfectionist when it comes to guitar sound. So what I did is I replayed five times 21 tracks. I had this crazy guitar sound on my mind and I was chasing this dragon, this sound, and I couldn't have it. After a while, because I didn't have a producer to say, shut the f--k up it's over, I was constantly going back and changing the preamp and changing the microphone, you name it. After a while I had to close the studio and give the key to one of my engineers and told him not to give it back. At that time, it would have been good to have a producer. Other than that, I was capable of taking that step back and seeing what's good for the music rather than what's good for the artists because those things are different.
Do you use the same gear in Emigrate as you do in Rammstein?
It's always the same story of getting new stuff, messing around with it and then ultimately going back to the old stuff. I'm constantly trying new things. I built a microphone robot; I use different cabinets and different mics all the time. But basically when it comes down to it, I pretty much use the same stuff over and over again. The Neve 1081, Telefunken U47, Neumann M149, I pretty much use the ESP RZK II guitar almost exclusively. I use a Gretsch White Falcon for the cleans. I play through the Mesa Dual Rectifier. That's the main sound on the record.
Interview by Justin Beckner