En Esch discusses his new solo album, SPÄNK!, and answers questions submitted by readers
By Bob Gourley | Published on March 16, 2015
En Esch has been involved with many projects in recent years, but hasn’t put out a solo release since 1993’s “Cheesy.” Now the former KMFDM member is finally releasing a new album of his own. “SPÄNK!” was created with the help of a Pledgemusic campaign and features long-time collaborator Guenter Schulz and a variety of other guests. We recently did an email interview, where En Esch discussed the making of “SPÄNK!” and his career in general. In addition, he agreed to answer questions collected from readers. Below are his responses to both.
Our next interview with reader-submitted questions will be with Edward Ka-Spel of The Legendary Pink Dots. If you have questions, please submit them here!
Reader submitted questions:
“No Guts No Glory” is a really unusual track… I like it a lot. What inspired you to create it? (question submitted by Chris Simpson)
To be honest the song started out with a deodorant stick I bought here in berlin. It was kind of cheap but i liked “the smell” and the bottle was colored gold…after using this stuff it destroyed two of my t-shirts. In combination with the laundry soap it created holes in the arm pits of my shirts.
To come back to your question, the funny thing is that the deodorant is called “Madam Glamour”. That inspired me and i wanted to do a song called “Madman Gglamour”.
So the first thing written for “No Guts No Glory” was the chorus lyrics going like:
“I am your madman glamour,
you have to live with your pain
Ii am your madman glamour
I got you goin insane”.
After the music came along i changed the lyrics to:
” c/mon no guts no glory, we like to keep you insane,
you have no guts no glory, we like to poison your reign…etc”.
Also a very important part is the chaos and crazy part in the intro. That took me a long time to get that right, even if it just sounds like mayhem, it is controlled mayhem, ha, ha.
I love the song Ich Bin Bereit.” Can you say a little about what it’s about. My German’s not great. Thanx!
It’s a great song co-written by my friend Tyler Noble from Canada. Unfortunately I had many near death experiences in my life. “Ich bin bereit” is about when the time comes of ones passing away and the delirious decision to accept death and make peace with the world and oneself.
It is a love song dedicated to life in the moment of death.
What exactly happened with the Retrospectacle show? Was there ever a chance of Sascha playing with you guys for a full reunion?
I suggested it to Sascha on the phone a few weeks before I left to do the show in Chicago but it seems he felt uncomfortable to be on stage with all of us.
Sorry, maybe next time.
What’s your view on the current state of the world today? Do you think human beings could be doing better as a species than the way in which they operate in the world today? (question submitted by Brad Malthus)
As long as human beings worship the power of money and gadgets they won’t change. Our intellectual advantage should tell us to consciously make life more liveable for all the passengers on this trip through hell on earth.
“We” ruin the environment and mistreat animals. We are jinxed as a race. I feel also guilty and I am aware that I am also a part of it. At least I am vegetarian and I try not to kill anything, not even a bug. And I try to conserve electrical energy, not use plastic, things like that. And absolutely never throw my trash on the ground.
What was it like to get back together with most of the old KMFDM crew again at Wax Trax! Retrospectacle? Do you still keep in touch with the guys Raymond, Mark, & Guenter?
I’m in touch with most of my old colleagues. It was great to do the Wax Trax Retrospectacles festival!
So much fun to see people from the old days I hadn’t talked to for a while. And Chicago is, after all, one of my home bases. I also hadn’t seen Raymond for a long time. It was nice to spend some time together again.
It was a good experience and our set was fun and well received.
Thanx again to Julia Nash!
What are your biggest musical influences? (question submitted by Brian C)
Everything good that comes my way.
In the past my mother’s singing, old records at my parents house, Tina Turner, Kraftwerk, Frank Zappa and Einstuerzende Neubauten. Stravinsky, Tangerine Dream, D.A.F. and Testament.
I was wondering if you are mis-credited on the remastered version of the “Angst” album? The booklet only credits you with playing guitar & singing. I was thinking this had to be a mistake, and you must have done percussion/programming on that album like you did on other KMFDM albums & possibly additional instrumentation as well . You are credited with percussion & sequencing on the a “Drug Against War” single if I remember correctly, so that all ready contradicts what the booklet for the new version of “Angst” says. I feel like you are not being credited properly for that album. (question submitted by Brian C)
Was i really credited differently than on the original album?? The crazy world of esch! Ha ha!! I’m obviously under-appreciated somehow.
My credits do seem to shrink over the years. The record “Angst” was born of a long and interesting production process. That was when we had our first digital audio workstation and it was set up in a Chicago rehearsal space. Sascha and I were sitting around a lot in front of this (now a days) old Mac computer. I think it was a 40 mhz processor Nubus machine with 4 tracks of 16 bit audio using digidesign hardware. We ran Opcode’s studio vision with that and recorded Guenter’s and Mark’s guitars straight into the box and edited the stuff and programmed music together on the fly. We also did the recording, production and post-production process together.
I’m sure I played some kind of drums, also timpanis I found in the studio in Chicago, of course I sang, played guitar and this and that.
Will a re-master/re-release of “Cheesy” ever happen?
When I listen to the tracks on “Cheesy,” I’m always very bummed that I didn’t boost my vocals a little more, they are definitely too low in volume. There’s a lot of things on this record I would or could do better or differently nowadays. But I still love songs like “Daktari” , “Rule the Mob”, “Gypsy Queen” and all that stuff. All that stuff was done under very special circumstances and I had already taken on the idea of collaborating with friends.
Unfortunately I lost most of the material from the “Cheesy” sessions so cannot remix it but I could remaster it. Let me think about it.
My favorite KMFDM songs are the ones you had a heavier influence on, especially my favorite song “Down & Out.” If you can remember that far back could talk a little about the process behind creating that song & also would you consider adding it to a live set in the future? Would love to hear it live someday! (question submitted by Minx Monroe)
“Down and Out” is one of those songs that went through various stages during the “Symbols” album writing process. I wrote the earlier version in my place in New York and then I went to Seattle a lot of times to work with Sascha in his pre-production studio there. I also wrote a lot of the original lyrics but Abby Travis got involved and helped straighten them out a little. I wouldn’t play that song live without having Sascha and Abby on stage. Btw, very funny is the fact that in those days we didn’t have fast internet so we sent 135mb ez drive cartidges (a little like zip disks) back and forth per regular mail to exchange ideas and sounds between seattle and new york.
I really enjoyed your singing as well as the instrumentation on “Ich Bin Bereit.” It’s a beautiful song & you seem to be breaking new ground with it musically as you’ve done throughout the album. I was wondering if it was a challenge to sing & if you had to do any kind of special vocal warmups before hand? (question submitted by Patrick Ryan)
Thanx for your compliment.
No, i usually don’t do warm ups. My voice is getting better during recordings.
Normally I record quite a lot of takes and edit my voice afterwards. I don’t use much efx either, slight flanger and compressing and eq of course.
I described to my friend Tyler Noble (that co-wrote this song) my vocal approach on “Ich Bin Bereit” this way:
I want to sound like a German David Sylvian. So I actually ended up trying a different style of vocals compare to my older work. It is a very emotional song to me. (See above)
I love the new album! On the upcoming tour is there a chance Guenter might join you to play a couple dates on the west coast?
It’s possible that Guenter will join me on some shows on the west coast.
The main guitarist on this tour will be my friend Dan Simoes from New Jersey that joined me on stage already on the last tour.
Is there any more unreleased Slick Idiot material?
There’s a couple of unreleased Slick Idiot tracks we might put out in the future. Guenter and I follow different musical directions at the moment but I like to see him and work with him and hope to again soon. I also thought about putting out a best of Slick Idiot cd with extra unknown tracks or something.
I know there is so much great music in your back catalog to select from, but since you are doing a solo tour rather than Slick Idiot or Mona Mur & En Esch this time, will this create an opportunity for you to dust off some of your more obscure tracks to be updated & played live in a set alongside some of your hits & newest material? Any chance we might hear something off of your first solo album played during this upcoming tour? My vote would be for “Gypsy Queen if i could pick one. Or maybe a rare never before played Einheit Esch & Mur, Slick Idiot or KMFDM song? (question submitted by Chris Simpson)
I’m happy to have so many wonderful tracks to choose from but i need to reduce the set list to a small number of great songs otherwise I’d be playing a 12 hour set. So i will play a few tracks off SPÄNK and i also want to play a good portion of great Slick Idiot and classic KMFDM songs. I thought about playing “Rule the Mob” or “Cum”. That would be cool to do live also.
Will you work with Abby Travis again one day? I enjoy the work you two did together in Slick Idiot & KMFDM.
She is a great and talented colleague of mine.
Great singer, bass player, composer and producer.
I’d like to work more with her. Maybe on my next solo album.
The first time I actually met her was on stage during a Pigface show 1991 in the “Whisky A Go Go” in hollywood. Flea (Chili Peppers) was also supposed to play with us but then we ended up not having enough amps on stage (thanx to Abby, ha ha) and he left the place a little upset.
I’m sure i will see Abby the next time i’m in l.A.
How it was to be working with tim sköld? How is him in person? (question submitted by Andy Mowhawk)
It is a pleasure to work with tim, he’s kind and talented and very professional in his work ethics. Every time I have a chance to see him we have a lot of old stories to talk about. You can imagine.
How old are you? (question submitted by George Janiashvili)
I used to say: i am old as a stone. Put it this way, i’m young enough to breathe by myself without a ventilator.
I really loved your album, especially exciting was that it had some awesome psytrance flavour. So questions are the following: with whom you’ll collaborate on next album? (Will on the list be the Pig himself?), And another question is kind of request too, why you never make “epic” music, that is your all music sounds as it was made to be played at small clubs rather than at huge shows, if you know what i mean. (question submitted by George Janiashvili)
In my book I make epic music. The question whether stuff is played at smaller or bigger shows is not up to the music. I’ve played in front of very large audiences and smaller ones too. The enjoyment for me on stage is the same no matter what. Yes, the collaborations will continue on my next album.
Some of the people you might know some of them you won’t.
For sure i will have fun to hang and work with them.
Soooo, is Slick Idiot over?! (question submitted by Scott Allen)
To quote myself,
rock ‘n’ roll never dies, no it never will sink.
Slick idiot is taking a little break for right now, but as I mentioned in the answer above, there’s more to come.
What advice would you have for someone who is considering making an attempt at becoming a musical artist? For example, what gear have you found works well for the solo artist, what computer programs might you suggest for working/reworking the music & how can someone new to this sort of thing avoid some of the inevitable pitfalls that often loom on the horizon for inexperienced artists? (question submitted by Benny Jeh Woodward)
You need consistency in your work ethic. You need to stay focused and have a never give up mentality. Also very important: you need a legally enforceable contract between the members of your project.
Problems between the members will be ahead when money starts coming in.
Gear-wise everyone has different needs.
There s a lot of software around that does do the trick and comes with built in instruments and efx.
You need to be original in your sound and look.
As a veteran of the music industry do you find more fulfillment in solo projects or do you prefer working with groups of people? (question submitted by Benny Jeh Woodward)
I try to combine both things. The only difference with my solo project is that I have the final call at the end of the day.
In a band that can be a big problem because usually there’s more than one person trying to have the final say. But it is easier to be stimulated to work with other people around. You need some kind of dialogue about your progress. That helps tremendously.
Even the most creative minds snag on a writer’s block from time to time. What methods do you use to work through the most stubborn of these blocks & what temptations would you suggest new artists try to avoid when facing a block? (question submitted by Benny Jeh Woodward)
Fresh air – open the window; having a deadline; green tea.
I usually have never writers’ block, and ideas are always coming out of me, when I have a reason to work. So my problem is not to be creative. My problem sometimes is to start the process.
I know that i sometimes definitely spend too much time on details instead of taking a little break and come back to it later. A musical problem I worked on for hours might not even exist after an hour break. To go outside and see and even meet people is very stimulating for my creative work.
What inspires you the most? What is it that speaks to you & gets you saying “yes, that works for this track” or “this sound would work better if it were more like that”? (question submitted by Benny Jeh Woodward)
There’s inspiration in so many things and they come from different experiences, sights, sounds. As far as what speaks to me in the way you ask, I cannot really describe that exactly…it feels like heat in my torso or a tingle on my spine when things and sounds come together and fit into the whole picture. It’s a combination of certain elements that melt together to this one sound that get’s you.
Hi En Esch! Let me start off by telling you that i’m an enormous fan of your work. When you say you have more solo music coming, are you able to tell us about what sort of sounds we can expect to hear? One thing i can say about Spänk! Is that it is a quite dark record. Do you ever plan to return to the campier styles we heard on albums like “Cheesy” and “Sucksess”? (question submitted by Basti Menkes)
My next album will be and should be different.
There is no formula in my music besides kicking ass and doing what
I am pleased to do in that moment. It’s interesting that you call “SPÄNK” a dark album. It is after all a solo album, an ego project. I wasn’t under any pressure or being chased by a group effort or anything else than my own musical lust. I took my time to develop certain musical adventures a little further. Maybe my next album is strictly dancefloor, who knows. Of course I’m always writing a kind of dance music.
The next record will be different in comparison to SPÄNK though.
I’m pretty sure about it.
You’re releasing SPÄNK! Through Distortion Productions. How did you come across them and why did you choose to go with them for this project? (question submitted by Willis McCowan )
Jim from distortion is part of a big group of people I started working with a few years back. He promoted a couple of slick idiot shows too. I like him, he’s very supportive guy. And he’s got a good distribution throughout the US. Labels like Distortion Productions are less demanding and don’t suck you dry. They love music and love the artists they are working with. They’re in it for that love, not any potential money.
Questions from Chaos Control
Your first solo album came out in 1993. What made you decide that the time has come for another?
I always thought it would be a good time for another solo album, but I was focused on a lot of my other projects and didn’t have the necessary time to devote to it.
What was the timeframe of the material on SPÄNK!? Is it the culmination of musical ideas you’ve come up with since the last solo album, or did you more recently set out specifically to write and record a solo release?
A few of the tracks on spänk are from material i have that goes back 10 years or more. Others are from more recent years. A bunch of them are brand new. But all of them I brought up to par to fit with each other.
Do you see your solo work as completely separate from your other projects or have perhaps ideas intended for one thing ended up being used for another?
Three tracks on this album were originally meant to be for other projects of mine but I refurbished them to make them my own.
I see that you worked with Guenter Schulz again. How much of the album does he appear on? Who else did you collaborate with? Are there any interesting stories behind any of the collaborations?
Guenter Schulz is guitarist and co-writer on two tracks.
Like I mentioned on my liner notes, the cd is recorded in collaboration with a lot of my friends or by myself in different locations worldwide. There is Berlin, Zurich, Los Angeles, Nashville, Las Vegas, New York, Brooklyn, Paris, Seattle, Palma de Mallorca, London, Chicago, Warsaw, Weed (CA), Uxbridge (On) and Fort Worth (TX) on the list.
If you work like this, obviously it takes a little more time to get your album done.
I collaborated with Tim Skold, Tasha and Rob from MMTM, Jim Marcus, Dan Evans and Vince Mcaley from Gofight, Trixie Reiss, Guenter Schulz, Erica “Lady E” Dilanjian, Frederic Turiot a/k/a Kirsten Orb, Tyler Noble from Promonium Jesters and Jonas Karsten from Vanity Beach.
Did the use of pledgemusic.com have any impact on the making / completion of the album? For example, did the funding side of things allow you to do more than you would have if you were totally self-financed? Did interacting directly with the fans (and knowing they would be immediately letting you and each other know what they think) have any impact?
It was a very positive experience to do it through pledgemusic and receive all that support from fans and friends of my music.
The only impact production-wise was the fact that I had the money for a more expensive packaging that looks cooler and is also healthier for the environment.
Do you see yourself actively working on more solo material in the near future, with less of a gap between this and the next solo album? Or do you just need to wait until you feel the time is right?
I was talking about this already. Spänk will be the beginning of more solo work to come pretty soon.
Meaning there won’t be a huge gap anymore before new solo material is revealed.
You’d chosen not to go back to KMFDM when that project restarted in 2002. As that was years ago, I’m wondering if your feelings towards it have changed at all? Would you ever consider working with Sascha again as KMFDM? If not, to what degree do you feel it is due to personal reasons versus creative issues?
After the breakup i was asked to start KMFDM again, but i could not agree on that because i wanted to take a longer break from it. I needed more time to explore my own musical ideas, let them float if you know what i mean..
Of course it always has to do with personal and musical issues when a band is starting to struggle. A very typical thing…
I can say this: i am part of a small group of people that made KMFDM what it became. The band’s concept is part of me and i am part of it. I won’t rule out being back in kmfdm one day.
The music industry is radically different now than when you started, what changes do you think have had the biggest impact on you as an artist?
Downstreaming music … we are on the way to having only a handful of corporate music projects around and every other form of musical creativity will vanish. The payments to the artist and composers of music from streaming music is, for whatever reason, very unfair and extremely low (compared with digital downloads) and will kill all professional alternative music.
I know you spent many years in the US and then moved back to Berlin. Are you still based there? Are there any particular ways that you feel your location influences your music?
The living quarters will influence any creativity.
Yes, I live in Berlin at the moment.
I miss New York, but there are many of advantages to living in Europe and especially in Berlin.
The city is also a kind of melting pot and in a way very innovative. But that doesn’t mean i won’t live in the US again one day.
If someone is just discovering you now, and this album is the first thing their hearing, what previous project or release of yours should they listen to next?
My projects Slick Idiot and Einheit, Esch & Mur.
Are you planning on touring to support this album? If so do you know how extensively, and what musicians you’ll be working with live?
I am going on tour in the USA and Canada early summer 2015.
I’m planning to take Erica “Lady E” Dilanjian on vocals, Dan Simoes on guitar and the Moseley Brothers from Canada on the road.
I’m excited to play some of that new material live.
What do you currently have planned for the future, both as a solo album and with other projects?
Like I said before I will hit the road soon and stuff needs to be prepared for that.
I’m also working on remixes for other bands at the moment, there will be a release of Einheit, Esch & Mur’s “Terre Haute” on vinyl and yes, I am already working on new solo tracks.
Bloody Disgusting is currently premiering a track from the album – check it out here.