By Bob Gourley | Originally published in 2003
With a KMFDM album, you always know what you’re going to get, yet at the same time will always be surprised. For nearly 20 years, they have been delivering ultra-heavy rock/electronic music that has a melodic edge strong enough to appeal to pop fans. They’ve never put out an album that just sounds like a re-hash of their last, and at the same time have never felt the need to completely re-invent themselves or latch on to musical trends. The new KMFDM disc, “World War III,” does not disappoint. Sporting a revamped line-up and a somewhat different creative approach, it’s among their strongest releases and a must-have for any fan. In a phone interview, member Sascha Konietzko spoke to us about the disc and current state of KMFDM.
As a band known for using electronic instruments, how have you been affected by the evolution of the technology over the past 20 years?
“Well, it’s made things possible that were deemed virtually or completely impossible when we started. Back in those days, it was all about 4 and 8 track recording. Synthesizers and other pieces of equipment were not very affordable to people like us. Whereas nowadays, even on a very low budget you can go buy yourself a digital workstation, and come up with home made techno records at least.”
Have you gotten into things like software-based synths and samplers?
“No, I totally bypassed all that stuff. I’m not really interested in fiddling around with computers. I’m interested more in making music, to the extent that we’ve almost entirely eliminated MIDI programming from our repertoire. It’s a thing of the past, things get played live and that’s it. Period.”
Has that attitude affected your approach to playing the older material live?
“Of course, everything has to be seen in its own time. From a sonic point of view, what we thought was super hard sounding in the early or mid 80’s now sounds more like kicking a cardboard box. There’s just new spectral dimensions to audio and the perception of sound that were impossible to realize a few years ago. A certain precision and hardness. But that’s interesting, because KMFDM was always on a quest for the perfect mix of man and machine for the ultimate brutality. The ultimate hardness.”
What was the reason for doing an album as MDFMK, and then returning to KMFDM?
“The true and honest reason was that in 1998, we reached a crucial point where we realized that it couldn’t go on like it was. There were too many forces tugging in too many different directions. Basically tearing the real reason for KMFDM apart. And I wouldn’t have that. KMFDM always felt like it was sort of my baby, and I wouldn’t have it eaten by the lions. So I figured the only graceful way to give people time and distance to the project, to let them think about what they wanted to do and what they can do, was by calling it quits. Because people had to go, but they couldn’t be fired. And it was either I go, or they go. So I decided that at least at that point, it was the termination of KMFDM.
And after two and a half years, the whole thing had become reality. It was gone, and everybody moved on to other things. I’d moved on, staying kind of close because I didn’t want to lose contact with the roots. And i figured the easiest way was to reverse the name and do something different under that moniker.
Then, the time was just right to come back, and definitely there was a huge demand. I was getting hundreds, if not thousands, of e-mails from people saying ‘why don’t you just go back to KMFDM? MDFMK sounds like it so you might as well just show your true colors again.’ So we did. Much to the dismay to some of the people who had left the band at the time. But they were casually invited to rejoin. I proposed to them ‘look, we can do this again now that we have had a bit of time from each other, but we’ll have to rethink how we do it.’ And that proposal was met with total indigent reactions. So … whatever. Now we’re five years after the breakup, and everything is good.”
The MDFMK album also saw you release on a larger label, Universal. Did that have any effect on the process of putting out a CD?
No, it didn’t affect the process at all because the album was signed to Universal Records after it was pretty much done. At that point, we said ‘we have an album, we just need distribution’ and they said ‘yeah, hey, we can offer you a bit of cash.’
Any now you’re on a different label again …. how has that been working out?
We’d been on Metropolis in the meantime, and now we’re on Sanctuary. It’s going ok so far. They’ve had their problems, they messed up the release date pretty good. But we’ve been told they didn’t just mess up ours, they messed up other band’s as well. Our record was supposed to be in stores on Tuesday [9/23/2003], and it turns out they just fucked some things up and it’s in stores maybe today [9/26].
Have you ever considered starting your own label?
We’ve considered it many, many times. But knowing I would be the one who would have to implement the whole thing, and knowing that I really hate the office and paperwork, we have not really put it into action yet. But as soon as I find someone who would be capable of running something like that, I will definitely approach the project.
At the time of the MDFMK album, had you considered using the Excessive Force name again instead?
No, the Excessive Force thing was basically a one off that turned into a two off. There seems to be also a Canadian white supremacist band now that has adopted the name Excessive Force. So I don’t think that would be a good name to return to, as we’d have to clarify.
When KMFDM started, did you think you’d still be doing it almost 20 years later?
No, no. When we started we were like ‘let’s take a piss and make a really stupid record.’
At what point did you realize that it WAS a long-term project?
I think probably in the mid 90’s. At first it seemed that Wax Trax! was the only thing that made KMFDM possible. The amount of support that we got from those guys was absolutely incredible. I would have never thought that anyone would have given us such a chance. They got us to leave our home, and leave the misery of being an aspiring project in Germany and showed us a good time and how to make it, basically. And then Jim Nash, the owner, died in ’95 and I realized ‘wow, I guess that even though he’s dead now, this thing is going to go on.
There was a lot of new and innovative stuff coming out on Wax Trax! back then. What are your thoughts on the way things have evolved?
Well the mainstream always absorbs everything that the underground produces. Techno was at first crazy machine music from Detroit and then it suddenly swept all through Europe and transformed everything. It had a major impact on people’s lives. Rock and roll … at first shunned by parents for its lewdness and sexual innuendo has become something 280 million Americans are familiar with and love.
What is the working relationship like within the band?
For this record, we basically converted to internal communism. Every dollar is split equally. I just want to have people working with me who feel they’re equal, and they are equal in my mind. What better way to reward them that with equal shares of the whole project. I’m pretty unselfish. If I were doing this for money, I wouldn’t be doing KMFDM.
Does there tend to be defined roles within the band, in terms of how you interact/who does what during the songwriting/recording process?
Interestingly enough, this album was kind of done in reverse. Typically, KMFDM albums began with considerable time spent assembling a library of material. It was sequencer/machine based stuff, and typically the human element would come in later on and be the icing on the cake. For this album, we had a title first but no time frame, no budget, no label, nothing. When we began, there was just the four of us, Lucia, Joolz, Andy, and myself. Raymond was in London. We just began and started recording like a rock band. We layed down drum tracks, bass, guitars, all that stuff, and then brought the machine parts in slowly. It became a KMFDM album that way, but if you’d heard the tracks in the early stages you could have been ‘wow, who’s writing that?’
Do you think you’d want to work that way next time?
I’m always open to the winds of change. And I think the future will just really determine what’s going to happen. I definitely want to keep the lineup of this band, the nucleus of the four of us in Seattle, together. And working with Raymond is always a pleasure. So I don’t know … let’s see if anyone else joins the lineup.
How has the KMFDM website been working out for you?
Well, I think that KMFDM was one of the first bands who had a website. Nowadays, websites are like assholes, everyone has one. And they are a pain in the neck … if you don’t run them yourself, you’ve got to have someone to run it for you and that just brings on its own slew of problems. I’m kind of happy with the way it goes, but I’m also unhappy. I wish it was much more toned down and more of just an outlet for information. But our fans kind of demand that there be real content in terms of downloads and images and stuff. As far as I’m concerned, I would be just as happy having a pure HTML page to give information.
What are your thoughts on file sharing?
My thought is that the technology bred a whole generation of irresponsible pirates, basically. Everything is up for grabs, nothing is sacred. I’m coming from a time where intellectual property, or even real property, and ideas and copyrights actually meant something. I had a long bout in a very successful publishing company in Germany. It was underground publishing that revolutionized the way of mechanical and performance royalties collection. And I’m a little appalled with the recklessness with which people go about this stuff. The people who do that kind of stuff are generally very young, and that goes hand in hand with not being fully educated yet in terms of what is cool and what is not cool to do. Yeah, it brings the music out, but it also encourages people to become thieves.
What do you think about the legal sale of mp3 downloads, like on the iTunes store?
It’s a concept that’s bound to fail, in my opinion. I believe in the tactile aspect. I buy books and records to own them, to touch them, to have them, to look at them. I could read a book online, I could listen to it in audio format. But there’s something about having a book. There’s something about having a record. I was kind of sad when the format changed from vinyl to CD because it’s just so little real estate to look at art, to read credits. It’s more like a strain to the eye than a pleasure. So whatever happens, KMFDM will continue to put out things you can actually hold. Grab. Touch. Call me old fashioned.
So you’re about to start a US tour … any plans for other countries?
The main reason we went with Sanctuary is that we want to do a European leg of the tour. First of all, we don’t know how this country is going to shape up here in the next few months and what’s going to happen in next years election. Since we’re all Europeans and here on a sort of guest-type status, we just don’t want to be caught with our ass in the water. So a relocation to Europe is in the imminent future.
Are you currently working on any other projects?
Yeah, we’re working on the music for the video game ‘Spiderman 2.’ It’s scheduled for release on July 4th of next year. Strictly speaking, this is a work for hire. In other words, they tell us what we should do, guidelines in terms of tempo and style. They said not too much guitar, definitely the KMFDM style but more on the electronic side than the guitar rock side. And so that’s what we do. KMFDM is not something that you pay the mortgage with, so we have to do things on the side like this. It’s good fun, and definitely adds greatly to the exposure. Soundtrack work, like ‘Mortal Combat’ or ‘Heavy Metal 2000,’ is a means of exposure of KMFDM to unsuspecting new victims. And you know, the typical behavior of people who discover KMFDM is very compulsive. I have this documented in countless letters and e-mails. People will say ‘I got turned onto KMFDM by this guy at school who wore a KMFDM t-shirt. I asked him what it meant. Now, 3 weeks later, I own 17 of your CD’s, I have 5 t-shirts and all I’m missing is the orange NAIVE cd.See all interviews →