Rammstein fans will be aware that the period following the Mutter album (2001) was a difﬁcult one for the band. Richard Kruspe, a quick-burn personality with music as his guiding force, appeared to be out of synch with the Rammstein Rhythm, and the resulting tension was stretching the group at the seams. Clearly, some kind of change was required, and the guitarist was quick to grasp the moment, taking his safe life in Berlin and turning it upside down.
"I left my comfortable situation, and just started again from zero in New York. When I arrived there, I didn't know anyone, the only people I could hang out with at this time were the friends of my ex-wife, I was pretty much by myself".
"Looking back, however, it was an important step for me. If l hadn’t made the move to New York, there would be no Emigrate full stop; the city is such a big part of the project..."
These days, Richard divides his time between East Berlin and the Soho area of Manhattan, but it's the latter that calls to him the most. He ﬁrst went there with Rammstein in '97, and straight away was bowled over by the buzz ("lt was like an LSD trip!"), the sense of all things being possible.
"You wonder how so many different cultures can live together in peace, and the answer is simple; because there's only one religion there - money. l guess it's a sad fact in one respect, but on the other hand, it gives the city an incredible sense of purpose. You ﬁnd yourself facing challenges every single day."
Buoyed up by this natural vibe, Richard - a songwriter with half a dozen ideas forever at his ﬁngertips - set about putting together a project to soak up the energy that he felt couldn't be channeled into Rammstein.
He opted for a (cosmopolitan) line-up speciﬁc to his cause...
Recruit number-one was Frenchman Arnaud Giroux, bassist with Paris-born singer Axel Bauer, followed by German Sascha Moser, onetime drummer with Orgasm Death Gimmick, the Fast Berlin outﬁt Richard had been a part of prior to going the Rammstein route. Olsen Involtini - a fellow German, next to join the ranks - had also worked with the guys on both the remix and string arrangement side; as friends of many years standing, Richard was sure that both would slot in well, which left just the drum-stool to be filled. Take a seat, Henka Johansson - a Stockholm-based musician who had played many times on the same bill as Rammstein, guarding the beat for Scando rap-metallers, Clawfinger.
As none of the personnel had played together before, there was no way of telling if the chemistry would be right, but happily that proved not to be a problem ("Once rehearsals began, it was like we'd been playing together for 20 years").
Next step, the studio proper...
Denmark's Puk Studios. To be precise, a state-of-the-art facility that has hosted artists such as Elton John, Depeche Mode & Judas Priest. Here the drum tracks were put to tape, with Hellner coming on board to encourage to advise, then it was off to 'Studio Kruspe' in Berlin where a Grail-like quest for the perfect guitar sound was about to get underway...
In Rammstein, the guitar will often act as "the second voice in the song," but with Emigrate, it's more a case of playing along with the song, so it was important for the Sonics to reﬂect this fact. Eventually, after the sort of amp adjustments best carried out with a slide-rule, this most sacred of tasks was ticked off on the list, and it was time to shift across to Richard's other studio in New York No more distractions from this point on, just a clear run at the vocals.
Did he always intend to sing in English?
"Yes, absolutely! Being based in New York, it was obvious that l should use the English language - l mean, I even think in English when I'm there. German is a really deep language, a language packed full of detail, and sometimes it's just not right for certain things..."
At one stage, Richard did consider using guest vocalists on the album. However, once the project was up & running, it became clear that for the songs to be truly convincing, they had to be fronted by the composer himself - a composer who hadn't sung with any of his previous outfits and whose Rammstein demos are generally instrumentals! So, how was it?
"It was difficult - really difficult! l so regretted those times at Rammstein productions that I'd been demanding with Till. As a singer, you're just incredibly vulnerable, always trying to catch the moment and the mood."
“What l came to realize, though, is that the whole thing is really about attitude. it's not to do with whether you have a great voice or not, ifs about do you want to say something or just keep your mouth shut?!"
Growing up in Schwerin, to the north of Eastern Germany, the young Richard Kruspe had found himself drawn to the music of AC/DC, using their ‘Dirty Deeds...’ album as a form of escape when banished to his room for failing to shine at school (an Emigrate cover of the song ‘Dirty Deeds...’ is very much on the cards). The Aussie band's singer of the time, the late Bon Scott, was not seen as a rare talent by accepted standards, yet simply couldn't be topped when it came to adding character to a song - and Richard kept this thought in mind when handling the vocals for the Emigrate tracks (the recordings were actually done in his bedroom, specially wired & lit, so he could relax in a familiar setting).
He also wanted to make sure that he was ‘saying something’ rather than just hitting the notes, so he put together lyrics inspired by the ups & downs of his time in New York, with ‘ln My Tears’, ‘Babe’ (one of three songs previewed via the Management (Pilgrim) website) and the haunting ‘You Can't Get Enough,’ the most personal of the bunch. For some artists, exposing their feelings beyond the superﬁcial might be an awkward experience, but not so here — although the guitarist (now singer/guitarist!) does like to stand apart to a degree...
“The thing is, there are two people inside me; one is the person who wants to show their thoughts and their emotions through music, and l am an emotional guy, and then there's the other person the person who loves attention, but with distance. I like having the freedom to create something that might be an illusion."
ln this respect, setting up home in Manhattan was very much the turning point; not just the start of a new life, but the possibility of becoming a new person too.
"You can see from the Rammstein videos that we all have an attachment to acting, and to play just one role can be quite boring. So I'm delighted to have the chance to create a new identity; to conjure up my own twin brother is almost like giving life to Frankenstein. You are the doctor and I guess the monster as well!"
Just how this duality will work out in practice should soon become apparent, but there's no doubt that it neatly reﬂects the Richard Kruspe story to date: not just a tale of two cities, but a tale of two bands, two personalities, two lives a series of personal dramas documented in full on 'Emigrate.'
Is this, therefore, a ‘concept album,’ two more words generally approached with caution?! You could say that. More signiﬁcantly, though, it's an album that allows the émigré-in-chief, an artist skilled in using adversity as a creative spur, to pursue his musical passions unhampered by extended debate. The guitar solos make the point.
just how far down this path should he travel? At ﬁrst, Richard was not quite sure, but rather than over-think the situation, he simply trusted in those instincts that had seen him casting jazz theory to the four winds and playing the riff to UFO's 'Doctor, Doctor' as his music-college audition piece. ln other words, just going for it! In dry academic circles, this is traditionally referred to as the 'fuck it philosophy', and it's one that lends itself well to ‘Emigrate' as a whole, an album strong enough to give life to a brand new project, and timely enough to help secure the future of a ﬁrmly established one.
And not a drum solo in sight!