Latest Project "Saved Rammstein" (interview)

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This interview was published on Ultimate on 17 November 2007.


If there was ever a question of whether or not music can transcend language, Rammstein would be the proof that it is indeed possible. Sure, there are certain non-musical aspects to the best-selling German band that are difficult to ignore, whether it is vocalist Till Lindemann setting his arms on fire during concerts (and barely flinching in the process) or the testosterone-driven motif of many videos. But image alone hasn't sold records, and Rammstein's blend of danceable metal has made a mark all of its own.

In spite of all of the success, guitarist Richard Kruspe found himself feeling less and less at home among his peers in Rammstein a few years back. In order to save his sanity and salvage the band, he decided to embark upon a solo career. The fruits of that labor are now ready for public consumption in Kruspe's newest band Emigrate. Far from being a knock-off of Rammstein, Emigrate leans more toward a traditional rock sound and features few to none keyboard parts. And of all the places that the globe-hopping Kruspe has traveled during his career, the guitarist told Ultimate Guitar that New York City is currently his Mecca of creativity.

If any Rammstein fans are worried that this might all be a sign of the end of an era, put your fears aside. Kruspe is currently back at work on a new Rammstein album that he says is reminiscent of the band's early recordings. In the meantime, you'll be able to get your Rammstein fix with Volkerball, a 3-disk DVD/CD set featuring performances from Tokyo, UK, Russia, and Germany. After watching the awe-inspiring performances in Volkerball it's easy to understand why Kruspe still finds it easy to return to his bandmates in Rammstein.

You chose New York City as one of the first singles on Emigrate's debut album. Do you feel a special connection with New York?
The thing about New York City is that I think it's female. It's definitely a female city. It's really erotic, it's drama, it's exciting. All of those things describe it for me. Since I was a young boy growing up in Germany, I never really felt at home when I left my little village basically. When I went to Berlin, I lived there for 16 years. I was always feeling I had to do something and that I had to be here because of what this town has with music, but I never really felt at home.

Now with New York, I'm home again. I can't describe why. Obviously, I come from a totally different culture growing up in East Germany. It's a big inspiration. Being a musician or being artsy or whatever, the best thing you can do is stay hungry. For me, living in Berlin after 16 years and having achieved a lot of things in my band, I felt I needed a change.

How long have you been wanting to get your solo project off of the ground?
It actually started a long time ago. I think every guitar player kind of has this thing in their head that they actually want to be a singer, and they're just afraid or whatever. I think when I'm in Rammstein, I always thought I'd want to sing. This time I think I had the confidence to do it. I think not getting the attention of the singer, it all comes down to this anyway. I compromised a lot of things in Rammstein. I didn't get along with the energy and the rhythm of the other members, and something was wrong. I felt like I wasn't really happy.

For me, when I write New York, I'm entering a new world. I can conquer new languages, meet new people. All those sorts of things have a big impression on you, obviously. I started to write, and I didn't really have a plan where it would go. That's not really my nature because as a German I always have a plan! I just started to write music, and then all of the sudden I realized, That would be a good chance to sing. To me as a composer, it's a pretty rough experience to write music. At the beginning I was kind of frustrated. It was easy for me to write music, and I had an idea where it would go with my voice. It was kind of difficult in the beginning to match those things.

Considering that Rammstein has some of the most diehard fans out there, how difficult was it to take the leap and begin a solo project?
I think to make music, it is something really selfish. You have to do what you're going to do. That's the only way you can really make the best music possible. You can't think in the beginning about anything else besides yourself. So for that, I never really thought about what everybody else was going to think. I had to make myself happy and do what I have to do. I think it's really important in life in general. We're here basically to do our own things. One of the reasons why I feel this way is because you learn when you go the unsafe way.

It's really, really important as an artist to explore and to give yourself a challenge, to go the unsafe way. When I did the record, I realized that there was a dangerous part where the fans would basically try to judge me or think that I would break up the band. I would try to let them be a part of it. At the beginning, I would put songs online that they could listen to, showing them what I was doing right now. I tried to be as truthful as possible to let them know that this is something I had to do basically to go back to my old band and be happy again.

What was the response from fans when you first started sharing your thoughts online?
I made the mistake in the beginning of going to all those chat rooms. There are some things you should not pay attention to because there are a lot of people there talking bullshit. In the beginning, you're obviously real sensitive. You can't take it personally. After a while, I took a step back basically. I'd talk with a lot of people and I realized a lot of people like what I do. It kind of balanced itself out.

When people are that divided, it is probably at least reassuring that there are some very passionate feelings about your music involved.
Yeah. Oddly, I have never had such good reviews. I knew I did something right. In the end, it was really important that I did my own thing.

Was it difficult to sing the entire album in English? Just from talking to you it sounds like you are completely fluent.
Actually, in the beginning it was really hard. My English was not that good. Everyday I was catching up on new things. I would spend a month in New York and then a month in Berlin, finding out what my schedule is in Germany with Rammstein. I needed some help, and I worked with my ex-wife basically. I think we managed to do some good work.

There is more of a traditional rock sound than the work you did with Rammstein. Did you use any keyboards at all on the Emigrate album?
It's funny because a couple months ago, I listened to the record for the first time. I was kind of surprised myself how rock-oriented this whole record sounded. I always pictured myself much darker in my new idea of what I am. I'm a big believer that an environment or the city leads you into the sound. I kind of realized that even in the punk era in the 70s, The Ramones sounded really rock. Maybe it's the sound of the city, maybe it's New York.

There are some keyboards and some sequencers, but not many. At the moment I'm writing my second Emigrate record, and there is much more of an electronic influence in the music than on the first one.

You must have had quite a few ideas ready to go if you're already working on the second release.
You know what? It's really the city. I don't know what it is, but New York just drives me in insane when it comes to creativity. I can write. Getting up everyday in the morning and doing all my things that I do in the studio and I'm writing everyday. The city is great inspiration to me. It's good. Maybe it's also the house that I'm living in. I'm living in an old firehouse and it's real spooky. It's haunted, actually.

Did you end up recording most of the music in New York?
I have 2 studios. I have 1 studio in New York and 1 studio in Berlin. It really depends. I'm trying to divide it between both cities. When I'm in New York, I'm writing for Emigrate. When I'm Berlin, basically I'm writing for Rammstein. Sometimes it's really difficult to do the studio stuff. On the first record, what we did is we actually recorded drums in Denmark in a great studio there because one of the most important things to a rock record is the drum parts. For me, it was really important that I have some really natural-sounding drums. Then I went back and recorded guitars in Berlin. For my guitar cabinet, I had to rebuild like 5 times because I wasn't happy with the sound of it. One of the most important things, I think, is the room.

Did you use your signature ESP on the record?
Actually I did for part of it because the record got recorded a few years ago. At that time, it was just new and I had just got the guitar. I had already started set up my guitar, and every time you're using a different guitar, you had to change basically everything - the mics, the preamps, the cabinets, all that kind of stuff.

Are you someone who enjoys experimenting with new equipment?
Completely. I'm one of those guys who loves to try new things out. I try out also preamps, and I think I tried out every preamp on this planet out. I definitely like new sounds. It takes a lot of time. One of the big issues I have is the guitar that you run up to the cabinet to your mic. What you have to do is get the sweet spot. You have to move the guitar to the microphone sometimes just half an inch. So for weeks, we would have to move it left, then right. I was so tired of going up and down! If you go up in sound, it can change all that you're doing. I can't just run around, up and down up and down.

I was looking for something like a mic stand that is basically controlled with a joystick. Nobody had it, so I went to a friend of mine in Berlin and explained my problem. He said, I know someone that can sell this to you. We both basically built a guitar mic stand that, from a control room, you can move the microphone stand up and down. You can have it different angles on the microphone. I can basically save 15 presets on my control. The other thing is the microphone also works as an equalizer. So that was a big, big help.

Have you been touring at all with Emigrate?
No. I didn't because I made kind of a promise to myself and my band Rammstein that every time Rammstein is active, I would definitely be with them. At the moment, Rammstein is writing a new record and I can't do it. I like to have this kind of vibe. There's a duality, living a dual life. So if I would tour right now, then that would be my main priority.

How is everything going with the new Rammstein album?
To kind of balance myself, I had to go back into a band where my job is basically the guitar. I was really happy to just be a guitar player! We kind of went back to the music that we thought of in the beginning. We wanted to make it as heavy as possible. It's pretty good at the moment, but we're still not ready. We take our time, but the spirit of the band is very good at the moment.

You had mentioned that Emigrate allowed you to find the happiness you didn't have for some time in Rammstein. Do you currently have a new outlook going into making the new Rammstein album?
Yes. I can really concentrate on what I'm doing, which is basically playing the guitar. Before I was doing so many things that I couldn't really concentrate on what we were actually doing. At the moment I'm happy to be just a guitar player. That's cool! I don't take things as personally anymore. For me, it's such a big step to give up control. It's something that you have to learn in life. For me to give up control and let it go and to trust in this band, it was a big step and that was really important to me. At the end of the day, it saved the band. That's what I always try to say - Emigrate, for me at least, saved Rammstein.