KMFDM makes for a pleasant surprise
By Naughty Mickie
Photos by Dave Schwartz
To be honest, even though I like KMFDM, I was a little nervous about speaking with the band's founder, Sascha Konietzko. Their music is, well, a little weird. They have a kind of underground following in my circle of music devotees, which is a shame because they're quite talented and deserve better.
KMFDM's latest lineup appears on the new release, "World War III," and has been touring. They are Konietzko, vocals, keyboards and drums, Raymond Watts, vocals and guitar, Lucia Cifarelli, vocals, Bill Rieflin, bass, Steve White, guitar, and Andy Selway, drums.
Instead of me telling you why you need to check them out, let me spark your interest by letting you listen in on my conversation with Konietzko.
"Originally it was formed on February 29, 1984 in Paris and it was at that point, basically an accompaniment to the works and exhibitions of a group of painters, sculptors and whatnot, odd related multi-media stuff," Konietzko begins. "It turned into a band pretty quickly in the year 1984. We started recording and put out the first album as KMFDM in 1986. Since, the lineup has been a big rotating cast of personalities and steady throughout almost 20 years only with myself.
"Last summer we did a tour with a just freshly reformed KMFDM and the album lineup for the return album that was made was different from the touring lineup just because some of the members had other commitments and couldn't go on the road with us." Konietzko continues, "So I recruited the whole rhythm section from the band Pig. After the tour, a couple of the guys from Pig decided that they wanted to stay on in the U.S. and we jumped straight into recording. It seems right now, not that I want to jinx anything, that this is going to be a lineup that's going to stick for a while."
I ask him to tell me a little more about KMFDM's start.
"It was this group of artists that I knew, they were from Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne," Konietzko replies. "They were quite notorious, their name was First Aid, Erste Hilfe in German. They were invited to do this opening of this big exhibition in Paris and I just kind of tagged along to get a free ride to Paris. They were like, 'Make some of your sounds, make some of your crazy noises with the vacuum cleaners and the bass guitar.' So I did."
"Were you into music as a child?" I query.
"I was always into music, but probably not more than other children," Konietzko says. "I had these horrible records by this guy named Freddy that I loved when I was a kid. He sang the sailor chanteys and was the bad boy with the guitar. He was some German crooner of the late '50s.
"I went from school into a compulsory military service which I refused because I don't believe in compulsory things period.," Konietzko shares about his life. "So for two years I had to do some sort of civilian public service which was driving Meals on Wheels, helping out in old people's homes and stuff like that. After that I had no clue what I wanted to do and I just sort of did whatever I could.
"I moved furniture, I cleaned out ships from the inside, worked the odd job here and there; always had a little side project with a band, that was always my thing," Konietzko continues. "So on Friday evening, I'd hook up with a guy, play some music and maybe prepare for a show on Saturday. Somehow it just became, surprisingly to myself, the main thing."
Konietzko didn't always sing, "I was a bass player, I didn't sing until KMFDM came around. I started playing bass and drums when I was 11 or 12. We had a music teacher in school who was very good in recognizing people's talents and furthering them. He sent me home with a drum kit for summer vacation and six weeks later, when school began, I was a pretty accomplished drummer-- for an 11 year old. The record that I drummed to was 'Sing, Sing Sing,' Benny Goodman. That was the beginning of my rehearsals practicing music."
By asking Konietzko about his free time, I discover how creative he is.
"My time is really pretty much 100 percent taken up by work and working music related stuff. If I do have some time, I do like to read and I cook. I can whip up just about anything and everything. My forte is, due to my upbringing I guess, Spanish, French, Italian sort of cuisine. So give me an empty fridge and a pack of pasta and I'll make you something very nice," Konietzko tells me. "Some people approach cooking this way, some people approach it that way, like KMFDM, there's one specific approach that I like. It creates a kind of food that is well-liked by everyone who ever eats it."
I am sparked to find out about KMFDM's approach to writing.
"Writing on this record in particular, all the music was written by me, Jules and Andy; all the lyrics are written by Raymond, Lucia and myself," Konietzko says. "That pretty much sums it up. When you hear Lucia you have to assume she wrote the parts and when you hear Raymond, the same thing. We all write our own lyrics and bring them in.
"When we are KMFDM in the studio, we don't rehearse at all, we don't really try the stuff live; we don't even go there." Konietzko goes on, "Making a studio album is just exactly that. Typically what would happen is Lucia walks in the room and we're just working on something and she goes, 'That sounds really good. I'd like to get a CD of this rough mix and work on it for a while.' And that's the way we do it or we come up with a track and I know already that 'this is going to be one of mine,' I know exactly what to do with it. We just record it.
"The problem of course is right now when, after releasing the record, we're getting ready to go on tour." Konietzko continues, "We have to figure out how to translate all that stuff that we did in the last 10 months or so, how that will translate into a live show, is that even playable? Andy's sitting there with bandaged knees and taped up fingers trying to play "World War III,' it's pretty darn fast."
KMFDM has managed to keep going and evolve with the music scene, but what does Konietzko think about it?
"I'm not really familiar with today's scene," Konietzko admits. "I think one of the thriving factors or components for being KMFDM is just a general disgust with the sort of general music scene. That was always our thing, to make music that we thought was either listenable or cool or at least better than the shit that's commercially available. I don't know, what is the world? Is Linkin Park still around?"
I wonder if the Internet has helped the band.
"It has affected KMFDM very greatly," Konietzko responds. "We were online since 1992, I believe, and we had our first Web site. I think we were one of the first bands who ran their own Web site. We had a mail order business, as soon as credit card transactions become feasible, we just went ahead and did the whole thing.
"It's at a point now where we get so many messages every day that I really have to set aside hours and hours to take care of all of it." Konietzko continues, "Of course that affects KMFDM as well, maybe in an adverse way, but I still believe that everybody deserves my attention when they go through the trouble of writing and asking questions. I feel that it's my obligation and duty to write back; try to help out as much as I can. So in effect it really results in a sort of widespread correspondence; a web of correspondence for us and we have people in all kinds of places. If I go to this or that city, I know who's there."
"So the Internet's been good for you," I offer.
"Yes, at the same time if I want to play devil's advocate and look at something from a label's perspective, I'd say KMFDM's greatest success was in the year '95, with the 'Nihil' album, that's when KMFDM sold the most records and the Internet was certainly nowhere near where it is nowadays," Konietzko says. "So maybe KMFDM's commercialism is past their prime and maybe that's also partly due to the Internet because people don't have to buy KMFDM any more, there's too many other things. So our success may be much greater than it was in 1995 except that it doesn't show the fallout in their figures. Many more people have KMFDM now than they did back then, but they didn't buy it."
I wonder about KMFDM's staying power.
"Because of the concept of KMFDM, just the rotating cast, it keeps it fresh and exciting," Konietzko states. "No record ever ties in with the next or the previous one. For me, it's like a photo album, I don't know if you have one, but I do and here's a picture of little Mickie when she was six, here's one when she was eight, here's one when she was nine. That's kind of how KMFDM looks to me when I look back at the albums.
"We never ever have the time and the financial funding to make a record that is the ultimate record, it's always the point where you say it has to be done now, this is it, we cannot afford to work any harder or any longer on this." Konietzko goes on, "As a result, we can't be precious about it, we can't be too precious about it. It's like this is it, there's going to be another one if we fuck this one up. It's amusing to see people, especially online, to pick apart every aspect. It's really funny to me. There isn't often that much thought that goes into something, it just kind of appears afterward. It's like, this must have been really really contrived, but it wasn't.
"There's so many facets to KMFDM, one of the typical phenomena that I see all the time is, for example, you go onto Amazon.com where they have the five star rating system, every customer can rate any given release by five stars ratings." Konietzko continues, "KMFDM never gets three stars, they always have five or one. You hate it or you love it, there's no in between, there's no indifference about KMFDM, there's no people that go, 'Well, KMFDM, they're all right.' It's either, 'I love KMFDM' or 'God, they're really fucking awful.' And that's it, that passion that weaves into the deepest folds and most hidden layers of KMFDM.
"KMFDM wouldn't be around if it wasn't for the fans and I think that ultimately answers the previous question, what keeps KMFDM going? It's the demand for it. That people would show us is relevant, by just not coming to our shows or not showing any interest, then we would probably have to say, 'OK, this is done, this is over.' But as long as they're coming out, as long as that happens, we will be there to please and entertain and to make fools out of ourselves," Konietzko laughs.
I note the band's rotating cast of musicians from around the globe makes things difficult.
"No, it's not hard at all," Konietzko asserts. "There's more wanting to be members of KMFDM than we can shake sticks at. I get a hell of a lot of records, especially while on tour, people hand me their own work and say, 'Can I be in KMFDM?' It tells us that it's pretty darn good.
"For me, working with say Efram Rhinehart, an old friend, one of the noisemakers from Einstruzende Neubauten, working with him on 'Xtort' in 1996, was a kick for him, it was a kick for me and ultimately, it was a kick for the fans. 'Wow, that's cool, the guy from Neubauten is collaborating with KMFDM on this album,'" Konietzko says.
We discuss the current tour.
"It's quite important to reintroduce KMFDM to the European audiences, it's been a bit too long that we had a strong presence over there. And then time will tell. Success or unsuccess of 'World War III' will basically dictate when how and if why the next album is being recorded," Konietzko says.
I offer Konietzko an opportunity to talk about anything he wants.
"I'm little burnt out from a late rehearsal last night, my brain feels like old toilet paper," Konietzko starts. "Yesterday finally the last straggler showed up here and we now have all our little eggs in one basket; the pigs are in their sty. Raymond is over in the hotel and I'll see him for lunch in a little while and we'll make plans for the devious events of this upcoming weekend. We're going to be filming an introduction to our show, a silent movie that just runs before we come out on stage."
I mention my plans to catch KMFDM at the House of Blues in Anahiem.
"We got searched last time we went to Disneyland, they had beagles search the tour bus. It was quite exciting, we had to show our passports," Konietzko laughs.
"We're excited." Konietzko continues speaking about the tour, "It's always good to come out of the smoky studio after 10 months or so. I have to say we did have a bit of an extraordinary nice summer here in Seattle. The month after delivery, most of July, we spent on the water, speedboating, waterskiing, shooting guns and stuff, it was good."
I ask if Seattle, Washington now his home.
"I make my home wherever my stuff is, but somehow in the last 10 years I moved to Seattle three times. There's something about this place that I like. It's very pretty. I'm actually sitting in my studio, I can see lots of water, big ships, two mountain ranges covered in snow, one to the east, one to the west, and the tip of a volcano." Konietzko laughs, "There's nothing like a day getting out on the ski slopes and in the evening time, going into the studio shouting out songs like 'World War III.'"
Learn more about KMFDM at www.kmfdm.net
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