Longevity in an ever-changing music market, particularly in the hard and extreme music genre is a tricky thing, particularly with routinely shifting trends and styles. KMFDM, one of the pioneers of industrial metal, celebrates twenty years in 2004. Their longevity comes from their pulse-pounding protest jams, unyielding provocations of toe-tapping metal with a message for the masses: Twenty years is not enough! Pitriff had the privilege of speaking with KMFDM leader, Sascha Konietzko in a thought-provoking interview about the state of the band and the state of the world it operates in.
PITRIFF – So what’s happening, man?
SK – Oh, I’m just stuck in Seattle traffic! The fucking idiot drivers here cause all these traffic jams that are completely unnecessary!
PITRIFF – (laughs) That sucks ass, man. Okay, I want to start off by talking about something I saw on the website, “Two Decades of Conceptual Continuity.” Looking back after twenty years, back then, did you think KMFDM would have such staying power?
SK – No, I never thought it would last another day or so past the first one. (laughs)
PITRIFF – (laughs)
SK – It was always, you know, purely for fun. It’s quite interesting that it went for so long, so far.
PITRIFF – So KMFDM, loosely translated, since the acronym is really supposed to be in German, is ‘No Pity for the Majority.’
SK – ‘No Pity for the Majority,’ yeah.
PITRIFF – So where did Kill Motherfucking Depeche Mode come from? Was that from you guys, the fans, or what?
SK – It was just basically a snappy little response instead of winding out the whole story when we first came to the States. Yeah, people always asked, ‘What does KMFDM stand for?’ and we were sort of, yeah, it’s a German acronym for No Pity…you know, it got to be old.
PITRIFF – Right.
SK – So we figured we’ll just say something like that, everybody gets it, gets a good laugh out of it, and that’ll be that.
PITRIFF – (laughs) Right. Well, back to the literal translation for a second, No Pity for the Majority would kind of sum up the essence of KMFDM’s music and lyrics. You know, music for the underground, for real people, songs like “Power,” “Drug Against War,” “Pity for the Pious.” Would it be accurate to say KMFDM is about attacking maybe the bourgeoisie, expressing a voice for the people?
SK – It could be seen as that. I mean, it’s not necessarily a kind of quest that we’re on, it’s just basically…your own self decrepitness or, you know, something fun. I mean, we could do songs about chicks and tits and stuff, but it doesn’t really reflect our personalities. We’re more like the sort of, you know, anarchist types.
PITRIFF – That’s what I’ve always felt throughout the years listening to you guys.
SK – Right.
PITRIFF – Right. So you guys came along during what I call the industrial counter movement, in the mid-eighties to mid-nineties, and you operated with Ministry, Skinny Puppy, Front Line Assembly, the whole Wax Trax crew. Since industrial came on the heels of the original metal movement, do you feel like industrial was kind of the next logical step in the evolution of hard-driving music?
SK – It’s a different thing, what we call industrial here in the U.S. as opposed to what we call it back in Europe, you know, that’s a kind of definition problem, I guess, but yeah, seeing it that way as you’ve just explained it, it would be the next logical step. I mean, there’s basically nothing that can allow itself to be harder than certain forms of metal and industrial.
PITRIFF – Mmm hmm.
SK – It’s definitely the hardest it can get at this point.
PITRIFF – Now, Angst and Nihil and Xtort, those were really big albums for you guys. How would you sum up or summarize this period of time when you had a lot of well-known songs like “Juke Joint Jezebel,” “Megalomaniac,” “Light,” and all that; how would you summarize that moment of time for the band?
SK – It was a time where I felt we made the shittiest music we’ve ever done.
PITRIFF – Oh, really?
SK – (laughs) I mean, Xtort was a deliberate return to some resemblance of the basics after that sort of mishap with “Juke Joint,” and you know, sort of almost mainstream acceptance that we saw for about a year or so. I very consciously decided to make another record that was definitely way more…uncompromised…and, you know, completely straight-up. It had to do at the time with too many cooks, I think, stirring in the pot of pea soup.
PITRIFF – Gotcha.
SK – It was never my thing to make appealing music.
PITRIFF – Right. Well, going back to the original Naïve album, and my German sucks, but “Leibesleid…”
SK – Right, “Leibesleid.”
PITRIFF – So many artists followed you, but you sampled the ‘O Fortuna’ part of Orff’s Carmina Burana, probably to best that it’s ever been done, I think. You were asked to stop using it because of clearance issues, but I think it’s the most powerful mix of that sample, given the trite way other people who followed you misused it. So, do you ever feel any regrets about having to redo it for Naïve/Hell to Go?
SK – Yeah, we should never have redone it. I mean, it was kind of like a courtesy. I happen to know the owner of that copyright and I had no idea that it was his copyright when we used it. But it was like, hey dude, you gotta take this out of action, this can’t circulate any longer, otherwise we’ll have to slap a lawsuit on you. Unfortunately, we just went in and messed with the track. We should never have done that. That was definitely a regrettable thing.
PITRIFF – It’s a shame, because it came across great, you know?
SK – Do you think Ministry got clearance? I mean, their new album starts with that thing!
PITRIFF – (laughs) I don’t have the new Ministry yet. I didn’t know they used that!
SK – Yeah.
PITRIFF – Well, tell me a little bit about the KMFDM power structure, the monster riffs, the electronic foundations and stomp beats, you know, the past few albums have really been aggressive.
SK – Right, what do you want to know about it, how it happens and stuff?
PITRIFF – Yeah, exactly, when you guys organize it together.
SK – Well, it’s very hard to say. It’s always like this or it’s always like that. Every song has a sort of, like, a bit of history that is kind of unique, and shapes the song as well. Some tracks start with a guitar riff. For example, “WWIII” started with that little banjo intro and after that, we were like, okay, now where’s the rest of the song? (laughs) Four of us that do the writing, Lucia (Cifarelli), myself, Julian (Hodgson) and Andy (Selway), and between the four of us it just kind of gels and happens in an organic kind of way.
PITRIFF – Definitely. Now, I would have to say KMFDM’s mission statement, and I’m borrowing a quote from your site, is to ‘rip the system.’ How would you elaborate upon that, as far as ripping the system?
SK – Well, ripping the system is essentially what we…not without sort of detours here and there, came to do. We completely eliminated the middle man, we’re not on a label anymore, we own all our shit. We own all of our merchandizing, our publishing, and we successfully ripped one system, the system of you know, music…major labels and that kind of stuff, the whole exploitation and the whole unfairness of the business. We took control of our own entity and our own fate.
PITRIFF – So what kind of things happened to you in the past? I guess, what, record labels screwed you, managers screwed you?
SK – Yeah, both. I mean, we got screwed here and there along the way and I’ve always been quite on the…outlook and pretty alert on those kinds of things, but it definitely happens. I mean, people have their hands in the pot and they can’t help but take, you know?
PITRIFF – Yeah.
SK – And, so now it’s really all where it should be. If one dollar comes in, the four of us get twenty-five cents each.
PITRIFF – That’s cool.
SK – There’s no manager, there’s no one that gets himself enriched by our work, other than ourselves.
PITRIFF – The way it should be, man, at least you have total control. I’m starting to see a lot of that; it’s more the wave of the future. I think people are getting savvy to what’s going on in the business world and taking measures in their own hands.
SK – Yeah, exactly, and that’s a good thing. I mean, the ripping the system example would work on many levels in many different creative genres, I’m sure. It’s not necessarily limited to music and the music industry.
PITRIFF – Right. Now forgive the length of this next question, but you guys have had the unique opportunity to sound off against both Bushes, you know, on Angst and WWIII. I personally take the position that the more conservative our climate is, the better and more urgent the music scene becomes. You and Ministry tackled Bush, Sr. with “Drug Against War” and “N.W.O.” respectively, and now you get to do it to his son on WWIII with “Stars and Stripes,” “Bullets, Bombs and Bigotry,” etcetera. So first, would you agree with the theory I’m posting here, and second, have you felt something of an obligation to protest through your music? That’s probably an obvious question.
SK – I think if anyone needs to protest, it’s musicians. I’m actually surprised that there’s so few of us who actually open their mouths and really say what’s going on. Maybe it’s not enough to enlist with punkvoter.com and then go out on tour, maybe it’s much more important to convey your message in your songs, you know? Yeah, the Bushes have had a pretty horrific and deep impact on American history over the last fourteen years. I think that’s certainly something, you know, enough can’t be said about.
PITRIFF – Absolutely. Again, I think the whole scene today has really climbed the past couple of years with all this shit that’s going on overseas, and Bush’s, in my opinion, false war. So I myself am very invigorated to see so much of it getting stronger and stronger with each year, you know?
SK – Right. No, it’s a good thing, but it’s happening rather slow still. I hope it picks up a little more steam soon.
PITRIFF – Yeah. Well, they have those Rock Against Bush comps, so that’s a start, and yourself, you’re doing very strong protest music, which leads into my next question. KMFDM might be considered fringe music and its fans fringe culture. I guess together they may be viewed as enemies of the state in the eyes of the right wing, but could we say maybe that the right wing is the true enemy of the state, if the state is comprised of the common people? Particularly with your stance against war, fascism and brute violence?
SK – Well, I mean, the true enemy of the state is the fascist junta that is running this country, I mean fascism, as defined by Mussolini, who invented the thing, is the quickening of state and money, corporations and power. This is essentially what’s going on in this country and this is what divides the American people. I mean, the middle class is eroding really quick; the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting much poorer. This divide is, in essence, a real problem, because people…their positions are so far apart they don’t even talk to each other anymore. I see it all the time on discussions on KMFDM or related kind of newsgroups, blogs and stuff, you know, the level of forum is very low, and the level of hatred and lashing out and that kind of stuff is very, very high.
PITRIFF – You’re right.
SK – This is divide and rule, the old Roman principle. You divide your people and you rule them. Bush has learned this lesson from his daddy really well.
PITRIFF – (laughs) That’s right, and unfortunately, there’s too many people in my opinion that feel it’s inconvenient to seek truth or seek an alternative, so they just blindly follow what’s in the lead, you know?
SK – Yeah, well the setup for this whole thing was definitely a tricky one. I mean, 9-11 completely charged the country emotionally. That really gave Bush the grounds on which to seize even more power and release things like the Patriot Act, cementing himself and his government into the oddest position America ever had, you know?
PITRIFF – Exactly. A damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.
SK – Exactly, and you just wait, you know? He’s going to get re-elected and he’s going to stay in power, and then the next thing is Iran, and then the mess will be really fucking complete.
PITRIFF – And the only comfort I take through Bush staying for four more years is the music ought to be good, in reaction to him being in power still.
SK – I’m not sure exactly what’s going to happen with us, but I don’t think I want to live here in this country any longer if…you know… I’m not keen on living in a police state. I’m from Germany, we have our problems, we had our past, and there’s actually a very high level of alertness and awareness in Germany about things like dictatorial regimes and stuff like that. I mean, yeah, I love this country, but I don’t love it enough to sit through another four years of Bushisms and, you know, this sort of ongoing McCarthyism and the blackballing, that kind of shit.
PITRIFF – You’re right. Now I want to switch gears on you a little bit and I want to talk about one of my favorite KMFDM songs, “Sucks.” I just love how you rip on yourselves, so what was the inspiration for doing that at the time?
SK – The inspiration was kind of….I was driving my friend from England from my house to the studio, and we were talking about a song that we had just started the night before and what we were going to do with it, and somehow, as we were driving, I started babbling and he started writing down and by the time we reached the studio, it was ready! (laughs)
PITRIFF – (laughs)
SK – Good to go.
PITRIFF – Yeah.
SK – Yeah, it was just like, a take a piss kind of song.
PITRIFF – Right! It was hilarious, man, and it had a good groove to go with it.
SK – Well, you know, back to the writing aspect, often times it is…the first line, you just go like…oh, here’s a good opening line for a song, you know, ‘I declare war on the world!’ and the rest of the lyrical content develops itself just by that one line, so to speak, you just get the drift, and with “Sucks,” it was the same thing. ‘We like talking dirty, we smoke and we drink’ and okay, let’s start writing, you know?
PITRIFF – Right. So I guess the next topic I really trip off of, is your quote “MTV is an insult to the world,” which I love. (laughs) So tell me your thoughts about MTV, man.
SK – I haven’t watched MTV in the last four or five years. I actually have no idea what’s going on there, but I assume it’s the same crap as always.
PITRIFF – (laughs)
SK – And I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case, but I don’t know, that was a phase in the nineties, where I just sort of railed against MTV and all this that it’s become utterly unimportant to us.
PITRIFF – Mmm hmm. Well, the next thing I have is the MDFMK thing. I mean, you quietly snuck into the scene and right back out again with it. Was this kind of like a silent wink to the fans that KMFDM would soon be back?
SK – It was more like a sort of, um…KMFDM needed to break up for awhile and give everyone space to figure out what to do next. I didn’t want to depart too far away from, you know, my KMFDM entity, my little baby, so to speak.
PITRIFF – Right.
SK – But I figured I would just reverse the name and that’ll be that.
PITRIFF – It was cool, but it took awhile for word to get on the street that it was out there. There were so many people who were like, what the hell is that? I was like, dude, it’s KMFDM backwards! (laughs)
SK – (laughs) It was just something to do in the meantime, we wanted to do a really electronic kind of project, like…contrived little thing, and so we got ourselves a budget and locked ourselves in and the good thing that came out of it was the collaboration with Lucia.
PITRIFF – Yes.
SK – Who wouldn’t be in KMFDM now if it hadn’t been for MDFMK.
PITRIFF – So, I mean, obviously she’s hung with you since then, but how’s she working out for you? I know there’s been a lot of personnel rotation, but she seems to have some staying power, just by listening to her.
SK – Yeah, I mean, she’s definitely my favorite female vocalist of all time and as far as the lyrical stuff she does, I think it really fits and complements the stuff Raymond (Watts) and myself are doing, so it’s very good. I’m happy with the lineup as it is right now and I think it’s a combination or constellation that is here to stay for awhile, hopefully.
PITRIFF – Yep. Let me ask you this; during the Columbine tragedy, do you think KMFDM was headhunted or scapegoated like Rammstein during that whole ordeal where everybody was looking to blame someone?
SK – Well, the fact is this: those two kids were definitely not Rammstein or Marilyn Manson fans, they were definitely KMFDM fans. The thing was, the media really started a witch hunt because obviously the whole thing was so mind-boggling, nobody could really deal with it at all, so people started to look around. What makes people do this kind of shit? Or it could be rock music, it’s like the old idea, oh, that Black Sabbath song is making people suicidal, blah blah blah. I think the good thing that I’m really proud of to this day, is that I never really reacted to that. Dan Rather’s office called my office, you know, and was like, ‘we think you should go on the air and make a statement,’ and I’m like, ‘I have nothing to say, this is obviously and completely a bogus context you’re putting us in,’ and you know, as long as I’m not accused of anything officially…in other words, as long as the FBI’s not knocking on my door, I treated it like, ‘this is your story, not mine.’
PITRIFF – Yeah.
SK – So it came that within forty-eight hours the whole thing blew over our heads, that KMFDM, as an icon of an enemy, did not stick with Middle America, and then the media shifted to Rammstein, which was more well-known, and especially to Marilyn Manson, because everybody loves to hate Manson. So in the end, it’s like most news stories, they misrepresented the actual story, which, I don’t give a shit, you know? That was the good thing.
PITRIFF – I hear you. It seems to me that until we all die, it’s going to be an endless cycle. Let’s blame the music. Let’s blame Ozzy, let’s blame Priest, let’s blame Manson and KMFDM and so on. I don’t think it’s ever going to stop, you know? People are just so confused they have to find something, and unfortunately, music ends up taking it in the butt.
SK – Right, well, it’s got to be something, right?
PITRIFF – Yeah, I guess. (laughs)
SK – (laughs)
PITRIFF – Well, on the heels of your last disc, WWIII Live 2003, you’re about to begin another tour. Going in hand that you’re in control of everything, this is a self-financed tour, right?
SK – Yeah, absolutely, totally self.
PITRIFF – Right on, so you’re celebrating twenty years. How’s this going to work for you, man? Is this the first time you’ve self-financed a tour?
SK – We’ve always self-financed our tours in the past few years, but it was always by the means of overhaul product, so this time it’s simply based on the guarantees, and we’re looking good. It looks like KMFDM is on the up, and the little downswing we experienced the last couple of years is hopefully turning. Promoters seem really happy to have us back and back, year after year, and they’re doubling and tripling our guarantees.
PITRIFF – Good.
SK – Yeah, so hopefully something will stay in our pockets and then we can, you know…lock ourselves up in the studio and make a new piece of mayhem!
PITRIFF – There you go, man! You’re beginning in Canada, when?
SK – October 6th.
PITRIFF – Okay, cool, then you swing down to the States. So, this is my last question, really, what are your expectations for this tour, you know, it’s…you’re probably pumped, I’m sure. Rush is celebrating thirty years this year and you guys twenty. You probably have an extra bounce in your step.
SK – Well, I’m looking forward to twenty-five years, actually. I think that’s going to be a real anniversary, you know, one that is worth mentioning. (laughs)
PITRIFF – (laughs) So are you looking to mix up most of the albums on this tour, or are you concentrating on a certain period of time?
SK – Well, we actually incorporated a bunch of older tracks into the set now.
PITRIFF – Cool!
SK – We’re playing everything like “Go to Hell,” “Sex on the Flag,” shit that we haven’t played in many, many years. It’s a good set, twenty songs, two hours. Also, we’re putting out the ’84-’86 material on a double album, ready for the tour. Just another piece of the retrospective puzzle that is KMFDM. It should be good, man.
PITRIFF – Yeah, man. Well, that’s all I have, I really appreciate you calling in.
SK – Alright, take it easy.
PITRIFF – Thanks, brother!
Interview By Ray Van Horn / Pitriff.comPowered by Sidelines