Along with Front 242 and Front Line Assembly, KMFDM is one of the pinnacle bands in the world of industrial music, starting out in 1984 when today’s many leather and vinly clad Hot Topic youngsters were running around in diapers. When the group decided to call it quits and released their last album, Adios, it left a gap in the scene and in the hearts of its members.
But life moves on and so did they, including one of its founding members and the main songwriter and producer of the group, Sascha Konietzko. And move he did, from Seattle to Chicago to Manhattan, a city that is a perfect setting for those who want to lose or find themselves, “I did both,” Sascha laughs.
These days he’s back in Seattle, which he hopes to call home for some time to come. “There’s a quaintness, a recreational value. I work hard, but I do like to go outside and have the mountains and the ocean at my disposal.” This is also the new headquarters, again, for the KMFDM of 2003.
Before we jump ahead of ourselves, let’s go back to the year 2000. Sascha and Tim Skold, who had become close songwriting and programming partners, especially on the Adios album, started kicking around the idea of a new project; to be something different and new, but that continued to personify their signature musical energy. The answer came by holding up a mirror to the old KMFDM.
“MDFMK was a project that was started with very high hopes and lots of encouragement from both fans and our new label, Universal,” Sascha explains, “We did the unthinkable. We broke up KMFDM, then signed this major label deal with the MDFMK project.”
In retrospect, Universal was more enthusiastic than Sascha felt they should have been because of their monetary expectations. “It became apparent to us that it was all hype. They were hoping we would become the Prodigy of some sorts, to be a cash cow.” Unbeknownst to the label, MDFMK had no desire to be anything other than who they were, and therefore, went in a different direction than expected. After a time, it was clear that Sascha needed to cut the losses for both the band and the label, and approached them with a proposition to exit.
MDFMK was able to leave the label with their music, right around the time that many around them wanted the group to turn back the clock while they moved forward. “People were saying, ‘Return the letters. Nobody can pronounce it. KMFDM already. It’s not all that different. It’s a continuation of the direction you’ve already been going with the KMFDM albums. So you might as well be KMFDM again.’ I didn’t warm up to the idea at first.”
But Sascha didn’t discard the idea either. He ran the transition by his band partners, Tim and Lucia Cifarelli Suki, who agreed that it was time to make KMFDM a reality again. This meant they also needed to converse with the previous members of the band, including one the original founders, En Esch, to see if they too wanted to be involved. But as with any broken relationship, there is baggage.
“The break up came from internal struggles and different people going in different directions that tore KMFDM apart,” he says. And the differences continued after he approached them. “They all said, ‘Fuck you,’ basically. ‘We don’t want to work this kind of thing after you guys go your own way for two years. We’ve gone our own ways as well.’ And that was fair enough. But KMFDM is my baby, and I’m going to see it through.”
Some legal issues ensued as he brought KMFDM back to life, even though they had set up the band and ran things in a handshake fashion. Sascha took it all with a grain of salt, “Those are just the remains of a disgruntled relationship. It’s never pretty, whether it’s a divorce or a band break up. Most people don’t want to put an effort into tackling anything difficult, like remaining friends. That’s fine. I came out of it stronger, if not unscathed.”
After battling the war with former labels and former band members, in 2001, Sascha was ready to rally his new world army, including guitarist Joolz Hodgson and Steve White, vocalists Raymond “Pig” Watss and Lucia, and on drums, Andy Selway. Although Tim and Sascha were still close friends, it was time for Tim to leave the KMFDM camp to work full time with Marilyn Manson.
It was through Sascha’s past relationships that allowed him to put together his current line up. “Raymond’s band, Pig, had this phenomenal live band – this rhythm section of two guitarists and a drummer,” which was used as the live musicians for KMFDM’s first come back tour to support the 2001 release of Attack! That tour and the chemistry between the entire group worked so well the musicians became permanent members.
The next step was to get a record deal, which they did with the Sanctuary Records Group, and getting started on the next album, World War III, which was released in September of this year.
When KMFDM made their come back with Attack!, the lyrical themes proved to be prophetic after the actual 9/11 attack on our country. Today, the group continues to be very blatant about their view of world issues and opinions, one of the key reasons they have such devoted fans.
This is evident on World War III, not only with the title track, but on “Bullets, Bombs, Bigotry” or “Stars and Stripes” whose main character could be portrayed by a number of political leaders or CEOs of our country, “A tyrant is a man who allows his people no freedom/Driven by the lust of power/Compelled by greed/Thirst for fame.”
The other driving factor of the new album was to take production in a different direction, which led to working with a live drummer in the studio as opposed to their past method of having electronics at the forefront. Although they still used sequences and loops to retain their drum and bass quality on such tracks as “More On” and “Last Things”, the machine side was used to a lesser degree, and the depth and beats became more organic through Andy’s skills at the kit.
“We started like a rock band would, laying down tracks – bass, guitars. That way of producing a record captured a lot of the energy of the drums…the static and the hiss, the density. It was something I’d never experienced before in production.”
A new level of sophistication rose to the surface on “From Here On Out” where Lucia’s angelic vocals draped over a rich, symphonic atmosphere. “That was actually one of the first songs we tackled on this project. It underwent a lot of transformations through the process. But I’m always stoked when that song kicks in. It’s a juicy follow up to a song you think cannot have a follow up,” he says, referring to the title track of World War III.
Having a song called “Intro” at the end of the album is classic KMFDM – whatever is expected, they want to do the opposite…with a dash of their sarcastic humor. The music for this song never evolved to a point of fruition, and at the end of production, they still had no lyrical concept. “On the last days of mixing in Chicago, we were wondering what we were going to do with it. We kicked around the idea of making it an introduction to the band, a tool you use on stage to start your encore or something. We just laid down the lyrics and the song without spending too much time polishing it because it had to be raw, as if it were captured live. And what could be better than put a song called ‘Intro’ at the end of an album?”
The actual intro to the CD is another surprise. Since the title track has such a sonic onslaught of guitars, drums and bass, they wanted to have some way to ease people into it. They arrived with a ying to their yang – a rural, country back porch scenario, complete with a banjo, crickets and a hound dog howling in the background. When I first listened to it, I thought I had put the wrong CD in the player, “It crossed our minds that some people’s reaction would be along those lines,” he says laughing.
When they were in the mastering studio, they wanted to be even sneakier, and mix “Intro” so it played low enough to make you crank your stereo, and when World War III came on, gave you a heart attack. But the production guy thought it might result in lawsuits to replace stereo speakers, so they had to even out the sound a bit more. “It was good fun though. We got quite a few laughs out of it.”
While they’re laughing, the concept behind the album is definitely on the serious side. “As the album unfolded, it paralleled the whole tragic comedy unfolding worldwide with American invading other countries, which had the whole world reeling their heads in protest. Everything is being washed away by this mass of complacency in this country.”
What was interesting to Sascha was the difference in the reaction to their concepts. During the course of many interviews of the past few weeks, American music journalists questioned why KMFDM were so overtly political versus European music journalists who embraced them, especially since these words and ideas were coming from an American band with European roots.
He doesn’t feel that the KMFDM of today is becoming more political. After 9/11, none of us can help but be more aware of what’s going on beyond Hollywood gossip or our own hometowns. “The American general public is becoming more politicized, therefore you have an ear that’s open for it. Nobody commented on the KMFDM songs about the war in Sudan that’s been going on for 35 years and has cost millions of lives,” Sascha says, contemplating his words for a moment. “It’s more on everyone’s radar now. This record comes coincidentally at a time when there’s an appetite for destruction.”
KMFDM attacks the Ogden with Long Island rockers, Bile, on Monday, October 20.