Apr 2018 25

After 23 years, NIHIL remains one of the most enduring and beloved albums in KMFDM’s discography, now given the vinyl remaster treatment. Käpt’n K speaks now with ReGen about the album’s history and legacy, along with some hints as to what is yet to come from the Ultra Heavy Beat!
 

 

An InterView with Sascha “Käpt’n K” Konietzko of KMFDM

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

In April of 1995, 11 years into the band’s existence, KMFDM unleashed an album that would earn the acknowledgement of the mainstream while remaining a very definitive release for the industrial underground. A brutal onslaught of mechanized brilliance and distorted manifestos against fascism and all forms of intolerance, complete with soulful female vocals and the odd horn section, NIHIL remains one of the Ultra Heavy Beat’s most enduring and beloved records. Songs like “Juke Joint Jezebel” and “Beast” became staples of the industrial dance floor for years to come, while other tracks like “Search & Destroy,” “Revolution,” “Terror,” and “Dis-O-bedience” provide hard-hitting anthems for the disaffected and the disenfranchised against tyranny and oppression. After 23 years, KMFDM revisits the now classic NIHIL with a special new release of the album in a pristine vinyl remaster that delivers these classic songs as never before, complete with a deluxe aluminum metal cover hand manufactured by KMFDM super fan and Ohio based metalworker Rachel Schutt; pre-orders for this limited edition vinyl re-release are available now via KMFDM’s Fulfillment Merch Store. ReGen Magazine is privileged to have had the opportunity to speak with Sascha “Käpt’n K” Konietzko as he offers his recollections on the album’s creation in late 1994/early 1995, along with some loving words of remembrance for WaxTrax! co-founder Jim Nash, his musical influences in the realms of punk, funk, reggae, and African music, with a jump forward to the present and impending future as he tells us about some of the musicians we can expect to hear on KMFDM’s new music, proving once again the truth of the lyric, “You only get respect when you’re kickin’ ass!”

 

When we’d last spoken, you mentioned how the resurgence of vinyl was of interest to you and that you were now selling vinyl in a fairly short amount of time compared to the band’s earlier days. What is it about vinyl that you enjoy most over CD and digital formats?
Also, to what would you attribute the renewed interest in vinyl in audiences today?

Konietzko: I simply love the format. It has a tangibility that no other medium ever surpassed – the large cover artwork, the crackling of the grooves, the hop and skip that, once established, will always occur at the exact same spot of a piece of music. Vinyl is still cool and cool again for number of reasons, I think – for the old-school type that has never gotten friendly with digital formats, for vinyl DJs, for the Generation X type because it’s so archaic, and again, its deft and hands-on approach. Like actual film-based photography, vinyl will probably never go out of style, or so I hope.

For the new vinyl remaster of NIHIL, the track order is quite different. Was this a necessity of the vinyl format, or was there perhaps a thematic purpose to the new arrangement of the songs?

Konietzko: First off, we created a special ‘for-vinyl-remaster’ of the 1994 original masters, not the CD rerelease ones. Secondly, the ‘real estate’ that a double-12” vinyl release afforded us to create an extra loud and frequency rich vinyl master cut with extra wide grooves in 45 RPM instead of the traditional 33 RPM of classic vinyl formats provides additional sonic advantages, but on the other hand, limits each side to a 10-to-14-minute duration without losing the aforementioned benefits. In other words, the shorter the program per side, the better the audio reproduction. That made it necessary to rearrange the track listing in order to stay within those limits yet have a result of the highest quality possible.

For many, the NIHIL period is a definitive point in KMFDM’s history, both in terms of the songs and the personnel. As well, it’s one of the very few albums with artwork not by BRUTE! (even though it has a song called ‘Brute’), and Rachel Schutt has done a rather gorgeous handmade aluminum cover for the deluxe edition. I can say that for me as a 14-year-old, NIHIL changed my life and my perceptions of music. As the album is now 23 years old, can you tell us what NIHIL means to you, personally? Are there any particularly fond memories about the album that you’d like to share?

Konietzko: Where to begin? On some level, the visibility of NIHIL was paramount to any previous KMFDM release. The might of TVT Records, who’d had a major hit with NIN’s debut album just a few years earlier and had at this time taken over control of WaxTrax! Records, stood fully behind this release. For many people who were at the age where one discovers ‘one’s’ music (which undoubtedly makes an imprint on one’s musical tastes later in life), between roughly 12- and 16-years-old, this was among the more visible yet still considered somewhat ‘underground’ releases of that time, which sooner or later would be one way or another be shoved into their faces, whether by the doing of older siblings, a movie soundtrack, video game, or the overall mid ’90s blossoming scene of so-called industrial music clubs and the general edge culture trends.

For the making of the album, I remember it being somewhat chaotic and slightly all over the place. I had moved from Chicago to Seattle in late 1993 and begun to build a home recording studio there in which I hatched a good chunk of the initial material that later turned out to become the starting points of the NIHIL album.
From the summer of ’94 thru Christmas that year, there were three prolonged sessions at various rooms in Seattle’s Bad Animals Studios. I believe the facility was still owned by the Heart sisters at that time. During the first of these three stages of the making of the album, I flew Günter Schulz and Dorona Alberti to Seattle to lay some more stuff on the skeletal bits and pieces I had prepared. Among the songs we worked on during that time were all of the heavily programmed ones – i.e. ‘Ultra,’ ‘Trust,’ ‘Beast,’ ‘Dis-O-bedience,’ ‘Flesh,’ ‘Revolution,’ and oddly enough, ‘Make Love,’ which was later rejected by me and put on the backburner because it was corny in more than one way. A few weeks after this session, I reconnected with Raymond Watts by coincidence over unrelated matters after many years of having been out of touch entirely. Just for the hell of it, he and I agreed on creating a one-off side project named PIG vs. KMFDM, and I flew him out to Seattle as well as Günter Schulz and the three of us put together this EP in the course of a few days. In order for this release to come on really strong, I had ‘sacrificed’ my favorite track from the pool of tracks prepared for what eventually would become the NIHIL album to this product, the track that was turned into the song ‘Secret Skin.’ Somewhat jokingly, I asked Raymond to return the favor and contribute something to the new KMFDM album that was in the works. He happily agreed and came back to Seattle a month or two later where we along with En Esch and Mark Durante put yet another few layers of material to tape.
In the meantime, I’d come up with a few more basic track ideas, among them a very different version of what later became ‘Brute,’ as well as a very poppy track, which later turned out as ‘Juke Joint Jezebel,’ and a little tune which I had entirely pieced together from seemingly hundreds of samples of guitar bits from various punk rock songs, ‘Search & Destroy.’ By the way, the line ‘Our silence is death’ was part of a graffiti on the wall of the studio car park garage. Other tracks such as ‘Terror’ and ‘Brute’ were completely overworked from their initial incarnations to become what you know them as now. We got a fantastic brass/winds section into the studio to round off ‘Dis-O-bedience,’ and Esch and Watts contributed their share of lyrics and vocal performances, bells, whistles, and what have you. Good times were had and in the end, everybody left quite inspired with good hopes for the final outcome of the album. I got stuck with the bill for the studio time, the engineer, the flight tickets, and all those nightly outings at the Italian restaurant Assaggio next door to the studio, where fabulous meals and libation was copiously enjoyed at all time, night and day, rain or shine, by all involved in this second stage of the studio production of NIHIL.
Then in December of 1994, my friend and sound engineer Chris Shepard convened with me for the third and final round in the big room of the Seattle studio complex, Studio X. This was when and where the finishing touches were added and the final mixes were created.
NIHIL was the longest in the making projects I had since been involved with.

I had the pleasure of catching the Los Angeles screening of the WaxTrax! documentary, in which you are featured, and I’d read that NIHIL was one of the imprint’s commercial high points. As well, Jim Nash passed away a few months after the album’s release; if it’s not too personal to ask, are there any particular memories about Mr. Nash during this time that can be shared with us?

Konietzko: Jim was already quite sick at the end of 1994 and that was one of the reasons why I decided to relocate and move back to Chicago.
I spent 1995 and the first half of ’96 there before packing back up and heading once again out west to Seattle.
Jim and I spent a good deal of time together before he finally passed away in October of ’95. When that day came, we interrupted a concert tour in progress in order to attend the funeral service for him.

Lyrics like ‘We shall use all peaceful means to overcome tyranny’ and ‘regardless of race, social status, or gender, we’re all affected’ from ‘Terror’ continue to resonate today. Clearly, people should stay vigilant
against injustice, fundamentalism, racism, etc., and it doesn’t seem to be going away. What are your thoughts on the presence of ultra right wing ideologies these days, not just in the U.S. but throughout the world?
As you see newer generations coming up and dealing with the same issues, what are your thoughts on their potential to bring about positive changes? Or do you think we’re doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes?

Konietzko: I don’t think that we’re doomed at all. It’s all a slow process that at times seems bleak and sobering, but I do have a great deal of hope and believe that the pendulum will eventually swing back and better times will come yet once again. I am very hopeful, for instance, for the youth movement that we are currently seeing unfold in order to change some legislature regarding gun violence and promising to vote out of office corrupt crustaceans that are being funded by lobbyists and pass laws that are diametrically opposed to what the voters really want.
As I’ve stated for many years, your privilege to vote is a serious thing and it’s very, very important to get off your ass and make your vote count!!!

Moving on to the present, Doug Wimbish (TACK>>HEAD, Living Colour) made an appearance on the track ‘Rx 4 the Damned’ on Hell Yeah and is working with you again on the new album you’re working on. Can you tell us about how you came to work together and what you feel his playing style has brought to KMFDM for the tracks that he appears on?

Konietzko: Doug and I have known each other since the mid ’80s; we’d been introduced by Adrian Sherwood.
At some point about two years ago, I was working on the ‘Rx 4 the Damned’ track and I kept thinking that it would be awesome to have Doug play some bass on it. So I reached out and heard back from him within an hour that he’d be thrilled to work on something together.
His style is so recognizable and unique, nobody else has that sound. I have a great deal of respect and affection for his work.

Also, Andee Blacksugar served as KMFDM’s guitarist on the Hell Yeah tour, and I have to say he blew me away! How did you find him, and what do you feel he brings to KMFDM with his playing style?

Konietzko: Nine days before boarding planes in order to start the U.S. leg of the 2017 Hell Yeah tour, headlining the ColdWaves festival in Chicago, it became very apparent that our opener Lord of the Lost had somehow managed to not get work visas for the U.S. This meant that their two guitarists, who were doing double-duty playing guitar for KMFDM that touring season, as well as our sound engineer would not be coming along with us.
That meant that I had eight days left in order to find personnel to replace them. It was Doug Wimbish who came to the rescue. I called him up and asked him if he knew of a guitarist that could play guitar as well as he (Doug) plays bass and would be available not only to tour with us in a little more than a week, but to also learn close to 20 songs from scratch.
Again, within an hour, I was on the phone with Andee Blacksugar, who sounded so relaxed and capable about the challenge I threw on his table that I had instant confidence in him. He didn’t disappoint us, we all got off really well from the very get-go, and it was a great experience to work with him. He’s got a great playing style and brings a very unique and somewhat glamorous presence to the stage.

And then there’s Ocelot, and I think it was a surprise to some people that KMFDM had a solo rap/hip-hop artist opening. You also did a remix of his track ‘Target Practize.’ How did he come to be part of the KMFDM family? Any chance of him contributing to a KMFDM track?

Konietzko: As I had mentioned earlier, our opening act Lord of the Lost, who we’d toured Europe with prior to the U.S. leg of the tour, managed to fail getting their work visas issued in time and it ended up being just KMFDM and ohGr without an opener, which didn’t seem fair to ohGr. So, Ocelot offered his services and we all gladly shared the stages with him. He’s a cool guy and he’d been working in a capacity as our merchandiser since 2013. This was his third tour with us so far and he never fails to surprise!
And yes, he’ll be featured on future material; stuff has already been recorded.

 

 

Much has been said about your coming from the punk music scene, and punk certainly has connections to industrial, but I’ve always been rather taken with how much dub/reggae, funk, African rhythms, and even hip-hop have played in it as well. KMFDM has certainly incorporated these elements over the years and continues to do so, but I’d like to ask about your connection with these sounds and styles and why they’ve been such a significant part of KMFDM and industrial music in general?

Konietzko: Punk and reggae have both been the music of outcasts in the music scene of London in the mid ’70s. Don Letts used to spin reggae songs between bands onstage at the Roxy (a notorious punk rock club in London at the time). The Clash incorporated reggae-ish stuff in their music. It was really a thing that came as a package. Add to this that I was into African music for my entire life, having grown up in a home that was stuffed with African art, masks, and carvings of all sorts. I listened to reggae since Harry J. All Stars’ Liquidator, which I believe came out in 1969 (some of the musicians that recorded the song would later form The Upsetters, Lee Perry’s early band). So, finding punk rock and all of this dub/reggae simultaneously a few years later in one of the biggest and longest standing youth movements was a delight to me and has no doubt left a deep imprint on me.

Another aspect to KMFDM that I’ve always enjoyed is the use of distorted organ sounds, which adds to the funky vibe and also reminds me of Jon Lord of Deep Purple. The song ‘En Esch’ on UAIOE, while musically different, uses the same lyrics from Deep Purple’s ‘Demon’s Eye’ (a track from their album Fireball, which vocalist Ian Gillan once said ‘brought out the funk in Deep Purple’). And now, KMFDM is signed to earMusic, whose roster also includes Deep Purple. Am I making too much out of a coincidence, or is there something to this?

Konietzko: It’s all coincidence, although back in the ’70s and ’80s, I’d been somewhat into Deep Purple, and Jon Lord was a brilliant organist.

Are there any bands, artists, or musical acts that are catching your interest right now? Not necessarily in industrial music, but in general?

Konietzko: I don’t have much time to devote to listening to music other than what I am working on currently. That said, I do listen to quite a bit of Run the Jewels when driving.

So, you’re working on a new album, you’re releasing the NIHIL vinyl remaster… what else is new in the world of KMFDM that you can tell us about or at least tease us with?

Konietzko: As if that weren’t enough?

Many thanks to you, Käpt’n!

 

 

KMFDM
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1 Comment

  1. Ben says:

    Sascha,

    What synthesizers do you guys use in the studio and on the road for your music? I saw a while back that you used Nord and Roland gear and even had one for sale. Would have loved to buy that signed Nord box from you since I am a big fan of your music.

    Cheers,
    Ben

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