Jan 2024 24

Titans of Neue Deutsche Härte, OOMPH! spoke with ReGen as the band was about to hit the road for the European tour this past November.
 

 

An InterView with Crap, Flux, & Der Schulz of OOMPH!

By Stitch Mayo (StitchM)

In the ever-evolving landscape of music, where genres are often redefined but rarely created, OOMPH! emerged three decades ago as a rare catalyst of innovation. Before Rammstein, before the term was even coined, OOMPH! was the instrumental force behind the Teutonic thrust of Neue Deutsche Härte, blending the rudiments of groove metal, industrial, and techno. Now experiencing a triumphant resurgence after an unconventional hiatus, the powerhouse trio returned in 2023 with the latest album, Richter und Henker, with new vocalist Der Schulz joining Crap and Flux. During the band’s European tour, ReGen caught up with OOMPH! and talked war, village idiots, and Ghost Riders.

 

The addition of Der Schulz as OOMPH!’s new vocalist marks an exciting chapter in the band’s journey. Could you provide some background on how Der Schulz joined the band and your thoughts on how his vocal style and artistic presence are shaping the band’s current musical direction?

Flux: Well, this is a big question, with a lot to say! Yeah. As you know, we have been more or less forced to look for a new singer. It was nearly two-and-a-half years ago when, after we tried for a long time to save the band in in the old constellation because it is our lifetime project, it’s our baby, and we’ve worked more than 30 years to make OOMPH! as big as it was and is. But we eventually had to admit to ourselves that it’s not possible, even though we fought for it. So, we had to look forward – for Crap and me it was never a question to let our baby die. We worked so hard on it, so why stop? The only solution was to look for a new singer.
And actually, the first one that we asked was Der Schulz, because we’ve known each other since at least 2015/16 when he supported us with his band Unzucht on our European tour. We became friends, and we also saw his talent in singing, and also his talent to work with the audience, which will be important for the future – in November, we went on a European tour. So, we invited him, and we had the first sessions with him exactly here in this studio where we are sitting now. The first step was to try the old songs, because it was very important to us that the new singer is able to transport the feeling and mood of our old songs, because on tour, more than half of the songs we play will be old songs.
The second part was asking, ‘Will it function together with us? Will there be a magic when we write songs?’. So, we played five or six demos that we already had prepared for him, and we worked with him on the first day like we would later in the studio, so asking, ‘What kind of vocal melody would you put to this? What kind of lyrics would you have?’. And then we worked together on the lyrics, and we felt the same magic that we felt on every OOMPH! record that we worked before together with Der Schulz. And this was his big advantage that he had! From the beginning, there was magic happening. It was easy to be creative. A lot of the ideas from that first day, you can hear now on the new album, because they were great, and we continued to work with them.
We then took our time because we know we have a responsibility to our music, to our band, and especially to our fans to check all the other singers who signed up when it became official that we were looking for a new singer. We had about 25 other vocalists that we auditioned too, like Der Schulz, in the studio, but in the end, as Crap said, we were comparing more or less everyone to what Der Schulz delivered on the first day. And so, we thought that if he is the one we’re comparing everyone else to, why don’t we stop and just choose Der Schulz? And I think it took five or six months while we checked out the other vocalists, but here he is, and we don’t regret our decision because it was great!

How are you guys kind of influencing each other’s directions as well with this new partnership?

Crap: For us it was important to have a singer who will work with us creatively in the studio like before. He also worked with us on all the songs, arrangements, and all the melodies. We were working constantly as three people in the studio, which is how we worked on old OOMPH! records, and this is how we continued, and it felt like the same process as Ritual, which was very successful, and we just kept on going with Der Schulz.

Richter und Henker is a huge album in scope, sound and theme. Can you take us behind the scenes of creating the album and share some insights into the album’s sound and production process, as well as any challenges or highlights that stand out for you?

Der Schulz: First… thank you!

Flux: The main highlight, of course, and the main change is the voice of Der Schulz. He offered some new range in singing style and colors in his voice that we never had the possibility to work with before, and this was a big influence for us; his kind of melody writing too. Of course, he had to try new things too, because when Carap and I are producing vocals, we always try to find the best kind of singing for every part. So, if there’s a verse, we then ask him maybe, ‘Sing very calm,’ or ‘Sing more opera,’ or ‘Sing without vibrato,’ or ‘Sing with a lot of vibrato,’ or ‘Pronounce that more rhythmic, like a robot.’ And that way, we found out the best vocal style and the advantage is that he can deliver everything because he has a very well-educated voice. It was really fun to work with him like this.

Der Schulz: I’ve learned a lot about my voice. Using a lot of things I’ve never used, a lot of singing styles. It was a great experience.

Flux: The production itself somehow was orientated on the Ritual album, but taking it further – like a natural progression from Ritual to our next album. We always try to develop, and we always try to explore new things. Of course, you get influenced… it was four or five years ago when we produced Ritual, so of course, we change over the years, hopefully for the better.

Crap: There was of course no big goal to change our musical direction as what we do is successful. It’s already a big step to listen to a new voice on the record of a band which has existed for such a long time. Maybe on the next album, you will hear only electronic pop instruments and dance groups or whatever… I hope not! (Laughs)

In terms of audience experience, what emotions or messages do you hope listeners take away from Richter und Henker? And how do you believe this album resonates with your fanbase compared to your previous work?

Flux: Well, we’ve had a lot of reactions. Of course, it was very exciting for us first when we revealed the name of our new singer. This was the first step in in June, I think…

Der Schulz: June 22.

Flux: Yes, and then our first video. We’ve been very excited and wondering how our fans will react. We knew about Der Schulz for two years, but for fans, it was a step from one day to the next. We know we have very open fans as we have changed our style over the last 30 years, and also image. We changed a lot, actually. We had big hopes, and we have not been disappointed. Our fans really gave him a warm welcome, and they liked the first video very much, and they liked the song very much. We then released two more videos, which proved to us that hopefully the album will be loved by the fans. In Germany, we went to number 7 in the charts, which is very good – to be top 10 and back on track again. This is because a lot of people supported us and believed in us, like our record company. There was no doubt for them, and they trusted what we wanted to do before we showed them and introduced Der Schulz. They gave us their trust and told us, ‘Here’s the money, go produce the album, go on, we believe in you.’ We’re very happy that we didn’t disappoint.

 

 

On the new album, were there any songs that were deeply inspired by specific events or experiences in your own lives, or by events in the world around you? If so, could you provide us with some insights into the inspirations behind these, and how they influenced your creative process?

Der Schulz: Yes, for example, we live right now in very turbulent, crazy times. So much has happened in the last few years, starting out with the refugee theme, the pandemic, and now the war in Ukraine. It’s so many things that, of course, as an artist, it inspires because it impresses on you so much that you have to write about it. We have this new anti-war song called ‘Nur Ein Mensch,’ which is of course inspired by the war and what’s going on right now there. OOMPH! already had some anti-war songs like ‘Tausend Mann und Ein Befehl,’ for example. In all of human history, there’s war, but now, when it comes so near – and it’s so unbelievable that one country in Europe tries to invade another country… so, that’s what this song is about, to say, ‘We’re all the same kind. We’re all humans.’ And then these leaders come along and say, ‘They want to get you, there are Nazis there!’ And the people go to war again. And it’s frightening. That’s what the lyrics are about there.
 

 
Another theme in Richter und Henker is how people are communicating on social media. Not only there, but there’s so much hate. There’s only black and white. When you’re not with me, you’re against me. You’re my enemy. There’s no culture of discussion anymore, and there’s an old speech, which said that Germany is the land of the poets and the thinkers – Dichter und Denker – and so this song is asking ‘Where are the Dichter und Denker? Where have the thinkers and poets gone? Now, we have only the Richter und Henker – the judges and executioners.’ And of course, Dichter und Denker, Richter und Henker works very well in German.
This album, as Flux and Crap have told me, is the album with the most ‘real’ topics, because so many things happened around us, not only around the band, but the whole world.

 

 

I noticed in ‘Wut,’ there’s a line that translates roughly to ‘anger is a plague of this time,’ which echoes in Richter und Henker too. Do you believe the current perception that social media is causative of the anger or that it brings out the anger in people?

Flux: Yeah, it’s somehow like a safety zone. Like when people are in cars, they’re different than when they’re outside because they’re ‘safe.’ There, they’re screaming, and it’s the same with the internet. They feel safe there, saying ‘I have power, I can write, and everybody will read it!’ There have been idiots in every village since always – we call it the Dorftrottel! You smile about them, and then in another village there’s another one, but now it’s different. Everybody around the world can see them and hear them, and they post something, and it stays there forever. And now they have power, when before they were just someone to laugh about.
And this is the big difference. It builds up and people read it, and then they’re in their bubble of what they get shown on Facebook or YouTube, and they believe it’s the only truth, and they don’t believe the normal media anymore. They think they found the truth and they’re the only one who found it. It’s like the people on the autobahn who drive in the wrong direction and say, ‘There’s only one wrong driver!’ No, everybody is driving wrong.

Der Schulz: We call them ‘Ghost Riders’ in Germany.

OOMPH!: Jah, Geisterfahrer!

Der Schulz: When you’re on the highway, and you go in the wrong direction against all the others… I don’t know if you’ve heard of that?

Flux: How do you call?

Crap: I don’t think there’s an exact word for that in the U.K., but the closest I can think is probably ‘Boy Racers…’

Der Schulz: It’s very dangerous because of the risk – so we call them ‘Ghost Riders.’ You guys all drive on the wrong side already. (Laughs)

Among the tracks on the new album, is there one that stands out as a personal favorite for each of you to perform live? Are there any particular guitar, riffs, vocal performances, or elements of the music that you are particularly satisfied with, or proud of, and what makes them special in your eyes?

Flux: Well, first of all, we are all happy that we will play eight songs on the next tour from the new album, to give Der Schulz the possibility to sing the songs that he is known for. It’s unusual for us to have so many new songs on a new tour, but this time, it was very important for us.
As for songs to play live… I would say, because of the riff, ‘Nur Ein Mensch.’ It’s one of the best riffs we’ve ever written, I think, and I’m really looking forward to banging it on stage!

Der Schulz: It’s hard to pick one out, because it’s a very strong album, and it was already a hard choice to decide which we’ll play live and which we don’t play. On the album for me… I couldn’t tell which is best for me but… a special song for me is ‘Ein Kleines Bisschen Glück’, the last track, because it’s so epic and the atmosphere is so deep. The lyrics mean a lot to me. And live? I think I will enjoy very much ‘Wem die Stunde Slagt,’ because I’m so thankful for this song, and how people loved it from the first moment.

Crap: For us, it was a little bit scary with this tour, because me and Flux, we’re now onstage and we haven’t been for nearly four years, and that is a little bit strange for us, that we have so much time since the last concert we played. So, all the songs for me are now great, that I can perform onstage again. I love it! It was a long time for us… an absence being away from the stage. It’s abnormal. Last year was totally abnormal for the whole world, of course.

Der Schulz: We will all be exploring on the stage!

 

 

As artists who have navigated through the unique challenges of the pandemic, what bands, artists, or other forms of art have you found inspiring and influential over the past few years? Did you manage to explore during the pandemic era? And are there any of these influences we should be listening for on the album?

Flux: Musically, I really don’t know what artists I, especially in the pandemic years, got to know. Nothing new in music, I think. My wife is an artist, and we had a lot of time to go to art exhibitions, and this also influenced me in some lyrics and moods.

Der Schulz: I discovered some old artists for me during this time. I love the last three albums from Iggy Pop. I love them very much, and I think it was 2015 or 2016 that I saw him live onstage on the Post Depression Tour together with Josh Homme and several other members from Queens of the Stone Age, which was one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever seen.

Crap: For me, nothing special. I recognized that music without playing live is not the same. That was the only thing for me. I know some other bands and artists made it work with online concerts, and for me, it wasn’t functional, it’s not the same. I talked to a lot of other people who were missing that function for themselves, and that was a good sign for me that live music is something we need. You need live music like blood in your veins.

Flux: Because we also worked solely on our songs for one-and-a-half years, morning to night, and this is probably why we didn’t listen so much to other music. When you have music all day, you want to relax with something else.

Der Schulz: I will then listen to totally different music, to clean my ears and to get away from it a little bit.

The industrial and alternative music scenes have evolved very significantly since, and because of OOMPH!’s inception. How have these changes influenced your artistic vision and direction of your music, and what aspects of the darker scenes do you find exciting or inspiring?

Crap: I think the most inspiring time was in the beginning of OOMPH!. We grew up with bands like Kraftwerk, Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft, and then bands like Nitzer Ebb and Front 242 developed. Since the beginning, we’ve been very much inspired by Nitzer Ebb. You can hear it in our vocal styles or some of the bass lines. And then on industrial, it was MINISTRY and Nine Inch Nails, which have been I think our main influences in the ’90s. Then metal – Sepultura, Pantera, and everything groovy – a good groovy riff. And then the OOMPH! style is this melancholy and big choruses and big melodies, which comes more from our other influences like Depeche Mode, The Cure, Joy Division, and all this ’80s music. That’s the melancholic influence in our songs.

Flux: Not really listening so much to new industrial or electronic bands. That can change. I like IAMX because I liked the singer’s first project, Sneaker Pimps – the Splinter album is one of my favorites still.
And then Enter Shikari. Is it industrial? I would say no, but it’s very much what I like.

Reflecting on your musical journey, are there any moments or milestones that stand out as quite defining or transformative to the band? And how have they kind of influenced you now?

Flux: In our history? Everything somehow. The first album and the reaction to it and the first tour. Then we had big support tours with Skunk Anansie and HIM through Europe. You learn a lot from bands like this – how to do it and how not to do it. And of course, our first number one platinum record Wahrheit Oder Pflicht. These are the big landmarks in our history.

Crap: Also, the last tour. We played for the first time in the U.K., in London. I love London. I try to visit every year, and that was also a great step for us to go outside Europe, to London, the land of music. Also, the time that we played in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus – that was great time that’s now stopped, which is extremely terrible. We have friends in these countries, and it’s hard for us to see that they fight against each other. There are so many milestones for us in the last 30 years. And we played with Metallica as support, not only once!

Any plans to return to London?

OOMPH!: We’d love to! We’re thinking about adding a second part of the tour, so watch this space. It’s not so easy to travel so far.

 

OOMPH!
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Napalm Records
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Photography by HEILEMANIA – provided courtesy of Heilemania and OOMPH!
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