Taken from mxdwn Music (Dec 02, 2022)
mxdwn Interview: KMFDM's Sascha Konietzko, Early Pioneers of Industrial Metal, Urges Us To Stand Up For What We Believe In Through This World Of Doom & Gloom
by Katie Gray
KMFDM. Courtesy Image
On November 8th, mxdwn sat down with Sasha Konietzko of KMFDM, one of the major pioneers of the industrial metal genre in the 90s. Making music for nearly 40 years, on September 9th, they released their 22nd studio album. Titled Hyena, the album gave very anarchist, rebel against the system, vibes. However, after in depth analysis of the songs with Konietzko, he provided a more hopeful outlook to the album, contrast to the fed up, angry interpretation. He motivates listeners to not only stand up for what they believe in, but to follow their dreams! He urges listeners to take chances because individual happiness is worth it. In the world's current state of war, capitalistic greed, and American fascism, Konietzko believes it is more important than ever to focus on all of the joys life offers. He believes in perseverance, urging young people to let go of the feelings of numbness, of doom and gloom, in favor of hope.
KMFDM - Hyena coverart
mxdwn: You just got back from touring, and then it was announced that you'll be doing the Sick New World Festival. Are you excited about that?
Sascha Konietzko: Yeah, that's been something that's been on the books like for a long time. But of course, we couldn't really talk about it until the news got official yesterday. And yeah, of course, we're super excited! It's going to be like, I don't know, it's the end of the world kind of.
mxdwn: Yeah, it's a pretty amazing lineup. Are there any friends or other bands you haven't seen in a while because of Covid that you're excited to get to perform with again?
SK: Well I mean, I've never played a festival of that dimension, really, to be honest. I don't know how many stages they're gonna have there, but it must be just like one mega production really.
mxdwn: Then getting into the new album, Hyena, your music has been noted for its consistent recognizability while still exhibiting creative freedom and trying new things. And this album is no exception, which is very awesome. What do you think of fans who try to pressure artists to stay kind of within one genre or one sound?
SK: Well they don't put pressure on me. I mean, I do what I want. I've stopped caring about what the people think a long time ago, basically you give 11 different people a new album with 11 tracks on it, and you will get 11 different opinions on what their favorite track is. So, you know, what we are just really doing is because we like what we do, and we've long stopped caring about being pigeonholed, or whether we get good reviews or bad reviews. It's just like, KMFDM is a machine that's been going for nearly 39 years, so we can take any liberties artistically and otherwise that we want, really.
mxdwn: Yeah, which is honestly great. Artists should be able to do that and do what they want. And it's a shame that newer artists have to kind of stick to what fans want, and kind of deal with that until they get that liberty of longevity.
SK: But they don't have to. I mean, seriously, I think if you have something interesting to offer to people, then you stand a good chance. Obviously for me and for KMFDM, there was a ton of luck and coincidence and just, happening to be at the right place at the right time. This is not something you could plan to do. You cannot plan to become an entity that sort of, survives in the music industry or anything. You need tons of luck and you need tons of engagement. You gotta treat your fans really, in a way that they respond to you. A lot of younger bands, I think, make the mistake of wanting to behave like rock stars, quote unquote, and treat their audiences like shit. And that doesn't work. I mean, after all, those are the people that come and pay the ticket and buy your merch, and basically help you with your aspirations of a career. I mean, far be it for me to give anyone any advice. It's like I said, there's a ton of luck involved and you know, just grabbing the chance when it offers itself.
mxdwn: The press release noted that this album is your most adventurous yet. And like you said, you guys have been doing this for almost 40 years now, and you were a major pioneer in the industrial genre. It's a pretty major claim that this is going to be your most adventurous album. What do you think makes it the most adventurous?
SK: I think the most adventurous album that I ever was involved in was the very first one, because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. And I was just flying by the seat of my pants, really. But yeah, it was kind of like with Covid, it was a little bit different with the more than two years of lockdown. There was a ton of time that was just basically open. There was nothing else to do. For the first time maybe ever, I really sat down with my band mates, and we kind of reflected on like, what is it that we want to create this time? And my idea was to create an album that is like a movie that takes you from a beginning, through the plot, to the end. And/or maybe a soundtrack to a movie or whatever. So yeah, there was really no holds barred. It was just, let's have some fun. You know, let's throw everything and see what sticks. And I guess it came out pretty interesting for a lot of people because it's got a lot of really brilliant reviews. A lot of people like it and a lot of people hate it as well. So, it's not that different from other ones.
mxdwn: Well I enjoyed the story I was getting out of it. Now my interpretation of the story that you're telling, we'll start with the title song, "Hyena," I know I've personally had kind of a really anarchist state of mind lately. So to me, it felt like it was kind of about, you know, the rich man maniacally laughing at the poor man while he makes himself victorious by bleeding us dry. And I think of the inhumane costs of rent, and gas companies charging obscene prices while bragging about record profits, or how the the automotive industry is right now where my seven year old car is worth more than when I bought it a few years ago. And they get away with this stuff because, we need transportation and we need housing, and there's very little we can do. And so can you tell me if that's where your heads were kind of at when writing the songs? Was that at all an accurate take on the song's metaphor?
SK: Well, "Hyena," was heavily influenced and even borrowed of a poem by Lord Byron, Prometheus. We just put a little twist on it. So I find that really interesting that you come to that sort of interpretation of it. And I like that. That's good creative listening. I really appreciate that.
mxdwn: Thanks. Yeah, it's like I said, I've been feeling very anarchist lately.
SK: That's good. Have you voted yet?
mxdwn: No, that is on my plan of things to do today once I'm done doing this.
SK: Good, good. Make sure you go out there and vote. That's the most important thing. I don't care who you vote for, but just do vote.
mxdwn: I agree. And I'm glad that a lot of people of the younger generations each year are coming out more and more to hopefully be able to make a good difference.
SK: Oh, yeah, it's super important. I mean, it's not just a right, it's a responsibility.
mxdwn: I agree. That also goes along with that way that I interpreted the song, it brought me to like the line, "In your silence, lays my sentence," which I think goes back to voting and everything as well. Because it does really feel like there's very little that we can do about everything that's happening, without really coming together on what feels like an unimaginably large scale. I also saw that idea kind of touched on in the song, "In Dub We Trust," that like seems to urge us to stand up for ourselves. And so besides voting, what do you think we can do and how do you think we can stand up for ourselves when it feels like we're all just so small?
SK: Well, interestingly, the song, "Trust," I wrote back in 1994 in Seattle, and this is just basically an adaptation of the song itself. Completely different style of music, completely different lyrical interpretation by a guy that I really like from Jamaica. But yeah, I think the sentiment that it was written on back in the day was to confess to yourself like who you really are. Just, you know, live your life open minded and treat every day like it might be your last day on Earth, really. And tragically enough, when that vocalist Kumar Bent had recorded the track, he had objected to some of the lyrics that were originally used in the song for example, "show and tell before you go to Hell," was one of the lines. And then within the week of him recording this song, his newborn baby son died, which was a complete fucking train wreck and tragedy. But yeah, it just showed me and it showed him what an essential truth is in the lyrics of that song. Really, be true to yourself, don't care what other people think. Just go through life with an open mind, open eyes, and stand up for what you feel and what you want to do. So yeah, close match right there.
mxdwn: Yeah. Life's too short to try to, you know, not do what you love.
SK: Yeah. It's too short to fuck around really.
mxdwn: And then what about that idea of just feeling too small to make a big change and a big difference for things that you care about?
SK: Well, you know, I've encountered so many people in my life that thought they had to be a certain person, or didn't dare to be what they truly wanted to be, or do, or try. And it was just like a shoutout to those general basic feelings, fears, whatnot. It's one of the more sort of encouraging songs I've ever written. I think of it that way. To just, be good, be good, be good to yourself. Be good to other people. Just see your responsibilities. There's no rights without responsibilities and those kinds of things. Obviously that song is almost 30 years old, so I must have been in a slightly different place in my life too when I wrote that. But, you know, I'm still standing 100% behind it and that's really why I picked that one to have a little revisit with.
mxdwn: Then we go to the song, "Deja vu," speaking of, you know, thinking about the past. It is directly quoting Georgia's representative Andrew Clyde and his total downplay of the attack on the White House in January 2020. Can you tell me what the deja vu is that you think is being experienced here?
SK: Well, deja vu had a long kind of story in the making really. First of all, I was so surprised. I don't know if you know this, but the voice that says, "It can't happen here," that's, Joe Scarborough from Morning Joe.
mxdwn: Oh, gotcha. No, I had not recognized that.
SK: It's kind of like when I'm on my sort of lunch time here in my studio, I sometimes watch Morning Joe, and just get a gist of what's going on in the United States whilst I'm far, far away. And, for the longest time, no journalist in the US media would really pick up the word fascism or fascist in regards to Trump. I'm like, come on man, how can you not see this? You know? And then hence, Deja vu was already kind of like on the map there. Then all of a sudden, now, Morning Joe, it's all fascist, fascism and the fascist word is Joe Scarborough's favorite word nowadays. And he uses it at least 17 times every morning. And so then, I kind of wanted to have this sort of dubby-ness, this sort of reggae-ish type of thing, and I thought, how could I really juxtaposition this? How about some yodeling in there? So, I dug around for some yodeling stuff, and then I found all these hillbilly kind of things, you know? Like documentaries on hillbillys and just ass backward people. So I put a little bit of that in there, and this one guy was saying something about, "Lighting the fire and deja vu all over again!" Like every time deja vu was used somewhere, it kept throwing itself at me. So yeah, that's how the song was born. Little reggae, little yodeling, a little hillbilly shit, a little Andrew Clyde- who must be literally one of the dumbest assholes on the fucking song. I mean, I don't know him personally, but he strikes me that way.
mxdwn: No, I'd have to say after saying something like, well, exactly what you quoted in your song, it's hard not to look at that and think a bit dumb.
SK: Right? And then, Trump is saying, "Oh, the love in the air! You know, it's unbelievable. Unbelievable!" I just hear that guy's voice and I get sick nowadays. It's just like, God, man, why do they give him all this fucking air time? You know? Just, stop talking about him and he'll go away. Because all he wants is the attention. Anyway, I don't know if you agree with me on Trump, but I don't care.
mxdwn: Oh, like 5000%! A lot of people feel like there's been a lot of political regression the last several years since around 2016 when he was, you know, coincidentally elected. Especially in regards to oppression, and violence against others, and like you said, fascism. And you've been making music in this sphere for such a long time, can you give your point of view on how accurate that is? Do you feel like we're going backwards?
SK: Well, I mean, things always come around to be accurate at some point in time. So I'm not really too worried about that. Even if I'm wrong now, I'm gonna be right in two years from now, or five, or 10, or 20. So, that doesn't really make a difference. I don't know. We recorded a song called, "World War Three," in 2003. Now we are entering- well no, now we are actually in World War Three now. This is World War Three. This is a war that was envisioned to happen, to go down at some point. Exactly in the way it is going down now. It's a war about energy, it's about territory, it's about clean water, it's about climate catastrophes, and here we go. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. And anyone that looks at things with a bit of historical minding and a bit of, sort of general understanding can see that things have to happen this way because it is inevitable. Humankind is not going to save itself. We're going to just go full on head crash like Calvin and Hobbs on the toboggan into our doom. You know, that's the way.
mxdwn: Do you feel like we've kind of gone backwards to get down to this point, or do you think we've been building up to this point?
SK: I think we're just going down. We're just sort of putting our heads in the sand and just pretending that all of this is not happening. And I happen to have a teenage daughter, she's going to be 15 soon. And I say to her, look, man, we have to conserve energy. Not only because it costs a fortune to heat the big old house that we live in, but, for the future of the planet. She says, dad, fuck the future of the planet. It's way too late. This is the end. I'm like, how can you be so doomy? She goes like, everybody is. I had no idea that young people are looking at it already in a sort of that defeatist type of way, but apparently they do. Which is even more alarming. For me, I might have another 10, maybe 20 years on this planet and then that'll be that for me. But, she's 15. I hope she lives to a ripe old age and has many grandchildren and whatnot. And she was like, how can you put children in this world? Why did you even have me? These are things that give me a lot of pause, really when I think about it.
mxdwn: I had a question in that regard too, which was based in the song, "Diluted, Desperate, Dangerous and Dumb," you asked, "How did so many become so numb?" And I know a lot of people, like your daughter, that have just been feeling kind of numb. Because it feels like a constant onslaught of horrible events and bad news last several years. I've seen it joked about online, how it's kind of like the scene in the movie Hercules, where the people of Thebes are like, oh, was the fire before the earthquake or after the flood? Do you have advice to try to overcome and avoid that feeling of numbness through all of these awful events that we're starting to feel accustomed to?
SK: Well, as much as there's sort of like this sort of gloom and doom feeling, there's just as much kind of joy to be had. You just really have to find it. And I'm finding joy. I've always found joy in my life by doing and saying really what I believe in. I never thought I would be in a band, or put out records and stuff like that. I mean, when I was a kid, we saw pictures of David Bowie, and T-Rex, and Alex Cooper, and I was like, wondering, how do you get like that? How do you even become like a person that is so crazy good looking and doing all this weird ass shit that I really liked? So yeah. I don't think there's really any advice. It's just, you know, if you do what you like, if you find something that you like to do, then you will find joy. And perspectives will open up that you've never sort of realized could be there really. I don't know, I sound like an old fart now, but, I kind of am. So yeah, it's about that. It's about really pursuing the pursuit of happiness. That's really a very helpful kind of thing in order to get out of this sort of numbness and dumbness and whatnot. Just, it's hard. It's not a thing that comes easy. But I think if you grow up in an environment where you are being helped at least. Or not necessarily pushed, but encouraged to think for yourself, where you have time and encouragement to look at things in a way that, even for short periods of time relieves like the pressure of like- you have to get in a job, you have to do this, you have to do that, you know, life doesn't stop. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. All these things that parents do, just wanting perhaps even only the best for their offspring. But, if you're being given a little bit of the sort of benefit of the doubt, then it's probably even easier to get to the point where you can play around a bit. And say, oh, you know just from playing around, I've learned a lot. I mean, that's what I'm saying about myself. I just took the liberty to play around in my life. At some point, I was heavily into drugs, and then I realized drugs really stupid. But, I don't know. At an early age, I was encouraged to just play around to just, try things out. I had a grandmother that was really creative that set me at a table with just, all kinds of materials. Colors, paints, and whatnot. She just let me explore things. And I did happily. It's like, kind of like with my daughter. At some point she wanted to have drum lessons. At some point she wanted to have a violin. And, so boom, here's a violin, boom, here's a drum kit, boom. Just try it out, play around, you know?
mxdwn: When I really think about it, pretty much all of the best opportunities that I've had in life have come from me just kind of going, eh, what the heck? I'll jump at it and see if I stick.
SK: Yeah, why not? Right?
mxdwn: The first song of the album, "All 4 1," has a very rally the troops feel. And in, "Liquor Fish & Cigarettes," you literally refer to yourself as martyrs. Even over 20 years ago you said, "From the beginning, our music has been a statement against war, oppression, fascism and violence against others." And so do you kind of feel like you're once again trying to bring your listeners together to kind of fight for themselves and fight for injustices?
SK: Well, yeah, of course. I mean, that's a central message in KMFDM, to really sort of, stand up against the bullshit. And to, well, to wage protest, a nonviolent protest. Violence only leads to violence. That's clear. You know, if some asshole breaks into Nancy Pelosi's house and hits her husband in the head with a hammer, what good does that do? Even if she had been home, and he would've broken her knee caps or something, you know, it would've not changed anything. What a lot of people fail to see is that it's worth it to live. There's something really great about human existence. There's something totally cool about the fact that we can create things. We have knowledge. We can heal things like diseases, that not long ago seemed insurmountable. There's something really godlike about humankind. But if we kick it, and throw it away, then what good is it? Then? What have we really learned then in that case? We have to be intelligent about what has been given to us, human life. That we can think, that we can reflect.
mxdwn: Does it ever feel a bit tiresome, that you're always singing about kind of that same battle? Or do you take pride in being kind of a continuous part in this fight?
SK: Yeah, it's exciting. You know, what do people write songs about? Most songs that you hear are just about love, or unrequited love. So that's sort of checked, that's covered. So I don't really feel like I need to contribute in that direction. So I'm writing about things that interest me, that is, social commentary. It's kind of, political, un-insightfulness. It's about how we should really work hard on avoiding that history repeats itself, and things like that. So that's what I'm doing. I don't see this as preaching. I don't feel at any given time that KMFDM is preaching or even preaching to the converted. What always really fascinates me is when I look outside the tour bus and I see people lining up, filing into the venue, I see people that I've seen a hundred times maybe, I know their names and I know their faces. But, then I see kids. I see young kids. I see teenagers that come to our show. God knows why they're going there, God knows who paid for their ticket, but here they are. And, these are the ones that, alongside with the older folks that I know, they stand outside after the show and they want to talk. They don't necessarily just only want to have a selfie. They want to talk, and I think that's great. That really shows me that what I've been doing and what I've been saying for all these years finds open ears. God, now I sound like a fucking Messiah. It's terrible. You bring out the worst in me now, Katie.
mxdwn: Conversation is so important! My first time listening to an album before I go into an interview- when I do like the first two listens, the first one is, I have it in the background to kind of listen to the sound and everything. And then the second time around I listen to it while reading the lyrics. And it was on that second listen with this album that I was like, oh, fuck yeah! This isn't just good music, it's a good message. This is where my mind has been at. These are the conversations that need to be had.
SK: Well, good, that's good. You know, you're a rare breed then. Because most people, they just go like, whatever. They say, I want to listen to this kind of genre of music, and if it's EBM, it can't have guitars because EBM doesn't have guitars. Stuff like that. So what I really appreciated, especially this time around, was a lot of writers from the UK actually jumped on to reviewing this album. And I was talking to some guys yesterday also in the UK, and they said something that was uncanny. They said, maybe English people understand this because there's such a fine sense of humor, and go in like a red thread through the whole album. It's almost like an English sense of humor. I kind of didn't really know exactly what they meant right away, but then I thought about it. Like, just sitting around having a glass of wine, I thought, yeah, maybe there's a certain humor needed to understand some of these things. Because oftentimes with American audiences, I find that not only do you have to like, smash 'em in the face with something, but then you have to explain it to them. Like, why did you smash into their face? And what is it about? And what is it? And can you even say that? You know, and stuff like that. Not to diss American audiences at all. Fuck man, I lived nearly for 20 years in the US and have way more friends over there than I ever knew in Germany here. It's just a different mentality. In general nowadays, the younger generation is just used to being spoonfed. Everybody runs around with their brain in the form of an iPhone in their back pocket. Like everything is available. Everything from scientific knowledge to pornography. You can have everything at your fingertips within a matter of seconds. And so maybe not that much feels new or worth even experiencing. Like sometimes when I speak to younger people, they go like, well, this is my first concert, and I never really wanted to go because I thought concerts were violent. Because they look violent when I see them on YouTube. I'm like, so did you feel that it was violent tonight? They were like, no, I felt like everybody was one big family, you know? I said, see! See? You have to experience. You can't judge books by the cover. You have to try things out.
And who knows, maybe you have a talent that you don't even know you have. I think pretty much every person has a talent. You know? Some people are great in convincing other people to do things. Other people are great creators, leaders, inspirators, conspirators, whatever. Everybody has some sort of talent. I mean, you have a talent. I don't even know you, but you make me speak about things that I rarely ever speak about. So yeah, maybe you're the greatest interviewer of all times. Maybe you'll down in the annals of the interviewer's fucking hall of fame. Who knows? Maybe you're a great writer you know? I don't know.
mxdwn: You know, maybe I'll try to hit all of the above. Now I'll have to make an effort to become the best interviewer that ever lived.
SK: Well, maybe you're a fabulous pianist, or, God, do I know you? I don't know. I know nothing about- I know you're Katie and I know your phone number. And I know that someone named Raymond hooked us up to talk now, so that's all I know. But we've been talking for a good half an hour and apparently we're having a good time, so, cool.
mxdwn: Yeah, I was going to say, this has been an absolutely lovely, wonderful conversation. I came into this with all of the album fresh in my brain from yesterday, feeling super, like, I'm angry at the world! And like I said before, anarchy and everything. And then I'm pleasantly coming out of it with, well then on top of that, it's the idea of living for yourself and following your dreams, and creative freedom. It's just a much different theme than I was, I guess, feeling last night. Which is nice! Feeling refreshed and thinking positively. And I think that goes back to what you said earlier about how trying to stay positive can really put you in a different place.
SK: Right, exactly. It eases the pain of realizing that everything is, well, pretty fucked up.
mxdwn: Yeah, that sounds about right. Is there anything else that you wanted to add? Either about what's up and coming, or anything I didn't touch on that's on the album, or any of that fun stuff?
SK: Well, I'm really bad about sort of adding things. I'm always of the opinion that KMFDM's music kind of really speaks pretty much for itself. All I can really add is, try stuff. I mean, yeah, we're going to go play some shows in May. We're going to play this festival in Vegas on May 13th, and then we're gonna embark on a couple of select West Coast dates. And I'm not really sure where they're gonna be, but we're working on it. And I have collected a bunch of ideas, and made notes, and have little tidbits of audio recordings that I made while on the road. I'm still sorting through hundreds and hundreds of photographs that were taken on a recent run. And, I look forward to whatever comes first. To be out on the road again, or to start recording, or do everything at the same time. So in the meantime, I've got to do things here around the house that I haven't done in months. A lot of it has to do with vacuum cleaners and mops and things like that. It looks like a fucking mess. Hopefully that stupid war is gonna be somehow terminated soon in Ukraine. Hopefully Justice will arrive. Hopefully these idiots are not going win the elections today. Everyday you just wake up and you go like, uh oh, what happened overnight? You know? Cause <cue dramatic spooky voice> the world never sleeps, stupidity never sleeps, sickness never sleeps! And everything. And there's so little you could do, so much to bemoaned, and so little you could do.
mxdwn: Well on my to do list today after cleaning up the apartment, is to go out and vote!
SK: Great! And then have some dinner and enjoy a glass of, whatever you like, and just hope for the best. And tomorrow we'll know what's going on in the U.S.
mxdwn: Keep your fingers crossed for us.
SK: Oh, I will.
... any % of U is as good as the whole pie ...