Jürgen Engler (Vocals) from Die Krupps
I call Jürgen on Friday Next to Halloween October night. In Europe it’s round 7.30p.m. In Austin it’s round 12... the difference in time and temperature (in plus for Jurgen I guess) does not disrupt a nice conversation about DIE KRUPPS news including the new album, but also about some fundamental things like what is like to be an artist who keeps on in perfect artistic shape for over 40 years now and what it means to be one with the music created. Can you become one with your music? Find out and see... A truly inspiring conversation saying a lot about music, art, the world, living in the US and how it impacts an overview, allows a different perspective and, of course, what’s to come from DIE KRUPPS in the upcoming months.
Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: My first question is about the tour scheduled for next year - the first one is May with KING SATAN, “Bright Side of Hell”, and then in August “Machinist United” with FRONTLINE ASSEMBLY and TENSION CONTROL. It’s quite huge... it’s European, but it’s still massive. How do you prepare for such an undertaking, especially that you guys are located in different cities?
Jürgen: Cities... countries...The thing is that what we usually do is we get together a few days before the tour and we rehearse for two days and then we’re off... that’s it. It’s actually very easy. We haven’t played together for two years now so I would rather rehearse for three days before we go on tour but it doesn’t take us long to get back into shape. So, two days should be fine. Lots of bands rehearse every week, they live in the same city and we never did that, we just get together and are ready for the tour.
RoD: I see ...because with FRONTLINE ASSEMBLY and TENSION CONTROL it’s the third time that you’ll be touring in such a set up?
Jürgen: The second... Ok, with FRONTLINE ASSEMBLY you’re right in a way, it will be a third time, cause we toured together in the US in 1996, but in such a FRONTLINE ASSEMBLY, DIE KRUPPS, TENSION CONTROL setup it will be the second time.
RoD: With KING SATAN though it will be the first time, am I right? So how did you guys actually meet? How did the collaboration start?
Jürgen: Yes. Well, the thing is we didn’t meet, the booking agency booked us up. They were in touch with them and they were interested in doing tour with us. So yes, that’s how it came about. I don’t even know the band, I know some of the songs because they sent them to me, but I’m not really familiar with them, I’ve never met them, so we will see how it goes.
RoD: You will be performing at big festivals such as Brutal Assault in the Czech Republic, but I believe there are also some club events scheduled. I was wondering which do you prefer? Do you prefer the big things or smaller events?
Jürgen: It’s hard to say, I mean I actually enjoy stages and the size of venues like for example in Wroclaw that we played (Gothic Hall - ed. note) - that’s the kind of venue that I actually prefer. It holds around 800 hundred people, right?
RoD: Yes, about so. Well, this time (in August 2022) it will be much bigger because A2 is a bigger and more industrial place.
Jürgen: I like those, and I also like playing big stages in front of 30,000 people, they have a different energy because you are not as close to the audience as I like to be. But when you get this big roar from 30 thousand people it’s very exciting. But I also like smaller places, they can be exciting, too. I’m actually not this kind of person who prefers anything. For me it really depends on the stage because the stage really makes most of the difference. I like the stage to be at least big enough that I can move around. I’m not the kind of guy who stands in one place, so I like the stage to be big enough that I can do my thing. When you are confined to a certain space it can be really tricky - it takes more energy from you because you try to move and you have to stop and go, stop and go, because you can’t really move around freely. That’s really hard. I like stages where I can exercise a little bit more.
RoD: I remember the concerts in Gothic Hall Marcel and you had to somehow find room for yourselves...
Jürgen: It’s actually a pretty good stage, I really liked that venue, but sometimes you play stages that are small or have like a column in the middle or stuff like that, and that’s really challenging when you basically can’t do your thing and you are really restricted to move around as you like to.
RoD: Yes, I wanted to change the subject for now - I wanted to ask about your most recent release - well, not that recent perhaps since it was out in May ‘The dark side of heaven’. What was the concept behind this album, the general idea?
Jürgen: When I started the whole project it was around the time when Covid started. Everything kind of shut down and more and more musicians were dying, also other people, friends and family… I decided that I wanted to write an album that dealt with the topic death. The idea was to do cover versions of songs of recently deceased artists, or songs about death, or songs about people who were close to me, and who passed away, like Gabi Delgado. So that was the whole idea. All the songs on the album were either written by the people who had passed or for e.g., song ‘No More Heroes’ of THE STRANGLERS, whose Dave Greenfield had died from Covid that year, or the songs that simply deal with the topic death like ‘Chinese Black’. Those cover versions had driven that concept.
RoD: And what was the feedback from the fans? Pandemic experience is shared worldwide, nobody was spared so to say so I guess you must have been getting lots of that from the fans?
Jürgen: I haven’t heard anything bad about. It just actually great because you know it’s a little tricky when you do cover versions because people like the originals and they may not like your cover. We never had that problem though, nobody ever said anything negative about songs like for example ‘The Anvil’. I guess it’s because when I do a cover, I try to pay respect to the original, so I don’t rip it apart into something completely different that it’s not. I tried to do it in the spirit of the original, but of course in the DIE KRUPPS kind of sound. This is another thing - it’s kind of tricky to pick the right tracks because not every song will work this way. I had started work on a few tracks that fit in the concept but didn’t fit in DIE KRUPPS sound concept so I dropped them from the list. There were some songs that I’d have loved to include on the album, like a David Bowie track, but turning a Bowie track into a DIE KRUPPS track is really risky and it just didn’t feel right so I abandoned that idea. All the tracks that are on the album are basically the ones that I think sound DIE KRUPPS but they also pay respect to the originals.
RoD: You mentioned David Bowie - are you a fan of any bands yourself?
Jürgen: Of course, Bowie was always one of my favourites, also ROXY MUSIC’s early stuff from the 70s, I also really liked IGGY, THE STOOGES, LOU REED, NEW YORK DOLLS. I like all the classic rock stuff like BLACK SABBATH, HAWKWIND, just a few bands I grew up listening to. But the ones that I really liked and still mean a lot to me T- REX, THE WHO, THE SMALL FACES, stuff that goes back to my early youth but had a very important role in my life. They will always remain in that place but their music does not necessarily influence mine, they made me who I am on my way, but I went on to develop my own signature sound.
RoD: You actually answered my next question because I wanted to ask if the music of other artists inspire you at this point of your career or there are other sources of inspiration that you use? I’m asking this because I’m wondering what gives you the drive to make new music right now. Has it changed through years in any way?
Jürgen: The thing is I like to create things, I make music every day, my life has always had something to do with music. Making music comes natural to me, it’s not like I need certain kind of inspiration to start it. I just do it also because I do a lot of production work for Cleopatra Records which I’m signed to as a record producer. So, every day on a daily basis I have to deal with music, to me it’s just my life, it’s just what I do. Being influenced by other bands or other music - I think it’s always a little bit of everything that I like in my music in a way, but it’s not like I hear a song and I want to create something like it. What I like are certain ideas, like for example back in the 70s when I listened to LOU REED’s ‘Metal Machine Music’, which is like just pure noise, there’s no song structure, it’s just pure noise. When I heard it, it sparked the idea to do the same at some point, which was ‘Stahlwerksynfonie’, our first album, which was just basically pure noise, non-song structured, experimental piece of like 30-minutes or so.
It just triggered the idea, but it didn’t in any way copy what Lou Reed was doing. And the same with the title ‘Machine Metal Music’ - at some point I was always playing around with the two words “metal” and “machine” and in the 80s when I stared producing Metal bands - not Heavy Metal, but more Punk related Thrash and Speed Metal bands - I became very interested in the combination of this fast, aggressive kind of playing the guitars - it sounded very much machine like, very precise, very fast so I was thinking of combining these two elements and this triggered what I called Machine Metal music, which ended up being called Industrial Metal. That’s what it was, but the idea was based on ‘Metal Machine Music’ of LOU REED. Although we had musically nothing to do with each other, I took that title basically literal, so that’s why I’m saying everything can trigger an idea but it’s not the direct influence musically. All the bands that I like or liked - I wasn’t directly influenced by their music in a way that I would have directly taken pieces of their music but they might have sparked the idea or triggered something that made me create something else.
RoD: Change of subject again - does living in the US give you a different perspective? On music, life, people, the things that are happening around us right now? do you feel it kind of changed your perspective in any way?
Jürgen: Let’s put it like this: I pretty much see the things the same way, but I have a broader view living here because I see things from two different sides and I can judge things way better than I could before because if you live in the same place where you were born and you never spent time or part of your life anywhere else, then you pretty much don’t know enough to judge. Whatever you hear from the news or what you read what people say is not necessarily the way it is. Basically, I’m saying that since I live here, I acquired a very broad view, I have seen things, I have experienced a lot of things, I can judge, I can see and in general I have much better understanding of things that are happening here in the U.S. I also live a happy life here, I am very happy where I am, I live in a very good place. Anyway, I have the news on from the moment I wake up until I go to bed, I always listen to what is going on in the world.
I’m always right on the pulse of time so that is also interesting and I am not only watching American news, I observe and see both sides, because I know the reality as I’ve lived in both places so I know how things are, how things progress and what happened in the past and how it is going to affect the future. I’m in a good place because I can see further. I don’t know how to explain it but I can see beyond, like for example that’s how the ‘Vision 2020 Vision’ album came about. I was listening to the news all the time, and noticed that I could sense things that would happen in the near future, I had like a vision. Somehow, I have a broader view here. It’s because my view is not obstructed here like it was in Europe. I don’t have this kind of claustrophobic feel here. Where I am I have a lot of space, I can think freely and that opens my mind to lots of things, like the lyrics to ‘Vision 2020 Vision’. I don’t feel restricted here, nor my view, nor my mind, it feels very free. I have a clearer understanding of things. That’s all I can say, to me I’m in a perfect place, this is where I need to be to do what I have to do.
RoD: This is related to the next thing I wated to ask, obviously you have things to be proud of with what you’ve achieved with DIE KRUPPS and I’m wondering what does it take to keep the artistic spark for, now, over 40 years. I mean, currently there are some bands that sometimes last as long as their one song - they release one song that goes to charts and then they are gone and you keep on with the perfect quality of music and I’m wondering what does it take to keep on with doing music, with what you do?
Jürgen: It’s when you become one with what you do. I can’t stop, because that would mean I would stop to be me. You know what I mean? I became one with what I’m doing a long time ago, this is me, what I am doing is what I am. I continue because I am alive (laughs).
RoD: Not many people can say that... it’s like finding the right place for yourself in the world and just doing what you love what you feel like doing.
Jürgen: I became one with what I do so if I’d stop doing what I do then I’d be nothing, it’s part of me, this is me, this is what I do. So that’s why there is no such thing as me stopping of doing it, cause it’s me.
RoD: Okay... I see... So now tell me what’s the best about being a musician? What is the best and what is the worst?
Jürgen: The best thing is the way I live: I do not have a nine to five job; I do not have to go somewhere to do my job and please someone every day. I basically do my thing. As I said I work as a record producer and that’s great. I have the studio in my house, I can go to bed when I want, I can get up when I want and I can work right away when I get up and I can work at any time. I do not have any kind of regularity in my life to the point where like I said I have to get up at 6 or 7 and be on the job at 8 and work until 5 or 6 and then go to bed at 10 or whatever, I usually sit until 3 or 4 at night because I work the best when it’s dark when it’s quiet, that’s what I usually do, I mean I work throughout the day too, but the majority of the musical work I do at night. Then, when I get up at 10 o’clock or 10:30, that’s just fine for me. I usually sleep 6 hours, and go to bed late, I can juggle my time the way I want, that’s the best part about being a musician, I do not have to follow any rules. And the worst thing about being a musician (laughs)... but I can’t complain.
There were times when it was a little hard, of course, when you were basically dependent on making money with your music. It was hard when for example, in the early 2000s record sales started going down worldwide. I don’t know if you know this, but record sales have been down by 90% and that is because people are sharing files, stuff goes online, people download it so the record sales are practically down and most musicians cannot make a living of releasing records. So, they have to sell a lot of merch, or they have to tour constantly which the pandemic also prohibited. I’m just saying this kind of thing can be bad when you are a musician. Fortunately, I have a job as a record producer and fortunately nowadays I have enough to do so I can’t complain, but I had a time when things weren’t that great, because when you’re self-employed, and when you are forced to make a living off of music, it can be hard when things are not going as well anymore.
RoD: You were talking about your production work - could you tell me a bit more about it. what kind of bands do you cooperate with?
Jürgen: Well, I do a lot of production work with my partner Chris Lietz for Cleopatra and it’s all kind of music. Like for example right now we are working on some BOW WOW WOW tracks. BOW WOW WOW was a band from the 80s, they were managed by Malcolm McLaren. Just finished four tracks, I think. Then I’m producing Ann Margaret’s new album - Ann Margaret was, or is, very famous actress and singer, she was in the original ‘Tommy’ movie. We also just did another IGGY POP track, we did a PINK FLOYD tribute, album with lots of guests like Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe from YES, Steve Hackett from GENESIS is on board, Ian Paice from DEEP PURPLE... all kinds of people. Also did another couple of tracks for William Shatner...let me check what’s still on the list...
RoD: Sounds like a lot of work…
Jürgen: Last month we did 22 productions... we’ve done stuff from DMX, three DMX tracks, the rapper that died, then let’s see what else, Berlin, even some old dance stuff, but we’ve done everything from IGGY Pop to HAWKWIND… I mean I can’t even remember... from MINISTRY to CHRISTINA AGUILERA (laughs).
RoD: So, you’re definitely open to all kinds of music...
Jürgen: All kinds, like Reggae, no limits, that keeps it very interesting. Also, a synth classic album, it has a lot of famous guys on board, like again Rick Wakeman from YES. This also keeps me very routined and it’s nice dealing with people on that level. There is also another thing, like a track for Arthur Brown new album. Arthur Brown with James Williamson from THE STOOGES. I’m dealing with a lot of famous musicians all the time which is nice, many of them I used to listen to back in my youth days. Pete Townshend of THE WHO for example last week. It’s nice to connect with such people that I used to be a fan of. The jobs are very diverse, so that makes it interesting for me. Like I said, music is my life that’s all I do. I live and breathe music.
RoD: You sound like a very busy person. I mean like you said you may not have this 9-5 job, but it still sounds like a lot of work. do you even have any free time?
Jürgen: I make free time whenever I want to that’s the other good thing. Of course, when we have deadline and we have some top priority tracks that we have to be finished at a certain time, I have to put in some extra hours and I do that because I just like music. So, it doesn’t bother me. The studio is in my house, I don’t have to go anywhere, I can basically just sit down and watch TV for half an hour and then go back into my studio. It’s all in one place. I may sit in my yard for a little bit, relax. I have a big yard with lots of trees which is wonderful.
RoD: My last question, about DIE KRUPPS again - apart from the tour, what else can we expect from DIE KRUPPS?
Jürgen: A new album. I’m supposed to work on it now. The thing is the next year we will be on tour, but the album will not come up before 2023. Because we will take our time to create a really good album... also because of the time of manufacturing of records nowadays, vinal has become such a big thing as I predicted, and it takes a long time to manufacture. I predicted that vinyl would come back and have a big revival. In Austin we have about twenty record stores and only three still carry CDs. It’s all vinyl. And that’s why the vinyl production takes seven to nine months nowadays, which is crazy. Which means that when our album is done, it will take seven to nine months for the vinyl to be done, which means if we are done with the album, say in the middle of next year, the album would have to wait for the release until the following year, because of the slow manufacturing process. That’s why I’m saying the album will not come out before 2023. But we are definitely going to work on it. I mean I’m starting this weekend on the tracks. But one record that is going to be released next year is the ‘Robo Sapiens’ album, which I already delivered. It will not be out before late spring of 2022 though, although the album has already been completed three months ago. That’s again because of the slow vinyl production. But the wait is definitely worth it, it’s a great album!
RoD: Yes, this is what I also heard from my colleagues, musicians - that they have the album ready but they have to wait because of the vinyl prod. And they are so impatient, especially the young bands
Jürgen: Exactly, this is crazy. Lot of young bands, they do not have the patience and a lot of bands break before their stuff is released...
RoD: OK, I lied, this will be the last question: when I spoke to Ralf or Nils about how you actually mange to produce an album, being separated, in other countries, cities. And they mentioned that you exchange files, what is like actually? Logistically?
Jürgen: It’s actually pretty easy nowadays because there is such a thing as Internet so let’ s say when I finish a song, I send the backing track to Marcel so he can start working on his guitar part, and if he writes a song, he sends the files to me and I turn it into a DIE KRUPPS track. When the other guys write something, and it works in the DIE KRUPPS context, I still have to give it the extra DIE KRUPPS treatment. that’s what I usually do. We send files back and forth and at some point, we usually meet, like for example for our last album I went to Hamburg and I was in Hamburg for almost two months. I was working there with our drummer Paul; he has a studio in Hamburg. I was also working with Marcel and Nils on the guitars and also recorded the vocals there, and we also did the mixing there.
For the other albums I didn’t go to Germany, I just asked Marcel to send me what he had recorded and then I finished everything here with my partner Chris who engineers the mixes actually in La Palma, the Canarias, where the volcano is spitting lava right now. We have been working together forever, and although we are in totally different corners of the world, it works well, there is no problem. We can communicate over phone, internet and I guess the things is that we have been working together for so long, for example I’ve known Chris since we were 12 years old...we have a clear understanding of what we need or what’s needed and when we communicate properly it’s easy to finish a project. It’s not like we all have to sit in one room and do it, it’s cool, but it’s not necessary. I actually prefer that to be honest, to be alone here in my studio, do my work and then just send the files back to Germany or Spain and let them add their parts here and there, wherever, I like that.
RoD: Oh, the very final question, I promise, is there anything that you still wish for. For the band, for yourself as an artist? Having done what you’ve done is there still something that you’d like toa achieve? Like, artistically?
Jürgen: Yes... (laughs) I think what I’d like to achieve is putting out an album that cracks the TOP 10. We cracked the TOP 20 several times, but not the TOP 10, at least not in Germany or the A markets. I want the new album to do well, it’s a very important album for the band. It needs to make a big impact, and hopefully crack the Top 1. It should be an album that could appeal to a mainstream audience without selling out and sacrificing what we are about! That is most important to stay true to ourselves!
RoD: ...without being mainstream...
Jürgen: Yes, exactly. Without sacrificing what we are but still crossing over to the mainstream. that would be awesome. Because the thing is our lyrics usually carries a very strong message, but I always have the feeling that we are preaching to the already converted. There are certain bands like for example Roger Waters or U2 - they also put out very strong messages, but they play in arenas, they play these big football stadiums, and feed their message to the masses, which is great, it doesn’t matter that everybody who is there understands them and takes it to heart, but I like the idea of feeding our ideas to the masses instead of just the chosen few. Would be nice to have an album out that finds us also new fans, who buy the album, and then maybe we could do tours where we play in front of a couple of thousand instead of 800 people a night, basically take the whole thing to the next level up. That’s would be an achievement. So, full speed ahead!
RoD: I’ll keep my fingers crossed. With your vision coming to reality anything can happen. Thank you for this conversation!
Promo Picture by Thomas Ecke, Live Pictures by Daniela Vorndran (http://www.vorndranphotography.com / http://www.facebook.com/blackcatnet)