THERE ARE certain words that music lovers are inclined to approach with caution: ‘drum’ & ‘solo’ are two of them, a juxtaposition that can often end in tears; ‘solo’ & ‘album’ are two more…
Actually, that’s being overly harsh. There’s nothing wrong with the solo album per se; where it can go wrong, however, is when the artist decides to do something entirely out of character – to show a side of his/her personality that has long been chained in the attic; cue nose flutes, hand chimes, Gregorian chanting and more… ill-founded excursions sure to pop the balloon of even the most ardent of supporters.
Happily, the debut album from Emigrate – a project created by guitarist /songwriter Richard Kruspe, member of Germany’s premier hard rock act, Rammstein – is unlikely to cause such consternation. Set to appear in late August/early September 07, this self-titled 11-tracker is neither a ‘solo album’ in the strictest sense nor a musical departure of long-haul proportions. ‘Wake Up’, ‘Resolution’, ‘My World’ (the latter officially confirmed as lead track & video), these will all make perfect sense to those who have felt the heat of the parent group onstage or invested in one of their albums/DVDs (combined sales of which now stand at over 12 million worldwide).
What’s more, all of the Emigrate tracks have been co-produced by Jacob Hellner & mixed by Stefan Glaumann, the Swedish pair who have lent their respective talents to the bulk of the Rammstein catalogue. As well as providing a further link with the past, their presence here stems from Richard’s desire to pursue the Great Emigrate Adventure supported by a known ’n trusted team: important when your duties encompass song-writing, studio work (final production responsibility) and singing lead vocals (for the first time ever), as well as sourcing, then rehearsing the musicians involved…
Of course, Richard – who remains firmly entrenched within the Rammstein line-up – could have handled most, maybe all, of the playing side himself, but then the album would have felt essentially different; more one-off outing than introductory release from a genuine band. Who are: Arnaud Giraux (bass), Henka Johansson (drums), Sascha Moser (Logic programs editor) and Olsen Involtini (guitar & vocal producer). Like-minded musicians from different lands, who have helped to turn Emigrate into the living, breathing set-up it is today. Indeed, both Involtini & Giraux also pick up credits on the co-production side, and Richard is quick to praise the latter for his work recording the vocals, all of which are in English; this may not be a one-man, one-vote situation, with Richard calling the creative shots and even funding the project in its earliest days (“I’m not very good with democracy”), but ‘Emigrate’ the album now stands as something special – an emotion-filled release that’s both focussed in execution & easy to enjoy. The kind that members of globally successful bands aren’t generally prone to make…
“WELL, THAT’S probably because I hate solo albums!” laughs Richard, who – democratic debate aside – likes the positive energy of a working band. “Besides, for me this is bigger than just a solo album. It’s a new start…”
When mastering the tracks, with Howie Weinberg at Masterdisk in New York, Richard was (pleasantly) surprised at just how accessible it was all sounding, and there’s no question that songs such as ‘Temptation’ & ‘New York City’, the second single/video, do pack a hefty commercial punch. Lurking beneath the surface, however, there’s an altogether darker record, the kind you would expect from someone with a deep regard for the work of NIN’s Trent Reznor & Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page; someone driven to create on a daily basis, almost as a means of keeping personal demons at bay.
“At one point, I was asking myself: ‘Does the world really need my record?’ But the answer to that question soon became obvious: Richard needed, and needs, this record for the sake of his health. “I HAD to do it, simple as that!”
Rammstein fans will be aware that the period following the ‘Mutter’ album (2001) was a difficult one for the band. Richard Kruspe, a quick-burn personality with music as his guiding force, appeared to be out of synch with The Rammstein Rhythm, and the resulting tension was stretching the group at the seams. Clearly, some kind of change was required, and the guitarist was quick to grasp the moment, taking his safe life in Berlin and turning it upside down. “I left my comfortable situation, and just started again from zero in New York. When I arrived there, I didn’t know anyone, the only people I could hang out with at this time were the friends of my wife, I was pretty much by myself”.
“Looking back, however, it was an important step for me. If I hadn’t made the move to New York, there would be no Emigrate full stop; the city is such a big part of the project…” These days, Richard divides his time between East Berlin and the Soho area of Manhattan, but it’s the latter that calls to him the most. He first went there with Rammstein in ’97, and straight away was bowled over by the buzz (“It was like an LSD trip!”), the sense of all things being possible. “You wonder how so many different cultures can live together in peace, and the answer is simple; because there’s only one religion there – money. I guess it’s a sad fact in one respect, but on the other hand, it gives the city an incredible sense of purpose. You find yourself facing challenges every single day.”
BUOYED UP by this natural vibe, Richard – a songwriter with half a dozen ideas forever at his fingertips – set about putting together a project to soak up the energy that he felt couldn’t be channelled into Rammstein. He opted for a (cosmopolitan) line-up specific to his cause…
Recruit number-one was Frenchman Arnaud Giraux, bassist with Paris-born singer Axel Bauer, followed by German Sascha Moser, one-time drummer with Orgasm Death Gimmick, the East Berlin outfit Richard had been a part of prior to going the Rammstein route. Olsen Involtini – a fellow German, next to join the ranks – had also worked with the guys on both the remix and string arrangement side; as friends of many years standing, Richard was sure that both would slot in well, which left just the drum-stool to be filled. Take a seat, Henka Johansson – a Stockholm-based musician who had played many times on the same bill as Rammstein, guarding the beat for Scando rap-metallers, Clawfinger. As none of the personnel had played together before, there was no way of telling if the chemistry would be right, but happily that proved not to be a problem (“Once rehearsals began, it was like we’d been playing together for 20 years”).
Next step, the studio proper…
DENMARK’S PUK STUDIOS. To be precise, a state-of-the-art facility that has hosted artists such as Elton John, Depeche Mode & Judas Priest. Here the drum tracks were put to tape, with Hellner coming on board to encourage & advise, then it was off to ‘Studio Kruspe’ in Berlin where a Grail-like quest for the perfect guitar sound was about to get underway… In Rammstein, the guitar will often act as “the second voice in the song,” but with Emigrate, it’s more a case of playing along with the song, so it was important for the sonics to reflect this fact. Eventually, after the sort of amp adjustments best carried out with a slide-rule, this most sacred of tasks was ticked off on the list, and it was time to shift across to Richard’s other studio in New York. No more distractions from this point on, just a clear run at The Vocals.
Did he always intend to sing in English? “Yes, absolutely! Being based in New York, it was obvious that I should use the English language – I mean, I even think in English when I’m there. German is a really deep language, a language packed full of detail, and sometimes it’s just not right for certain things…” At one stage, Richard did consider using guest vocalists on the album. However, once the project was up & running, it became clear that for the songs to be truly convincing, they had to be fronted by the composer himself – a composer who hadn’t sung with any of his previous outfits and whose Rammstein demos are generally instrumentals! So, how was it? "It was difficult – really difficult! I so regretted those times at Rammstein productions that I’d been demanding with Till. As a singer, you’re just incredibly vulnerable, always trying to catch the moment and the mood.”
“What I came to realise, though, is that the whole thing is really about attitude. It’s not to do with whether you have a great voice or not, it’s about do you want to say something or just keep your mouth shut?!”