December 31, 2018 Interview – Richard Z. Kruspe of Emigrate & Rammstein
You know the name Richard Z. Kruspe and his phenomenal twenty-plus year career with German heavyweights Rammstein, but do you know his true lust for music? Back in November, Kruspe’s passion project, Emigrate, released its third studio offering, A Million Degrees, and tore down the walls of genres to embrace all sounds and styles. From Rock to Pop, Punk to Metal, Kruspe takes his listeners on a heartfelt journey that twists as well as turns and never once grows dull. A Million Degrees sees Emigrate exploring without musical boundaries – but always with a fire inside.
Taking time out of his exceedingly busy schedule of creating, Kruspe, while in the midst of mixing the upcoming Rammstein album, sat down for an interview. Candid and congenial, he discussed Emigrate and the meaning behind A Million Degrees, creativity and collaborations, delving into Pop territory, and much, much more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in music for well over twenty years now. What have been some personal highlights of your career, thus far?
Richard Z. Kruspe – There’s always some personal highs when you’re sitting in the studio and writing the songs and finally get things together. That’s always a high that I look forward to, that’s why I’m doing music; I like to create things. The moment when you write a song and you have an idea and things are coming together in the studio – there are my highs.
For someone who actually grew up in East Germany, it was always a dream to become a musician. It wasn’t actually possible, because in East Germany the only way you could do music was to do it on a really low level. Otherwise, you had to study. At the moment, especially working on Emigrate with all those great musicians, it’s one of the biggest successes I can imagine, you know? It’s kind of like a dream come true.
Sometimes I just have to stop and think about where I come from and what I’ve achieved with both of those projects. There are some little dreams that I have – a Grammy would be nice. (Laughs) I’m doing music from a therapy point: there’s things that I want to get out of me – problems in life and ups and downs in life. I can put it in music, and that’s something that I do and that I love to do.
Cryptic Rock – Writing and creating art are definitely cathartic processes.
Richard Z. Kruspe – I have a little theory about that. After a while, I realized especially that, I’m not sure if this is true for you, but for me the most creativity that comes out of me is basically when I suffer, or when I put myself through pain or life in general. I guess, subconsciously, you realize that when you suffer the most creativity comes out, so then you put yourself back into those moments and destructions. It’s not really a healthy thing to do, but that’s the way sometimes that it happens. I don’t know that if I was totally happy with everything in my life I would do music. I’m not sure about that. What about you?
Cryptic Rock – That’s a really good question. When I am happy, I do continue to write, but I believe my best material definitely comes from a darker place. That’s probably why all of the very best artists are crazy! (Laughs)
Richard Z. Kruspe – (Laughs) Again, I think that subconsciously they’re putting themselves through it. We all have a problem with, at least with me, feeling worse is one of the things that, I realize through going through a lot of therapy, I’m at the point where I have to work a lot. If I don’t achieve something or create something, I feel worse; if I don’t do that, my self-confidence goes down. So, I have to create all the time.
Cryptic Rock – That’s not a good cycle, but let’s talk Emigrate. On the surface, the title A Million Degrees seems to suggest heat or that you are implying that the music is hot or on fire.
Richard Z. Kruspe – Or just me! (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) That too. But after hearing the record, it almost feels like this could be a reference to all of the degrees of musical styles and influences; a million degrees of your love for music. So, out of curiosity, what was your intention with the album’s title?
Richard Z. Kruspe – I always knew that women were smarter than men! (Laughs) A Million Degrees came out of where I was in 2015. I had actually finished the record – I was in Los Angeles, and I had finished the record. I felt totally burnt out the first time, so that’s actually where the title came from in the beginning. After a while, I was trying to visualize that and I was trying to get into hot – or even what comes after it’s so hot that it becomes cold. I was trying to visualize that and I couldn’t really get my thoughts on it. Then I went away, and I was like, well, “a million degrees” is actually what you’re talking about: it’s more about styles that I like to present or that I write.
It’s about this open Emigrate project where I can work in so many different styles; it doesn’t have this one certain kind of style. That’s also what’s going on in my mind – those angles like in a mathematical way, basically. Then I came up with the idea – I had a visual with this mirror room, and I would create a head that has mirrors inside. It kind of describes the musical angle I’m trying to achieve, that I don’t want to put myself in any kind of drawer. In Emigrate, I have the freedom to do whatever I want and write any kind of stuff I like. So, it’s exactly what you talked about.
Cryptic Rock – The album is so widely varied – you have Metal, Punk, Pop and beyond – and that clearly relays the message that you live and breathe all kinds of music. Who are some artists or genres that you have been inspired by lately and what were you listening to when the album was written?
Richard Z. Kruspe – Oh man! It’s a hard question because it’s been a long time since I started; there’s some songs I actually wrote eight years ago. It’s not like I’m the guy that goes into the studio and says, ‘Okay, now I’m starting to write for a record.’ I’m constantly someone who goes into the studio and writes music when I’m not on tour. My portfolio of listening stuff is just so wide open. I could listen to the last radio record with a nice joint and be like, “Wow! This is the greatest music ever.” (Laughs) I love heavy music, I like Nine Inch Nails. There are so many things that I listen to.
The only music that I can’t really relate to is Hip Hop. It’s basically because, as a songwriter, the music inspires me to write a certain kind of lyric; so, first the music is there and the music gets me into the lyrics. Where I think, in Hip Hop, it’s a different kind of way of writing. There’s also a difference between American Hip Hop and German Hip Hop. Right now, it’s very ‘hip’ this German Hip Hop which I really can’t relate to; the certain lyrics that they write come from a totally different culture. I also think that Rock music, in general, is kind of dead. Rebellion against parents stopped in Rock music, and now it’s all about words; that’s music that I can’t relate to. Everything else, I’m inspired.
The first thing I do in the morning when I get up, I put on my radio and listen to stuff. Then I go to the gym and I go on Spotify and I see what’s going on. There’s not one band or one genre: there’s so many genres I can appreciate. Also, through the way that I am writing, I’m also into certain kinds of production; sometimes if the music doesn’t interest me, I can appreciate the kind of production that’s involved. So, it’s really hard to say, I am really all over the place.
Cryptic Rock – That’s a good thing and everyone should be that way.
Richard Z. Kruspe – Well, you can’t dictate what people listen to. (Laughs) Certain bands, coming back to my band Rammstein, Rammstein has a certain reputation of writing a certain kind of style, people are expecting a certain way. It’s a thin line – it’s a much more closed-off universe than Emigrate. Emigrate is, on purpose, so open and I really try to let everything out; what I can’t do with Rammstein.
Cryptic Rock – Emigrate is definitely a very different animal, very diverse and exploratory, which begs the question have Rammstein fans accepted Emigrate with open arms?
Richard Z. Kruspe – The main concern when I started Emigrate was that they felt that Rammstein was falling apart — “Richard’s spending too much time on Emigrate.” I was trying to explain that, in a way, actually, Emigrate saved me to stay in Rammstein; that’s my balance that I needed to get my creativity out. It took me a long time to realize that the most important thing in a band, if you’re together with six people, is not to do as much as I did, because that triggers to the other guys that they have to do the same amount – which almost destroyed Rammstein. So finding the new outlet of Emigrate, putting all my creativity in kind of saved Rammstein, because all of a sudden I was not all over the place anymore, you know?
I don’t really care if they get it or don’t get it. When it comes to writing, especially with Emigrate because I’m just by myself, I’m seeing it as, at first, I have to please myself. If I don’t please myself, then I cannot expect that other people get it. If they do, it’s fine. If not, Emigrate was never really a commercial project; it’s all about love for music, being as open as possible, and working with the most people that I can that I’m interested in. Again, if I would go to Rammstein, to my singer and say, “Well, I think this song could be better sung by someone else,” he would kick my ass. (Laughs)
In Emigrate, I have the freedom — that’s what I really love about it, to have those people work with me. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. For example, the one song “War,” I really had Serj Tankian from System of a Down on my list. He listened to the song and he was like, he loved the song. The next day, he called me and he said, “I don’t know what to do. It’s great, leave it like it is.” Sometimes my guest singers take it a different way.
Cryptic Rock – That segues beautifully into the next question, actually: How did you decide who you wanted to bring in and work with on the album?
Richard Z. Kruspe – I have a theory about, or just my theory about, writing songs. If you start to create great songs, they have a life of their own and you have to listen very carefully. I’m very sensitive with that: I’m trying to listen to the song. Basically, the song mostly tells me where it is going – I’m just trying to bring tools to give him direction. The song mostly tells me, “Okay, I want to have that singer” and then a certain thing triggers. As I said with Serj, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
Cryptic Rock – Have you ever asked somebody to work on a song and they just didn’t have the time or were not interested?
Richard Z. Kruspe – Yeah! Sometimes, as I said, the songs are very old. So, for example, I had three people who died. I asked David Bowie and he died; I got a response that he was thinking about it, and then he died. I got Chester from Linkin Park and Chris Cornell. Lemmy did a song on the second record and after that he died. I was thinking, “Oh. Maybe I should stop this right now.”
Also, there’s one song on the record, I was asking Iggy to sing “Spitfire.” Normally if I ask, they are very cool and open. My thing is that I try to go directly: if you go through a record company, it’s very difficult. If you go direct to the guys, they’re pretty straightforward. The problem with Iggy was that he was dealing with sludge, which I have problems at this time, as well. There’s always other times! Certain people that I want to work with – one in particular that I would love to write a song on the next record is Martin Gore of Depeche Mode. We’re in contact, so that would be a great thing to me. He’s one of my musical heroes, so that would be an honor to work with him. I hope it works!
Cryptic Rock – That would be awesome! You are very lucky that you can reach out and ask people and they are so receptive. Now, stylistically, the biggest left-field offering on the album is “You Are So Beautiful.” What made you delve into Pop territory?
Richard Z. Kruspe – When it came out, they put it on a Metal list on Spotify. I was like, “No! It’s wrong! It’s not a Metal song!” (Laughs) As I said before, there’s no plan. I’m really trying to be as open as possible with Emigrate — I don’t think so much, I just let my emotions out. I don’t think if it’s right or if it’s too Pop-y. When everything was finished, I realized that, oh yeah, that’s quite a Pop song! (Laughs)
Sometimes I think you have to be old enough to be okay. I remember when I was fourteen, I was always listening to a lot of hard stuff, and I was in a Metal group, and I was listening to radio and all these Pop songs. I knew if I managed to admit that I loved it, I’d be like, “What the fuck is wrong with you?” (Laughs) If you’re older, you are much more in touch with yourself and your emotions. A Million Degrees is a very personal record. Maybe it has something to do with an age where you are okay to do that — do I really want to be as ‘cool’ as I was at twenty, baby? (Laughs)
The funny thing is that when I was listening to the song and I was trying to write the story for the video, I was referencing the song in my studio and I just had a guitar and I was like, “Wow! That’s actually very cool.” So, I wrote an acoustic version of that song and shot off a little video, and it’s coming out in a week or something. That’s even more emotional, I must say.
Cryptic Rock – The original video for the song is very entertaining and your daughter is absolutely adorable.
Richard Z. Kruspe – I know! (Laughs) It was the first time that she was in front of the camera, and with kids you never know; it was kind of a risk. I thought, “Oh man, not only is she okay doing that, she’s not freezing.” But when I saw the result, I was so proud of her; that stays for the rest of her life. People say it’s so cliché, but I’m so proud of her — she played so well. That means the world for me!
What I was trying to do was out of my personal experience. I became a father first when I was twenty-three, I had two children, and then again at forty-six. There were times in my life where, I always loved my children, but the way that I live as an artist/musician, I fuck up, I make mistakes. That’s a little of the story of this guy in the video: he loves his daughter unconditionally, but he fucks up again. That’s life!
Cryptic Rock – That is life, that’s very true. Alright, so 2019 is just days away. What should we expect from you, musically, in the upcoming year?
Richard Z. Kruspe – At the moment, as I mentioned before, I’m mixing the Rammstein record. First of all, I’m feeling like I am out of energy; I’m really tired and I’m hoping that I can finish this project by the end of the year. We’re ending the year, we’re having a show in Mexico – which I like. Then, next year, we’re doing five new videos with Rammstein, which is a lot. We’re going to come out with the record in April, and then we’re going on a stadium tour. The first stadium tour we did with Rammstein sold out in four hours, the entire stadium tour in Europe. It was unbelievable! Sometimes in life, you think there must be an end to it, it must go down – but with Rammstein it just grows and grows, and grows. So, 2019, 2020, and 2021 are dedicated to Rammstein: the big mothership is calling and there’s not going to be time for anything else.
Cryptic Rock – Would you ever have Emigrate open for Rammstein?
Richard Z. Kruspe – The balance is perfect right now: I have Emigrate, but if I start to tour with Emigrate, it might destroy the balance that I have. There are certain songs I really would love to perform, so I’m thinking, well, maybe I could perform an Emigrate song with Rammstein? That would be something that I would like a lot, that would actually be cool! (Laughs) Obviously, I would have to ask the other guys first. It’s a very delicate thing. They like what I’m doing, but they also like to stay in their universe. This could be interesting: to play two shows at the same time, it’s weird. I did that in the earlier days with some other bands, and it’s kind of weird – you have to be in a certain way. One song, two songs is okay, but a whole show in different bands is kind of a weird thing.
Cryptic Rock – Isn’t it physically exhausting, too?
Richard Z. Kruspe – Yeah, it’s like having two women in the same night! (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Okay, last question. At Cryptic Rock, we cover music as well as movies, particularly Horror and Sci-Fi films. Are you a fan of either of these genres and, if so, do you have any favorites?
Richard Z. Kruspe – Not really. I love movies, in general: I’m one of the guys who watches two movies a day just to – that’s the only time I can relax my mind. To me, watching is kind of like a meditation, so I will watch a lot of stuff. Genre-wise, I would be more of a Thriller guy – The Usual Suspects (1995) is one of my favorite movies.
Now, Horror movies, for me it’s so predictable. It’s too predictable: it’s kind of like if you know one zombie movie, you know them all. Actually, I am a big fan of Carpenter’s old movies. That’s something I can actually totally relate to — for example, The Fog (1980) is one of my favorite movies by Carpenter.
I like somebody to take me on a journey and I like to be misled. I like watching a movie and having to stop and rewind —“What did they just say?” I have to be a part of it. Horror movies, as I just said, they’re too predictable and I always know what’s happening next. I want to be challenged!