Richard Kruspe and Emigrate: From Berlin to New York City

Rammstein guitar player spreads his musical wings on side band's first CD

For fans of the world-renowned German rock band, Rammstein, guitarist Richard Kruspe is certainly no stranger. But what may come as quite a surprise to listeners is Richard Kruspe’s new debut album, Emigrate – a selection of compositions reflective of Richard’s current state of mind and lust for a fresh new start both personally and with his fellow band mates in Rammstein. Don’t worry if you’re not a big Rammstein fan — Emigrate deliver English-vocal, melodic, heavy, alternative rock on their debut CD.

In the comfort of Kruspe’s private studio located in downtown Manhattan, had the opportunity to meet with Richard for an in-depth conversation exploring the creative means behind the creation of his side-band’s album, Emigrate. Although it has been available for a few months in Europe, Emigrate’s self-titled debut is scheduled for release January 28, 2008. More specific information regarding the new album can be found in last month's CD Reviews. Be sure to check it out!

Rammstein fans fear not – Kruspe has no intention of leaving the band, and in-fact is preparing to start working with Rammstein on their latest album. In his own words, “Rammstein is priority number one! When we get together to work for Rammstein, we work for Rammstein. There is no talk about other projects outside of Rammstein, and nothing will take precedence over Rammstein to cause interference… I don’t know if they heard the [Emigrate] album yet. We don’t really talk about it – we just go on with our lives. I do know they were happy about my starting a new project because it was at a time when there was a little too much tension, or too much presence, from my side.”

Richard explained (in a heavy German accent), “I am a workaholic. I love to keep working and needed to channel the excess energy someplace else. Being the guitarist for Rammstein, I found myself wanting to be the lead singer. I found myself overcompensating in other areas of the band and trying to be involved and controlling of other parts within the band.” As a result, Richard’s need to take control became overbearing and caused friction within the band, especially given that Rammstein generally take a democratic stance when making creative decisions and deciding the direction of the band. In the end, the band was happy that he split his energy half and half. It helped keep their relationship, and the integrity, of Rammstein intact. Richard made an excellent analogy: “It’s kind of like when you get married, then get divorced, and your ex- has a new child and you don’t want to talk about it.” In this case, the new child is his creation, Emigrate.

Considering the industrial metal vein of Rammstein and the influences of living in club-happy Berlin, Richard was surprised at the outcome of Emigrate. “It sounded really rock in a mainstream kind of way. I always considered myself as being more in a dark world, on a dark side of music.” Richard is a big believer in environmental influences when it comes to creating. “The history of New York City and the sounds of New York City played a big part in influencing many bands.” Richard recalled that all the bands coming out of New York have a certain kind of rock sound. “Even the punk band, The Ramones, were rocky. Anytime you heard of a new band out of New York, you were like ‘Wow, that’s rock!’” He couldn’t help but wonder if that had an influence on his album.

But why move to New York? What inspired the move from Berlin to Manhattan? Richard had already achieved a successful career with Rammstein, having sold over twelve million albums and DVDs worldwide. “A lot of things!” cited Richard. “First, having lived in Berlin for eighteen years, I needed a change. One of the things you have to do as an artist is go to your unsafe way. Basically, you need a challenge in order to stay hungry. What city is better to stay hungry in than NYC? The worlds biggest drama? Second, I got married in NYC in ’99. Married life didn’t work out for me, but I tried for a little while. Third, I had a problem with Berlin as a destructive city.

For me, Berlin is a drug city. In the Eighties when the wall was still up, it was the biggest heroin city in the world. And after heroin, it was a lot of speed, LSD and ecstasy. I always had a problem with drugs.” Richard recalled a story told to him, “that Berlin got built up after the Second World War and because there were so many dead bodies around the city, they couldn’t put them in the grave yard. People believe that is why there is weird spirit there… I don’t know about that.” Richard did know, however, that he needed to get out of there to get away from the drug culture.

Musically, Emigrate is a mixture of different worlds. Though heavy with a dominant rock edge, the music contains other elements including pop, alternative, rave, and metal. “That was the intent – to get a little bit of all those worlds together,” Richard explained. “I moved a little bit away from the electronic side of music. At the end of the day, it sounded rocky. You have to accept that music leads from self. Music is King – music always leads.”

Richard never sang at all with Rammstein, but on Emigrate, his lead vocals make it obvious that he is a man of many talents. He had always thought about singing and recalled that in the beginning, he just wasn’t confident enough. “I wasn’t ready. Everything needs its time. It was a good thing that I didn’t do it. The singer in Rammstein is doing a great job as a singer and lyricist – he writes unbelievable stuff!” In the beginning of writing the Emigrate material, Richard stated it wasn’t easy. “It was frustrating being comfortable as a composer all those years and then having to be a singer, like starting as a baby trying to learn to ride a bike. It was really complicated. I realized singing was all about attitude. If you have to say something, you have to figure out the best way to say it – same with singing. Vocally, you need to learn how to grind. There are actually vocal teachers who can work with you to develop that style of singing.”

Having our conversation in the surroundings of Kruspe’s studio control room, one wall piled high with literally stacks of Mesa/Boogie Rectifier/Dual Rectifier heads, another with racks of sweet outboard recording gear, and a mix desk in the middle (also filled with classic rack gear for guitar recording), we just had to talk about his studio and some of the preferred pieces of gear used to create his sounds. While most musicians would only dream to have a studio set up like his, in Richard’s case, the studio in Manhattan is a mirror image of his studio in Berlin!

Forget about having a girl in every port — a studio in every port is more beneficial! Hopping a plane with a hard drive is all it takes for Richard to keep on working without missing a beat or struggling with different studio setups. In listening to Emigrate, you can’t help but notice the warm distorted effect characteristic on Richard’s voice. Richard explained, “I was looking for a nice warm distortion in a vocal mic. Some vocalists, like Rob Zombie, basically have their voice going through a fuzz box. It’s hard to regulate the amount of distortion on those boxes. I found a piece of gear that gives you a nice subtle, warm tube distortion sound, however, I have to use a Shure SM7 broadcasting microphone to achieve the sound you hear on the album. I’m really satisfied with the vocal character. I also switched to a Neumann TLM49 for a little bit more open sound during certain verses.”

In regards to his guitar setup and achieving that perfect sound, Richard first starts with the room. “You need to have the right room first and foremost. I built and rebuilt the studio downstairs four to five times before it finally was right for producing the optimum guitar sound.” Richard loves to collect old gear and old preamps. “I believe every amp has one good tone no matter how many channels it contains. For recording Emigrate, Richard used the Intec (part of the Neve collection of boards) and the Millenia. For guitar, his amp of choice is the Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier combined with a Soldano to add a layer of midrange on top. “I’m tracking one track and from there, building up. The most tracks I did on an album were for ‘Mother’ by Rammstein. We were recording on the 24th, my birthday, so I decided I was going to record twenty-four tracks. On this album, I stayed with six tracks. For the clean guitar parts, I used an ADA preamp going to a 295 Boogie Strategy power amp. Everyone says it’s all in the fingers – not in the gear. You really need to be tight to play riffs and stuff. If there’s one thing about Germans, they’re really tight – right on time! Europeans suck when it comes to soul – you have to be in the groove. It all comes down to how Germans perceive rhythm, which is totally different from Americans. Germans are always stepping on One. It’s how we grew up living in East Germany. America is like a Reggae thing – it’s like in-between the beats.”

Richard never really got into copying too many guitar players. He was always interested in playing his own music. “Basically, I wasn’t good enough to play other peoples songs, so I made up songs I could play.” Through the years, there were guitar players he admired including Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and John Fruciante. “I’m more into style than fast playing. I love melodies. I grew up on one hand listening to hard rock and metal, and on the other hand listening to the pop side, which I couldn’t mention to my friends because it was so gay to listen to pop. I liked it anyway because it was melodic. It doesn’t matter what kind of music I listen to – I like to try to mix things up.”

“My biggest band influence would have to be AC/DC. I would wish to play one show with those guys. Rammstein opened up for AC/DC once and experienced a problem we never had before – we actually got boo’ed because their fans are so into AC/DC. It didn’t make me mad because I, too, was so into their playing myself. It was so tight. I’ve never seen anyone play as tight as Malcolm Young. If you talk about guitar players, that guy did not fuck up one time. There was not one tone missing. It was unbelievable.”

Richard has an artist signature series guitar produced by ESP. However, the guitar wasn’t completed until halfway through the recording of the album, so he primarily played with a Fender Jaguar and Gretsch White Falcon for his clean tones, and a modified ESP for his heavy tones. Richard spoke a little bit about the special features of his signature guitar. “You basically have three standard shapes to choose from. I chose to go with a slightly modified strat body style. Besides all the technical parts, I had a sound in my head. The guitar was being built in Tokyo, which made it hard to jump over there all the time so I had to tell them verbally what I was looking for and give them references to listen to. And listen… I want to have a guitar that looks burned! You know? Because of my Rammstein history, it was something I was looking for…. burned. They said, ‘Oh… So how do we do that?’ and I said, ‘It’s pretty easy – you color the guitar and put it in the oven and then take it out.’ They looked at me and said, ‘No, we can’t do it.’ I said, ‘But why? Pretty easy – it should look burned.’ ‘No, we can’t do it. No, we can’t do it.’ So we had to come up with something else. Silver was my favorite color, and the guitar was fitted with EMG 81 pickups. I’m actually changing to different pickups because the EMG’s were lacking personality. I like the tightness of the active pickups, but need a lot of personality. I tried a few different pickups and decided to go with the DiMarzio D Activator pickups. They have the tightness of active pickups, but the personality of passive pickups.”

Richard is currently working on the new Rammstein album, and when in New York, he’ll be working on the second Emigrate album. As Richard restated, “Rammstein will always be priority number one.” Maybe after the Rammstein tour and a second Emigrate album is completed, he may find some time to be able to tour with this outstanding rock project.

To view a video of the first single, “My World,” check out

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