KMFDM Mastermind Sascha Konietzko Talks New Album ‘Hell Yeah’ and His Love for the Fans

For over three decades, KMFDM has incorporated over a dozen musicians and produced some of the most beloved industrial metal out there. At the center of all this change and evolution is the group’s affable maestro Sascha Konietzko, who plays most of the instruments on their new album “Hell Yeah.” In between tour stops, Konietzko took the time to share some globetrotting stories that took us everywhere from Merseyside Pizza Huts to Berlin mosh pits, but always circled back to his favorite subject – the fans he gets to interact with around the world.

What feels different about “Hell Yeah,” your 20th album?

It’s getting a shitload of good reviews. [Laughs.] No, everything feels different. Every album is a part of your life. An episode. It’s like looking at a photo album. And like, ‘oh this was the one before,’ and ‘that was six or seven before,’ and ‘that one was when I was a wee little lad.’ It’s different every time really.

Your band has always been about evolution and experimentation. Can you tell us how new guitarist Chris Harms fits in with this iteration of KMFDM?

Well, it was really simple. Our main guitarist Jules [Hodgson] started a dog walking business in Seattle. I guess he was tired of doing sound every night for some shitty band at some shitty venue, and he wanted to do something that would satisfy him and also make him some money. And it worked out for him, so I needed someone to step up and really be around whenever I wanted something done. We got hooked up by a mutual friend, kicked it off right away, and that was that.

Maybe you can also tell us about some of the guest artists on the album and how you got hooked up with them? 

The spoken word artist guest is Abby Martin, a former host from Russia Today. And we’ve actually never met in person. We’ve just sort of met by a couple of failed attempts to get her on the guest list and then her never showing up at the concerts. Then I said, ‘Just do something,’ and she did. So we popped it on and it fit perfectly – it’s just a little diatribe, like we have sometimes by various artists or just people who have good sounding voices, or whatever. It just totally fit in.

We got Doug Wimbish, who’s an old friend of mine from the 80s, to play bass on one of the tracks. And, let’s see, who else is on there? Gared Dirge from Lord of the Lost plays a B3 Hammond organ solo on “Murder My Heart.” And Sin Quirin, of course from Ministry, he contributed a riff to “Glam Glitz Guts & Gore.” So, yeah, another illustrious little company here.

You’re married to Lucia Cifarelli, who does vocals for the band. Are there any unique challenges or advantages that you have as a couple when you’re in the studio or on the road?

There are pretty much only advantages. I see no disadvantages. I think the main thing is that our work can continue long after everyone else packs up and leaves the studio. And we can sit and spend the night just working, talking, discussing, collaborating, evaluating, and pushing things in the direction we want them to go.

If you’re in a band kind of situation, often times I would imagine someone becomes the sort of “main guy,” the so-called “band leader.” And then the bassist wants the bass louder, and the drummer wants the drums louder, and the guitarist wants the guitars louder, and blah blah blah. In her, in Lucia, I have someone that I can completely bounce back my stuff. She can bounce back her stuff. And we have time, and we trust each other fully. If she says, “This idea of yours is crap, it’s not going to go anywhere,” I know she’s right. Maybe I won’t feel it at that moment. [Laughs.] In the long run, it turns out that she was right, and vice versa too.

If you have such an intimate relationship of trust and longevity, that’s really helpful in the process of honing whatever creative impulses come to mind and turning them into a product – a sort of rounded out type of thing.

Just a year ago, you released “Rocks – Milestones Reloaded,” which was a remix record but with kind of a greatest hits spin?

It wasn’t so much a greatest hits. The idea came about after we switched labels. We went from Metropolis Records in the U.S. to earMusic here in Hamburg where we also live, and we needed a sort of test run to see how both camps would kind of interact with each other. The idea was to come up with a product that would be compelling in a way, but also not too difficult. So we just decided to completely re-record and remix. Basically take titles from our catalogue, but completely start them from scratch. Take old tapes, digitize them, and then create completely new versions – some of which were then remixed. Which was a really fun project, but it wasn’t really all that important in terms of the milestones. That’s why we called it “The Milestones,” which is a typical KMFDM thing to do.

But was there something about working on those old favorites that inspired you going into an album of originals?

Well, it was just sort of a playful interlude between the beginning of the writing and the recording of this new album, “Hell Yeah.” About six or eight months into “Hell Yeah,” we took the opportunity to work on “Rocks.” And thus once “Rocks” was done we really got a chance to sort of refocus on the material that had been done so far for “Hell Yeah.”

That really became a great advantage for us, because after you have a break for about four months from stuff you worked on for a long time, you look at it with a completely different eye and you listen to it with a completely different ear. And I think that really provided some sort of curveball effect for “Hell Yeah.”

So, after this little hiatus during which we did “Rocks,” we listened to the “Hell Yeah” material and it was like, “Alright, come on, this is going in a kind of been there, done that direction. Let’s turn it around.” Or, if it doesn’t turn around in about a half a day, let’s just discard it and start something new. But, yeah, the dynamic really profited from having the “Rocks” thing going on in the meantime.

Can you talk a little bit about your long-standing relationship with the graphic artist Brute!, aka Aidan Hughes?

Aidan and I were introduced by the owner of a very small label out of nearby Liverpool, U.K. A place called Merseyside that I think Frankie Goes to Hollywood wrote a song about. Back in the day we met in London and this little label owner guy — he was the first guy to sign us and he took us to Pizza Hut to celebrate. And then this Limey shows up and he was like, “Oh, hi, I’m Aidan and I do some illustrations.” Don’t take my accent for granted, I might be veering off into New Zealander or Australian. Anyways, he showed us some of his shit and we were like, “Yeah, that looks really good. If you want to put that on the cover of our music, this is our first real album release, so be it.”

And then a couple of months later we did a single and we were like, “Hey, let’s call that guy again.” And another one, “Let’s call that guy again, let’s call that guy again.” Now, exactly 30 years later, “that guy” has branded KMFDM in a visual way that probably many bands would dream of having. Whether you like the style or not, the branding is the actual important factor here. You walk into a record store and a KMFDM record jumps out of the shelves right at you. It’s like Coca-Cola, you know, you recognize it. It’s got that recognition value that’s priceless. I mean, every band should have that.

You guys are known for interacting with fans before and after shows. Can you talk a little bit about what your fans mean to you?

We’re not only known for interacting with fans before and after shows. We’re interacting with fans the whole time. For instance, delivering contributions, audio files that get incorporated into recordings and released on CDs or records. We’ve done “Fankam,” which was a project where people were handed a loaded, charged, ready-to-go camera and then took footage from their perspective – from the crowd, or jump on stage, get thrown down. [Laughs.]

You know, without you there wouldn’t be us. That’s what I always say. And I think that’s something that’s very well and easily understood – I mean, how much more basic can you get? It’s a symbiotic process. The band couldn’t sustain itself without fans. When I first came to America in 1989, we toured with Ministry and the like, and I noticed that these people were kind of trying to set themselves apart from the people who came to their shows. And for me, having just toured a few years, humble pie-eating sort of style – sleeping on someone’s couch, playing for beer and food – I was like, “Hey, man, the people that come to shows are the most important asset. Let’s not fucking be jerks to them, let’s celebrate them for what they are: they’re our fans.” That resounded really well. Although, of course it would. Big surprise, right? [Laughs.]

You are also constantly looking for new ways to interact with your fans, such as the Horde website you used to run. Do you have any new ways you’re planning on staying in touch with people who follow the band?

Well, to be honest, the Horde thing, that was about 14, 15 years ago. That was an attempt to create something that’s happening nowadays left and right. It’s basically the idea of people having to buy a VIP ticket in order to meet and greet the band. And I know a lot of bands, if not most bands, do that today. So besides the fan having to shell out up to 40 bucks for a ticket, they then shell out another 40, 50 bucks to meet and greet for a couple of minutes, to have an impersonal kind of experience, get a t-shirt, have a signature, have a selfie…

And we abandoned that train of thought almost as quickly as we came up with it in the early 2000s. Because it was not what KMFDM is about. KMFDM is about the fans, and nobody should have to pay an extra dollar to have a hug or get a picture with me or any of us. So, it was a learning curve, and as I did many times in the 33-year span of KMFDM’s career, I was probably kicking money to the curb that I could’ve taken home. But I don’t care to be an asshole. I want to be me, and we all want to be us, and this is what really unites the people in KMFDM.

It sounds really dogmatic, probably, but it’s really a way of life. And that way is the goal, there’s no other target to be reached here. Just be good, have fun, and fucking throw down as hard as we can.

Just in general, tell us what you guys are planning for the Hell Yeah tour that’s hitting the U.K. and U.S.?

Well, the Hell Yeah Tour has actually already begun. We played a super cool festival in the Czech Republic about 10 days ago. We sold out a little club in oh-so-elitist Berlin. And the oh-so-elitist Berliners could do nothing but sweat their little asses off and fucking mosh and pogo. And then we co-headlined the M’era Luna Festival here in Germany. In two weeks we’re doing a quick run of the U.K. – soon to be no more part of Europe. And then we’re going to be ready to headline the Cold Waves Festival in Chicago, and then, yeah, it’s going to be the tornado of fucking joy riding through Trump-ridden America.

Hell Yeah is available Aug. 18 on Apple Music.