Richard Z. Kruspe had always planned to release the third full-length album by his solo project Emigrate before his main band, Rammstein, put out the follow up to 2009's Liebe ist für alle. And he was able to meet his goal — barely.
Kruspe, one of Rammstein's two guitarists, finished and finally released A Million Degrees more than a year after his original target date. The delay had nothing to do the slow-burning creative flames of Rammstein; it was water that nearly extinguished the project.
Way back in 2015, the guitarist assembled and recorded demos for more than 10 songs. He wasn't totally happy with them so he let them sit while Rammstein reunited to play shows and work on new music. During downtime, Kruspe returned to tinker with the Emigrate album. Then, while he was on tour with Rammstein last year, his home studio was flooded, and the hard drive containing the new Emigrate songs was destroyed.
"At first, I thought everything was OK," Kruspe says from Berlin. "My hard discs were in a different room than my studio. I started by going through all my outboard gear. Then I went to check on the music I had done and I realized all my hard drives were ruined. I was like, 'Fuck!' It's funny because I have a short temper with some things, but when these kind of extreme things happen, I don't freak out. I get really calm and somehow can deal with everything with a clear mind."
Taking the "when life gives you lemons" — or in this case 1,600 liters of water — approach, Kruspe started again, working from memory to recreate the songs he had already recorded.
"Somehow, when it happened I realized, 'Ah, life is sending me a signal,'" he says. "Basically, something was saying to me, 'Listen, you have to start from here and make it better than it was.' And I can honestly say, I'm so proud of this record. You always say you're proud of what you have done, but listening back to this record, I'm really happy everything happened the way it did."
Straying further than ever from the martial, melodic industrial metal of Rammstein, Kruspe and his bandmates — guitarist Olsen Innvoltini, bassist Arnaud Giroux, and drummer Mikko Sirén (Apocalyptica) — have created an eclectic collection of songs that incorporate elements of alternative rock, orchestral metal, punk, synthpop and funk into a schizophrenic collection that somehow holds together like a formidable Frankenstein's Monster. "Song-wise, it's very hard to describe," agrees Kruspe. "The idea of Emigrate is that there isn't ever one side to it. But sonically, I haven't done anything better than this."
Like 2014's Silent So Long, which featured guest vocals by Marilyn Manson, Lemmy Kilmister, Jonathan Davis and others, A Million Degrees incorporates an impressive roster of singers: Rammstein's Till Lindemann, Ghost's Cardinal Copia and Billy Talent's Benjamin Kowalewicz. Kruspe takes lead on the other eight tracks, singing in a vibrato-laden baritone, stressing melody over melodrama.
As Kruspe prepares to re-enter the studio with Rammstein to master their new album, tentatively due in the spring, the guitarist talked about making Emigrate's "difficult" third album, working with Till Lindemann outside of their main band together, and how he roped in Cardinal Copia for his first-ever guest appearance.
WHEN YOU RELEASED THE SECOND EMIGRATE ALBUM, SILENT SO LONG, IN 2014, DID YOU KNOW YOU WOULD DO A THIRD ALBUM WITH THE BAND?
RICHARD KRUSPE Not at the time. But when I finished Silent So Long, I had six or seven songs left that didn't work on that album. I just couldn't put them in their place. So I decided in the beginning of 2015 to write five more tracks. I started to record with the same crew I used for Silent So Long then I went back to L.A. to start to mix those songs. By May 2015, I realized I couldn't give 120 percent to the music anymore. I was very burned out. I was in the middle of building my home and I had some personal issues in my life. So I stopped writing, but I continued to work and mix all the songs.
WERE YOU HAPPY WITH WHAT YOU RECORDED?
You know, as I was listening to the songs I realized it just doesn't emotionally bring me somewhere. I couldn't judge at the time if I was just very burnt out or if it was because the records weren't good so I left it alone. In September 2015 we started to play with Rammstein, so I left the whole Emigrate idea alone.
IS THAT WHEN ALL OF THE WORK YOU HAD DONE WAS DESTROYED BY A FLOOD?
The water damage in my building basically destroyed half of my studio. It wasn't actually a flood. I have a pool on top of my building and my studio's underneath. We put 1,600 liters of water in the pool and it all leaked out. There was water everywhere. It was crazy. It all happened because a fucking washer that was keeping a valve shut somehow got destroyed and the water went everywhere.
DID YOU FIND OUT ABOUT THE FLOOD WHEN YOU GOT BACK FROM THE RAMMSTEIN TOUR?
No, because there's another flat underneath my studio and somebody there complained about the water coming through the roof. We took care of that first and I wasn't even thinking about what could have happened to my studio. Then, I realized everything was ruined. The funny thing about everything in life — there's always a reason why certain things happen. And I'm trying to see the good things in it. I had to redo the studio and I redid things. I re-wrote the record and it was all for a good cause because everything came out better than it was before.
WHY DO YOU THINK THEY CAME OUT BETTER?
I found a new guy, Sky Van Hoff, and he's a guitar player, producer, engineer and mixer. I kind of started to team up with him and we built a whole new record. I think it was very important to go through that whole rebuilding process. It was very painful because I already did the work and the money was gone so I started really from point zero again. But, you know, I had so much fun doing it. And working again with someone else, I got his perspective and his ideas coming into the Emigrate universe. We worked for eight or nine months together in my studio in Berlin, which was built around the time we were starting to work together. And I did some more collaborations, which I always like.
HOW DID YOU HOOK UP WITH CARDINAL COPIA?
He was in Berlin. I didn't know him, but we had mutual friends and I asked him if we could meet here because I wanted to ask him about the producer that he used on his record [Tom Dalgety]. At the time, we were looking for someone for Rammstein. While we were talking, I asked him, "Well, do you do any collaborations?" He said, "No, I'm not doing this kind of stuff." But I said, "Listen, I have one particular song on my solo record and I don't know why, but I thought about you. Would you mind to listen to it?" He said, "OK, alright." We went into the studio and I played him "I'm Not Afraid." He just looked at me and said, "I'm in." It's the first collaboration he's done with anyone, which I'm really proud of.
YOU ALSO DID A SONG WITH RAMMSTEIN SINGER TILL LINDEMANN, "LET'S GO." DID YOU WORK WITH HIM DIFFERENTLY THAN THE WAY YOU WORK IN RAMMSTEIN?
Yes. We're singing together as a duet and it was a no pressure kind of thing, whereas everything we do in Rammstein is closely examined and dissected and criticized and everyone has different ideas about things. This was more fun. I also did one song with the guy from Billy Talent, Benjamin Kowalewicz, which was also great.
YOU SPENT ABOUT A YEAR WORKING ON THE ALBUM AFTER YOU DISCOVERED ALL THE ORIGINAL SONGS WERE DESTROYED.
It was very slow and it was hard to start again. But you know, sometimes you have to listen to life when it gives you signals. There was a signal to just start over, you know, get inspired again. So I put 120 percent into it like I always do. It took me a long time, but all the work paid off in the end.