This article is (c) 1994 by Magnet magazine and Jeneveve Sutton.
"Ask me a serious question, man," En Esch slurs, as we sit on a leather sofa in a lounge at the TVT office during this year's CMJ convention in New York City. "We're here to talk about KMFDM. Ask me about KMFDM."
Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist En Esch is not in the greatest mood, and I can't say I blame him. He's been doing interviews all day, and you can tell he's up to here with it. A bottle of Absolut vodka, about four-fifths empty, rests on the table in front of him, the remaining liquid tinted slightly pinkish (a splash of cranberry? Blood?). I take a swig of the vodka (with cranberry) and apologize for being late. "It's OK, man," En Esch says, and sticks his tongue in my mouth. His publicist, Nicole Blackman, sits across from us looking skeptical, while Steve Gottlieb, president of TVT Records, sticks his head in for a moment and seems equally unimpressed. I produce photos from time I spent with En Esch in Europe, which he happily shows around, occasionally pausing to lick my face. I make a lame joke about getting up close and personal with my interview subjects. No one else seems to understand that when En Esch hasn't seen you in eight months - and he's nearing the end of a fifth of vodka-this is how he says, "Hi!"
Sascha (En Esch's musical partner and fellow multi-instrumentalist) and his girlfriend leave, and I get the feeling En Esch misses his live-in lover something awful.
To compensate, he picks a fight over the pronunciation of Angst, the title of KMFDM's new album, a record that is outselling all its predecessors combined. He decides I should pronounce it with a soft "a," as in hang, like all of the Americans he's been interviewed by today; I try to convince him I've always said it with a broad "a," like ankh, and that I'm not patronizing him.
"I didn't like Money too much," he insists, as he turns his attention to the interview. "I like this album way more. Money was done in a hurry, and I was doing a major Pigface tour, so l didn't have much influence on the album. I really like Angst. I'm totally down with it. We've tried to involve guitar players, we tried to be like a real band, especially in the creative kind of aspect. "
It shows. And since En Esch and Sascha are now expressing their own idiosyncrasies through separate solo projects, they've tightened KMFDM into its most cohesive and powerful entity thus far. En Esch, however, doesn't see this as a conscious choice.
"There is no specific direction or development," he states. "We continue to do our stuff basically in the same quality and intention."
I disagree. The quality of KMFDM's work speaks for itself.
Besides the bevy of interviews and photo shoots scheduled throughout the weekend, En Esch and Sascha are scheduled to appear on a CMJ panel entitled "Has Rock Music Become The Sex Education of the '90s?" Neither has any clue as to why he's been selected for this particular panel, unless it's that KMFDM's cover art has piqued the interest or whetted the sexual appetite of some panel committee member.
This sparks a conversation between Blackman and myself about censorship, specifically as it pertains to KMFDM's new video, "Drug Against War." The video is animated and at one point depicts a man holding a gun to his head; at another a woman holds a gun to a man's head, which is followed by a multi-colored explosion across the screen. It was rejected by MTV.
I take the tape recorder away from En Esch, who's beginning to dribble into it while repeating, "Nobody cares, man. At the end of the day, nobody cares," and hand it to Blackman, who is becoming somewhat agitated.
"It premiered on Music Scoupe on Fox, and they apparently had no problem with it," she explains. "That was network TV. No problem. Right now the video's getting airplay at clubs and on regional shows... MTV is basically the one that's giving us the problem. . . "
At this point En Esch starts chanting, "Fuck... Fuck... Fuck... FUCK!!!"
Blackman raises her voice slightly and continues. "They want us to make edits. They want us to just cut the thing out so you won't notice an edit's been made."
"We don't!!!" En Esch shouts gleefully, and Blackman smiles.
This is not the band's first run-in with MTV censors. The network requested the band remove the word goddamn from its "More and Faster" video a few years back.
When I speak with En Esch the next week in New Orleans I ask how the panel went.
"I was just glad that everyone liked our video," he laughs.
And sex education?
"Sex education has to happen at home or at school. Music is more able to transmit the idea of understanding, love and happiness. And that's more important." He stops a few seconds, then finishes his thought. "I don't feel any better than anyone buying our fucking record. As a matter of fact, I feel the same. The music? Well, maybe it's God-given, maybe it's Satan-given, maybe it's whatever the fuck. So whatever. I just do the shit, and other people buy it."
"The lyrics for my vocal part in 'Move On' (from Angst) are influenced by living in New Orleans," he says. "There are these deep and intense, yet, on the other hand, reduced and minimalistic vibes. Here. you can hear the screaming souls of thousands of slaves."
The three of us sit in a funny little restaurant in the French Quarter. I say funny because it's about the only public place in the city without a liquor license, because the place has linen tablecloths and napkins but serves French's yellow mustard in huge, econo-sized bottles. And they've managed to find a radio station playing everything from Doris Day and the McGuire sisters to the theme from "The Newlywed Game." Not entirely inappropriate as En Esch and Isis are celebrating the one-year anniversary of the day they met.
The romantic atmosphere jogs his memory. "On 'Lust' (from Angst), we have some German lyrics I wrote when I had a good time with my girlfriend," he says, giving her hand a squeeze. He speaks rapidly.
"Leibe ist raub. Laff mich glucklich seim" ("Love is like a robbery. Let me be happy").
Just as I'm starting to feel like a third wheel, En Esch snaps out of his romantic stupor and continues. "Yeah, there's definitely kind of a special vibe happening. This city makes you think. I've never had a city like that. Just walking around, on purpose, just sitting on a bench, thinking. Never happened to me in Chicago. There's no way I'd fucking walk in Chicago. Here I'm walking around or sitting on my balcony just to observe people.
"Sometimes getting depressed," he sighs. "Sometimes it gets too deep. Suffering souls."
Once again he shifts direction.
"KMFDM can stand for anything you want it to be."
Liberating words from En Esch, a true industrial visionary whose talent from combining vastly different musical components and styles often gets him less attention than his bald head.
"The 'Kill Mother Fucking Depeche Mode' thing is on a lot of people's minds," he drones. It's apparent that old KMFDM joke has lost its appeal. And "Kein Mehrheit Fuer Die Mitleid" ("No Pity For The Majority"), the other standby, seems too humorless for the somewhat mellowed KMFDM of '93. So what now?
"I personally like 'Kalte Melkerhamde Furchtet Die Milchkuh' the best,~ he states dryly.
I breathlessly await the translation of what's sure to be pure genius.
"That means 'The cow stands in fear of the milkmaid's cold hands.' Basically we've decided not to answer this question anymore."
Don't I know it. I dealt with En Esch's complicated abstraction traveling with him through Holland and his native Germany last winter. I watched from the passenger seat as he read a German road map and rolled many of the 60 cigarettes he smokes a day, driving 100 mph in the rain, only semi-recovered from the effects of an as-yet unidentified hallucinogen slipped to us at an Amsterdam nightclub the previous evening. On four hours sleep.
The same schizophrenia that allows En Esch to pull off stunts like that permeates his first solo release, Cheesy (WaxTrax!/TVT). The album is as deceivingly simple as it is frighteningly complex. Just like him. From the first track, "Go Insane," the listener is best advised to relax and go with it. Enjoy. Stop thinking so hard, and don't take it too seriously or you just might get sucked into his web of semi-insanity. And if all else fails, remember this: He programmed most of it in his room at the YMCA. How complicated is that?
"My fans have to be open-minded," En Esch insists. "KMFDM is more serious stuff. By myself, I like to play with different sounds and styles in a very humorous way."
One would suppose you'd have to have a pretty good sense of humor to venture into the studio with Dean Ween and Andrew Weiss. The thing is, many people are put off by his unusual appearance and what the press release for Cheesy calls a "chilling, ominous stare," never realizing they're dealing with a great guy who also happens to be an excellent composer and musician. Kinda like the David Byrne of industrial music, but with better social skills.
The Cheesy track featuring Weiss and Ween,"Daktari" (the only cut on the album sung and played 100 percent manually-no programming), is a good example of how losing something in the translation can make for some rather bizarre lyrics.
First, the English lyrics are lifted directly from Star magazine headlines like "Specializers in Love, Loveless Motel." Then there are the German lyrics, which translate to something like, "I'm your busboy, hotel boy, pussy slave, whatever the fuck." And it gets even better.
"In the German 'Daktari' lyric, I'm singing about my father," En Esch recalls. "He grew up afraid for his life, between ages seven and ten, almost killed by American and British bombs (in WWII).
"I compare him with Brian's father [another character], who played with his genitals in a ripe field of grain. I combine the whole thing with my own history, an important line is, 'Don't expect someone to love you like you are supposed to love yourself.'"
OK, so I'm a little confused.
"That's typical for me."