Wednesday, 16 January 2013

DIE KREUZEN: Lean To It!...

Voivod, Neurosis, Sepultura, Napalm Death: they all revered the band formed back in 1981 in Milwaukee for their mind-blowing musical diversity, spanning from HC (always in attitude!) to heavy metal to dark pre-grunge rock.  Their disregard towards genres and clichés was exciting and breathtaking, but also the intense – and yet unchartered within the punk/metal scene - level of pure emotion they poured into both sound and lyrics was something to behold, and the powerful alchemy thus created was destined to last forever... Melancholy, heartbreak, loneliness, desperation, anger were swept like autumn leaves by an organic, gushing, swirling, heavy and unusual sound that moved you deeply and lulled you inwardly into a grey, comforting place. So hard to find a band with such depth and skill, so hard-working and so genuine at the same time… Die Kreuzen was the great Autumnal band of the 80s, and they paved the road for so many great artists to come. Well guess what: they have reformed to appear at ROADBURN 2013! Here is the whole story…

 Protoseven Photography 2012

Die Kreuzen released a hardcore debut album in 1983, but even before the release of the legendary “October Files” (1986) you had already moved into post-punk territory. In the UK this was not uncommon, but at the time hardcore was a big thing in the US, and the trend was to “cross-over” with metal, so what you did was quite groundbreaking. Although Die Kreuzen never turned their back to the HC ethos, your heterogenic influences had become increasingly important within the band, which began to stand for musical broad-mindedness first and foremost rather than stay within the confinements of a specific scene. Can you give us an insight on those interesting transitional years from your own perspective and from an historical viewpoint?

Die Kreuzen never outwardly thought that we were doing something different. We liked to try new things musically... we all listened to so many different bands or artists, it was always interesting to hear something new. New being a brand new band or something that was old, like say "Sparks" for instance or Johnny Cash, Syd Barrett ... there was always something new and different to listen to, album jackets to study, liner notes to read. We listened to so much different stuff, from Metal Church to Sinatra to the Birthday Party... we gleaned so much information while touring and listening to music for hours on end while driving from gig to gig...or staying at people’s houses, going through their record collections and crashing on their floors. I can remember staying up all night tape recording all kinds of new things to listen to. Sometimes people would make us mix tapes... I guess all these sounds go in your ear and leave behind trace elements that grow and change a person’s perspective or even tastes in music. It just can’t be helped when you love music as much as we do. I never liked or paid any attention to Jefferson Airplane for example. On one of our tours someone had this live tape of them, I think it was a bootleg recording.... I didn’t like it the first time I heard it, but over repeated listens I picked up on things, I heard and felt things that I hadn't heard before. I actually started to enjoy the music instead of just ignoring it or tuning it out. We never tried to do anything in particular with our music except to try and never write the same song twice... Even while the 1st LP was being recorded we had written songs like "Theres a Place", "It’s Been so Long", "Cool Breeze", "Uncontrolled Passion". We were already moving in so many new and different directions within our music: it was an unconscious effort on our part except for the "never writing the same song twice" theory... we just did what we wanted and never cared what anybody else thought. As long as we were true to ourselves, everything was good. Die Kreuzen wasn’t a "crossover band", although we were lumped in with those bands as we did play some stuff that was pretty heavy! “Melt" for instance is a total heavy metal song, still one of my favorites in Die Kreuzen’s catalog, but most of those “crossover" bands were far more metallic – like C.O.C., White Zombie – and, although we enjoyed those bands, I don't think we really felt any kinship with them except that maybe we had come from some of the same beginnings.

You were signed by legendary indie Chicago label Touch & Go: I imagine at the time there were no such things as “contracts”, and label mates were often considered as “family”! Sadly though, the more orthodox hardcore fans did not take your musical progression too well…

I think Touch and Go was the perfect label for Die Kreuzen.... on any other label we might not have lasted too long. Corey was and is into all different kinds of music, much like we are and I think we were allowed to flourish on Touch and Go where as on another label we might have pushed to be more "hardcore" or "metal"... but Corey just let us do what we wanted to do. There weren’t too many of the old hardcore bands left on Touch and Go. Negative Approach had turned into the Laughing Hyenas, there was Killdozer, the Butthole Surfers, the Didjits, Jesus Lizard... etc etc... Die Kreuzen fit into the "family" just fine, we felt at home and I think we were all so very happy to be included with so many other fine musicians and bands. There was and still is a lot of folks who only like the 1st Die Kreuzen LP and that’s fine. I understand that they don’t understand what had happened to us: from their viewpoint things must have changed dramatically, but from our view we were flexing our creativeness in any and all ways possible. We didn’t care about being as fast as possible anymore. Everything around us seemed filled with new and different ideas, and we wanted to continue to move forward and if that meant leaving the hardcore world behind then so be it. The hardcore world was so stifled anyways... all that crap abut fuck the rules or "my rules"... how hypocritical can these people be? Breaking the rules, and fucking shit up were the main ethos of punk and American Hardcore... and nine tenths of those people trapped themselves within their own rules and never realized it. I still get letters gushing over the 1st Die Kreuzen LP and then just slagging everything after that.... imagine how boring and predictable Die Kreuzen would have been if we had stayed tied to all those close minded hypocrites... We in fact wanted to bust up the rules, just like the punks and hardcore did; we wanted new and different things. Hardcore is still dying a sad and pathetic death... There are still bands pounding out the same 4/4 bullshit that bands were doing in 1984. Why copy and try to be part of something you are not? Come up with your own rules and then smash them, try something new, don’t get caught up in the past so much... the world moves forward every day. There is new art to look at and talk about, new music and movies... and there are always the old things that shine like glitter and gold in the past. Yes they can be examined, even loved and cherished, but there is so much fucking more to see, hear and feel: why not live life and explore it instead of trapping yourself within the confines of a small corner of it.

“October File” was followed in 1988 by “Century Days”, where your style had gone further into unchartered territory. It is actually one of the top albums of my life: it featured the prefect amalgam between pure edgy, dark rawness and a depth of emotional intensity that has only been matched recently (in extreme music) by some post-black metal artists: the alchemy was astounding! At the time you were a much tormented soul, daresay even a misanthropic one, so it is not difficult to see the links with today’s depressive/post-black metal!

I've never been a happy person, except while being creative maybe. I can find much solace in making music with my friends. I had this conversation with a really good friend of mine the other day. We talked about our different loves for art, music and even dancing and being able to lose yourself in your creativeness. It’s almost like missing time. When I’m working with my bandmates on a new song or if we are just jamming, thats when the sparks really start to fly. The drummer might suggest something or play a beat to some bass or guitar part that has been introduced and when the drummer, or singer or whoever, adds their take on it, it just changes it, puts it in a different light and possibly one I hadn't thought of. In turn that will spark me to twist and turn within my or our collective ideas... Its limitless at that point, and once you enter that realm you can keep going, changing, rewriting, twisting the written word or note: it’s such a wonderful place to be and I look for that on a daily basis. Sometime a loved one might think I’m down or depressed... and I might be, but what really turns me on and gets me going are the creative people around me. I feed off of them and maybe they feed off of me too... When I can find that creativeness and get into it then I know I’m really living and am as happy as ever. A lot of the songs on Century Days were written during some of the hardest points in my younger years, not just personally but within our band and the scene that we were a part of. For the most part Hardcore was dead and all those people who used to come out and support that scene were gone, and the ones that did still come out to shows continued to scream "play something fast" or "All White" or whatever... and that was depressing to us. How in the fuck could we be six or more years removed from this thing and people aren't even listening to anything new or different? How do we express to you how bored we are with the old tunes, and that in order to live and be happy we need to move forward and create? It was tough and it was always a struggle, yet we loved our musical vehicle and we wanted to keep it healthy and fresh. Songs like “#3”, “Different Ways” and “Dream Sky” still shine for me. Sure they might be slow in pace compared to “Live Wire” or “In School” but they still hold a beauty and power that I am so very proud of and it was - and still is - depressing to me that people will just say "that shit sucks". Most of those people weren't even there or were just kids in diapers when we were out churning up the shit in the unconquered hardcore world: they have no idea of the struggles, the good times and bad times... their view must be so askew with the so called hardcore rules that they can’t see past it. Yes there were and are many reasons why the lyrical content is the way it is on Century Days... I take everything in my life into consideration when writing lyrics. Most of my work comes from personal relationships and the people that come in and out of my life. Those were heavy touring days and it was a struggle to keep any kind of normalcy at home, like girlfriend, family life etc. A lot of those individual struggles and difficulties came through our music and through my lyrics. They can be deeply personal at times... “#3” for example still turns my heart upside down, as does the acoustic version of “Gone Away” on the b-side of the Big Bad Days 7". Those are so close and personal to me that they still burn holes in my heart when I hear them or sing them. There is a lot to be said for using personal experiences to motivate your creativeness... I for one find it cathartic and almost uplifting at the time, but looking or listening back I can easily be propelled back to those same dark times and feel the pressure from all those different angles... or the sadness... It’s almost like a diary sometimes: you as a listener might not know exactly what I’m singing about but I think you get the idea from the dance that the lyrics and the music create. I simply did what I always did, I wrote what I knew about and kept it simple... I’m not a political guy nor a preacher... I simply love music and love to create as it eases whatever hardships I might be going through, and Century Days, for many many reasons, was a tough period for me personally.

Live you were something else! Your amazing vocals were totally unusual - and still unmatched (Solstafir’s coming close at times) - : the high pitched screams were like claws taking layers of the audience’s skin off, the guitar was gritty and fuzzy, contrasting with deep whirling bass-lines that were lulling and disorienting at the same time… What did it feel like performing with such gut-wrenching intensity?

Die Kreuzen songs were always for real, there was nothing fake or phony behind or within any of them. They came from real places deep within ourselves: we worked hard and tirelessly on our songs, always changing, always evolving. So we couldn't help but to explode when we played live. After all, these songs were coming from our own sweat and blood; we rehearsed constantly, wherever and whenever we could. As stated before, I couldn't write lyrics that didn't mean something to me personally, so singing about a family member that has passed away or a bad relationship, a best friend or any other number of things was always something that moved me deeply. Then playing these things live was like hanging your dirty laundry out for everyone to see. I felt so deeply about some of those songs, I still do, I think we all do, and back in the day we just couldn't help but to let all the frustration, regret, laughter, sadness just plain old humanity out of the barrel every time we got to play live. We were and are for real, and I think that shows in everything we do as a band... and I am so very proud of that!

Butch Vig was your producer of choice: he then moved on to work with Nirvana, who took more than one element of your sound to propel the grunge scene worldwide. Was it shocking to see them being catapulted into that massive MTV circus that eventually contributed to push Kurt to the edge? Have you ever thought about how you would have handled stardom, given the fact that deep down, even though you fought for DK to become a fully professional band, you are genuinely very proud to be part of the underground scene? You were indeed approached by a major when DK had just disbanded: perhaps your innate integrity sooner or later would have made you feel at odds with their steam-rolling capitalistic approach…

It’s interesting that you bring up Kurt. I was working on something the other day and I had the radio on and on came "Smells Like Teen Spirit” and I started to think about those days. They were confusing times. The huge music industry was going ape trying to sign every and any band that had "that sound”. That sound to me was punk rock. Here was our little scene that we had lived in and been a part of and it was being eaten up and shat out, just like the way Americans do with anything. It wasn’t really shocking to see, but more frustrating, I think. Frustrating that we were being overlooked as a band, frustrating that something we worked so hard on could be so easily passed by while all our contemporaries were being given a chance to reach new and larger audiences; we were still stuck in the old hardcore and/or college radio market. Bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden (who regularly sang praises for Die Kreuzen) were now off doing new and very exciting things with their music... and they were able to make a living at being artists. I think everyone in Die Keuzen wanted that too. We had worked so very long and hard and weathered so much as people and as a musical force, we were so ready for our slice of the pie. It is true that I am (and I think we all are) very proud to be thought of as pioneers and genre benders: most of these types of bands never make it out of the underground scene. Some do of course, like Soundgarden maybe. I’m proud of where we stand in whatever musical history we are a part of but I do wish we could've taken that opportunity to try and further our band with a major label push, especially the one offered to us by Mike Gitter and Atlantic Records. He was the perfect liaison between us and the corporate world: we might have flourished, we might have floundered and died after one LP but I will always have a bit of regret for not trying to make that offer work for us. I have wondered recently, what if Kobain was still alive, what bands might he have taken under his wing? He did write about us in his journal that you can find on your local Barnes and Nobel book store shelf, so he was aware of us as were so many others. How cool would it have been to go on some kind of tour with all these crazy ground breaking bands opening for Nirvana... My smile grows wide just thinking of the possibilities those days might have offered. But that is a dream and reality is so very truthful and harsh. I’m not sorry for where we as a band are placed in history, I’m damn proud of who we are and what we accomplished.

The track “Gone Away” from the eponymous EP of 1989 showed DK at the top of their own unique game. But the Aerosmith cover hinted at a more metallic sound that went on to infuse your last studio album to date, “Cement” of 1990. This work was not received as warmly, as most fans expected a different kind of progression from you, and it did feel a little half-hearted compared to the poignancy of its predecessors.

When Die Kreuzen recorded the song “Gone Away” and the cover of Aerosmith’s "Seasons of Wither" we were in a pretty good spot as a band. We had been writing constantly so we had a plethora of tunes to work with that would later become the Cement LP. We were speaking with a few different labels, major and otherwise (although our loyalty was to Touch and Go), there was talk of yet another European tour, and by this time the band was living in a house on the East Side of Milwaukee. Actually Brian and myself lived there with our room mate Al, and the band rehearsed in the basement and had an office upstairs. We were also working on an entirely different set of songs that were being written and planned on being recorded as an acoustic LP. In fact John Kruth, who plays the mandolin on the acoustic Gone Away B-side and the flute on Deep Space, was jamming with us... Those were very good, busy within our art days. We were having fun, being very creative and we seemed to be appreciated.... At that time we were also up for a Wisconsin Area Music Award or "WAMI" for best "Heavy Metal Band" if you can believe that?! The Gone Away EP was kind of a hold over record: we were waiting for a few things to happen. Most importantly we needed to finish the writing for what would become Cement; although most of the songs were already there, we as a band liked to let the songs age a bit, take on a character of their own. We've said this many times, writing for us is very organic, we like to grow our songs, let them mature, twist and change and with luck they would grow into something unique and special to us. So that process was under way and the writing with John Kruth was coming along nicely too. We had also recorded just about the entire Cement LP in demos with Steve Albini down in Chicago when his studio was just in the basement of his house: kind of a dirty little place, if I remember correctly. There were lots of people coming and going and you could hear them walking around upstairs. It was somewhat difficult to work in that environment, my vocal performance wasn’t very good, I was very uncomfortable in that so called "studio" and it showed in the end. The recording is out there on bootleg so it can be heard. It has the usual "Albini" trademarks of a thud-thud sounding kick drum, scratchy guitars and thin pale vocals... Didn’t care for the finished recordings at all. I actually had to go back and redo almost all the vocal tracks over... you could hear how uncomfortable I was. In the end a few tracks are actually stand out: the version of "Heaven" from the Albini sessions is far superior to the Cement version in my opinion. But, all in all, the Albini recordings were a total waste of time and money, and kind of a letdown for us as a unit. I myself was made to feel bad by a few of my band mates for not doing a better job on my vocal tracks the first time around. When I went to Chicago to rerecord my vocals it was the same shit, people coming and going, laughter coming from upstairs in between takes... all kinds of stupid shit going on, Steve coming and going like this wasn't important to him... and he kept calling me Elvis. I had to tell him "shut the fuck up you little twerp" once or twice and that seemed to get him going and actually got a bit of a laugh out of him and he was a bit more professional after that! But all in all the experience sucked and, as previously stated, the recordings are somewhat of a letdown. Anyway I think that this is the point where things started to go bad in general. We had been courted by a wonderful guy, Michael Alago (he signed Metallica, he was somewhat of a "golden boy"), at Elektra Records for many years and he had finally told us that "Die Kreuzen was way ahead of their time and he couldn't help us at that point" So that was also a letdown. Then there was MCA Mechanic who had signed Voivod, Dream Theater and this awful band Tirxter, remember them? No? I didn't think so! We did a four song demo for MCA Mechanic at Smart Studios in Madison with Butch Vig. Man I'll tell ya, those recordings are some of the best work we did, right up there with Gone Away. The versions of those four tunes are far superior then what would later be recorded for Cement. That is also out there on bootleg somewhere. While we recorded the four songs for MCA we also recorded the Land of Treason/Pink Flag 7" and you know how blistering those songs turned out: the Die Kreuzen originals recorded during that same session are just as hot and we should have released them on the Cement LP in my opinion. I’m glad that we weren't able to work out a deal with MCA Mechanic though: our home was Touch and Go and I loved it there and I still love Corey Rusk. At that point Corey sat us down after a gig at Lounge acts in Chicago and said that he somewhat hoped we could get hitched with a major label, he said that he didn't really know what to do with Die Kreuzen anymore, and that in his eyes the next step was to be with a label that had more money and backing power to expose us to a bigger audience. It was nice to hear him speak so matter-of-factly on a very touchy point, but at the same time it was a bit disheartening coming from our friend, brother and head of our record label that maybe we had "outgrown" Touch and Go. The acoustic recordings with John Kruth had stalled, labels weren’t interested, our own label had doubts and the next European tour had been put on hold until a full length LP could be produced. All these things and more made for a bit of a downer on the bands collective psyche.... I think all this made for a poor experience in the recording sessions at Smart Studios that would turn out to be Cement. I had often said to Erik in the years that followed that I was sorry my vocals weren't better on Cement... that they were to screamy and on edge and that it sounds like "I was trying too hard". I also personally believe that the Cement LP is too long. There were a couple of songs we could have left off and it might have made for a better listen in a shorter form.

Most of DK members were by then involved in side projects. You and Keith Brammer (bass player) were always very adventurous, having worked, alone or together, on a series of projects that go from the experimental industrial/noise combo Boy Dirt Car to your own, Fuckface and Decapitado, an interesting band with a very unorthodox approach to metal. What is boiling in your pot right now as far as left-field artistic projects go?

There is still Boy Dirt Car, we are playing more shows now than ever before and recording and releasing more records than ever before... BDC is a great creative outlet and I really enjoy working with the new stripped down model of BDC which includes Darren Brown, Dave Szowinski, Keith Brammer and myself. With BDC I get to vocalize, play guitar, drums and metal percussion, it really is exhilarating. Decapitado did a lot of things in its 10 year existence, played CMJ in NYC, toured constantly around the midwest, went to Toronto for the NXNE and were even excepted at SXSW but we had to cancel our appearance as our guitar player simply lost control of himself and his emotions and threw the entire band into a tail spin. I'll never forgive Andy (the original guitarist) for wasting so much of my time energy and money. I loved Decapitado and so did our drummer Mike Olson, we had a blast just doing what we wanted to do within our music, which was a very comfortable Die Kreuzenesque way to approach the music. There were times on stage or at rehearsal where this swirl of noise and metal would come into its purest of focus and I loved those times... it felt so natural and perfect. But everyone can't see and feel the same things I do, nor would I want everyone to... I miss Decapitado, the one CD we put out is a monster, the 7" that came out years later is okay but not near the power we could have put forth if everyone had been a team player...Such is life, so long. Bizarrely Decapitado never really did well within Milwaukee itself; we actually had to go to places like NYC, Chicago, Minneapolis and even Madison to be appreciated. I can’t tell you the number of times we played to almost nobody here in our own city. After gigs here in Milwaukee it was usually other musician types that would come up to us and tell us how much they loved what we were doing and how unique our sound and approach was... I really miss that band but I don't miss the drama that others brought into the band. All the bad times just made it that much more difficult for an already off kilter, weird band that defied genre definition. Heavy like heavy metal, punk in attitude and execution, and producing sounds not too unlike Sonic Youth’s heavier moments... I really did love that band!
At current I’m also playing with a band (as is Decapitado drummer Mike Olson who cut his chops in the ground breaking prog metal band Realm, you can find two LPs by Realm on RoadRunner Records) called Enemy Star. It’s a very commercial venture for me, but they gig constantly and the guitarist Paris Ortiz is very accomplished and a terrific song writer, and our singer Kassandra Gruszkowski is a classically trained vocalist; she never hits a bad note... ever! So it’s fun to just get out and play with Enemy Star, I think we all have a very good time hanging with one another and that goes a long way and is a very positive thing within a real working band. Mike and I don’t appear on the Enemy Star "Light it UP' debut CD, but there are things in the works, possibly a live on the radio recording that may come out on disc with a new studio track or two... and then tons of work going into new songs that we are writing as a band, which for me is the way to make my world go around... working and creating together as a solid unit... much like Die Kreuzen did.
I also play guitar in a band called Go Go Slow which is made up of ex FuckFace band mates. Fuckface released 1 CD on Latest Flame records a few years back: four drummers, no cymbals, no snares, two guitarists, a bassist, a metal percussionist and a vocalist. We had some serious fun with FuckFace, so when that ended, a foursome of that band began to jam together. Tammy Raeck on Bass, Dave Szowinski on vocals, Paul New on drums (with snare and cymbals this time!) and myself on guitar. We just finished up work on the last songs of our set and are doing our first live gig very soon... exciting!

Can you talk to us about the content of your DK lyrics, and share with us whether you have a favorite track you are particularly attached to for whatever reason? My personal favorites, strangely, since I am such a fan of extreme metal, are two slow numbers: “Number Three” (amazing song, totally devastating!) and “Lean to It” (bitter-sweet melancholy). Both stunningly beautiful and timeless!

Lyrically speaking I think “Gone Away” is a stand out. It is plain and simple in its explanations and descriptions but you don’t really understand until the very end that "she" has in fact gone away; that song is all taken from actual events from my life. I think a lot of people can identify with the lyrics of that song. I wasn't trying to veil anything too much like I normally would, I just kind of let it all out in plain black and white and put the climax at the end... I think it’s some of my best work. “Number Three” also is straight out of my life and onto the paper: a very very sad point in my life and I was having difficulties staying sane with the woman in my life at that point.
The end chorus says it all:
"Reach out and grab a hold of love
And never let it go away
Deny these things, oh yes and say these things
That should be left alone
Like me, I am ......(alone)"

Too perfect and too encompassing of that time in my life. I can feel it still in my heart and soul when we play that song today. And I’m so very very happy that we are playing that song at our reunion shows... It’s not only a fan favorite but it’s a favorite of mine (and Jay Tillers) as well.
There are a few others, “Man in the Trees” is actually about a great friend of ours, Tim Cole: he is a tree surgeon, hence the name "Man in the Trees". “There’s a Place” from October File still rings true for me, and actually "Pain" and "Hate Me" from the 1st LP hit the mark as well.
“Lean Into It” lyrically is right on for me too, but I wish I would've done a better job with it in the studio. But the lyrics are right on and all too true. It’s kind of about the punk scene and how it abandoned us because we were trying new and different ways of expression within our music, and at the same time about applying yourself to your work or craft, or opening up to new ideas and smashing the barriers, in other words:
"Your eyes will never show it
and your heart will never tell it
Again I see this is
where you all will miss out"

Here we were breaking rules, working outside of the box, fucking shit up, basically being punk rock if you check the definition of punk..... and yet all the punks wanted to hear was “All White” or “Live Wire” or "something fast". Really, that’s all you care about????
I’m hoping that I can "hit the mark" so to speak with our new material... I am so looking forward to being creative again within the Die Kreuzen sphere! It’s like a breath of fresh air at this point.
The bottom line on any lyrics from Die Kreuzen songs is that they are for real, from real events, times, places and people. There is nothing forced and nothing that hasn't come from real life and I’m damn proud of that fact! Harder to find their own language and pushing themselves into truly unchartered territory. 

Musically speaking, I know you all used to contribute to the songwriting with explorative ideas and you made a point of rehearsing to death: DK’s level of musicianship set you apart from most US bands at the time. Your musical backgrounds were varied and that is always a great basis to create something unique. 

We did rehearse constantly, and we threw out so much material. Hell we'd get a song nearly completed or at least a rough draft of a song and then someone would point out that "hey that sounds like such and such a song that we already wrote" and we'd all stop and look at each other and maybe listen back to our little cassette recorder and say: "sure enough, your right, that sounds just like..." and we'd end up scratching 9/10s of the song and basically we'd have to start all over again. I can’t count the number of times that happened, but it was quite often. We were very keen on not writing the same thing twice like so many other bands were doing. Other bands would just continue to crank out the same bullshit that made them popular to begin with, and all the punks would just follow along like nothing was wrong. When in fact there is a ton wrong... nothing was being moved forward, the scene was stale, the band ALL SOUNDED THE FUCKING SAME and nobody seemed to care... except maybe us and we were ousted for the very thing we and all of the punk world stood for, break the rules and fuck shit up. Ya right, what a bunch of narrow minded hypocrites!
As far as musicianship goes I think those guys were always rehearsing on their own. Brian was constantly playing to his Beach Boys and Van Halen albums... I mean that guy could play all the Rush, XTC and Van Halen Albums in their entirety and perfectly: he totally honed his craft... he knew how to Lean Into It!
Erik had played drums in his high school band class so he knew the ins and outs of good timing and he worked tirelessly with Keith to get those rhythms down at the perfect tempo... It was all so very important to us, nothing was over looked within a song and everyone gave it their all! That’s why I worked so hard on my lyrics, they had to have the same consistency or substance that the music had. All in all we tried very hard at all corners of our music to produce something new, different, fresh and something that was pleasing to us, and that took a lot of time and effort. That’s why our LPs were released so far apart, we were always working on getting it right! You know the punk ethos only too well as you lived it, doing it your way always!

You stated in recent interviews that you are finding it hard to connect with the newest bands, as they mostly sound quite déjà vu. Most of the so-called avantgarde bands, for example, propose an unorthodox blend of different styles of music in the hope of sounding fresh and new, but in reality all they do is throwing stuff together (a touch of doom, a pinch of folk, a dash of vintage pop, clean singing paired with black metal screeching, and fuckin’ samba for a clever twist!) without working harder to find their own language and pushing themselves into truly unchartered territory. You have been involved in groundbreaking music most of your life: do you feel that the language of music has pretty much been explored in its entirety?

It’s hard to not think that we have come full circle when you listen to the garbage that people are hearing on the radio or even at the so called "underground" clubs that have live music. I've seen a few good new bands in the past few years and I still love rock, punk, metal, avant-garde type stuff as I always have. Bu to find something unique and inspiring is the trick isn’t it? To really work at getting into the meat or guts of a song, or piece of music, and twist and turn it over and over again, to make it your own... that’s the trick. There are bands that are doing it... Here in Milwaukee we have IfihadahifI or the Zebras: both defy categorization. Bands need to reach deep, lyricists need to not focus so much on the rhyme but get more into the reason behind their lyrics, put a more personal touch or more personal perspective into their work... I hate to keep using this, but they need to Lean Into It more and get down to the nitty gritty. Stealing riffs has always been unacceptable, rhyming "love" and "dove" doesn't work anymore... there is so much more to music and creating art than just doing it for art’s sake. Doing it because you need to do it in order to feel human, needing to get it out of your heart or out of your system has always been a powerful motivator for me:  its real and gritty and tangible. I think that is what is missing from popular and most kinds of music today. The younger people aren’t thinking outside the box: they want to be in a rock ‘n’ roll band because it’s fun. For Die Kreuzen being in a rock n roll band was a way to put water on a pain that was shear fire within our hearts! It was cathartic, it had real purpose within our souls... it was a way of life. Now there are so many fucking bands and only a scant few are worth your or my time. It’s not enough to just want to be in a band, you've got to be in a band because you are an artist and you NEED to create otherwise you might die. That kind of thing is totally lost within today’s music business. It’s all about money, how you look, and how your pitch can be corrected and your bad drumming can be lined up with a computer so that you sound perfect: it’s all bullshit. What if those Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin records were all absolutely perfect? They would suck, they wouldn't have the uniqueness embodied in them, with the tempo of the song fluctuating at certain points, with the squeak of the kick drum pedal or the crack in Robert Plants voice... It all gives off an air of realness, not the plastic, formatted, computer generated crap that passes as popular music these days!

They say that the best things never last, and in rock/metal it seems to be particularly true. I totally understand bands who work hard to become pros because they have families to support, but how worth is it in your opinion to chase the big contract with the aim of reaching more and more people? Surely this would entail - in most cases - “watering down” the content of the artistic product, so that the less demanding/more mainstream crowd could relate to it? These days it is no longer possible to live on royalties alone, bands either need to tour constantly, become more “accessible”, or stay underground and have side jobs to pay the bills!

I think it would be awesome to sell enough records or tour enough to pay the bills. To be an artist and be successful at it is any musician or artist’s dream. I personally would never think that I needed to water anything down... I think there are enough people on the planet now that if you can create original and thought-provoking art or music that you can make it last and entertain people (and in doing so exorcize your own demons, at least that would be true in my case) for many years... Performing live is just as much fun and cathartic as writing for me. I need to do it just to stay sane. I truly believe there is a place for bands like Die Kreuzen or even Decapitado with the weird off-kilter rhythms and vocals that if you try hard enough, you will be heard, you will be appreciated and you can succeed... But you have to want to and you really need to dig deep within your soul to find the good stuff, the stuff that will set you apart from all the other bands who are trying to get your gig. Sure things get stale at points and we need the creative types to fuck shit up, but then again you need people to be able to open their minds a bit to new things. I was at a bar the other night with some friends and the fucking DJ was just pounding out the same drum beat for the entire hour we were there... "thud... thud ... thud"… It was absolutely mind numbing and everyone else it the bar were yelling at each other to be heard: the music was background noise and nobody seemed to care about it as they all wanted to talk with each other. It was so odd, I didn't like it and I really didn't like the computer generated music the so called "DJ" was throwing out. It was cold, unfeeling, pasteurized, prepackaged... god I hate that shit. I'd rather listen to some bad Dub-Step remake, at least there is a tiny hint of originality in there; at least they are trying to fuck shit up! It’ll be interesting to see where all this stuff leads to in the next few years. I’m not a huge fan of Dub-Step but I do find it interesting and somewhat "punk" in its attitude.
I think rock will continue to grow and move forward but you'll have to dig through the crap (and there is sooo much crap) to find the real deal. And then it’s up to you as a listener to truly support the artist by actually buying their music and not fucking stealing it off the internet... That is and should be a huge concern. Since when is it okay to steal from people... cause that IS EXACTLY what you are doing if you download any art without first paying for it or supporting the artist.

You know the punk ethos only too well as you lived it, doing it your way always! A form of D.I.Y. ethos has been championed by black metal for quite a while now, to the extent where solo artists write, play and records their own music in seclusion, with often stunning results. But when it comes to exposing their music to the outside world, few release their own stuff: most still seek a deal, perhaps with “cult” labels rather than larger ones. In the early punk days, Crass showed bands how to release and distribute their own music, and today the internet offers exposure through the social networks: yet the old rock ‘n’ roll package still seems to appeal the most…

Oh yea, DIY all the way! When Die Kreuzen first started playing gigs I felt that we needed something out, some kind of musical release to let people hear us. We recorded a demo in the basement of our good friend Bill Stace and I used that demo to start manufacturing cassette tapes. There was no internet, no "here’s how to have a record made" website etc. I would go out and buy 3 packs of Tone Master Cassettes and would sit and dub our demo onto them with two cassette decks hooked together. My girlfriend made the cover (The Crosses) and I painstakingly typed out lyrics and credits on a type writer and then cut and pasted the entire lyric sheet together and went to a print shop to have them copied. Then we would sit and fold the lyric sheets so they would fit properly in the cassette case with the cover and spine showing properly... it took a lot of work!!
We would use those cassettes to sell at gigs for $2 if I remember right and maybe it was $3 through the mail. I sent those Cassettes all over the place, any magazine/fanzine that was doing reviews received a Die Kreuzen Cassette in the mail. That’s how we made several of our early contacts and got people/other punks to notice us.
It was the same kind of thing that led to us being on the "Charred Remains" Cassette Compilation" from Version Sound out of Xenia Ohio. The head guy at Version Sound is/was a guy named Bob Moore. Bob liked what we did so much for his comp that he asked if we would be interested in releasing a 7" single on his label? We of course were thrilled and "Cows and Beer" was released a few months later. Cows and Beer received much attention from the press and we went on tour selling those 7" for $2 each. There are two different pressings of Cows and Beer. On the first pressing the label is silver paper with black ink, the second pressing is black paper with silver ink, both were pressings of 500, so there are 1000 original Cows and Beer 7" out there. Barry Hensler and Corey Rusk from The Necros had heard our 7" and we booked a few shows together here in Milwaukee and Chicago. Corey really liked that Die Kreuzen had a "different" sound to them and asked if we'd be interested in releasing a full LP on his label Touch and Go Records.... Yes DIY kids, you never know who is listening or who you'll meet via your home grown efforts.
I’m a home recorder now myself. I have an interface for my computer and I've dozens of things/pieces recorded at this point. Very dark, very somber but there are also some very intense chaotic moments... someday soon I'll try putting a few records of my own out.... and yes they will be vinyl records and/or CDs. I love to have the actual physical record/CD with all the lyrics and liner notes and photos. Having the physical thing helps me to get into the recording more, reading about the band, looking at the artwork and photos all goes a long way into showing me who these people are and it also helps to give an all enveloping sense or emotional tie to the recording.... something that I think is lost today in the age of downloads and iPods. Nobody looks at the art or the entire package anymore.... the art has been done away with for the most part and when you need more room on your iPod you just delete something.... not me! I want to hear it, see it and feel it.... I want to take it all in and ponder what the artists are saying/describing. Music has never disposable or funny to me, music and the art that surrounds it is thought provoking and tempting and simply wonderful... Something to relieve the tedium and unimportance of my everyday existence, if that makes sense.

It is great that such a special band as DK is now beginning to receive the serious accolades that it deserves: the fans’ huge love has never waned, and finally the awards are coming too (WAMI Hall of Fame for a start). Famous acts like Neurosis and Voivod never miss a chance to thank you publicly for being such an important influence in their music: it was great to see you sharing the stage with Snake at Roadburn, and even greater that you are now being exposed to the younger generations who might have missed out on such an important piece of rock/metal history!

For so many years I never looked back on Die Kreuzen. I avoided it at all costs, I put all my Die Kreuzen stuff away in boxes and pushed them into the darkest corners of my mind and storage places; I truly ignored them as they were so painful to me. I/we put so much of ourselves into everything that the band was and was about that at some point I simply had to give up, turn and walk away and forget about it, or at least try to. I have until recently always looked at it as a monumental failure. It was very very painful for me to listen to Die Kreuzen or even look back on photos and other mementoes from those days as it seemed to me that nobody cared and everything we did or tried to do was simply lost and forgotten. So to be here now and look at what is happening, and what we are about to do as a band, is very very special and it also goes to show me how wrong I've been over the years. The people that continually write to me and ask about the band, either current or historical is all very mind blowing to me now.... I had no idea that our little band from Milwaukee Wisconsin had such an impact on so many people and so many bands... I’m thrilled and honored beyond words to be part of Roadburn 2013 and the things that may follow in the year to come.

I remember Napalm Death being huge fans of yours, in fact they ended up participating in the DK tribute album with Voivod and many US bands, all of them showing how much you meant to them. Have you ever met or been in touch with Napalm? How popular was DK in Europe in its heyday?

I have never met any of the Napalm Death guys, except to sign contracts or release forms for them to put their version of "I’m Tired" on their "Leaders Not Followers: Part 2" CD along with the likes of The Offenders, Discharge, Kreator, Sepultura and many others. That Naplam track also appears on the Die Kreuzen tribute CD "Lean Into It" along with Voivod, Mike Watt and many others.
Die Kreuzen toured Europe twice and I'd say they were very successful tours, we made the booking agent some pretty good money if I remember correctly and we didn’t make a cent... In fact I think the agent tried to tell us that we actually owed them some money: ha fucking ha! All the shows were very well attended if not sold out, we met lots of very interesting people and saw so many cool places and things... Our shows in Italy come to my mind directly, and our gig in the former country of Yugoslavia in the city of Ljubljana, where we saw bullet holes on city streets, having the young people there thanked us profusely for making the efforts to play their city. I think we did really well in Europe and we were always treated much better in Europe: a good dinner and great conversation with our host(s) always made us feel at ease and at home. The people in Europe were always so welcoming and always so into it at the shows, they were right up front, listening and soaking up every note and word, they came for the music and the music wasn't simply a back drop for people to hang out and mingle and talk. Once again, I am really looking forward to Roadburn and connecting with people and other bands, I think Roadburn is the perfect fit for a band like Die Kreuzen and I for one cannot wait to get there and hang out with everyone!!!

l am a proud owner of a red Die Kreuzen t-shirt designed in trademark HC style by Brian Walsby. What’s the story behind that shirt?

That’s another one of the cool things that’s happened in the past year or so. Brian Walsby had sent me an email about how he would like to do a Die Kreuzen shirt. Of course we were thrilled about his idea... how could we not be. He'd already done shirts for The Melvins, The Minutemen, Voivod and many other bands past and present. When Brian wrote me about his wanting to do a Die Kreuzen tshirt he said that Away from Voivod had wanted to get a hold of me and would it be okay if he passed on my email address to Away and the guys? I said "sure, please do" A few weeks later I heard from Away and he was telling me that Voivod were to be curators at the Roadburn 2012 and what are the possibilities of Die Kreuzen reforming and playing as we were on Voivod’s "wish list". As it turns out we had been on Neurosis' wish list when they were curators at Roadburn a few years earlier.... Wow, can you imagine Away sending you an email asking if you, as one of his most favorite bands, could come and play this giant European music fest??? That pretty much knocked me out! Of course we couldn't make it last year, but it did pave the way for us to make it to Roadburn 2013... I was however not going to be detoured and asked Away if they wouldn’t mind playing their version of Die Kreuzens "Man in the Trees" and I could sing it along with them at Roadburn which I/we did and we had a fucking blast, as did the folks in attendance that night. Even people like Mike from YOB were so stoked to see me there with Voivod; I was getting hugs and "thank you for being here" from fans, bands and the promoters. It truly was a special night... and it all started with Brian Walsby and his red Die Kreuzen t-shirts!

After appearing on stage with the mighty Voivod; the 2013 edirion of Roadburn festival will be pretty special too, with die Kreuzen performing over two nights, including the Afterburner, which is always a very special way to end the weekend on a high: how much are you and your friends looking forward to the much anticipated Die Kreuzen reunion next April?

Oh Alex, we are SO looking forward to Roadburn and The Afterburner Party in April! Rehearsals started in early December. As you said we'll be doing two shows, so each night the set list will vary, hence we have a ton of music to go over and rehearse. I cannot even begin to tell you how excited I am to be a part of Roadburn again. The atmosphere I experienced there last year was so incredible. I made many new friends, saw old friends that I haven’t seen in years, and even met some of my European facebook friends face to face... It’s all so very cool and I cannot wait to have my brothers in Die Kreuzen there with me this time. We've picked some killer cuts to play, some songs we did last spring, but we've added a ton of different material as well and I think fans of all our music will be very satisfied. And for those hardcorers that only listen to the 1st and or 2nd LP, they well be very happy as well! There may even be a few surprises in our set list, songs that were only played on the last U.S. tour and that don't appear on any Die Kreuzen record. Will there be some brand new tunes.....? We'll just have to wait and see....

 Raodburn 2012: Voivod with Dan Kubinski.

Tickets for Roadburn's 2013 AFTERBURNER are still available: do not miss out on this once in a lifetime chance!!!

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