Sascha Konietzko Talks Ministry’s Al Jourgensen, the ‘Devil’s Chord’ Comic Book + 30 Years of KMFDM
It was recently revealed that Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen was teaming up with artist Sam Shearon to create a new comic book series, 'The Devil's Chord,' due sometime in 2014. With that news came word that some of Jourgensen's fellow industrial music legends would appear as superheroes in the comic book. One of those musicians is KMFDM mastermind Sascha Konietzko.
After learning of Konietzko's involvement in the comic book series, we got on the phone and chatted with the German musician about his relationship with Al Jourgensen, his character in 'The Devil's Chord' comic and the legacy of KMFDM, who are celebrating their 30th anniversary as a band this month. Check out our interview with KMFDM's Sascha Konietzko below:
Before we get into the comic book series, take us back to your first encounters with Al Jourgensen. KMFDM opened for Ministry on your first U.S. tour. What was it like meeting and getting to know Al Jourgensen at that time?
We got invited by my record company Wax Trax to open for Ministry and it got postponed once or twice because Al was sick with mono or something. And I went to a record store and I picked out a Ministry album and the only one that I could find was [the band's more synth-pop debut] 'With Sympathy' . . . so we kind of prepared for a milder set.
And then when we get to Chicago, there was these two drunk kids onstage and four guitars and it’s like this has nothing to do with the s--t that I heard on that album. So I was totally stoked. This was great. So we had to go back to our original KMFDM set, which was a good thing. I don’t think the American audience would have liked the toned down KMFDM set. And yeah, Al was very Al-like. He definitely came across like a superstar in the making. He had a very friendly demeanor towards us. And we became friends very fast.
Al Jourgensen has some of the craziest rock 'n' roll stories we’ve ever heard. Do you have any particular experiences hanging out with Al on the road that stand out to you?
Well, there was a recurring thing kind of thing that pretty much happened every day at some point. Al would go to the van that belonged to his then wife, I guess, Patty, and he would just fire KMFDM off the tour. For whatever reason he just got f---ing angry and came out to the van and just say, “You guys are fired. See you tomorrow.”
And he set a guy on fire with a bottle of Bushmills [Irish Whiskey] and a match or something in his bunk on a moving tour bus -- that was pretty crazy. Yeah, nothing much happened to the guy. He was just flambéed a bit.
I was there for this whole tour and I witnessed pretty much everything that went on and let me just say this: It was f---ing crazy. But after the tour, I thought, “Hey, this is how rock 'n' roll tours are done in the States so let’s do another one.” And we did and we headlined our own tour for the first time in the U.S. shortly thereafter and that’s how we became the KMFDM you know.
In the years since, have you maintained a relationship with Al Jourgensen?
There was a time when we just didn’t bump into each other much because he was [living in] Texas and I was still in Chicago. And I moved up to Seattle and then I moved to New York City. So we had [few opportunities] where we could run into each other but once we did it was almost the same old feeling really. Both have gotten a bit older. Both have gotten a bit wiser, maybe. I don’t know. But, yeah, we’re definitely good friends.
How did you get approached to be a part of this 'Devil's Chord' comic book series?
Well, every time KMFDM are on tour, we’re passing through the lowly stretch of desert down there by El Paso. So, I always stop by Al’s house and the last time I did, he showed me these sketches to this comic, and asked me if I wanted to be a part of it. I was like, "Sure, I’ve never been a superhero."
It's been revealed that your power in the comic book is to drain other people’s power.
He asked me what I wish my super powers to be and the best I could think of was I drain whatever superpowers my foes have and boost whatever superpowers my friends have. I’m the antidote in a way.
Was that your idea or a collaborative effort between you, Al and the artist?
It was my idea. The night after we [recently] met in El Paso, I was in my bunk thinking really hard what my superpowers could be, and that came to me. The next morning I called [Al's wife] Angie and said, 'Hey, what do you think?' And they liked it.
What did you think of the artist Sam Shearon's sketches of your character when you first saw them.
[Sam] came down to a show somewhere in Orange County or Pomona or something. Somewhere south and east of L.A., he came to the show and we met. I saw a bunch of his sketches, good stuff. Looking forward to [the comic book].
Were you a comic book fan as a kid growing up? Was there any particular comic or superhero that you admired?
I was born a little bit before that superhero comic frenzy. I knew of Batman and Superman, of course, but the Marvel comics were a little bit after my time into comics. I was pretty much into Donald Duck and s--t like that. Tom and Jerry, Donald Duck. Elmer Fudd. Bugs Bunny. I’m a kid from the early '60s.
Switching gears, this February marks the official 30th anniversary of KMFDM. How does that feel knowing KMFDM have been around for 30 years now?
That is correct. It is our 30th anniversary. I would have never believed it if you would have told me back then. I would have said, "No way, no way." It was never really serious [in the beginning]. Even though we did what we did in a serious kind of way, we never took it quite serious. It was more testing the waters. All of a sudden I was sitting in the Wax Trax office and they were like, "We want to sign KMFDM." That’s when I had the feeling that this might become a bit more serious than I had thought. That was really the launching pad for us.
What stands out as a career highlight in 30 years of KMFDM?
I’ve seen a lot of stuff and I’ve seen a lot of shows but I’m not one to look back much. I always look forward and I always plan new shenanigans. The answer to that would be, every time I’m onstage I’m like, "Wow this is so amazing that I can still do this to earn my keep." And actually do what I like best instead of slaving away at some job of some sort. That’s the highlight. Every day is the highlight when we’re on the road. When we’re in the studio, we’re looking forward to going back out and doing it again.
What are KMFDM’s plans for 2014 and beyond?
[We are] working on a new album that will come out in the spring. So, keeping pretty busy with that. There’s a U.S. tour in the mix for early summer and a bunch of stuff will be released for the 30th anniversary. A couple of singles that were released as CD only will now be available on vinyl; in fact they are actually [now]. There’s a bunch of goodies. We’re working on a documentary that was filmed on this past tour. That should be ready sometime in the spring, as well. A lot of good stuff coming out of this camp.
Finally, as popular as industrial music got in the '80s and '90s, it always remained an underground movement. Aside from an exception like Nine Inch Nails, it never became a massively mainstream genre. Do you think somehow that helped maintain the longevity of bands like KMFDM, Front 242, Ministry and others?
I can't speak for the other bands, but . . . I’ve really worked very hard on keeping KMFDM underground. Over time, there were a bunch of offers from bigger labels and bigger management companies. Like, "Hey KMFDM, we’ll give you a million bucks, do you want to sell out?" I was like, "No thanks." I’d rather stick with my integrity and my credibility. It might have lost me a lot of money, but it definitely made my night's sleep a good one.
I stayed away from the industry. I never played the mechanisms and the games. I never had any inclination to move to Los Angeles. I was always DIY. I make my own merchandise, I have my own website, I have my own publishing company, do my own production. If I don’t know how to do it, I'll learn it.