Even if you’ve been a close follower of Einstürzende Neubauten’s prolific output and live shows for much of their 28-year career, the persona of singer/guitarist Blixa Bargeld remains a mystery to most. In much of the band’s early work, Bargeld shrouded himself behind cryptic, existential lyrics, otherworldly screams and the seemingly impenetrable cacophany of the group’s politically and socially-charged industrial sounds.
You just wouldn’t think a person like Blixa Bargeld could appear vulnerable. It’s only recently that his vocals have come to the forefront of Einstürzende Neubauten’s songs and have begun to take on a more introspective flavor. Bargeld goes so far as to admit that on the latest album, Alles Wieder Offen, he purposely let his guard down and allowed his, and Neubauten’s, more fragile side to peer through. The album’s title then, loosely translated as “It’s All Open Again,” proves to be the perfect name for this work and the group’s somewhat relaxed outlook on their future.
Einstürzende Neubauten has been going for almost 28 years as a band, or as it may be better known, an organization. How did you manage this?
We do it with lots of pauses in between. Everybody was always involved in other things too. Alex [Hacke], at the moment, is writing a lot of soundtracks, trying to get his foot in the door. [Rudolf] Moser actually writes a lot for advertising, which is very rewarding because nobody knows. You don’t blemish your name. Jochen [Arbeit] is also involved in various different projects and so is N.U. [Unruh]. All these experiences from other works and worlds of course find their way back to the band. That is the reason why the band still continues to work.
Would you say this album is, in some sense, a return to Neubauten’s earlier work?
This album is somehow more complete, more whole, in that it’s actually covering a lot more different ground than the last one. I do think this is the best record that this lineup, already existing for ten years, has made.
Is this the one you are most proud of then?
I am literally more deeply satisfied with this one than others before. I think it’s more personal to me. It’s obviously notable that the vocals are pretty dominant on the record. It’s quite a vocal-orientated record. A big chunk of the lyrics is me, as in the first person singular. I was not trying to restrict myself… I used to have an idea that I was always bending in a certain way, using certain parameters to restrict the writing in some way.
Was this more personal approach more difficult for you?
After “Alles Wieder Offen”, once I was finished singing that song, I literally collapsed. I was drawn out, because opening that door was the most difficult. Once that was open and I was in it, I knew I was lost.
At times, I wanted to see how Blixa at 22 would talk to the Blixa at 48. My ideas are the same now. How Neubauten plays now is not the opposite of how we played in 1982. It is the result of all that play. Just as Silence is Sexy was not the opposite of what we did before.
What about the ideas behind the lyrics?
The metaphors are quite obvious and mean what you think they mean. I can easily get hurt now, but, well, that’s what it is. Writing lyrics and singing is usually the end period of making a record. I usually literally have to be nailed to the wall to force myself to finish writing something because the process is painful. It’s a bit like psychoanalysis. This time, I went to the studio, rewriting, rewriting… then doing three takes which are identical and which I’m happy with… then I let Boris [Wilsdorf, producer] sort it out. He chooses and I listen to it and may change a word here or there… then it’s done.
Before Radiohead probably ever thought of putting out their own album without a label, you began to fund your music through Supporters who pay to join your website, neubauten.org, which you founded in 2002. How successful has it been for you?
So far, it’s doing okay. If you boil it all down, what we’re doing is a subscription system. Like the publishing world. If the publishers are trying to do the complete volumes of the Marquis de Sade in leather and gold, they make the same kind of a model. You subscribe and then there is the funding to do it. We still have a record contract and have to do one more record with Mute Records, but we made the agreement to do this record by ourselves. We are trying it, it might work and it might not, but at least we are trying so we don’t have to blame ourselves later.
There’s no real reason for a record company then?
One of the reasons you have a record company is so that you’ll have someone to blame [puts down his coffee and laughs]. You like to blame things on record companies. If Sony would digitize their whole archive from the 78′s on, I would be happy to play it ’til the end of my life, by just subscribing to their catalog. But of course, it needs to be unrestricted use. But I’m not buying the way record companies are still thinking, making huge stars and move units of whatever crap. That is certainly over.
That idea also works well with the title of this album, which also seems to sum up the latest phase of Neubauten.
The title of the album is a bit open because it describes what is happening with the band at this time. All possibilities are open again. We are going on tour next year. We don’t know what we will do afterwards. It’s not purely an economical thing. For me, it’s much more important to see what kind of impact the record is going to have. Are there people who are going to love it, who really think this is meaningful in their lives? That is more precious to me…