We had the fortunate to chat with Apoptygma Berzerk mastermind Stephan Groth just after the completion of his band’s European tour. We spoke with him about the inspirations and ideas behind his latest album ‘Rocket Science’ in what proved to be one of our most interesting and in-depth interviews yet.
“I wanted to do something that is everlasting that moves people and that will change their way of thinking about the world”
S] We had someone go over to your recent London gig, and it seems to have gone down very well?
Stephan] Apart from the fact that we did four shows whilst in the UK and on the second show I lost my voice; for the first time ever, that has never happened before in my whole career. It was really hard; we had to cut the set and the songs where I am singing high-pitched. Apart from that though it was really cool being back in London again, we had a sold out show and a very good crowd.
S] APOP’s sound has constantly evolved, how do you think you have progressed personally since the project began along with your music?
Stephan] I belong to this “one man band” generation, like what Trent Reznor is doing in Nine Inch Nails or Robert Smith is doing in The Cure. It is like a band, but at the same time it is a solo act in one way. So there is all ways change. It’s not really a group changing together. I am writing 90 per cent of the lyrics so when I change the whole band changes a lot. I have always been, on one side; very true to where I come from in the 80s and synthpop and the EBM scene, but I have always had a leg in the charts, in rock and even in mainstream pop. The 80’s stuff that I am most influenced by is the work of Depeche Mode, Duran Duran and Soft Cell, all this stuff was back then, very commercial. So I do work on some commercial stuff, but at the same time I have a part of me in the underground. I am constantly changing and you can definitely hear that on all the albums, and especially with the lyrics.
I have been extremely happy with the new album, I think it is by far the best album we have ever done. It is kind of a complicated album too. It requires something from the listener to spend time on it. That was always my plan from the get-go. What the world wants today is something of a “quick fix” and something they can stick on their Ipod and go out partying. That’s not what this album is about, you have to sit down and actually get involved with. I think that is why this album has got a lot of bad criticism and what’s really cool in all of the reviews; it is either I get five stars and it is “the best album of the year” or I get one star and it is the worst. There is nothing in-between and I like that.
S] You have said that art as something that is everlasting and acts like a universal language – in what ways do you think that the ‘Rocket Science’ reflects these artistic qualities?
Stephan] It is like a meal. This is not McDonalds this album is something that you sit down with, and there are lots of different foods of a high-quality. You have to spend the whole evening on it. The whole album “culture” has been destroyed more-or-less. Now it is all about getting that one hit or downloading that one track from iTunes or MySpace, and that is how people enjoy music nowadays. I have actually been a part of that for a long time. We have put out so many singles over the years but on this album I wanted to do something that is everlasting that moves people and that will change their way of thinking about the world. That’s what happened to me before I started writing the album. I got into researching some conspiracy theories, and I found out that there is a whole lot of this stuff that isn’t theory and that it is actually fact.
When I first opened my mind to all that and started to look into those things I was actually blown away like I have never been before. So that’s what I have tried to integrate into the album. I will say that you don’t have to be into all this conspiracy stuff in order to understand and enjoy the album. Melody wise, it is still a typically APOP pop-style album, but if you wanted to go into the details there is a whole world of all this crazy shit that has been going on that covers fake moon landings to 9/11 and JFK. I am not really giving you all the answers on the new album I am just leaving it out in the open for people to do their own research and to look into the parts that they are interested in.
S] So you are saying that this stuff is out there for people to look at if they want these things that you have been researching; and you are trying to say that people can open their minds to it?
Stephan] That is what I am trying to say, and I am not trying to rub anything in anybody’s face here or force it down their throats. I am just putting it out there. If this stuff is true, then we really have to reconsider everything. I mean our whole life and everything that is going on.
I have been doing party music for so long now. Music that people can go out and get drunk to, but I stopped clubbing a few years ago. I have nothing against that style of music and club culture and all that on a weekend, but there is a Monday too, and a Tuesday and so on. This is not a weekend album. This is for the week where you really have to do something that is important and that is good and healthy for you. I think that is why I have had a lot of negative criticism from the electro scene because that kind of music is usually weekend music, you know? A techno beat and distorted lyrics. I have been there and done that. I am not against it I mean that is needed. Music has to either empty your head or fill it. That is the two main purposes of music and I have been emptying a lot of heads with my previous releases but now, I am trying to fill them.
S] You site personal experiences and films as your biggest inspirations – does the tone of ‘Rocket Science reflect a change in your recent influences at all?
Stephan] I will send some links to you of all the goodies that I have come up with recently, some book titles and really great stuff. What I am trying to do here is be a filter. The internet is wonderful thing but there is probably 50 per cent crap out there but with the research that I have been doing in the last four or five years I have been sorting out what is the good stuff and what can be trusted.
This field is so broad, and it’s very hard to get through it all so my idea was to filter out a lot of the crap, and the things that I think are the really good stuff I have mentioned inside the album cover for ‘Rocket Science’ and I have listed a lot of names for people to put into Google or whatever. Then again, it is important for people to do their own research.
S] You seem to work all the time, how do you relax?
Stephan] There’s not really much time for rest. I am extremely privileged; I have been putting out albums for years and making an impact on other people’s lives. I make a living from my hobby. Music is my biggest interest. It has been since I was ten years old or something. I have been collecting records; I have been working in record stores and companies. I have always done something music related. So, the fact I can make a living from it and at the same time travel the world and meet new people, it is amazing. At the same time, this other thing I am doing working with history and the whole conspiracy thing; that is like my second hobby so on this album I am combining my two hobbies. Obviously I am working a lot on it, it’s so much fun and I am really burning for it. So, there’s not much sleep.
S] Our writers just reviewed your gig in London and it was said that despite your critics you really “pull out all the stops” within the live arena, can you tell us what the best thing is about taking your sound out live and in Europe?
Stephan] I am probably more of a studio “geek” than a rock and roll musician so I actually prefer being in the studio. When you put out an album, you get feedback from people on the internet and reviews. That’s one thing but when you play those tracks live and you get instant feedback from a thousand people at the same time. I get a real ‘kick’ from that. I mean recently we did a few shows in Russia for 250 people and then we played Germany on the same tour for 2,000 people. It doesn’t really matter how many people are there but just to see the smiles on the faces when they react to something that you have made. It is very cool to be onstage because you see people’s faces for one and a half hours. I have these thoughts that go through my head. I look at people and go ‘Okay, so what’s that person like?’ and then, when you play the older stuff, people get so excited when you play their favourite song. Everybody out there has a story to a certain song. Maybe there is a couple out there who fell in love to a song. I see that all the time, and it’s an amazing “kick” to see that something I have written in my studio can have such a great impact, it makes everything worthwhile.
S] You said in an interview that you sometimes wish “you were more compatible because it would make life easier” – in retrospect do you still believe this because you have never really done anything the easy way in our experience, you are a big fan of the complicated way?
Stephan] I will explain what I mean. Rock n’ roll has always been very provocative and if I am not being provocative what is the point? I might as well find another job. When I was very into the EBM and Industrial scene I didn’t feel provocative. Maybe, my haircut and my music would be provocative to an old lady down the road, but that is not my goal. So I try to provoke the people that are doing the provoking, I want to turn the whole thing around. I mean, I have always had a problem fitting in whether that is in school, relationships or family actually. I have always looked at things a little bit differently, and that’s always been a blessing and a curse in a way, but that’s who I am. I’ve found out that I have to be more true to myself and be true to other people – that is my job now.
I know exactly what the Industrial scene wants. I have a big studio here and I could totally go and make the Industrial ‘album of the year’ and be the most popular artist next year because I have the skills, but that’s not what I want. But there are so many artists doing that now, and doing really cool electro stuff that is being enjoyed all over the world, like we used to do. When we were doing it, there were only a few bands that did a really good job, but now there are so many really great Industrial bands. So I felt that I was not needed anymore to do that kind of thing because I would just be one of many. Instead of giving the fans and the underground scene what they want. I would rather give them what I feel they need. I said in a previous interview, I have compared it to parents who keep giving their children candy when they want it which is probably every day. In the end that is not going to be good at least not for their teeth. So, I am giving them broccoli, even though it is not good for them, it is what they need.
The whole ‘incompatible’ thing is because I am, just because of the way I look at things. I have been an artist my whole life, but I have never had a ‘real’ job or anything so I have always had a lot of time to think which has rendered me a little bit incompatible. I think that, in the end people are going to realise that, like on the new album; it wasn’t as bad as they thought it was. I want people to look at the lyrics because I really put my very best into making this a really good album, something that people can enjoy, not only for the next two months but something that they can put onto the shelves next to their classic Cure or Depeche Mode albums.
S] ‘Rocket Science’ is a metaphor for discovering the “reality” of the current state of the world; how do you think that comes across on the record to the listener and what do you think the most obvious themes are?
Stephan] I can give you a few obvious ones, and I will send you some links. If you look up on the whole 9/11 thing, then a theme seems kind of obvious. What you have to do is to look back at history, and similar things that have gone on in history. When Hitler took over in Germany, they burnt down the Reichstag and blamed it on the communists, back then if you said that you would have been a ‘conspiracy nut’ but now we know that actually happened. 50 years later everybody knows that. The Nazi’s burned down their own government building to blame it on the communists so that then would create fear and the people would want protection. Another thing that comes to mind is when one can see the results of that and the aftermath of an event like this or 9/11; it is exactly the same. To go even further back in history you can look at Emperor Nero who burnt down Rome and blamed it on the Christians. So burning down buildings and blaming it on your enemies is not a new concept at all.
When these things happen people who talk like this are called ‘crazy’ but then when you find out from people talking and admitting things later, that is exactly what happened. I am very sure that the whole 9/11 issue was just yet another happening in line with those things. It is about the government trying to scare people so that they can get more support, which will eventually lead to the public having less control and less freedom. That is exactly what is going on in America now, with the economy going down the drain, they are taxing everything way to high, and so the people’s freedom is going down the drain.
S] It is interesting that you have said previously that history as it is taught in schools – “there is not much truth in it” – what would you teach them?
Stephan] There are two things that I am particularly mad at that are not being taught in schools. Again, I don’t want to rub anything in anyone’s faces but it’s very important that you hear both sides of the story. Especially if you present something to the kids, you have to present an alternative view also. The way that I was taught about the Second World War and Nazism in schools has nothing to do with reality. I was taught that the Nazi and the Germans in general were crazy and the whole Nazi movement was a result of one mad man being in control.
I remember being really young and I never bought it. I know a lot of mad people and I have been around a lot of mad people in my life, and I have never seen them come up with anything constructive at least never taking over Europe. Mad people don’t accomplish stuff like that, super-intelligent smart people do. So I started to look at Hitler with those eyes, that he was not mad and totally with it, he knew exactly what he was doing. The whole propaganda machine that they had going that’s not the result of a madman that is the work of really smart people; I then began to study the occult side of the Nazi movement and then everything made sense; Killing six million Jews, Gays and Gypsies, it was all blood rituals.
I was never given any explanation as a very young child. When we heard about the concentration camps and stuff, I just couldn’t grasp it. I was asking ‘how could people do something like that?’ and I was just told ‘because they were mad.’ So that is one thing. It was said ‘whoever is the winner writes the history’ but it’s important that you teach truth, instead of what the winner said. If there is any doubt over what the truth is, then at least find an alternative and let the kids choose for themselves.
Also, when it comes to biology, evolution and Darwinism, there are so many theories that I learned from my books that were proven wrong some 50 years before I even went to school, but these places don’t have any other explanation so they keep feeding children lies and presenting them as truth instead of saying that they are not certain. Kids go through the school system and think of these theories and ideas as truth and that is the biggest problem today.
S] Stephan, given your bleak vision of the future currently and the various conspiracy theories including 2012 and the world ending – how do you personally think the world will end?
Stephan] I have looked into a few things and the 2012 idea is partly based on the Mayan calendar which is supposed to stop in that year. The research I have been doing says that it is co-incidental that it stops then. It simply says that they made a calendar and when it gets to that year they have to make a new one. I think it’s been very over exaggerated. I also think that some parts of the new age movement are pushing this because they are working for secret societies who want to bring about fear relating to the end of the world so that we behave. We are easily controlled by fear.
One thing that is for sure, the sun is eventually going to burn up. So there is an end coming. I think that is a good thing to keep at the back of your mind in living your life is that at one point it will be over. It’s important that you sit down and read about things like religion, art and philosophy and what life is about as these things can easily be forgotten.
S] We hope that you can answer this one; you are hosting a dinner party, you can invite three people living or dead; who would they be and why have you invited them?
Stephan] That could be interesting, I would have Alex Jones, Barack Obama and Dick Cheney.
S] Would you sit them down and make them listen to ‘Rocket Science’?
Stephan] (laughs) That’s a great idea. Okay, change Dick Cheney into George Bush Snr. So now we have Obama, Bush Snr and Alex Jones. We should sit down and talk a little bit about what has been going on in America in the last thirty years. It would be really fun to see how Mr Bush and Obama would answer Alex Jones’ question. I would set them up with some good food but we would have a debate, where each person would get five minutes to give their argument. That would be the best day of my life.
Stephan sent us some links for you to check out here:
Videos regarding 9/11:
The Road To Tyranny – Alex Jones
Videos regarding the occult:
Eye Of The Pheonix – Secrets Of The Dollar Bill
Exposing The Satanic Empire Final Cut (2008)
Videos regarding 2012:
2012 Debunked: part one, part two
Check out the ‘Rocket Science’ videos here.
For more information visit the band’s Myspace and website.