Ronald Prent

Back in 2020, when the first album Herzeleid turned 25, we had the opportunity to talk to Ronald Prent. In 1995 Ronald was mixing the album, after the band wasn’t satisfied with the results they heard from producer Jacob Hellner.

Together with RammsteinWorld we created a website and published this interview on the album’s 25th anniversary. Here you can now re-read it whenever you want.

First of all, we want to say thank you again for doing this.
It’s no problem, my life is a bit chaotic in these times of Covid. I’m actually very happy to be where I am, and be able to work online in high quality, and work with several clients all over the world because they cannot come here. The problem with that is they all have time to think, and listen, and they all decide they want to change something at the same time. I’ve been juggling three clients for the last three days. It’s like, Client: Can you change this? Prent: Yeah, sure., and I’ll do that then the next client comes and says, I have listened, can you do this? It’s kind of a different way of working. It’s fine, but it’s very chaotic.

So, you still have a lot of work ahead.
Yes, I still have more to do today, but I thought I had a day off today.

We don’t want to steal too much of your time. You just tell us when you have to go, and we will finish. The reason behind this is that the first album (Herzeleid) is turning 25 next month, and we thought it would be a nice idea to talk with some people who worked with the band back then or directly on the album like you. This is to give fans an idea of how things worked back then, how the album was recorded, and what it was like back then with the band. Before we get to all the Rammstein related stuff, can you introduce yourself so that the readers can get to know you better? What have you done in the past, and what are you doing now?
A year ago I moved from Holland where I was at Wisseloord Studios for the last 10 years, I was a co-owner. I left with my wife Darcy Proper who is a Grammy award winning mastering engineer. We left for the United States, she’s from New York. We moved to upstate New York where an old client of mine, Joey DeMaio, the founder of Manowar, had bought an old school with a church attached to it, and wanted to build a studio in it. After we built the studio we were the only one in America that is certified for mixing in Dolby Atmos, Sony 360, and any other current available format that handles more than two channels of audio. I’m actually here now.

I started my career at Wisseloord Studios in Hilversum, Holland in 1980 on the first of March. I started as an assistant engineer, eventually became an engineer, and started traveling the world, and got to work with a lot of metal bands. I worked in Europe, and a few times in America. In the early 90’s I moved to Galaxy Studios in Belgium until 2010, and then I moved back to Holland. I found the finances to buy Wisseloord Studios, and transform it into what it currently is, and now I’m in America.

That sounds like a great career so far. Now for Rammstein. Had you heard of the band before you were contacted to mix their album?
No, I did not.

So, it was all new to you. How were you contacted, and what was the request given?
That’s a funny story. I was on holiday on the island of Crete in Greece. I had left a phone number with someone so that I could be contacted. This was the time before mobile phones. I would check every other day if there was a message for me, and one day there was a message for me. Petra Husemann from Motor Music had asked me to call, and I thought that was interesting because they had to go through a lot of trouble to find me. To make a long story short they said, We have this band Rammstein, you need to mix their album! to which I said Okay, but I don’t really know them. They said They’re amazing, really cool, and innovative. Heavy music, you need to mix it. I said Okay, I will, but I am on holiday. They said That’s okay. We will contact the producer. He is also in Greece on holiday. After talking with producer Jacob Hellner he said the band was looking for something different, they were not happy with the mix, they were looking for someone to take on the challenge. We later met in Hamburg to see if we could mix the album together.

We heard that the band was not happy with the original mix. Did you get to hear that mix?
No, and to be honest, not just with Rammstein, but most bands, if I am pulled into a project, and they have already done some mixes, most of the time I would not listen to them. I would ask the band what their expections are before I try anything. If you listen to what they have already done then it sticks in your mind, and becomes difficult. With something as progressive as Rammstein you need to be open for anything.

Was the full band present during the mixing?
All the time, yes. They were very present, but not in a way that would bother us in our work.

What was your first impression of the band?
The people or the music?

I thought the music was extremely cool. I had not heard anything like it before. I really liked Till’s voice, and I still do. The combination of how they write music, and his lyrics, and the way he vocalizes is unique. As for the band, everyone is their own character. They are really nice guys. In the studio they are not the same as on stage. Rammstein is their alter ego. That’s the same with a lot of artists which I think is great. They were very united as a band in what they liked or did not like which made the mission to find the sound for the album interesting, complicated, fascinating, and sometimes exhausting.

We spent a few days on the first song to get to know each other, and to get to know the sound they were looking for. After that first mix they would listen a few times, go outside to discuss the details. We had asked the band do to this so that things do not get too confusing. They would then come back, and tell us what they think which is a good way of communicating. They would usually say “Yeah, that’s great, but that’s not Rammstein.” I asked what Rammstein was and they said “We don’t really know, but that’s not it. Can you try something else?” We take another day to try a different approach. It’s been so long that I don’t remember, but we did five or seven different versions of the same song. With every mix they would say “That’s great, but that’s still not Rammstein.” They once asked if I could mix them to sound like Bon Jovi. I said that was most likely not the sound they want, but they wanted to hear it anyway. So, I did, and they still said that it was not Rammstein. Most of the time I would agree with them.

At one point I had a very rigorous idea, and did it to see what would happen. I mixed everything using a certain type of compression to become really in your face, really dry, then put Till in there with a little bit of reverb on his vocals which Till liked. The next day they listened to it, and were really quiet, and asked to play it again with the vocals a little bit louder. After another listen the band left to discuss, and Jacob and I are thinking “Oh, no, what do we do now?” They came back in and said “That’s Rammstein! This is what we want to be. This is who we are.” That’s what became the Rammstein sound for at least two or three albums. We would then mix every song the same way, and the band would listen, go out to discuss, sometimes for an hour, come back, and tell us what they want to change, and usually be happy with it.

Was the band well prepared when they came to the studio to start mixing or were they like we have no idea what we are doing?
They were prepared in a sense that they were very aware of what they did not want the sound to be. When you look for a sound, you don’t know what it us until you find it, but you do know what you don’t want. They would have their meeting, explain what they mean, and we would interpretate that into the mix. I think being really well prepared or not does not really matter. On previous mixes they would change things. Sometimes changing how they play their instrument. Flake, and Jacob programmed other keyboard stuff since they found the sound they want, but for me that’s normal when I mix.

Were there any big challenges in the mix that you had to overcome or were things going well once you had the sound?
Once we had the sound they liked, it went smoothly. For every song they wanted something different. We would just adapt to that. That doesn’t fall under the catagory of being difficult or impossible. If you put someone’s music in front of them that they have not heard before they then hear other things that require adapting. The difficult part was finding the Rammstein sound. It took us almost seven days. That’s the challenge in the job. It’s not a bad thing.

How long did the mix take from finding the right sound to where you said “We’re finished, this is the album?”
I think it was somewhere between 18 to 20 days or so. I remember being in Hamburg for about three weeks.

For a fan it’s always interesting to find out what songs the band did not release on the album. Do you remember any songs they decided to not put on the album?
No, we mixed everything that they recorded, and what went on the album, I don’t know. I don’t have any of that material. I was not allowed to keep any copies, not even a cassette listening copy. They were very specific about who had what. I don’t have any documentation about that process. It all stayed in the Universal archives.

Hopefully not in the ones that burned down.
Oh, I didn’t know that. Something burned down?

Yes, there was one archive that burned down somewhere in the USA which thousands of copies of master tapes, and everything had been destroyed.
All the Rammstein stuff is either in Hamburg or Berlin. I think we mixed all the songs that went on the album.

We ask because there is a promotional cassette tape which has nine songs on it which has rough mixes, and finished mixes, and there is a song on it called Feuerräder which is not on the album. Did they re-record that or is it a demo from a year before? We have never heard that specific version, so we don’t know.
To be honest, I don’t know either. I think the only one that would know is Jacob.

We asked if he was available, but he declined because he was already giving an interview to the label for the management. Sadly, we have no chance of asking him.

We also interviewed Carl-Michael Herlöfsson, and he was not approached either. We will see if there will be something or not.
The only one who will really know is Jacob. He is the one that was always there. The song ideas that the band had, he put them into a song structure. I think the credit for Jacob for the first two albums is that he made all their songs into really good tracks. A band can write great songs, but need a great producer.

So, he did the arrangements of the songs.
I think so, I might be wrong, but that’s my impression. That’s the strong marriage between the band, and Jacob. They come up with great material. Rammstein write the songs, and Jacob puts it all together.

Well, you already answered some of the questions that we wanted to ask which is fine. How did you get along with the band? Was there a strong connection or was it a business distance?
Yes, and no. I liked all of them. I admire their musicianship. In the studio they are just normal guys like us that want to make their music great. All their ideas an opinions are valuable, and never take them personally.

Till is a writer, licensed pyrotechnician, a great singer, and writes great lyrics. The drummer plays so differently. We would sometimes called Flake Professor because he had so many ideas. The two guitarist, they are great because they actually play what’s on the record.

The last thing, are there any funny stories or anything that impressed you about them during the mixing?
I think that stays with the band though. They can decide if they want to share that with the world or not. I cannot remember any bad things, just that it was a lot of work to get the Rammstein sound, but I liked that challenge.

We understand. That’s about it. Thank you again for taking the time to do this.
Yes, of course. You’re documenting history.

Sound engineer

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