Carl-Michael Herlöfsson

The first interview we did for the 25th anniversary of Herzeleid, was with producer Carl-Michael Herlöfsson. He was producing the album as a team, together with Jacob Hellner.

This interview was also published on the 25th birthday of Herzeleid. And now you can re-read it whenever you want.

Hello Mr. Herlöfsson, and thanks a lot for the opportunity you have given us for our celebration of the Herzeleid album. To start off I think it would be great if you could just introduce yourself, your way into the music industry, and how you got to work with Rammstein. Fans are familiar with Jacob Hellner, so it would be a good way to get to know more about you.
Sure. In the late 70’s I played in different punk bands in Stockholm. I had a brief stint with computer education around 1980 which was like the early days of programming courses in basic programs, and then I decided that I wanted to get into music production, so I took off to the United States, and went to a college in San Francisco, the College for Recording Arts where I took a degree in sound engineering and music production. Then I got stuck in San Francisco from ’82 to ’87, and I was involved in very early hip-hop crossover hits. I also mixed the very first Melvins album (“Gluey Porch Treatments“, released in 1987). What I did was, I worked at Starlight studio outside of San Francisco, in Richmond. It was everything from women playing cello to the local hip-hop act.

Why I got stuck was the third session that I did. I worked as a second engineer, which mainly consisted of making coffee and cleaning the toilet for half a year, and then the regular engineer told me around Christmas time: “I can’t do this regular session from 12pm to 8am, can you do it?” And I immediately agreed. Three months later it turned out to be a huge hit in the United States, which I recorded and mixed. So I became the guy who did THAT song. The song was “Rumours” by Timex Social Club. It was one of the first hip-hop/pop crossover songs in the States, and people came from everywhere and wanted to sound like that, which is why I got stuck there for a while.

I actually worked with Jacob together in the United States as a team. They called us the Savage Swedes. In ’87 we went back to Sweden, where we formed our production company BomKrash Productions. We produced a number of albums, and did hundreds of remixes. I also kind of brought the hip-hop back to Sweden, and I got involved in the very early Swedish hip-hop scene. That was sort of leading up to the point where we first encountered Rammstein.

Since then I’ve been running a record company, a publishing company, a couple of studios, produced and mixed hundreds and hundreds of albums. I wrote film scores, music for commercials and now since seven years back I’m running a company called Modelizer, which is a start-up in music tech. Where I hold a patent for a brand new way of playing back music. A new music format for the future.

That sounds pretty cool. Now people should have a picture about what you did, and what you do. So, let’s talk about Rammstein: do you remember the first time you heard about the band? What did you think about them?
Actually, I remember that very well. At that time Jacob was involved with Clawfinger. Around that time we started to do separate productions. So, Jacob had Clawfinger, and I produced a band called Amen. After he finished the Clawfinger album he called me, and said he got a cassette tape from Germany, which was a result of his work with Clawfinger, and he didn’t really know what to make of it. He didn’t speak German, but he thought it was really cool. So, he asked me if we could meet up and check it out together. So I drove up to him by car, so we could listen to it in the car,and he took out the cassette and it had a black and white cover. They already had their imageries going to where it would ultimately end up.

We listened to the cassette, and we both thought that this is really, really cool. It was something you had never really heard before. We couldn’t understand one word, what they were saying. We also thought if this was a trap, since we didn’t know what the lyrics are actually about, but we would really like to get on board somehow.

So, we asked a friend of ours, who is a designer for high end microphones, and he is of German heritage. We sent him the tape and he translated the lyrics for us into Swedish. He explained to us that it is a kind of old German poetry style. So, he translated what it was about and he called us and we thought “Okay, cool. We’re safe from that.” That was the first time I heard it, and from then on we started pursuing it. We understood that this was a big deal for the first album of a German band, which is why we decided to rejoin our forces and work together again. That was the starting point for me.

Unfortunately, there is not much information about the recording of the album itself. Can you share some info about that with us?
I can actually give you a step-by-step about how it came about. We first went through all the songs, the songs from the cassette, and we got some more material. Then we booked a flight, and stayed in Berlin for about three weeks. This was two or three years after the wall came down. It was a very weird state at that time. I mean East Berlin was still East Berlin. And it was very clear where the wall was, and they just started to fill the stores, but they hadn’t really fixed the building above the first floor. It had a really Eastern block feel to everything. So, I went there and we stayed at Hotel Berolina, which was filled with truck drivers and very rough people. The band had a rehearsal space in a basement, somewhere I don’t remember where it was.

Maybe at the KNAACK?
Oh, that sounds familiar.

They had a rehearsal room in the basement of it.
Yeah, we went through the backyard, and directly went down. There were several rooms, and the one furthest away was their rehearsal room. They had collected stuff from before the wall came down, because they were playing in bands before. Getting amplifiers and stuff like that was hard to come by at that time. They had like different scams going on to try to get some money to buy some equipment.

It was a rough period because only one or two of them hardly spoke any English, but in a way, that you could work with it. So, it was a lot of sign language, gesturing and pointing trying to get points across. We spent a lot of time there for preparing. There were a lot of samples and ideas on how to create the very strict Rammstein sound. They taught me a word at that time: they wanted the music to be “amtlich” (in this case the word has the meaning of “serious” or “powerful”). They tried to explain to me the meaning of that word. I think I got it, and the music should be on point. Very important. Then Jacob, and me went back to Stockholm to prepare some stuff. There we then did the basic recordings, like some of the guitars and most of drums, and bass. We did this at the Polar Studio, which was the studio by ABBA.

Also, Led Zeppelin recorded here, unfortunately it has been torn down. It was quiet a legendary studio. I think we spent around two weeks there recording and doing a lot of computer work for sampling guitars and sampling of sounds. To double up the live performances to get a certain sound we wanted that wall of guitar, very tight and strict.

A typical guitar session with Rammstein would be one guy setting up his amplifier and his guitar, getting ready by drinking a “Schützenschnaps” (a Tequila which also is still a ritual before concerts. A video of it can be seen on the Völkerball DVD). Then we went to the studio of Jacob and I, where we did additional recordings. Most of the electronic work, samples, guitar overdubs and most importantly tracking vocals. It was actually Jacob who worked quiet closely with Till, doing the vocals. Where I was more involved with the electronics and the programing side of things. Most of the stuff was recorded in those two studios. We might have done, I don’t really remember, recordings in other places. But that have been shorts only.

For a fan it’s always interesting to know about the material that the band did not release. We know from a promotional tape that includes rough mixes, and it has the song Feuerräder on it.
I don’t exactly remember the song, but it rings a bell when you say the name.

What happened when we were finishing the album, we started mixing it in Stockholm. In another studio, called MFG, and we sort of ran into a wall. We couldn’t find a sound that we wanted in that mixing environment. So, then it came to a kind of pause for a little while, but we have done a bunch of mixes. One of them might be on that promotional tape, but I don’t know. But then it eventually went down to being mixed in Holland. At that point I didn’t really continue so Jacob did the mixes with the other guy. I was engaged in other stuff. So, after the mixes my contribution to the album ends.

So, the first mix that got rejected was done by Jacob and you or only Jacob?
No, it was me and Jacob. Another guy called Stefan Glaumann who later came to mix a bunch of their stuff, but it wasn’t really a case of being rejected. It was more us trying to find something, and we were all in agreement that we didn’t find it. Everyone was in agreement about what we wanted to do. The goal was pretty much set from the start. It should be what it ultimately became: a really hardcore amtlich record.

It is said that Richard was the only band member to be present during mixing, but he was not satisfied with that he heard so he called all other band members, and they decided to let Ronald Prent do the mix.
I was not there for that process. We did a bunch of stuff, but we all felt we’re not really on to it. It turned out great, that’s what’s important. It’s not about who did what in this context, it’s more about if we’re getting out what we wanted. Ronald Prent did lovely work with the album. I love the sound of the album, and with mixing we spent like half a year, so it was good to get a new pair of ears to listen to it.

During recording, were there any moments worth mentioning? Funny stuff or even things that got you angry at the band?
We had some really interesting things when we were rehearsing in Berlin. They got into arguments with each other quite frequently. They got quite loud, shouting in German, and we had no idea what was going on. but the one who was the angriest went next door, where they had a punching bag. After he came out it was all cool again, and they started to pick up their work.

I remember another interesting story. There is the line “Der Wahnsinn” in the song Du riechst so gut. We were working in our own studio at that time. We were discussing that, and wanted it to sound like coming through a phone. This was way before mobile phones. “We could just filter it” but it should be a real phone. So one of the guys was sent down to the local subway station to pick up a pay phone and call the studio. It was in the middle of winter, and he hardly put any clothes on, he wore just a white t-shirt, suspenders, boots and like a set of short pants. So, he went to the subway station, called the studio and we put the microphone to record it. He was saying “Der Wahnsinn“, and we were like “No, no, louder!” Then he started screaming “DER WAHNSINN” and we were always suggesting things to change it a little bit. It went on for three or four minutes like that. Then suddenly the call ended. It took him a while to come back, but when he finally did, he told us that there was a guy sitting in the station had called the cops. “There is a madman standing here with no clothes on, in the middle of winter, screaming in German. He looks really strange.” But other than that, the recordings were very serious. It felt like there was a lot depending on what they were doing.

Have you ever seen the band live?
I actually have only seen them once. I don’t remember the exact year, but it was in Stockholm, and it was way after my work with them. Jacob told me they’re coming to town, and to see them. I was blown away. It was still not at the level it is now, but you could kind of see where it was going. It was at the time when they had that huge metal Rammstein logo, that fell down during one concert (the accident during Heirate mich on the VHS Rammstein Life).

It’s a weird combination of being amused, but it’s still extremely serious and heartfelt, knowing where this comes from. You can’t really brush it off. People look at it like a spectacle or a circus, but it is very much for real. I think it’s really, really cool. I know a lot of people in and out of the business, who’ve seen them for years, and everyone is getting the same reaction: just being blown away. It’s a one of a kind experience to see it live.

Actually, I stopped by the studio when they put together that live thing, the movie. Jacob worked on it, and I saw it in a theatre. It’s really cool stuff. I think it was close to capturing the vibe of it, and giving it another level, another layer. I had that one experience. I actually had tickets to go see them this summer.

Are you still in contact with the band or follow their career, and listen to their music?
Yeah, I follow them closely. They’re part of my history, and I have platinum albums on the wall in my studio. I’m really fascinated by a lot of their choices and how they do things. Going against the grain, I like that stuff a lot. I’m still in contact with Jacob, so we talk about them, but I don’t have any contact with them personally. I met Till like 15 years ago.

Thanks a lot for the opportunity to do this, and for the time you took to answer all these questions. It gives a good insight into how the work with the band was back then. Thank you!


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