The unofficial fifth band member of Tokio Hotel immediately welcomes me stormily by literally almost scoffing my right hand out of enthusiasm. Okay, usually I’m rarely within touching distance with my interview partners but for Pumba I make an exception of course. Accordingly disappointed Bill Kaulitz’ bulldog is then, as he’s not allowed to take part in the talk, because he is supposed to be walked around the house by a young woman in the meantime. Only reluctant he leaves the suite in the Ritz Carlton, there Bill and Tom Kaulitz, Georg Listing, Gustav Schäfer and I have made ourselves comfortable on the sofas by now. “He doesn’t like to go with others, usually he mostly runs after me.”, Bill tells me and sceptically watches for another moment how his little friend wiggles away with sagging ears. But the other band members’ good mood is unabated. Red Bull cans are opened fizzily, to fight the slight upcoming of tiredness. (Tom to Georg: “You won’t pour that into a glass now, or?” Georg: “Yes, I’ll drink a nice little glass now. Cheers!”) Now, after some quiet years, things are happening turbulently again in the Tokio Hotel. All the more I’m happy about it that they’re taking time to talk with me. Preferably when talking about what a band likes doing best – music!
In the last weeks I attentively observed what was going on on your Facebook profile. First there was a big outcry of course, when one could finally listen to the new songs, that your sound has changed so much. I’d be interested if you also think that this change is so extreme? And was it a slow process, or a conscious decision to do it this way?
Tom: It was rather less conscious, but of course we see that this is completely different from what we had done before. When you compare this album with our second one for example, the leap is even bigger of course. With “Humanoid” we already sounded the bell a bit [for the change], at that time we experimented with synthesizers and programmings. We just continued that now. For us it’s a process and development that was taking place over a long period of time.
Bill: After the last album it couldn’t go on for us that way. I didn’t have inspiration at all, we didn’t know which kind of music we wanted to make. Of course we could have screwed together another album like that. But we also were on tour for such a long time, and we first had to get new inspiration. Being authentic or staying true to yourself means to me going along with your development and not only delivering what your fans want to hear from you. I wanted to make a record which I would also listen to at home.
Tom: Many artists cope with that differently. For example Avril Lavigne. That woman is probably pushing 40 and is still doing the same teenage rock she did back then when she was 16. And she does it, because she know that’s my target group, my fans love it and so I’ll do it for the rest of my life. That’s her way of staying true to herself – I dare to doubt if she even still likes it privately. For us it was clear that we don’t want to stand still somewhere. We also had that, this niche of fans, who loved what we did. But for us it wasn’t the decision that we want to stay at that point, so that we have the same buying public for the rest of our lives and satisfy our fans. We want to stay true to ourselves by doing what we want to do. That doesn’t mean that we don’t think that our old albums aren’t awesome anymore – they were for back then. We made a lot of music and make music every day – it changes. We don’t want to stand still somewhere.
I think that’s completely understandable, especially when seeing how early you started. I personally also don’t find everything good anymore, what I was into at the age of 16…
Bill: Of course, you develop a different taste and also in the five years since our last record life has changed. You listen to different music, everyone knows that from themselves. For me it’s always important that I do what I want to do at that moment. It could be that in 2 years I’ll say that I don’t like that electronic music at all anymore, now I want a different album… it’s important that it’s authentic. That you don’t only try to satisfy what people expect from you. I think you can only be successful when you like what you do and when you can be 1000 % behind it.
One has to say that we still talk about a quite organic change. Your music was already melodious back then, and characterized by trendy songwriting.
Bill: Exactly! I also find that funny. Some write now “they were more rocking back then”. And back then nobody said that what we do is rock! (laughter) All of a sudden we had totally rad guitars back then, but nobody wrote that in the past!
Tom: Back then we were hoping that someone would write that!
When you write your songs, how do they get their musical garment? At the beginning there’s always the melody, I think.
Tom: The songwriting was totally different this time. First we had some sessions with producers and songwriters. We did something a bit, but it didn’t feel right. It was just too much building on the last album. We tried on it for some time, but somewhen Bill and me looked at each other and we decided that it doesn’t follow the right direction at all. I said to Bill, let’s build a homestudio and make music every day the way we want it.
Bill: At the beginning it was frustrating because no one understood what we wanted. We somehow didn’t come further, because we first wanted to try out things, but no one got that. And out of the frustration because no one really knew what we should do, we just did things ourselves first.
Tom: The first song we wrote for the album was “Stormy Weather” and with that song the songwriting was already totally different. I didn’t start with recording a guitar, to jam with Bill and to create a song from it, but I had the track almost finished first. I first picked the synthesizers and not the guitar, it felt naturally. I didn’t have the feeling at all that I first have to knock out a great guitar riff. At the end I had the playback finished and we wrote the vocal melody for that so to say.
Bill: Exactly, we almost always did that. Actually it was like that Tom always had almost finished tracks and parts, which we develeoped the songs from. He’s such a studio junkie, I have to say I’m different in that case. Tom sits there from morning to night and makes that whole stuff. I mostly join when everything’s almost finished.
Tom: In a later point of time in the production we added the live instruments. That was also important for us because we wanted to have that special sound. We didn’t want to make a DJ album. That felt extremely good then, to bring in that pressure.
Bill: A song like “Girl got a gun” for example starts sheer electronically, and in the C-part the live drums are added. We added that later when we were together in the studio in Hamburg.
That was the time when you all came together…
Georg: Exactly, we joined them and refined everything so to say.
Tom: But I already sent the songs to the guys before.
Bill: We are definitely always communicating.
As you already said, “Stormy Weather” was the first one of the new songs, that was created like that, so the song must already be some years old. I think it’s interesting that you can hear it’s stylistically closer to “Humanoid” than the songs you wrote later.
Bill: Exactly, it was some kind of journey. It was the foundation stone for us to say, we’ll just do that now and from that on it just went on. Somewhen I thought then “Boah, everything’s really rad and wicked”, so in between we made a ballad, only with piano. For “Run Run Run” for example actually a real dance version existed. What I also find good is that it suited those slow special vocals. I did entirely new things with them, with head voice for example. So there also was an entirely produced version but in the end we decided against it.
Do you also think that the public gets miffed about it if a rockband ventures on electronic sounds than vice versa?
Bill: Yes, and I think it’s because some people who don’t even have anything to do with music think that electronic music is simpler and not as valuable. But that’s complete bullshit.
Tom: For me it’s ten times easier to record a guitar & to directly have the sound I want to have. If I want to have a cool synthesizer riff, it takes me several weeks sometimes. People just have a wrong impression of it, they think you only add a keyboard, record it and it automatically sounds awesome, because it comes from a Computer. Most of them don’t deal with it themselves and because of that they don’t know how much work that can be.
And how many sounds you can hear on the album now are created by you and how many are due to the influence of the producers?
Bill: Many. We did a lot of things completely on our own, which weren’t touched by the poducers. For example “Girl got a gun”, we did the song on our own from start to finish.
Tom: We just put many songs only in a final mixing process at the end. Actually 80 % of the basic beats and sounds come from us. Concerning the songwriting and the lyrics we consulted with some people of course.
Bill: For example we made a vesion for the song “We found us”, but then a producer, who we have been working with for a long time already, had a cool synthesizer and he sent it to and said we should listen to it. By now everything works online, they send it to us, we listen to it, think it’s awesome, Tom tinkers around with it a bit and then we upload it on the computer. You actually don’t sit together in the studio that much anymore nowadays.
What doesn’t seem to be a big topic anymore, is the question why you don’t sing in german anymore. Last week you had a press conference, and I was sure that this would be the first question that pops up, but it wasn’t.
Tom: That’s true! It’s less of a topic than I had expected. I thought because of that we would get a shitstorm from everywhere, but in fact it stayed away. (laughs) The reason for that is that we wrote in English from the beginning and didn’t want to translate anymore.
Bill: With “Humanoid” we did the exact same album in german and english. And this was just a working off. We just still did it, because we thought we have to do it. But in the process itself, a lot was lost. I had to sing every song twice. And then you sometimes think that the song isn’t as amazing in german, and that song isn’t as amazing in english, but you just have to do it. It doesn’t feel as good to release something from what you think it’s only a compromise and didn’t originate that way. So this time we told our record company from the start that we just want to make an album the way it originates and they understood that.
Tom: If a song will be written in german again, it will stay in german.
Bill: But we just wrote in english this time. Could be, that somewhen we’ll write a song in german again. But we won’t translate it then. (laughs)
Translation by Herzblut