Ballast der Republik
Warner Music Group (Germany)

We consider ourselves fans of music. We are open to any kind of music, any kind of band. We’re always happy when we discover new bands that can handle the guitar. ~ Campino

The name Die Toten Hosen has passed our desk a number of times over the years. Everyone from Iggy Pop to Joey Ramone has mentioned the punk band from Düsseldorf but because they sing primarily in German they are often overlooked as the true phenomenon they are. After all, they have opened for The Rolling Stones, supported U2 on their Zoo TV tour through Germany and played American shores on a number of occasions with Green Day. That’s serious street cred! (For a visual, check out their supersized effect at the Rock Am Ring stage in 2004 on YouTube.) This year (2012), the band release their 15th record Ballast der Republik packed with rock anthems, drinking songs and classical strings all delivered with a sturdy punk attitude. Though the five-piece are often socially conscious and can get openly political, they don’t take themselves too seriously - their name literally means “The Dead Trousers” or figuratively “The Dead Beats. What many are discovering is that the music strikes right to the soul, no matter what language the lyrics are sung in.

Over the years Die Toten Hosen has seen its share of rotating members. Formed in 1982 original singer Campino (Andreas Frege), bassist Andi (Andreas Meurer), guitarist Breiti (Michael Breitkopf) and lead guitarist Kuddel (Andreas von Holst) are still firmly in place. Early on they did lose a guitarist to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and drummer Wölli left in 1999 due to injuries he sustained in a car crash. His replacement of eleven years is Vom (Stephen Ritchie) of England, the only Brit in the band. Eager to promote their new release Ballast der Republik the band is hitting a trail of hot spots and some new uncharted territories. This summer we caught up with the quintet as they headlined the ARTmania festival in Sibiu, Romania. They have a loyal following in Eastern Europe with fans showing up en-mass boasting t-shirts and homemade flags. During the press conference with local TV and media they were asked specifically about their influences and what effect it had (has) on their music.

“It gave us a direction to go when we were young and starting out,” said singer Campino. “We took parts of the punk rock movement and wanted to play music like The Clash, Nine Nine Nine, The Damned, the Ramones or Johnny Thunders. We were fascinated by what they were singing about, their live shows and their music. They had this intensity and energy that we liked and tried to copy – even though we couldn’t play very well back then.” Thirty years later Die Toten Hosen are famous for their live show and their ability to channel their music into a powerful force. When one listens to Ballast der Republik it’s clear the group have improved as musicians over the years almost to the point of surpassing the simplicity of straight ahead punk rock. Just prior to their ARTmania show we sat down with guitarist Breiti and drummer Vom to further explore their growth as artists and songwriters. “We still go out and see other bands,” says Breiti. “We listen to records and are aware of what’s out there. Sometimes, without thinking about it, it comes out through us.”

“Our music has gotten more complex over the years,” the guitarist admits. “Bands like Faith No More took their genre of music to a different level - it was the next step and, in a way, it was new what they did. We listened to how other bands were interpreting the same influences we had and we would try it out. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes it worked years later. Every kind of music you hear influences you in that it gives you choices. You think about it and react to how you feel.” In creating the musical path for Ballast der Republik the group used a series of layers and textures to create emotion. “Drei Kreuze (Dass Wir Hier Sind)” begins the record with a delicate prelude combining the sweetness of orchestral strings with distorted guitar before launching into the dance rhythm of the album’s title track “Ballast der Republik”. Says Vom the drummer, “When we create our music we want to capture the feeling inside - that first jolt, that initial moment of creative adrenaline. It’s the mood of the song that captures that emotion.”

Several tracks including “Tage Wie Diese”, the new wave-like “Altes Fieber” and beer-soaked “Das Ist Der Moment” build from a melodic verse into a crashing chorus with a barrage of a thousand voices. Others, like the chugging “Traurig Einen Sommer Lang”, the staccato riffing of “Zwei Drittel Liebe” and the anthemic “Schade, Wie Kann Das Passieren?” are pure amped-up, guitar-driven punk rock. “Over time we have become much better musicians,” admits Breiti. “We can express ourselves better through the music now. It’s also about the people you meet along the way - like Birgit (Minichmayr) who did the duet with Campino for “Auflösen” (The Break Up). A tender song like that was different for us because it was unusual, but it worked. We’ve been touring with a traditional Bavarian band lately. They feel the same way about music that we do but express it differently. We created something new through our collaboration, which might show up on a later record. Each change makes the music new and fresh.”

To contrast the intensity of the album, the band include the acoustic strumming of “Draußen Vor Der Tür” for a tender reprise and push the limits with the gorgeously crafted “Drei Worte” where its luring folk balladry turns into a high-octane ball of fire with amplified feedback. “We want to carry on making good records as a band,” says Vom. “Playing well live and winning the audience over. When you release a new album and people really, really like it you know you’re onto something that has touched someone.” Breiti interjects, “The best compliment you can get from someone is when they come up to you and say, ‘Because of your music I started a band!’ The second best is when, after we put out a new album, a few days later a car passes with the windows down and they’re playing our new album turned up really loud!” Songs from Ballast der Republik that deserve maximum volume are, “Ein Guter Tag Zum Fliegen” with its heavy-hitting drum beat and “Oberhausen” with its killer guitar tone.

When we talk about the growth of the band as musicians Breiti has very firm beliefs as to natural abilities. “You don’t need any musical talent – you can play in a band anyway. If the passion is there, the ability will come with practice. But you have to love it – no matter what!” As a band, Die Toten Hosen don’t purposely go about breaking down barriers for the sake of breaking barriers. The challenge is more from the outside. It’s going through the eternal circle God made for bands – album, tour, album, tour. “It sounds boring but it’s not boring at all,” says Vom. “It’s a real challenge. That’s when you really work on the songs. There’s always a surprise around the corner.” Breiti agrees, “On this record we tried to overcome our old habits. Everybody can get stuck in their own pattern of songwriting. Like coming up with the same solutions - so we try developing musically new ideas. We make little changes to keep things moving forward. It’s still the same kind of music but, to me, a lot of the songs on the new CD sound much fresher and vibrant than ones on the last two albums.”

The song “Europa” enters the conversation as one of our personal favorites. “What’s really difficult is when you have to creep into the psychology of everyone else in the band,” says Breiti. “Sometime you come with a new idea and another will say, ‘that’s not really what we need at the moment’ and you feel rejected. You’re very enthusiastic about it because, at home, it sounded great. Then you bring it in and play it for the others and see their faces. In the end we work it out.” Die Toten Hosen are the best at writing songs that are easy to sing along to. “Reiß Dich Los” is one of those great football ‘sing alongs’ that makes friends instantly. “There are two big surprises in being in a band this long,” says the guitarist. “First, there are still so many people that listen to our music and it grows every year. The other, is that we still get along really well with each other. Some bands go on for along time but they hate each other, they only stay together because one needs the other to get out what’s inside, they can’t do it on their own. We seem to be able to find a reasonable way to create music we enjoy and get along while doing it. But it can be a very complicated relationship.”

The last two songs on the 16-track disc celebrate the band’s long-standing union. “Alles Hat Seinen Grund” (Everything Has Its Reason) springs to life with a bouncing piano undercurrent while the bass-heavy “Vogelfrei” (Freebird) gets the joint jumping. “We are in a happy situation,” says Vom. “We still go on the same bus together and have a good party after every show. I don’t think I could handle being in a band where you don’t go out and have a good time after a gig. There would be no reason to do it.” Out of curiosity we had to ask what it was like to tour with U2. “They asked us to do it,” says Breiti. “Bono was really into our music. We had plans before to do one of our Magical Mystery Tours where we play small private clubs and theaters. It worked out perfectly because one night we were playing to 60,000 people, the next night it was 20 people in a living room somewhere. It was really good for us because it was not our audience. We had to handle different situations and learn to work really well on a large stage. Things we still use in our live show today.”

If you’re discovering Die Toten Hosen for the first time, Ballast der Republik is a great place to begin. It has all the essential ingredients that make the band one of the best in their genre. If you get the deluxe edition, it has a second disc with DTH cover versions of German pop, punk and rock songs hand selected by the group as their personal favorites. American audiences will find their reworking of Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” especially entertaining.

A special thanks to Miriam Goerden of JKP Verwaltungs GmbH for her kindness and assistance.

Website: Die Toten Hosen