A Real "Mensch": A Conversation With Germany's Biggest Pop Star, Herbert Grönemeyer

In the United States, he is mainly known for playing Lieutenant Werner in the critically acclaimed film, not as a recording artist. That may change with the February 2012 release of his new albumthat features his international hit duet with Bono, "Mensch."
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Bono & Herbert Grönemeyer / photo by Ali Kepenek


Herbert Groenemeyer is Germany's most successful recording artist ever, with album sales of over 18 million. Two of his albums -- Bochum (1984) and Mensch (2002) -- became the biggest German-language sellers in history, although in the United States, he is mainly known for playing Lieutenant Werner in the critically acclaimed film Das Boot, not as a recording artist. That may change with the February 2012 release of his new album I Walk that features his international hit duet with Bono, "Mensch."

In support of the new album and to introduce Herbert to U.S. audiences, there will be American performances in New York and Chicago, and a public television special will air in those markets as well during pledge weeks. The first broadcast will air on New York's WLIW on December 3 at 9:30 pm and replay on December 8 at 8:00 pm. It will also be broadcast on Chicago's WTTW on December 9 at 8:00 pm. Additional broadcasts will begin in January.

photo by Ali Kepenek

A Conversation With Herbert Grönemeyer

Mike Ragogna: Herbert, how are you?

Herbert Grönemeyer: I'm fine, thanks. Not too bad.

MR: Are you recovered from your performance at The Roundhouse? [Note: This interview took place at London's Violet Café the day after Herbert's Roundhouse concert.]

HG: A bit rough still because I made a lot of friends and we had a little bit of whiskey. But generally, I'm fine and happy.

MR: Nice. Let's start with your international hit single, "Mensch," with Bono. How did "Mensch" come about, how did you get Bono to record it with you, and why do you think it became such a huge record internationally?

HG: The thing was that I work for Make Poverty History, which is a wide-bent campaign that goes all over the world trying to halfen poverty in the world. It's a campaign that the EU promised would halve the heaviest poverty in 2015. We try to keep them on their toes, so we did a campaign and that's where I met Bono. He did it with Bob Geldof and I did it specifically in Germany, and then Bono came around to our studio and listened when I was working on this album, I Walk. He said to me, "Why don't you send me a few tracks and I'll work something out?" I said, "Oh, that's nice." Ultimately, I sent him the tracks and he came back with half of the song "Mensch" and I was so honored and so grateful and that's where it all came from and that's why we put it on the album.

MR: That recording is pure harmonizing from top to bottom, it's not Bono coming out and singing a line or two. And he was very respectful of your lead vocal, he just tucked himself in.

HG: We also did a concert together in Potsdam and he came on stage and he behaved the same way. It was not a battle of two wild guys--who can sing higher, faster, and stronger. It was really humble and he really tried to help me. He's a very decent guy and he said something very nice. He said he only once had the same experience of two voices accompanying each other so nicely and for me, it's a big present that I can have him on the album.

MR: Wasn't there also your performance together in front of a hundred thousand people during the G8 Summit?

HG: Yes, we had the G8 meeting in Rostock again for the same kind of topics and others, but we tried again to bring up the topic that they should halve poverty in the world. Therefore, we made a concert in Rostock and then Bono came on stage and sang this song in German! He learned the lyrics and he was just trying it out in front of a hundred thousand people, so we had this duet in German. The crowd didn't even believe it!

MR: Did he follow you phonically, is that how it worked?

HG: Yeah, he learned the lyrics and then we shared it again. He took over some parts and then we sang the chorus together. Yeah, the moment he's with you he's so focused and so genuine and so kind, it's very impressive. He can really switch from one second to be this kind of really big world star and the next moment, he really has this lovely Irish attitude to be the guy next door and really try to help you. He's an amazing man.

MR: When you look at your new album I Walk, its lyrics--and because of course how you're singing it--makes it a very personal album. Yet everything has a wonderful chorus or big hook as well. Sometimes that's a hard thing to balance when an album is very personal. How did you approach the songwriting for this album?

HG: Well, the thing is that I'm always coming from the music. I'm known in Germany well as a lyricist, but I think my main focus, because I grew up with all these seventies bands like The Doors, and Dylan and Cohen and Joni Mitchell and all these songwriters. In a way, that's what I was singing all through my beginning--Cream and Hendrix and whatever. Then I started writing songs myself and so I'm mainly starting always with a soul...I just sing along with something in English, but not really English, to check along the melody. Is it strong enough, is it really working, is it touching me, is it sentimental, is it powerful? Then I try to find themes that interest me in that moment, that are interesting me in this period in my life and the time politically, privately, what's around the neighborhood, whatever, and then they have to match the music so I have to fix them on the music. That process is normally the toughest one, to make the lyrics sit on the melody.

MR: Are you one of those writers who already hears the melody in your head and then you have to get to the instrument and get it into an arrangement, or are you a writer who goes to the keyboard and just plays around when it starts flowing?

HG: Yes, I need my fingers to work. The moment the fingers give the signal to the brain, "Oh, the brain has to function or come up with some melody," and then the brain starts working, working, working, and then it throws out the melodies.

MR: When did those fingers start working? How old were you when you started playing music?

HG: I started when I was six with a ukulele. I got a four-string, little guitar and I was always quite nerve-wrackingly powerful, so I was constantly playing this little guitar.

MR: It was your rock-ulele.

HG: Yes, and then I played the bigger guitar, this acoustic guitar. I could hardly bring my arm over it. Then I started playing piano when I was eight. The first lessons I got were at eight. My mother played the piano and my grandfather played the cello and my grandmother had lessons to be an opera singer. My two brothers played the guitars and the piano, so there was not a competition, but there was generally always music there. I was the youngest, so I would always check what they were doing and then I would copy it. They didn't like that, but I tried to be better.

MR: That was your job, to be better.

HG: Exactly. I prepared for this career. Ever since I played in bands, I played on my own. I played in rock-jazz bands with a brass section like Colisseum or Tower of Power and this kind of brass stuff, and then I started to write my own songs when I was seventeen or eighteen.

MR: Now, you were originally in a jazz combo, right?

HG: The thing is my voice never broke going from a child to a real man. It was always like that. There were bands always looking for singers, so I was always hired as a singer, and that's how I made my way into this jazz band, because I was known in my area already as a singer and they needed a front man, so that's how I started.

MR: And then you started recording your own projects. Was it in 1979 that you recorded your first solo album?

HG: That was the first solo album, but that was only songs from other people--two guys from a hotel that wrote songs--and they asked me in the studio to sing with them. My first real album, I would say, was in '81.

MR: That was Bochum, your first big release in Germany.

HG: Yeah. My record company at that time finished my contract because I was not successful enough, I was actually kind of a flop. Then in '84, I came to EMI Records and I made an album that was named after my hometown, Bochum...and that became the biggest selling German album for a very long time. Michael Jackson's Thriller was number one everywhere in the world...not in Germany. That was Bochum. It was really funny, but it's only a little story. It was very successful. Everybody said, in the beginning, Bochum is like [calling it] Salt Lake City.

MR: [laughs] Also a good name for an album.

HG: Yeah, I just realized. Pittsburgh. That sounds too good. Bochum is like a small little name somewhere in the desert and everybody said, "If you name the album with that name, you will never be a success. Again you will fail." Ever since, I think my career went on.

MR: You recorded your first English language album in '89.

HG: Correct, yes. That was called, What's All This? and we played in Canada. We opened up for a Canadian act, Tom Cochrane.

MR: Oh yeah, and he was with Red Rider.

HG: Exactly. I got a very nice review in The New York Times at that time saying, "Five Stars, best lyrics of the year, but too complicated to understand." I really liked that, so we tried very Germanically to engineer a lyric--very precise and very correct and sometimes, I think we overdo it. The nice thing about rock 'n' roll is that you say something without telling every detail. You take it easy and keep it, not vague, but loose and light. We Germans sometimes tend to be a little too tough in that. But it was on the charts in Canada and it had a single as well and we had a great time.

MR: You were the first non English-language artist to be on MTV Unplugged.

HG: Yes, that was the first time that they tried to have a non English-speaking artist and I was very honored that we could do that, and I think the response was very good. I think we are a very good band; my guitarist played with Chaka Khan and my drummer played with Eric Burdon from The Animals, so we're a good band and it was a surprise for a lot of people to see a German band being kind of tight and good. We were very proud that we were able to do that. That was in '95, I think.

MR: Herbert, you were influenced by Western artists as you mentioned earlier, the singer-songwriters. One of your songs reminds me a lot of Randy Newman--"Because of You." And at your Roundhouse performance, you sang his composition, "Marie." I know your daughter is named Marie.

HG: Yeah. I think if there's one artist I really admire on both sides--writing music and the lyrics, and is very influential on me--it's Randy Newman. I just saw him two years ago on the piano in Berlin and I still admire him and his way of writing, especially his ballads and the chord structures. His way of writing lyrics is always funny, but a bit cynical and playful. I really love that. And his early years, with the brass arrangements...and he hardly used the bass, which I quite like. So only piano, strings and drums, maybe sometimes no bass...

MR: And those chromatic arrangements.

HG: Yeah, and the string arrangements. Very touching, all these ballads like, "Guilty" and "Birmingham."

MR: What about the German music scene? You had to be affected by the music that was happening there, too, right?

HG: Oh, the German music scene. We were so nervous about using [German] music. During the war, the Nazis used German language music for propaganda, so we were very shy starting our own scene, in a way. We had a very strong krautrock phase with Neu! and Kraftwerk and Can and Tangerine Dream, so I listened to that. The first songwriters in Germany were very, very politically correct, [trying] to make clear, "We're not schlager, we're not middle-of-the-road, we really try to be clever." I was interested in that, but somehow for me, it was too lyric-based. That's why I was more into English music, because it was more from the heart. There was more joy, it was warmer. But the [German] lyric writers, nobody would know in America, but there were one or two like Nina Hagen. But I was generally more into English and American music, lyric-wise, so even when I was writing, myself, I was checking the way that they were writing.

MR: Now, we mentioned politics earlier. You weren't a very close friend of Helmut Kohl, were you?

HG: No.

MR: You did voice your opinion and he had to acknowledge you because of your celebrity.

HG: Well, the thing is, if you're German, you're very nervous. You always check the one who's in the lead, how much he enjoys power. Helmut Kohl, as we see now...I was singing a song in '86 that he was bribed by the industry, and he was very angry about that. And it came out that he was, actually. The weirdest thing that he ever did was--maybe nobody got it in America--but he didn't tell the names of the people that bribed him. He said, "They're my friends, I don't say." He didn't say them in front of court; he refused to tell names although it was his task to do that. He started censoring the TV as well, the TV, and he put three of my songs on the list. We have this international culture institute called The Goethe Institute, and they work in foreign countries on German in schools and also with song lyrics, so those lyrics had been forbidden for them to use because they were too critical. I wanted to make clear that even in the Western world, there can be a kind of censorship. We never think about TV stations, the way politicians in Germany get their questions up front before they go into an interview, which I think in England would never happen, never. But a politician in Germany, if they ask them to come on TV, they say, "Yes, send me the questions up front, otherwise I don't come." But they are the representatives, and I give them work, that's the way I see it, the people give the work to the politicians. They're representatives. It's like in school, the class gives it to a spokesman. They are responsible to us, so we have to check whether they're actually doing a good job or not. If not, they have to go. Sometimes, it changes around. You see it now. Helmut Kohl tried to power the Euro through without first doing his homework, everybody under the same rules, otherwise, this currency will come as a very big problem--what we have now. I think the only thing he made great with his power was he used the moment to get the reunification going. I must say this is definitely...

MR: One of the feathers in his cap.

HG: Exactly.

MR: What are your views about the reunification? Do you remember where you were when the wall came down?

HG: Good question. I don't really remember too well, but I think it was something you would never expect. And it was a mistake, as well. There's this funny story that the Hungarians opened the border and the East Germans were now having four guys trying to find out ideas just as an offer to the government. "What can we do to ease out a little bit the traveling possibilities?" They came with the recommendation, "You can let them go and they get a stamp in their passport and then they can't come back." But that was only an idea, and one guy wasn' t there when they handed it in because he had a press conference that night and they put the paper in his speech. So he had a one hour press conference, totally boring, with international journalists, everybody was nearly falling asleep, and then suddenly, in the end, an Italian journalist asked him, "What about this traveling idea, that people might be able to travel better? And he said, "I have no idea," checked his paper and he said, "Oh, yes, actually, here. Yeah, they can." And the guy said, "When will that start?" "Actually, today." And that's why everybody went to the border. Everybody went to the checkpoint and there were masses of people standing there and the four guys that had been in this group--one was in a rehearsal of the choir, one was in the theatre--they had no clue so they couldn't call anybody. In the end, they just opened the border and then the guys came home and the son of one of these guys said, "Daddy, the phone was ringing all evening." "Why?" "Because people are already going to the West." "What?" he switched the TV on and said, "No, it's not true!" So it was only an idea that we might have to try something out, and that's why it opened!

MR: Since reunification, what have you seen? What's the effect been from your perspective?

HG: In a way, we are a little example for the world because we have the East and West ideologies in one country. What you see is a certain arrogance of the West saying, "Whatever you did in your life was all wrong and you need our ideas to be better." But we're getting closer, let's say because of the arrogance and because of the way we treated them after the unification, they don't forget that. We treated them really a bit stupid. "You have to learn to eat with a knife and fork," and all that, and they don't like that. This is still there in the older generation. The younger generation is easy. My kids are in their twenties and they use Europe as "one" in a way--no border. You can travel to Amsterdam, you can travel to Paris... It's a little bit like the United States, in a way.

MR: Yeah, what's interesting is that with all of the prejudices that were exposed, and with horrible phrases like "legitimate rape" that were spewed during our election process, it didn't really reflect the youth. All the prejudices against gays, African-Americans, and Latinos, and the minimizing of women's reproductive rights or rights in general, that's not in their mindset, really. It's almost like a couple of generations that are in power right now have to go away in order to eliminate that kind of politics. That's my perspective, anyway.

HG: That's totally true. They bring it all up again, this prejudice, because it helps in the dispute or election. But I think the younger generation doesn't care. They think, "What are they talking about? What's the problem? What's the point here?"

MR: And in the States, a lot of the population is smoking marijuana regardless of it being legal or illegal. It's just simply part of the culture. We've decriminalized it to a degree, but the government could be making money off of its sales.

HG: The Dutch do that.

MR: It's merely acknowledging the truth about what's going on in the culture. But so much becomes a political football during election time.

HG: Exactly, because they stick to these old issues that are really dead. I think this is the point. This is really old days, that's why they lose more and more people, because people start thinking, "What are they talking about? We're not interested in that." My brother died of cancer. I brought him into a hospital to handle the pain and marijuana was very helpful to him. It helps patients who have pain issues to bring it down, to calm it down a little bit. So if you, as you say, legally control it and sell it and you keep control of it, it's much, much better.

MR: Herbert, you're going to be in a PBS special.

HG: I think it starts in December, New York and Chicago...and then, hopefully, it's like the snowball system, that others become interested.

MR: What is the show going to be like?

HG: We play the album and Bono will be on the show. He's part of the show, so he came up on stage. We have this mix between ballads and singer-songwriter and then strong and loud songs and rock songs. In a way, we're trying to present our energy, our joy of making music and the fun that we've had together over thirty years now as a band, so it's like a little bit of a family story. That's what we try to represent in that show and I hope it comes across. The stage is done by Anton Corbijn, who is a Dutch photographer who did album covers for Depeche Mode and U2.

MR: Corbijn also did the movie Control that you participated in.

HG: Actually, where we are at this moment, The Violet Café, this is where the idea was started. He was sitting here because we lived on the same street. He was always thinking, "What shall I do, I've done so many photos now and videos," and I said, "You have to do a movie! I will co-finance it. If you do one, I will co-finance it." He said, "If you co-finance it, then you have to take a part in it." So, yeah, he did Control, the story of Joy Division, and I think it's a wonderful movie, and then he did another one called The American, with George Clooney, and I did the score for that, and he's now doing a new one by John le Carré in Hamburg with Philip Seymour Hoffman, and I'm doing the score again there. Yeah, we've been friends for twenty-five years. He's the Godfather of my son, Felix, and he's a lovely person. He's a very, very humble, lovely guy, and with him, I met Bono for the first time. They had been friends for a long time already.

MR: You mentioned scoring. Let's get into that for a little bit. You have scored various things, but one of the things you composed for, which is kind of strange to me but fun, is that you--is the Robert Schumann movie. You also played him.

HG: Oh yes.

MR: So you composed the music for the movie on THE Robert Schumann.

HG: Yeah, but I mainly played it myself. I had to practice on the piano and play it. I mainly played the music. I was in France on holiday and I needed a piano, so they told me a local piano teacher, a lady, can give me hourly piano, so I went to her and I said, "Look, I have to practice for being Robert Schumann," and she thought "This guy's a bit weird." Then I started playing and she thought, "Oh God, we could never make that." She thought I was a showoff, but then I practiced so hard over the holidays and then she was really impressed in the end. She said, "Oh wow." I played it myself, that's the main thing of that. I played with Natasha Kinski; she was in that and that was in '83, a long time ago.

MR: And then, of course, you were in a little movie called Das Boot. It's funny that in the United States, because of the spelling, some people--in an attempt to appear sophisticated, I guess--actually pronounce it Das "Boot," as in foot apparel.

HG: I know. When I was in America, I was very proud that people would say, "Seen you in Das 'Boot!'" Great. Loved it.

MR: And you were one of its stars, Lieutenant Werner.

HG: I was not the captain, but I was one of the main characters. I was, in the end, the one when the ship drowns and the captain dies, I was sitting next to him. The guy who wrote the book was a press officer during the war, so it's actually him.

MR: What got you into acting?

HG: I come from a mining area of Germany. My hometown Bochum had a very good theatre, although that was very unusual. Anyway, they had been looking for a piano player, and because I was known already in the area as a musician because I played in these youth clubs and churches, I went there. The guy that was a director who was looking for a piano player for his play was a bit stoned, actually. He loved what I played but...let's say I'm a good piano player, I'm not outstanding, but I'm okay. He said, "Yeah, you're hired," so I was in. Then there was a musical about The Beatles called John, Paul, George, Ringo...and Bert from London. Very successful. Willy Russell wrote it and they did it in German. They were looking for a guy and "Bert" is a kind of storyteller, and was, in the end, like a Gary Glitter song--all in silver with high heels. So they'd been looking for a person who could play that and because I was already there as a piano player in the theatre, they asked me. That's how I went on stage and became an actor. Ever since, I was acting in the theatre. I was in the theatre for ten years and a musician and an actor. When Das Boot, came around, they were looking for young actors and they needed quite a lot of them, so I was one of them.

MR: Did you go on a casting call? Did you have to audition?

HG: Yes, yes. I auditioned for Wolfgang Petersen but straightaway, I think the next day, he called because I was twenty-two...twenty-three...twenty two, I think, and I had to play a little scene. He said, "Yah, it was great, it was great!" It was a tremendous, tremendous gift to have been in that movie.

MR: And it coincided with your solo recording career skyrocketing. This is an interesting period for Germany and you were visible to the general population, your "voice" being heard even by Kohl. And you've continued fighting for social issues, most recently in your hometown where a car manufacturer closed?

HG: In danger to be closed by General Motors, Opal.

MR: You were in solidarity with the workers.

HG: Yeah. I think I always call ourselves "the musicians"; we are kind of "drummers." We can make noise. That's what we can do. We have to be careful that we don't make noise everywhere, only in things where we can really back it up strongly and we really feel we can say something. But then, we have a task, I think, because we can reach the public faster. A carpenter has a hammer but we have the public. That's part of our craftsman's tools. We can transport things faster into the audience. That's why I think we have to do that; we have to do that, sometimes. I come from a working class background and I think if they need help... The biggest thing I ever heard was this German boat that went to Vietnam to get the refugees on board, and they said they played my music with big speakers on the boat on the whole trip. Not that it's me, but with music, we can give them energy. They do the job, we don't do the job. We go publicly and say, "This is wrong, this is wrong, and this is wrong," but generally, we are only on the surface. The people that do the job, that's the work. But we can help them by "drumming."

MR: Also by supplying them something that's more basic and affecting than talking, which is music.

HG: Yes.

MR: It speaks to everybody in every language.

HG: Exactly.

photo by Anton Corbijn

MR: Let's get back to the music for a little bit here. When I watched your concert at The Roundhouse, the song that was the most touching was "To the Sea," your song about letting go. Now, you've had a couple of major losses--your brother died to cancer, and within three days, your wife Anna died of cancer as well. That had to be devastating, one of the hardest periods of your life. Do you still carry them with you inside, kind of like they're not really gone?

HG: No, they're not gone. I think they leave their marks, they live with you on a daily basis. They never go. What happens then--and that's what the song "To the Sea" is about--is how you reflect on yourself. When these catastrophes happen, you really start thinking about yourself. You look back. "Who am I?" "What did I do wrong?" "Where did I come from?" You feel guilty as well; there's a strong part of guilt there, and then, in the end, you realize you only live this life. I have two kids on top of this, so I had to look after them. You try to integrate that person that's gone--my brother or my wife--and then try to find a way that this always runs with you under your skin and helps you to live and also to enjoy. It's a new color. You're having a new color and this color never goes, but this color can also be supportive. This person that you lived with and you had strong memories of, they will never go. My father lost his own father when he was four years old. He was a mining director, my grandfather, and there was a gas leak in a mine and he was the first to go. My father was standing with his mother on the hole and the father went in and he was dead straight away. So he watched it, but my father enjoyed life to the core. He was the funniest and happiest person, and he lost his arm in Stalingrad, but he represented exactly what was said. You take the memories on, but they, in a way, give you another perspective in life and that can give you a rich life. So my wife is always with me, and my brother, and this is the wonderful gift as well--that you have met somebody who really touched you, although it's sad that they are gone. It's a very weird process, and in the end, I think grief is not sadness. That's what the song "Mensch" is about. Life is fine and everything is wonderful, but it's a pity that you're not there. But I want to show you that I'll still be able to live, because when I go, I would love my best friend or my wife to be happy afterwards, not to be sad.

MR: Herbert, one of the reasons I imagine it makes it a little easier to go on is because you had two beautiful children with your wife. So when you're with your kids, that has to be so fulfilling as much as being a reminder of your wife; it takes it to another level. It's not just you dealing with grief, but you're also dealing with, "They are the end result, this is how life continued. This is the strand."

HG: I think they continued their relation, in a way, and this relation between my wife and me lives on. So when I go, they're the next part of the circle of life. There's also beauty to that. If I see them--funny enough, more my son, because he has the same hands and the same movements as my wife--you really sometimes are very touched. You really hold your breath for a second because it brings back a nice memory. But they continue our relation, in a way.

MR: Herbert, beautiful. So you also have a record label, Grönland Records. In a way, you are mentoring, passing things on, when you bring in musical acts, right?

HG: I hadn't even seen it that way, but it's true, that's right. I'm trying to pass on my view of the business, my view of how they should look after themselves, how careful they should be with their art and not sell it out too quickly, to really take time. We're very small, but on the other hand, we're a little bit like in the seventies and early eighties. We try to represent a label that's home for our artists. We want to make money, but we'll also say to others, "Look, we could make more money if you do that or that, but let's not do it. Let's take our time and grow slowly." We'd been in London for a long time, ten years, and we'd been known as a very good label, but not been very successful. Suddenly, after ten years, it works. Very successful, suddenly, with young artists. I've never seen it the way you said it, but it's a very lovely way of saying it. I try to pass it on, yes.

MR: This seems like a good moment to ask you what advice do you have for new artists?

HG: I think, first of all, they should check whether they really like to make music like they play football or kiss. On the one hand, I always think it's a bit dangerous. If they just go for the success, they treat their art not very nicely, because the main thing must be that they like it, that they enjoy it. That's the first point, and that has to carry them through life. Now, they have to take it step-by-step. What does it mean to go into the public, what does it mean to make an album, what do I have to learn about the industry, about the media, about promotion. If they fail, then I say, "Okay, but you still have your music." It's not that you have to stop making music now. The first thing is that you love it. Even later in life, if you would be very successful, people always ask me, "Why don't you stop now? You've made enough," and I say, "That's not the point. I like it. I don't stop kissing because I've kissed already so many times." Look out for a label or for partners where you feel that, yeah, you might fail one or two or three times, but try to find the right people that help you to develop. Take your time, go slowly, and I think it will be more and more common that the big companies will, more or less, be just big dinosaurs, and the small cells, in a way--with all the possibilities, the internet and freelance people--they can do a lot more or less the same. The thing with us is we have three offers per year. A big company like Universal has fifty, so if number thirty-two doesn't work, they say, "Forget it. Thirty-three..." We can't. We have to work it so we take out of that year as much as possible. Even if we don't succeed, we work it as far as possible so the artist has a feeling we really care. "Okay, we, together, made it halfway; maybe the next one will be more," so you always feel sheltered. In a big company, you can't have that anymore.

MR: That reminds me of the old A&M Records.

HG: Yes! That was always my dream, and I always talk like this now because Grönlund was founded as an A&R cell for EMI, and then, we had a tough time and EMI finished it. Now, we're more successful than German EMI. And the other thing that I really enjoy is my English record. German EMI didn't want to do it, so we did it with Grönlund; but in America, it's done by EMI. The Germans didn't have the courage to do it, but in America, EMI took it on. That's what I mean. This is such a nice story, in a way, but I'm proud not because I'm successful, but because, like A&M Records, record companies have to come back to keeping the joy in the musician, to help them to maintain their enormous gift to make music--that's a lovely gift--and then help them really to breathe and to take time. I believe in slow growth. I'm happier if it goes faster, but I had to do four albums--the fifth one was Bochum--to be successful. You can't do four albums any more. If the first one doesn't go, you may be allowed to do a second one, but that's it. I could do five, so that's what we try as well. We say, "Look, you can be with us, we'll show you how much money we spend," we open with that, what we can guarantee. "We'd like to work with you on three or four albums."

MR: What are your future plans? You're on your fourteenth album with I Walk.

HG: I will always make music, so that's why we try now to conquer new grounds. Not that we think the world has waited for us, but I guess playing in London...in Paris...the Netherlands, now the next step will be to come to America. We'll play America. We are musicians, so come, listen to us, we hope you like it, and it helps us as well to have new experiences, develop our music. We will always make music. I don't know whether you've seen the movie Buena Vista Social Club by Wim Wenders? It's a wonderful movie about the old Cuban musicians. He had to do a movie about meeting the ninety-six-year-old guy, smoking a cigar, and always talking about the joy of life and making music. Well, we want to continue, so that's why we did this album. Now we'll come to America, play there live and then we'll make another album in Germany. This will continue. I'm doing this film score now for Anton, and I want to write a musical once, but I need a story. I don't have a story, but we will go on.

MR: And while you're in California, you'll probably be going on some auditions, right?

HG: Yes, in Hollywood, yes, as the little blond Nazi. Maybe I'll start acting again. I will be in this movie from Anton, a small role. I will do acting as well, and enjoy life.

MR: Nice. By the way, I loved Buena Vista Social Club.

HG: What I like about it, it tells the story of why artists are so grateful that they're in this world and that they can do that. It's always with you.

MR: It's almost the declaration of being on an indie label. It gives you the spirit of, "This is really what it's all about."

HG: It's great when it comes. We are all vain and we like to be in front of the audience and we want to be loved, definitely, and in a way, for the vanity, it's great to play stadiums. But you can only be loved like that. Even if one person loves you, or ten people or a hundred, it's the same thing but if you go out and make music and can touch people, that's a lovely present. It's an amazing gift you have for your life and you want to make that all the time.

MR: Any words of wisdom?

HG: [laughs] Be yourself, but better.

MR: Sweet. I want to thank you, Herbert. This has been very special for me, getting to learn about you and your music. I appreciate it.

HG: Thank you for coming. I really appreciate that as well. Thanks.

For more information: http://www.groenemeyer.de/


1. Mensch
2. All That I Need
3. Will I Ever Learn - with Antony Hegarty
4. Keep Hurting Me
5. To the Sea - with James Dean Bradfield
6. Because of You
7. Before the Morning
8. I Walk
9. Airplanes in My Head
10. Behind the Glass
11. Same Old Boys
12. The Tunnel
13. Mensch - with Bono

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

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