An oral history of Die Kreuzen, part 2
“We would have been labelmates with Led Zeppelin, you know?”
- Fall in love with modern rock ’n’ roll: A conversation with Jonathan Richman
- Packard Brothers hit the road for “Hey, Pass Me A Beer II”
- Intergalactic, planetary: Inside “live-action graphic novel” The Intergalactic Nemesis
- The Hinterlands take Milwaukee back to days of vaudeville with The Circuit
- Milwaukee writer Tea Krulos unmasks the “real-life superhero” movement with Heroes In The Night
In part 2 of our three-part history of Die Kreuzen, the band discusses Touch And Go Records, Butch Vig, and almost being labelmates with Led Zeppelin. (Click here for part 1.)
Keith Brammer: Tour was, back then, the only way to get yourselves out there. You could put an ad in the back of a magazine and sell records by mail order or whatever, but we were lucky enough to hook up with Touch And Go, which gave us a bit of an edge in that Corey [Rusk] could distribute the records. We played with the Necros, which was Corey’s band, and he called us up after he had started the label, and asked us if we wanted to do a record. And we said, “Yeah, that would be great,” and then we promptly broke up. We were broken up for a good six to eight months and we got back together. We called Corey and he said, “Offer’s still on the table if you want to do it.”
Dan Kubinski: I think he typed up a couple of paragraphs, and for years we couldn’t even remember that he had typed up this little piece of paper, which was our contract with him and Touch And Go records. It was like four or five paragraphs, with our signatures on the bottom. It just said, “I’m paying out this much money to put Die Kreuzen records out and when the record starts to sell, I’m going to take 100 percent of the proceeds until I recoup my money, and then I’m going to split everything after that with Die Kreuzen, 50/50.” Later, we were down in Chicago and Corey went through his filing cabinet and pulled out this old, wrinkled, torn piece of paper. And we were like “Holy shit!” We had always laughed about the verbal agreement, but here was an actual piece of paper.
KB: He lived in Detroit at the time and we went there and recorded the album and they put it out. I can’t remember the production number, but I think their first record was the Necro’s Conquest Of Death, and then their second release was ours, the first LP.
DK: Corey Rusk says he produced the first two Die Kreuzen albums, which is pretty true. We just sat in the studio in Detroit—the four of us and him—and turned knobs, with a studio guy there to make sure we weren’t fucking anything up. But when it came time to do Century Days, Corey was really busy at that point. He had moved to Chicago, so he didn’t have an in with a cheap studio—but what he did have was Killdozer on his label, and Killdozer had worked with and known Butch Vig for years and years. Corey suggested we find a place and record with Butch. So we went home and studied our Killdozer albums. We put those records on and were like, “Holy fuck man, if we could get this guy behind us it would be great!” It was just suggested that we work with him, and once we did, he was just one of the coolest, nicest guys ever. From that point on we were like, “We got Butch, man, let’s work with him.”
KB: We worked with Touch And Go from then on. Corey’s a prince among men; he’s just the most trustworthy guy that anyone would ever want to deal with, as I found out later on in my career dealing with major labels. It was just like, “Oh my God, I thought everything was going to be like this.”
DK: We did have several brushes with major labels. The first one was an independent, called Profile, who put out Run-DMC records. They actually sent us a contract, which wasn’t very big, but we took it to an entertainment lawyer here in town. He was a friend of a friend and we paid him like a hundred bucks to look it over. He was like, “Did Profile Records know that you were going to bring this to a lawyer? Because if you sign this and agree to these terms you will basically be giving away the house. They can decide what they want to put on your album covers, they can remix, re-master or re-edit everything at their will, and eventually you’ll have no control over anything.” So it was not a good contract, and we told Profile Records to go suck an egg. We never really thought we were going to go with them anyways. It was kind strange to have this rap label that wanted to expand, and they wanted to start with Die Kreuzen.
KB: We always told Corey about it: “We’re talking to these people, just to let you know.” We thought maybe with better distribution we could breach the next plateau, and he was remarkably cool about it, like, “Go do what you have to do.” He did that with other bands too—Jesus Lizard did that.
DK: After that it got a little more interesting. There was MCA Mechanic records. They paid out a large sum of money for us to do some demos in Madison with Butch. It was only four songs, but those demos are head and shoulders above the recording we actually did, which turned out to be Cement. There’s just something about the first versions of those songs that really kicked ass. Then Michael Alago from Elektra, who had signed Metallica, read a review somewhere that said Die Kreuzen was going to be the next Metallica. I don’t know how they figured that, but being the guy that signed Metallica, he was instantly interested, but in the end it just didn’t pan out.
DK: Lastly there was Mike Gitter, who was a writer for a bunch of different magazines. The bands he was writing about—us, White Zombie, Sonic Youth, Voivod, and Soundgarden—were all a little bit off kilter, all a little bit heavy, all very guitar-oriented bands, and they were all, with the exception of Die Kreuzen, selling records. Somebody noticed this, that he was writing about these bands and that these bands were selling records, and the person that noticed him was the president of Atlantic records. He gave Gitter a job and said, “I want you to sign five bands,” and the first band he called up was Die Kreuzen. He said, “Dudes, I would love to have you on Atlantic Records.” But he actually called us the week after we had broken up. Looking back, I certainly wish we would have taken some time, talked about it, tried to work out our differences, and gone for it. I mean, it’s an Atlantic Records contract—we would have been labelmates with Led Zeppelin, you know?
Tomorrow in part 3: White Zombie, Sonic Youth, and Saturday’s Lest We Forget reunion.