Interview with Michael Hillerup of Birmingham 6 - conducted by telephone 1/22/97

Jester: How did you first get involved with writing and composing music?

Michael: Kim and I started playing around with music in the mid seventies. I took up bass playing in 1976 and have been involved with music ever since. I've played all styles of music from punk, new wave, even heavy metal. Then in 1986 I was in a band who had all of their gear stolen. I was the only member with any money so I bought a new keyboard for the band. This band ended up splitting up and I was invited into another band who knew I had a keyboard. Later I teamed up with Kim in 1991 after a ten year break from playing music with him.

Jester: Have you had any kind of musical training?

Michael: I have had some training on the bass but I have taught myself everything I know about keyboards.

Jester: How did you happen to get involved with Hard Records?

Michael: We formed Birmingham 6 in 1991 and we sent out a few demos. We never really intended to get a record deal and yet ended up getting offers from six labels. Most of the labels were from Germany and were only for the release of a single. We even got an offer from KK Records in Belgium, however friends of ours who were signed to KK Records were having a very bad time with them and they warned us away.

We ended up shopping around and ended up on a Danish label called Slop Pail whose only claim to fame was the first Psychopomps album. Through them we had a licensing deal with Music Research who released 'Israel' through a small label of theirs called Neo Ego. Later that label closed down and Slop Pail formed a label for us called Transfixion where we released our next single and our first album. That label only paid for pressing of the albums, studio time, and didn't do anything in the way of media or distribution. So when that contract ended we talked to Christian from Hard Records and signed to them in 1995. Through Hard Records we ended up getting our music released in the United States via Cleopatra Records which turned out to be the best deal we have ever had.

Jester: How did you start working with Jean-Luc DeMeyer?

Michael: It is quite an amusing story actually. During a visit to England, Kim got in contact with a guy named Paul Green from Cyber-Tec Records. Paul also happened to be a close friend of all the members of Front 242. Paul asked Jean-Luc if he could make a record on his new label which ended up becoming the Cyber-Tec EP. Later Paul called up Kim and asked him if we wanted to remix a song off the EP. So we ended up making a remix of the track 'Let Your Body Die'. Apparently everyone really liked the mix that we did, especially Jean-Luc.

Then Brian Perrera from Cleopatra came up with the idea that someone should get in contact with Jean-Luc and make an album with him because he wasn't doing anything with Front 242 at the time. He passed the word over to Christian of Hard Records and they asked us if we would like to work with Jean-Luc. We all liked the idea immediately and we ended up doing "Error of Judgement" together.

Jester: Did Jean-Luc write any of the vocals or music on the album?

Michael: He wrote the lyrics for six of the songs and a seventh song was written by a very close friend of his. He sings the vocals on all seven of those tracks. He was not involved with the writing of any of the music. We just sent the finished songs to him on DAT and he worked out the lyrics. We traded the tapes back and forth a few times until we were both happy with the final results. Then we went into the studio together and recorded the album.

Jester: I noticed a distinct change in style between "Assassinate" and "Error of Judgement" and I was wondering what lead to that change?

Michael: Basically we wanted to change our approach to the making of the music considerably. If you had all the releases from the very beginning you would have noticed the logical nature of the change. The older music was very influenced by rave music because we were listening to a lot of that style of music at the time. More recently I was listening to a lot of guitar oriented Industrial music like KMFDM and Die Krupps and Kim was into a lot of the lighter dance Industrial music so we ended up wanting to blend both styles together. We had purchased a great deal more equipment and decided to get a little adventurous on the "Police State" EP. We found a formula that worked really well on that EP and it just sort of progressed from there.

Jester: Now that you have worked with Jean-Luc on this album, would you like to work with other artists in the future in relation to Birmingham 6?

Michael: Yes and I also wouldn't mind working with him again.

Jester: Who all came to the US for this tour?

Michael: Kim, I, and two guitar players that we hired and brought with us. Both of them will be joining the band on future recordings. They were two guys who were starting up their own band that was heavily influenced by heavy metal and hadn't found a keyboard player. We met up with them through a mutual friend because Kim and I were looking for two guitar players who were into playing only rhythm guitars. These two guys were not really into playing solo power chords so they were perfect for us. They fit very well into the band and have ended up making our performances a lot stronger.

Jester: What are your live shows like now that you have a full band? Do you have any type of visuals in your performances?

Michael: We usually use smoke if they happen to have it available. However normally we just have a huge backdrop with our logo on it behind us. I am located on the center playing keyboards and singing backup vocals. Kim and the guitarists move all over the stage creating all of the energy of the performance. The whole live thing is pretty new to us as we really never intended to do live shows. We only went on tour and did lives shows due to public demand.

Jester: What exactly happen to the tour that caused it to collapse?

Michael: Originally we were promised a full blown coast to coast tour with 25-30 shows. We were supposed to have 5-6 shows a week with three bands on tour together. There was supposed to be a large tour bus with bunk beds so we didn't have to worry about accommodations. We were also supposed to have catering at all the shows and receive a guarantee of around $350 a show. All of that isn't that much compared to European standards but it was very affordable.

So when we came over almost fifty percent of all the shows were cancelled, there was no tour bus and Numb had pulled out of the tour. All the accommodations and catering had to be payed for out of our pockets or the money we made from the shows and we were not even getting the guarantees promised to us. Even the shows in Canada were cancelled because our booking agent didn't get us the promised VISA's.

So from day one we were paying for the tour with our own money which was very frustrating when we didn't have any money. So we ended up touring in a van with the guys from Rorshach Test. We were very lucky that the guys from Rorshach Test were such great guys and that we could tour together. We had so many dates cancelled that we gave up on the tour after four shows because we had to pay for everything ourselves. Apparently there were not even contracts on some of the shows we played. The guy who booked the tour did a very lousy job for someone who claimed to have sixteen years of experience in the business. We ended up going as far as Phoenix and decided to not go any further.

On top of all of that our singer had actually decided to leave the band before we even went on tour. He had made up his mind that he didn't want to keep on making music and didn't bother to inform us until the first show. It was definitely not very inspiring to be on tour with someone who didn't participate in anything except performing on stage. So he and the rest of the band went home in Phoenix after playing only four shows.

Jester: Where does that leave the future of the band?

Michael: I will still be making music as Birmingham 6 but we will be bringing in a lot of outside musicians in the future. I really can't take over the role of lead vocals because even though I do backing vocals they are simply not strong enough for the lead role. I might be able to do it in the studio but definitely not live. I definitely prefer to be a programmer anyways and write all the music, so I will have to find a new vocalist.

I think the music in the future will be a lot more aggressive than before. It will still have a lot of danceable rhythms and keyboard sequences but the guitars will probably be emphasized a bit more now that I have two real guitarists. When we wrote "Error of Judgement" it was mainly sampled guitars lifted from all over the place. That was a bit confining, so now that I have the opportunity to obtain custom loops written by really guitar players, I will use them extensively.

Jester: Would you like to ever come back to the US and try for a successful tour?

Michael: We will be back most likely next year. We just have to sort out all of the financial details prior to touring the next time out. Originally our label was supposed to donate money to help with our tour so it was a shame that the whole thing got screwed up because they really can't give us any more money now. They only had a finite amount of money and it got wasted. I will have to reorganize my own financial situation prior to undertaking any sort of tour again in the future.

We will be touring in Germany this fall in order to make up for it all and maybe make a little money to save for another tour. Right now I already have a few solid contacts who want to help us out who are very reliable. So I'll just have to phone them up and arrange the tour when the time is right.

Jester: Why did you choose to cover KMFDM's 'Godlike'?

Michael: Several reasons. First of all both Kim and I are KMFDM maniacs. It is my favorite Industrial act of all time. I had always thought that 'Godlike' was an excellent track and had wondered why KMFDM had not released more remixes of that track. It was an old track so we decided to do the track over in a way that we would enjoy. It was sort of a tribute. Originally, were going to offer it to them as a remix if they would send us the vocals but for some reason we never got in contact with them personally. So we decided to at least do a cover version of the song.

Jester: Would you like to cover other tracks in the future?

Michael: Maybe. There are a few songs I might like to cover. We did do a cover of the AC/DC song, 'Thunderstruck'. However we wouldn't have if the label hadn't asked us too.

Jester: I was actually very impressed with that track because you were the only band who did a cover that was totally without guitars on the compilation.

Michael: There were a few sampled power chords but the song was mainly electronic. We would not have definitely done that track unless we hadn't been asked to because the lyrics of AC/DC are definitely not our style. As you may have noticed our lyrics are a lot more politically oriented.

Jester: What would be the most favorite track that you have ever written?

Michael: I have always felt that 'Israel' was a brilliant track. The single was released in 1992 and the lyrics were really up to date. When we did the remake of it on the "Assassinate" album in 1994 it was still current. It would even be up to date if we did it again today.

I also like 'You Cannot Walk Here' off the new album. The lyrics that Jean-Luc did for that song were absolutely amazing. It probably makes it my favorite track at this exact moment. We are actually going to release that song on a new remix EP kind of like the "Police State" EP.

Jester: When is that expected to be released?

Michael: I will be working on it when I get back. I already have six tracks for it finished so I just need the seventh which is being remixed by STR from Swamp Terrorists. It might even be there when I get back. It could be out as early as April.

Jester: Who does the artwork on your album covers?

Michael: I have a pretty close friend of mine who does the covers. He usually does them totally under my direction. However, there are a few covers which someone else has done and I have been pretty unsatisfied with them. We were not involved with the cover art on "Assassinate" in any matter and it is the one I dislike the most.

Also, originally "Error of Judgement" came out with an incorrect cover in October of 1996 in Europe that made it look like a KMFDM record. I was pretty unhappy with that because although we don't mind being compared to KMFDM I didn't want to keep on being compared to them. So we changed the artwork and it has just been released in Germany with the new artwork.

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