After a five-year hiatus since their last album Humanoid, Tokio Hotel is back and better than ever with a new masterpiece titled, Kings of Suburbia. A rapid departure from the band’s carefully crafted emo-punk signature that made them a breakout sensation throughout Germany (before they even hit puberty), Kings of Suburbia kicks off like a rave from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, transporting the listener through a colorful world of Los Angeles-inspired glamour, vanity, and romance. Kings of Suburbia took five years to record, and is also the first album the band produced independent of a major record label, allowing the members to let loose with an entire arsenal of electro-pop, alternative rock, and EDM. Set to tour Europe later in March, we called up the international princes of punk to discuss making their latest album and the role technology has had on contemporary music.
You guys have a tour coming up fairly soon. What’s been the process of preparing for it?
Bill: Actually, it takes a while. We have a big rehearsal space in Germany where we usually go – we just got a brand new one – we go there and start out by putting together a set list that makes sense and the content for the show, visually that fits what songs we want to play. All the visual stuff comes first, and then we go in and see what we want to do with the songs, and then we arrange the songs with the band. Usually we think about which instruments each of us can play and what we can do, and then we go through the set list and really take it song to song. We would do that for four weeks, and by the end of those four weeks we start dress rehearsal with the whole crew and hit the road.
Tom: (Laughs) The only problem is that we’re really lazy as a band because sometimes on rehearsal days we’ll come in, eat, take a break, sing a song, eat, and take a break again. And then the day’s over!
How does your new album, Kings of Suburbia, differ from your previous work?
Bill: Kings of Suburbia turned out to be way more electronic than the stuff we’ve done before. We kind of took a break after we put out our last album. It turned out to be a longer break than we thought, because we were kind of burnt out and didn’t know what music we wanted to make. We had no inspiration anymore so we kind of had to step back from the career a little bit just to live life and find inspiration for new music. For a year, we didn’t really do anything, and I think that was good because for the first time we had time to produce and write and think. We had no pressure from the record company, which was great, so we really got creative and tried new things. With the time out, our personal tastes also changed and we parties a lot so there was a lot inspired by the LA nightlife and the DJ scene. We started to lay down synths and stuff like that. The turnout was way more electronic, and it was the first time we produced the entire record.
Which gave you a lot more control. What’s the difference once you have all these artistic liberties now at your disposal?
Tom: We really dived in the whole production aspect of it, from pre-production, creating the demo, to the final master. That was really the first time we did that. Once you really dive into the whole process, it takes you a while because once you’re there, you’re searching for samples, you’re creating drums, you’re always in search for the perfect sound. It’s a lot of freedom and it takes a while. In the meantime, we didn’t even have instruments because we just wanted to be on our own in the studio; we did everything. It was really great to do the whole production and decide when you want to work with people and when you don’t.
Bill: And we just took the time this time. The truth is, we never really had time because we were on the road and had to make an album in two weeks.
So the year off was spent songwriting and getting back into the groove of redefining your sound?
Bill: Exactly. We were just living life. We thought we missed out on so much because we had been on the road for so long. Tom and me were living in Europe, that’s why we moved to America… to find that freedom. In Germany, we couldn’t go out to the street because we were so locked up in our house and everything had to do with security. We were so over it and needed that change to be with people and party and go out. Personally, and music wise, it was a good move for us to move to America.
Kings of Suburbia has more of an electronic feel to it. You guys first got together in the early 2000s; how would you describe the evolution of Tokio Hotel’s sound alongside technological advances in the music industry?
Tom: First of all, when we started in the early 2000s, we couldn’t really play our instruments. (Laughs) We were like 12 years old or whatever. When we first started writing songs, we just wanted to go out and perform them. We didn’t care how bad it was, we just wanted to be on stage. It was really fun. The good thing about that is we were on stage and performing live, and that’s what we’ve kept on doing up till today. We played hundreds and thousands of concerts and really enjoyed that. Also finding the right things to transport the electronic sound through the venues isn’t always easy, but something we enjoy.
Bill: We definitely started out with simple instruments, and nowadays we’re trying so many more things. Everyone’s trying something new and even plays different instruments on stage; synths, pianos, and stuff like that.
Tom: The recording has also changed a lot. We started to record on a whole different basis on the last record we put out in 2009, Humanoid. We would have changes in the studio where we would Skype and do recordings over the Internet with our producers sitting in Germany, while we were in L.A. Weird stuff! It was crazy to us that this was possible. All the new techniques and all the new technologies out there give you way more opportunities. I can’t even remember… I think our first record, which we started recording in 2003, we were using Logic 7 or something even earlier than that. It’s crazy how far all these music programs have come.
Bill this question is for you… I’m on the Internet right now looking at this fan site devoted to you. What goes through your head when you see something like that?
Bill: What is it? I want to check it out!
It’s this Wikihow titled, “How to Become a True Bill Kaulitz fan.” It has these steps on how to be just like you, while noting that you don’t have a MySpace or Facebook. It also mentions your tattoos.
Bill: I feel like with our fans it’s crazy how intense they are, and I mean that in a good way. They are just so supportive. That we were even able to take a break as a band for four or five years and that they are still there waiting for our music– that shit’s crazy!
Tom: The ones who tattoo Kings of Suburbia on their arm and stuff like that… I feel like that’s the biggest type of success you can have, if you have people and fans like that who stick with you and like you all these years and go to your shows and buy your music. We appreciate that a lot and are super happy we have it.
Bill: I feel great about it. It can also be hard for a person sometimes, but for the band it’s great.
What’s been your favorite country to play in?
Tom: Whenever we play in South America is great. Mexico’s definitely a lot of fun.
Any specific reason?
Bill: Just because the people are going crazier there! I love that. We were just there for a standing session, and the last time we played our tour there we had to take a break because it was just out of control. Security told us to leave the stage so we had to turn the lights on and we had to leave because there were these huge hoards falling on top of each other. It was absolute craziness! They appreciate the music so much. For an artist, that type of energy is insane.