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Herbert Grönemeyer may not be a household name in America yet, but in Germany he’s the equivalent of Bruce Springsteen. Not only do many know him for his role as Lieutenant Werner in the German submarine war film, Das Boot, he’s a successful musical artist, selling over 18 million albums worldwide. On tour to promote his 14th studio album, I Walk, Grönemeyer stopped by WERS for Live Music Week to record a few songs.
I Walk is Grönemeyer’s first album that is entirely in English – a move inspired by the last 14 years he’s lived in England. Most of the songs on I Walk he wrote originally in German, and now later on has chosen them for translation into English. Only three tracks from the record, “Keep Hurting Me,” “Will I Ever Learn,” and “Same Old Boys,” were written solely in English. Not only is English a language Grönemeyer is comfortable in branching out with, it’s one that he believes suits his art form: “I think first of all the language is, for a singer… smoother to sing,” mused Grönemeyer, “And especially for the ballads it can get more intense in English. I think the spirit of the song gets stronger.” The record works less as a “Best Of” album, Grönemeyer reminds us, and more as a piece of art. The German songs were carefully chosen for their translation into to English and their functionality as a “painting that works together,” according to the singer.
Grönemeyer showcased these values during the session, first performing “Keep Hurting Me,” a slower, more soulful ballad. The background consisted of his two band mates, playing keyboard and guitar respectively, while both providing additional vocals. The instrumentals were delicate, letting Herbert’s strong voice glide right over them. You can tell these guys have been playing together for 30 years. They joked around, sure, but once that first note was played, chords glided and voices melded.
The second song they chose to perform was the title track of the album, “I Walk,” a much more upbeat number, yet still very thoughtful and self aware: “Is there a deeper sense/ to our existence/ now there’s a philosophy/ That’s not made for me,” he sings in the third verse. Grönemeyer’s lyrics are very personal to him, as he later explained. “I write songs about my life, and my political views, my ideas, and what happens to me,” he said.
“Will I Ever Learn,” was the third number chosen for this set; an English language original which, on the album, features Anthony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, one of the three celebrity collaborations on I Walk. Gronemeyer also recorded “To the Sea” with James Dean Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers and the first track of the album, “Mensch” with Bono, a long time friend of his. These collaborations don’t overload the album or take focus away from the meaning. For example, “Will I Ever Learn” functioned just as well with a stripped down set in studio as it does on the album.
Grönemeyer’s 2013 tour was his first ever in the United States. Though he says he’d never perform his songs in English while in Germany (“People like what they like” was his comment), he’s happy for this complete change of pace.
“It’s a little bit stepping out of the relationship,” says Grönemeyer, “but not being unfaithful. [It’s] us trying to grow.”