Spotlight on Herbert Grönemeyer

Billboard spotlight on Herbert Gronemeyer

After becoming one of Germany's most successful rock stars, Herbert Grönemeyer is setting his sights on America with his latest album "I Walk," which features English versions of some of his biggest songs and tunes featuring U2's Bono and Antony and the Johnsons' Antony Hegarty.

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Since entering the music world in the late 1970s, worldwide Grönemeyer has sold over 18 million albums of passionate rock, ranking him among the most successful German recording artists. Still, he's ready for more challenges as he looks to the future. In 2013, he's playing his first-ever American concerts, hoping to gain footing in a market he's always admired, but never truly taken on.

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"I've lived now 13 years in England and I'm definitely very influenced by American and English music," Grönemeyer says. "The roots of all this blues and jazz and rock come from America. I think I'm ready to try out a new audience."

While he first became a prominent actor in his native Germany via his role as Lieutenant Werner in the acclaimed 1981 film "Das Boot," music soon proved to be Grönemeyer's true calling. By 1984, he say his album "4630 Bochum" become one of the best selling German records of all-time, even besting Michael Jackson's "Thriller" on the German album chart.

Now, after decades on top of his game, Grönemeyer rerecorded nine of his most beloved German songs in English along with three all-new songs for those largely new to his music, the English-speaking audience. "I Walk" is due Feb. 26 on his own Grönland Records (in conjunction with EMI label services).

Bono's participation on "I Walk" follows a history of collaboration with the German rocker. The pair first worked together during 2005's Make Poverty History campaign and Gönemeyer counts the U2 frontman as a personal friend. On "I Walk," Bono appears on the track, "Mensch," a song he's performed live with Grönemeyer, even singing in German.

"When he was in Berlin, he came around and listened to the English album," Grönemeyer recalls. "And then he sent a lovely version back for 'Mensch.' I was so touched by that, amazed he really liked it. And we made a duet out of it."

While singing with Bono was one of the pleasures of "I Walk," Grönemeyer found that one of "I Walk"'s greatest challenges was translating the lyrics of some of his most beloved songs from German to English without altering their meanings. "I think the American ear is focused on both music and lyrics. But I think the German ear is very focused on the lyrics. That has to do with our past. [You had] to check the songs because of the Nazi times. What is he singing in German? Is it relevant? Is it political? So in the '70s, in the '80s, I think that trained us to listen very carefully to lyrics."

Grönemeyer's attention to assuring that the "spirit and sense" of the originals wouldn't be lost in "I Walk"'s English translations has reaped benefits. Herbert's lyrical depth is evident on "Will I Ever Learn," one of the album's three entirely new songs, which features a beautiful duet with Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons. "Is there really a development in the human mind?" muses Grönemeyer as he explains his heady subject matter. "Are we capable of developing from our mistakes or are we just going in circles? Do we really grow up?"

With some of his greatest material now reimagined in English, Grönemeyer has also set his sights on personally bringing the music to an American Audience. Many in the U.S. may have seen his public television special featuring his Aug. 21, 2012 concert at Germany's Babelsberg Studios, but Grönemeyer is now here performing live. He just played the Chicago Theatre Feb. 23 and is set to take the stage at New York's Irving Plaza on today (Feb. 26), with the songs form "I Walk" at the ready. And that's not all; fans can expect more live dates to be announced later in 2013.

"I'm ready to try out a new audience, to figure out if I'm able to find people who have never heard of me and to convince them with my music," he says. "It's a challenge that you need."