You’re half an inch from Till Lindemann’s face. Glistening with grey makeup and perspiration, the frontman’s cheekbones jut out like a mountain range, and his eyes stare eerily forwards.
“You really see the close-ups,” emphasises guitarist Richard Kruspe, explaining the style of his band’s new concert film, Rammstein: Paris. “It’s a very polarising movie. People either love it or they hate it. There are so many great things about it, because you really see what’s going on. But some people say, ‘I don’t want to see all the sweat and smells’. It’s interesting.”
We’re talking to Richard and fellow guitarist Paul Landers through a dodgy phone connection to Berlin. It’s a Friday, which means the guys are having a day off from making their seventh album – more on that later. Richard is typically charming and effusive, punctuating his conversation with laughter and analysing questions and answers in detail. Speaking mostly through a translator, Paul’s replies are shorter and less thought-out (“It’s like with football players – musicians are best at not saying too much,” he’ll explain later), but he is nonetheless good humoured. Both possess the kind of dry wit you would expect from a band who have brought tongue-in-cheek humour to stadium-sized anthems about cocks and cannibals.
The Teutonic titans have just released Rammstein: Paris at the cinema. Filmed across two nights at Bercy Arena in 2012, it marks the first time this notoriously protective and private band have given real artistic licence to an outsider, even though this outsider – director and ex-Bathory drummer Jonas Åkerlund – is already connected to the band via the four videos he’s made for their songs (Mein Land, Ich Tu Dir Weh, Mann Gegen Mann, Pussy). Not only does Richard say the film divided opinion at the premiere, due to its close-ups and fast cuts, but he’s still uncertain of his own feelings towards it, given that it required him to relinquish the reins.
“When I saw it again the other day, I felt like, ‘Do I really stand 100% behind it?’ No. But… it’s a movie. Which means that we were the actors, and it was the director that had a vision. He was trying to make the impossible possible, and he did. Would I have done it differently? Yes. On the other hand, we did three [concert films] in our past. I think it was time to do something new. Sometimes, even though it’s hard for us as a band, you have to give the control away – give it to someone that has this creative vision. 100%, exactly what you see, that’s what he wanted.”
An astonishing 35 cameras capture the action. Till is a towering superman and orchestrator of the madness. Drummer Christoph Schneider is the workman at the back, his hands shown moving in constant production of furious industrial rhythms. Bassist Oliver Riedel is a more peripheral figure, but a necessary lynchpin. Keyboardist Christian ‘Flake’ Lorenz is the class clown, with Jonas adding sparks flying from his fingers. Richard and Paul look like rock stars, pulling poses while flanking their formidable singer – “It’s always a balance between playing well and looking good,” quips Paul. “And I decided, actually, that I would rather just look good! Ha ha ha!”
We put it to Richard that one of the best things about the movie is that Jonas gives each member their own personality.
“I would like to think that we had personalities before the movie,” he deadpans.
There is a second of silence on the phoneline. It seems to last a lifetime. We shit ourselves. We’ve pissed off a massive international band who write about the weirder side of human nature for a living, and have access to a large supply of dangerous pyrotechnics. This can’t be good.
“Ha ha ha ha ha!” Richard suddenly erupts. “No, I’m kidding! I mean, yeah, you’re right. That’s what I’m always talking about – every individual in the band has an important position, and you can’t just exchange it. Maybe it’s a good thing that you can see that through the movie.
“But there’s always two sides to us. In real life, it’s different. I always come across as this untouchable, arrogant kind of guy, but in normal life I’m such a friendly, nice guy. It’s almost the opposite of what you expect. Or Till, for example! He comes across as this [puts on a deep voice] very strong person, whereas he is the most kind, won’t-go-into-any-conflict person that I know.”
If Rammstein are such easygoing people behind closed doors, then our next question is all the more pertinent: why is it taking so long to get new music out?!
In the beginning, I was kind of scared to go back with the guys to go into this writing process, because normally it’s very, very painful, and almost like psychological abuse sometimes,” Richard reveals. “But at the beginning we made a promise that we would just try to have fun. If it doesn’t work out, if there’s too much pressure, we stop immediately.”
He is talking about the in-progress follow-up to 2009’s Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da. When the touring cycle for that album finished, Rammstein embarked on their Made In Germany run, where the Bercy shows were filmed in 2012. After that, they took a year off, before regrouping for more dates in mid-2013. Then, the members of the band went their separate ways once more, drifting into family life and other ventures.
Richard constructed a new house and fervently threw himself into his industrial Emigrate project with partner-in-crime Arnaud Giroux, releasing second album Silent So Long in November 2014. Till’s collaboration with Peter Tägtgren, Lindemann, yielded Skills In Pills in June 2015, marrying metal crunch to ultra-perverse lyrics (“It was a total vacation”, he told us at the time). Meanwhile, Paul talks of his pleasure at settling into a normal way of life, swapping white-hot explosions and round- the-clock schedules for relaxing activities at a leisurely pace.
“Our lives are not defined only by music – there’s lots of things we like to do beyond that,” he says. “I travel a lot with my wife, which is different to touring with the band, and I windsurf. I enjoyed having a weekly routine for a change – every Tuesday, I would go indoor climbing with friends!”
So, it was with some trepidation that the members of Rammstein convened at Christoph’s house in Berlin, to decide whether to make another record and risk upending their lives, throwing themselves back into a potentially fraught band dynamic and committing to further years on the road. They decided to make a handful of songs in his home studio, and see what happened next.
“It was really casual in the beginning, no pressure,” remembers Richard. “In the morning, we’d talk for two hours, Rammstein News – you put a microphone there and we’d talk about whatever comes to mind.”
“We have all been friends for a really long time,” says Paul, alluding to their far-reaching roots in former band Feeling B, as well as their two-decades-plus service as dedicated pyromaniacs with an unchanging lineup. “We know each other, we know each other’s families, and we all meet at Christmas or birthday parties. We have a really special relationship. It’s the same sort of feeling as meeting your family at Christmas – and family that you like, ha ha!”
Revitalised by the break, they found themselves excited by the sessions, and resolved to write more. They drafted in Richard’s friend Olsen Involtini, who worked on the last two Emigrate records, and is the front- of-house guy for Rammstein (“He’s a producer, musician, he’s a genius by himself”, raves Richard). In line with their laidback ethos, they took breaks to play summer festivals in 2016 – including a scorching headline set at Download. And free from contractual obligations, they feel no pressure to rush something out. Now they’re working Monday-Thursday, with a break at the end of the week.
“It’s a good spirit,” Richard smiles. “I hadn’t thought that we would come together again. It almost feels like the first record [1995’s Herzeleid]. Almost like we went through all the cycle of being in a band, with all the shit that he has to go through [Richard occasionally uses the pronoun ‘he’ to refer to Till], without actually getting rid of people.”
“Every album was created under different conditions,” adds Paul. “This time, we’re going back to the feeling we had on the first album, where we all get together and everyone contributes their ideas to the songs.”
This flexible and democratic approach is not only due to the luxury of time they have available, but to deeper changes within the members, as they each approach their sixth decade of life. Though the enigmatic Till – sometimes seen from the outside as a dictatorial figure – is not available today to talk about any changes in himself, Richard speaks of the group in general terms.
“Every single individual in the band went through a lot of stuff – families, children, break-ups, whatever they’ve had to deal with in life. I think we all became a little wiser, a little more… how do you say… a little more aware of what’s important,” he considers. “Of course there are still egos, but it’s just more respectful. If something is on our mind, we speak it immediately, instead of waiting until we’re in a bad mood.”
Can you still put across that characteristic Rammstein energy in the new songs, if you’re feeling so content?
“There are so many different energies,” Richard replies, thinking out loud. “There’s raw energy, there’s youth energy – obviously we don’t have that anymore. We’re older, much older. But it’s more… it’s a little bit more emotional, I would call it, and there are interesting, mysterious energies in the songs. Maybe it’s not so raw anymore. When I was 20, I could stay in a rehearsal room for eight hours and play one riff. I can’t do that anymore – it really bores me. The important thing is that it has to have some kind of energy, hook or great harmony that survives the record and can be played live.”
For a band with such a loud, explosive impact, they’ve been writing in a distinctly understated way. Richard talks with great enthusiasm about swapping their normal set-up for an electric drumkit and studio monitors, allowing them to play at a low volume so they can chat at the same time (“We’re talking about harmonies, how the vocals fit into a song – those things we never really cared about in the beginning”). This coming from a man who’s also been honing his composition skills as the singer and driving force in Emigrate. It sounds like the music is getting more cerebral.
“To be honest, Rammstein was always one of those bands,” he sighs. “The first thing that comes to mind was always the show and fire, and fire and show, and no one really talks about the music. And it really bugs me, you know, and maybe with this record we could change that.”
Perhaps the tide is already turning. One of the most moving moments in Rammstein: Paris is Mutter, their multi-layered song exploring the complex relationship between a mother and a child. Under Jonas’s eye, the colour palette mutates into green, and Till is shown arms outstretched, yielding to the darkness, releasing the anguished cry of the title in slow-motion. It is genuinely affecting.
There have also been nods to that seriousness during their time off. In October 2013, Till released his second volume of poetry, In stillen Nächten, followed by an English translation, On Quiet Nights. To celebrate their 21st anniversary, Rammstein put out an 80-page book of piano arrangements for 13 songs, entitled Klavier (Edition Rammstein 2015). A year on, recordings of those classical pieces surfaced as an album. Not only does it point to their status as a respected, world-beating, canonised band, but to their attitude of experimentation.
Our duo are understandably secretive about where Rammstein will be reaching for next, and Richard returns to the word ‘mysterious’, several times.
“It really depends on our singer Till, that he can finish the mysterious ideas we have,” he says. “At the moment we have 30 ideas, some with lyrics, and some not. We’re working on the vocals, and then we might consider another producer. There’s all those question marks that we haven’t answered yet.”
“Our goal right now is to write really good songs, and maybe even try unusual methods, new ideas, and change the path that one usually has,” adds Paul. “It might be that when grandmother hears the album, she thinks it’s the same as the other ones. But for us, we really want it to be another milestone.”
For Richard’s part, he’s been exposing himself to all kinds of genres. Again, his eagerness is palpable as he talks, as if his neurons are firing at an unusually rapid rate, making thousands of new creative and critical connections every day.
“The concert season has started again, so I’m going and watching other bands, and sometimes I get inspiration,” he says. “Last Friday I saw Sweet, if you can believe that. I never thought, because I’m turning 50 this year, that I would be the youngest person at the rock show. It was kind of funny! And on Monday I saw Beginner, which is a German hip hop band, which blew my mind, and on Tuesday I saw Korn. They’re old friends of mine. And yesterday I saw a band that are coming up right now. They are totally different genres, but I love that. It’s always interesting to see how the dynamic works with the audience. It’s a good study for me.”
Thematically, the content of the next record really is tightly under wraps. Though with their well-publicised background of growing up in a divided Germany under the shadow of the Berlin wall, and their affirmation of left-leaning values (see Links 2-3-4’s ‘My heart beats to the left’), we can’t help but wonder what they make of the rise of nationalism currently sweeping the globe.
“Maybe because we’ve experienced so many upheavals, different systems coming and going, we’ve learned that the world is really not as we think it is, and what you think is good, or what you think is evil, can actually trade places,” ponders Paul. “We should never assume that we are on the side of the good. It might be that we are the bad ones.”
Have you been writing about anything political on the new record?
“Indirectly yes, but definitely not directly. We wouldn’t take a clear, direct approach to a topic like that.”
Would you say you’re approaching it in a metaphorical way?
“In a Rammstein way!” Paul replies, rather cryptically.
Richard is less circumspect about the shifts in today’s volatile political landscape, particularly when it comes to the influence asserted by freshly inaugurated, Twitter-baiting, ‘leader of the free world’ Donald Trump.
“I’m very aware of what’s going on in the world, and it scares me too. Just the other day, I said, ‘You know what? If I could be President, I would do just one thing: I would shut off the internet.’ I think it would be more peaceful. At the moment, the biggest problem with it is that everyone I know can’t rely on it anymore. I can’t believe we have a world leader, lying to our faces so many times, and it’s OK!” His voice rises incredulously. “It’s crazy.”
While the world burns, it’s useful to have some way to make sense of it – or at least some other fiery distractions. Rammstein: Paris reminds us how much metal needs the provocative sextet right now. Whether it’s the front-row view of Till cooking Flake during the cannibalistic Mein Teil, or the flaming wings rising slowly from the singer’s shoulders during the poetic Engel, it’s a portrait of a band who amplify society’s undertakings; a reliably dark theatre troupe.
“Usually bands that try too hard to shock end up looking funny after a while, for example Alice Cooper,” reflects Paul. “It’s really only possible to be shocking once in a small period of time, and after that you’ve got to have something else. Rammstein would rather entertain than shock.”
The film is also a full stop before the next part of their story. Not only are they a different band to the one who penned disturbing, dancey debut single Du Riechst So Gut in 1995, they’re a leap away from the one who released Pussy and Ich Tu Dir Weh eight years ago. There will be new songs, new stunts (“It’s like a magic process!” says Paul, of how they dream them up) and, knowing Rammstein, potential new artistic controversies.
While there’s no indication of when they’ll rise again, Paul reassures us that they’re working “as fast as we can!” to get the record turned around.
“Rammstein really wants to be about quality more than quantity, and we really want to make sure it’s going to be good,” he states. “But we’re not taking another year off.”
In the meantime, both Richard and Paul keep coming back to how fun it is to be in Rammstein in 2017. Shaking off past conflicts and finding a workable balance between band commitments and relaxation, they’re in the best place they’ve ever been, personally and professionally. After our phonecall, the affable Richard will disappear into the spring evening and host a rooftop barbecue party for friends – no pyro needed – and then there’s the weekend to look forward to, before another four days of satisfying writing sessions at their closeted HQ.
“We are wiser, more grown up, and appreciate the value of the band – the fact we’ve been together such a long time,” says Richard.
“Sometimes we have to think about how good we have it, and how good our lives have been,” Paul concludes. “We are thankful!”
Questions remain. Mysteries linger. But it’s all part of who Rammstein are – and it’s all part of the fun.
Rammstein: Paris is out May 19 via Spinefarm
Breaking the silence
Richard updates us on the third Emigrate album, which features a cameo from his old buddy Till
How is the next Emigrate record coming along?
Richard: “Ah man, it’s finished. I changed management, and now I’m putting a team together. There’s some new ideas, maybe a little movie involved… I don’t want to talk so much about it, but I’m just waiting for the right timing to get it out, because I’m so busy right now with Rammstein, and that’s my bread on the table, you know? So it’s important that I be there 100%. And if there’s some free time between them, I’ll definitely come back to put it out. I really want to finish it, because I want to do another one. I have so many other ideas at the moment that I wanna do with Emigrate. So it’s coming soon. Probably this year, somehow.”
You’ve done a duet with Till called Let’s Go. What does it sound like?
“It sounds like Till and Richard singing together, a buddy song, a friendship song. It’s kind of electronic, and I don’t know… it just sounds like Richard and Till.”
What inspired you to write it?
“Well… we are friends, from a long time ago… ha ha ha ha! When you have to work with someone for 20 years, it turns your friendship into being partners, colleagues, or whatever you want to call it, so it’s changing, but I was trying to remind him of all the good times that we had. We have both been through a lot, when we grew up, through good things and bad things, and sometimes you forget that. Sometimes it’s time to remind someone.”