“Sometimes you rather write things down than actually do them. By writing them down the issue is often settled – or at least, so you can convince yourself. I can talk myself into a lot.”
Till Lindemann, the front man of Rammstein. Live, he is quite a beast, backstage, shy and eloquent. He only gives interviews on Rammstein on exceptional occasions and in recent years, the music press has become accustomed to him only presenting himself on stage. But in the wake of the publication of his second book of poetry, “In Silent Nights”, the 50 year-old author grants an audience. MH accepted the invitation and experienced Till Lindemann as approachable as never before — a small sensation in itself.
The Friday morning’s light rain envelops the German capital. The tram is full of noisy students and vapors of sweat as it spits out its passengers by the Frankfurter Tor, right in the middle of East Berlin. We have arrived at the interview site and we are soon to meet one of the most important rock musicians and poets of Germany, who in recent years has learned to elude the media. Till Lindemann has deliberately chosen this location for the interview. He sits enthroned under the dome of one of the towers of Frankfurter Tor – alone and in silence – having the buzz around Berlin in his view. His greetings are hearty; his voice is pleasant and warm. Till is ready to take us on 60-minute long journey through the world of his thoughts. Editor in chief Thorsten Zahn mentally buckles up for safety’s sake.
Metal Hammer: The title poem ‘Love’, which states that “In silent nights a man cries because he can remember,” does in my opinion represent many parts of the book. It triggers a certain fascination and creates many images in my head . Certainly, this text was deliberately chosen by you as the title, or?
Till Lindemann: I didn’t make this decision on my own. Rather, the idea came from my editor, Alexander Gorkow, who thought the book should start with a bang. Initially, this was just the working title, but eventually this idea rooted itself, so we kept it. It opens a nice little door.
MH: When were the poems created? Did the response to your first book, ‘Messer’, (2005) encourage you to continue in the same fashion?
TL: For me, everything works in batches. During this last Rammstein tour for example, absolutely nothing was created because only sluggish tour fuss prevailed in the brain, which paralyzes you. This doesn’t just happen to me, but to my colleagues as well. With Korn it’s completely different: Jonathan Davis enters the Nightliner after a concert, where he has set up a small studio, and begins to write in order to wind down “from work” . By contrast, I’m creatively paralyzed while traveling , absolutely nothing stirs. After a tour, there are sometimes five or six days when quite a lot happens. Or while in the studio, too, during a pre-production, when I constantly live in a world of creative thoughts and anyway wrangle with synonym- and rhyme-dictionaries. Sometimes after receiving a particularly awful email as well, of which I make notes immediately.
MH: Besides, you do keep some sort of word collection with you, right?
TL: Yes, it’s always next to me. And of course, with the cutting edge of technology: you can dictate with Siri and save everything instantly. Or use the dictation function on the iPhone. Previously, I lost a lot of things, since I had nothing with me to write on. Because the craziest stuff pops into your mind in the strangest of situations. There have been times when I have taken pen and paper with me in a plastic bag to the swimming pool, because it has happened that things have come to me even as I’m taking a swim and then forgotten all about it by the time I’m back in the locker room.
MH: By what criteria do you decide if an idea is for lyric or a poem?
TL: I present most of the texts to the band. The walls of our rehearsal room are plastered with sheets, sketches and drafts, phrases as well as almost complete poems. From time to time, the band looks them over and makes suggestions on which topics may be worth exploring. However, it’s not always that my colleagues are agreeing with each other, and sometimes it can take months before there’s a uniform response to a certain topic. Christoph Schneider, for example, was keen on “Mein Teil”, whereas I myself would never have dared to incorporate something like that into a chorus, because it is too profane. But Schneider was right; it really was the perfect match for the electronic sounds of the song. Then we can also assemble a song out of several poems that by themselves have nothing to do with, or are even totally alien to, each other, at times.
MH: But with your poems, you do have the last word?
TL: That’s the beauty of it. The band is for me at the same time a blessing and a curse, sometimes even a nightmare, because everything, always, has to run through this democratic cooperation. There has been a lot of squabbling for twenty years, so it is incredibly liberating when you must ask no one but yourself. Then it’s just: This is it, and so it shall be.
MH: Why did you choose poems as a way to express your thoughts?
TL: Because I cannot do anything else. I tried to write stories, but that backfired, because for me, I’m somehow lacking the right gene for that. But I can write poems. Or at least, I think I can.
MH: Speaking of genes: do you think writing poems is a legacy of your father Werner Lindemann, giving you this ability?
TL: In terms of the hereditary factor, that might be the case. However, we do only share a few common denominators. Although my father did drag me along to recitals, those were of children’s poems, packaged into a lot of naivety and had nothing to do with what I am doing today. It’s true that I always have had access to poems and that I lived in a world that revolved around poetry and prose; so also among the friends and acquaintances of my father. But that doesn’t really help me in my writing today. My father didn’t teach me either, but he did give me tips and hints. But perhaps he created the conditions, because I grew up in this world. I was raised in an environment of cultural radio and writers, and during the holidays I had to tag along on my father’s reading tours, because my mother was working and did not know where else I could be accommodated. I was always sitting in the back, in the last row, while my father entertained whole classrooms with his stuff.
MH: How have you combined your lyrical inclinations with your love of sports?
TL: Well, eventually the sporting days were over and I just had to do something new. But it took 15 whole years between the end of my sport’s career and my beginning to write.
MH: Do you use poetry to process your life?
TL: Not life, but certain situations and moments. “Process” is perhaps the wrong word for it, but it does resolve several knots. Psychologists call this a “sublimation of instincts.” Sometimes you rather write things down than actually do them. By writing them down the issue is often settled – or at least, so you can convince yourself. I can talk myself into a lot.
MH: You work with a lot of powerful, strong imagery in your poems. A lot of them reoccurs, such as the knife, the heart, the genitals and the sun. Also, as it happens, almost every other poem is about sex.
TL: That’s right. Partly, it’s even hidden in allegories. I think that sex is by far too little explored, portrayed or described. Sex is permanently present in our lives, but it is always treated too latently. It’s encountered at every turn, if you’re not just simply hiding in the woods. Sex always triggers stimuli, with which the media also constantly toys, be it on television or on the internet. You can’t even walk two meters, or barely open a web page, without it immediately jumping out at you. During the nights, there are hotlines, and just as it gets barely warm outside, the young girls put on short skirts. And, of course, you can’t look at them without being compared to a pig. Everything is somehow bigoted, but on the other hand, however also desirable – quite odd. You make it moderate and socially acceptable, but then you question the reactions it triggers. We are simply still too linked to our ancestors. I find that this topic is underestimated and not put in the proper light in relevance to its importance.
MH: So therefore, your poems are an illustration of reality?
TL: Yes, of course. But I’m not running around, wagging my finger and saying: “It is this way!” I just have themes, which admittedly recur occasionally, but always from new perspectives. The problem is that we are distracted by sexuality, and that is now also a fact. It’s just that no one wants to admit it. I wouldn’t say that I’m obsessed with sex, but it does play a big role in my thinking and how I deal with other people. You can walk into any office and the receptionist there has a huge rack and a deep décolletage – a man will look. And if you observe that, it’s striking how differently this can play out: some coyly glance down [into the décolletage], others are very obvious [in their staring], yet others look her in the eye first and then act like they just happened to look down her neckline as if by accident. And then, there the wife sits, immediately beginning to scold the man as he returns to his seat – and that is worth a story. Because it’s dishonest. Why can’t you do that? Everyone looks and everyone knows it attracts attention, that’s why women accentuate it. But if it really stands out and you do look at it, then there’s immediately a problem.
MH: Do you sometimes hit the wall? Were there any topics on which you were lost for words?
MH: Did your publisher set any limits or did he deny certain poems?
TL: No, quite the contrary, I was treated fantastically, uniquely even. There was this huge tolerance and willingness to take the poems for what they were, right from the start.
MH: How important are for the book the illustrations done by Matthias Matthies?
TL: There was too much emphasis on the images with ‘Messer’. This had its reasons, because with Gert Hof, we had so much fun during the photo session. We drove to a mannequin factory back then and experimented with the figures. A lot of pictures was taken that weren’t published. Some of those were, in fact, close to being pedophilia, so that would have backfired if we had shown them in public. Certainly, the publisher wouldn’t have accepted them, and they would have been pulled out by censors, guaranteed. Nonetheless, there was ultimately too much illustration in the book, and it distracted from the texts. The problem was the lack of seriousness, but because we had so much down-right fun, that was OK. At the time, what I wanted with the book, was to break free from the sextet-constellation of Rammstein, in which everything is always decided together. My new book, however, was created with a lot of care and meticulous preparation. Originally, a photo series with montages was planned, which would have been awesome, but that would also have killed the project once more, due to the large size [of the book] that would had been necessary. We already had a large format, but I would have preferred something smaller, for the sports bag or hand luggage on a plane. Something which would have stood first in the book shelf, practically like a good little book of poetry like “Five Minutes Reading” by Bert Brecht. Matthias Matthies is one of my best friends. I only knew him as a photographer, but when he sent me the montages of these drawings as an alternative option, I almost fell off my chair. However, there weren’t enough of them available in the beginning, and Matthias had to work fast towards a deadline. .
MH: Did Matthias Matthies have the poems to model the illustrations from?
TL: No, I made it so deliberately. He already knew a couple of the poems since they were not brand new, but from earlier. I showed him a few more. But if he has been inspired by them, I don’t know exactly. We have had his illustrations placed quite arbitrarily anyways, as not to give the impression that these drawings were thematically created. Ultimately, you could just as well have shuffled a deck of cards.
MH: There may be a book as well without any illustrations, only with your poems, right?
TL: That is correct. I find, however, that the drawings spice up the book. Especially, since it was nice to do a project together with an old friend. Now that it’s complete, it gives both him and me a very nice feeling.
MH: Where do these strong emotions so tangible in the poems come from? With a successful band such as Rammstein and a happy relationship in tow, theoretically, was the need of this striptease of the soul really necessary?
TL: Appearances can be deceiving. No, life isn’t pretty (laughs). Seriously, I really can’t complain right now. But those were about different times. All of the earlier tales have been stuffed somewhere in the basement and the basement never gets empty. Mainly, I’ve been trying to come to terms with the past, according to the motto: How do I get these bodies out of the basement? [English: Skeletons out of the closet.] It is also interesting to look inside of yourself again and ask: What is still left? Who am I today? What has changed? What still exists from that time? Especially the fear that everything could go straight to hell once again, is ever present. I believe that every person, even if he’s doing fine, has substantial fears if he’s ever been really eating shit sometime in his life. This fear never completely vanishes. The feeling that everything could be gone again always swings into my mind. And this is a subject of which you can write. It is always cleansing to come to terms with things, even if they lie ten years back.
MH: So poems help you more with that than songs’ lyrics do?
TL: In short, poems are for fun.
Writing is a passion that I do with great enthusiasm and love. Song lyrics, however, are painstakingly hard work, that’s a real job. You always think that it would be as easy as snapping your fingers, but in reality, it takes months, if not years, with this five-headed jury which I have to face, until something works out and a phrase is included into the finished song text. The colleagues in Rammstein are extremely critical because the bar is set very, very high. That is for me often accompanied by lethargy and headaches. Therefore, it’s not comparable to my working on my poems. There are many aspects with Rammstein that are fun, but for me, the creative process is a small nightmare every time. It’s similar to a concert: before it I’m extremely nervous, afraid that something will go wrong and I feel a terrible mental pressure. But when it’s over, when the song is finished, mixed and pressed onto a CD, you can get this indescribably beautiful feeling.
MH: Do you go into seclusion when you write?
TL: Yes, it happens. For me, an almost empty room with a neat desk, a good chair and a nice view is the best.
MH: Were all the poems written in complete sobriety?
TL: No, for God’s sake! When revised and proofread, perhaps, but they were, in a large part, formed in hustle and bustle. Though it used to be significantly worse. This supposed craft that I have learned over time has helped me today. I know how to structure and build a poem and what is best to omit. By comparison, earlier, it was quite messy. Today everything is set and controlled. Neither do I chase after every stupid idea or make the texts unnecessarily bloody. I used to put a lot of unhealthy stuff into myself in order to open the doors to the basement and to slip into this world. I don’t have to do that nowadays.
MH: Especially since you seem to have put upon yourself the obligation to not put your thoughts onto paper in simple words or sentences, but rather into proper poetic form.
TL: Commitments are not for me. I just write what I would like to read myself. I like authors such as Conrad Ferdinand Meyer and Gottfried Benn – you fall over backwards when you read their texts. That is so cool! My claim, must be added, is of course unrealistic, because this language no longer exists, no one speaks in prose anymore. But my texts should at least point in that direction. Much of what I write later appears to me to be too simple and thus discarded. Sometimes you have to leave them be for a few weeks and then look at them again with fresh eyes. But a lot ends up in the bin and goes nowhere.
MH: How do you know, when a poem is finished?
TL: This can be very easily seen. In the new book, there are three or four poems of which I have discarded several passages, for a song, that would be three or four stanzas. If all is said in the first four lines, you don’t have to keep climbing the stairs because you’ve already arrived at your destination. Here I have followed the advice of Alexander Gorkow and Helge Malchow, for examples on punctuation and things like that. There was a test reading in Munich to see what things might be superfluous. I hadn’t had that kind of experience yet: you read poems out loud to each other and you notice that there’s a lot of unnecessary stuff there. The phonetics poke at the unpleasant sides of this quite clearly.
MH: Are there any poems which you know by heart?
TL: (laughs) No.
MH: Because you have partly forgotten even what is written in your own book?
TL: That may well be the case. If something is written and ended up in my To Print folder, it has also immediately disappeared from my memory because I need the space for new things. I could never memorize poems all that well, regretfully. I admire people who can recite ‘Faust’, it’s a complete mystery to me how that works. On stage with Rammstein, the work done in the studio beforehand helps me, where you sing the lyrics over and over again; the process in which a song gets carved into the brain. But during the pre-production in the rehearsal room, I constantly have a cheat sheet in my hand. Poetry readings are always a tricky number. Some people master them with flying colors – Manfred Krug, for example, does it quite marvelously.
MH: Do you do poetry readings?
TL: No, I can’t
MH: Have you tried?
TL: Yes, of course I have tried it. But somehow I would bring out the whole thing in the form of a song, and that would quickly get boring. The great art of this lies in reading text out loud, with the correct intonation and minimal changes in voice and vocal expression. It’s not an audio book that you can just rattle off while you scream at times in between. Reciting poetry is not easy. I prefer to keep my hands off.
MH: Which poem is particularly close to your heart?
TL: ‘When Mom goes to work late’. This one was originally intended as a lyric, but at some point I realized that I’d gotten stuck with it. The chorus was missing, the text was never really finished – I tinkered with it forever. On the other hand, it was too simple to be a poem. I somehow had to turn a corner, however awkwardly. A real problem child, but nevertheless a lot of fun. And I really liked how it turned out, because it is pretty intense. It’s about prostitutes in South America, whose small children are in the adjacent room while the women pursue their work.
MH: I especially like the short poems. ‘Important’ I think is great because it reminds me of how my parents taught me what was important in life.
TL: ‘Important’ was really long in its original version. I wrote all sorts of twaddle, something like a Code of Conduct and all very humorously, until I clearly realized: it’s all nonsense. The beginning is good, the rest I could leave out.
MH: The whole text of ‘Love’ reads, ‘In silent nights a man is crying because he can remember.’ How long was that poem originally?
TL: It was a quatrain initially. I have to thank Alexander Gorkow for the title and this short version.
MH: With Rammstein, you once, briefly and unsuccessfully, experimented with English lyrics. What is it that excites you about the German language?
TL: Nothing, actually. The greatest advantage is that I’ve mastered it, so that I can play around with the topics and create words such as ‘leakagegiver’, and everyone knows what is implied. Of course, it would be a total charm if you could express something like that in a global language such as English. But it’s not working, not even now. I’m very grateful that people hear my texts embedded in music. They take them to heart and sometimes even translate them. There are very funny variations made by automatic translating programs. It is also exciting that Russian- and Spanish-speaking people can identify with the lyrics seemingly faster than with English lyrics. There is obviously a kind of brotherhood of the accent and the hardness of the languages. This results in quicker enthusiasm for the songs as opposed to if they were written in English. The German words also have, in my opinion, a direct influence on the guitar language of the band. Had we used English texts from the beginning, Rammstein would certainly have had different acoustics, a different instrumental language. In this respect, German is supportive and forms a unified whole with the music. That the language is so beautifully crisp and marching, I find to be just an additional element.
MH: Do you specifically search for new terms to represent a situation?
TL: Yes. Actually, really hard and long, with all my effort. And then it has to rhyme too.
MH: Twice as difficult, then.
TL: That’s right. That’s the challenge, as a matter of fact.
MH: Does it bother you, that the texts of other German artists are mostly banal?
TL: Banal is still too flattering. Maybe it has to do with the current state of our education, because if you look at Russia or at the Spanish-speaking countries, then you’ll discover incredibly good poetry in songs. In English, I can’t really tell. There’s always something in there that has to do with their history or traditions, both of which are rather unknown to us. At some point you stop to listen, no longer startled by how much bullshit is generally uttered. You think: OK? That bad, is it? On the Gothic scene, though, there are an incredible number of good lyrics. On one hand you will find terrible embarrassments and yet on the other, really good writers. These songs are not part of the mainstream, though, so unfortunately you don’t get to hear the majority of them.
MH: Many of your fans, who are reading the book, are relatively young. So, is there still a hope, that not everyone is stupefied?
TL: The question is: How can we attach people in school to poetry or prose? The only chance there is these days, is to try to do it through music. Music – as a vehicle to confront people with poetry. Maybe that train has already left the station, though. In that case, you just have to accept that fact.
MH: How would you awaken the interest? With sex?
TL: You have to make it attractive. The interest in railroad travel is not particularly large, but sometimes it is the best way to travel if you want a quick and easy journey. You cannot impose, but make it attractive and it must be dealt with. For example, I know that in Finland, Rammstein texts are implemented into schools as references in the teaching of German.
MH: That also is the case in Denmark.
TL: And in Russia, that has been known for a long time. The German-Russian exchange variations still exist there. The local fans speak our lines in a broken language, but they understand the content of the message exactly. German texts for German teenagers – that train has left the station in my opinion. I do not think that this will improve and that we eventually revert to a nation of poets and philosophers. That’s over.
MH: Is there a topic which excites you and about which you haven’t written?
TL: Nothing that I have in mind at the moment, at least. But all of a sudden, someday, somehow, that will happen again.
MH: Once again, about the sexually motivated texts and drawings: don’t books get officially vetted, like, say, video games regarding to the content?
TL: Lets’ wait and see. With “Ich tu dir weh” that first occurred three months after [it was released]. I would find such a blue sticker magnificent. ‘Rated 18’ on my book would be so cool! That said, I do believe that poems are free from censorship. But that was a great suggestion from you, I’m going to ask.
MH: For my information: What are your favorite words that you use most often?
TL: (thinks for a long time) I can’t tell right off the top of my head. Things like that always have to do with context. There are an awful lot of nice words among hunters, and even in sailor’s language, such as ‘cleats’. ‘Sweat’, for example, is a great word, or ‘nasty’. Generally, all the s-heavy words. Primarily, because hardly anyone in the world can pronounce them, but also because they sound like what they mean, ‘hate’, ’bite’, ’tear’. Those words really crack.
MH: Do you actively search for such terms?
TL: Oh yes! Additionally, there are entire dictionaries of words like these in any language. ‘Wichsen’ (wanking), is a great word. Actually it means: [the act of] Shoe-polishing, with shoe polish. Or ‘Fotze’ (cunt) – this is originally an old leather bag. ‘Fotze’ is an unbelievably beautiful word but at the same time it can be incredibly disgusting in its maliciousness. If someone says, ‘Blöde Fotze’, you know exactly what is implied.
MH: What would you like to pass on to people before they read the book?
TL: I can’t answer such questions.
MH: Let me put it in another way: If I have read the book, would I then know Till Lindemann a little better? Or do you only believe so?
TL: It’s like a glimpse into my basement. [into my closet] It has very little to do with me. You must think of the book as being read as a whole script, not just one poem after the other.
MH: Have you read through the entire work, from start to finish, after its completion?
TL: Several times, even. The deadline was the test reading with Alexander Gorkow in Munich, where our illustrator Matthias Matthies, was present. Then, after the completion it went to the publisher’s, who were already waiting. Actually, the book should have been published much earlier, in time of the Leipzig Book Fair. But that would only have become a Rammstein signing session since everyone would’ve known that I’d be there. And then you just sit and sign autographs on Rammstein CD’s. Therefore, we chose a different path and invited journalists to these interviews.
MH: Will there be another book by you sometime?
TL: Most certainly. That I can say without hesitation.
By Thorsten Zahn.
Translated by Maya Aster.
Edited by Murray.