Rolling Stone: Exclusive interview with Till Lindemann and Flake Lorenz

There is a lot to talk about in the first major and also exclusive Rolling Stone interview with Rammstein. The band sees themselves as equals in the collective. They turn down group interviews because some could get to talk less than others.

We are conducting three interviews with four band members altogether. The interview with Richard Kruspe, and the one with Christoph Schneider, are already available to be read online. Next in line are the keyboard player Flake Lorenz, and Till Lindemann. The Rammstein singer is reluctant to speak in public and has hardly given any interviews in recent years, but he makes an exception for Rolling Stone. Rainer Schmidt and Torsten Groß conduct the interview.

How do you remember your very first Rammstein concert?

Flake Lorenz: The first, real concert was at the ‘naTo’ in Leipzig, as an opening act for my brother. He had a combo which made English songs such as, “Like A Virgin” into ,”Wie ein Würstchen.” We couldn’t have been more out of place anywhere.

Were the Rammstein sound and performances already clearly defined then?

Lorenz: Yes, quite clearly. But I think we were even more ferocious back then than we are now. We were standing quite stolidly on stage, having played our thing and no one laughed or even moved. That must have seemed rather intimidating. The audience’s jaws dropped.

Till Lindemann: I have seldom seen such astounded people.

Where did you get the idea to perform in this way?

Lindemann: I wasn’t really happy on stage. I wore sunglasses as I couldn’t stand the stares. I had stage fright and thought, what am I doing here at all? I used to be a drummer, and then I always had something to do. Now, I was standing there, up front, and everyone was staring at me. It was uncomfortable for me, so I wanted to compensate for that somehow. That’s where the fire came into play. It started out with two fountains a friend had given me once. Later, we also poured gasoline throughout the room and lit it with those two fountains, so the whole floor was on fire. This has kept developing over the years.

You later trained as a pyrotechnician especially for this.

Lindemann: Yes, you can get the license in three months. You have to review it every five years, in order to stay in the game.

How big a risk is it now, that the music will become too overshadowed by the show itself?

Lorenz: I think about this sometimes, but only briefly. As a spectator, I would enjoy all this spectacle. When it comes to other bands, you really have to be a hard-core fan to be content with looking at a couple of guys in jeans and t-shirts playing through their set list for two hours.

Lindemann: The band is divided on this issue. It’s too much like a circus act for some, they would rather have the music be more of the focus. Then there are people like me, who have great aspirations in these elements of the show, in the tinsel and the glitz, in the action and the fire.

Flake, during last year’s shows, you let yourself get carried on a dinghy above the audience’s heads. That could have ended really badly, once….

Lorenz: Yes, that was in Toronto. The people kept sending me further back and then toppled me over a barrier where the venue quite simply ended.

Lindemann: It looked really funny. I saw it all from up on the stage, and suddenly, he was just gone, like with a waterfall.

Lorenz: It was not funny, I banged up my knee and I had to walk behind the barrier around the whole venue to reach the stage entrance, where they luckily recognized me from my costume and let me back in.

Like in an opera performance, you don’t address the audience. Was it already like that during your first shows?

Lorenz: Right from the start. We find it rather silly, when someone on stage says, “Hello!” and, “Thank you, Bonn!” That’s in contrast to when we were kids.

You also sang in English at the beginning, why the change?

Lindemann: The initiative came from Paul and Flake. The German lyrics were simpler and sounded harder. The German illustrated the music better than the English did, with its soft vowels. Besides, this was in the time of crossover-grunge. Only long-haired blondes, dreadlocks and second rate Rage Against The Machine- and Nirvana copycats were in every club. We sure didn’t want that.

Lorenz: I find it totally stupid, anyway, to perform in bad English in Germany for an audience that doesn’t understand the lyrics. I don’t much like the music of people like Konstantin Wecker or Grönemeyer, but nonetheless, I like to listen as the lyrics touch me. When Wecker sings, “Gestern habns an Willy daschlogn”, it doesn’t matter to me, what he is playing.

Are the lyrics discussed within the band on principle?

Lindemann: Unfortunately, yes.

Lorenz: Till initially gets a musical framework, to which he writes the lyrics by himself. When we get his lyrics with the music straight away, it’s obviously much better than just to see a sheet of paper with a few lines on it.

Lindemann: And so says the musician. For me it’s an absolute nightmare! You get an instrumental tune and then you have to slather something onto it. Everything is pre-set: the verses, the bridge, the chorus – everything. You have fill it and additionally, have the others assess it. Though, the immense and extreme criticism do have the benefit of polishing it to perfection.

So you are not always present when the others write the songs?

Lorenz: No, what would he do there? It’s better this way.

Lindemann: Until the second album, I was always sitting in a corner and listening, at times singing something straight out, but that wasn’t very efficient at all. It was when I walked home after the rehearsal that my actual work began. At some point, I started taking the four-track tapes with me and working on them alone.

How big is the pressure when your colleagues are done with the musical work and everyone waits for your lines?

Lindemann: You don’t want to know, it’s a nightmare, absolutely awful.

A lot of your lyrics are seen as provocative. How did that happen?

Lindemann: It was soon clear to me that to such vicious riffs, you can really only have vicious lyrics. It wasn’t all that easy to begin with, when we really didn’t have any real role models. Klaus Lage or Westernhagen didn’t quite cut it, even if there were some good lyrics out there at times.

How much deliberate consideration was taken for the public outcry over necrophilia or cannibals?

Lindemann: It really wasn’t anything we’d taken into consideration. It just happened and it developed a certain dynamic on its own somehow. Of course, we noticed that it didn’t hurt to be discussed and causing upset. You’re in dialog and people suddenly pay attention to you. It wasn’t always pleasant, but it didn’t do any damage, nonetheless.

You were never bothered by these reactions?

Lindemann: Of course, but it was outweighed by the benefits.

Are you using the breaking of taboos as part of the plan?

Lorenz: Whatever. But especially on the subject of the cannibal, I think we are the ones who could convey this case in a good format.

What exactly is “good”?

Lorenz: A format in which the events are considered fairly, both for the victim and the perpetrator. To describe the matter in a way you can sympathize with and the lyrics aren’t as judgmental as, say, in a “Bild” magazine article.

You were accused of not taking any consideration for the victim with the song, “Wiener Blut”, as well, about the incest case in Amstetten.

Lorenz: I think that the text is brilliant, it touches. It describes the events well. You can’t make it better than that in my opinion.

Have you overstepped any lines that you wouldn’t want to cross today?

Lorenz: We have never wanted to think for the public, that’s not our job. We have done what we have wanted. And that was all well.

Is transgression a part of the concept?

Lorenz: We don’t have any concept at all.

OK, after several songs regarded as transgressions by some, it comes to mind that there could be some method behind it.

Lorenz: No, it’s not that simple. Because you don’t know in advance what could upset people. The public often ventures into places we have never even thought about, and then ignores others, where we had expected trouble. Although it may not seem that way, but we can’t calculate that at all.

What outrage came as a surprise, then?

Lorenz: With, “Pussy“, I was wondering, how you could ever put that on the Index? I think that’s completely retarded.

The album, “Liebe Ist Für Alle Da“, was put on the Index in 2009. Were you happy about the attention and laughed about the reason?

Lorenz: We deemed the reason as absurd, but it wasn’t a laughing matter to us. It only means annoyance when an album is put on the Index. The albums have to be re-pressed. We were approached about it all the time when really all we wanted was to keep touring in peace. “Pussy“, was supposed to be a funny party song, not a provocation.

For the video, „Stripped“, parts were used from Leni Riefenstahl’s film about the 1936 Olympic Summer Games. That led to Nazi accusations and discussions. Did you get to buy the footage cheaply at the time?

Lorenz: The ferocity of the reactions took us completely by surprise. At the time, we really thought that everything would sort itself out.

Lindemann: We come from the East and we have grown up as socialists. We used to be either punks or Goths – we hate Nazis! And then, such a far-fetched accusation. We are doing exactly the same thing today, but no one in America or in Mexico would even get the idea to come up with something like that. This only happens in Germany. Our reply to this animosity was, “Links 2 3 4”, and with that, we had made it clear where we stand politically.

How important was this clarification?

Lindemann: Very! We are coming from an entirely different culture. We used to beat up those right wing morons, and we still would today.

In the nineties, there was once this press conference in Hamburg, where you were severely bombarded with these Nazi allegations. Your answers were very curt. It seemed arrogant – or very helpless.

Lindemann: It probably really was helplessness. We were in any case helpless, for example, when our children came home and asked: “Dad, do you play in a Nazi band?”

This has happened to you?

Lindemann: Yes, certainly, it was horrible. Happened to you as well, Flake, right?

Lorenz: (nods)

Is it true, that the video should really have looked completely different, that the controversial Riefenstahl images only had been used as a sample, mixed with others, but then the sample was made into the real video?

Lindemann: Yes. Philipp Stötzl, the director, first showed us a raw copy and never had the band agreed more on a subject: “That’s cool!” He had only spent one day on the editing, and so had an apprentice. That material should originally just demonstrate an idea. We used to have in mind a totally different direction for the video. It would contain a female Russian field worker, a plow, everything up the alley of Sergej Eisenstein romance; footage from the twenties.

Weren’t you already aware that the images could stir up trouble and cause Nazi accusations?

Lorenz: No, no one ever thought of that. The video was even playing on MTV for a short while. Their video selection committee was thrilled. But then came more and more protests and they grew increasingly bitter. Finally, even the record company had to wash their hands off it, even if everyone thought the video was good.

In retrospect, wasn’t it, at the very least, naive to use the Riefenstahl footage?

Lindemann: It’s possible, but when you lose your naivety, you are putting on a corset which is hard to get out of. Art can’t develop then.

The thing is, that suddenly Rammstein also attracted the right wing people. How big a risk was it, to be associated with the, “wrong fans”?

Lindemann: You’ll find those around die Toten Hosen and die Ärzten as well. This audience first appeared when we were playing in front of 2,000 to 3,000 people. They aren’t that confident in the smaller venues, they’ll get a fist in the face there.

Was the video the only reason for Rammstein’s bad reputation?

Lindemann: No, it was like that earlier too. That video really just crowned it.

Lorenz: And on it went. Next there was the massacre in Littleton…

It’s been reported that the shooters were listening to Rammstein, among others.

Lindemann: Exactly. We were in Mexico for a concert. And suddenly we had to read in the papers, “This band should be banned“, and, “Germany’s ashamed of Rammstein“. We sure didn’t even want to go home anymore. But the international success compensated for that very well. So we thought, “Kiss our ass!”

Mr. Lorenz, you have also stated that, for example, the shooters in Littleton also ate white bread, and that you could derive as much from that. Where do you stand on this statement today?

Lorenz: I stand by it. Of course, it’s clear that for people for whom things aren’t going well and they’re having difficulties in their lives, they’d rather listen to music such as Rammstein more than bank employees do. Perhaps it is also what music is for, but that was about it. Nothing comes out of it.

Lindemann: I have a good book tip, “Ich hasse und das liebe ich“. It’s the journal notes of both the shooters, very interesting. It’s really good. Surprisingly, one of them wrote great poetry.

The German identity is a subject that keeps playing a major part of the discussion, ever since Rammstein’s beginning. Today there is nothing strange about the sea of black, red and gold flags during the World Cup, but it was unthinkable in the mid-nineties. What has changed?

Lorenz: It’s been twenty years since the unification, it’s a lot more relaxed now.

At Madison Square Garden, the leader of the Jewish Theatre in New York asked Rammstein if part of the German guilt is present in the music. How do you handle such questions?

Lindemann: That’s part of it, for us anyway. This collective guilt is a generational thing. Our children probably won’t hear much of these accusations or guilt questions.

Lorenz: Our fathers lived through the war and have told us about it when we were younger. When we, as children, traveled to Poland, we were always met with hostility just because we were from Germany. You don’t forget that very easily.

To what extent does this awareness influence the artistic creativity?

Lorenz: You have a certain respect and you’re careful, of course.

You have often emphasized that you don’t have an ID issued by the so-called BRD, but only a passport, and that you find the West rather stupid. Would you say, “I’m German”, or, “I’m East-German”?

Lindemann: Flake is still a citizen of the GDR, and he will die a citizen of the GDR. Flake doesn’t even travel on holiday. To the Elbe Sandstone Mountains or to the Ostsee, tops, that’s enough for him. Together with our children, we head for the Lake District in Mecklenburg in the summer. That’s really great.

Lorenz: It was hard for me. When I was a citizen of the GDR, there was a BRD and I found the BRD stupid. Then suddenly I was supposed to be a part of something that I thought of as shitty. Still to this day, I think the BRD flag is horrid.

Comically, you almost never hear the abbreviation BRD anymore. You have to be one of the last few who uses that abbreviation actively.

Lorenz: Well, isn’t this the BRD?

Of course, but no one calls it so anymore. Are you both regarding yourselves as citizens of the GDR?

Lindemann: No, but I have strong connections to the traditions of the GDR. For example, I find it crap that there isn’t a, ‘Fasching’ anymore, but instead Halloween is celebrated. All this, “de-traditionalizing” really disturbs me, there’s no authenticity anymore. There are several things that I’m missing.

What is it, more precisely, that are you missing, that was better before?

Lindemann: For example, Fruckeneintopf at the restaurants. A silly example, admittedly, but it’s about the conceptual values of the community, the solidarity. That you wouldn’t have to pay for education or medical care. In this affluent country, many more things could be communally structured, but no one gets down to business. On the other hand, I don’t need 25 varieties of pasta. They are flown in from far away and thus pollute the environment. The tomatoes come from Spain. There are really enough fields here and a lot of unemployed people. No one needs two cars. There’s so much idiocy happening here, it’s unbelievable.

Lorenz: Our Pionierausweis [membership card of the GDR Youth Organization, socialist boy’s scouts, if you will – ed] stated the rule that we help elderly people. The children stood up on the S-bahn so that the Grandmas could sit down. I never walked on the fields, as it was said, that you’d trample on the people’s bread. And everyone was respectful not to destroy what belonged to the community. That’s totally lost now.

This sounds surprisingly glorifying and Ostalgic [GDR-nostalgic]. You could also mention the Shortage Economy and lack of freedom. Your colleague, Richard, fled before the unification. Are there things you are critical of, in hindsight?

Lindemann: That wasn’t the question. No one of us is Ostalgic at all. We could also have a long and thorough critical conversation, but the question was, what we missed and what was better for us back then.

Is it more fun to work when there’s a clearly identifiable enemy?

Lorenz: Yes. In the West, the system is the enemy. But it’s not all that easy to pinpoint anymore. Is it the media, is it the industry, the politics?

But you do benefit a lot from the system, nonetheless…

Lorenz: Of course, we live in it. There’s a lot which we don’t like here, and that’s what we’re trying to pick at.

You once said that you fight the system by taking away the money. That should probably have been ironic, but it was taken literally.

Lorenz: I thought it would be funny, but it wasn’t. I just didn’t think it through. It’s also totally insane, because in the end, it’s the fan who pays.

Der Speigel wrote not long ago, again, that Rammstein is the aesthetical hatred the East has for the West. How do you react today to such critique?

Lorenz: Mostly, we don’t take things like that seriously. We brought with us from the East the mentality of thinking we’d done something wrong if the press praised us, since once something is accepted by the state, it’s dead. Bad critique was by principle a recognition. That’s also valid today, to an extent. So as long as media such as, “Der Stern” or, “Der Spiegel” hates us, the world is in order.

By Rainer Schmidt, Torsten Groß. December 12, 2011
Original Source: Rolling Stone DE
Translation by Murray

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