A drum duet – A conversation with Raphael Haeger, percussionist for the Berlin Philharmonic, and Christoph Schneider, drummer in the heavy metal band, Rammstein.
Two percussionists. Members of German, internationally acclaimed top acts – but active in two musical worlds that almost couldn’t be any more different: Raphael Haeger, the percussionist of the Berlin Philharmonic since 2004, and Christoph Schneider, drummer in the Industrial Metal band, Rammstein.
Even if their repertoires might be worlds apart, they have surprisingly much in common. Raphael Haeger got his musical influences from his father, who was a guitarist in a rock band. He already wanted his first drum set at the age of four, but was also sitting happily at the piano in his teens and played in several jazz bands for which he also did the arrangements. And for a long time, he could not decide which one of the two instruments he should make his profession.
Christoph Schneider was also influenced musically by his father, the Berliner opera director and college professor, Martin Schneider. Although he’d much rather have seen his son sticking to his classical trumpet playing, Christoph got his first drum set at 14 – with far-reaching significance. In 1994, he, together with Till Lindemann, Richard Z. Kruspe, Oliver Riedel, Paul Landers and Flake Lorenz, started the band, Rammstein, which today is the most successful rock band from Germany. Schneider still attends concerts of the Berlin Philharmonic, but before this drum duet, he and Raphael Haeger didn’t know each other personally.
“The percussionist in an orchestra has a totally different function than the drummer in a band“ – Raphael Haeger
128: What did you immediately think when you heard that we were asking the two of you for a joined interview?
Christoph Schneider: First I thought, great! Then, why me? And finally, Yes, I’d love to.
Raphael Haeger: What went through my head, was that we as teens sure had a lot in common without knowing it, and that it would be exciting to look for the differences today.
Do you see any similarities in the art forms in which you are performing?
Schneider: Our show runs like clockwork, night after night, with everything from the set list and the excessive pyrotechnics to the lighting effects. Ultimately, we operate a lot like the Philharmonic – our secret lies in playing as well as we possibly can every day. But the truly creative bit is the song writing, we’re having a lot more intense discussions then.
Haeger: Thank God for not having to deal with this song-writing bit! Everyone would just concoct their own bridge, and the whole thing would end up as blues in the end – you’d go completely mad! Nor do we have such a strictly choreographed stage show as Rammstein does. Remarkably, a lot is open-ended for us, on any given evening.
Haeger: Yes, since we have so many big egos – musicians with a lot of experience as soloists, being used to leading an orchestra by themselves. These small changes are the high-light of the night for us. A horn player, for example, could suddenly play his three-note solo in a totally different way than the last time, just as in Chamber Music at large. These contributions are often the trick that intuitively and in one shot changes everything – for us all. Something that gives the impulse that lifts the whole concert. Ideally, something like this happens every few minutes.
Which role does the percussionist have?
Schneider: With us, the drummer is the backbone of a song. He‘s always playing!
Haeger: The percussionist in an orchestra, waiting for his cue, has a completely different function. We aren’t really responsible for timing or tempo, but instead for timbre, passages, the integration of small motives.
Schneider: When I think of you, I feel that the challenge must be to be so completely focused when those pivotal moments come. To be cool enough to play it right! I only feel this excitement before the show, before the first beat.
Mr. Haeger, as opposed to Christoph Schneider, you are, as the percussionist for the Berlin Philharmonic, sometimes left out.
Haefer: Yes, whenever the Philharmonic plays Brahms, Beethoven or Bruckner. I have compensated for this over the years by starting to study conducting. This way, I have gained a deeper insight into what the string section up front is really doing. And I have finally worked through my “classical complex” and now I know better where the journey will take me.
How much abandon in your playing can you really, in your quite exposed situations, allow yourselves?
Schneider: When the interaction between me and my instrument clicks, I can feel how I sometimes pull the whole band into it. But there’s a lot that could mechanically go wrong with percussion. Not often, but it happens, that something technical gets in the way of immersing yourself in your playing.
Haeger: I can’t even really remember one incident when a two-hour concert went completely according to plan. There’s bound to be a door that opens and then the timpani goes out of tune. There’s always something to fix. The concept, “Flow”, is quite popular these days, and surely it helps the audience to get into this flow while listening. We always have to think about what we’re doing.
Schneider: That’s the razor’s edge we’re walking on – to control our play without castigating it…
Haeger: …and always holding the strings so that the kite can fly.
Do all six members of Rammstein hold the strings?
Schneider: When it comes to dynamics, are we a democratic group. No one’s the boss, everyone is allowed to chime in, but no one is allowed to go too far off the beaten path. Anyone could come up with ideas, but at least four of the six of us have to agree with the idea for us to proceed with it. Admittedly, you first have to learn our kind of democracy.
Haeger: Unlike you, we don’t decide our show ourselves. Our “democracy”, with 128 members, would be governed quite differently from yours – from the front.
How do you come up with such a spectacular stage show as Rammstein’s, “democratically”?
Schneider: We often push each other to always be able to offer something special according to the motto: If we’re doing this, we’re doing it right! This way, you learn how to bring in elements that alone would be way too extreme. We had different opinions about the fake-semen cannon, with which Till Lindemann, our singer, shoots foam into the audience. On the other hand, the cannibal-song, “Mein Teil”, in which Till wears a butcher’s apron, a chef’s hat and, drenched in blood, sings into a huge, meat-carving knife, was liked by all six of us – it fit perfectly with the text and was a superb match to the song.
Would you like to have anything from each other’s lives?
Schneider: I would like to have some of your structured life. You are employed, you can go home to your own house almost every night, travel every now and then and have contact with relatively many people.
Haeger: Says he, who performs in front of 10,000 people at once!
Schneider: Yes, but we are often off for months at a time without any rehearsals or a social structure that works after the tour is finished – quite different from you.
So, you are putting the rock musician in the closet for months?
Schneider: Of course. We haven’t played for six months now. The album is “toured“, so to speak. It’s only after that that we can come together again and write new songs. It felt a bit odd, throwing on the gear for the photo shoot today. As you grow older together as a band, you need the actual physical space away from one another in-between, since you know each other all too well after 25 years – otherwise it will get on your nerves. We all need this space to find new inspiration.
You were both inspired by rock music as well as classical in your youth.
Haeger: Rock music was the dominant element at our house. But when my father came home at night, he played Schumann on the piano. My room shared a wall with the music room, and I fell asleep blissfully with the door open surely a hundred times. In this respect, classical music was my elixir.
“I would like some of the structured life of an orchestral musician.“ – Christoph Schneider
But not nearly as electrifying as the music your father introduced you to…
Haeger: My father had a rock band. I wanted my first drum set when I was five. When I was eleven, I wanted to play in a band more than anything. As I, of course, was too young for that, my father went up on stage with us, so even as a young boy, I was able to perform in the Tuttlinger pubs. I was so proud. That was heaven on earth for me.
Schneider: So you already know everything! Insane.
Haeger: So, I got to know what power the drummer has when we played the really rocky stuff, Genesis and such. I’m still a bit jealous of this positive side of power in a band.
Schneider: When you play badly, the whole band plays badly, but when you’re play well, the others grin at you and you bring them all along. That was the best thing when I was young. But my road to making it as a musician was longer than yours. My mother was a music teacher and my father an opera director. Only classical music was played at our house. I spent a lot of time sitting at the back of the opera scene as a child and, of course, I had to learn an instrument. I started out with the piano.
Haeger: So did I! But I couldn’t read notes very well. But I got better at the piano, while already being the drum hero at the age of twelve.
Schneider: I was still playing the trumpet in a youth orchestra when I was twelve, it was a hundred-strong brass band. As second flugelhorn player, I was sitting right in front of the percussionists and I was always looking at what they were doing back there. They were the cool ones, sitting casually by their snare drums and I just wanted to be one of them. So, I started practicing on my homemade cardboard box drum set. I didn’t know any rock music. The only modern album I found at my parents was the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar“. So when I gave up on the trumpet when I was 13, my parents’ world fell apart. Trying to make up for that afterwards, I thought I could at least study classical percussion at the Music College. But I flunked admission twice – even though my father was a professor there.
Both your fathers had different lives besides the music. How are you dealing with the fear of growing old?
Schneider: As a rock musician, you’re always scared of that. On the other hand, when I see Mick Jagger, I’m thinking, now that’s something. The Stones have matured successfully with their audience. But being the drummer of Rammstein is a very physical task. You have to play loud and grandiose, and the whole thing has to look like something too. Maybe it doesn’t work that way at 70.
Haeger: With us, the big kick is the soft play. These delicate, small movements that somehow get lost with age. But you push that aside, as long as it still works. But already now, I feel I have to consciously think about my fine motor skills to keep them agile, and that I have to put in more effort to compensate with experience for the speed I had when I was a student.
Schneider: This is the reason why you, as a classical percussionist, play in a different league than we do. What you do is so much more demanding than what I deliver. After ten or twenty concerts, I could play it in my sleep. I don’t have to practice a whole lot more by then.
Is it important to you, who comes to your concerts?
Schneider: First of all, anyone who finds us interesting is welcome to our shows. The people vary a lot across the world, and among them are a lot of freaks and people who think differently, who in their imagination feel accosted by the hard music and German lyrics. But also so-called completely normal people come.
Haeger: I had a wonderful experience when — I was still with the opera in Mannheim then – I played a series of jazz gigs, to which the classical opera audience came – 70 year-old ladies in fur coats were listening to my Hard Bop! You would think that’s not really for that crowd. But they identified with the institution and found the music surprisingly good. I would’ve never swapped that audience for jazz freaks.
How poetic could the drums, as opposed to Hard Bop, really be?
Haeger: That’s completely down to the music. For example, I absolutely wouldn’t put the timbre that a violin produces above the rich sonority of the percussion. You can create soundscapes with beats in succession too.
Schneider: Though, there are enough instruments in percussion to play melodies on, and then it all becomes more poetic.
Haeger: It’s always about what the music calls for. You can do anything with drums, just as you can make a flute sound creepy or shock with a harp. It’s all about creating the right environment and that is also true for percussion.
Do you still have dreams as musicians?
Schneider: I sometimes think: what the hell kind of a spectacle are we really up to – with painted faces, explosions on stage and tinnitus? We’re grown men! On the other hand, I have achieved something with my band that is part of my life’s dream: to play in front of huge crowds in large arenas. And I always have so much fun, just as when working on a new album. Nevertheless, of course there’s something static about it that we, as a band, much like an orchestra, cannot cross – we’re stuck within our score, which dictates everything. When I keep coming up with new ideas and want to realize myself in jazz, my colleagues always roll their eyes. I would be happy to have a Friday Night-Senior’s-Trio band, where everything is a bit more open and where you could intuitively jam together.
Haeger: That is what I want to do, anyway – return to where I came from.
Schneider: And play the local pub?
Haeger: Yes, and rehearse on Saturday afternoons with a couple of guys from the neighborhood until we run out of beer. So it shall be!
“Rock musicians are always scared of growing old. On the other hand: Mick Jagger…” – Christoph Schneider
By Andrea Thilo
Photographs by Andreas Mühe
Translation by Murray
Original Source 128- Das Magazin der Berliner Philharmoniker