Leave good taste at the door if you want to have fun with LINDEMANN, a collaboration between Peter Tägtgren and the Rammstein vocalist, Till Lindemann, and it sounds just about how you would expect. The Swede would probably never write a song like “Cowboy” – whip crack- and horse sampling techno metal with a backbeat – for PAIN, but here, the song is a musical highlight, which leaves me hoping for an even kookier sequel.
And the German? He mixes nature romanticism and ballads about cancer with fantasies about ladyboys, urine showers and fat women, all in charmingly broken English and without making it seem like sensationalism. It is his efforts first and foremost that make “Skills in Pills” stick in your head from beginning to end, even if my brain should have better stuff to lease its storage capacity on.
A Rammstein vocalist with a dirty imagination and a new language to conquer. A lad from rural Dalarna who is a walking one-man-orchestra, isn’t deterred by stupid song ideas and fits into a wedding gown. When Till Lindemann and Peter Tägtgren meet in the mutual project, Lindemann, what ensues is an inferno of machine metal, penile metaphors, ladyboys and water sports – and the occasional, relaxing moment for fishing.
It has to be some sort of new record in the art of snapping creepy press photos. Till Lindemann, normally the singer in the German band, Rammstein, does indeed look his usual, resolutely masculine self where he stands in a black wedding suit and glares with kohl smudged eyes under the bleach blond side part. But the other figure in the picture’s foggy forest clearing, he’s scary for real.
Peter Tägtgren, known for being the frontman of Hypocrisy and PAIN, as well as a metal producer of rank, has poured himself into a white wedding gown. He’s lifting up the skirt, revealing a deer’s body with a pair of bright red panties tangled around its front hooves. The ground where the bridal couple is standing is littered with discarded syringes.
When the duo announced their mutual project, Lindemann, early this year, this was the first image with which they presented themselves. It is as puzzling and revolting as it is hard to look away from, a feeling that sums up most of what’s going on on the album, “Skills in Pills”, due to be released on the 22nd of June.
Both are artists with few inhibitions and a famously sick sense of humor; just the fact that one of them has written the Rammstein-song “Pussy”, and that the other reputedly has the word “bong” tattooed under his scrotum, indicates that their chemistry should be something that creates sparks. That they should make a record together wasn’t as much a question of if, but rather, when.
The two met the first time in the fall of 2000, when the success of the industrial project, PAIN, made Peter hang around in Universal’s offices in Stockholm all the time. At the same time, Rammstein was in the capital to mix their third album, “Mutter”. For both parties, these were activities that demanded a certain consumption of alcohol, and why Peter and Till inevitably ran into each other at the hard rock club, Anchor. After that, they met at mutual friends’, and a number of other events, and always said that “they ought to do something together”. But it wasn’t until after the Wacken festival in August, 2013, where Rammstein played their — to date– last show, there was time to turn thought into action.
”I carry a platinum card with Air Berlin”, a slightly withered Till Lindemann says, and smiles when he receives us in an elegant suite in the posh hotel Lydmar in Stockholm.
The singer undeniably looks like the rock star he is, dressed in a pinstriped suit, wide, black suspenders, a white shirt that probably costs more than any garment in my own closet, and a pair of conspicuously large Adidas sneakers, gleaming in black and gold and looking brand new. But as to his manners, he’s everything but a rock star: unpretentious, laid back and apparently happy that someone’s taking an interest in what he has to say. He comes across like a dude with whom I could grab a pint if I happened to run into him on the town after the interview.
”I live 15 minutes from the Berlin Tegel Airport”, Till continues. “I’m in Stockholm in an hour, then I jump on the train to Borlänge where Peter picks me up at the station. During the flight and the train ride, I am able to sit with a laptop and prepare myself for the studio work. Very comfortable. At first, I wanted us to release one song online to gauge people’s reactions, but Peter thought we should keep the project a secret. It snowballed and suddenly, we had an entire album without any major efforts.”
German is the language with which everyone associates Till’s racy bass, save the shaky interpretation of Depeche Mode’s “Stripped”, and that hit single about Till having a willy and you a vagina and you’re going to do it this very minute. Now it’s the contrary. Save for one “wunderbar”, it’s English all the way through “Skills in Pills”. To switch language was important, says the singer. For starters, he didn’t want anyone mistaking what is Lindemann and what is Rammstein.
”Out of loyalty to my colleagues in Rammstein, I didn’t want any confusion about the two bands. If I pick up a guitar and sing in German, it becomes Rammstein music by default, so there was a need for a different language in starting the new band. I needed to get out of my cage.”
Before the interview, I’m being handed an mp3-player with the ten album tracks. I have just enough time to listen through the ten songs, and an encore of “Cowboy”, before a stern female label representative takes back the classified music. Thrity seconds would have been enough for me to guess that Peter’s made all the music himself. “Skills in Pills” sounds as if Till Lindemann is singing on a PAIN album, as if that should come as a surprise.
”Peter is a genius,” Till smiles. “He plays guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, everything! Which spares us all the hassle of having to work with bass players, drummers and other musicians. But not only does Peter play all the instruments, he also records, edits and mixes the music. I have been able to put all my energy into singing and writing lyrics. Peter and I are like yin and yang, and we work very harmoniously together.
”You can imagine just how different this is for me, only having one other person to work with instead of five. There’s a military discipline in Rammstein, strict time schedules and total democracy, all the time. That makes for a lot of compromises. Not that there’s anything wrong with democracy and compromise; we do have a very good atmosphere in our Rammstein family and we work well together. But right now, we feel we need a little break from each other.”
The singer gets something dreamy in his eyes and stares out through the windows when I ask what it looks like when he and Peter are making music together in the Abyss Studio. He starts to gesticulate as to show a microphone in front of a window, opened to the lake Saxen, which is right next to the studio.
”I’m sitting by the window, singing, and Peter is at the computer, fiddling with the music. We’re talking and listening a lot together, but he has to put a lot of time into editing, recording the instruments and testing out different effects. So while he labors away in his digital world, I’m kicking back with a good book or a fishing rod in my hand. It’s wonderful.”
Did you come up with the lyrics to ”Fish On” there?
”No, although I love to fish, writing a lyric about fishing would be boring. Fish swim in the sea and that’s about it. Fishing as a metaphor, on the other hand, is something upon which I can build a story. “Fish On” became a good hook to hang the refrain on. A good hook is the most important thing of all when you’re writing a song, it’s the heart of the composition. To hell with verses and bridges and what have you, it’s the refrain that’s the important part. It should get stuck in your head and make you want to sing along. When the refrain hook is nailed down, the rest comes automatically.”
Since English isn’t Till’s native language, he always sends his lyrics to an American professor of literature, for proofreading as well as to bounce off thematic ideas. He finds this clinch with the English language both very enlightening and very frustrating.
”The English language has such a limited vocabulary,” Till sighs. “I miss the nuances and the precision of German when I’m writing in English. For example, if I want to talk about a young bird, I can say “Vögelchen”, “Piepmatz” and a range of other words in German. “Baby bird” is the only thing English gives me to choose from. Meagre! But there are a lot of interesting words if you are using a bit older English. I read the lyrics for the song “Fat” to a friend in New York and he’d never heard of the word “soggy”, even though he’s a native English speaker.”
You could have imagined that the English would wrestle other themes from Till’s lecherous mind than what the German does. That the language changes the conditions for ideas just as much as the other way around. He’s silent for a moment, strokes the hair out of his forehead and looks thoughtful.
”Most of all, the English influences the drive in the melodies. German is hard and edgy, everything becomes more dancing and supple in English. English is smooth and sweet, you don’t hurt yourself when you pet it. If language was a surface, German would itch and sting, while English would be like silk against your cheek. English is the easiest language to sing in, but if you want liveliness and savor, German or Spanish are the best. German is like a peppermint candy in your mouth,” he says and inhales sharply as to show the invigorating effect of the language.
You could also think that the singer would need the distance English provides to sing a song like ”Golden Shower”, or to make the racy subject a little less vulgar to the listener. A song sung in German about urinating on someone would presumably sound a lot blunter than the inviting song heard on the Lindemann album. At first, Till doesn’t really understand what I’m after.
”The expression ”golden shower” doesn’t exist in German, it’s the same as in English,” he replies. “In certain contexts, you speak about champagne and caviar, pee and poop that is, but a golden shower is always a golden shower. It’s a very vivid and fitting metaphor.”
But apart from the song title itself, would the song get another feeling if the lyrics were in German?
”I think so. It’s nothing I have thought about, but now that you mention it, I don’t think it would sound right in German. “Bitte steh auf…”,” he begins to spontaneously translate the first verse into German, only to shake his head in doubt.
”No, that doesn’t work at all. The expression golden shower sounds so warm and nice that it’s needed as a contrast to the rest of the lyric. The refrain should be appealing. That’s why this song is so much fun. There never would have been any contrast between form and content in German.”
Do you want to play tricks on the listener? “Oh, this sounds nice”, like? Till smiles and shrugs.
”Ah, it was a topic that just came by itself. People who have heard the song without having the lyrics in front of them have had a whole lot of different suggestions as to what it could be about. “Hmm, are you in the bathroom, taking a shower? What are you singing about there, ‘cunt’?” ”Well, have you heard of the expression golden shower?” ”OK, Till, you are one sick human being!” ”
The singer’s drawn face splits in a wide grin.
”Then, once the penny’s dropped, everyone hears the song with new ears and thinks it’s funny. There is a lot of humor and irony on this album.”
Maybe it wasn’t all that far fetched to think that the vocalist would write a song about pissing on people. After Rammstein songs about love, sharks, pussies, gay sex, cannibalism, necrophilia and all what it may be, it would perhaps have been strange if the subject didn’t pop up. The singer explains that his head is brimming with thoughts, just lying in wait to be expressed as songs.
”Ideas are brooding inside of me. In even intervals, they wake up and want to come out and then I cannot keep them locked up anymore. Sometimes, they turn into a lyric about a river, sometimes one about love, sometimes about sex. I could easily come up with one such story a day, like in Marquis de Sade’s “120 Days in Sodom”. Easy. There’s no end to the possibilities when it comes to filth and perversions.”
Is there something of a statement in a song such as this, stating that you aren’t stepping back from anything and don’t care what people think?
”Why would I care about what people think?” Till asks. “Most of those who are going to hear this song can read between the lines and get the humor. Most people know that I am a singer who likes to provoke to get people to laugh, to think or to get upset. I know some are going to take the abortion song very seriously and get so awfully riled up, but that is only good. Reactions are good. The most boring thing of all is when people are sitting, drinking coffee, smoking and staring out the window, not caring.”
Did Peter laugh when you presented your lyric about the golden shower?
”No, because he didn’t pay attention to what it was about. He doesn’t read lyrics the way I read lyrics. He’s interested in melodies and intonations and what he needs to make the arrangements work. It was only when we had started recording the song that he noticed what it was I was singing about. “Till, we are going to go to hell for this song!” he said. Maybe we’ll get our asses handed to us for the song, maybe we won’t. But that is a risk I am willing to take.”
Last question on the subject of golden showers: is this activity something you would recommend to the average Lindemann listener?
”Depends on how drunk you are and what your relationship is to your partner. I recommend that you do it in the shower and that you discuss it beforehand, so that both agree on how to do it and which body parts are to be pissed on. It can be a nice little intermezzo in the shower,” says Till, laughing.
A sign of trust, no less?
”Absolutely. It’s very intimate to piss on someone willing to get pissed on. You climb up a wrung on the ladder of love if you try, because you need a certain amount of trust. Or, what do I know, maybe people piss on one another during one night stands too! But that would surprise me. “Hi, we’ve known each other half an hour, should be go piss on each other?” The exception is, of course, the fetish clubs where this kind of thing happens on a regular basis. We have a lot of those clubs in Berlin.”
Does he himself attends such clubs? No, not anymore. The 52-year-old seem to have filled his quota of decadence – at least outside the touring life with Rammstein – a long time ago. He tells me he used to hang out at the Kit Kat Club, Berlin’s perhaps most famous intersection of sexual expression and techno-ecstasy, but the club has become less interesting with every move to a new address (“I don’t even know where the latest one is,” he says, indifferently).
Yet, he seems to long a little for the kind of undemanding, sexual encounters that the Kit Kat Club and similar establishments offer. The topic of the song “Ladyboy” – to skip the romance and the foreplay and go straight for the gullet – seems familiar from Rammstein’s “Mann gegen Mann”. There, it was the uncomplicated meeting between men he fantasized about, but now he’s taking it a step further to Thai ladyboys.
”The idea for this lyric came to me when I was watching porn. Suddenly, I saw that this chick with these amazing tits had a huge cock! It was marvelous, what a dream! You get the best of two worlds in one and the same person. No broken hearts, no cheesy romance, nothing to complain about! I am proud of that lyric.”
Have you tried it?
”No, only seen on film. Just as in “Mann gegen Mann”, I’m only exploring the matter and imagining what it would be like to be in the situation. No messing around with dates, kissing up with flowers and chocolates, spending all this money on dinners and cinemas and so on, just to then maybe be allowed to hit that. The guys in these songs don’t want to talk much, only fuck, but the ladies want to be wooed and aren’t giving anything away for free. It’s much easier to go to a gay bar or with a ladyboy. If both parties are just after satisfaction, everything becomes so easy.”
Can the singer of Rammstein skip the romantic foreplay and go straight at it with women? Take a guess. But that is what’s so boring about the frontman, which is the moral lesson here.
”If you’re a rock star, it’s super easy to get laid. All guys dream of this. But I want to debunk that illusion and declare that it gets rather boring after a while. At the beginning of my career, it was so damn cool to be able to sleep with everything you looked at, but the excitement soon wore off. The thrill of smelling the fruit, touching the skin and feeling a sensation of expectation before you taste it – that’s lost when you get the dessert served. You could be the world’s ugliest dude, but the chicks flock around you anyway. You know Serge Gainsbourg? He sure as hell wasn’t pretty, but he got to bed beauties like Birgitte Bardot and Carla Bruni, left and right.”
Yeah, Serge Gainsbourg. The French singer and national icon who in 1996 told a then 23-year-old Whitney Houston that he ”wanted to fuck her” on French television. It’s not hard to imagine Till doing the same thing in Serge’s situation. But he would maybe have taken it a step further. Imagine, “I want to give you a golden shower” being tenderly whispered into the ear of young Whitney in broken English. Till laughs.
”Gainsbourg had very good self-confidence”, he grins. “Even I would have drawn the line of decency there.”
”Skills in Pills” Track by track with Peter Tägtgren.
Skills in Pills
”When we started with this one, we already had half a dozen songs done, so we had to think differently. I was rummaging through a lot of strange Skrillex-sounds and cut up a lot of guitar bits to create a different rhythm. This one will be a killer to play live. Right now, we are planning on how, when, where and why it could happen. We don’t have any punk concerts in mind, we’re past that stage, and thus, we have to give it some thought.”
”When I’m writing songs, I rarely think about what they are going to be used for, the ideas are just bubbling inside my head. Then you have to toughen things up a bit if it’s destined to be a Hypocrisy song, but all possibilities are open. ‘Ladyboy’ was the first track we cut for Lindemann, but it just as well could have started with a samba song. We’re a new band and what we do is for ourselves. That’s why we kept Lindemann a secret for so long, in order to work without people making our ears bleed, banging on about what it would sound like.”
”Till is singing about his fascination with large women and, fittingly enough, the song itself is very fat, with meaty guitar parts and a lot of strings. I have written all the orchestral arrangements on this record, but Clemens Wijers, of the Dutch band Carach Angren, has pimped them up. I mixed their latest album, ‘This is No Fairytale’, and wondered where they’d recorded their strings. It proved to be on his monster computer at home, because he otherwise works with film scores. Then a little light went off in my head.”
”Once we were happy with ’Ladyboy’, we decided that we should try to make another song. We talked about what makes a good song and we agreed: it needs a hook. That could be pretty much anywhere in the song, but it has to be there. By now, the brain was definitely set on writing Lindemann music, so I started to write this piece in my head. I always write a song in my head before I sit down with a guitar or switch on the keyboard.”
Children of the Sun
”A melancholic song with a nice pulse. The pulse is the theme throughout the album. Each song has its own groove, but regardless of tempo, it’s hard not to tap your foot, nod your head or feel the pulse in your body.”
Home Sweet Home
”I’m no ballad guy, but Till fought like mad to include a ballad on the record. So, I sat down with an acoustic guitar and wrote my first ever ballad. It’s fucking grand. It was this song, not ‘Golden Shower’, that I didn’t understand what it was about before Till explained it to me.”
”Till came up with a lyric about how we men want to be cowboys, and then we sit there in our rocking chairs when we’re old and think about that, at least, we tried. I thought it would be funny to combine that lyric with a rhythm that has a bit of reggae feeling. First, it was mostly weird, stupid and lame, but we got such a fucking work flow that it snuck off and became something serious.”
”People say this is our PAIN song. OK? I don’t have a clue, but it has a nice groove. The pulse hits like a fist.”
”Not one song on the album sounds as it did from the beginning. We cut, twist and turn. ‘No, you cannot do it like that!” I usually think when Till comes to me with suggestions for an arrangement. But then I have a go and think, “Fuck, that’s clever’ instead. ‘Yukon’ is a prime example. It got more stripped down after Till had been cutting in it.”
”Till had a funny lyric, but no music. Before he was due for the train, I put on a drum loop and he spoke three verses. Six months later, I found the recording, removed the drum track and wrote new music from his spoken song. It’s hard to explain how it happens. The songs just happen. We have four or five surplus songs that we didn’t have the right feeling for now, but we just need to chew them over a bit. We have endless ideas.”
Source: CloseUp Magazine #174
By Jonn Palmér Jeppson