“You really need to try hard to be provocative today”: the frontman of Rammstein – on fans, porn and Russian poetry
The lead singer of Rammstein, Till Lindemann, came to St. Petersburg for the release of his collection of poems, “On Quiet Nights” — the first edition of its Russian translation was released last year and sold out in just one day. This Tuesday, countless fans were queuing for hours on the Nevskij Prospekt for a chance to meet the singer.
Lindemann shared with “The Paper” his opinions on how the Internet hinders young musicians from becoming famous, how Rammstein came to shooting porn for a music video, why it was better in the GDR, and why, in the last 20 years, the band hasn’t stopped performing fiery shows on stage.
– The first edition of your book, “On Quiet Nights”, which was released in Russia in the fall, was sold out in just one day. Why, in your opinion, did it become so popular here?
– I’m not sure if there is any special reason for it. But, in Russia, literature plays a very different role, than in, for example, Germany and, perhaps, the rest of Europe. Poems are published online, and they are often quoted and memorized.
Here, everyone knows Russia’s writers and poets and is closely interlinked with the literature. Perhaps, this is due to the way children are taught in schools, through the education system, and various other influences.
But I was not surprised, because I am from the GDR, East Germany, and we also grew up with a close connection to literature. However, all of this collapsed after the unification and, consequently, the education system changed. Now, classical poets are not appraised there as much as they are here — in Germany, young people barely know any German writers, neither in general, nor or their contemporaries, because all attention has shifted to YouTube, the Internet, and gaming. They hardly read. But I knew that, no matter what, in Russia, people like poetry, so we tried to translate this book on our own (Note by “The Paper”: Lindemann’s collection of poems was translated into Russian by fans of the musician).
– So, it turns out, life in the GDR affected your poems and songs, among other things?
– Of course. Without the GDR, I would simply be a different person.
– What exactly do you remember from that time?
– There was a stronger sense of solidarity, unity. People had closer relationships, not as superficial. Back then, everything was more improvised; people weren’t as caught up in the madness of consumption, as we are now. There were only three or four brands of cars: Trabant, Moskvitch, Wartburg. There wasn’t this abundance of everything as we have it now. I always valued that highly, because a too wide of a selection can make a person behave more stupidly; one starts to think about things that aren’t truly important. This is how, it’s possible, for people to lose their drive and intelligence.
This was not due to economic need, but people were more communal, did more together. For example, all the neighbors in a house used to know each other, they would go to each other to borrow sugar or milk, and they would sit together in the garden. They were people of completely different professions and from different backgrounds – completely different, but they all still stuck together. Now, almost no one knows their neighbors – an elderly person could die and no one would even know he existed. It’s a complete mockery. So, from a social point of view, things have gotten a bit worse.
– Rammstein has been around for more than 20 years, but in terms of the radical nature of the songs and performances haven’t changed much. Many other metal or rock bands become “calmer” over such a long time. How come you are still so active?
– I don’t think other bands have become calmer. It’s just that there is no continuity anymore. In this Internet-age, when music is downloaded, young bands have almost no opportunities to perform because the record labels that used to help these bands don’t make much money. Before, bands received money from the labels, as a loan, then they could go into a studio, record an album, and, of course, the labels soon got their money back. At some point, the band would become popular enough to go their own way.
Now, everything is uploaded to Spotify pretty quickly – it’s a platform where musicians can become famous without having a lot of money – there are many such stories. But at the same time, they have almost no chance of becoming really big, well-known bands.
– Did you also have to adapt?
– Yes, we’re also on Spotify. But we, fortunately, don’t need this kind of attention anymore. However, for young bands that want to become successful, it doesn’t work very well because, the day after tomorrow, other bands can come to take their place and so on.
Right now, for musicians, there are very few opportunities to rise from the bottom to the top, to start playing concerts and be able to organize tours, because it also costs money. Previously, this was all handled by the labels. And this system of record labels, as musical publishers, functioned very well – at a certain point, as a result, you had a band (or not, if you couldn’t make it work).
But, now, there exists a new fundamental principle: you become famous for a short time, then disappear back into the crowd. Not many people manage to become famous through these new media outlets and be able to really live off of it and create a long career. The half-life of bands now ranges from two to five years, then they fall into oblivion.
– How have you managed to maintain the band for so much longer? Due to its continual image?
– We are hardworking, we work a lot, play almost all year round, and, when we’re not performing, we’re going into the studio to record new music. In addition, we try to keep up with the trends in modern music. For example, what was considered provocative about 20 years ago is now laughable.
– Such as?
– For example, the word “to fuck”. All possible forms of sex. Previously, it was considered to be absolutely, dangerously provocative. It would be cut out or subjected to censorship. Now, this is completely normal. And young people have a completely different attitude towards such things, owing in part to the Internet. To do something provocative in today’s medias field, you need to try very hard – it’s not so easy.
– Who are your current fans? Are they old fans or are you attracting young people, as well?
– We are very fortunate in this respect (I also don’t understand why) — our concerts are attended by 13-14-year-olds and 70-80-year-olds. There’s a whole array. And it’s great that young people come into the fanbase because, normally, the fans grow old with the band and then only older people come to shows. This isn’t very good. With us, the audience is age-diverse.
– Despite the fact that you have always deliberately been singing primarily in German, in Russia (and in many other countries, perhaps, as well), Rammstein is, in fact, the only group from Germany that people know and could easily name. Why is it that no other German group has been able to achieve this?
– We are searching for an explanation ourselves. One simple explanation that I can think of is, for example, regarding Spanish speaking countries, like Mexico and the rest of Latin America, it’s the expressiveness that does it. Here it is “ar-r-rbeiten” (Note by “The Paper”: pronounced with a rolling “r”. Arbeiten – from the German “to work”). Our languages have a lot in common. German is very rough and strict, but, at the same time, very expressive. Therefore, it’s possible that people see some similarities. I know that many people translate lyrics. However, I cannot really answer this question myself.
– Rammstein wrote the soundtrack to the film, “Nymphomaniac”. Why did you decide to take on this project?
– Lars von Trier offered to show us a snippet of the film and asked if we were interested in making something for it. We had a song that was almost ready, so we decided to call him back with our response. We sent him the soundtrack and von Trier liked it, but he wanted the word “nymphomaniac” to be woven into the song somehow. So, we went to the studio and reworked the song. It was done pretty quickly.
– As for your own videos: they can be quite rough and provocative. How do you come up with the stories? Is there anything that you would not allow yourself to show?
– No, no. You can do anything. We usually come up with ideas for the videos with the director: first, someone has an idea, we refuse it, we come up with a new one, we develop it – and so on until we achieve the necessary quality. Of course, when you want to be provocative, you need to figure out whether it would be shown at all. Therefore, you need to somehow get through the censorship and find the appropriate path.
Once, we shot a porno as a video and broadcast it via Visit-X (Note by “The Paper”: a major European porn site on which Rammstein posted the video for their song, “Pussy”). This meant that, initially, people had to download it through a porn site, which essentially crashed the site because everyone was trying to gain access. That was funny. But we had both censored and uncensored versions. So you can do anything you want, but you have to be sure that you’re aware of what exactly you’re doing. Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense to work and put in a lot of effort and money, just to end up with video no one would be able to see.
I do what I think is right. We have a democratic principle in the band: we decide together what to do, and we also criticize ourselves often. We have our own internal censorship. But when we are all satisfied with something, or at least all agree on it, we don’t care about any other opinions. Because if you take them into account, you encounter the problem of how to filter these opinions, while still allowing yourself to freely engage in creativity. A person must always do what he thinks and feels.
– It seems like you never play ordinary concerts: there are always pyrotechnics, complex costumes, and props. Does the group have any guidelines, with regards to this, from which you would never stray during the performance?
– I can answer this question pretty quickly: No pyro – no show. There are exceptions: for example, we played in Chicago, in the old part of the city, and the promoter booked the wrong venue – one on which nothing could be done at all. That time, we played without pyrotechnics, knowing that, otherwise, people would be forced to just go home. But that was a mistake on behalf of the promoter – he did not know that everything was forbidden there. At the end of the 19th century, Chicago was almost destroyed by fire, and, since then, shows with pyrotechnics haven’t been allowed.
Date: June, 2017
By Виктория Взятышева
Translation: Sarah Dinhofer