We have overstepped borders
Rammstein are the most controversial band in Germany. And the most successful. Singer Till Lindemann about provocation, his home country, the dark chambers of his soul – and why he is a happy man for the first time
Playboy: Is Rammstein art?
Lindemann: There are moments of this band which have become art, which have immortalized. But in general I would say we make entertaining music.
Playboy: Was this the plan?
Lindemann: In the beginning we only wanted to attract attention. With extreme lyrics and extreme music. We were so fed up after the fall of the wall with all the old bands from the East which just sounded like American folk rock music. They copied each and everything: sound, hair-do, tattoos. We wanted to give those copyists a good slap in the face.
Playboy: Your provocation is calculated?
Lindemann: What can be called provocation today? In times of the East it was a provocation to go through town with a plastic bag on which “Axel Springer Verlag” was written. Provocation has to do with the reprisals you have to face. And in entertainment industry it doesn’t really work to talk about provocation.
Playboy: But you understand that someone would consider a song like “Mein Teil”, which is about the cannibal from Rothenburg, to be provocative? The text is: “Heute treff’ ich einen Herrn, der hat’ mich zum Fressen gern/weiche Teile und auch harte/stehen auf der Speisekarte/Denn du bist, was du isst/und ihr wisst, was es ist/es ist mein Teil“ (Today I’ll meet a man/ who likes me so much he would eat me/soft and hard parts are on the menu card/because you are what you eat/and you know what it is –it’s my tool)
Lindemann: But this was not our imagination, it really has happened. We thought it to be so unbelievable that one man fries the penis of the other in a pan and then they will eat it together. The Pet Shop Boys seemed to have liked the song, they have remixed it.
Playboy: For many years now Rammstein is the most successful German band in Germany and abroad. Which nerve do you hit?
Lindemann: We reveal emotions. Necrophilia and child molesters you won’t find in mainstream songs. We sing about it, and a lot of people are consternated but attracted by it at the same time.
Playboy: Most disturbing is you singing in the first person singular about these topics. Why do you do it?
Lindemann: It’s more direct. That’s the polarising effect: I am the cannibal, I am the child molester. In my opinion it would be cowardly to write it in the third person and make her responsible.
Playboy: Did the American shock rocker Marilyn Manson visit you during your US concert tour?
Lindemann: We met him several times. Nice guy. He lives the rock star image completely, has always bodyguards around him and even feels like a rock star while being under the shower. That’s a curse, too. I don’t want to be in his position. He has to decorate himself with silver tinsel, I just take off my pants after the show and that’s it.
Playboy: Talking to you one is surprised by your soft voice, sounding totally different to your deep voice on the records.
Lindemann: This is my normal baritone voice; when I sing I press my voice with force from below. I do it in a non-professional way, there is not much technique.
Playboy: Deep voice and a rolling “R” – does Rammstein therefore sound so evil?
Lindemann: Maybe. I sing out of instinct. That is a deep feeling – to sing out loud and hard something evil, which is buried deep down in the soul. You work up your life; it’s a kind of therapy.
Playboy: Also for the listeners?
Lindemann: I really believe that our concerts and music is of help for the soul. We receive a lot of mail from people that we were the only band who deal with topics like violence and incest. People write us they have experienced such things themselves and are thankful that we write about it. Now even women write us; that’s different to the beginning. In former times we were more an exclusive men’s club. Nowadays half of the people who come to our concerts are women.
Playboy: Rammstein as a substitution for a therapy?
Linmdemann: There are many aspects. And we are a kind of harder David-Copperfield-Show. Fathers visit our concerts with their children to show them good fireworks.
Playboy: Have Rammstein concerts always been that based on pyrotechnics?
Lindemann: Yes, right from the very beginning. In those times we used a coke bottle with a mixture of gas to pour it into the whole room and then lit it. The whole room burned for seconds then.
Playboy: Is fire your passion?
Lindemann: No, not at all, but I hate it to be observed on stage. When a guitar solo was played in former times I stood liked glued to the microphone. I always thought: I have to do something against it or I will die of loneliness and boredom. Fortunately a friend of mine was a pyrotechnist.
Playboy: You are burning on stage. How dangerous is it?
Lindemann: My leg has been burnt, because the trousers caught fire inside. My coat now is isolated that good so nothing can happen to me. It is made of a butcher’s apron consisting of small metal petals and a three centimetre thick isolating material. No problem to be in flames with this thing for four minutes, before the fire will reach my skin through it. After that I am filled up with adrenaline. And love it.
Playboy: Where is the limit?
Lindemann: One time the fans really thought I was burning: we made up a scene like I was having an accident and my leg was burning. Flake came with a fire extinguisher, but it contained a flammable powder. I was in flame, the music ended, the lights in the room went on. I rolled on the stage and assistants came with real fire extinguishers. We did that on 20 shows, but had to stop, because fans considered it to be too much and complained in the internet. They were really shocked.
Playboy: Which effect for the stage would you like to invent?
Lindemann: Permanent downpour. It’s such a fun to play while it rains. We did it for a video, but you can’t do it on stage, because the electric power in connection with the water would kill you.
Playboy: Why do you present yourself on stage so martial?
Lindemann: If we would make hippie guitar music we would wear bell bottom trousers and sun flower shirts. With our outfits we have set a frame for the picture we want to paint on stage. The war make-up and the naked upper bodies are part of it. We call it “OF” (“o” for “Oberkörper” = upper body part; “f” for “frei” normally: free, here: bare). We ask each other in the dressing room before the show: Do you do “OF” tonight? Nope, I have put on too much weight, maybe next week.
Playboy: What was the weirdest outfit?
Lindemann: We wore it in a small, dirty club, when we did our first three gigs in New York. It was totally crowded, and we played “OF” and with traditional leather trousers.
Playboy: Without the fear to serve German folkloristic clichés?
Lindemann: Absolutely. Over there Germany is Mercedes, leather trousers and kraut. After the concert two black Hip Hoppers came to us and said: we hate that metal shit, but you guys are ace.
Playboy: Did you ever perform on drugs?
Lindemann: In former times constantly. We have tried everything but injections, but from joints to cocaine we gave it all a try. It was like a competition: how extreme is this band? Only for the effect.
Playboy: Why did you stop?
Lindemann: On the one hand the shows have become too big. On the other hand my body gave me a warning signal. When we were recording in Stockholm, I could not mount two steps of the stairs, because I was so full of cigarettes, alcohol and cocaine. A tiny little white flag showed up and told me: if I go on like that I will have to face some problems.
Playboy: Nowadays Rammstein have some famous fans like Heino (German traditional folk music icon).
Lindemann: Yes, he admitted to be a fan of ours recently. He liked our hiking video for “Ohne Dich”. And Udo Jürgens (famous German pop music veteran, although born in Austria) asked for a mutual photo after the ECHO awards show, because he said he likes us. But who knows, maybe tomorrow that’s different, when success is gone.
Playboy: Do you want to be loved?
Lindemann: For all costs. Who says “no” is a liar.
Playboy: You seem to be liked more in foreign countries than in Germany.
Lindemann: We are much more accepted abroad. It’s incredible to hear 20.000 French fans in Paris-Bercy, the legendary hall in France, sing along with our texts in German. In German! And normally French people do not like to speak in another language than French at all. If I may say: we are the pioneers of the French-German friendship.
Playboy: Because the French pronounce “Bück Dich” as “Bück Disch”?
Lindemann: Yes, that’s marvellous. In Mexico they sing along the whole songs, not only the refrains. Every line in perfect German, although they hate Gringos and although they hate progress. I love the Mexicans.
Playboy: In your new song “Benzin” and its video you show some self-irony for the first time.
Lindemann: It isn’t about irony: the hunger for benzine represents the crave for a lot of things. But you are right: we have made too many funny videos right now. It’s time to travel dark seas again.
Playboy: How do you write your texts?
Lindemann: In absolute silence. With view into nature. Laptop. First there is the music and I ponder over a fitting text. This song could be about water. Or that song could be about a filthy guy loitering in front of a kindergarden.
Playboy: On your new album “Rosenrot” the song “Mann gegen Mann” is about homosexuals. So maybe you will have to face accusations of being hostile against homosexuals?
Lindemann: Maybe. But my intention was quite different: I envy the guys their easy looking at each other in a pub and then pick each other up, without all the bloody nonsense with flowers and three times out for dinner together before you are allowed to do it. It’s so much easier for them. They look at each other and have good and fast sex. I really hope the song will turn out as a hymn in gay clubs.
Playboy: For your video of “Stripped” you used some material from Leni Riefenstahl’s “Olympia” movie. Would you do such a thing again?
Lindemann: No. Because I am fed up with allegations of being a right wing band. My daughter – my dearest in my life – came to me at that time to ask me: tell me, do you play in a Nazi band? At this point I knew we had overstepped a border. That was too much for me.
Playboy: Is your daughter your only child?
Lindemann: I have a lot of children.
Playboy: With how many women?
Lindemann: With a lot.
Playboy: Why did those relationships never work?
Lindemann: Because the feeling was missing, I never dared to be bound. Therefore I always was the one who was left and I always was totally shocked. But every time I realized: she’s right! The only good thing about this was that every time I was left the pain was a big push for my creativity.
Playboy: Were you faithful?
Lindemann: Never. I always have thought I had to fuck in advance, for the bad times maybe to come. It was quite a jumble of one-night-stands and affairs.
Playboy: So you are still a single?
Lindemann: I have met a woman with whom I want to live for the rest of my life. Since I got to know her I do not have the urge to stroll.
Playboy: Bad for the creative pushes.
Lindemann: I think I still have saved a little dark chamber in my soul. I can dive into soul depths quickly if there is a need for it.
Playboy: Which recollections do you use for it?
Lindemann: The longing for death. I haven’t cared much in former times. I always thought I would not reach the age of 50. But now, with this woman at my side, this has changed. Now I am a really happy man and really wish to be able to get old.
Playboy: You are 42 now. How old is your girlfriend?
Lindemann: 28. I cannot imagine to live together with a woman of my age.
Playboy: You nearly have had the chance to represent the GDR in 1980 in Moscow at the Olympic Games as a swimmer. Is it true that your participation was cancelled because you sneaked out of the hotel in Florence during a competition?
Lindemann: I did not want to flee, I only wanted to have a look at town. The cars, the bikes, the girls. They caught me and I was thrown out of the team, but I also did not fulfil the required results.
Playboy: Was it bad?
Lindemann: It was horrible. When I still was in the swimming team I had swum 30 kilometres a day, getting up at five in the morning and in the evening I went to bed totally knackered. Now I had so much time to spend in the quarter with the cheap built houses and had to start fights to be accepted. And to drink lots of Schnapps, that counted.
Playboy: What do you feel, thinking of the GDR?
Lindemann: Until the day everybody left the country and went away I had a warm feeling. It was not that bad, you could bare it. We were a punk band with a license of the government for playing. And even if people from the Stasi (abbreviation for “Staatssicherheitsdienst” the Secret Service of the GDR) were listening in the audience we never had any problems. The dismay about the GDR came later, when I realized what really had happened.
Playboy: But not at times of the existing of the GDR?
Lindemann: Of course you had some suspicions that a lot was falsehood and deceit, e.g. when you entered an apprenticeship and everything produced directly went to the storage. That was just making people work. Today it is called ABM (Abbreviation for “Arbeitsbeschäftigungsmaßnahme” i.e.: measure of making people work).
Playboy: Do you miss the GDR?
Lindemann: No. But the relations to other people were different. Who meets with friends at home today? In the past the pub closed at ten in the evening and then you went to friends. Nearness could develop. That has died now.
Playboy: Have you never been observed by friends of yours on behalf of the Stasi?
Lindemann: Of course I have. Sometimes by very close friends. That was shocking, but I distinguish very clearly: who threatened my existence, my livelihood and who just reported harmless things. And the motivation is another factor for distinguishing: who wanted to have advantages for himself as a secret member of the Stasi and who only did it because he was threatened and forced himself by the Stasi.
Playboy: Are you for or against the pull down of the Berlin Palace of Republic?
Lindemann: Against. In my opinion the Palace is like a kidney stone. You keep it as a souvenir after the operation because it was a part of you, even when it has hurt.
Playboy: Where did you receive your welcome money (special amount of Deutsch Mark given to the people of the GDR after the fall of the wall, which they could fetch in Western Germany) in 1989?
Lindemann: Near the border in Lübeck. And I spent it in a small shop on sweets, wine gums, Yoghurt gums. I said to myself: I’ll eat until I will burst. In the times before the opening of the border one package of Haribo from the Intershop (shops in the GDR in which totally overpriced products of Western Germany could be bought only in Deutsch Marks, not in the currency of the East) had to last for a whole year.
Playboy: Would you like to play in small clubs again?
Lindemann: No, and I never want to drive a Trabant again. I love the electric window pane pushers in my car, even if all these things are not really necessary.
Playboy: Which car do you drive?
Lindemann: A jeep, because it’s useful in the countryside where I live, between Schwerin and Wismar. There is my home country. A very boring place. After ten years travelling the whole world this is the perfect place for me. I can’t stand big cities longer than three days now.
Playboy: How big is the town you live in?
Lindemann: It consists of twelve houses. My house has a small lake for fishing and a very great view on a wild life reserve with grey herons. Great.
Playboy: Will Rammstein, like the Stones, still tour with 60?
Lindemann: I think we will stop earlier, on my behalf with a last concert in the Berlin Olympia stadium.
Playboy: The band now has time off for six month. What will you do meanwhile?
Lindemann: I am going to Costa Rica with my girlfriend. We will buy a car and then cruise through South America. We have been to a survival camp in a jungle before and know how to extract water from a jungle plant and how to eat lemon ants.
Playboy: How do they taste?
Lindemann: Delicious. Like lemon cake.