RAMMSTEIN INTERVIEW CREDITS:
Thorsten Zahn, METAL HAMMER Germany / www.metalhammer.de/rammstein-en
The band have released the transcript for the ONLY interview they will be doing for this album.
Reprinted with permission
When it comes to playing with matches, Rammstein are the undisputed masters: but for a long time (a full decade, in fact) the main thing the Berlin collective focussed on igniting was the stage. Now they’re firing up our senses (all of them!) via a new studio album, with first single / landmark video ‘Deutschland’ making it clear – in epic, spectacular style – the precise level of heat that’s set to come our way…
In their first interview about this new album, their seventh full-length release since 1995, RAMMSTEIN tell METAL HAMMER what other fuses have been lit…
If you can leave a gap of ten years between records, then instantly cause a genuinely seismic stir with a 35-second video trailer, chances are you’re doing something right. And meaningful.
In short, Rammstein are back, and with exactly the kind of energy fans have come to expect from musicians whose desire to constantly raise the bar, to push things to the very edge, is at the beating heart of everything they do. Of course, in the ever-shifting world of rock ‘n’ roll, nothing is cast in stone; a decade is a long time, even if the band never actually went away, reminding us at regular intervals that, when it comes to staging an all-action, high-impact, scorched-earth stage-show, Rammstein continue to light the way, torches aloft, banners unfurled…
And yes, the return to the studio is for the fans, but first and foremost, it’s for them. At this point, with the Rammstein brand more successful and more potent than it’s ever been, the challenge is simple: Can previous standards be met? And not just met, but surpassed?
Because nothing else in the Rammstein universe makes sense. With all six members having an equal say in whether a song is suitable for the spotlight, there are simply no compromises. A single thumbs down, and an idea is dead.
As a result, the new (untitled) Rammstein album stands perhaps as the band’s biggest challenge to date. The musicians are, of course, older and more mature now, with more music under their belt, so greater vigilance must be applied to maintaining momentum, to keeping things focussed and fresh, whilst still embracing those signature elements that have made Rammstein such a unique and combustible expression of intellect and art.
Rammstein must still be Rammstein, but in 2019, in this brave new world, there’s no way to do that without defying convention. Step one: to respectfully part ways with longstanding producer Jacob Hellner.
Then there’s the manner of The Great Return: the aesthetically arresting first video for ‘Deutschland’, a grand-scale experience containing not just brave lyrics but brave visuals, too – responsibility for the latter resting with Eric Remberg (aka Specter), founder of the Aggro label in Berlin and now a film producer, with clients including Marteria and Sido.
It’s clear that there is real honesty and courage here, the desire to question, to provoke thought, but provocation isn’t something you can pluck out of the ether; it comes from instinct, regardless of whether you’re a newcomer or an international superstar.
Rammstein have successfully rekindled their natural instincts, to have confidence in themselves and their strength as a unit, according to guitarist Richard Z. Kruspe, drummer Christoph Schneider, guitarist Paul Landers and keyboardist Christian ‘Flake’ Lorenz, interviewed by editor Thorsten Zahn.
Photo: Jes Larsen/Territorium
How did you motivate yourselves to record another album after the long studio absence?
Richard Z. Kruspe: It wasn’t all that easy. When we want to go into the studio or write an album, it’s not something that just takes a couple of weeks. So we always think very carefully about whether we really have the strength and stamina to do it. At the end of the day, we never know where we’re going to end up. It’s always an adventure with us! The first time we specifically had the idea of making a new album was 2015. At that time I really had no interest in doing one because I thought it would involve a lot of conflict. But then we got together and said: Let’s try to take out all of the pressure. We’re not under any contracts, we’re our own bosses. So let’s just see how it goes. We’ll start rehearsing, and if we end up with three or four songs that are okay, we’ll release them. And if we’re not happy, we’ll just leave it be.
Christoph Schneider: I understand the fans who are maybe annoyed by the long wait. But we need the time to be really good. That’s always our standard: To get the maximum from every note. Sometimes we only go up by a few percentage points over a period of weeks, but they make all the difference. But it’s not easy: I wasn’t always sure that this record would actually get made. We’ve now spent three years in the rehearsal room and studio. The great thing is: At no point in the band’s history have we ever got on so well together as now, not yelled at each other at work and been able to overcome musical crises.
Paul Landers: But honestly: If I had known beforehand what the process would involve, woah, my god. (laughs) A serious amount of blood, sweat, tears, anger and stress has gone into this album.
You also decided to go in a new direction for the recordings. How did that come about?
Richard Z. Kruspe: We just wanted to try something new – how we write, basically. And even the way we produce – first we went to France with Tom Dalgety (producer of Ghost, Royal Blood – ed.) and Olsen Involtini (Rammstein’s front of house engineer) instead of Jacob Hellner and Stefan Glaumann (long-time mixer for the band – ed.) as previously. Change is always a fragile thing: On the one hand, you don’t want to change something you’ve had success with. But on the other hand, you’ve got that desire to develop as a musician. We decided to step out of our comfort zone. It wasn’t always plain sailing, at the start we didn’t really get along that well with Tom and Olsen. And Jacob Hellner was also a father figure to a certain extent, someone who really leads a production. Olsen doesn’t do that, Tom doesn’t do that. So for me it just felt like: Nobody knows where we’re supposed to go any more… This is when you realise: from an astrological point of view, Rammstein is fire, water and earth at the same time. What we’re missing is air, in other words lightness. We tried to bring in air. Olsen Involtini is an air sign.
Christoph Schneider: He managed to guide us through the difficult formative stages of the album. We often end up in a stalemate situation: three of us for one solution, three for the other. After that, we just don’t get any further, the idea falls by the wayside. This is where Olsen came into play – he took the reins as producer, and you notice that in the songs. Through him, we arrived at new inspirations we wouldn’t have found on our own.
Paul Landers: This development was so important for us. We didn’t want to make another album without any challenges. For us, the aim was to do things differently just for the sake of it. With Jacob, it was like being on a school trip with a teacher. The longer we were on the trip, the more our respect for each other disappeared. I love trying something new, where you don’t know at the start what it’s going to be like at the end. That’s why it was a good idea of Richard’s to involve Olsen. If we have someone we accept – and that’s not always easy with us – then it feels good to hear a competent opinion. With six people, everything is always very uncoordinated.
Has this new direction also stimulated your creativity?
Christoph Schneider: On this album, I really held back with my instrument, so that when I come in, it’s in a way that adds to the particular song. For me, it wasn’t important to show what I could do – on RAMMSTEIN, I only play what’s really necessary.
Richard, did you have the feeling that ideas that you introduced were more easily accepted by the others?
Richard Z. Kruspe: No, I felt that my ideas were regarded extremely critically. The reason for that of course is that in the past I have tried to push through certain things. That sticks in the mind. Because I work a lot, sometimes there’s hardly any space left for the others. As well as that, I have a very precise idea of how something should sound. This time I worked on some ideas in advance with Till and then brought finished demos to our meetings. But they also got picked apart, of course.
Is Till your first point of contact in the band?
Richard Z. Kruspe: It depends. Sometimes he’s hard to pin down, then the others come into play first.
So in your case, Paul first?
Richard Z. Kruspe: It used to be the case that Paul and I thought the exact opposite to each other, simply because we’re very different people. This time, we were often in agreement. There was a change between me and Paul, which I find incredibly refreshing and also very productive. I don’t know how it happened that this time there was no competition in the songwriting phase… Maybe because I was thinking: ‘Hey, if that’s a good idea, it will take hold eventually. And if not, I’ll take it for another project’. That usually worked, and I gained a certain balance that way.
Paul Landers: We had quite a long time off, after the break we approached each other again for the first time. With an intensive operation like Rammstein you have to take a break sometimes, otherwise you eventually lose the plot. Richard and I first had to learn, in the creative sense, how to be in the same room again – Schneider helped us a lot with that.
But are you not especially good when you can clash with each other?
Richard Z. Kruspe: Yes, that’s definitely true for me. But that has led to situations where nobody can stand me anymore. A lot of loneliness. I’ve learned from it. Whenever I thought, it’s just not working any more, now I seriously have to say something, I consciously held back.
During that time, did you ever think about giving up?
Richard Z. Kruspe: Of course! A hundred times! Thought it through from every angle… One thing is certain, I’m only doing Rammstein because I really want to. And I can still find time to do other projects. They are and were really important to me. Without them, I probably wouldn’t have survived. Recently I asked myself the question: ‘What else is supposed to happen in my life?’ I’m a person who loves challenges. And yes, Rammstein is not everything in my life. Nor should it be.
What do the others think about this?
Christian “Flake” Lorenz: I’ve realised that with Rammstein, I can do something I could never do in another world, I would never leave. I don’t even care if I’m playing or not. I could just drive around with the crew, that would be enough for me. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the greatest thing in the world, that feeling of being in a gang. I’m lucky that it’s a band and not actual gangsters. But to be honest, I’m sure I would have enjoyed that just as much.
Christoph Schneider: Every so often we have these moments, especially before production starts, where we ask each other what’s important right now for each individual and what the future has in store for us all. While we haven’t specifically discussed an end yet, we are aware of the fact that Rammstein is a finite story, even if there’s no plan for it as of now.
Paul Landers: As long as we feel that the ship is still sailing and we haven’t reached the port yet, we’ll continue. But if we do enter a port, I wouldn’t be sad. I’m lucky enough to have a life outside of Rammstein. My personal goals with the band have long since been achieved: I wanted to play Huxley’s in Berlin and to get on a plane with a guitar case. (laughs)
You’ve certainly crossed those off. But it might be a lot harder to avoid repeating yourselves, especially in terms of the contents of your lyrics. Was it difficult to develop the themes of the eleven songs?
Christoph Schneider: The themes only emerge towards the end: With us, the musical ideas always come first, then Till gets the tapes. During this production he had some incredibly creative phases when he came up with lyrics for everything we’d done in no time at all. That was a real pleasure for us – I personally didn’t expect that in this way after all these years.
The success, particularly of the first single ‘Deutschland’ and its video, shows you’ve got it right. Does the song stand out in your opinion?
Paul Landers: There definitely were long discussions about this song. We put a lot of thought into how to do a song about Germany that wasn’t embarrassing. With this song in particular, every point, every word was fought over until everyone was happy.
Christoph Schneider: Everyone in the band was enthusiastic about the song. Initially there were two different versions, thanks to Olsen we were able as a group to choose one of them. For me, this song is about the ambivalent emotional relationship to this country. People from my generation can understand that. First there were two countries, then suddenly one was gone. There were also times when I couldn’t have brought myself to say the word ‘Deutschland’. There was the FRG (Federal Republic of Germany) and the GDR (German Democratic Republic), not Germany. Nowadays I’m better able to deal with it. It’s a subject that has preoccupied us forever. German lyrics with heavy music – that’s what we do. And now we’ve managed to do a song about Germany, that’s a major step for the band. For me, the video is also something very special: a reminder not to forget what everything once was – in Rammstein style. A wall filled with emotional historical events that come together in one clip. It’s like a teaser for an epic film that you want to watch afterwards.
Were you not afraid that the song could be misinterpreted?
Christoph Schneider: The song for me is an attempt to describe the state our generation finds itself in. We’re living in a time when many people now dare to come out with opinions that are no longer just being preached from the bar stool.
Will it not feel strange to have 80,000 fans on the stadium tour shouting “Deutschland” in unison?
Paul Landers: Our aim is to have people who are as uptight as we are loudly shouting “Deutschland”, without feeling bad. It’s very important to be allowed to shout “Deutschland” out loud once a year, at a Rammstein concert anyway. The next day you can go back to work as normal and feel ashamed. (laughs)
Christian “Flake” Lorenz: Playing in a stadium is really only for grandads. I’ve never seen a cool young band in a stadium, it’s more something for the living dead, Rolling Stones or AC/DC. I would never go to a stadium to see a band, it’s not great for the artist or the audience. It reminds me of East Germany with its cultural programme. You see something, but you can’t establish a relationship of any kind to it.
How does the new album hold up compared to your earlier work?
Richard Z. Kruspe: I’m a big fan of MUTTER. That to me is ‘our’ album, so we also play almost all of the songs live. The new songs also have this potential: I think they’ll be accepted live more quickly than the older albums, because they’re catchy. In retrospect, LIEBE IST FÜR ALLE DA was not our strongest album. The new album I think is much more interesting and more musical, less controlled. We’re breaking out now somehow – at least that’s how I feel about it. I’m often asked about the difference between the last album and the current one. My answer is: For me, the new album sounds like Rammstein in 3D. It has a depth that we didn’t have before.