Rammstein on the cover of Maximum Ink in November 1998
photo by Paul Gargano
Just how far should a band go to win over a crowd? Rammstein go further. Some musicians breathe flames, Till Lindemann sings while engulfed in them. And that’s just to open the show. With only a handful of American dates under their belts, the buzz surrounding German industrial metal giants Rammstein is spreading like wildfire, propelling their Sehnsucht debut to gold status only six months after its release, and earning them the second headliner’s position on Korn’s Family Values tour. That may seem a bit ironic for a band whose lyrics hammer from brazen metal imagery to treading a fine line between sweetly erotic and disturbing sexual extremes. Then again, when the song titles in question are smash single and MTV Buzz Clip “Du Hast”-which translates to English, “You Hate”-and the more provocatively penned “Küss Mich,” “Tier” and “Spiel Mit Mir”-“Kiss Me,” “Beast” and “Play With Me,” respectively-the risk of being too risqué is lost. Rammstein are from Germany, sing entirely in German, and according to guitarist Richard Kruspe, who joined me on the phone from his homeland with a translator, they write their music in German, as well. Whether listening to their pair of tracks on David Lynch’s Lost Highway soundtrack-edits of ``Rammstein” and ``Hierate Mich,” their American unveilings-or any of the tracks on Sehnsucht, they slam with all the eerie forboding of a militant strike, twisting American metal and industrial with their foreign flair for results that crash between hollow hauntings and throbbing mayhem. Then there’s the performance. Live, the six imports from the other side of the crumbled Iron Curtain detonate more explosions than an air raid, and spew enough sexual imagery to dement even the sickest set of Family Values. Behold, America, the wrath of Rammstein is upon us…
Maximum Ink: Were you expecting this sudden of a rise in America?
Richard Kruspe: Yes, we knew right away! (laughing) Of course not, we didn’t expect this. Everybody told us in the beginning that this would never happen, and the project would lead to nothing. But we always stuck to what we were doing, and it was a big surprise that with German lyrics and German music we would make it anywhere, especially in the United States. We feel very honored and proud.
MI: Do you have any plans to sing to American audiences in English? Or will you continue in German?
RK: In the history of Rammstein, there was one time when our record company asked us to translate at least one of our singles into English because they were afraid that they wouldn’t work in the U.S., and we were, of course, curious to do that and listen to the songs in English. The fact was, the U.S. DJs, at radio stations, refused to play the English song, they wanted to play the original German song. That was when I understood that you couldn’t jump from one language to another, because it does change the song. The German language is very important to go along with the music, it fits the music, and is an important part of the picture.
MI: Do you feel odd singing lyrics to audiences that can’t understand them?
RK: It was funny to perform in the U.S., hearing people sing along and knowing that they probably didn’t know what they were saying. But it was fun for us to hear people not singing, but shouting the lyrics. The audiences were emotional, and we were touched by that. It reminds me of back when I was a child, singing along to English songs, not understanding what I was singing, but just singing along because I had too. The same thing is happening now in the U.S., so it’s very nice!
MI: What songs were you singing?
RK: (laughing) AC/DC… “TNT,” “Highway to Hell”... Songs with key words that were repeated throughout the entire song, like our “Du Hast” and “Sehnsucht.”
MI: I was amazed by the extreme sexual content of the lyrics when I saw an English translation. The lyrics are only in German on the CD sleeve, do you think fans realize what the songs are about?
RK: It comes across on an emotional level. The people who sing along get the message, and of course they’re interested in what they’re singing. We believe that the people that are interested enough will translate the lyrics.
MI: So it’s like a humanitarian mission. You’re compelling the American youth to learn German by enticing them with
RK: (laughing) It would be very nice! But we’re a band which is trying to awaken interest in Rammstein. If fans are interested in learning the German language, because of the subjects themselves, that would also be very nice.
MI: With the sexual content of the lyrics, especially the incestual songs, do you find it ironic you’re on the Family Values Tour?
RK: Those lyrics have different questions which occur within them, not only about incest and sexual situations, but they’re love songs in extreme forms. For me, life is all about relationships, between woman and man, you and music… The lyrics aren’t scandalous, they’re just love songs from extreme angles. It’s written and sung in Rammstein’s language to express the extremes of life. There is no link lyrically to the Family Values tour, it wasn’t intended to be ironic, it was just coincidence, a matter of timing.
MI: Overseas, some of America’s favorite bands, including Metallica, have reportedly asked not to perform after Rammstein, due to your spectacular live show. Are you aware of that happening at all on Family Values?
RK: There are several bands on the Family Values tour, and in the beginning, when we were asked to do the tour, we were told we’d be playing in the beginning. We said that would not be possible for us. We didn’t want to come over to the United States and play in front of empty halls [while audiences are filing in]. Due to the success we are having now, we’re second headliners. We’re happy to be second headliners, because when you headline a tour like Family Values, you’re responsible for the whole evening. The second headliner doesn’t have those responsibilities on their shoulders, so you can experiment. It’s easier, there’s not as much pressure, so we’re pleased. If any band has to say that they will not play after Rammstein, it is just due to insecurity about their own performance
MI: This is your first real tour of America. Is your goal to turn a lot of heads and steal the show?
RK: This is a Korn tour, and Rammstein are very happy to be invited to play with them. A lot of fans will attend the shows just for Korn, and we’re aware of that fact. The essence of an evening like this isn’t for people to walk out saying that someone played the best, but for the fans to leave the venue and say that they had a fantastic evening and saw five great bands with five great performances. The goal for Rammstein is, being on the Korn tour, to be able to play for so many people and play as well as we can. Hopefully the other bands will do the same and it will be a smashing evening for anybody.
MI: What do you think it is about Rammstein that appeals to American audiences?
RK: If I would know why our success came so out of the blue in America, I would put together 10 bands and send them on the road, but it’s a mystery. The chemistry in the band is so essential because you have six characters onstage which are able to link the music and the lyrics, which fit together, to the public, the audience, and there is no fucking way for the audience to turn away. They have to look at the stage because there is a singer who is able to express, in a very visual way, the songs with the lyrics, and each and every member of the band has a way to bring the message to you. In the end you are a part of it. Possibly, that is the reason why nobody can escape, and that is why everybody becomes hooked on Rammstein. For me, that is why Rammstein are the first metal “boy group” band in the world.
MI: “Metal ‘boy group’ band?”
RK: By that I mean, it’s not a normal band where you have a singer and the band behind them. With Rammstein you have six people onstage and each one of them is part of the visual aspect of the show, as you would have with a boy group band. You can watch anyone on stage and be satisfied by them.
MI: A heavy-metal answer to the Backstreet Boys?
RK: Yes. (laughing) That’s a common term here in Europe, “boy group.” Also, Rammstein are very unique visually.
MI: What are the influences that make Rammstein what it is?
RK: The thing is, we have six very different characters with different musical backgrounds. We were all friends, in different bands, and were unhappy with the bands we were playing in. There were six different meanings when you asked us what music meant to us. We were looking for a new style, one that would be both satisfying to play and listen to. That was our goal when we started. What’s also very important to know, is that we grew up in former East Germany, behind the Iron Curtain, and the music that we could listen to was very limited. There were a lot of musical styles and bands that never got released in East Germany. That made us like a white piece of paper that wasn’t really influenced by anyone.
MI: So you weren’t listening to any of the American metal bands growing up, like KISS?
RK: Even in East Germany, you got the information coming across, and big bands, of course, you got information about. You didn’t have records at all though. You had to make tapes from second or third copies. KISS, for example, was an absolute phenomenon. They represented capitalism in its purest sense, and every child was KISS infected because they were so big. Kids wrote KISS on their notebooks, and if the teachers saw it they could get kicked out of school, just for having it written on their books. When I saw one of their videos in the U.S., it took all the illusions away from what I thought they were about when I was a child. I used to have a poster of them in my room as a child, and when I was 12 years old my stepfather tore it down and into a thousand pieces. I was up all night trying to put it back together, and you can be sure it was hanging the next day. When I saw their video, my illusions faded away, of course you can’t keep the sentiments you had as a child because your imagination is so much bigger than the reality is.
MI: Were there any other American bands you listened to?
RK: I tried to listen to other American bands as well, and as I got older I got really, really into one band, Big Black, a great industrial band.
MI: Like any current bands?
RK: I listen to a lot of different bands now, but I’m not particularly a big fan of any one. I really like bands that do their own thing and have their own special way, like Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Suicidal Tendencies, Pantera… Bands with a unique style and a unique face to them.
MI: Is Family Values it, or will America have another chance to see you?
RK: I just hope to survive this tour! (laughing) It will be the longest tour we’ve ever done. After the tour the most important thing, for me, will be to write another album. Of course, we’ll have to come back though, because America is like a second girlfriend… We’re in love, so we’ll have to come back.
MI: A second girlfriend! How does the first girlfriend feel?! [laughter]
RK: The first girlfriend is Germany, and we’ve known each other for a long time. She can do without us for awhile!
MI: A lot of American bands can’t sell in America, but do well overseas, and the opposite is true for a lot of European bands. How does Rammstein manage
RK: We know magic! (laughing) I don’t really have an answer for that because the only thing I know is that it’s happening! If it stops happening, we’ll question what we’re doing wrong and fix it, but so far it’s been perfect.
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