TILL LIN­DE­MANN WE HEAD TO RUS­SIA TO MEET THE RAMM­STEIN MAN ON THE EVE OF HIS NEW AL­BUM. YEP, STILL MYS­TE­RI­OUS…

Kerrang! (UK) - - CONTENTS - Words: Paul bran­ni­gan Photos: JENS KOCH

Even af­ter a quar­ter of a cen­tury in the spot­light fronting RAMM­STEIN, few mu­si­cians re­main so enig­matic as TILL LIN­DE­MANN. As he un­leashes his se­cond al­bum with co­hort PETER TÄGT­GREN, we head to Rus­sia to meet him, and dis­cover the man be­hind the flamethrow­er…

AMoscow ho­tel suite, five in the morn­ing. The bed­room floor is car­peted with prints of pages from Till Lin­de­mann’s po­etry col­lec­tion, Messer (Knife), orig­i­nally pub­lished in his na­tive Ger­many in 2003, and set for a reis­sue in Rus­sia via the Bomb­ora pub­lish­ing house. Even in its un­bound form, it’s a bril­liant, strik­ing arte­fact, with Till’s thought-pro­vok­ing text – full of apoc­a­lyp­tic images of death and de­cay, love and mad­ness – ren­dered in both Ger­man and Rus­sian, and per­fectly com­ple­mented by un­nerv­ing, bleakly beau­ti­ful il­lus­tra­tions.

But as he pores over the pages, Till, a man who has made a ca­reer of push­ing art to the ex­treme, feels that the work is in­com­plete.

Set­ting aside a glass of vodka, he be­gins to search the room for a sharp knife. Upon lo­cat­ing one, the singer makes a cen­time­tre-long in­ci­sion in his left arm, caus­ing blood to spurt from the wound. He then be­gins me­thod­i­cally drip­ping blood onto the man­u­script, ap­ply­ing a blood-smeared fin­ger­print here, a blood­ied hand­print there, for added per­son­al­i­sa­tion. Only then will he fi­nally ap­prove the pages for pub­li­ca­tion.

“It looked so bor­ing be­fore,” he says, re­flect­ing back on the night in ques­tion. “So I made it more colour­ful.”

He may be a cham­ber­maid’s worst night­mare, but Till Lin­de­mann is hugely fond of Rus­sia, which he has long con­sid­ered a home away from home. He first vis­ited the Union of Soviet So­cial­ist Re­publics in 1973, back when he was 10 years old, as a mem­ber of the East Ger­man na­tional youth swim­ming squad. Five years later, ear­marked as a fu­ture Olympian, the teenager was se­lected to rep­re­sent his coun­try in the 1978 Euro­pean Ju­nior Swim­ming Cham­pi­onships, held in Florence, Italy. His first trip to Western Europe would also prove to be his last com­pet­i­tive swim, for that same week he would be ex­pelled from the na­tional team af­ter be­ing ap­pre­hended, post-cur­few, by his coaches while clam­ber­ing down a fire es­cape on a mis­sion to find a city cen­tre sex shop which sold porn mag­a­zines.

This anec­dote is sig­nif­i­cant and note­wor­thy not only be­cause it was Till’s first gen­uine clash with au­thor­ity, but be­cause it was an early in­di­ca­tion of an in­stinc­tive yearn­ing for free­dom which mo­ti­vates him to this day. When not strap­ping metal­lic an­gel wings to his back and a flamethrow­er to his face as Ramm­stein’s front­man, it’s a free­dom the charis­matic 56-year-old singer now finds in writ­ing free verse po­etry (“Po­etry is the flight of the soul,” he once said, liken­ing the cre­ative process to es­cap­ing from a “cage”), in his love of fish­ing, hunt­ing and cook­ing, in solo travel. He also finds it in Lin­de­mann, the mu­si­cal side-project he main­tains in tan­dem with his day job, pro­mo­tional du­ties for which have ne­ces­si­tated his re­turn to Rus­sia this week.

Sit­ting in the el­e­gant ninth floor bar of Saint Peters­burg’s grand Kempin­ski Ho­tel, the singer is af­forded a su­perb bird’s eye view of the city’s ma­jes­tic, iconic Win­ter Palace, stormed by the Bol­she­vik Red Guards un­der the com­mand of Leon Trot­sky at the dawn of the 1917 Oc­to­ber Rev­o­lu­tion. Sport­ing a black roll-neck sweater un­der a crisp black blazer, three steel bar pierc­ings in his left eye­brow glint­ing in the morn­ing sunshine, he looks like he’s spruced up for a visit to an up­scale fetish club. Broader than a Lieb­herr fridge, he’s ini­tially not much warmer when in­tro­duced to Kerrang!, barely glanc­ing up from his phone screen when we take a seat in front of him.

Sit­ting across the ta­ble, clad in an equally aus­tere mono­chrome fashion, Peter Tägt­gren is rather more an­i­mated and gre­gar­i­ous, pos­si­bly be­cause he’s on his third bot­tle of strong lager of the day, with the sun yet to pass over the yardarm. The 49-year-old Swede, Till’s mu­si­cal part­ner in Lin­de­mann, and the front­man of death met­allers Hypocrisy and one-man in­dus­trial crew PAIN, de­scribes his re­la­tion­ship with the singer as “like a mar­riage”, and his very pres­ence and bone-dry hu­mour soon help to thaw Till’s some­what frosty de­meanour.

Peter has a blood-let­ting story of his own, this one re­lat­ing how, fol­low­ing the 2015 re­lease of the duo’s de­but al­bum Skills In Pills, he and Till be­came ‘blood brothers’, cut­ting their arms and in­ter­min­gling their blood in a time-hon­oured friend­ship rit­ual.

“I think we’re both kind of men­tally ill,” Peter laughs. “But we can cope with it so we fit re­ally good to­gether. We share ev­ery­thing, maybe too much. Noth­ing is taboo with us.”

“We have per­fect har­mony,” Till agrees, speak­ing in a voice much qui­eter than one might ex­pect. “I know from Ramm­stein that, when you work with some­one, friend­ship can suf­fer. But we fit like a man and wife. Un­for­tu­nately, we just don’t have the sex­ual thing…”

The duo were last in Rus­sia to­gether in De­cem­ber 2018, when they pig­gy­backed the first – and to this point, only, though that will change – Lin­de­mann live dates on the back of a sign­ing ses­sion tour Till’s pub­lish­ers had or­gan­ised to pro­mote Messer. The trek, which saw the pair per­form glee­fully per­verse songs about la­dy­boys, golden show­ers, and the sex­ual grat­i­fi­ca­tion to be had from en­cour­ag­ing obe­sity in a lover, to wildly en­thu­si­as­tic re­cep­tion, fea­tured, as Till re­calls, “a lot of vodka and par­ty­ing ev­ery night”. This week, they’re back in the coun­try to con­duct pro­mo­tional du­ties for Lin­de­mann’s forth­com­ing se­cond al­bum, F&M, and to film two mu­sic videos, the fi­nal shots for which were com­pleted at 3am this morn­ing. The duo are tightlippe­d about the con­cepts of the two shoots, but given that their last two pro­mos, for Math­e­matik and Steh auf, fea­tured a) Till on his knees hav­ing sex while dressed as a Ja­panese school­girl and b) a horde of Mon­gol war­riors on horse­back crash­ing through brick walls, an­tic­i­pate some­thing mem­o­rably dis­turb­ing when they pre­miere.

In keep­ing with the spon­ta­neous, free-spir­ited na­ture of their pre­vi­ous cre­ative col­lab­o­ra­tions, F&M (an ab­bre­vi­a­tion of Frau und Mann, the Ger­man words for ‘Woman and Man’) isn’t an al­bum with a con­ven­tional ori­gin story. Its roots lie in a re­quest from Till’s el­dest daugh­ter, Nele, for her fa­ther to sup­ply three pieces of in­ci­den­tal mu­sic for a the­atri­cal adap­ta­tion of Hansel And Gre­tel, the Brothers Grimm’s twisted 1812 fairy tale, on which she was work­ing in Ham­burg. Till de­scribes writ­ing for the project, a dark re­work­ing of the leg­endary story of two young sib­lings aban­doned in a for­est by their fa­ther and self­ish step­mother, then en­trapped by a can­ni­bal­is­tic witch, as “a good horse to ride on”.

“It seemed like a per­fect topic for us,” he ex­pands, “be­cause the Hansel And Gre­tel story is mor­bid and bru­tal but very ro­man­tic too. There’s the idea of the blood­line be­tween the par­ents and the chil­dren – who sends their chil­dren out into a for­est? – and then the hor­ror of the witch get­ting pushed into her own oven. The di­rec­tors changed some scenes – like, they came up with this idea that Gre­tel has a la­tex

“WE HAVE PER­FECT HAR­MONY – WE FIT LIKE MAN AND WIFE…” TILL LIN­DE­MANN

or rub­ber fetish, and started dress­ing the main ac­tor in a la­tex cos­tume – and then it was, ‘Could you do one more song please? Ac­tu­ally, can you do an­other?’ We were writ­ing on de­mand, and it was fun, a new way of work­ing.”

“And so re­ally we didn’t know we were mak­ing a se­cond Lin­de­mann al­bum un­til it was fin­ished,” Peter laughs.

Like its pre­de­ces­sor, F&M is an ex­hil­a­rat­ing, some­times dis­turb­ing, of­ten hi­lar­i­ous lis­ten, a blend of puls­ing in­dus­trial metal, gothic torch songs and, on Math­e­matik, hip-hop, with a cameo from Ger­man rap­per Haft­be­fehl (‘ar­rest war­rant’ in Ger­man). “In the be­gin­ning it was a con­cept record, and then it got loose, and we went crazy, adding spices to the soup,” Till laughs. Un­like its pre­de­ces­sor, how­ever, which fea­tured Till singing en­tirely in English for the first time, it’s a Ger­man-lan­guage al­bum, mean­ing na­tive English speak­ers can en­joy un­pick­ing the mean­ing of Till’s typ­i­cally sub­ver­sive lyrics for them­selves. On a sur­face read­ing, F&M may ap­pear to be a less provoca­tive al­bum than Skills In Pills, but as with ev­ery­thing in which Till Lin­de­mann is in­volved, there are weight­ier themes to be gleaned from deep im­mer­sion in the ma­te­rial. Asked whether some­one lis­ten­ing to F&M will get gen­uine in­sights into the true char­ac­ter of the man be­hind these dark para­bles, Till pauses briefly, smiles, then leans to­wards the record­ing de­vice on the ta­ble in front of him to en­sure that the next words he de­liv­ers are cap­tured loud and clear.

“Yes. If they crawl into it, they’ll think, ‘Oh my God, who is this guy?’”

This is an in­trigu­ing prospect be­cause, truth­fully, while he’s de­vel­oped an en­vi­able rep­u­ta­tion as an artis­tic vi­sion­ary, a re­fined man of let­ters and a highly-re­garded en­tre­pre­neur, Till Lin­de­mann hasn’t ex­pended too much en­ergy across his 25-year ca­reer on re­veal­ing the flesh-and-blood hu­man be­yond the fa­mil­iar two-di­men­sional char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion of him as ‘That Ger­man brick shit­house with the flamethrow­er’.

When Ramm­stein first ap­peared on the cover of Kerrang! back in April 2001, their front­man didn’t of­fer up a sin­gle word in the ac­com­pa­ny­ing in­ter­view. “Ru­mours and whis­pers sur­round Till Lin­de­mann,” we noted in the piece, “some of which are true, some of which prob­a­bly aren’t, and some of which he would pos­si­bly sue us un­til we turned puce for even dar­ing to print.” In 2019, Ramm­stein may have topped the na­tional al­bum charts in no fewer than 14 coun­tries with their un­ti­tled sev­enth al­bum, and their front­man may have few peers when it comes to hold­ing the at­ten­tion of 60,000 peo­ple nightly in sta­dia world­wide, but he re­mains one of the most enig­matic and pri­vate char­ac­ters in rock’s top tier.

This, of course, is en­tirely de­lib­er­ate, with Ramm­stein’s arch provo­ca­tions and sear­ing so­cial cri­tiques hugely ef­fec­tive smoke­screens in ob­scur­ing their per­sonal lives. Sim­i­larly, too many of those fix­ated upon the grotesque, X-rated themes on the first Lin­de­mann record failed to of­fer many true in­sights into the char­ac­ter of the lyri­cist who con­ceived them. Lit­tle at­ten­tion, for in­stance, was paid to the fact that the track Yukon dis­played Till’s awe in the el­e­men­tal power of na­ture. The re­sult is that, some­how, Till has man­aged to hide in plain sight for the best part of 25 years. “I have two lives,” he ad­mit­ted to us in his last ma­jor UK in­ter­view.

Bet­ter placed than most to ex­plain this du­al­ity, ear­lier this year, ahead of Ramm­stein’s sched­uled re­turn to Ro­s­tock’s 30,000 ca­pac­ity Ost­seesta­dion, the city’s daily news­pa­per Ost­see-zeitung tasked reporter Michael Meyer with track­ing down the band’s lo­cal-hero front­man in the tiny vil­lage where he spent his for­ma­tive years. Though he now lives in Ber­lin, Till still main­tains a house in Meck­len­burg, a red brick cot­tage with a charm­ingly un­kempt gar­den, but he was not at home in the bu­colic vil­lage when the jour­nal­ist knocked on his front door. Un­de­terred, Meyer sought tes­ti­monies from the mu­si­cian’s neigh­bours, re­ceiv­ing al­most iden­ti­cal re­sponses from ev­ery­one he spoke to. “Till keeps to him­self,” was the gen­eral con­sen­sus. “He wants to be left alone.” Closeknit com­mu­ni­ties of­ten re­act in the same man­ner upon dis­cov­er­ing that one of their num­ber has been ap­pre­hended as a sus­pected se­rial killer. The man from Ost­see-zeitung did re­ceive a warm wel­come, how­ever, from one lo­cal res­i­dent, 80-yearold Brigitte ‘Gitta’ Lin­de­mann, Till’s mother. Gitta spoke with love of her boy’s life­long pas­sions for lit­er­a­ture (the works of Goethe and Ber­tolt Brecht in par­tic­u­lar), and paint­ing, his love of na­ture, and his calm and placid char­ac­ter when recharg­ing his cre­ative en­er­gies on home turf. For­merly the head of the cul­tural depart­ment at the ra­dio and tele­vi­sion net­work NDR, she likened Ramm­stein’s live shows to opera, burst­ing with pride as she re­called watch­ing her son per­form on­stage at New York’s leg­endary Madi­son Square Gar­den. “Do you know what made the big­gest im­pres­sion on me?” she said. “The boys’ courage! They don’t give a shit… what peo­ple might think. They never did.”

“I had a happy child­hood,” says Till to­day, re­flect­ing on life grow­ing up in what was then East Ger­many. “My mum was in the Com­mu­nist Party, and my dad was…” Here, Till makes a zigzag­ging mo­tion with his right hand, in­di­cat­ing that his writer fa­ther Werner was some­thing of a free spirit. “He wrote books for kids, so there was noth­ing the au­thor­i­ties could find fault with.

“We were oc­cu­pied by the Rus­sians, so we had Rus­sian food, Rus­sian movies, Rus­sian mu­sic, and we read and wrote the Rus­sian lan­guage in school. We had Rus­sian sol­diers as neigh­bours, and I re­mem­ber as kids we pro­vided them with le­mon­ade and food. Rus­sia was the big brother, tak­ing care of us all.”

In­evitably, per­haps, this idyl­lic child­hood gave way to a more trou­bled ado­les­cence for the young­ster, with his par­ents sep­a­rat­ing and his aware­ness of the of­ten re­pres­sive na­ture of East Ger­many’s gov­ern­ment mount­ing. Ex­pelled from the na­tional swim­ming squad with the 1980 Moscow Olympics loom­ing, he re­calls go­ing into freefall, drink­ing heav­ily and get­ting into street fights as he sought to re-in­te­grate into reg­u­lar

“THIS AL­BUM WILL MAKE YOU THINK, ‘GOD, WHO IS THIS GUY?’” TILL LIN­DE­MANN

“I’M JUST BLESSED THAT I HAVE FOUND FREE­DOM…” TILL LIN­DE­MANN

so­ci­ety. Con­di­tions, then, were per­fect for the newly-re­bel­lious teenager to fall in love with Western rock mu­sic.

“I lis­tened to a lot of ra­dio,” he re­mem­bers. “[The song] Ra­dio on the new Ramm­stein record is about that, ac­tu­ally. It was a huge thing. There’d be a rock show on a Satur­day night, and we’d gather to­gether to lis­ten. We’d hear Led Zep­pelin, for in­stance, and be like, ‘Wow!’ Of course, I could never have imag­ined that maybe one day one of the Led Zep­pelin guys would be stand­ing at a Ramm­stein show. That’s still in­sane to me.

“The first al­bum I bought was Deep Pur­ple’s Storm­bringer, which I ob­tained on the black mar­ket, un­der the ta­ble, like ev­ery­thing else. It was, like, one month’s salary for a record! When I fin­ished my education and got my first job, my salary was 580 Marks per month – which is about 10 eu­ros these days. I re­mem­ber Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon be­ing on the shelf, and none of us be­ing able to buy it. It was shitty, and you were sad, be­cause you knew you could never go to a show, or never be able to af­ford all these records. Mak­ing your own mu­sic was eas­ier than hear­ing the clas­sic al­bums.”

Given this en­vi­ron­ment, it’s en­tirely un­der­stand­able that a yearn­ing for es­cape and a mil­i­tant be­lief in the idea of life lived free from shame, apol­ogy or re­gret con­tin­ues to run like a thread through­out Till’s lyrics, from Ramm­stein’s de­but al­bum Herzeleid right through to F&M. Ramm­stein came to­gether in 1994 in a re­hearsal stu­dio in Pren­zlauer Berg, the same Ber­lin district which Till now calls home. The six mu­si­cians who forged the band’s unique sound were schooled in hard rock, opera and jazz as well as Krautrock (Can, Neu!, Faust) and the un­ortho­dox, ex­per­i­men­tal sounds of West Ber­lin’s Ein­stürzende Neubauten. Cru­cially, they also shared a col­lec­tive rage, a burn­ing ha­tred of con­form­ity and an in­tu­itive and en­tirely de­lib­er­ate flair for up­set­ting and out­rag­ing all the right peo­ple. “We’re here to cause prob­lems, to cause trou­ble,” guitarist Paul Lan­ders told Kerrang! in 2001. “I like the fact that some peo­ple hate us. We’re artists, and art should cause such feel­ings.”

If Ramm­stein’s art was a re­ac­tion against their up­bring­ing, so too were Till’s per­sonal ethics. In the band’s early years, he jug­gled com­mit­ments to the col­lec­tive with the busi­ness of, as a sin­gle par­ent, bring­ing up his young daugh­ter Nele who was born in 1985. A self-pro­fessed be­liever in karma, mind­ful of his own fa­ther’s cav­a­lier, oc­ca­sion­ally ap­a­thetic ap­proach to par­ent­ing – “He was never there,” says Till. “He was on tour with his read­ing ses­sions. We didn’t get along too much” – he fought hard to give Nele (and his youngest daugh­ter Marie Louise, born in 1993) a ‘nor­mal’ up­bring­ing, de­spite the chaos that oc­ca­sion­ally ed­died around his artis­tic life. Asked whether he con­sid­ers him­self a good fa­ther, he re­sponds in­stantly: “Def­i­nitely.”

“When my kids were young, we didn’t have the same im­mense time pres­sures on Ramm­stein as there are now,” he says. “Now the kids are good, and they do their own shit. And so do Peter and I, be­cause now we have no bound­aries or no pres­sure from wives or kids…”

“Well, we did, but that’s why we got rid of them,” says Peter, to much laugh­ter. “Un­for­tu­nately our egos are big­ger than any re­la­tion­ships. We’re im­pos­si­ble men to live with, be­cause mu­sic will al­ways come first. And with this mu­sic, it’s also about con­nect­ing to a life­style: late nights, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Our lives are like a Happy Meal – you don’t know which toy you will get each time.”

Be­yond your friend­ship, what traits do you most ad­mire in Till, Peter? Peter ad­dresses his friend di­rectly. “I ad­mire that you’re still alive, and I’m sure you think the same.”

We don’t get to ask Till the same ques­tion, as, with­out warn­ing or apol­ogy, the singer sim­ply stands up and walks away from the ta­ble to speak with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from his record la­bel, mov­ing with bal­letic grace for a strap­ping six-footer. Af­ter a day of ques­tions, it seems the singer is weary­ing of giv­ing his project the hard sell. Af­ter all, Lin­de­mann is sup­posed to be fun, an es­cape valve from the pres­sures in­her­ent in fronting the big­gest band ever to come out of Ger­many. When he re­turns to the ta­ble, it’s clear that his at­ten­tion has drifted else­where, his smiles now trans­mit­ting po­lite in­dif­fer­ence. He bright­ens, how­ever, when we en­quire as to his plans now that pro­duc­tion on the videos has been com­pleted.

He and Peter have or­gan­ised a boat cruise/wrap party for the Rus­sian video crew, it tran­spires. “You should come,” he of­fers. “You can see how we party.”

It’d be rude to refuse. S even hours later, then, we find our­selves on a boat groan­ing un­der the weight of free food and drink, cruis­ing up and down the Neva River. In ad­di­tion to the video crew, in­vi­ta­tions ap­pear to have been ex­tended to a large se­lec­tion of Rus­sian mod­els, who spend an in­de­cent amount of time pout­ing for self­ies in the boat’s mir­rored ceil­ing. As Peter re­laxes with his girl­friend, Till is all smiles and hugs and bear-like hand­shake, the per­fect, con­vivial host, mak­ing each mem­ber of the crew feel val­ued and ap­pre­ci­ated. His bon­homie ex­tends to his in­ter­roga­tors too: at one point, spot­ting our party in con­ver­sa­tion, he shouts, “Stop talk­ing busi­ness!” and en­cour­ages us to take full ad­van­tage of the free bar. Sev­eral hours later, with out­side tem­per­a­tures only a breath above freez­ing, he strides out onto the boat’s bow, un­zips, and nois­ily un­leashes a stream of piss into the river, a vi­sion of pure, care­free aban­don.

When the boat docks, he’s the first to dis­em­bark, dis­ap­pear­ing with­out a word of good­bye, seek­ing soli­tude and si­lence again. Or, for all we know, a more de­bauched and he­do­nis­tic soirée else­where in this sto­ried city. Back in 2005, on Ramm­stein’s Rosen­rot al­bum, Till sang, ’Mich in­ter­essiert kein Gle­ichgewicht’ – ‘I’m not in­ter­ested in bal­ance’ – but it ap­pears to be in the har­mony be­tween his louder-than-life rock’n’roll per­sona and his lime­light-shun­ning, hum­ble and in­tro­spec­tive off-stage life where he has found true hap­pi­ness.

Ear­lier to­day, Kerrang! won­dered aloud as to what the teenage kid who pressed his ear to a tran­sis­tor ra­dio to hear the crack­ling sounds of Led Zep­pelin and Alice Cooper would make of this 56-year-old re­nais­sance man and in­ter­na­tional rock su­per­star. Is this life ev­ery­thing the young Till Lin­de­mann thought it would be?

“I don’t think about it, I just try to do what I do best,” Till replied, qui­etly. “Ev­ery mu­si­cian craves free­dom. I’m just blessed that I’ve found it.” K!

LIN­DE­MANN’S F&M IS RE­LEASED ON NOVEM­BER 22 VIA SPINEFARM/VER­TIGO. The band play the uk in fe­bru­ary – see the gig guide

Till couldn’t wait til the lads at the pass­port of­fice saw his new duds

Peter (left) was rub­bish at play­ing ‘Spot the mas­sive croc­o­dile’

Nei­ther Till nor Peter were vol­un­teer­ing to scoop the hyena’s poop

Peter: good at gui­tar, so-so at do­ing Johnny Depp im­pres­sions

Oli picked an­other fight with him­self

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