Rammstein's just a hunk of burning love
Rammstein has finally graduated to arenas across North America, but it still likes to get up close and personal with its fans. Guitarist Richard Z. Kruspe says the German industrial-rock band has taken measures to make its current show as intimate and interactive as possible. Mind you, this is no easy task for a band whose performances are, by necessity, planned to the microsecond.
“We’re the opposite of Pearl Jam,” the guitarist says when he calls the Straight from his home in Berlin. “We don’t really talk to the audience. You know, we do our thing. Everything is based on time code. You have to know where you are. You can’t step, like, two feet away, because all of a sudden some flames are blowing out of your ass. There’s no time for improvisation, basically. So we came up with a little B stage—we’re actually really close to the audience, and it feels like the early days, when we just played in small clubs and stuff.”
It might seem odd timing for a band whose most recent album of new material came out in 2009 to be in the midst of one of its biggest-ever tours in 2012, but it’s actually a smart move on Rammstein’s part. The long-running group has tied its current tour to the career-spanning retrospective release Made in Germany 1995-2011. The lure of a set list made up entirely of fan favourites is designed to spur ticket sales, thus allowing Rammstein to play those larger venues on this continent. That’s a key consideration, according to Kruspe.
“It’s not only that we have the best songs that we like playing, it’s also the best visual effects that we’ve put together to one show,” Kruspe says, calling from his home in Berlin. “We’ll be able to play the exact same show that we play in Europe right now overseas, which has always been a big problem for us. And one of the reasons we haven’t played for a long time in America and Canada was because we couldn’t do that in smaller clubs. Right now we’re playing in bigger venues, and we’re able to do the exact same thing that we do in Europe, so it’s a lot of fun.”
Rammstein is known for its elaborately staged concerts, which always involve fire, and lots of it. Kruspe notes that the Made in Germany tour requires 24 truckloads of equipment. “There’s all kinds of stuff in there,” he says. “There’s a lot of pyro, there’s a lot of lights. This is, like, the biggest show we’ve ever played. People always say, ‘How can you top that?’ And I was thinking, ‘Well, you can’t.’ ”
As for the music, Rammstein is reaching back to the beginning of its career for material. When Kruspe and his cohorts—singer Till Lindemann, guitarist Paul H. Landers, bassist Oliver “Ollie” Riedel, keyboardist Christian “Flake” Lorenz, and drummer Christoph “Doom” Schneider—formed in 1994, the fusion of industrial rhythms and rock guitar was nothing new. The likes of Nine Inch Nails and Ministry were well-established by then, but Rammstein’s flair for Wagner-esque drama, topped by Lindemann’s stentorian baritone, instantly set it apart from its contemporaries.
“I always dreamed of coming up with a sound,” Kruspe says. “There’s so many bands that I love that have their unique sound, like the Ramones or AC/DC. If you switch on the radio and you listen to them, you’re like, ‘It’s the Ramones.’ You don’t even know the song but you know it’s the Ramones or AC/DC, because that’s their unique trademark. And for some reason that happened with Rammstein, too. We created music that fits our German language, and people can recognize that we’re not sounding like someone else, that we do sound like Rammstein.”
Sounding like Rammstein has served the guitarist and his bandmates well. To date, the group has sold some 15 million records worldwide. Not that Kruspe’s counting. He insists that the standard markers of mainstream success aren’t the key to his band’s longevity. “We never really got a lot of radio plays,” he says. “We always had to concentrate on our live show, and we put a lot into our live show. That’s why people come again and again. They like what we’re doing live, so we’re not really dependent on record sales or radio plays or whatever.”
In fact, Rammstein’s last studio album, Liebe ist für alle da, was effectively banned in Germany upon its release, which you’d think would put a damper on airplay and sales. Thanks to a song with sadomasochistic lyrical content (not to mention a photo of Kruspe spanking a naked woman), Liebe ist für alle da was officially classified as adults-only material and was prohibited from being displayed in stores where minors would have access to it. The ban was lifted after about seven months, but it caused Rammstein no end of hassle, including the necessity of rereleasing the album in a censored edition.
Because of all that, Kruspe says, the band is in no hurry to make a follow-up LP. “We’re not working on any new record,” he says. “The last record we did was such a big deal to go through. It cost us a lot of time, and we almost broke up. Everyone is a little afraid to go back in the rehearsal room, so at the moment we’re just happy to be on the stage and play the stuff that we already created. Who knows? There’s some ideas that we want to do, but I don’t want to make any plans anymore, because then life comes and changes all the plans again.”
Don’t think for a second, however, that a dearth of new material means Rammstein is finished. By Kruspe’s account, the machine-metal juggernaut is just getting started. “I always felt like, ‘There must be an end to all these things,’ and for some reason it’s just growing and growing with the band,” he says. “We know everything in life goes up and down; I just haven’t seen a downside right now. It’s just really going well, I must say.”
Rammstein plays Rogers Arena on Sunday (May 13).