Studio report „More happens“

Dec 5, 2012
Journalist and radio reporter Marion Brasch visits Rammstein during the recordings of LIEBE IST FÜR ALLE DA in California. Here is her report:

More happens

Jack London was in this area. The last few years of his short life had been spent up in a ranch on the Sonoma Mountain in California. All he sought there was „A peaceful place to write and exist in nature – These things that pass us all by, though so many aren’t even aware of it“.

What Rammstein is seeking here isn’t so different. However, while Jack London came here to grow old, for Rammstein it is simply one stop on the way to completing their new album. For 6 weeks they worked here on their songs. Far away from home, no family around, no distractions, or anything else to seduce them away from their work. Of course they allowed themselves a few essential pleasures – good eating, a few good movies, refreshing dips in the pool, games of tennis, and a flight to see the Nine inch Nails concert in Sacramento.

Originally, Rammstein had wanted to record in Los Angeles. „L.A. has a good energy. Everybody is after something. It’s racy, fast and hard.“ says Paul. Schneider was also very keen to try the L.A. experiment. People always have their perfect locations, be it in Malta, Spain or South Africa. Los Angeles could have been a new experience…it didn’t happen. So Schneider just recorded his drums there, and then relocated to the extreme contrast that is the beautiful mountain in Sonoma Wine Country. A studio complex in the style of a country house, complete with fireplace and cook. Paul: „Its so friendly and tranquil here, actually far more peaceful than we needed for this album. But the studio was booked and we will go though with it. That we can do.“ Richard talks about the Rammstein group dynamic, which is extremely strong and dark. Indeed, while a good thing, it can after a while be too much and sometimes destructive. That means that it has become important, from time to time, to find a place where one can step back a little, to escape the Rammstein magic. Flake would also have loved to record the album in Grunau: „ America isn’t really my thing“.

To get to this point, on this mountain, was a long journey.

Rammstein had taken time off since their last album „Rosenrot“ and the long gruelling tour. For more than a year each of them could lay back and do what they want. No responsibilities, no phone calls. A kind of Sabbatical. Rammstein as a band didn’t exist during this period. Neither from the outside nor from the inside. It wasn’t till after seven months that Flake first noticed that he had time off: „I had just as much to do as before, just not with the band. Paul fell into the famous Black Hole, and came to the realisation that he has done never done anything in his life. Schneider at one point got the feeling he wasn’t part of a band anymore: „I asked myself if it was going to continue“. A thought that on one side unsettled him, though he also learned that a life without Rammstein was more than possible. Richard already knew that, and worked in New York on his solo project „Emigrate“, Olli got married and enjoyed life. And Till? Till sat in his room and thought about burning angels.

At midday Robin arrives. Robin is the cook, though her main job is as a jewellery designer. She has worked for Prince, and on the TV show „friends“. Now she works for Rammstein. Has she heard their music? No. She doesn’t need to know more about the band than what she can already see. „These guys are so great!“. Sometimes she hears a few shreds from the studios and it sounds very exciting. „And Till is really an artist!“. In about an hour of chatting and kitchen magic a complete menu for 12 lies on the table. 12 people not stingy with their compliments, who like to tease Robin „…And so easy to make!“

Lunch and Dinner are the set fixtures in the daily schedule. There we all sit together. For breakfast everyone has to take care of themselves. And then its to work. Along with Rammstein came the producer Jacob Hellner, and engineers Ulf Kruckenberg and Florian Ammon (Who just completed working with U2 on their new album). The studio comprises three workstations: In the main studio sits Jacob, recording the guitars and the vocals. The second station is the bandsystem for bass, keyboards and so forth. Finally, the third station, where the various takes from Schneiders recordings in L.A. are sorted, and the best sent to the main studio. „Like a factory“ says Paul, „Some kind of assembly line.“

Jacob Hellner has produced all of Rammsteins albums. He knows the band, knows what makes the guys tick. „Making a record, is mostly a chaotic process, but Rammstein are very structured – that makes it easier“. Only the continuous discussions in the band are occasionally stressful. „Rammstein is a never-ending conference“. That’s why he prefers to breakfast alone in the producers living quarters, a little removed from the studio complex. There he chews on his cornflakes, looking down upon the steaming valley. It rained during the night and has become chilly. The electricity has cut out again. That’s normal here however, and no one is disturbed.

Flashback: When the year long timeout came to an end, the band met with their manager Emanuel Fialik on a houseboat to cruise, and to think about how things should progress on the good ship Rammstein. „It only took one day for me, until it felt like we were never away“ remembers Flake, „The same silly jokes, everyone back to their old behaviour and ways“: Paul uses this analogy: „You smoke, then you quit, than you begin again, and your smoking again. It’s as if you never stopped“. And then the discussion: New Album or first a tour? The opinions, as ever, were split. Schneider: „I thought it would have been good if we, to start off with, went on tour. For me, a band only really exists when they are standing on a stage. Its then that the band-feeling is there, and that’s also for me where the real meaning is: Making music together while other people listen.“ But, the Rammstein system is democracy, and the final decision: Studio.

Then followed a sometimes agonizing process, which Richard refers to as the „Dark times“. Olli sees these times first and foremost as positive: „We must learn again, to view ourselves as a band. That was our task, and that helped us on.“ They went to the practice rooms, played together, collected ideas, recorded a few demos – All this takes us another year further forward. One whole year that the band needed to grow together again. The work, however, was no easier from then on, quite the opposite. The songs that were already finished, were worked upon over and over again. In different locations, under different terms. „And always beginning from the beginning“ Recalls Paul. A painstaking process, putting the mood of the band under extreme pressure. And Till? Till, in spite of the rain and cold, swam his lengths in the pool.

Richards’s guitar is being recorded in the main studio. Flake stands behind Jacob at the console and has a couple of ideas: „Everyone has their favourite song, that touches his heart especially, and therefore they engage with it perhaps a little more than the others.“ And Jacob describes his job: „I mix parts together or over each other. How the structure looks at the end, nobody knows yet. Music has a mind of its own. When you think you have understood its ways, you’ve made a big error. Music doesn’t know any rules.“ Working on the songs is one thing. At the same time, here in California, there is much thought about the tour (the stage and the show being just as important as the music for Rammstein). Rammstein is an all encompassing artwork.

The manager Emu comes over. A band meeting has been arranged for after dinner. A tour before the album or afterwards? Six people, six different opinions. The Rammstein democracy is straining. Sometimes they all talk over each other. Paul: „The trick is, to learn to propose things positively, and at the same time not get angry too quickly, or snap, when your thoughts are rejected. When one of us claims more rights than a sixth, than real trouble can erupt.“ Rammstein are a natural biotope, and one that functions…

Richard sees it thus: „The brilliance of the band comes from no individual, instead it results from a chemistry between all parts.“ A chemistry that follows no harmonic principles, in fact to the contrary: It’s precisely the friction that generates the specific individuality that makes Rammstein what it is. Flake: „One could compare Rammstein to ‘Sechse kommen durch die ganze Welt’ (East German cartoon about group of kids, each with different talents, and their adventures): One is a fast runner, one has great vision, one is the strongest. And me, well, maybe I’m the guy that can spit really far…

Jacob talks about the big Rammstein-machine: „Every idea must go through it, and what comes out at the end, is Rammstein-music“. And Till? Till sings „Bin nie zufrieden, es gibt kein Ziel, gibt kein Genug, ist viel zuviel…“

The song is called ‘Mehr’ and has an intimate sound. Whether it will be on the album or not, isn’t yet decided. It is to be released in the autumn, than Mehr (more) happens.

Marion Brasch