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The first thing one notices about German power trio Kadavar is their size. Never mind the long hair and impressive beards, frontman Christoph “Lupus” Lindemann and bassist Simon “Dragon” Bouteloup are imposing presences, and drummer Christoph “Tiger” Bartlet is pushing seven feet tall if he’s an inch. Clad in skinny jeans and leather, the trio seem like the kind of guys one wouldn’t want to encounter in a dark alley. The second thing one realizes, however, is that one’s first impression is wrong. Seeming intimidating as they unload the band’s gear prior to a Thursday night gig in Philadelphia, the band members are exceedingly friendly. Case in point: Admist the hustle and bustle of a band that got stuck in traffic and is late to soundcheck, Lindemann still stops to ask for a light and makes amiable, laughter-filled small talk with a couple of concertgoers waiting for the doors to open outside the bar.
Kadavar was born out of an interesting set of circumstances. Lindemann spent his youth in East Germany, born in the shadow of the Berlin Wall in a small town near the border of East and West Germany. As was the case with East Germany at the time, Lindemann’s town was fairly bereft of outside cultural influence. When the Wall came down in Lindemann’s early years, things changed, but slowly. His father, a woodworker, bought him a guitar, and once he was of age, Lindemann left home and moved to Berlin. He toiled in some jobs before eventually running into Bartlet and the band’s first bass player, known on the band’s debut only as Mammut, in a bar. [Bouteloup was previously bassist in French rock band Aqua Nebula Oscillator.] Bartlet was something of a music connoisseur, a Beatles-lover who grew up under the influence of his parents’ record collection. Lindemann, not having the opportunity for such musical influence growing up, had to discover for himself. Still, he and Bartlet bonded. A band was formed, with Lindemann initially being offered bass playing duties. Lindemann demurred, offering to play guitar instead, and Kadavar was born.
Steeped in the sounds of obvious influences Black Sabbath and Hawkwind, the band’s self-titled 2012 debut was a blistering set of blues-inflected metal. The band’s sophomore album, Abra Kadavar, recently released in a tour edition with a bonus disc of live material, shows the band’s blitzkrieg heaviness a bit more polished yet without loss of its blistering aura. The band has spent the last few years honing its sound on the road, with a couple trips to the US and liberal touring of Europe. Lindemann sat down with The Big Takeover after a mind-blowing gig at Philadelphia’s Kun Fu Necktie to discuss cultural differences, the birth of Kadavar, and what it was like to grow up without a musical reference point.
I’m afraid anything I ask now is going to pale in comparison to what I just witnessed.
CHRISTOPH “LUPUS” LINDEMANN: [Laughs] We should have done it before. [Laughs]
I understand that you grew up in East Germany, and Christoph, your drummer, grew up in West Germany. What was your upbringing like? I understand that there wasn’t a lot of music in the house. There wasn’t a lot of cultural influence.
LINDEMANN: Yeah, and even less because I grew up in the last village before the border to West Germany. It was like 10 kilometers from the border. No one could get in or get out. So my village was kind of isolated. Those people are a little bit weird there. I was born in ’86. The Wall came down in ’89. But people didn’t really change right after. If you grow up in a cage, if you’re born in a cage, and you open up the door one day, the people won’t leave, because they know what they have in the cage. That’s how the people are there as well. But my cousin actually lived in the same house as me, and he loved metal. I could sneak into his apartment from my room, so every time he was working at night, I’d sneak in there and steal his CDs and put them on tape. I bought tapes in the supermarket, stole my parents’ money and bought tapes, and put all his CDs on tape. That was my influence, from when I was 8 or 9 years old.
What kind of music did he listen to?
LINDEMANN: Iron Maiden, Metallica, Nirvana, stuff like that. I went a little bit more into German metal stuff, and then later listened to a lot of garage and blues, and went further back in time and ended up in the late ’60s/early ’70s.
Once the Wall came down, did you find that a lot more Western influence was available to you?
LINDEMANN: Yeah. It changed [snaps fingers] just like that. Immediately, we had shops opening in our village and Coca Cola and stuff like that [laughs]. So it was immediately like a bomb of Western influence. All the Eastern culture was just blown away in one moment. Everything from East Germany was bad and everything from West Germany was good. So everybody tried to become West German, culturally.
Your family didn’t emigrate. They stayed in East Germany, but when the Wall came down, the barriers broke.
LINDEMANN: Exactly. And because we lived in the last village before West Germany, my family has a lot of family in the next village, but they couldn’t see each other for more than 40 years.
Do you have any memories of that time, when the Wall came down and things opened up for you?
LINDEMANN: No, not really. I was three or four years old. I realized it slowly. And now, since I travel a lot, and since I live in Berlin, I realize it even more. Berlin is still full of history. There’s still pieces of the Wall and you can see it, and it’s still strange.
When did you move to Berlin?
LINDEMANN: Eight years ago.
I understand that you met the other two guys, your old bass player and your drummer, Christoph, in a bar after you moved to Berlin.
LINDEMANN: Yeah, almost four years after I moved there. I played in different bands. Berlin is a big city. I used to be a booker for a big venue in Berlin so I got a lot of contacts with other bands, and at one point I was like I want to do music. I quit my job actually. At this time, I met those people and we started jamming, and out of nothing, it just exploded. I thought we were just going to play some shows and hang out and get stoned. And then we wrote that album because people told us we should do an album. So we made the first album and since then we’ve been on the road.
Christoph was born in West Germany and grew up in West Germany. Did you find there was a cultural difference between you and him when you met?
LINDEMANN: Yeah. His parents were used to Beatles and Stones, had a used record collection. We never had that. So I had to learn everything. And another thing, East Germans and West Germans are kind of different. We are more straight. We say what we think, and it hurts sometimes. They are more nice. So I think when we met, and I told him the first time he sucked, and he was a bit like, “Oh.” I was like, “Yeah, you really suck, man.” But I didn’t mean it in a bad way. [Laughs] But now, after four years playing music together, we know how to take things. And he doesn’t suck anymore. Now I’m the one who sucks.
I understand that when you met the other two guys, they were in a band already, and they asked you to play bass. You said no, that you wanted to play guitar. My impression from what I read is that you then started to write the songs and mold the band in terms of what you wanted it to be.
LINDEMANN: I had two or three songs written already, since one or two years before, but I never found a band to play those songs. And then I found them and they had a couple songs written and it sounded more like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, more laid back with one grove the whole song, and I was like, “It’s boring.”
There’s that honesty, right?
LINDEMANN: Yeah, that was my honesty. I was like, “I don’t like your songs, but I have some songs written and maybe you will like them and we can play them.” So I told them what I had and we decided to do that. I kind of gave them a little kick to form it, but in the end everybody puts their influences in and ideas to make it what it is now.
I took a look at your schedule, and you’re playing almost every day.
LINDEMANN: Yeah, that’s good. I don’t like to have breaks on tour. It makes me lazy. I like to go on every night, and then it doesn’t hurt.
It costs a lot to come over here and tour. I don’t know what the scene and opportunity is for you guys overseas, but is there an idea that you need to expose yourself over here to really make a living out of this?
LINDEMANN: Right now we have to make a living at it, because it’s the only thing we can do. Last year we were on the road for 200 days. No one’s going to give you a job [when you’re away so often]. So far, America is more experience and a lot of fun, and we just enjoy the time, but to make money, we have to go back to Europe. The scene in Europe is way, way bigger.
You’re playing bigger venues in Germany and Europe?
Where do you tour there?
LINDEMANN: Germany and a lot of Scandinavia. France is really good. Switzerland, Austria. Everything around Germany. Even Spain, Italy, Greece. We go all over Europe.
So why come here?
LINDEMANN: Well, it’s the same thing if you ask an American band why they go to Europe. It’s the experience. That’s what you dream about when you get your first guitar and you start playing in front of the mirror, and you’re like, “Yeah I’m so cool.” You’re like, “One day I’m going to play The Roxy,” and you watch Cheech and Chong the first time and have your first bong, and you’re like, “That’s what I’m going to do man, I’m going to buy a fucking van and go with my band to play there.” And of course, it’s super interesting to meet people and to travel. I love to go out and see the world.
Was there any music in your house growing up?
LINDEMANN: Not much. My parents don’t really listen to music. Not like consumers or something. There was always radio. They were like, “Listen to that, because that’s good.” My parents don’t know about music, really. When I was 15, I started organizing shows in my village for bands from all over the world that I liked and wanted to see. So that’s how it started. When my parents wouldn’t let me go to these shows, I brought the bands to my village.
It sounds like you were hooked once you heard the stuff from your cousin.
LINDEMANN: Absolutely. You sit in your little village and there’s nothing, and then someone comes up and shows you Kill ‘Em All, and you’re like, “What’s that?!” That’s what you want to do then.
Your parents didn’t know anything of any of that. What did they think of when you decided what you were going to be a musician?
LINDEMANN: My father still regrets the day when he gave me my first guitar. Now it’s gotten better, but for years, he ran an old business, and I think he thought I was going to take over when he got older, and as soon as I was 18, I was like, “See you later.”
What does he do?
LINDEMANN: He builds furniture and wooden stuff. So he wanted me to do that, I think. But I was like, “No. I’m not going to get married to my neighbor. I’m not going to live in the same house as my parents anymore. I don’t need that.” I didn’t want to end up like that. I wanted to see the world first and know what I was missing.
From an early age…
LINDEMANN: I didn’t even go to school anymore at one point. I told my teacher, “I’m going to make music later. I don’t need this shit.” When my parents heard about that, I got in big trouble. My father locked my door. He took my guitar for a couple weeks. Then I was like, “Okay, fuck, I have to go to school again.”
Do you feel at all that you’re pigeonholed? Obviously, people mention the Sabbath and Hawkwind influence, but I know you guys are into more than just that. I’ve read how much influence The Beatles were, for example.
LINDEMANN: Yeah, The Beatles were a huge influence, for sure.
When was the first time you heard The Beatles?
LINDEMANN: The first time really listening to it was like 17 or 18, when I bought my first record. I think that was the first time I really got into it. And I listened to it a little, but I was more of a Stones guy. When you are young, you have to make a decision, Stones or Beatles. Christoph is the Beatles freak. He knows everything about The Beatles.
And the way you guys record and your ideology is analog, the way they did it.
LINDEMANN: Yeah, really similar. Less microphones, everything in one room, live recorded, no overdubs. We start counting and then we play the song and if it sounds good, then good; if it doesn’t, we do it again.
You want to go back to the studio by the end of the year. Do you have stuff written already?
LINDEMANN: We started two or three songs in Austin after SXSW, and we’ve written four or five songs already. As soon as we come back from this tour, we’ll record those songs as demos, just to see how they sound, and then continue writing until September probably. Hopefully we can record in September. That’s the plan. Just a rough plan. We don’t know. There’s a lot of touring coming up again. We need to find a break where we can just go in a studio for three weeks or something and just record.
Do you feel the new album is more how you feel the band should be than the first album is? It’s certainly different.
LINDEMANN: I would say the new album we’re going to write is going to be more like the first album. We wrote the second album in six weeks—wrote it, recorded it, and mastered it in six weeks. We had to do it like that. But we want to go back and shred again and with more garage and more heaviness. But I don’t know what’s going to happen.
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