Pain’s Peter Tägtgren: “I’m Too Old to Be Shocking”

A certain generation of extreme music fan must watch a Pain video and think that Peter Tägtgren has lost his mind. The famed multi-instrumentalist and producer is best known for writing churning, misanthropic death metal with Swedish scene fixtures Hypocrisy, or working behind the boards with unholy acts like Marduk and Carach Angren. But with Pain, Tägtgren’s songs are consistently perverted, punchy, and tons of fun, proving that he’s not limited to those things dark and brutal. One can’t help but picture the different rooms in the mansion of his mind — or whether or not these various sides of himself ever crash together.

“It happened a couple of times,” says Tágtgren, who takes our call despite being on vacation in Greece when we reach out to him. “Normally, I just set my mind to, Okay, I’m going to write a Hypocrisy song, and then I think in that way, and it turns out that way as well. And vice versa with Pain. But sometimes the songs have been very close to each other. I’m only human, you know?”

Peter’s humanity is a big part of Pain, and definitely emerged in the band’s output during the pandemic. In May, the band dropped a devastating cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” that seemed to express true apocalyptic fear. The band soon followed this up in June with “Party In My Head,” a track that touched on Peter’s desire to get his life back, and portrayed the musician as a hapless bathrobe-wearing dude surrounded by a sex party of epic proportions. It seems that while previous songs and videos like “Call Me” focused on a sense of hedonistic overkill, the band’s new material is brutally honest — if also hilarious.

“I think we’ve all dreamed about having this fucking party during lockdown, you know?” laughs Tägtgren. “But I think what the director means is more or less what’s in my head. The dude, this Big Lebowski, is looking around going, What the hell? And with all these Easter eggs we put in there, with our QR codes and Joe [Lynn Turner of Rainbow and Deep Purple] showing up for a second, we were just packing them in. For a Pain video, half a million views in one week is not too bad!”

Overall, “Party In My Head” is a very poppy, cinematic track — how was your lockdown, that it inspired such a song?

I think I really speak for everybody when I say, we’ve all been fucked. And we have to follow the rules. And it’s like, I didn’t want to do another negative thing like with “Gimme Shelter.” “Gimme Shelter” was the same thing fifty-two years ago, when Mick Jagger wrote it. About the Cold War, about Vietnam. He thought he was going to die in World War III in 1969. And today, we have the same situation. That’s why we chose to put these riots in from all over the world. But with this song, if you listen to the lyrics, I wanted to put a positive spin on it. So for me, I only chose the happy notes. I wrote the lyrics before I wrote the song itself. I tried to fit the lyrics with the song this time. That’s the first time I ever did that.

Where does a Pain song normally start — a riff, a line of lyrics, a phrase?

96% of the time, in my head, I start with a melody. And eventually, I write the song in my head. I get a vision of it. And then I go in the studio, and sit down with my guitar and try to document it. To record it. And after that, I sit and juggle around certain keys, to change a couple of things here or there. And when I’m happy, I start writing lyrics for it. But this time, I did the opposite, and it went much better. So I have to come up with a new topic. I want to record another song really fast!

Are these singles just standalone, or are they leading to the next Pain album?

Actually, my plan now is, when I get back from vacation, I want to start writing for the new Hypocrisy song. I want to get one more [Pain] song out, before the next Hypocrisy is coming, because I don’t want to do them too close together. It’s gonna be a lot of my face this year. You saw the new Lindemann DVD just came out, then two Pain songs, then a Hypocrisy album, then this new project I’m working with with a new singer…When things start moving, I move fast.

Do you regiment your time for different projects — Now I’m doing Painnow I’m doing Hypocrisy — or are you writing for all your projects, all the time?

Yeah, it has to be a little bit like that. I wanted to finish up the Hypocrisy album, because it’s been laying on ice for a year, two years. I was so busy touring with Lindemann and Pain, so there was no time for me to sit down in peace and quiet and write lyrics for the Hypocrisy album. I got back home, and the first thing I did was take a year and a half off for the first time in my whole life, because I’d been burnt out since 2015. So for me, this whole COVID thing lockdown was actually positive for me, because I could recharge my batteries a little. And then I just jumped on Hypocrisy and finished the album in no time, because I was ready again. I needed this break. And while we’re waiting for Hypocrisy to release, why not put out a couple of Pain songs? Let’s see how fast it goes.

More than Hypocrisy, Lindemann sounds closer to Pain, in that both of those projects’ songs are kind of big and catchy. How do you feel they’re different?

With the Pain lyrics, it’s pretty much what everybody can associate with. It becomes personal for me, but also people can relate to it. Till was writing the lyrics for Lindemann, I was only taking care of the music and the production of the whole thing. And with Pain, I do everything — except now, Sebastian is doing drums.

Sebastian, your drummer, is your son. What’s it like playing with your kid?

It’s kind of freaky! The first time we played live together, he was 14 or 15. We played a couple of Pain songs and Hypocrisy songs. He took them and came back quick, saying, Yeah, I’m ready. This guy, he’s not scared of anything. I took him out with Lindemann as well, because he’s a full-blown ass-kicking drummer. And I’m not only saying that because he’s my son, he’s really fucking good. Anyone who’s seen him play live will say the exact same thing. He’s a machine. And he was brought up with my complaining about drummers in the studio, because they were not hitting hard enough. So he has all that shit with him — he hits like a motherfucker. I think it’s only him and [Motörhead drummer] Mikkey Dee who hits that hard, in my life.

That’s high praise! Are there ever moments where your fatherhood comes through, even as a bandmate?

Sometimes, when he’s sloppy — not playing, but with his stuff — I’m like, Come on, clean this shit up! I still do it today! He’s 22 now, so he lives in his own apartment. But there’s always a parent thing. You’re always gonna care about your kids, you know? I wanted to wait until he was 18 before I took him out on tour, because I think that’s what a parent should do. 

Was it hard to relinquish control of drumming to another musician, even if it was your son?

I haven’t played drums for a long time now. Every time you play drums on an album, you have to warm up for a month or two. Drumming is really physical. Of course, it’s not complicated to play a Pain song — it’s like AC/DC. We have a couple of songs that are complicated with the kicks or something like that, but other than that, it’s AC/DC all the way. It’s not brain surgery, but you gotta have the groove. It’s like they said about Phil Rudd in AC/DC: it’s so simple, but he makes it swing. And that’s the most important thing. 

You say Pain is relatable, and compare it to AC/DC, but a video like “Call Me” is still pretty shocking. Is that ever your intention — to freak people out?

I think we have enough shocking stuff with Lindemann, you know? I really don’t have the need to shock people. I’d rather write a little bit clever. I try to keep it simple, you know? AC/DC right there as well. So…nah! I’m too old with shocking. But who knows? Maybe I’ll come up with something crazy for the next shit, because you said this now!

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Words by Chris Krovatin