Hello Michael, wie gehts?
(Laughs) I’m good thank you, Mir geht es gut, wie geht es dir?
Gut, aber meine Deustch is sehr schlecht! Anyway! The latest album, it’s still classic rock but yet it’s still got that fresh sound. How on earth have you managed to do that?
I think it has to do with since I was seventeen, eighteen years old I stopped listening to other music and I knew it would be the right thing to do for me, because I wanted to express myself. I wanted to do this as pure as possible, and that’s what I’ve been doing. I haven’t been listening to records for forty three years and so I’ve been writing from within ever since, of course I can’t completely withdraw from other music and avoid it, but I don’t really consume, I don’t focus on listening to music. Some people make an effort to copy others, of course, and others consciously make the effort and decision not to you know. There’s nothing wrong with copying as such, but it all depends on you know, what your agenda is or what you want to achieve and why you’re playing music. So for me, number one was always the fascination of what can do with a single string, you know, with distortion, amplifiers and the guitar, and to put things together the way I felt. And I think with that I developed my own style and I guess that’s what many people, and maybe those from Iron Maiden, Guns n Roses, Def Leppard or Metallica, that’s why they like what I do, and the reason for that I think is it’s coming from the source that is not necessarily out there. It’s not, it’s actually, I think because of the way I’m doing things I’m not really following trends and that I’m creating trends. In the 80’s my brother called me from America and said “Michael Michael! You wouldn’t believe it, they are all playing your guitar style!” I said “No Way!” I just couldn’t believe it. You know I never intended to do anything special, I just wanted to have fun playing and searching for the notes that I wanted to find, and that was really enough for me. I just had so much fun playing without anything else you know! And everything else later when people were telling me how much they were influenced by me, getting my awards, I never really expected anything like that. That was really just icing on the cake. So now I’m having double fun!
You are undoubtedly a legend amongst guitarists, people like Satriani, Vai, Petrucci, Van Halen and so on, how hard do you think it is now for young guitarists to be original?
Well, it’s like this you know, you have to ask yourself what do you want? If you want be original then just listen to yourself, I mean it’s as simple as that. Only you can express something that nobody else can express because it’s inside of you. So unless you make the decision to express that, it will never come out. It’s as simple as that. A person needs to know and be very very clear and firm that’s what, where the passion is, that’s where the fun is, then if you do that, then create instead of consume. And that would be the way to go and that’s what I did, and of course if you want to play trendy music, you stay in that scene and you listen to the trends and you listen to what’s out there to get the vibe and you start to do something similar. These are the two ways you can go.
I was really taken with the tracks “Rock City” and “Let the Devil Scream”, I just wondered what inspired those two particular tracks?
When we were doing “Bridge the Gap”, that’s when Francis and Doogie joined the rest of and so that was the beginning, that’s where we connected to the past, “Love Drive” was the last thing that we did together, and so “Bridge the Gap” was the first thing that bridged those thirty years or something like that, and then I already knew that “Spirit on a Mission” was going to be the next step, I already knew that I was going to have Wayne more involved, he has been developing on the seven string nicely for many years and I have been watching him, so it was time to use that spectrum of sound that gives you that lower and heavier type of frequency, that combined with my classic way of writing and stuff, that’s what we have now. Temple of Rock, we’re trying to make it stand on its own feet, and to create its own unique sound, and so we have come to “Spirit on a Mission”, so we are getting there , I guess by the third album Temple of Rock will have its own sound. We’ve just released a double ‘a’ side single, “Good Times” / “Rock City” yesterday, and of course our UK tour will start on the 20th, a headline tour, and then on the 31st we headline a festival, “Giants of Rock”, with Ian Hunter and Nazareth, and those kinds of bands, we finish our world tour in Scandinavia at the beginning of February. That’ll be the time we’ll be focusing on our next step. The next step is for Temple of Rock to get its own record deal, so far we have been using the Michael Schenker solo deal as the platform, which is my old deal from 2008, and so we’ve used that for two albums since. So now to get to the next level we’re focussing on finding a suitable record deal for this line up, to get to the next step. One step at a time. But of course we have the DVD that we’ll be releasing in April, so that will keep people entertained in 2016 and hopefully it won’t be too difficult to find a suitable avenue for Temple of Rock, then we should be able to release another album in 2017.
Doogie is an amazing vocalist, do you think finding that sort of quality is getting harder to do, especially when a lot of singers now just seem to scream and shout?
I don’t really know, I never looked for Doogie. We were put together somehow! It just happened. Everything happened very much step by step. Since from 2011 or so, you know I just wanted to go into the studio and make a record, had no idea what I was doing, so I then asked Michael Voss who owned the studio if he could help me out with some guide vocals, which he did, and I said “Hey Michael! You can sing! Why don’t you sing on the album?” Then when I sent the stuff to Herman Rarebell and Pete Way, they wanted to be the rhythm section, and I went “Wow! This is happening by itself”. So I was wondering what was going on and I had a phone call from Captain Kirk’s agent you know, he wanted me to play on William Shatner’s album, and I thought “Wow, this is the guy we want, can you please please ask him if he can do some spoken lines for our record”. So I ended up playing on his record, and he was doing some stuff for our album, that was the first Temple of Rock album that I did. Doogie was only singing on one song on it. But Doogie and I crossed paths quite a few times you know, in Italy where we ended up on stage together. It was a very slow step by step but eventually Doogie came closer and closer, and so when it came to the point where I wanted to do a world tour after the album was completed I had all these great musicians available. I didn’t plan any of this! It was so fantastic, and then I wanted to tour but Michael Voss wasn’t available, and I had Doogie, Michael and Robin on that album, so I had to figure out how I could tour the world, so Robin helped me out with America, Michael helped with Japan and then when Doogie was ready for the European tour Pete Way got sick, and that’s when the foundation started to build. It was all circumstance, good circumstance, you know, it’s like me playing the V. I didn’t pick the V, the V came flying to me! It was all based on circumstances, and there it was, all of a sudden I was playing a V. It seems that most of the things I do are all based on circumstance! It just happened.
If you cast your mind back over all of the songs you’ve written, has inspiration ever caught you when you couldn’t get your hands on a guitar?
Not really, I mean I have actually had the experience lying in bed and writing a song. I had an idea but I was just too lazy to get up and I was thinking to myself “I wonder if I can do this without the guitar”. And so I started, I must have been lying there for one or two hours, and then when I finished it in my head I went down and completed it. It was very interesting! So it is possible to actually do a visualisation, I can visualise very easily and so that’s a way of doing it if I don’t have a guitar with me, or whatever, or I just the telephone and sing on it. By the way that’s exactly how I wrote the song for Doogie. I was talking to my lawyer and we were talking about Doogie singing a song on the album, and I said ok, I’m going to write one with him in mind. I left the lawyer at Hanover, I was on my way to Garstedt which is about twenty kilometres by train, I wrote the whole song “Before The Devil Knows Your Dead”. I arrived at my mum’s and I said to her, I’ve just finished writing a song on the way from Hanover and I said to her just out of fun “wouldn’t it be amazing if this became a hit”. And it did! It’s unbelievable. I was thinking of Doogie, and I knew what to sing, and was singing melodies into my telephone. My Fiance couldn’t believe it. I was saying “Wait a minute wait a minute, I have an idea!” (hums a guitar riff and then the vocal line) And I went on for about twenty minutes , and it became “Before The Devil Knows Your Dead”. Unbelievable!
What have been the biggest lessons that you’ve learnt over the years in recording in studios?
I don’t really learn anything in the studios! It’s all technical stuff, the only thing I developed you know is the guitar playing. It’s like I just play and discover. It’s like musical treasure hunting! Like I said at the beginning, when I put the first note and then the second together and I realise what that does and I put the third note in, it’s like finding pieces of gold you know. I play and discover. That’s what I call it, and that’s where my focus is and once I’m ready to record an album I go to the studio and let the engineer collect it all together. I just basically direct what kind of sound I want nd I show the pieces I want to put down, and I decide the tempo then make the arrangements, and that’s how I move forward. Bsaically no focus on technical aspects of the recording whatsoever!
When I was younger, way back in 1984, I was into Breakdance music. I then heard over BFBS a rock show and on it was “Rock Will Never Die”, after that I pretty much taped over all the dance music! Has it ever occurred to you what sort of impact you’ve had on people, the magnitude of it?
Wow, thank you! Well, I’ve said before, my focus was on enjoying putting notes together and that was making me happy. That was my joy. I didn’t even notice when the Scorpions, I basically wrote the whole Scorpions album “Lonesome Crow”, I was maybe fifteen years old, they were already over twenty and “In Search of the Peace of Mind” was my first written song. It was credited to all the band members, so I didn’t really focus on me, I didn’t even know, I didn’t really take credit for anything. I tell you, I’ve only discovered all of this recently, many things have flown past me without me even realising all of this. All I knew was that I fell in love with what I was doing, went all the way, so from that moment on I just had fun. Many years later, only around the early nineties did I find out that I had so many fans. I mean ok, my brother would call me up from America in the eighties telling me that everybody was playing my guitar style, it was bits and pieces like that people would tell me that I had no clue about, and when I found out, when people told me that Slash, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Guns N Roses, Metallica etc etc that they were fans. I really couldn’t believe it. So in answer to your question, I never knew in the beginning. But today I know, and in the middle years I made my music contribution. When I look back I see my life in three parts. The first part was making my music contribution to the world in the seventies, and for the eighties bands like The Scorpions they basically picked up on that and they commercialised it and made it simpler. In the middle years I just withdrew and focussed on just experimenting, getting things out of my system, experimenting with music and developing on a personal level. I guess all of that was just meant to be so in order for me to understand my third stage of my life and what happened in the first stage. It was all unconsciously done. So I can now consciously enjoy what I created in my first stage, and so I can continue in making musical contributions.
I saw you last year at Nottingham’s Rock City, and we’re seeing you there this year too, and I noticed that on stage yo seemed much much more happier in yourself.
You know when I was having them most successful time in my life, I didn’t understand, and in actual fact, I didn’t like it. So, when we had a hit in seventy six, I ran away, I didn’t want it, it was too much for me. The pressure of when people expected, yeah, I didn’t want to know about it anymore. And so, like I said before, it was all done unconsciously, I was just put there, I was ordered for who knows what and you know, “Michael, you have to do this” and so on. My music contribution was unconsciously done. I had no idea what I was doing. Therefore I also did not understand success and I wasn’t focussing on that, I couldn’t stand it when people were saying “Schenker is god” and all of that kind of stuff. Honestly, it was getting on my nerves, and all I could think of at the time was running away. It was the only thing I could think of and I actually did it. Every time I had a hit, I would run away. But I came back, but when I came back with MSG, I held out with “Love Drive”. When I was twenty four I had already experienced everything you know. I had my own success and I knew that if continued with the Scorpions it would be more of the same, of the stuff I didn’t like happening to me. So it was a jump start for the Scorpions in America, helped keep the ball rolling, and then had MSG, exploring music so I could continue having fun in my own way, doing whatever I wanted, and was for me the freedom to create without pressure, without expectation. That for me was the most enjoyable thing. So somehow something hit me in 2008 and all of a sudden I had this overwhelming feeling “I want to be on stage”. I couldn’t believe it. It was a complete 180 degree turn. I was so pleased that that happened because I thought I was stuck with stage fright forever. But I wasn’t you know. I grew out of it. That’s good to know for other people, you grow out of it.
Photos courtesy of Elias