Hey Michael, how are you?
“Well, thank you! And you?”
Good, thank you. Did you have epicondylitis in April?
“What is epicondylitis?”
A tendonitis in the elbow joint. You’re wearing a bandage since about April… What happened?
“When I wanted to stow my hand luggage on the plane I dislocated my elbow, so luckily it has nothing to do with playing the guitar.”
“Fest”, a German word for a band project?
Yes, fest… party, celebrate, the third part of my life. In the 80s, I took a break… In the first part of my life I did not ask for anything, demanded nothing, did not compete… Nothing, no fame… I wanted no money, I just wanted to play the guitar. I had fun. It started with UFO, when we did “Strangers In The Night.” Then suddenly everyone was saying “Michael Schenker is God”. I did not know what was going on at all. In 1981, Americans said to me, “Hey, Michael, they’re all copying your guitar playing here!” I said, “Honestly? That’s amazing!” I did everything unconsciously. I created a trend in the 70s that was used in the 80s. And then I had the first hit in America with UFO: ‘Lights Out’. Then I got scared. Now I have to write hits. They demand that of me for the future, so I left. They got Paul Chapman [new UFO guitar player] then. I went on with “Love Drive” for the SCORPIONS. That opened the doors in America for them, because I already had a big name back then. I also made a contract with them for the record as a sixth member, but nothing more. I was asked to help and I did. And in the end I played on the whole album. Here a little bit, there a little bit more… Anyway, I had a contract as a sixth member and this included a picture. In 2015, “Love Drive” came out again as a box and then I read the story about “Love Drive”… It was wrong, what was written there. That’s when I saw that I did not get any credits. For example, I composed the intro for ‘Holiday’ completely myself and that was omitted. And they did not put a picture of me on the album. I had already left the SCORPIONS a bit earlier, I almost had to tear myself away, because they wanted to keep me. They knew that I was already well known in America. At the age of 19, I played in America for the first time. Klaus [Meine – SCORPIONS singer] and Rudolf [Schenker – SCORPIONS guitarist and Michael’s brother] were there much later for the first time. I already had everything behind me. I had already experienced so much… So I could decide if I wanted to stay in this commercial music machine, or if I would leave all that behind and find a singer who had no name and wanted to experiment with the music. I had planned so many things… But anyway, there was no image on the record cover, so it was basically a breach of contract. These days not even my name is there anymore. Since 2015, a can of worms was opened, so to speak. I’ve found out so much, it’s amazing what they did. But I did not know anything and I still praised and encouraged Rudolf: “All power to Rudolf!” Anyway, it was like that: I deliberately stepped down, so now Rudolf was allowed to become “absolutely famous”, which he wanted. And that’s funny, because he had to wait until the age of 33 to finally get started. But the bad thing about the fact that Rudolf had success was, when I finally figured out how clever he was in that, then it was not funny anymore. He basically destroyed my whole image or distorted it by asking me… when I was already away from the SCORPIONS… he called me when I lived with [manager] Peter Mensch… He asked if he could have my part in the composition of ‘Coast To Coast’… “Okay, I’ll give it to you as a gift.” And then later, he asked me, can I also use your black / white Flying V? Then I asked myself, why does he want that? Does he want to be me now or what? But I still said, “Okay, you can do that.” He did everything possible for the breakthrough. Later he dyed his hair blond and nobody noticed anything. When the record was published in the U.S.A., Schenker was there. The two songs ‘Holiday’ and ‘Coast To Coast’ were very effective, but also easy enough for him to practice. And then, for the next few years, he pretended they were his. I was allowed to help, but was totally exploited. That’s not nice, but it just happened. But I still grant Rudolf the fame he got, because he needed it for himself to find out if this is the “ticket to paradise.” Not many people were allowed to experience it as early as I experienced it. I was still able to get self-fulfillment… I broke away from fame, I was not needed in the 80s anyway. I never expected anything, I never expected that I’ll eventually get some awards. But basically I made more records than most of them. So, I took some time off – in the second part of my life – to find out more about myself and life in general, because in the first part of my life I basically lived unconsciously and I did not really know who I really was. I just had fun playing the guitar. And then, in the second half, I retreated and then experimented. All what I had in me, what was boiling inside of me… I had so much creativity in me, experimented so much, I did over 60-70 records… somebody told me that… or even more… If I had joined OZZY or stayed with UFO with my experimentation, that would not have brought them any money. They would have been completely frustrated. Imagine, I had now joined the SCORPIONS and they had to participate in my experimentation, then nothing would have come out of it. So, everyone should be very happy how it turned out. If I had joined them and they had to take my “vision”… they were after something completely different… they were after money and fame and the lifestyle of a Rock’n’Roller. For me, the part was completed. And I was more into learning about myself, about my life. And also to be able to experiment. Acoustic and instrumental… I just wanted that. That’s when I made an instrumental record: “Dreams And Expressions”. It goes from one riff to another, you could have made 5 albums out of it, I had so much to offer. I always had stagefright, but suddenly I wanted to go on stage. I could not understand that, but took that as a sign. Now, in this middle part – I was writing ‘Into The Arena’ [an instrumental track that appeared on the debut album from the MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP in 1980]… at that time I basically wanted to retire, but Peter Mensch still wanted to do big business with me, so it went on for about 10 years… until 1991. I moved to Arizona and set up my own record studio and record label. I worked for myself for the next couple of years. Until 2008, when I suddenly felt like I wanted to be on stage again. I took that as a sign. In the middle years I wanted to be on the battlefield. I have 2 tattoos, one says “Born to overcome” and the other “Born to be free”… So, these middle years had to be lived the way I lived them. Learning, playing, becoming stronger. I went through the school of life. I have learned a lot about life and also experienced many depths. Crisis are also positive… You have to go through that. That’s important, otherwise you would not be able to develop. You have to be confronted with difficult things… as in muscle training. You have to have weights. At the age of 17 I decided not to play anyone elses music anymore and not to hear foreign music anymore. I have not heard any music for almost 50 years now. Of course not completely… If I’m in a lobby right now, you hear music… or if I’m in a boutique somewhere and change clothes… But I’ve stayed away from music as much as possible, to keep a certain freshness. The brain is like a sponge, picking up everything you notice. If you do not plan, you automatically pick up everything and then use it. So, at the age of 17, I already knew that I had to stay away from it because I wanted to do something that came from me. Every human is unique and has its own world and there is a lot in it. And if you decide to share it, then the environment… people… get something new, a new color. Like a painter who paints from within, he makes a new painting that has never been there before. But if I had joined the trend, like most people did, I would just have recycled something that was already recycled. Well, there was a trend out there and everyone had mimicked this trend to get a piece from the cake. That was unimportant to me. I wanted to share something with the world out of myself. And I did that. Day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year… and when the time came, all of a sudden people where telling “Michael Schenker is God!” and how many guitarists liked my guitar playing. Later, I realized that the reason why they were so excited about my guitar playing in the 80s was because I was a new color, something fresh, something new. It came from inside. They had not heard anything like that and that’s why it impressed them so much. There is no end in the inner source of creativity. While everyone copied my guitar playing style from the 70s and 80s, I’ve already made something new. If you do the same thing over and over again, it will eventually be dead. Then there is nothing more to look forward to. You always have to have a fresh source somewhere, to give something fresh to the world. I’m probably not the only one doing that, but few people do it. Most of them just want the fame in Rock’n’Roll and the craziness of an ’80s musician: throwing a TV out of the window and killing people with it… that’s insane! This crazy Rock’n’Roll lifestyle… most people had fun doing it. In 2008, I decided… what I still had from the 80s, I do now with the FEST. I did not want to sign a record contract again, but Nuclear Blast persuaded me for weeks. Also Michael Voss [former MAD MAX singer and songwriter / producer of Michael Schenker]. So, I thought about it again. I did everything in the middle years that I wanted to do. I have come to a satisfaction… That would not have happened if I had joined OZZY or the SCORPIONS. I would just have built myself up in two dimensions and perhaps would not be alive today. Through my middle years I got a three-dimensional personality… I built my house on a rock. Let’s say, if I had joined OZZY, I would have gotten a lot of icing on my cake… But I built my own cake during the middle years… Since 2008 I’m catching up with what I missed in the 80s: I dress like an 18 year old and I’m driving a sports car (laughs). “Be true to yourself and everything else will come to you… and more.” And that’s exactly what happened to me. That’s why I’m so thankful that I persevered and did not let myself be persuaded by everyone, including DEEP PURPLE and others… They wanted me for a reunion tour. At the same time, Phil Mogg [UFO vocalist] knocked on my door – he had a paranoia, honestly… he always thought someone was after him – he always ran away, but there was nothing… He was broken, totally destroyed… He really wanted me to help him rebuild UFO. So I said to him, “Do not break UFO again, give me 50% of the name and we sell the album ourselves.” Because I had such a good experience with my acoustic record. Previously a limo driver said to me: “Michael, do you know that you get exploited right and left?” Then I said to myself, okay, if that is so, then I settle down. I can certainly sell 3 albums and then I would have enough to eat and a roof over my head. I then did my acoustic record as an experiment. All alone, even paid for it myself and then I drove 10.000 miles through America… with the Greyhound bus! I knocked on doors of the radio stations in every major city and asked if they wanted to interview me. I had my acoustic / instrumental CD, which I did to thank my fans for their support over the years. 80% of the radio stations opened their doors and then did interviews, played the record and mentioned my website. When I got home, I was rich… I had some houses, one in Phoenix, one in Scotsdale, one in Mexico. I also had a place in Hawaii and built a recording studio in Cave Creek, north of Phoenix. And then, what the limo driver told me… that I was exploited left and right… was confirmed… the money was flowing right into my pocket… for the first time. I lived in Arizona for 15 years. That’s why I wanted UFO to experience something like that. Selling the album on their own. But it should only be the original line-up, including Ron Nevison… that was the producer. I had always seen him as a sixth musician. He was just as important as everyone else. I got a huge record deal in Japan back then for MSG, which I should have accepted in 1995. But by then I decided not to join DEEP PURPLE, so I did the tour with the SCORPIONS, the first Germany tour with UFO in 1994. And then we got an MSG deal, which we then changed into a UFO deal. And so we had enough money to pay for an expensive producer like Ron Nevison. We all met in Los Angeles and started recording there. The record was great, it was “Walk On Water”. This was exactly where we left off 17 years ago with “Strangers In The Night”. Then we went on tour and 3 months later Phil Mogg was feeling too good. He wanted to take over again, wanted to be the boss again. That was always back and forth, until the year 2000. Then everything was totally crazy. Pete Way [UFO bass player] wasn’t into it anymore at all, he did not know what he was doing, he even stood on my feet on stage… he had my strings, I could not play at all. I then said, why should I always be the one who has to hold everyone together, everyone else is allowed to fool around… and everyone relies on me musically. And the next day in Manchester I showed what it sounds like when I’m not playing properly… and then everything was broken… Of course, I regret that today… that I did that… but I just had to show people that this is not possible. People are paying money for a concert and here comes Pete Way, standing on my feet and you can not really make music at all. That was just so crazy. In 2002, they wanted the name UFO, they wanted to make money. I said, “Okay, you get the name back. I’ll give it back to you – free!” No one thanked me for that. Also the SCORPIONS, no one thanked me! I was 15 when I was already with Klaus Meine in COPERNICUS. Basically Klaus and I were the SCORPIONS. They already gave themselves the credits at that time and not me. I wrote the songs and got them Uli Roth [SCORPIONS guitarist in the 70s]. I knew him well enough… knew that he could replace me, so I would not leave Rudolf and Klaus alone. Then I promoted the album with UFO and helped the SCORPIONS once again with “Love Drive”. But everything came as it should. I wanted to rest and experiment, the others got their fame and money as payment and I got inner satisfaction. I became a three-dimensional person. I think the SCORPIONS and UFO are still two-dimensional. I just gave them and gave them… I wanted to stay small, modest… with an unknown but good singer, Gary Barden. The others just wanted to make money. I did not want to… the SCORPIONS and UFO got annoyed about that. I do not even know why they were so dissatisfied with me, even though I had given them everything to get the success they had. I gave them the jump start. They took “Love Drive” as the basis and then went from there. Whenever I asked the SCORPIONS if they can do me a favor, they never did anything for me. At that time I wanted to have famous groups on stage with a huge program… a breakthrough concert. They didn’t do it. It was envy then. They said “Michael wants to have everything for himself.” On the contrary: I pulled myself out of it. But I should always perform as a guest… But I’m satisfied and did not want a competition back then. Then we come to the cover of the new MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST album “Revelation”. I was treated like Jesus, just as the music business treated me in my middle ages. Purity and passion versus greed and corruption – the Cesar wanted more and more, it was all corrupted. He was angry with Jesus. He did not want to share, so Jesus had to be killed and then everything is fine. It was the same with me. I have given and given and they do not even say thank you. How can one realize that people are wrong? Those who just think negatively and just want more and more… They always just want to take… For me it has gone this way and I am grateful that since 2008 I was enjoying myself on stage. I had evolved and was able to join the music business again. I do not need to experiment anymore, I can celebrate now… I make records with 4 singers. It’s a good thing to do that with Nuclear Blast Records. I am glad that they all convinced me, because these are really great people, it’s fun. I have not been in this business for so long. They invited me to their house. 12 people at a table, notes were taken and we talked. That worked really well. And the promotion tours are fun too. I also wanted to continue with MSG, but Peter Mensch wanted me to get really big. He then got me famous musicians… I had managers who did it all. I never made money until I was 36 years old… until 1991. Then I said, well, I’m not playing for free anymore. The people always say there is no money. That is impossible. I once said, I do not play any show anymore and all of a sudden there was money. That’s insane. “Okay, here it is, we have found money.” The limousine driver had recognized that correctly. The experiment with the acoustic record then showed that everything was right. We also had a manager back then, who always wanted more money, sometimes 30.000 then 80.000 pounds. Then he ran away, I never saw him again. He has certainly built a house somewhere and lives there now. It’s been 40 years, but he’s never been seen again in the whole scene. My laywer told me: “Michael let go.” At that time, I also had signed a contract for the debts of MSG and UFO. People betrayed me so much that I had tears in my eyes. I did not know what to do next. But then I got a contract with [Robin] McAuley [singer of Michael Schenker]. We shared the rights and I always had to pay parts of the earnings for the debt. That was madness. But today we do the MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST. With TEMPLE OF ROCK I still had Hermann Rarebell [former SCORPIONS drummer] and the present singers with me. For this project, I thought it would be perfect to bring all the singers together again for the MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST. So I called them all. And it was like they were all waiting for the call. Everything went so smoothly. When we played in Tokyo, it was such a nice venue. I then thought: I film everything myself. My son Taro, who is also our tour manager, took care of everything and got a movie crew. In Germany, I then put everything together with Tom Fröhlich [DVD producer], finished it and then sold it to in-akustik [CD and DVD and production company]. When the DVD came out, people around the world were hearing what an interesting project it was. A lot of record contract offers followed… MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST then should be a party in the controlroom. But what came out of it was almost like the last supper. That was not planned at all… I also do not know how it happened… Doogie [White, vocalist] suddenly wrote ‘Take Me To The Church’, Michael Voss wrote ‘The Last Supper’ and then I thought the album cover looks like the last supper, then we should just call it “Resurrection”. And now on the second album, I name it “Revelation”, so it fits together. We then did a world tour and between the last concert in England and the next gig… there were 8 months in between… So, I told myself, “I’m not wasting that time!”, so I called Nuclear Blast and said, “I’m going to make a second record. The time has to be used creatively. 8 months are perfect to create a good album.” So, I sat down and wrote a record and then, as usual, I went to see Michael Voss in the studio and introduced each song to him. This time I wanted to have 4 songs, where everybody sings together… I really enjoyed how they all sang together so beautifully on ‘Warrior’ and ‘Last Supper’. And as a hardcore fan you can always guess who’s singing. Is that Doogie??? I’ve always enjoyed doing that and I still wanted guests. Then [drummer] Ted McKenna died on January 19, 2019. I was so angry how he died. It was a routine operation and it was totally messed up. He had to fight for ten hours for his life and then bled to death in the operating room. That was such terrible news. And the only way I could go on was to imagine him saying, “Michael, keep on rocking!” On the back of the current record cover he is also there… he looks down from heaven on us. There is a lot to see on the new album cover. People who do not know me well or who do not know me at all, they can see what’s on the album cover: because it’s a biblical thing like the crucifixion of Jesus Christ… only that it’s me, hanging on the guitar. And that should only be presented as an example in a musical sense. There are always only 2 sides… there is sharp or dull… there is light or dark and there is pure or corrupted. Either you are pure or corrupted…”
So, both album covers were your ideas? “Resurrection” and “Revelation”?
“At the previous cover I wanted to have the MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST at a party, which somehow became the last supper… I do not know how it came about. I really wanted to have a medieval table, with nothing but food… lamb, chicken, beef, cow… and liters of Hofbräuhaus beers on it, like they celebrated back then… and in the background the control room from the studio. That was my idea. And I was sent a table that looked like the last supper. I said, “Why are you sending me the last supper, I just wanted a big table with nothing but food…” The photographer then wanted me to have the guitar in my hand and everyone then contributed their ideas… and that’s how it looks like now. For “Revelation” I had already made a sketch 6 years ago. That never matched the records I made. Now it was finally time, it fits perfectly now. Because it simply tells about my middle years, how I was treated… People were just jealous and tried to slam me. Trying to get me down, trying to make me disappear. They almost succeeded in it. I’ve moved away from the earth in my own orbit. I was far away from the earth, away from the scene… But then I approached earth again in my orbit and since 2008, the circle started to close. Then I started again with Gary Barden as a singer… and with Michael Voss… and many guest musicians. With the death of Ted McKenna, we had to drop a lot on “Revelation”, which we planned to do, such as the guest players, because it costs a lot of time and a lot of effort. We did not have time because we had already confirmed the “Resurrection” US tour No. 2 on April 15, 2019. So, we only had 2 – 3 months… Ted McKenna should have started on the 24th with his drums… I had basically finished my stuff… I’m the architect, I recorded everything piece by piece: with my guitar, electric bass, electric drums, double bass drum, midtempo, double tempo… So, that people knew what the songs are about and also the singers could come up with something. Everything was sent out at the same time and then everyone picked what he was into. Doogie had picked 2 songs. I said, “Okay, that’s great!” Then came Robin… I was so happy that [singer] Graham Bonnet wanted to write own lyrics to his songs this time. He did that so well. I was so happy about that. He made his two songs really great, so majestic! We had 45 songs and a drummer had to rehearse 45 songs. I took Bodo [Schopf, drummer] with me to England and we practiced day and night like crazy, until we got the program right. In the meantime, Simon Phillips had recorded his drums. Simon and Markus from Nuclear Blast already told me at that time how much they like the new material. If you have 4 singers, then only one can write the lyrics and one has to guide that. I then chose Michael Voss. He did ‘Warrior’ within one night. Also [guest vocalist] Ronnie Romero has done it so well… We did everything on time. Michael Voss invited the international press and did the listening party. Then we went off to America and made 2 videos: ‘Rock Steady’ and ‘Sleeping With The Light On’. The videos turned out really great.”
Will you tour in support of the album in 2019?
“We are not accepting any offers at the moment… maybe a few, if it works out with the budget. We are now 4 years together with the MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST. We have a DVD and 2 studio albums. I would like to get “Revelation” released now, so that fans can hear the album and get to know it. And that the promoters also know what’s going on, we’re not in a rush. It’s better to create a good basis to act. This project is so expensive: one comes from Italy, one from Germany, one from Scotland, England, Gary from Bangkok and L.A. So, all scattered all over the world. And to get that done is not an easy thing. A very complicated thing. My son Taro takes care of that, he’s incredibly good at it. He is the tour manager and coordinator, but still we need a good basis for a world tour. It’s also something nobody would ever have dreamed of, that I go on tour with 4 singers from the 80s. This is crazy. The guitarists of other band always tell me, “I can not even deal with one singer, how do you do that with 4 singers?” (laughs). We can do it. I always tell myself, what should be, will happen. If you do not have to force it, then it’s probably something that should happen. And the good thing is that all the different line-ups I’ve had in the ’80s happened for a variety of reasons, because I decided to experiment. I wasn’t doing it for the money. But the singers had to be there and had to earn money. And when it was time for me to make a record again, they were either available or I had to look for someone new again. Now I have them all together… I have a band with all the energy that went in different directions in the past… I’ve captured that now and turned it into a band. All the different line-ups have become one thing now and all this energy is bundled. And that’s another extra. You now have a band that basically consists of 4 different line-ups. The good thing is, we do 2,5 – 3 hours shows, so that the hardcore fans get everything at a show… and the new fans have the opportunity to see what it’s been like. That’s a wonderful thing. And that’s just what happens, I’m not clinging to it. I take that as a gift, that it is something that has been created universally. I did not design that, it was given to me… it was given to all of us. For that, I am grateful, that I am allowed to enjoy so much in the third part of my life… I never dreamed that this would happen.”
Have you really met each other for the recordings in the studio or did everyone record his parts on his own and then sent the result through the internet? How hard was it to get everyone together for the dates? Is it easier to do stuff online nowadays than in the past?
“It’s always different. For “Resurrection” for example, Doogie, Gary and I were always with Michael Voss. I always do everything in his studio. I do everything myself. I also like to take care of Gary and Doogie while they’re singing, so that in the end it will sound just like I had imagined it. That’s what you do anyway, also with the others… Back then we did it differently. Michael Voss flew to Los Angeles and worked with Robin and Graham and at that time also with Kirk Hammett [METALLICA guitarist]. We decided to do that over there in the studio. This time, Graham and Robin asked if we would mind if they did it on their own. They were looking for an engineer, it was Jeff Pilson from DOKKEN. Basically, it does not matter how far away people are. Because, when I made the “Obsession” album with UFO, we recorded that in a mobile recording studio. The band was set up in a post warehouse because we wanted to have a drumming ambience. So, we only saw the producer on screen. And he only saw us on monitor. So, basically it does not matter if you’re 5 meters away or 5.000 or 50.000 kilometers…”
Do you think that recordings are easier today, with the help of the internet, than before?
“Things are much simpler these days. I do not just mean that in musical terms. Technology makes life different: we no longer travel by carriage and horses today, we drive cars. But that does not mean that things get less complicated, and it does not get any easier. Some things get easier, some things get more difficult. You have to be able to understand everything. With UFO it took me 75% of the time to tune my guitar, because of the stupid, old-fashioned equipment and I was allowed to play 25% of it… It is maybe 10% tuning today, and I’m allowed to play 90%, which is definitely an advantage with up-to-date tuning equipment. That is definitely a positive thing. You no longer have to deal with the tuning for so long and can’t make any recordings, because the producer says: “It still is not sounding right.” You do a lot just by hearing, especially with this power tuner. Today with the boss tuner or whatever, it’s all very easy. You can play a lot now and tune less. And then again, what’s good about the technical thing… though I’m technically not gifted at all… I do not care much about it… I record nowadays just as I’ve always recorded. I only notice what’s good and what’s interesting… it’s easier to rebuild a song, from the arrangement… if you take a chorus now, then followed by a bridge, you had to know that before already. You had to cut everything. You do not have to do that with scissors anymore, you can do everything technically now. That’s a big advantage. You can rebuild everything the way it sounds best. But the most important thing about the whole thing in music is: it’s fun to listen to. It’s all going faster, some things are very beneficial, but others are getting complicated. You have to have people who are familiar with it. But I personally still do everything in analog style… how I write songs. I do not use any new equipment at all. Everything is still on an old cassette recorder. I’m lucky that it still works.”
That’s great! I am also recording this interview on an old Walkman!
“Hahaha, is it one of the newer ones? I have one here, if you press on it, then it stops playing. It’s built very cheap.”
No no, I still have a good old one!
“So, you still have one of the old ones… They are now being imitated, but in a very bad way. 3 of mine were already broken right from the start. One is still working. I can record ideas with it. And when I write my songs… I’m not following any trend, I do not care what other people do. And I want that people get new colors from me… and when I put my parts together, I do it the way I always do… just like before, in a very old fashioned way. And then I go into the studio… I don’t do anything at all then. I just play guitar. Michael Voss does the rest. I guess he pushes the same buttons he used to press. Just maybe less this time, because it’s all on a computer. I do not know how it all works. In any case, it works (laughs). Life goes on and who knows what will be 50 years from now… what else is new then… That’s life. As a comparison: from the horse and the carriage it goes to the rocket… and with that you get to the moon. But getting to the moon and making a rocket is not that easy. It’s about the music – not how to make it. But it’s about the end result. Is it something that gives you goose pimples or is it something you want to throw away? That’s all. Personally, I write from the heart. I do things thoroughly and deeply. I am a three-dimensional person and I make music to please people. That’s the main thing. And if you’ve done that, it’s always great.”
Does it still make any sense today to record new songs? Fans usually just want to hear the old, well-known songs… And with all the digital stuff, artists often complain that the CD and vinyl sales are going down… How is that with you?
“I do not care about that at all. I personally want to keep my inner peace, so I do not intentionally go into situations that pull you down. For me it’s not about making money or being famous… for me it’s about being able to create something new from the inner source of creativity, which then pleases people. Someone once asked me, “When you die, how do you want to be reminded?” He was on a mission, spreading the joy of music! That’s what I live for, that’s how I do it. Basically, it’s all about solo guitar playing, that’s my pure expression. Every sound has to mean something… something has to happen, which results in a chemical reaction. You do it when you play guitar for as long as I do… you improvise. I do that on ‘Doctor Doctor’. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not work so well… (laughs). If all goes well, then everyone will be happy… me too. If it doesn’t go well then at least it has been tried. I do not hold myself back there either. You should also try something. Nobody is perfect. Sometimes I also see football players and think, “Hey, they can not play properly. They’re playing so bad.” You can’t believe that. And then you see a football match two weeks later and both teams are playing well. That’s incredible. We are just people, sometimes better, sometimes worse… But the main thing is that you do something. But to come back to the question… everything comes to an end. Everything that once worked for a while will not work anymore and something new will work. That’s how it goes… on and on. There may be a balance: when people download more and more, they will have to pay more to watch the bands live. Maybe that’s what should be even more expensive. The only thing a musician has left, who still can play, is to be on stage. But then you should really play yourself and not just pretend. Those are real creative artists. When musicians are using tapes on stage, they are fooling their fans… I’m analog, I make handmade music.”
Talking of handmade music: you’re playing the Flying V for about 35 years now already…
“Yes, but before that I played an acoustic guitar, the old Rudolf guitar… Basically, it’s like this: I never had new underpants. Rudolf is 6,5 years older and I was allowed to use everything again 6,5 years later… the bike, every guitar, etc. That’s why I never got anything new. My brother, as an elder, was getting everything new and first… But I liked that… I grew up that way. At the age of 14 I already built my first guitar myself. That was a triangle, the Flying V is a triangle… That was probably already in my subconscious and predetermined. People always ask me “Are you the first who played a Flying V?” A guitar is nothing… if you put it on the ground… nothing happens. Just like money. Put it on the ground and nothing happens. Just an extension to your consciousness. When a person touches the guitar and does something with it… or maybe does nothing with it… because the person can not do anything with it… it’s about who takes the money… then the money becomes an extension of the consciousness… the person who uses the money. The same with the guitar: if a guitar is hanging on the wall, nothing happens. I introduced the black and white Flying V as a guitarist… as an artist. Rudolf just looked at the guitar in the shop window and bought it as a picture. As the saying goes: “Whoever collects guitars is not a musician.” He is just a guitar admirer. Rudolf is a guitar admirer. I’ve always had only 1 or 2 guitars for 30 – 40 years. I later came up with designs. They were designed, I did not buy them. Rudolf is only a guitar admirer, they always have 30 – 40 guitars in their basement or wherever… There are other guitarists, like me, who always had only 1 – 2 guitars. One in the case of a broken string… so that I can take the other guitar and can continue to play… Nowadays I also have a lot of guitars. But it’s a difference… people that collect guitars are not necessarily people who can really play. They just admire the guitars.”
You already said that you made the Flying V known… Did Gibson never offer you a signature model, or did they do that and you did not want it?
“No, my name is Schenker, Michael Schenker… not Rudolf Schenker… which means I’m basically a welfare institute. It seems like I was born just to give. I advertised for Marshall for free… half a century… for Gibson until 2004… for nothing! My designs were copied in the 80s. I’m the Schenker, I do things that others use, just like a welfare institute. But my name is Schenker, I give everything away for free!” (in German the word “schenken”, or in this case “Schenker”, means to give something away for free – Frank)
Do you still own all your houses in the US?
“No… life goes on… you get married and then there’s something, which is called divorce… then everything is gone again. I live in England now… I live here for 10 years already, pay taxes here and have settled in well here. I am in part 3 of my life now, I celebrate and it’s all a lot of fun!”
Are there still any singers you’d like to work with, which you haven’t worked with already?
“Rod Stewart! I just like him, even though it’s more Pop music… but even if he’s a Pop musician, he’s got a Rock voice. Robert Plant [LED ZEPPELIN vocalist]… but unfortunately he’s not singing anymore like he used to. David Coverdale [ex – DEEP PURPLE / WHITESNAKE vocalist] is still very good. I saw him once in Las Vegas when we got an award there. He did a live performance with [Doug] Aldrich [WHITESNAKE guitarist]… big, big voice. I did not like Coverdale so much back then… with DEEP PURPLE. I liked Glenn Hughes [also ex – DEEP PURPLE] better, but taste changes over the years. Rod Stewart’s birthday is on the same day as mine. Frank Sinatra’s too… but he’s not available anymore, since he’s already dead. But those are the kind of people I like.”
On April 19, 2019 you sang ‘Holiday’ yourself in San Francisco… do you do that often and do you also sing other songs live yourself?
“That’s my middle life, it made me do impossible things that were impossible in the past. I was a totally shy little boy, I just had fun with my music and I did not really know who I was. It changed in my middle years and now I do those kinda things. On ‘Holiday’ I do not see myself as a singer, but I sing along with the audience, that’s the way it is meant to be. I only do that because I announce the song and tell the audience that I wrote it, but never got any credits for it. I tell that to the people these days. I also tell them that Rudolf had asked me if he could have ‘Coast To Coast’ for himself. The fact that I gave the compositions to Rudolf does not mean that he wrote all of them, but it still means that I wrote them. For ‘Holiday’ and the 0:45 seconds intro they have completely omitted my name… And since I did not get any credits, I have to tell people that… otherwise it will not even be recognized in 1.000 years. Because my name is not there… So it’s my obligation to tell people, “Listen, this music is mine! I know that you all know that I played this, but I also composed the intro, it was not Rudolf!” Most people think he did, but he did not! I composed it and people should know that! Now we all sing it together, that’s they way I do it live! I sing it for fun and pleasure. I did it for the first time in Russia, as the first song we played ‘Holiday’. They freaked out. They all came to my dressing room after the performance and gave me some praise. The people all sang along and it was really fun. I tried to explain it to people, but in Russia they do not speak English so well… But in America I can easily do that and in Germany I did that again at the Bang Your Head Festival. Who knows what will happen next? I would not have imagined that I would sing ‘Holiday’ someday… It came out of the blue… also that I started to speak on stage… that I introduce my own singers. But that is all a matter of development, that did not happen over night. As a human being, I’ve grown to be very open-minded. I do not hide behind sunglasses or anything else. I am completely free to develop and have fun with my audience. If you look from my side of the stage and people smile, then you can only smile yourself.”
You’re working with a lot of vocalists now that you’ve already worked with in the past, but from TEMPLE OF ROCK the Finnish singer Jari Tiura is missing… Why is he not part of the MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST now?
“Then I would also have to work with many many more…” (laughs)
It would have been too much?
“Of course, I can not get on stage with 20 singers (laughs). How should that be possible?” (laughs)
So, those are your favorites now?
“Well, would you like to be the coordinator?”
“(Laughs) I’ll stick to your name, nothing is impossible, so if we should come with 20 singers, I’ll stick to your name! Let’s see… see if you have any suggestions… I do not think that would be easily possible, and most of all, you have to find someone to pay the people. You have to find the promoters that pay for 20 singers. It would be wonderful, if I could play my original compositions again with the original singers. That was the idea… With whom could this work? Let’s see… the most famous thing was “Strangers In The Night” by UFO, but I can not imagine that Phil Mogg would join in for that. Let’s move on to the next thing: “Lonesome Crow”… Klaus Meine – I can not imagine he would join in. So, those 2 already wouldn’t work out. That would be much too complicated and problematic. What came next? We’re talking about my most popular music… and I did not do my most popular music with Kelly Keeling [another vocalist Michael worked with in the past] or with Jari. That was experimental music, that was not popular… We’re just talking about all my initial development phases like SCORPIONS, UFO and MSG… Until the end of the 80s, those are my most popular. I’ve done 16 albums… how many albums do people know from the albums I’ve made? Popular is the MSG time… although it was supposed to be smaller, but it was still popular enough… not as popular as SCORPIONS or UFO, but it was music that I wrote, that does not belong to any trend… timeless music. That’s what I’ve been concentrating on while others have used songwriters, hit songwriters like Desmond Child, who wrote hits for ALICE COOPER, BON JOVI and the SCORPIONS. He promised money… It was just about money with those people, believe me. Mick Jagger tried to do it alone. It did not work out, he had to reunite with the STONES. BON JOVI tried to do it on their own… It did not work out and everyone had to get back together again. How many guitarists, how many singers wanted to do it on their own, but couldn’t do it because they could not life without the fame… They had to get back together because they wanted to fill the halls, they did not want to play in small clubs. Well, Michael Schenker did not care. 50 people, 100 people, 200 people, 500, 1.000, 50.000… doesn’t matter. That is the difference. And I do not do trend music, but I’ve created a trend for people to make money. Well, I made sure there was something in the 80s, which then made money for these people. Almost 80% of all the guitarists had copied my style. So I’m a trendsetter. Since other things are more important to me than money and being famous, I lived my life the way I lived it. And I am satisfied with that.”
Wonderful, that sounds good! Tell me, if your singers write the lyrics… did it already happen that the lyrics were not your taste and had to be changed? Has that ever happened?
“I do not care about lyrics at all, I do not understand lyrics, I do not even know what’s being sung, I think ‘Rock Steady’ is where you can hear it. A boy with a guitar…”
Is it about you?
“Yeah, haha… it’s easy to understand. It’s like, I grew up without being able to speak English, but music was my hobby and my passion, so I listened to the charts on the radio… just the music, never to the lyrics. I am satisfied with the music alone, I do not need a text to share the pleasure with the music. Of course there are many people who are very interested in the lyrics and some like half the music and half the lyrics. I do not read books, I do not listen to any lyrics… music is the universal language for me, that’s what I enjoy.”
How is your daily routine? Do you run around with your guitar every day? What else do you like to do?
“I’m one of the best and most famous guitarists around, but that does not mean that I walk around with my guitar all day. That’s what other people think, but that’s not the case at all. I’ve been doing this for over 50 years and I’m doing that in baby steps, there’s a commercial like that: a guy throws a penny on the ground, the other one says, “Hey, you lost a penny here…” and the other “Oh, it’s just a penny.” Then the other says: “Only a penny? Each penny becomes a million and a billion.” So, all the musical development that I’ve been through is happening in baby steps… In the beginning I played a lot of music of course. Everything you do for the first time is done for a very long time every day, whether it’s skiing or… doesn’t matter… if you teach yourself, it’s going to take a lot of time, but the more you do it, the less you do it later. What are the 2 most important things in my life? I make them my priority. So, that means the first thing I do, I devote a certain amount of time… let’s say one hour… for one thing and one hour for the other thing and do it every day. Every day, or let’s say 2 hours. The one who does not take small steps and then does it all at once has a high pile of paper on his desk. The one who works a piece of paper every day has it better. Every day one step is enough to let it mature. I taught myself skiing, of course I did everything wrong – I also taught myself to play the guitar, but also technically totally wrong… I play the guitar wrong… how I use my fingers… but not from what it is really about. The music itself, the sounds I put together, that’s what I’m about. One guy asked me, “Michael, you do not play with your little finger.” So I said: “Yes, but what is more important to you? That I play with the little finger, or that I make beautiful music?” That’s the difference. It does not matter if you learn something wrong, as long as it’s fun! That’s the thing. I also play football, I also like that. I also taught that myself. I was not a good football player, but I had fun, and that’s the main thing! So, in the beginning I played a lot of guitar and that became less until the time I said to myself, basically I’m overdue. I’m having a mixed time with the guitar, where I do regular basics, but very focused. That does not mean that I practice, but I play and discover on the guitar. That means, I play like in the sandbox, or say: I’m looking for gold with the guitar. The search for gold is fun, but if you find a piece of gold, then you look forward to it. Then you take the piece of gold and then put it away. And I do it that way. I make that an hour a day – I’m looking for gold (laughs). Sometimes I do not find gold either and it’s just the search, but it’s also fun! Of course you always hope you will find gold. But that way I keep my fingers in motion, moving and not stiffen. So, if I can not find gold, at least I moved my fingers. And that’s important too on a daily basis. As with football, you have to move too, because otherwise you can not play football anymore. At some point you want two things, which is pleasing of course. I’ll turn every piece of gold into a complete piece.”
Which guitarists do you like yourself?
“I have not heard any guitarists since the age of 17 and no music at all, no matter what – the musicians who inspired me the most… when I still cared… when I was 14 years old, I went on music hunting – or rather guitar hunting… I did not like music with no lead guitar in it. If the lead guitar wasn’t good, then I did not like it (laughs). There had to be a good lead guitar in the songs that replaced the singer for me. That was what fascinated me, I enjoyed it. LED ZEPPELIN did a wonderful job, DEEP PURPLE and BLACK SABBATH… That was the first generation that made it that way, and I fell in love with it. My lead guitar, the solo guitar, that’s my real art. I paint that on a canvas… What was the question again? (laughs) Oh yeah, I went on guitar hunting, on festivals etc. So, the most important ones being: Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Rory Gallagher and Johnny Winter. And when I was at festivals I have been looking for new ones. Basically all the guitarists of the late 1960s. Those were the people for me that I enjoy listening to. From the age of 18, I decided to do something of my own, to give a new color to the world.”
Are you still in contact with your sister Barbara (VIVA, ROSY VISTA)? Is she still making music?
“Barbara sent me an e-mail at some point and said: “I declare war!” (laughs) “Rudolf is a greedy wanker and everyone is cleaning your ass, because you play guitar so well… I declare war!” I thought, what’s up with her? I don’t know what she wants to tell me with that.”
So, you do not even know if she is still making music?
“I’m not on the internet, I do not care about Facebook or other websites… I have no idea what she’s doing, but she declared war… I do not care if she wants to talk to anyone anymore. No one knows what’s going on with her. Everyone has to deal with themself. The one who conquers himself conquers more than the one who conquers the world! This is basically the image of every person on this earth. When you reach the worldly power, you achieve less than when you have perfected yourself. It’s important to take a look inside yourself, instead of always pointing your finger at other people: “Look at that asshole, what’s that bastard doing?” One should look for the mistakes in oneself… A lot more good than bad happens when you do that. If everyone did that, then within a very short time a very different world would be there. But everyone likes to point with fingers at others… Some people are not satisfied, need to find a replacement… some are constantly buying new clothes or becoming addicts. If you only look outside, you depend on the outside world. Because, you do not have an inner world. And if you have no inner world, you can never be satisfied. The planet will be gone sometime… all good things come to an end. Everything has to come to parts… including the universe. So, that means, forget the crap… always only outside. Nothing comes out at all, because this instant quantification always leads to the next one… Some people constantly eat because they are afraid of themselves and take the food as a way out. Many people do it with gambling… People do it with something that distracts you, rather than looking in on yourself, because many people are afraid of themselves or have no desire to clean themselves up.”
Great, thank you. That were great closing words. Thanks for this long and very detailed interview!
I wish you a wonderful time and all the best.
“Thank you very much!”
And above all, have fun with everything you do!
“Yeah, you too!”
Interview: Tina Ehmke
Intro: Frank Stöver
Photo credits: Tina Ehmke (1-5), Frank Stöver (10-12), Nico Wobben (19-22), Stephanie Cabral / Nuclear Blast (6-9, 18), SPV (13-17)