”… I haven’t been listening to music since I was seventeen and haven’t copied anyone since I was seventeen, I became a trend maker rather than a trend follower and so I just always make sure because my focus is the lead guitar, the art of lead guitar is pure self-expression that’s what I do.”
From Release: Michael Schenker is a changed man. With a career stretching back to 1969, the German guitar virtuoso is an artist for whom the term ‘volatile’ has sometimes seemed invented. Recorded with singers and musicians associated with Michael in previous decades, the aptly-titled »Resurrection« sees Schenker embracing his past to build something fresh and exciting. In 2016, Schenker put together MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST, a tour featuring former MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP vocalists Gary Barden and Graham Bonnet, plus Robin McAuley of theMcAULEY SCHENKER GROUP. Instrumental back-up was provided by former M.S.G. bass player Chris Glen and drummer Ted McKenna, plus guitarist/keyboard player Steve Mann, also of the McAULEY SCHENKER GROUP.
By the seaside in the UK we gave the legendary Michael Schenker a call to talk about the new Michael Schenker Fest album ‘Resurrection’, its creation, his stage fright, touring, longevity, and much, much more.
Resurrection is a loaded word, why was this the perfect title for the record and what does it represent to you personally?
Well you know I wanted to call it ‘Michael Schenker Fest in The Studio’ and I kind of had a vision of for the artwork like a big table, basically a big party, Michael Schenker Fest in the studio with a big table, lots of food, lots of girls, wine, beer, and just a crazy with a control room in the background. Then Doogie who crafted the first few songs came up with that song ‘Take Me To The Church’ and I went wow, what is this? Then the album cover that I expressed as a feast and table with food and wine and everything someone said to me is this what you mean Michael, it’s like the Last Supper, it looks like the Last Supper then Michael Voss-Schoen, our co-producer, he wrote a song ‘Last Supper’ and everybody’s living in a different place on this planet you know? I found it very peculiar how all these religious pieces coming in even though I wanted to call it ‘Michael Schenker Fest in The Studio’ with a wild party. So I asked the record company are we still calling the album ‘Michael Schenker Fest in The Studio’, they said yeah unless you have something better, and I was looking at everything and how it was shaping up and was looking at my life and kind of realised that maybe it’s like a comeback you know?
My life comes in three stages, the first stage was until I was twenty three I made my musical contribution to the world in the seventies for the eighties which influenced and inspired a lot of musicians. In my middle years I was twenty three in 1978 I had basically reached fame and success at its highest and I was able to make a decision if I wanted to stay up there or start a new chapter and experiment with music, and that’s what I decided to do and so my whole middle years a just basically about having fun with music and so I put together Michael Schenker Group and did things in my own time and how I wanted. Then 1990 – 2005 I dropped out all together so I basically almost went to a different universe you know? Then basically in 2008 I used to be very stage fright and in 2008 all of a sudden my stage fright completely disappeared and I wanted to be on stage all of a sudden, so I took that as a sign to be back in the loop of rock and roll and that’s where I mark the third stage of my life. So looking at that and so extreme that I dropped out of the scene and how I developed as a guitarist so fast and really was done with everything by the time I was twenty three and then entered a completely different way of living and dealing with music, so basically dropping out of the loop of rock and roll, so it’s a bit like a resurrection, and also the same goes with my musicians. We used to be together then we departed and then all of a sudden I’m together with all of them *laughs* it’s like a comeback, that is basically what’s meant with it. Because everybody had someone some religious words started to show up here and there so I kind of looked at everything and said maybe we should call it ‘Resurrection’ more suitable than ‘Michael Schenker Fest’, and I didn’t have a title for my instrumental so I called it ‘Salvation’ and I though well now we are complete *laughs*.
There are some amazing vocalists and players on the record, did you have specific people in mind with songs and approached them once they were written?
Well I do things the way I always do, I haven’t been listening to music since I was seventeen and haven’t copied anyone since I was seventeen, I became a trend maker rather than a trend follower and so I just always make sure because my focus is the lead guitar, the art of lead guitar is pure self-expression that’s what I do. So I put together the music and make the blue print as complete as possible and then when I have enough material to go in the studio that’s what I do and I put all my music that I wrote on tape and make it as complete as possible for the singers and the musicians know what I have in mind and then I always leave the lyrics up to the singer because I want them to feel comfortable with what they’re singing. So basically then it’s up to the singer to come up with lyrics and melodies and Doogie was the first one who grabbed five songs straight away even though he could only have three because there are four singers, and I always wanted to have two or three songs where everyone was singing together on a song and we actually made that possible with two songs, one was ‘Warrior’ which happened very early and was the second piece of music I put on tape and Michael Voss-Schoen our co-producer came up with these lyrics and melody for the vocalist and I was like “Wow Michael, this is incredible, this is perfect for the singers to share” and it became ‘Warrior’ which is a fantastic song and I was happy that it came out early to represent this album, to put it out as a single and we had so much time to put it out and get it ready, and then we did the same with ‘Last Supper’ and that turned out really nice. So instead of having each singer singing three sings which would’ve been too clinical we ended up mixing up some backing vocals with different singers put together and the band singing backing vocals, so it became at some point something had everything to do with somebody but yet we managed to have a couple of songs for each singer by themselves. I’m very happy with the album.
At close to fifty years in business do you what do you still enjoy about what you do?
Well you know I always loved music, when I was three years old I was singing, when I was five I was banging on pots, whenever I saw an instrument I touched it and played it, when I was nine years old I discovered the guitar and I have been fascinated with a single string ever since, what I can do with it. So basically my focus has been the art of lead guitar as pure self-expression, when I was seventeen years old I stopped listening to music and I stopped copying others and I decided to show it the way I see it, as an individual what’s in my head and I decided instead of following a trend I became a trend maker because I was coming up with fresh colours because I was operating from within, I was not interested in recycling the trend and I think that attracted a lot of musicians that they heard something they haven’t heard before because it was coming from the inside of an individual which everybody can do it’s just a matter of choice to copy a trend or to come up with something fresh from your inner self. So basically I never got over exposed, I never got consumed because I don’t consume it can wear people out I never was in the machine of the level of touring, making album, touring, making album, I have treated music more as a recreational level, you don’t score, you don’t compete and so on, you just have fun with it.
So when I play guitar I call it play and discover it’s a bit like treasure hunting you’re just having fun looking for things and then you’re happy when you find something and those are the pieces that I capture on tape recorder when it’s time to make a record, I start listening to them and then I create my songs, so basically I think the answer is to treat the whole thing recreational and I never wanted to be famous it all happened by itself and I just was having fun with music and everything else was the icing on the cake. I never dreamt of winning awards or anything it’s just something I never had any expectation of, I was just having fun playing music and I think because of that recreational and because of not expecting anything and not to compete or to have a rat race with anybody I think that keeps it fresh and it’s nothing that has to be a certain way, it’s just fun doing it while you’re doing it and I think that’s all there is to it.
Obviously over time things change, but what would you say is the one thing that’s stayed the same in your time making music?
I never left the place which I feel in love with which is the combination of a great singer and a great guitarist, like Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart, that kind of stuff, that’s what I fell in love with and that’s what I do and have always done. I love the way a great singer and a great guitarist how they take over, like maybe a guitarist starts off with a riff and a singer takes over, then the guitarist takes it to another place in the lead break, then you come back with a riff and you finish the song with the singer or an outro solo, and so that’s something that I love and because I love the art of lead guitar and pure self-expression I have never changed.
Think there’s a chance we might see Michael Schenker Fest in Australia any time soon?
Yeah I tell you, I mean I would love to, because that’s one of the places I’ve never been to and I can’t believe I haven’t you know, but maybe this album is breaking through and eventually we will have a chance. I haven’t been connected to the loop of rock and roll for a long time, when I was twenty three I achieved everything and then I withdrew from the scene and did my own experiments and I have just signed with a great record company in Nuclear Blast and I am in the loop of rock and roll in a big way, now for the first time in a long time now and maybe it’s time now in my celebration period in the third stage of my life maybe now is time to show up all over the world even places I’ve never played before like Australia and I’m looking forward to doing that.
Michael Schenker Fest seems like it could be an ongoing thing, have you already started thinking about plans for the next instalment?
I don’t jump like that I just take everything as it comes and stay in the now pretty much and whatever happens now inspires me maybe to do the next little step but right now we are focusing on live performance, we are booking all the way until 2019 already and I’m doing promotion right now and the album comes out in Japan on the 28th of February and the 2nd of March everywhere else, and we start a tour of America on the 6th and then as I have been doing promotion around the world in the last two months my organisation is working on accepting offers and eventually I will have a look at everything and see where we are at with it, but apparently we are already booking and have offers all the way up until 2019.
You’ve always been majorly respected as a guitar player, but are you aware of any up and comers out there you’ve heard that stand out for you?
I believe there is a lot of great musicians out there but I stopped listening to music and stopped copying guitarists when I was seventeen years old and my focus was on creating rather than consuming, and so because of that I only know the people that inspired me that I fell in love with that were people like Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Rory Gallagher, Johnny Winter, Leslie West, you know all the great ones from the late sixties. I used to go guitarist hunting when I was fourteen I used to go to festivals and see if I could discover a new guitarist, I was obsessed with guitar players and so that’s where my passion is, I love guitar playing, the single string what you can do with it since the distortion came out, so that’s the place where I never left. Of course over the years sometimes exceptional people come to the foreground you cannot overhear like for instance even if you try not to listen to music you cannot switch off lobby music or elevator music, or for instance how I discovered Metallica, being in Paris in a boutique on new clothes and they played a whole Metallica album that’s how I discovered ‘The Unforgiven’ a beautiful song and so basically I just don’t consume music but I’m sure there is great stuff out there.
If you don’t listen to music what do you do in your spare time, is there something that you do to unwind and relax?
Well music is recreational I don’t score and I don’t compete with it so it’s pure fun *laughs* I don’t have to rewind, I just enjoy what I’m doing because I’m not expecting anything therefore I’m not in a stressful world where you need a hobby to get away from it. I’m not bothered by that because for me it’s just music it’s not something I measure or compete or score with it’s just pure enjoyment and that’s already right there. It’s a recreational activity and others who look for a hobby or look for something outside of their main work for instance they look to music as a hobby, I never wanted to become famous so it was never pressure for me, it only became pressure at some point when I became successful with ‘Lights Out’ with UFO in America when I was nineteen and then all of a sudden oh, now it becomes a must and that’s when I didn’t like it so much anymore *laughs*. When I was twenty three years old I was very famous and very successful already in ‘78 and that’s when I left the scene and decided to have fun with music and experiment with music and get things out of my system, I was very overflowing with creativity, I did acoustic instrumentals, electric instrumentals, I experimented with music so music just purely having fun with it you know because there was never any pressure there because I made it very clear very early in life that I just wanted to have fun with.
What I do with everyone is I get them to look ahead to the future, so finish this sentence for me, by the end of 2018 Michael Schenker wants to…
Tour the ‘Resurrection’ album until we finish playing everywhere on this planet *laughs*.
Forthcoming Release: Resurrection (Out March 2 – Nuclear Blast)