Talking with Michael Schenker is a true experience. He is true and honest, talking from the heart with no inhibitions. On the interview below you can read the story of the new great album recording, why Romero is not on all the songs and how the guests were recruited. He is also talking about his inspiration, “peace of the mind”, how rock music will stay alive and of course Scorpions and U.F.O.. Writing his autobiography is something he is very serious about… will he do it? Interview: Yiannis Dolas
Rockpages.gr: I don’t want to talk about COVID-19, we had enough of that already… let’s go to the music!
Michael Schenker: The virus is a disaster, but somehow it put me unexpectedly into a shape to make a record that is beyond my expectation.
Rockpages: How did you decided that this was going to be an MSG album, and not a Michael Schenker Fest album?
Michael Schenker: Well, it’s Michael Schenker 50 anniversary “Immortal” performed by MSG. It’s Michael Schenker’s 50th anniversary, not Michael Schenker Fest 50 year anniversary.
My initial plan in 2019 was to invite guest musicians and friends to celebrate. It was dragging on and on. It’s very hard to get in touch with musicians worldwide and because it was dragging on and on I eventually realized “Michael, this album cannot be coming out in 2020”. So, I kind of decided not to do it. But, my agent told me “but, Michael your album with the Scorpions “Lonesome Crow” was released in 1972″ and I said “Ah, that gives me two years to celebrate!”. So, I had hope again and this time I decided to keep it simple and put together a compact band to celebrate the 50th anniversary with the Michael Schenker Group lineup that I have assembled with Ronnie Romero singing all the album.
Barry Sparks kept emailing me “Michael, I am a bass player”, I said “you got it”. Then of course Bodo Schopf and Steve Mann… actually, I went on the 70,000 tons of metal cruise and when I came back I spent 4 days in Miami and started writing and carried on when I came back in the UK.
As I was writing I saw on TV that there was a problem. It was very bad news and it actually confused me as everybody else, because all the borders were closed and there were restrictions… I couldn’t use my usual route to go to the studio in Germany and we found a way through Holland. I finally ended up in the recording studio, put down my new material on a backing track and it was time for Ronnie to come in to record the vocals. And Ronnie went “oh, sorry Michael I can’t… I can’t go into 14 day-quarantine, i have other obligations blah, blah”. I said “don’t worry we will think of a solution”. I said to my partner Amy, who is a bass player and has a very good taste… I don’t listen to music for 50 years, so I don’t know what’s going on out there… I asked her if she knew any singer, since Ronnie was not available. She said “Ralf Scheepers”! The next day we were recording, I couldn’t believe it! I was absolutely amazed, fantastic singer!
And then, on top of that we got a phone call… “I heard that it’s Michael Schenker’s 50th anniversary album… I want to make a contribution, I offer six songs on drums”! It was Brian Tichy, one of the best drummers in the world… and he is a Michael Schenker fan and he offered so many tracks on drums! And of course, Bodo Schopf… he was scared with the virus. He was supposed to do all the drums on the album.
The next morning I got a phone call from Brian Tichy again: “a buddy of mine is also a Michael Schenker fan and he wants to make a contribution… he is a keyboard player, his name is Derek Sherinian”. I said, “WHAT”? That’s a heavy duty keyboard player! He is a top10 keyboard player… what am I going to do with him? I mean I have Steve Mann. I purposely put down all the guitars myself this time and just asked Steve to do some coloring, where he is very good at, so it doesn’t stick out too much as a keyboard thing. So, what am I going to do with Derek? “Well, you might want to do a jam with him” said Brian, “like a guitar – keyboard jam”. I said “what? I’ve never done that before, how can that work?”, “well, like Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord…” “Ahh…” And I thought that it was a good idea for the 50th anniversary to do something fresh, that I’ve never done before. It would be great for the fans to hear something like that. When I heard the result, it became “Drilled To Kill”, I was absolutely blown away. I never even knew that there was a voice like Ralf Scheepers. Fantastic! That song ended up like straight in the face and beyond my expectation. So, I started to think… WOW! What I initially thought, making an album with guests and friends celebrating the 50th anniversary, which I gave up on, all of the sudden started to come to life all by itself. I was like “this is crazy!”. I ended up with Ralf on two songs.
And then, it was time to call Ronnie again… “Oh, Michael I am sorry. I can’t go into 14-day quarantine, I am sorry”, I guess he was in Bulgaria at the time. I said “don’t worry Ronnie, we will think of something, we will call you back when it’s time”. I said to Michael Voss “what are we gonna do? Time is ticking? Do you have any suggestions?” He said, “well, what do you think about Joe Lynn Turner?”, I said “Joe Lynn Turner? He is one of my favourites. Can you contact him?” He said yes and the next day we were recording! I couldn’t believe it! And he ended up with two songs.
Then, Michael (Voss) always writes lyrics and melodies as a plan-b for singers, just in case they need some help, or inspiration, or whatever… actually, Michael worked on “Warrior” (ED he is referring to the song from the album “Resurrection” by Michael Schenker Fest) and one day he showed me what he’d done. And I went like “Michael, this is amazing, one of the best songs I’ve ever done in my 50-year career”, and it became “Warrior”.
So, the same thing happened again. I came back from the hotel in the morning and Michael said that he had done melodies and vocal for a composition that I did (ED he is referring to “After The Rain”) and he played it to me and I went “Michael, this is so beautiful, only you can sing it”. It came from the heart and it was like a personal message as well. I told him that I could not imagine anybody else singing it except himself, it was impossible. And then, there was another song that had a great title “The Queen Of Thorns And Roses”, it’s an unusual song and what he did to it and also brought a very personal message, so I said “Michael, you have to sing this song, there is no other way”. So, he ended up with two songs in the album.
Then, it was time to call Ronnie again! Eventually, he started to be available, so he ended up with much lesser songs. So, what I originally planned in 2019 with so much work arranging and scheduling and didn’t work out, all of the sudden it happened by itself. I mean I am not doing anything and everything falls into place by itself! I was so happy that, all of the sudden, what I wanted actually came up from the people that should have been on this album. I could not plan anything like that. So, it’s all based on circumstances, it has to do with the virus and it’s such an incredible outcome!
Rockpages.gr: Actually, I think this is your best album since “In The Midst Of Beauty”, what do you think? Michael Schenker: I agree… I mean it was the combination of luck and how all developed under certain circumstances. How everything worked out at the end is beyond my understanding.
Rockpages.gr: The last song on the album is “In Search Of The Peace Of Mind”, with all the singers singing and the question is have you found your “peace of mind” yet?
Michael Schenker: Hahaha! You know that is a process that you go through life. Because, I stay true to myself and fulfilled my true vision in my middle years by experimenting with acoustic instrumentals and electric instrumentals, cover versions and all sorts of things I am the “kid in the sandbox”. I just want to play. Without competition, without comparison. I am not after fame, or success. That’s what I have done. I go into the inner spring of creativity that’s where I got all my inspiration from and that’s how I became Michael Schenker, because it came from within myself, rather than taking on a trend, which by the way I created a trend in the ’80s when everybody was copying my style. So, it’s like the fulfillment of a process of my middle years have led me towards peace of mind. And if I wouldn’t have done that, if I had joined Ozzy Osbourne, or if I hadn’t escaped with U.F.O., or joined Scorpions, or Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Ian Hunter, Motörhead, Thin Lizzy… all the people who have asked me to join them, I would have sold out just for the sake of fame. But I was never interested. I left U.F.O. when U.F.O. would have been the biggest band in the world. That would have happened if I had stayed there. What they were chasing I wasn’t interested in. I wanted to remain the kid in the sandbox.
I had a hit when I was 21 in 1976, “Lights Out”. And I was scared… I run away. I thought the music business wanted me to create a hit after hit like that. My vision was pure self-expression you know… to put three notes together and doing things the way I see it. Why taking up the trend and become famous and then making lots of money? It was important to say no to Ozzy and to Deep Purple etc, etc because I couldn’t have done that with them. I couldn’t have done my middle years with all my experiments.
So, to answer your question, on that level I have been very fortunate to stick with my true self to fulfill my vision and move forward in that direction, which is to go towards peace of mind, freedom etc etc… But of course, in life we have crises and we have to deal with things. In a musical level I have found complete peace. I have done everything I wanted and I am so grateful that I was granted to stay true to myself. With the help of the universe, I tell you, I am so glad I was never blinded by fame.
Rockpages.gr: Having worked with Ronnie Romero on this album means that you have worked with all Blackmore singers except from Ronnie James Dio. Have you thought about that?
Michael Schenker: The thing is that we have a lot in common with Ritchie Blackmore. I started listening to Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin when I was 14 years old. That’s where I come from. Then, when I was 18 I stopped listening to music but I started to self-express and that’s how I did wrote my first piece of music, which was “In Search Of The Peace Of Mind”. I was 15 years old and Michael Voss was showing me the original credits for this album which says “lyrics written by Michael Schenker, lyrics written by Rudolf Schenker”. We had zero knowledge of English, how could we have written any lyrics? impossible! So, it’s a complete misinformation, it should have said “music by Michael Schenker and lyrics by who wrote it, I don’t even know who wrote it. So, there was a lead break in the middle, I don’t know where it came from it was so perfect. Like “A Theme From An Imaginary Western” by Leslie West Mountain, or “Stairway To Heaven”, I would not even change a note. It happens sometimes. On “Lonesome Crow” you can hear that I am developing. I am an amateur guitarist and I am moving forward. That particular solo was so perfect! I had no idea where it came from. So, it’s so ironic, if you put it all together… “In Search Of The Peace Of Mind”, which I wrote being 15 years old, is a theme of my life. It was the very first music composition I ever did which ended up on the first recording I took part ever. So, it had to be on the 50th anniversary to complete the whole cycle.
And the funny things is that you mentioned “In The Midst Of Beauty”… I agree it’s a fantastic album, just the production is a little bit weak, but the songs and everything and Gary coming back is really beautiful. But, after my middle years where I experimented with everything and was fulfilled as an artist, being the kid in the sandbox, with “In The Midst Of Beauty” that was when everything started for me… “now, Michael you can move on again”. Somehow in my brain there is like a filing system. It’s like a clock. It ticks and ticks and then all of the sudden you are back at the beginning. All of the sudden I was back 16 – 18 – 20 years old. So, step by step with the beginning of “In The Midst Of Beauty” I kind of developed the same way…
I mean there was so much metal music I wrote for U.F.O. that got watered down a bit by Phil Mogg’s vocals, because they are not metal. But, if you take the vocals away like on “You Can Roll Her”, “Rock Bottom”, and so many others, the songs are metal oriented. And it’s just got a bit richer between hard rock and metal. But, now I was back in 2008 picking up again, after having completed all my experiments, to where I came from. The heavy sound and the emotions, the melody and in your face and so on. That developed and it became Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock and them Michael Schenker Fest and every time it got more and more where Michael Schenker started from and where his passion was in the first place.
This album is just another step, a development where I also made sure that I wrote a lot of songs, but not necessarily the best songs got in the album, but the best compatible for a good balanced album, like a good balanced book. You know, you don’t want to bore people. People who come to see me live want to hear all the songs, I should have done an 8-hour program, but I can’t do that you, know? So, people always ask me “how do you put a set together”? I balance a good set with classics, those that I didn’t do last time and I leave some maybe for the next time. So, I carry on touring and giving people what they want, if not this time, then maybe the next. I am very good at balancing flows so that it doesn’t become boring.
So, that’s what from a musical composition point of view happened. When I put together the songs, it was the music that I felt was the most compatible. The songs are complimenting each other on a good balanced album. I never focus on vocals or anything, I just write songs from the spring of creativity and then Michael Voss always writes lyrics and melodies as a plan-b, just in case and so at the end of the day, even when Ronnie wasn’t available, what we did was unbelievable.
Rockpages.gr: You mentioned U.F.O.. I have to ask you, although I might know the answer… Is there a chance that you play a show with them when they go on their farewell tour?
Michael Schenker: Never! Because, I don’t want another can of warms… I don’t want to open up another possibility of turbulence. It’s Phil Mogg. I got 50% of the U.F.O. name and I gave it back to Phil Mogg for free. So, Phil is happy being the owner of U.F.O. and the Scorpions are happy with what they had accomplished, with me opening the doors to America for them with the “Lovedrive” album and I am happy with what I have done. So, why putting together people that may cause friction? “In Search Of The Peace Of Mind”, that we talked about earlier, is the opposite. So, I am very very careful with opening up doors for being controlled like I was as a 15-year old, when they were already 21 toying with me and taking advantage of my talent making them being credited for my song writing. The same happened with “Lovedrive”. So, I don’t want to go there again. I don’t want these guys. They all want to be in charge. I don’t want them to be in charge of me. Michael Schenker is in charge of Michael Schenker and he is not following any trend, U.F.O., or Phil Mogg. He is following trends for commercial success, Scorpions follow trends for commercial success, Michael Schenker does not.
I go to the inner spring of creativity and there is no stop, it’s like a kaleidoscope. You shake it and it’s like a tropical fish, every fish has a different pattern. I don’t go by the trend. If anything I inject freshness into the track. Otherwise, rock music would have been dead long time ago, because everybody, or many people just take from the trend and want to take a piece of the pie, what sells and makes a lot of money. At some point, if nobody injected a freshness into the rock scene it would have been dead. It’s like a ditch that become stagnant and nobody wants to know about it anymore.
So, musicians who know what I am doing they take from me and they take their inspiration and they inject that to the trend and keep the trend alive, but in a new way. Michael Staiger, the boss of Nuclear Blast, said to me once that if I wouldn’t have been, he wouldn’t have ever been. Nuclear Blast would never have been and he wouldn’t have started this thrash metal. Thrash metal would have never been, all other kinds of metal never would have been. Another Australian drummer told me “Michael, if you haven’t ever been, thrash metal and all other kinds of metal wouldn’t have existed” and I said “WHAT?”. I found out about this several years later, because I was never interested of what my impact was. I was just having too much fun in the sandbox playing. So, I am very amazed by hearing Slash being a fan and Iron Maiden and Def Leppard and Guns’n’Roses… so many bands that I have found out later in my life, because that was never my goal, because I never wanted to be famous. It all happened by itself, so simply because I was being Michael Schenker…
Rockpages.gr: Since this is your 50th anniversary in music, have you thought about writing a book? Like a memoir? Sharing all the stories you have to tell?
Michael Schenker: You know, the thing about a book is… I have not even read any books of the musicians you know… but, I heard some quotes and stuff like. I heard a story about KISS writing books. Each book was different, actually contradicting everybody else. So, what I realize is that a book is a last minute thing when people run out of ideas. When they think they are finished and they don’t have any more inspiration, they can’t make any more money, the highlights are gone, so they write a book. I call these books science fiction.
Because, you can make up any story that you want and people will believe you. I am not a friend of that. I am also not a friend of putting together a live show and using tape to make my sound impressive and better. I want Michael Schenker to come on stage and play that night the way it was done with no help from any sound support on the level of having tapes or any instruments that are not on stage. I don’t believe in that, so I am a complete different person. So, I just don’t believe in books. Maybe some books are fine and truthful, you know, but you never know which ones. If I ever write I book, I’d do it five minutes before I die. I want to write a book of truth and not fiction. Not something that people will have the illusion of what the life of a famous rockstar is like. I mean imagine… you can write anything and people believe you! So, what’s the point? I am not that person. I believe in how it really was. I have a video in my head, I know exactly what happened and I would never make up any stories just to make a book attractive. I would just write the way it really happened. But, I personally have so much to give on a musical level that I have a saying “let the music do the talking, not the book”.