Scorpions – we recorded “Unbreakable” like we did in the old days

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A few hours before the show of Scorpions and Judas Priest I am at the back side of the Apollo waiting for time to pass to do the interview with Matthias Jabs . Outside the pub which is almost attached to the theatre I notice three British metallers. From their body language and a few words I manage to get they are talking about gigs, meetings with bands etc. All of the sudden the Scorpions tour bus arrives and the band members get out. Our heroes approach very decent and quite and they wave at the band, they ask for autographs and pictures with them. The Germans don’t deny their request, they sign all the sacred items they were given, and they stand with them to get the pictures patiently, since the old school camera takes them five or six attempts to actually work…

Entering Matthias Jabbs tiny dressing room, I found him smoking. Very cheerful he is impressed that I am Greek and he welcomes me with a very convincing “Yeia sou” (Hello in Greek). He brought me a beer and our conversation began…Yiannis Dolas

Rockpages.gr: The album “Unbreakable” sounds both like classic Scorpions and fresh. How did you manage to do this?

Matthias Jabs: First of all, we haven’t done a rock album in five years. Due to the Berlin Philharmonic experiment, that album “Moment Of Glory”, the “Acoustica” album. So, we are a band together for 30 years plus, we have that natural hunger to do what we originally do, what we normally do. Therefore, it was really refreshing to go into the studio and not to have to think about the concept, “what do we do with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra” for example. We just did what we like. And therefore, we recorded like we did in the old days. Everybody in one room and then go for it. We didn’t have to think a lot. We had many songs, also due to this extra time we had, not recording so many new things. We had lots of songs to choose from, and it sounds fresh, it has to do with that. Also, we didn’t waste any time, rerecord anything, many of the takes are the first take. The production makes it sound like 2004, while style wise it’s Scorpions and then it could be from the late ‘80s as well….

Rockpages.gr: It does sound like it’s fresh, but then again because it’s weird, because for a band like you, with a big history it’s tough  to make a very good record.  A lot of bands are failing to do so, and the fans say “Yeah, they use to be good, etc”, but that’s not the case with you. You delivered an album last year that was kicking ass…

Matthias: I know what you are saying. A lot of bands look back to their history and they say, “OK the first two albums were the best”. I think you are right. We still love music and especially now, when you look at what we are doing here. We haven’t been a special guest in 25 years. The idea now for us to play in England is to re-introduce ourselves and you know it goes down very well and obviously with the notion that we will come back next year and headline again. But we haven’t been here, we couldn’t believe it, since 1991. That is like 13-14 years ago, so we couldn’t take the risk enhancing a tour and hoping to short out. It was a good opportunity to go with Judas Priest, who would have had a problem to short everything out as well. So, we don’t mind at all (being special guests), people are already asking “when are you coming back to play a full set?”. That’s exactly what we wanted.

Rockpages.gr: For how long are you playing every night?

Matthias: 60 minutes…we have a lot of great songs, so 60 minutes is one hit after the other, it’s very powerful and it’s obviously very tough for any band in the world to follow…

Rockpages.gr: You are playing with Judas Priest, which actually takes us back long time ago, in the ‘80s when you used to play with them in big festivals. Any memories from that?

Matthias: Actually, not so much from the festivals, because at the festivals you don’t really see each other-it was only a few anyway…but we played with then in 1980 for a few shows, when they were headlining and we were special guests in America. I remember this one show in Worcester, New York and a couple of places in the East Coast we played together…but we know them from…well, we run into each other every once in a while. They have been almost like split up for ten years, Rob Halford had left the band for ten years, now they are back together and for them is a reunion kind of thing…and as we know it’s not easy for great rock bands from the past these days, it’s a good life but it’s hard to have a worldwide selling album, since nobody on the radio plays this type of music…

Rockpages.gr: Do you think there is more interest in new bands, because I think that classic rock is coming back and heavy metal…like Nightwish for example who sold out the venue here, where people listen to more extreme types of music than that. Do you think that the classic rock sound is coming back?

Matthias: I would say, it’s not coming back in terms of new recording and radio play, it’s not coming back -and why should it? It’s still there to a certain extent and you can tell that new bands who were influenced by bands like the Scorpions, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest…whoever, they take some of the stuff…for example Rudolf and I went to a Nikelback show, and they told us that Scorpions were their favorite band. You can tell that they are more like new rock but they use the same elements like us, it’s different vocals, but the riffs and the structure of the songs is very similar, so therefore this type of music is still alive. And there are enough people who they’ve been growing older with us, but there is enough people who still like the music and when the band goes back on the road they go and watch it . it’s a bit like memory lane but , they like to watch it, because they still enjoy the music very much. In terms of new records, in order to get it to them it takes more effort than the past, because radio doesn’t support it, they are looking for different sound, it’s too corporate now. They are told by the guys in the advertisement what to play and they do the research and say “OK, you’ve got to play this new hip-hop band because Pepsi Cola is paying for the adverts” and you know that’s kind of deal. But rock music is still alive and I am pleased to see even here in England, I am very surprised, where that package you know of old metal-Judas Priest- they don’t really attract girls, we do to a certain extent…so I am surprised to see a lot of young people. I don’t know how many per cent, but the ones we see here, a lot of young people, I expected quite a few girls…I am pretty sure that they are not attracted by Rob Halford! (laughs) he knows that better than I do! Generally speaking, we’ve been touring last year for “Unbreakable”, we remember the great show in Athens and Thessaloniki, in Athens was amazing! The stadium and all those people hanging by the cliffs and the mountains…Wow! What a great atmosphere! And in Greece I think it was No.1 album for six weeks or something…Excellent!

Rockpages.gr:…that’s what always happens with Scorpions albums in Greece…

Matthias: Fantastic! And you know we’ve been touring Europe for like three months, Asia two months, we’ve been to the States for two and a half and we were on the road for seven and a half months last year, came back…Puerto Rico was the last show, 12th of December. It was a great year and we played everywhere in the world and you know in some places you get to see it’s a lot of young people.

Rockpages.gr: So, the young kids you mentioned earlier, is the “New Generation” you are talking about in the album?

Matthias: I think so. You know, since we’ve talked to people, or they write to us, or through the website, sometimes they listen to new rock bands, I mentioned Nikelback, and others. They say we’ve been influenced by the Scorpions in these songs, so these kids go and check out the original…and sometimes music downloads, if it’s all legal, then I like it, because it gives you the opportunity to browse things, nobody would go to record stores now, look for old catalogue, you might not even find it. But, being able to listen to something or download it, can also help to distribute the music, especially to places…I’ve been for vacation three years ago in Mauritius and I really expected you know, nobody would know me there, wrong! I went to this place in Port Louis, there is one shopping mall, nothing much happening there, but in one record store they are selling vinyls. And, there they didn’t have anything new, but immediately they came up with their records to sign autographs…It’s amazing!

Rockpages.gr: I don’t think that the internet can kill that though, because you say that you can download songs, but then you wouldn’t have something that comes from the band, you’d have something that has no material, it’s like air…you can listen to it, but it’s all the same…

Matthias: I know, I know, I am the same…the world is changing, maybe the kids who are like 12 years now they don’t know what vinyl means anymore and the cd will be history at some point. We will probably find a smaller device, maybe laser, mini DVD – everyone has an i-Pod now- an MP3 player, the quality of sound it’s been approved so that’s not a disadvantage. You are right, it’s nicer to have something to hold on to and look at…

Rockpages.gr: The cover for example, if it gets smaller and smaller…it won’t exist anymore…

Matthias: I know, but if they put it all on the internet and you can download it and print it out from there…

Rockpages.gr: And then put it on your screen…

Matthias: It’s not the same. I agree 100% but I am saying this for quite some time…If you look at the big picture, I said this at least five years ago…Imagine you are lucky and you have an 8-cylinder car in front of your house -it could be 4-cylinder, it doesn’t matter. You have to start the car, get yourself into traffic, because the music store that sells the cd’s is not exactly around the corner, you know the small places die down and there is only the big places like Virgin stores, and the Media Markets, all these huge malls, you know the hi-tech places, so you are sitting there in half an hour traffic, you get into the store and let’s say that you buy two cd’s…when you are back home, you’ve probably spent like three hours of your day and you’ve been a part of a traffic jam…I saw a sign once on the Autobahn saying: “you are not sitting in the traffic jam, you are the traffic jam”. As soon as you get in your car you are a part of it! So, there are too much cars anyway, you pollute the air, you waste gas, you sit in your car and waste three hours and you come up with two cd’s…(I laugh) You could have downloaded it, do something meaningful in your spear time, therefore if you think it from this angle it makes more sense, but I agree 100% it’s much more nicer (to actually buy the cd’s)…and you can order also, I think that’s the way to go…Amazon or whatever…

Rockpages.gr: If we go back to the 90’s you recorded the song “No Pain, No Gain” with the German football national team. If you were going to do that now to help them…the World Cup is coming up as well…

Matthias: (he obviously didn’t like that question!) Ahh, there is talks…Watch it! You were lucky! You know what? Believe it or not, a friend of mine sent me an SMS after the first game, Greece-Portugal, Greece won by 1-0. The Germans were obviously interested in the coach, Rehaegel, and I answered to him, watch for the Greek team, they’ll make it to the final! He still has it…you’ve surprised everyone…

Rockpages.gr: You should have bet on that…

Matthias: I should have…

Rockpages.gr: Nobody in Greece did…

Matthias: I am telling you it won’t happen again! Because it’s a novelty surprise, also the other teams were weak too. I mean Germany…you never now, maybe next year in Germany (they win the cup-you wish Mr.Jabbs!)…I saw Germany versus Argentina the other day, we were the better team, ended like 2-2, with a last minute goal from Argentina, but they could have won it, easy, they played better (why didn’t they then?). But, we see what happens, they are a better team now with a better coach, Klinsmann, they might make it to the final again. They made it last time in Korea-Japan, even though they didn’t play well…Back to the music! We were asked already if we could write an anthem, doesn’t have to be with the national team. You don’t want to hear football players sing, but to do a song, like a thousand other artists trying to get that as well. We are not trying hard at the moment, but when we come back from this tour in April we’ll go to the studio and check a few songs and see if there’s anything. It only makes sense if it’s great…also representative for us…there’s no point in doing something like “La La Laa” done by us, we couldn’t ever perform it, if it was a sleazy shit song (we laugh). If we do it, it has to be a great song that sounds like us that also fits the audience…

Rockpages.gr: Also, your band…you’ve created some symbols, with songs like “Wind Of Change”. When it was released the Wall was coming down. You wouldn’t want to make something cheesy or funny…

Matthias: Yeah. It’s got to be right! With “Wind Of Change” we were lucky short of speak, because we got the right song on the right time. And it wasn’t about the coming down of the Wall. It was about the changes in Russia, USSR falling apart, and we’ve been there at the time. We were the first major western band ever to play there, and in between of 1988-9 there were so much to see, in terms of changes in our sense for the better and we wrote the song, and then the Berlin Wall came down. Obviously as a consequence of what happened over there, so it was taken as that in Berlin, and in Asia, the Sound and Peace Festival, in 2001 -I think- in Korea, a big show in Seoul, it was when for the first time Northern and South Korea had some kind of peace, that’s all over now…but we were invited again because of that song, also for being quite popular in Korea, you know it has a worldwide meaning in terms of hope. We say hope dies last, that’s a human thing…You cannot just design a song it has to be a really good song, otherwise they wouldn’t like it anywhere I guess…

Rockpages.gr: Which would you say that are the highlights of your career, so far of course?

Matthias: In terms of albums, I’d say, there are always more that one highlights thank God, the “Blackout”, “Love At First Sting” album, those were the ones that they put the boys on the Olympe (he means the mountain of Olympus, the legendary kingdom of the ancient 12 Greek gods) of the rock world. And talking about shows I could mention the biggest shows… if I had to pin it down to one answer, when we played the Moscow Music Peace Festival, two shows at the Lenin Stadium, roughly 120-125,000 people every day and we were popular already, since we’ve been there before. A German band in Moscow, in what it was the USSR, singing in English and 120,000 people each night are singing “Still Loving You” with us, so you have Russians singing in English with us, as good as they could, and they lit up the Olympic torch, which they couldn’t in 1980 because they were boycotted by the US and other countries. So they lit it up in the Olympic Stadiium. That was still the time of the USSR, and the 120,000 people singing in English with you…Wow!

Rockpages.gr: At that time you’ve recorded a cover version of the Who’s “I Can’t Explain”, which sounds great, you’ve managed to put your distinctive sound and make it sound your own…Any memories from that?

Matthias: Yes! The idea was exactly connected to this Moscow Peace Festival, the “Stairway To Heaven/ Highway To Hell album” and everyone involved had to do a song from an artist or a band where some musician died (from drugs). So we choose the Who, where Keith Moon has passed away and actually, before we did this one we tried “Behind Blue Eyes”, which was done now by, how are they called? Linkin Park?

Rockpages.gr: Limp Bizkit…

Matthias: I always mix those two up because of the “Li” in the beginning, I played the guitar and Klaus was singing, it was great. But, we did “I Can’t Explain”, it was done in one and a half days by this producer Bruce Fairbraine, who produced all of this. And I even made Ozzy Oshbourne’s band go back to the studio, because they did…dur dur duur…(he is singing the riff of “Purple Haze”) “Purple Haze”…and they had the wrong phrasing (on guitar) because Bruce played it to me and said, here’s what we’ve been doing in Vancouver, low budget, everybody has like two days for everything…I think our version is powerful, it’s great. We did it in Holland, he was already on his way to Moscow then. So they had Zakk Wylde playing doo dee deee baan dooo dee dee (he is singing the guitar part of “Purple Haze” wrong)…I said come’ on, I am a Hendrix-man, you can’t do this! So, they had to go back to the studio to re-record the guitars.

Rockpages.gr: It must have been a funny experience…doing a show with all those big names…you played together, you jammed on stage as well…

Matthias: Yes, it was with everybody, like Skid Row, Richie Sambora, Jon Bon Jovi and we jammed to some old rock’n’roll classics…

Rockpages.gr: So what are the plans of the band now?

Matthias: (his guitar technician comes in with a guitar and they are talking in German) this year we cut down touring a little bit, because we are doing the new album. So we will concentrate in writing songs in April and in May, because we only have like two or three shows a month now…and at some point we go to South America for two weeks, but we have to restrict ourselves, otherwise we don’t make it. The record company wants it before -and I can tell you now, impossible!- 2006, about spring time…

Rockpages.gr: How would you be able to match that new record with the “Unbreakable” album, which was an amazing record, and now you have to come up with something, better, maybe?

Matthias: Much better! That’s the goal (we laugh)! Will we make it? I don’t know, but I’ve been there, I’ve done most of the work (he means worked in the band before), I admit and yes, we can improve it. I am very critical you’ve got to let go at some point, but I am very critical about things and that’s why you have to say “that’s it for now”. You know, music is always like presented by this band, at this particular time, you can’t hang on to it forever, and try…like in the old days, when you were spending one and a half year in the studio. We will be doing another one. It’s working much better that way. Maybe when it’s out you tell me something else…(we laugh) Well, we haven’t even started yet…