An Interview with Michael Schenker

Interview by Edwin Van Hoof - April 2006

One of the melodic rock's most compelling guitar players of all time is most certainly Michael Schenker. His black and white Flying V is synonymous with extravagant guitar playing, hammering riffs thick as pastry, an amazingly fluent, nearly humming style of soloing, all draped around a classical framework. Schenker's departure from Germany's leading melodic rockers, the Scorpions, right before their breakthrough made many frown but made way for a new shot at stardom with Englandís finest: UFO - The flying saucer that would boost melodic rock and Schenkerís extraordinary songwriting and playing. Although it was a love-hate relationship which stretched for many years and was revived numerous times, UFO would deliver immaculate releases, like the undisputed live classic ďStrangers in the Night,Ē and a long stream of studio classics, too many to mention. When Schenker decided to move away from the mothership in the 80s, he decided to use his name and skills to the fullest degree and Michael Schenker Group (or MSG for short) was born! Like Scorpions and UFO before it, MSG stood for quality releases and amazing rock songs hosting some of rockís finest names ever. From the mighty and soaring classic bluesy rockers with Graham Bonnet and Gary Barden, to the mega melodic era with Robin McAuley (coincidentally also renaming the band McAuley Schenker Group), all the way to power shouters in the new millennium like Kelly Keeling, Leif Sundin and Chris Logan, MSG always stood out. Eventually and unfortunately, however, the flag started to fall to Schenkerís reported bad habits and problem-stricken personal life. 

With ďTales of Rock Ďní Roll - 25 years Celebration,Ē MSG not only reports back with re-found power, but Michael Schenker also launches the career of a talented new vocalist, whilst being backed by all those who made the name MSG shine so bright over the last 25 years!

When I call the master, he sounds vivid, alive and kicking. Constantly firing away his one liners, and laughing, about everything ... proving his newly rediscovered fun in music and life. Congratulations on the new CD! It does justice to the 25 year celebration of The Michael Schenker Group. How did this record evolve, with it hosting so many big names from the past of MSG? 

Michael Schenker: When I started composing songs for the CD, it was my intention to make it a concept CD. I mean, an album with the binding factor being rock'n'roll. Nothing like a story woven CD though. Plain and simple. Most songs on this CD originally where intended for the next UFO studio. I started writing and rehearsing with Pete (Way). When we found ourselves at the point of finally laying down the tracks in his studio, Phil (Mogg) was supposed to come over for the vocal parts, but he never showed up. Why? I guess his plane took a U-turn somewhere along the way. (laughs out loud) I donít know ... What happened then? 

Michael Schenker: I got a demo from Scandinavia. (laughs) What I heard was amazing. This guy (Jari Tiuri) had such a great voice, amazing! So I contacted him, started sending him my song ideas, and it pretty much snowballed from there. Nothing on this record was pre-meditated, it all came down to spontaneity and taste. When did you get the idea of teaming up with the old MSG vocalists?

Michael Schenker: It was really tough to get together all these names from the past. You should try it! You just canít get six great singers together just like that (snaps his fingers). Not even mentioning the miscommunication it leads to. I sent around the tapes with songs last year in January, leaving the singers free to work out their ideas into the songs. Gary and Leif ended up working on the same song, both crystallizing into completely different tracks in the end. It is amazing to see how two people make a song sound so different. For instance: Leif modified ďAngels of Avalon,Ē which was nearly finished by Jari, and it came out so different. The way he improved it however, is wonderful. It is like bowl with bananas and strawberries, thereís a certain taste. If you take out the bananas, you still have strawberries left in there. When you add another ingredient, the flavor will be differing, sure thing. Thatís the same with my music and songs. So with the six singers at hand, how did it all evolve from there?

Michael Schenker: Being able to get them together already was a big endeavor, but a success. The material, pfui! I could have easily made three full CDs of it, donít you think? Thereís so many ideas and so much happening, it is almost educational! Now people all of a sudden ask me: why, why, why? Why does a song sound like ďAssault AttackĒ? Well,Ė because of Graham Bonnet singing it! Or why does another track sound so much like the ďPerfect TimingĒ-era? Because Robin McAuley sings it. Itís not that hard is it? I donít understand it being so hard accept those simple things. Where does Mr. Schenker get the inspiration for the songs and music?

Michael Schenker: In the spring! (laughs) I canít explain it, to be honest. I do what I like, and always did. My inspiration comes from inside. It is hard to put into words, and I believe I cannot explain it at all. It is just something that happens and comes from within, when the feeling is right. Tell me, how can a one 17 year old high school kid all of a sudden decide heís not gonna copy anymore guitarists? Itís just one of those things and decisions in life. Same goes for my music. How does everyday life affect your writing and playing? I mean, there is so much happening in the musical landscape in the last decade, it must have affected you as a musician. You lived in the US where certain styles were blending and constantly changing shape in front of us and regular rock music was nearly being wiped out. Did that ever catch your attention? 

Michael Schenker: No, it didnít. These things simply donít affect my playing nor do they change my approach as a song writer. Surely whatever you heard in the U.S. at the time made some kind of impression.

Michael Schenker: Hey, first of all, I lived there, so I know! Second; I lived in the freaking desert! I love to listen to music, in the background. Played in shops, at the airport, you name it. Being so far from it all, it simply never could strike me as much as it does most people. Now, living in Hanover, I open the shades of my apartment, and see a different sight every day. The city changing in front of me, different weather. But not there. You look out the window, and every day you see the same sight in front of you. Hardly changing. So what happened on the outside world, hardly got through to me. Several of your later CDs werenít officially released in Europe. Now this one is seeing the light of day through Armageddon Music, which actually originated from your area and the Wacken Festival. Good to see this happen.

Michael Schenker: Well, I had plans running A to Z, all in my head. At that time, no company was even remotely involved in my plans for this CD. This was just going to be my thing! No company was involved that would be able to point out the financial risks. Just do it! Whether I would be able to sell it to a company or not, didnít bug me. If no one would have been interested, I would have released the record on my own label. When the product was finished, Armageddon Music wanted it, and I couldnít resist. This record will grow on you. Give it four years or so, and you will come to the same conclusion. It has so much to offer for everyone, itís diversity must attract a lot of fans and listeners world wide. It will grow on you, Iím sure. Itís integrity will strike. Is this sort of a Ďnow or neverí for you? This tour and CD?

Michael Schenker: I always ... simply go, not caring too much about that question. I always did and I will be ... Thatís the wonderful thing about music, man! You screw up and you still have music. You screw up again, and thereís still music! Screw up and try again. Itís a never ending cycle. Music has the ability to cheer you up when youíre down, a happy companion. I mean, music is so universal and powerful. Though you are feeling down, you can still overcome everything, that is the power of music. People sometimes come up to me after a show to tell me how a certain song or album got them through a certain period in their lives. In grief, anger, or struggling the many facets of life. It pulled them through, or gave them something to cling to! Then thereís the story about the cover CD ("Heavy Hitters") which was released under the MSG banner. It received a lot of reactions worldwide, but you got a lot of bad press, too, for example, being attacked by German magazines claiming you doing it for the money, not being able write a decent song yourself.

Michael Schenker: That record was a perfect way to recharge myself for a next round. It enabled me to come to a new level with my career and life, I mean the divorce and so. The whole recording was a bunch of musicians joining for a fun time. I was invited by Bob Kulick to do lead guitars on all these cover songs with great musicians like Vinnie Appice, Sebastian Bach, Mike Baird, Gary Barden, Brett Chassen, Paul DiíAnno, Aynsley Dunbar, Tony Franklin, Mike Inez, Bob Kulick, Tony Levin, Marco Mendoza, Tim ďRipperĒ Owens, Jeff Pilson, Rudy Sarzo, Tommy Shaw, Eric Singer, Marc Slaughter, Jeff Scott Soto, Phil Soussan, Joe Lynn Turner, Leslie West, Edgar Winter, Chuck Wright and Simon Wright. A great session. I had a lot of interview requests and asked Bob to send me the final CD. When I received it I was shocked. I didnít know whether I should laugh or cry. The CD cover had a big MSG logo on the front. MSG instantly became a cover band without my permission! It is weird how people keep sneaking around me, I donít know whether it was the companyís call of Bobís idea, though. I donít understand the desperation and why they think they can get away with this. I sense your being truly satisfied with this CD and your current situation, anything to do with you living in your old hometown again?

Michael Schenker: Sure thing! Life has come full circle for me. I returned to my roots, family wise and in music. Everyone living close to me, makes me feel great. My brother and mother living in the area, as do Scorpions and a lot of old friends. Speaking of your brother, how are things? He's featured very prominently on your website. 

Michael Schenker: A while ago, I wrote my brother Rudolph an e-mail in which I mentioned he should be happy to have me leaving The Scorpions back then. With me, the band would have probably never gotten as big as they are! I mean, Rudolph is a brilliant teamplayer, probably one of the best of his kind, where I am more of a frontrunner. I have the urge to create different things and not notice the people I am working with. Thatís why I left and did my thing, where The Scorpions soon grew to be one of the biggest rock bands of the last century. What makes the Schenker brothers this successful? Whatís the key to your success? 

Michael Schenker: The depth and emotion makes us stand out in music, I think. I donít know if I can say it like that, but it is the force within. We both go deep in everything we do, want it to be perfect. It must come from our father, who played the violin. When he did, he was always smiling and enjoying playing the instrument so much, that the pleasure in music must been instilled in us. We want to enjoy music, playing, writing ... But for a long while you didnít. It seemed that you were haunted by the past and all the negative vibes from the UFO era, and your personal life at the time. It clearly affected you on stage as it did as a recording artist. But, judging the pleasure this record brings out in your and the many laughs I heard during this interview...

Michael Schenker: I know what you mean. But I do enjoy music. I lost nearly all I have during my divorce. It was a daunting experience. Everything gone! Leif actually suffered the same and we could relate to each other. I consider that period a lesson I had to learn. One of those lessons in life that you have to overcome. No, I like it this way. Iím happy with who I am now. 

Photos by Marc Theis

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Copyright © 2006 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 31 Jul 2018 23:38:09 -0400