MICHAEL SCHENKER: ‘I am a live artist’

Michael Schenker (Foto Wikipedia)

Guitarist Michael Schenker needs no special introduction. He is the man who created the immortal ‘Lights Out’ and the concert album Strangers in the Night (1979) with the band UFO. He contributed the first original song by the band, Scorpions; and co-created the hit ‘Holiday’. Michael has negotiated with names like Ozzy Osbourne, however, he’s managed to remain true to himself. Michael and his work has impacted a wide range of guitar legends such as: Kirk Hammett (Metallica), Randy Rhoads (Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot) and Dimebag Darrell (Pantera, Damageplan), I’m not even starting!

I had a long phone conversation with Michael, which we discussed the recently released album Immortal (2021), his membership in Scorpions and UFO, and many other interesting things.

ROCKER.SI: Hello. First congratulations on the 50 years of music career. For the anniversary, you celebrated with the release of your new album Immortal (purchase). Have you ever imagined being active for so long? What do you think is the reason for this?

MICHAEL SCHENKER: Thanks. I, myself do not deal with such predictions, as I live for today. For this moment, no one knows how much time is still ahead of him. Sure, I definitely have some guidelines and plans, but nothing big. I’ve always focused on the “now”. It all depends on the circumstances, things are evolving day by day. I consider myself a child in the sandbox who doesn’t follow trends. If so, I create them. Nuclear Blast Records founder, Markus Staiger told me that if it weren’t for me, he would never have become a thrash guitarist, nor would he ever founded a record label. My playing is also said to have co-created several metal genres.

I realized my influences a number of years later. Like I said, I remain a child in the sandbox that is constantly evolving. I don’t compete, I don’t compare. I just make music. I do not want fame or success. I just want to enjoy the music. I’ve been doing this my whole life.

I never think about the future because it hasn’t happened yet. No one knows if there is a future for him at all.

ROCKER.SI: So could we say that staying true to yourself is what helped you to stay fresh for so long?

MICHAEL SCHENKER: All I want is to be Michael Schenker. I don’t see the point in doing something that others are already doing. I do what I believe in. Regardless of the responses of others.

ROCKER.SI: Let’s stop at your playing, at the guitar itself. Why don’t you trim the strings, but let their excess length protrude beyond the adjusting hooks?

MICHAEL SCHENKER: Because I don’t have time (laughs). In addition, you can injure your fingers very quickly, which hurts a lot (laughs).

ROCKER.SI: The next question concerns Paul Chapman, who passed away last year and succeeded you in the UFO. What was your opinion of him? When was the last time you were in contact?

MICHAEL SCHENKER: When I was in UFO, I always wished we had another guitarist, because I couldn’t play everything live on my own. In the studio yes, but the concerts were something completely different. As I couldn’t play rhythm and lead guitar at the same time, so we found Paul. Paul was an interesting man and guitarist. He was friendly and fun, but also superficial. Sometimes he played guitar and ate a sandwich at the same time (laughs).

Every now and then, Paul sent me some, let’s say jealous emails, to which I didn’t respond because I just don’t understand people like that. I left UFO because I was afraid that the music industry would force me to create mere hits. Pete Way tried to persuade me to come back. Paul Chapman replaced me for a short time after the release of Lights Out (1977), which disappointed quite a few people.

After leaving UFO again after Strangers in the Night (1979), Paul returned to the band. People always give preference to those they know. I think that’s why they chose Paul, because the band knew him. He was also suitable for Phil Mogg, who always tried to keep things under control. Me too (laughs). The news that the album No Place to Run (1980) would be produced by George Martin seemed incredible to me. That they found a big name producer. When I heard the album, from the lead guitarist’s point of view, Chapman’s playing didn’t seem anything special to me.

ROCKER.SI: A few weeks after him, we also lost Pete Way. A really sad coincidence.

MICHAEL SCHENKER: It’s true. When things like this happen, it’s usually a chain reaction. Bang, bang, bang. It is a very annoying and sad thing. The older I get, the more of it there is. First Paul Raymond, then Pete Way. The sweetest man I’ve ever known. I really don’t understand why the universe works that way.

ROCKER.SI: Wikipedia says that you have been active since 1969, what exactly does the 50th anniversary cover? Is it just a delay related to the current pandemic? The new album also features ‘In Search of the Peace of Mind’, which was originally released on the Scorpionsdebut album, Lonesome Crow (1972). How come?

MICHAEL SCHENKER: In 2019, I realized that it in 2020 it would be 50 years since I recorded my first song. It was ‘In Search of the Peace of Mind’, which I created and recorded when I was 15 years old, which I am still very proud of today.

I wanted to celebrate the anniversary with friends, fans and music colleagues. I had a hard time putting the latter together. Then my agent came in and reminded me that the Lonesome Crow album was released in 1972. That meant I had more time available. I wanted to carry out the project in a slightly easier way. I wanted to create an entire record with a single band. I asked Ronnie Romero if he would take on singing duties. I also turned to Bod Schopf and Steve Mann, with whom I also collaborated on Michael Schenker Fest. In addition, there’s Barry Sparks here, who kept asking me if I could contribute bass.

I started preparing the album after last year’s performance at 70,000 Tons of Metal. Then came the current pandemic, which thwarted our plans. Ronnie was not able to leave his country, which is why we invited additional names to the project. Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear), who sang two songs, was one of the first. One of the best drummers in the world, Brian Tichy, also performed for the project, offering me six already completed drum tracks. At first I couldn’t believe what he was offering me. Then came Brian’s friend and former Dream Theater member Derek Sherinian, who also wanted to take part in the project. We agreed on a kind of clash of keyboards and guitars that you can hear in ‘Drilled to Kill’. The final version turned out phenomenal. We contacted Romero again, who still couldn’t come. So Joe Lynn Turner, who I admire immensely and is an amazing singer, joined the project. We also recorded two songs with him. Something similar was done by Michael Voss. Ronnie ended up singing five songs, one of which is not yet available, as we will be using it later.

I could say that ‘In Search of the Peace of Mind’ is a kind of guide that I have followed all my life. Although you can hear that on Lonesome Crow (1972) that I was a beginner, ‘In Search of the Peace of Mind’ sounds perfect. The part I played as a lead guitarist is amazing. To this day, it is not clear to me where it came from. For all these reasons, I decided to re-record it. I am very pleased with the end result. In the new version, the voices were contributed by Gary Barden, who sang the first verse, Ronnie Romero and Robin McAuley.

The album as a whole seems superb to me. As a kind of gift from heaven for my 50 years.

ROCKER.SI: Can we expect any online concerts from you?

MICHAEL SCHENKER: Absolutely not. I’m a live musician. When I record an album, I promote it live, in front of an audience.

ROCKER.SI: Let’s talk about your membership in the Scorpions. Do you follow their activities? Scorpions are also working on a new record.

MICHAEL SCHENKER: No. Just like I’ve been doing for the last 50 years. I don’t compete and I don’t compare. I don’t follow what others are doing because I want to stay fresh. I am not a consumer, but a creator. I only visit things from the past when I’m getting ready to tour. To refresh my memory, because it is not perfect.

As for working with Scorpions, never again. In 2015, the band asked me to help them prepare a box set to be released for their 50th anniversary. After reading all the inaccuracies about Lovedrive (1979), I dropped out of the project. If it weren’t for me, things would have been a lot different.

I am glad that Rudolf achieved what he wanted. Being famous and rich. I love him as a brother, but I will no longer work with him.

ROCKER.SI: Michael, it was an honour and a pleasure. Do you have any final thoughts?

MICHAEL SCHENKER: Take care and stay true to yourself!