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MICHAEL SCHENKER (MSG): a half century of immortality!

Few times in our lives there are occasions when we can meet in person our childhood idols whom we have adored for years and years, listening to their songs, always being in the front row at their concerts or even just looking at their posters in our teenage bedrooms. Yes, sometimes even the dreams that seem to be impossible, or at least improbable, can come true unexpectedly! This is exactly what happened to me when I received an email for the proposal of an interview with one of the artists with whom I literally grew up from the age of 11 years: we are talking about an authentic living legend who bears the name of Michael Schenker, histrionic axeman of German origin who has literally made dream thousands, if not millions, of generations with his riffs and daring solos, composing authentic immortal hits in his past, first with the Scorpions, then in UFO and later with a variegated and rich solo career in its most diverse incarnations (especially with the historic MSG, with his Temple Of Rock and Michael Schenker Fest just to name the main ones).

In short, an opportunity to say at the least, a very good one, if not unrepeatable one, that will make anyone who adores and constantly follows the exploits of the blond haired rocker from Hannover take their breath away! There couldn’t have been a better chance to get in touch with him, even if at a distance due to the pandemic circumstances, than this one concerning the anniversary of his 50 years of career, coinciding with the release of the new strong album, ‘Immortal’, coming out at the end of January via Nuclear Blast. Many topics were discussed with Michael, who proved to be extremely friendly, nice and enthusiastic in telling us about the not easy genesis of this umpteenth seal of a long and enviable career in the world of hard’n’heavy, of which he himself was one of the main creators at its dawn! An album that sees the participation of a parterre of internationally renowned artists of the rock and metal scene (Ronnie Romero, Ralf Scheepers, Joe Lynn Turner, Derek Sherinian, Simon Phillips and Brian Tichy) joined by his most trusted historical collaborators in the persons of Michael Voss (also co-producer of the album – n.. d. r.), Barry Sparks, Steve Mann and Bodo Schopf, to end with some special guests such as Gary Barden, Robin McAuley and Doogie White, the latter being his historical voices that have accompanied him in different incarnations of the monicker. Such a team could only be coordinated and led by an authentic orchestral director like Schenker, who is still passionate about his work and eternally stimulated by a boundless and quite enviable creative verve!

It was really an honour for me to have been able to talk with Michael, for about 40 minutes, not only about topics closely related to his latest album, but also about arguments related to his childhood and his first musical experiences consumed at one of the historic live clubs in Hannover (the Leine Domizil – n. d. r.), as well as his first musical composition, “In Search Of The Peace Of Mind”, present in an unusual way on this new album! It’s incredible to perceive, from his words, how his passion for music has never waned in all these decades, making him still proud of what he has produced in the course of half a century of career, ready for new challenges and new adventures always in the name of classy rock!

We would like to thank Barbara Francone of NeeCee Agency/Nuclear Blast and all the organising staff who made this memorable interview possible!

Good Afternoon Michael, first of all thank You so much for the precious time you’re dedicating us, it’s a true honor for me having an interview with You, and welcome board on VeroRock.it. Moreover, since only a few days have passed from your birthday, I take this occasion to wish You all the best once again! How did You spend your last birthday? Thank You so much Raffaele, I appreciate so much your birthday wishes. Considering the circumstances, my life balance is ok! I didn’t celebrate my birthday this year, but, I’ve celebrated it like any other day, eventually celebrating this 50th Anniversary of my career as a professional musician, that I guess it’s the best way to celebrate a birthday at the end!

Next January 29th will comes out this brilliant new record ‘Immortal’, that sounds really amazing. I’ve appreciated it so much and for me it’s a true candidate for the album of the year 2021, despite we’ve already entered in this new year since a couple of weeks. Which are your expectations from your fan listening and in generally from this upcoming release? Well, I have to say that this new record really jump out absolutely so much better than I could really imagine! But, at the same time, I prefer to cross my fingers because it will be released only next week, on January 29th, so let’s see what it happened and how will be the response of our fan! But I’m quite sure it will be appreciated by many people, also because I’m really happy and proud about this last release, and also for the incredible work we made together with all the musicians and the members involved!

In the last three years, between 2018 and 2021 except the last one 2020, You’ve always published one record each year. It’s so hard  to find another legendary musicians with a long career as yours, so prolific at the age of 66! Which is the secret behind your “immortal” passion from the music? How do you find fresh energies and inspiration every day? Not many people know that I really love when I’m left in the sand box, my personal private space where I could concentrate my self playing some new stuffs and riffs. There I’ve always been full of joy for playing and discover lots of new things related to the music world, that is my life passion for sure! Sometimes, just simply with the strings putting three notes together. I really love playing in my sand box, without any competition or comparison with other colleagues. I don’t change anything and, at the same time, I don’t expect anything from other people in general, I don’t look for fame, success or anything. I just enjoy to create and having fun doing that day by day, year by year. And I’ve been doing it for all my life, and during my early age I discovered the inner spring of creativity and, you know, how to express myself. With a pure self extension, that’s how I created a trend: when many guitarist of the ‘80s copyed my style because they didn’t ever heared anything like that before! And the reason is because I didn’t follow any trend to start and develop my own trend: if I would put freshness to the current trends I don’t have to copy anyone else than myself! To be commercial or well selling, makes a lot of moneys or being famous and getting every attentions, if everybody takes from the same trend (as It would be a piece of cake, metaphorically speaking), and nothing new comes to it will automatically die.

So, referring to your last answer we could state that your “immortal” passion for the music it’s well represented in the title of this new record, named ‘Immortal’ indeed? Yeah, well, the iron title actually came from Nuclear Blast, and the boss of this important German label (Markus Staiger) said to me one day: “Michael, if you wouldn’t ever been, heavy metal wouldn’t ever been, and of course also Nuclear Blast wouldn’t ever been”! And he wouldn’t never start with thrash metal, because maybe thrash metal wouldn’t ever exist without me, and so on. So, you know, Nuclear Blast actually propose to me this kind of title because they are basically fan of my music and of my entire career. And I’m glad they came out with this title, because it’s a title that coming from fans, that’s the best acknowledgement and tribute for a musician!

If You have to make a short comparison between the last two records, ‘Resurrection’ and ‘Revelation’, with this upcoming release, which are in your opinion the main differences in generally if there are? Actually, it’s very simple because ‘Resurrection’ and ‘Revelation’ are related to the Michael Schenker Fest, which is another reincarnation of the Michael Schenker Group: it’s just a matter of titles (laughs)! But the fans really now that’s always another skin change of mine. ‘Resurrection’ and ‘Revelation’ sound with the presence of all my ‘80s singers that have enriched my compositions, with the exception of Doogie White that is my current Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock vocalist. But Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock it’s just another subtitle of the MSG, just another creatures born from that same mother! In particular way, for me, Temple Of Rock means Herman Rarebell, Francis Buchholz, that were ex band mates from Scorpions, and Doogie from Rainbow. On the other hand, Michael Schenker Fest, as I’ve explaned before, means the singers of the ‘80s that collaborated with me through those years. So, this 50th anniversary it’s my personal celebration of 50 years of recording.

Focusing now on this last record, I read that during the lockdown You took a boat from UK to Holland, driving to Germany to reach the recording studios, working on this album. So It seems a little odyssey to me, and I got a similar experience too because I was in Seville (Spain) between March and May. How was this unusual experience for you? To be honest, this unforgettable experience started at the end of 2019, when I released that the 50th anniversary was coming up, and I wanted to celebrate it with my own music and of course sharing it with some friends of my entire career. But, eventually, my agent reminds me that my first record, Scorpions ‘Lonesome Crow’ was released in 1972, so I fortunately got a little bit more time to organize all this incredible celebration. So, I decided to put a compact band together, you know, to make that it’s a little more complicated, because it’s very hard to have musicians from all over the world. At the beginning, I asked to Ronnie Romero to sing on the whole album and he agreed, Steve Mann put some keyboards on the guitar tracks that I made all from myself, obviously, while Barry Sparks begged me: “Michael I wanna be your bass player”. So, I got a compact band, fortunately, but now by the time I left 7000 Tons Of Metal Cruise, I mean 2020, I spent four days in Miami starting the writing process, then I carried on in UK. And then It was time for me to go to Germany, starting the recording process, but as everyone sadly could remember turning on the TV were spread lots of notices about this virus. And when I looked that it wouldn’t be possible going only by car via European channel to Belgium and then to Germany, so I got to find a different route. The only way of transportation that was able and safe was travelling by boats, then driving to Holland: and this journey was terrible because I had to do the quarantine in each country that I crossed (laughs)! This route took a total of 42 days, but I had to go to Germany not only recording my guitar tracks, but also for the singers and the others musicians involved, to get the whole album release completed. So, I mean hanging up for 42 days of quarantine it’s quite sad, but if I wouldn’t do in this way this album wouldn’t never exist for sure! I had to sacrifice this important anniversary, so I preferred getting in my quarantine, that was my only possibility to release this record! By the time I reached Germany, finally, it was time for composition at the end, also for anymore questions related to the music process, because I could automatically answer so I keep talking and talking, explaining everything to my collaborators. Above all, it’s so funny hearing that you have a similar situation travelling on a boat to back in Italy from Spain, that’s cool man (laughs)!

Talking about this pandemic situation, first of all how did you spend your quarantine? And what do You think about this sad period we’re all living in the world? Do you think we could back at normality in a short time? You know, when I made the first transporting days quarantine I got enough time to enjoy my property, and I rediscover my gardens and the passion related to this hobby, I’m very creative so I hadn’t any special problems, because I love being creative at all. The second time of quarantine, I considered it a little bit more boring, then the third time I couldn’t stand it (laughs): eventually, I don’t wanna do it again!

If this pandemic situation won’t be solved in a short time, do You think it’s possible to consider playing just one or a couple of show in a live streaming event? No, because I’m a rock musician, you know, and my entire life it’s all about makes new album and being the life on the road! So, it wouldn’t be my life if I have to reach a compromise, as many others artist did in these months. To be honest, I didn’t ever think about any possibility related to a streaming event, because I just only hope backing on the stage and touring as soon as I can once again!

I really appreciate the variety of the songs featured on the album. Concerning the composition process, which has been in your opinion the main difficult part to complete it during this last year and why? Personally, I don’t think to have found any difficulties related to the final editing of this record, and I really never get a writing block, because I got an inner spring that have constantly inspired my way of composing, as usually of course, reflecting on my previous fails. Everybody can go there, but many people prefer to be helped from a shrink, to have an instant success, you know: but I’m an artist and I think it’s better to do something just like playing, discovering new things, something unusual. So, when it’s time for me to writing, I just sit down and write, and that’s it! And, by the time I have a couple of songs together, then I’m ready to go!

Which is your relation with the new technologies used to compose your music? Has your way of composing evolved over the years with respect to these new devices, or has the compositional process basically remained the same? Yeah, generally speaking I’m not technical in any sense (laughs)! Not as a guitar player and as a human being, technologies for me don’t matter a lot, but, every time I need to use those stuffs and new devices, I directly call my co-producer Michael Voss, which is very good and updated about that. And I usually left them do what needs to be done about the circumstancies. So, what I do, specifically speaking, my personal approach to the music and composition process has remained always the same though all these years.

This record features several great musicians, most of them have yet collaborated through your long career. Talking about the different singers involved – Ronnie Romero, Ralf Scheepers, Joe Lynn Turner, Michael Voss, plus Gary Barden, Robin McAuley and Doogie White as special guest – could you shortly summarize with a distinctive adjective each one of them? Well, first of all, the original plan was to celebrate with new musicians and some old friends, but unfortunately the timing was gone and then my agent told me that the whole album was re-settled, so I had putting together a compact band. So, I wanted that Ronnie Romero would sing on the all 10 songs of the album – actually 11 because we have a bonus song which will be released for a special occasion, that is a fantastic song – but, you know, when I was in the studio, putting down all my guitar tracks, I asked Ronnie if he was ready to sing the songs and he replaced me: “I’m sorry I can’t, I don’t wanna go 14 days in quarantine, I’m sorry, I can’t!”. And I told him: “Don’t worry Ronnie, we could think something to solve this issue”, and so I talked with my mate Barry Sparks (that he’s not only a great bass player but he’s also a music consumer since more than 50 years) and he suggest me to contact Ralf Scheepers. So, I trust him and when I told this to Michael Voss he was incredibly enthusiastic about this breaking news and he stated: “Absolutely, he’s the man!”. And then, the next day we had recorded one and then 2 songs that were ok for Ronnie Romero. Then, was time to call up Ronnie once again and he answered me: “Sorry man, but I don’t know how to manage with quarantine”, and once again I talked with Michael Voss: “So now, what are we doing?” and he replaced me: “What You think about Joe Lynn Turner?” and me: “Really? He’s one of my favourite singer of all time. And also a great friend of mine”. The next days we were recording and we made another song, so at that moment we got 4 songs for Ronnie Romero. Then, one morning I came from the hotel and I did a power ballad – and I never did a power ballad before – it was sang by Michael Voss in this case, and when I heared his vocals tracks I stated: “Michael, this composition is so beautiful, only you can sing this”. And then was the time for another song, “The Queen Of Thorns And Roses”, that is an unusual song, sung by Michael in a fantastic way and I told him: “Michael, You did 2 amazing song!”. Then, were six songs remaining, then eventually Ronnie was ready to sing (laughs) and he did an amazing job too: he has sung on three song, one is “Knight Of The Dead”, “Sail The Darkness” and on “Come On Over”, but also he sang some parts of the last song “In Search Of The Peace Of Mind” and on the bonus track. So, what actually happened? I need to put together a compact band to finish the last part of the album and then, everything went back as it was the first day recording, and I didn’t have to do anything! Everybody was calling him a gift of heaven for me to my 50th anniversary, that’s what I feel about the album!

In this upcoming release there isn’t the feature of Graham Bonnett, among the others. Are you still in contact with him and is there any possibility to collaborate with him in the future? Absolutely, above all because the Michael Schenker Fest still exist! You know, It’s just a great act with people and great musicians coming all over the world, that in this period it’s also much expensive, and many fans and promoters are waiting for it! Related to Graham Bonnett, of course I asked him if he would like to make a contribution for this new album, you know like Doogie, Gary and Robin did, but unfortunately he had a throat operation and he wasn’t available! When it was his birthday, I wish him all the best and a great rehab, and then he wish me happy birthday few days ago too, telling me that he’s looking forward to do something news together!

Listening all the new tracks, I state that the main quality seems to be the variation, the composition and arrangiaments on each one of them. In particular, I really enjoy the opener “Drilled To Kill”, the semi-ballads “After The Rain” and “Sail The Darkness”, the rocking “Come On Over” and “Sangria Morte”. But I guess the most particular it’s surely the last one, “In Search Of The Peace Of Mind”, an early composition that You made at the age of 15 in your mother’s kitchen. How this decision to recorder and publish it only after 50 years? Simply, because I was 15 years old and it was my first musical composition. By the way it grew up simply and it was released in our Scorpions debut album, ‘Lonesome Crow’, and was published in the credits as a song with music made by me and lyrics by my brother Rudolf and me. But the main thing, is that also I wanna clear that the title of my very first composition was quite complex and was related to that period of my life, when I was only a teenager: just me looking for contemplated peace. And another magic that happened on that song of the original version was that I was able to play that kind of solo that I would never change any notes for thousand years, like for a song such as “Theme For An Imaginary Western” (a Mountain song written by Leslie west – n. d. r.). Sometimes happen that something comes out of nowhere and you will never change it, even in more than 50 years: and I didn’t! And now, it have to be the celebration song of my entire career!

Now a little weird and funny question. If You have to present your music to someone who didn’t ever hear it, which album You would choice (between your MSG records, the ones made with UFO and Scorpions, your solo’s ones and your collaborations) and why? You know, my whole life has been a development, and I usually develop something even if I’m on the road on tour. Starting from ‘Lonesome Crow’, ‘Phenomenon’, ‘Force It’ or ‘No Heavy Petting’, ‘Lights Out’, ‘Obsession’, ‘Strangers in the Night’, ‘Lovedrive’, then I also started using not only electric instruments but also some acoustic ones. You know, I did so much music through all these decades. But everything that I did was part of my developing, and doing things that couldn’t be done with Ozzy Osbourne, Deep Purple, Scorpions, Phil Lynott or Motörhead and Ian Hunter. I wrote the songs like all did, when I was 21 years old with UFO in 1976: and I was scared in one way because I didn’t know wich would be the way they were looking for, commercial or not, but Pete Way persuaded me to come back and then we did ‘Obsession’ and ‘Strangers in the Night’. But, despite many things that has changed in that period, I decide that was the right time for me to be only Michael Schenker, then came The Michael Schenker Group with Simon Phillips, and Mo Foster from the Jeff Beck Group, then I made the MSG with Cozy Powell, Paul Raymond and Chris Glen and so on. And so everything was just moving on, and moving on once again! Because I’ve always been in an inner spring creativity as I said before, come up with something fresh, so I wouldn’t ever be able to tell you really what’s my favorite release: because everything I made comes from my heart and I don’t do anything that is not real for me! Therefore, It’s always a question of taste in the end, You know.

Unfortunately, in these two last years passed away some of your friends, ex band mates and in generally great musicians: Steve McKenna, Paul Raymond, Pete Way and few months ago also Eddie Van Halen and one of your music reference, Leslie West. Do you want to share with us a short memory about any of them in particular way? All of them is a mention in the music history, unbelievable people with an unbelievable talent. And I’m absolutely shocked and really really upset about their lost. You know, as we get older will be so more and more and more. So you have to think every day of your life “I couldn’t be tomorrow”, so that’s a real matter! So at this point, I’m really looking forward to meet all of them once again in heaven!

Before finishing our fantastic interview, Michael, I just wanted to share with you a funny thing. My English IELTS teacher, Thomas Brockman, he’s half German and he spent his youth in Hannover, meeting you and your brother Rudolf when you were young – he got your same age, 65, and his mentor was Hannes Arkona from the heavy prog rock band ELOY – at a famous live pub called Leine Domizil. Do you still remember that place of your youth? Yes, I remember that venue but I’m not sure to remind your English teacher (laughs), I mean it was a long time ago! But I think I just release that I knew him, because I usually spent a lot of time there at Leine Domizil, I think he was actually a bar tender and I saw him every time I went there, we always talked, I actually know him! He was always friendly.

Dear Michael, thank You so much for the precious time You’re dedicating us and I hope to meet You personally as soon as possible here in Italy for another face to face interview! Last questions: which is the best advice You could send to all the young musicians? Thanks Raffaele, absolutely I really enjoy this nice interview with you, hoping to meet you personally as soon as possible when we could back again there in Italy! About the advice for the young musician I only tell them: ask yourself who you are and what do you want, what makes you happy, if you wanna be famous, rich, safe, money, fame, etc. etc., whatever makes you happy in general! So go on, and try to do it the best you can, and if you’re failing or you feel so, please, go to the inner spring of your personal creativity and the main thing: be yourself! You know, just ask to yourself who you really are, and at the end nothing is wrong, you can go ahead the way, because the main thing is that you have to be happy! Another advice I think is to make sure that what you wish for is what you really want because when you get it you might find out it wasn’t what you really wanted (laughs)!

Once again Michael, thank you for your time and for this unforgettable advice you send us, that’s so pure, sincere and came from the bottom of your heart! I’m looking forward to send you some pictures that I took from your last show you played in Rome with your Temple Of Rock in December 2015! It’s a real honor for me interviewing you and I wish you all the best for your 50th anniversary and for this upcoming release, ‘Immortal’, hoping to meet up you once again as soon as possible! Thank You so much for this great interview and, of course, keep on rockin’ man, have a nice weekend, and see you soon on the road, bye bye!

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