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Feature Story: Michael Schenker

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No Gaps Left Behind

Legendary German guitarist Michael Schenker,  is considered one of the more inventive players on the rock scene.  Schenker’s name is often mentioned alongside the likes of Ritchie Blackmore, Eddie Van Halen, or Uli Jon Roth – the heavy hitters of rock guitar royalty.  Schenker’s work with the Scorpions, UFO, and MSG (Michael Schenker Group) is widely respected and admired all over the world.  Many players followed into Schenker’s footsteps, his influence is widely acknowledged by the rock community.  His latest venture – Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock, is just releasing their second album called Bridge The Gap.  Apart from releasing new music, Temple of Rock, is a vehicle for Schenker to perform songs from all of his respective eras. IE’s Mark Kadzielawa talked  to Schenker about the events leading to his latest album and his never-ending fascination with the guitar.

Illinois Entertainer:  I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing you in the last 15 years or so, but I’ve never seen you as happy as I see you now.  So, what is going on in your life these days?
Michael Schenker: Looking back, I can clearly see three stages in my life.  The first part of my life was developing as a musician, as a guitarist.  That was my focus point, I was focusing on self-expression all the way up to Strangers In The Night album.  Which would be around 1980, and then I started Michael Schenker Group.  That band was designed for working on my timing and experimenting at my own pace, just kind of doing things I felt I needed to do.  Then in 1990, I started to withdraw completely from the entire industry machine.  I got my own recording studio, and focused on experimenting musically again, and getting into playing more acoustic.  I had to focus on all those things that were in my system, and I needed to get them out.  I needed to satisfy any musical desires that I had.  There were thing that I couldn’t have done with the Scorpions, or Ozzy Osbourne, or Deep Purple, or all the other bands that asked me to join them.  So, I just needed to develop and experiment.  Develop on a musical level and a personal one.  That middle section of my life, the developing on the personal level, was the battle ground.  The action was needed in order to get somewhere, and to learn things.  A round 2008, when I started In The Midst Of Beauty record, I started to develop an incredible liking for playing live.  I couldn’t understand that, but I figured that I just needed to celebrate the era of rock music that I come from. And it’s an era that started with Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath, and so on.  They laid the foundations for that era.  The ’70s were the pillars, the ’80s were the bricks and the clay, and now we’re coming to the roofing.  People like Gary Moore, and Ronnie James Dio, and Lou Reed passes away, and sooner or later we’re all just a memory.  My dad used to be an engineer, he was building houses, and every time he came to the roofing part, there would be a big celebration.  So that’s what it feels like to me, where I’m at.  So, having done all the work in the middle years of my life, I’m now back in the loop of rock and roll celebrating that era of rock.

IE: The title of the new album, Bridge The Gap, couldn’t be more appropriate to what you just told me.  What does it personally mean to you?
MS:  Yeah, absolutely.  I had the title already in my head the moment Francis Bucholz (of Scorpions fame) joined the band on bass.  After Pete Way wasn’t doing so well, we had to start a European tour.  I asked Herman (Rarebell, also from Scorpions) to check on Francis to see what he was doing.  Francis was more than happy to do it, and here we are together again for the first time since we did the Lovedrive (1979)album.  Right away I wanted to arrange to capture this on DVD just in case something happened, but the band was getting stronger and stronger with each show.  The audience loved it, and then we loved it too.  The chemistry was great.  We were in between tours, we had about six months off, so I decided it would be a great time to record a new album.  Everyone agreed, so I sat down and looked at the stuff that I had collected over the last few months, and we put together the material, gave it to Doogie (White) to work on.  I told him about the concept of bridging the gap because that’s how I felt about working with two old friends again.  Also, Wayne Findlay (a long time member of Michael Schenker Group) was developing very nicely of a seven string guitar sound, and I wanted to incorporate that into the music. We’re using Michael Schenker as a platform to create a real band identity, and we’re combining the traditional way of songwriting and adding Wayne’s input which becomes this new element in the music.  And I develop as well between albums, so there is always something new that nobody has ever heard before because I’ve developed it from within myself.  I like moving forward, and I enjoy adding new colors to my music.  This title fits in today just about everywhere.

IE:  This is your second release as Temple of Rock.  It looks like Temple of Rock is becoming its own brand, much like MSG did in the past.
MS:  Yeah, it’s because it’s my current program. I call it Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock.  It’s the idea of playing my most popular music from the past and present.  MSG is a different era, and with that band I tend to concentrate on MSG material.  This band is like a summit, and it’s the most popular one.  I play it all together here.  Scorpions, MSG, UFO, it all fits under the Temple of Rock.

IE:  The last album involved multiple singers, this time it’s Doogie White who does all of the vocals.  What kind of dynamic do you have with him?
MS:  Doogie sang a song on the first Temple of Rock album.  The song he was on, “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead,”  became a hit in England.  That song was already an indication that we could do more together.  We had crossed paths quite a few times, and then we did that song, and a tour.  The chemistry was developing, and before I knew it I had a great band here. I already have ideas for the next album, so it really will become an entity that stands on its own.

IE:  You’ve mentioned before how you got Francis Bucholz to play with you, but he’s not the only Scorpions alumni who is in the band.  How did drummer, Herman Rarebell, make his way into the group?
MS:  Herman, Francis, and me, basically it’s the ‘rock you like a hurricane’ rhythm section.  It was like building the building, one step at a time you see.  Basically, I was playing with MSG at the time, and Herman came down to see the show, and so did Pete Way.  That’s when Pete, Herman, and I decided that we should do something together.  We wanted to put a touring project together where we could play the UFO and Scorpions material.  That was the start of what I’m doing now.  At the same time I went into the studio to record some demos.  Michael Voss was helping me out, and that’s when I realized he was also a singer.  He did the vocals, and when Herman and Pete heard what I did, they wanted to be the rhythm section on the record.  That’s how Herman got involved, and then he of course brought in Francis when Pete Way couldn’t do it anymore.

IE:  You’re very much recognized as a flashy guitar player, but often neglected as a song writer.  What do you see yourself more as?
MS:  I am fascinated by a single string and distortion.  I am fascinated by what a person can do expressing oneself with a single string.  It’s a combination;  the string is the most expressive to me, like a guitar with a distortion is the most expressive instrument that I know of.  It’s unbelievable to me what you can do with that.  That is my fascination, and my passion.  And of course you have to put your solo somewhere, so you have to create a song for that.  That’s’ what I have been doing.  I basically focus on solos, and the songs really get secondary.  They are just there so I could play solo (laughter.)  That’s where my passion is.  I play and discover on a daily basis, and then when I have some riffs, like little pieces, I usually collect them, put them on the cassette recorder. Some are 5 second-long, some are 10 second- long riffs, and when it’s time to make the record, I listen to what I have and get inspired to write more parts.  The singer creates the vocals melodies and puts his lyrics down, and then I create the lead break in the middle.  That’s how my music usually gets put together.

IE: Only a few months ago I ran into your former UFO band mate, Andy Parker.  We spoke about UFO’s very special relationship with Chicago audiences.  Not only were you in the band when this relationship began, but you’ve enjoyed continued support during you MSG years and now Temple of Rock as well.  How would you describe it?
MS:  Chicago is a rock town with a great rock audience.  When I joined UFO, at 17 years old,  they were really a psychedelic band. They didn’t play rock, but when I came in, and added my stuff to it, they became a rock band.  UFO developed from album to album.  We would be showing up in that area, and the support gradually built up.  We created all these albums, and then when it came down to capturing it live (on Strangers In The Night), we picked Chicago.  And I guess that was it.  The album became a bestseller, and it was recorded in Chicago.  I’m not very good at analyzing how things came about, but over the years I feel we created a very special connection with Chicago audiences.

IE:  Well, Michael Schenker can certainly always count on Chicago being there for him when he plays live.
MS:  It seems to be like some areas around the world are for different people.  They have their hotspots, and Chicago is definitely one of mine.

IE: Staying on the UFO subject.  I’m sure there are still plenty of fans who would love to see you do something with them again.  Do you ever consider such an option?
MS:  Well, UFO is family as are Scorpions, two of them and MSG, and everything I’ve done in the past.  And I’ve done a lot. So I don’t close my doors to any of them.  It cannot rain until the conditions are there to rain.  I am here and I’m not going anywhere, and if the conditions are ready to rain and write, and everything is in place then things will happen.  It’s like the universe is thriving, and I just do my part, I’ll be there.

IE:  Are the personal relationships between you and the UFO guys better these days?
MS:  I think my own relationship with the guys is fine.  I’m complete as far as I know.  Everybody develops differently, at a different speed, at a different time, and in different areas.  So you never know where other people are at.  I can only express myself, and like I said, they’re family.  If the people want to do it, and hear it, it will happen.

IE:  We spoke about different touring lineups for US and Europe in the past.  Who should the US audiences expect to see with you on the upcoming appearances?
MS: This is what’s happening: the album is officially released on  January 7th, 2014.  I didn’t want to miss that release date, so I’m coming to the United States to promote the record, but I’m not ready to do a complete tour with the lineup that’s on the record.  That will start in March in Japan.  What I want to do is introduce Doogie White, who is the singer on the album.  I’ve never been to the States with him.  If we can combine press, TV, and radio promotion with the album release, and play some shows at the same time, that would be great. We’ll get help from Rev Jones on bass, and Pete Holmes on drums for these early US appearances.  So once we promote the record, and set the foundations we’ll come back with the album lineup, and play some bigger venues more towards the autumn of 2014.

IE: You mentioned how you always discover new things about the guitar, so the process of acquiring this musical language never ends for you, right?
MS:  Absolutely, I tell you, it’s unbelievable, really weird I must say.  In 2008, I developed an incredible liking on stage, and since then I bump into new things all the time.  It’s like fireworks.  I play on a regular basis and I discover new things all the time.  It’s almost like a big journey for me;  it’s something that I was assigned to do.  I was there from the beginning, and I will be there for the final.  I’m celebrating my life nowadays, and it feels like I was preserved to make that happen.  It all develops into one big celebration.  Before the computer world completely takes over, and creates new miracles, new wonders, and new eras.  But this era of rock, is more like a classical era was in the past.  So we have this kind of wave which one day will become a memory.  I call it the era of the hand-made rock.  That’s kind of how it was done, and it’s not done this way anymore.  The things young kids can do today with the computer are just unbelievable.  It’s just different.  Just like in the past, there was an era where there were no cars and no airplanes.  People used horses and wagons, and that had a very special feel, it had a momentum, and a particular way of how one saw the world.  Much of it had to do with the speed we were moving at the time.  And just like that with new things coming in, the time is over to experience things that came before.

IE:  The last few tours you did were documented on DVD.  It seems like you’re really enjoy that format, and the fans enjoy having a souvenir from the concert.  Do you expect the upcoming tour to be filmed as well?
MS:  I put shows on DVD just in case it’s a short-lived situation, and I want to capture it.  The band is getting stronger and stronger, but when the time is right to do another DVD, we’ll know that it needs to happen.

IE: I certainly would love to see another one released.  It’s like you’re making up for many years where there was no visual representation at all.
MS:  Yeah, you’re right about that one.  There were many years of MSG and UFO where nothing like that was ever released, and it would be nice to have.

Michael Schenker appears at Austin’s Fuel Room in Libertyville January 16th and 17th Tickets are available HERE

-Mark Kadzielawa

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  1. “Kadzielawa of Illinois Entertainer recently conducted an interview with legendary guitarist Michael Schenker (UFO, SCORPIONS.”

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