Michael Schenker (Über Röck interview)

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Schenker about his new album for the Über Röck website. I reproduce the interview below with grateful thanks to Johnny H and the Über Röck boyz. Kick Ass Rock ‘n’ Roll!

With his latest studio record Bridge The Gap being rated as one of his best in many years (you can read my Über Röck review of said album right here). I thought it was about time that I finally caught up with the six string legend that is Michael Schenker ahead of the album’s release to find out just what it is about Temple of Rock that has got the man from Hannover playing and writing better than ever before …

Michael Schenker photo by Diana Fabbricatore

Photo by Diana Fabbricatore

Hi Michael, it’s good to be speaking with you, especially at a time when you’re on such a fine run of form. The new album sounds great! You must be very pleased with it?
Yeah, you know it was very difficult, actually, because we finished touring the first leg of Europe with Doogie [White, vocalist] and Francis [Buchholz, bassist] October 2012, and then I saw that there was a six month gap before the continuation of the European tour, and so I decided to make a record. But the problem was that we got it done on 31st March and on the 4th April we already had the first concert in Russia, so it had to sit there all this time. I just put it away because I didn’t want it to interfere with the tour, plus, you know, when you’re making a record on a daily basis, you kind of lose a little bit of the perspective when you’re ‘in it’ rather than looking from the outside in. So by having it lying there for a while, when I played it and we listened to it together in July, we knew what we could do better – that was the good thing. And so we remixed it and remastered it and added other parts to it and made it more complete. The difficult thing was to let it sit there and not listen to it, because, you know, you don’t want to overexpose yourself with your recording so by the time it’s released you’re already kind of done with it, you know. That was the difficult part, but it all turned out good.

It’s interesting hearing you say that, because it sounds very fresh, I think. You’d never know it had been in the can, as it were, for so long.
Yeah, well, by the time we finished it on the 31st March, it was basically more or less there. We added additional things wherever we thought we could improve it, but the basics were there. And so, the freshness, I think, comes more from something like writing music from within rather than sticking with a particular trend which is out there or, say, having a particular kind of system for how you do things, or always getting it from an external source so you are exhausted or overexposed or tired out. But if you get your inspiration from within and you’re just being yourself, it’s like an endless combination lock – you can always add new sparks because if you write from within you’re presenting a colour to the world that nobody knows about and that is the trick. Because each person has got something within that nobody externally knows about until you express that particular colour. I do that with lead breaks, that’s what I’m fascinated by, and I play and discover on a daily basis. And so, after one year you make a new record, you have put to the foreground new developments that come from within yourself that haven’t been exposed to the world anywhere because nobody else can do it other than you.

That suggests that Michael Schenker’s inner life is very positive at the moment because your playing sounds really free and unfettered, those are the terms that came to mind for me, listening to the album.
Maybe what happened too is that, you know, if I look at my whole life it appears to come in three stages. The first stage was developing as a musician, focusing on pure self-expression and putting what was inside of me to the outside. Obviously, in the beginning I got inspired by people like Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath, Deep Purple etc. etc. but when I was seventeen I went my own way. I always knew it was all about self-expression for me, but I had to develop, which happened all the way up to Strangers in the Night. Then I rejoined the Scorpions, and that wasn’t the right thing to do, so I was kind of in limbo. I didn’t know what to do, so I formed my own band. MSG was designed for experimenting and to create all sorts of music without being a machine and being restricted. It was basically for freedom, you know, and personal development. And so I disappeared from the loop, basically, from the machine, from the loop of rock and roll and just did my own thing for musical and personal development. And then somehow, I don’t know how it works, but somewhere around the time of the Michael Schenker and Friends tour and In the Midst of Beauty, I started to develop an incredible liking for playing live on stage, which I never had before. I never liked to be on stage before, and so I couldn’t understand why that was happening. And, if I look at it, it could simply be because this is my third stage, you know, and I’m coming back into the loop of rock and roll to celebrate the roofing of the era of ‘hand-made rock’.

It’s a bit like, the way it all started with Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, a particular kind of building was created, you know, a temple of rock, with those bands of the late sixties with the distorted guitar sound and playing really heavy, hard rock, they laid the foundation for what I fell in love with. Then bands like UFO and Judas Priest and Rush etc., they did the seventies and created the pillars. Then the eighties were like the bricks and the clay needed to build that building, and eventually we get to the roof, you know, when all these people who started this particular style of music, once they are gone – and some of them are already gone, you know, Gary Moore, Alvin Lee, Lou Reed just recently, so many people – at some point it will just be a memory how those bands created music, which is very different from how it is being done today because of technology. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be worse, it’s just going to be different, the way people put together music today, the young generation. The way it used to be done, because of the circumstances, people had to learn their instruments in a particular way but today people can make music by pressing a button or whatever. It’s just a different era, you know, and I’m in the mode of celebrating the era of ‘hand-made rock’. And so that’s, I think, what called me back to being in the loop.

Michael Schenker photo by Steve Brinkman

Photo by Steve Brinkman

I wanted to ask you about the choice of Doogie White as your songwriting partner and vocalist, particularly in the light of what you’ve just said. I hear quite a strong Ronnie James Dio influence on Doogie’s work.
Doogie, he loves Ronnie James Dio. He’s another. I mean one of my favourite singers of all time is Ronnie James Dio, you know. And so, yeah, I know Doogie loves his voice. It’s that particular style, like Bruce from Iron Maiden, he sings like that. It’s a particular style that was created by Ronnie James Dio, and people who fell in love with that voice did something similar, I guess.

For me it puts the album very much in that ‘classic rock’ tradition …
Yeah, it’s incredible how what a singer does makes a difference, you know.

Are there any particular tracks on the album that stand out for you?
That’s always a question I can’t really answer that easily, because I look at a whole album, I don’t look at particular songs. I am always more fascinated by what I can do with a single string and for me the adventures on an album are the lead breaks that take it out of the song and put it in a completely different place, and then it comes back and it carries on with the song. So for me it’s like a whole picture, the whole album is one complete picture, very balanced, with highlights, dramatics, melodies, you know, putting lots of elements in from the feeling point of view, not overly happy, not overly dark, but with a healthy balance of emotions. With this one I did make an effort to focus on keeping it exciting, not too much mid-tempo, but having the balance between heavy, hard, fast, mid-tempo, dramatic and melodic, and not ending up somewhere where it just keeps repeating itself.

How about the title of the album, ‘Bridge The Gap’? That sounds like quite a thoughtful title.
Yeah, I had the album title before I wrote the album, before I even started actually. It happened when Francis joined. I went: “Wow, this incredible!” And, Francis and Herman, they also have been out of the loop of rock and roll for quite a while. And so, it’s kind of weird, you know, all of a sudden here we are all together. The last thing we did together was Lovedrive, so it felt like ‘bridge the gap’. Also, the other thing is that Wayne plays seven strings, so another element on this album that has been added, which we didn’t do so much in the past, was to add in more of Wayne’s seven string and heaviness to it, to combine the old with the new a bit more. So it created a unique type of chemistry. Then also, what’s happening today in general with poverty, you know, it’s time to bridge the gap of things that shouldn’t really be there or don’t need to be there. There are certain things in life or on this planet that are there for no reason and so there are a lot of gaps to be bridged.

Michael Schenker photo by Steve Brinkman

Photo by Steve Brinkman

So do you already have an idea for where you might push the music in the future having ‘bridged the gap’?
I already have an idea to have this band, after this album has been released and after we’ve done the touring, to sit together and to write an album collectively, you know the whole band, with Wayne, Doogie, Herman, Francis, myself – and then give the whole thing from that moment on the name ‘Temple of Rock’ as a band name. So, basically, this album is Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock but we’re bridging the gap to the next album when the band’s name will be Temple of Rock and we collectively write an album. That’s gonna be interesting, to see what comes out of that.

Yeah, it will be, though I think on this album there’s already a really strong band feel.
Yeah, right. And it’s gonna be exciting to see what comes out, when you put five heads together and you bounce ideas off each other in the moment. That’s going to be exciting.

I love Doogie’s line in ‘Rock and Roll Symphony’: “It’s the music we live for, the music we love”. I suppose in some ways you’ve already partly answered this, but is it possible to say what music means to you?
Music to me, what it means … well, first of all I feel like who I am is a spirit on a mission, spreading the joy of music from a place of pure self-expression, so that’s what I do. You know, music is pure joy, it does a lot of good, it unites people, takes away borders, makes everybody speak the same language or understand everybody all around the world. It’s a feeling that can be communicated without words; it’s a different dimension of our being. Very often it’s difficult with words to really describe certain things from the more spiritual world, so music can do that better for me and I’m better with music than I am with words. I fish for words very often trying to extract something very deep but I don’t know the words for it.

You mentioned playing live earlier. I saw you play at the High Voltage Festival and again at the Steelhouse Festival and on both occasions I thought the band were superb. At the High Voltage Festival my feeling was that you drew one of the biggest and most enthusiastic audiences of the entire festival. It struck me then that your playing clearly means a lot to a lot of people.
Well, you know, the thing about my guitar playing is that I was never really aware of what I was doing. It was always the fascination of the single string that I was focusing on and I was having fun with it, and I just kept doing it over the years regardless of what was going on around me. And somehow I just automatically developed something that people liked. I guess, it was maybe different from what other people were doing, and the reason probably is that I was just simply being myself. And as I said earlier, every person can do that, it’s just a matter of choice – if we want to express from within or take something from the outside that already exists and make a different combination of it. The difference is that you will automatically do something unique because it’s a colour that only you have, so if you choose to express that colour and you keep doing it, you will design consistently a combination of colours that have never really been expressed in the first place or, of course, never been combined either. So I can do that, and after so many years I have combined so many different colours that were coming from a source that can’t come from anywhere else, and the consistency of it develops a particular style or sound that somehow has an impact. That’s how I see it. It just develops by itself. It’s to do with consistency and it’s based on pure self-expression as much as possible. I mean, I stay away from music, I’m basically a monk, you know. I know that if I focused on music I would probably not be that fresh, because I know that listening to music and consuming music also drains and takes away energy for creating. So I’ve always made a conscious effort to stay away from music, external music, as much as possible and focus on creating more than consuming so that keeps you fresh and it also makes you create fresh stuff.

Michael Schenker photo by Tallee Savage

Photo by Tallee Savage

I think it shows in what you produce! It was great, by the way, to see you picking up the Vegas Rock Magazine Award in 2012 (‘Rock Guitar Legend’) and the Marshall 11 Award (November 2010). It must have been very gratifying to get that kind of recognition?
Again, it’s kind of a shock almost, because you don’t expect anything. I never expected anything to be honest. When I was with UFO I was developing very fast, and I came to the end of 1979, Strangers in the Night. I experienced a very fast step-by-step [development] in just a matter of six albums or six years, you know, from nothing to the peak. Basically anything after Strangers in the Night with UFO would have been more or less the same – it would have been bigger, and there would have been more money and more fame etc. etc. but I didn’t need any of that at that point because I already understood where this leads to and I was never really that desperate for that kind of stuff to be honest. Actually, when Lights Out became a success I got scared [laughs], I sold everything and ran away, and two months later I came back again, so that’s the kind of effect those things had on me. So I never expected anything. But, of course, it’s the icing on the cake, to be honest. You know, when you do get awards and recognition for something that you’ve been doing because you believe in it and you have fun doing it, it’s icing on the cake. It’s great, of course.

We’ve been talking about the new album a bit. In the context of everything you’ve done how would you place it? How good do you think it is?
Well, it reflects the now of my personal development. And, you know, I think there is more than meets the eye, that things happen for a reason, that things are predestined, that the script is already written and we’re just living it, just as a movie, you know? So, I personally am not the driver of the Universe, I’m just doing my part, and I just let everything happen. And to me it feels like it’s basically a reflection – my part of the album – of the present, of the now of my own development. People who have followed my career since the beginning, they probably understand what I’m talking about, and they probably hear it too.

You have a US tour ahead, you mentioned it earlier. Are there any plans to tour the album in the UK?
Yeah. Basically Doogie and I, and Wayne, we are going to tour the States for the new album release promotion tour and we’re doing some concerts there, and after that, we go with the album line-up, we start our tour of Japan and, as we speak, we are booking tours all around the world. And, of course, somewhere after March we’ll be finished in Japan and I would guess that somewhere around April/May the next European tour would start, and we will put together a new set, we’ll do quite a few more new songs, and still the basic structure will be the most popular songs of my involvement from all the years plus maybe two or three new songs.

I was going to ask you about new songs, because as you listen to the album some of them sound like they would be great live.
Yeah, fortunately it turned out that way! All I said to Doogie was: “Think melodic!” [Laughs] He came up with some really good melodies and, of course, that makes the songs more recognisable and enjoyable because they have that particular type of something in them that’s melodic. And combined with the heaviness, it’s a really nice combination.

Is there any likelihood of a Welsh gig? (I’ve got to ask, writing for Uber Rock and being a Welshman)
Gigs in Wales? Like I said, we’re gonna be playing wherever there’s interest for us to play, period, so that will include wherever we can play. Wherever it makes sense to play, we will play.

I’m sure a lot of people will be looking forward to seeing you live again and hearing some of the new tracks too.
So do we! Like I said, Francis and Herman and myself, we have been out of the loop. I have never been a touring machine, that was not my place. I was there until the end of [my time in] UFO, and then in the mid-section of my life it was more about other things, experimenting – there was no mention of tour-album-tour-album, I never went through that. So I did everything at my own pace and I was never overexposed, I was never worn out by it because I never did it too much, and so the same goes for Herman and for Francis. It seems like everyone in the band is eager to be on stage and we really enjoy it. You know, there’s a difference between if you’ve been on road for forty years and you’re done with it and us. With us it’s the opposite; we haven’t been on the road for that long, so we can take it now, you know. It’s almost like we’ve been preserved to be fresh for the roofing for the era of rock. It’s not going to be over tomorrow, but it’s the next few years. It’s gonna be the time for us to celebrate that whole era from that great start with Zeppelin and those bands, coming all the way to this point. We’re all looking forward to actually releasing and touring the album now and hope that everybody enjoys it. Then we’re looking forward to the next one!

 Michael Schenker's Temple of Rock - Bridge the Gap album cover

Bridge The Gap is the new album from Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock. It is released by in-akustik on 2nd December 2013 .  Further info: http://www.michaelschenkerhimself.com/

Check out the official Bridge the Gap album trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPN6YHvN6hs

Read Michael Anthony’s Über Röck review of Bridge the Gap

Related post: Michael Schenker – Temple of Rock Live!

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