Mark Kadzielawa of Illinois Entertainer recently conducted an interview with legendary guitarist Michael Schenker (UFO, SCORPIONS). A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
llinois 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 pass 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.
llinois Entertainer: 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?
Michael Schenker: 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, vocals] 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.
llinois Entertainer: 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?
Michael Schenker: 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.
llinois Entertainer: You're very much recognized as a flashy guitar player, but often neglected as a songwriter. What do you see yourself more as?
Michael Schenker: 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. [laughs] 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 five-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.
Read the entire interview at Illinois Entertainer.