Michael Schenker Speaks To SonicAbuse 2015 (#2)

Michael Schenker is a man fired by a remarkable passion for his art. An innovator first and foremost, a reluctant showman at first and now an entertainer so comfortable in his own skin that he plans mammoth tours with great joy and even takes time out to hang out with talented youngsters and fellow rockers at the rock ‘n’ roll fantasy camp. It’s hard to believe that this was once a figure who tottered on the edge of becoming another rock ‘n’ roll casualty, but the Michael Schenker we see now is stronger, fitter and leaner than ever and his experiences, as he is keen to point out, have all bought him to the point where he can lead from the front once more with his remarkable Temple of Rock project, a band also featuring the remarkable talents of Doogie White (vocals), Herman Rarebell (drums), Frances Buchholz (bass) and Wayne Findlay (guitar). With so much talent crammed into one band, it should be no surprise that Michael is feeling confident, but the real surprise is just how invigorated his current work is. An artist who does not listen to contemporary music (and who has not listened to new music for some forty years), Michael is interested only in his own personal development and the purity of his expression, and for that, even if he weren’t an astonishing exponent upon the guitar, he’d be a rare artist. With such a busy schedule, we were lucky to be able to talk to Michael about his experiences following the release of the stunning ‘spirit on a mission’ album and about what he has planned next.

Michael Schenker on guitar

Hello, is this Michael Schenker?

Michael Schenker speaking!

Hello! This is Phil from SonicAbuse, thank you very much for agreeing to speak with me today. Actually this is my second time talking with you, the first was when you were just about to release ‘spirit on a mission’ and so, this time, I wanted to ask what you what you’ve been doing since the album came out – I know you had the rock and roll fantasy camp…

So basically, yeah, that’s right. I did that camp thing and toured as  Michael Schenker Temple of Rock with Doogie White – it was my first time in the States together with Doogie White, Herman, Frances and Wayne. Of course that’s Doogie who’s ex-Rainbow, and Herman and Frances, the original rhythm section of the Scorpions (and Herman is the one who wrote ‘rock you like a hurricane’) and Wayne has been with me since ’99. We went to America for the first time together and it was fantastic. The only little problem was my passport… my passport somehow got approved and then all of a sudden they took it back again and we got stuck here and missed a couple of shows and then, basically, last minute, my passport was approved, I went straight into the airplane, I came out of the plane into the limousine, went straight to the camp and then straight on stage and started jamming! It was fantastic. And actually it was unique, there was one little guy who was a drummer and he was really good and he was eleven years old or something! It was great. Oh and it was fantastic – and it was also weird, you know, because all of a sudden Lita Ford comes through the door and then Rudy Sarzo and then Vinny Appice and Brian Tichy, and they were all counsellors, and that was who I was supposed to be playing with. It was like a dream! And I couldn’t understand what was going on and it was fantastic.

So then we did the tour in the States and everyone was happy and it was our first time ever over there. Then we went to Japan and the promoter had the idea to put us together with the Graham Bonnet band and I couldn’t believe it. So we basically, Graham and I, we did write one album together, ‘assault attack’, years ago, we spent fifteen minutes on stage together and that was it! And then, out of the blue, here we are again, with Graham and he was in great shape. He was singing great and Doogie did a great job in welcoming him, and so we ended up playing some songs together on stage and the audience loved it! And then we did some headline festivals in summer like Rock of Ages in Germany and we also had Graham singing there with us as well, you know just a few songs, but the audience were thrilled.

 And then we’re also going to be releasing a new single called ‘communion’ for radio play along with a video built from exclusive behind-the-scenes footage. Actually it’s going to be a double, ‘communion’ and ‘saviour machine’ and it’s going to be played starting early October. And then of course we’re starting a European tour on the 22nd October. On the 19th we’re shooting a video for DVD in Madrid for early 2016 release and then on the 23rd November we’re starting our UK tour with Judas Priest and that should be a blast, and then we’re off to Italy, and then in January 20th we start our own headline tour of the UK with Doogie, Herman, Frances, Wayne and myself and then we’ll be playing classics and current material from Scorpions, UFO, MSG and Temple of Rock, making sure that we are not playing too much of this or that – there’ll be a good balance for everybody. Then Scandinavia and Russia, 2016 in March we should be done and then we’re going to go back into the studio and record the third Temple Of Rock album, that should be released in 2017 and then we’re planning a very special UK tour that is going to be confirmed in the near future and we’ll keep you posted on that.

That is such an itinerary! From when I spoke to you last, you were just about to release ‘spirit on a mission’, it seems you have now hit everything you were saying you wanted to do!

Yeah! That’s pretty much it! I’m already ahead of time, my head’s already in 2017 and the plans for that tour!

It’s very cool that you’re bringing the ‘Spirit on a mission’ line up out for the UK tour – Doogie White sings his ass off on that record I think!

Absolutely, I love it!

What’s your favourite Doogie track do you think?

Oh it’s so difficult! I love ‘live and let live’ I love ‘Saviour machine’. I love ‘vigilante man’ and I also love ‘something of the night’ because I’m using my howler, which is a very spooky sound and it creates a very interesting atmosphere, and it’s just a lot of very catchy songs but with lots of great vocals and lots of guitar sparkles. I play and discover on a regular basis and every time I make a new album I have to have enough new stuff that comes out of nowhere that keeps everything sounding fresh So I’m looking forward already to making the next Temple of Rock album. It’s all based on the Michael Schenker platform still and the idea is to make Temple of rock stand on its own feet with its own sound and without the addition of using the Michael Schenker platform. Especially with the addition of Wayne… now we’ve added him with the seven strings and with Doogie and myself adding stuff to it, it creates another unique and very interesting sound so now Temple of Rock has a very high potential of creating something very special for itself.

What I really liked about the opening song, ‘live and let live’ is the variety of the guitar work in it where you move from bluesy licks to a real hard rock sound  that track’s like a journey and it makes a great start to the album.

Yeah, that’s exactly it, it’s like a train. It starts kicking off and then it goes through that world. It’s snappy, it’s fast, it’s very, very fast going forward with so much energy and sparkle and snappiness and great vocals, I just love it, you know!

You must be thrilled by the response that ‘spirit on a mission’ has received because it seems to have been almost unilaterally loved since its release.

Yeah, absolutely, we’re developing you know, and it’s like we have a pot-full of creativity, and it’s just amazing. It’s a very good thing – we all complement each other – Wayne with his seven string and Herman and Frances, they are professionals, they’re doing just enough, they’re solid and they create that reliable screen that I can paint on and Doogie can paint on and… you know I’ve played with some of the best drummers in the world – Carmine Appice and Cozy Powell and Chris Slade  – but, you know, this is a very reliable, solid screen that I can paint on that makes it possible to really create something amazing.

In the past you weren’t so keen on the live experience, but it seems to me now that you love getting out and playing live more than ever.

Absolutely, I never really liked playing live much. That was one of my problems in the early days and that’s why I had to drink to go on stage, because I was just not prepared. I was just a passionate guitarist, I wasn’t even an entertainer! I just wanted to play guitar and I had consciously made my musical distribution, which I created in the seventies, for the eighties, and in the eighties I just helped out the Scorpions to open the doors for America. With UFO the doors were already open, they were already on an Arena tour, and so basically I wanted to withdraw and experiment and do stuff and in the middle years that’s what I did.  My brother, you know, got the black and white guitar and he wanted to become successful and that wasn’t very important for me, I just wanted to develop as a guitarist, and so he got his share and I got my fair share and I was able to withdraw and experiment musically which is what I wanted to do. But I think my middle years, they prepared me for this time, to be there strong and to take guitar playing up to a new level again. I think the Scorpions, I think they simplified music for the wide mass and to make it more acceptable for them, they will get people to even participate as musicians themselves – you know they’ll hear it and say “Oh, this is so simple, let’s do it!” So, it’s education, everyone has got their place and we all do what we’re good at in developing and helping everybody to develop to the next stages. Fifty years ago I fell in love with Led Zeppelin, Sabbath and Deep purple and all of that, that’s the music I fell in love with, that’s the era of classic rock and that’s the era I’m celebrating, and so education has been going on for fifty years and I think we’re at the point where I can come back now and take the guitar to the next level so everyone’s doing their part.

The interesting thing to me is that, although you’re celebrating those classic bands, you also have a very contemporary sound and yet you don’t listen to any modern music I think?

No, I don’t, I haven’t listened to any new music for forty-three years and I haven’t copied anybody since I was seventeen. I have always wanted pure self-expression for myself and, like I said, ‘spirit on a mission’ is spreading the joy of music and pure self-expression and that is my passion, that is what I am having fun with and that is where I love to be and that is what makes the world  go round for me and I guess that’s my part and that’s my assignment, that is where I fit in in the whole chain of musicians and I do my part and other bands do their parts and everybody speaks to somebody on this planet in a way that can be understood.

As an innovator, particularly in your middle period when you were hidden away and experimenting, were you aware of how much influence you had had?

As I said earlier, I basically unconsciously made my musical contribution in the seventies, creating for the eighties, I had no idea that I did that, but if I look back now and the things I hear… knowing about Slash and Def Leppard and Iron Maiden and Metallica and that they were all influenced by that, I can put the pieces together. I wasn’t aware of it, I was just having fun. I unconsciously make my musical contribution to the world that I can now consciously enjoy and can go and move on to the next level and do the same thing again, but this time consciously and… after forty/fifty years of having people enjoy that kind of stuff like Iron Maiden and AC/DC, they’ve kept things pretty simple and so we can now move forward and I think people may be ready for the next level of artistic entertainment.

Michael Schenker on guitar

Speaking of entertainment, I think Temple of Rock and Judas Priest, a band whom I absolutely love and who have, I believe, spent many years honing their sound to perfection – that’s one hell of a tour to be on…

Absolutely. You know we both started – Judas Priest and UFO we both started our first records at Olympic Studios in North London and KK Downing, he ended up looking like Michael Schenker with his flying V, boots and curly hair and my girlfriend and I, we looked at each other and went “whoops!” But it’s funny and they’re fans too and we’ve come together all the day from those early days. 

Last question – you mentioned that, not only have you got these amazing touring plans, a live DVD and you’re starting to think about the next record as well?

Yep, we are going to start the new record after the tour in March in 2016 and it’s going to be released in 2017 and then we’re going to put together a very special UK tour that’s going to be confirmed in the near future and that’ll be the same line-up,.

Any final words for your UK fans?

We are all looking forward to doing this! We’re having so much fun playing and we’ve been doing so much touring already that any time we’re now on stage again is like ‘yeah!’ It’s fantastic so yeah – keep on rocking, be yourselves and enjoy!

It’s such a pleasure to talk to you, thank you for your time.

Thank you so much.

Amazing photos: Laurence Harvey

MICHAEL SCHENKER’S TEMPLE OF ROCK JANUARY 2016 UK TOUR 24 HOUR BOX OFFICE – 0844 478 0898 BOOK ONLINE – www.thegigcartel.com

BILSTON, ROBIN                                 WEDNESDAY 20 JANUARY

HOLMFIRTH, PICTUREDROME           THURSDAY 21 JANUARY

EDINBURGH, QUEEN’S HALL             FRIDAY 22 JANUARY

INVERNESS, IRON WORKS                SATURDAY 23 JANUARY

GATESHEAD, SAGE                             MONDAY 25 JANUARY

LIVEPOOL, ACADEMY                        TUESDAY 26 JANUARY

MANCHESTER, ACADEMY 2              THURSDAY 28 JANUARY

NOTTINGHAM, ROCK CITY                FRIDAY 29 JANUARY

ISLINGTON, ASSEMBLY HALL            SATURDAY 30 JANUARY 6

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