Michael Schenker Speaks To SonicAbuse 2017

If you’ve ever seen or heard a Michael Schenker interview, you’ll know that the German guitarist takes no prisoners. Boundlessly enthused by the hand fate has dealt him, he talks openly about his past and glowingly about his future. This is particularly true of Michael’s current project, the stunning Michael Schenker Fest. What would be, for most musicians, a simple chance to celebrate the past, has turned into a forward-thinking project with Michael taking his band into the studio to record a full-length album. Filled with a zest for life and for music which is utterly irresistible, Michael talks fast and laughs often, recounting how the project came to be and discussing the future in some depth. With the band bringing their current set to the UK for the first (and, Michael assures me, the last) time, it was the perfect opportunity to catch Michael on the cusp of his next great project…

Photo: Frank C. Duennhaupt

Hi is that Michael

It is Michael!

Hey, how are you?

I’m fine, how are you?

I’m very well, thank you and it’s a pleasure to be able to speak to you once again.

Thank you!

So, you must be very excited, coming back to the UK with this amazing Michael Schenker Fest…

Absolutely! You know, it has been a while, actually, since the last time I played in England, maybe two years already?

Yes, I think it was for the Temple of Rock tour.

Yeah, yeah! It might have been. So, basically, a lot has happened since [laughs] and you know, it started off pretty harmless. Kind of having Graham Bonnet supporting us in Japan and singing one song and then something clicked and I thought like “wait a minute!” I’m in the third stage of my life and celebration – I need to perform with original singers, so that was it. We called up and they were all happy to do it, I put together a band that has Chris Glenn and Ted McKenna and then the unique addition of Steve Mann, who’s a fantastic guitarist and keyboard player, who used to be with the McAuley Schenker Group, so we have a very good kind of group vibe type of line up.

I think, certainly in terms of the Michael Schenker Group and the singers you have now, Gary Barden and Graham Bonnet and Robin McAuley, it’s been a long time since you were all on stage together.

Yeah, maybe it was something that, in those days, it was just being set up for now to explode [laughs].

The first sign that we had of this was when you released the Michael Schenker Fest DVD

Yeah, yeah! It was fantastic! I tell you! I saw the venue. We actually got offered Loud Park in 2016, to headline, and when I heard who the other band was headlining (it was the Scorpions) I passed, and that’s how we got the three shows, but I got to headline Loud Park this year, anyway, so I got the extra three shows and when I saw the venue in Tokyo, I said to myself “I’m not going to talk. I’m not going to spend any time talking, I’m just going to hire the crew and I’m just going to do it!” It… I knew, when I saw the venue, it reminded me of the days at the Budokan. I had the feeling that it was something very special And, you know, we recorded it, it went well and it was a fantastic evening, that particular night, and the audience… the whole thing altogether. We mixed it, did the edits in Germany and after it was all put together it was an enjoyable product.

It’s a fantastic release and the, you’re right, the venue looks immense – 4/5000 people I think?

Yeah!

…And Japan has this reputation, I think, of being a quiet, reserved country. But when you see the live shows that have come out of Japan, the seminal live albums from the Budokan, it’s clear that there’s a real love of rock music there.

Oh, absolutely! Absolutely. They love exactly what I love. That thing that I fell in love with was that kind of combination of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, you know, the singer and the guitarist and, of course, John Bonham is my favourite musician, even though he’s a drummer, he’s my favourite musician because he is such a… he plays music on his drums.

They really understand, they must enjoy what I just described, you know, what happened in the 70s –  the great guitarist and the great singer showing up on stage with the great rhythm section and stuff like that. And playing metal music! Think about it! Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath was metal, it’s metal music and when you get to the 80s it got watered down to pop metal or whatever.

 I don’t know, it’s just one snare, one bass drum, and it’s all simplified and I guess it’s good to capture people’s attention. People don’t want to be overwhelmed with too much they don’t understand, so I think everyone has their place and moment in time when they are useful and sometimes… I guess it took forty years of AC/DC to educate people and get them into rock music [laughs] to understand the first steps, you know, and now we can take it to the next level.

How did you go about choosing a set list because I guess that all three vocalists have their own favourites and things they enjoy doing.

Well, I look at the whole picture. Overall. I think about what I’ve been doing the last four years, what was my last tour, what did we perform (OK, it wasn’t original singers, but what songs did we use), what other songs did we want to hear that we haven’t played etc. etc. There are songs that need to be played, and so on, so I am very careful about that. There are so many songs that people always want to hear and if we were to play all of them, we’d be playing three hours, you know. And, you know, we’re going to be touring and coming round and round and back, and people will have heard everything, but the thing is here, we have actually, now, we are moving and we’re still ready to move this thing to the next level. When we did the DVD, and that was finished, I said to myself “well, what next?” and so I said “Michael Schenker Fest in the studio!” and that was it!

We started recording in June and we just finished an album. I have just got the master to approve and we have a great teaser song and the album includes Doogie White – we have four singers on that CD which will come out next year in March, so, of course in the UK we’ll be playing with our up-to-date concept and so on but we have just been in the studio and recorded an album and we’ll start our promotion tour in December for fourteen days. We’re going to be flying to all the key cities, making face-to-face interviews, so, there’s one song which we’ll use as a promo, as a teaser, which will let people in to what this album is like and it’s such a great piece of footage. They shot some footage of it, of us being in the studio, and it’s very entertaining and very enjoyable, a great song, and it’s not like everybody’s singing… you know, each singer has three or four songs. We actually have three or four songs where they all sing together, like Doogie sings a line, then Robin sings the verse and Gary, maybe, the chorus or Graham the chorus. It’s really entertaining to hear those different voice colours coming in, singing the same lines but different words. It’s so fantastic and it is something that is for the future… By the way, that UK tour that we’re doing is the first time Michael Schenker Fest will be there in that format and it will also be the last time, so if people want to see that format, they’d better show up because after that we’re changing our set completely because we’re going to have four singers from next year on.

Photo: Frank C. Duennhaupt

That is incredibly exciting news and I was going to ask, because I’ve always seen you as a musicians who is forward looking and it sounds like, for you, going back to working with these musicians has inspired you to move forward once again.

[Laughs] Yeah, yeah, yeah! The funny thing is, now because the Temple of Rock is basically Doogie and myself who wrote most of the music so, by now, we have a few classics because it’s already like four years old. So, Doogie can now sing his own songs and we can continue Temple of Rock with Doogie, we can perform the past and now, with the new album, we can also tour the past and the present, the current thing. It’s going to be very… You know, you go back to go forwards and so it’s like a thing that moves and the fantastic thing is it fits perfectly into this celebration that is the third part of my life. Michael Schenker Fest and coming back with all the original players and who knows what will happen in the future, you know? 2020 is the fiftieth anniversary of Michael Schenker and Klaus Meine – we did ‘Lonesome Crow’ in 1970, so maybe even Klaus is going to join in a couple of years and sing a couple of songs with me and maybe even Phil Mogg! Who knows! People are growing and they make realisations and all sorts of things and, as you get older, time goes faster and people are aware of things that, maybe, when you’re younger, you’re not so much aware of. But anyway, it’s a kind of ongoing thing that can go on for quite a while and, at this point in time, we are on the way to the UK! [Laughs]

It’s really nice to hear you sounding so excited and so enthused, it seems like, since you returned with Temple of Rock, Michael Schenker time has been getting faster and you’re packing more into every year!

[Laughs] Yeah! Exactly like that! And you know, I think this is… I have been prepared and reserved for this particular section of life – the third part of my life. The middle years made it possible to do what I’m doing now – to understand and to actually get everything out of my system. The first part of my life was basically developing my musical abilities and having an impact, which I was never aware of, I never plan these things, I just accidentally became famous [laughs]. My middle years… by 23 I had already tasted the top and the fame and everything and I’m grateful for that, it gave me the chance to look at it and see whether I needed it or not, and whether I could say goodbye to it, be at peace and experiment with music instead of being in (what do you call it) the machine. So the middle years, for me, were just to have fun, to experiment, to do anything I wanted, acoustic and electric, instrumentals, play a cover song with Aynsley Dunbar; I did so many different crazy things and it all needed to be done. It all needed to be done and in 2008 I had this urge. I wanted to go on stage. Where did this come from? I was always afraid! I always had stage fright and all of a sudden, I wanted to be on stage. So that was the beginning, when I thought “OK, let’s get back! Let’s carry on from where I stopped at 23!”

Photo: Emili Muraki

One thing we talked about was how, on the last Temple of Rock album, you worked with Wayne Findlay and you’d started experimenting with textures and incorporating the seven string guitar into your repertoire. Is that something you plan to continue with Michael Schenker Fest?

You know, I never know how things will go. I never plan these things. They happen! As you walk forwards, you start seeing things and so, until you’re there you don’t see them.  In general, that is exactly what happened from the first Temple of Rock album to the second Temple of Rock album. We didn’t know what would happen. I said to Wayne “OK Wayne, I’d like to write five songs with the seven string so we can create that kind of sound that is different from what we did before,” and that’s what we did and then we toured for four years and then it was time for a break.

Two CDs, two DVDs and four years of touring: it was time for a break. Everybody agreed and then as you start moving on and doing things, you start to kind of get into situations. It’s like this: Doogie always calls me up and says “Michael! When are we doing the next Temple of Rock Album?”

 I always told him it would be in 2017, and then it got moved to 2018 and I’m glad I said that because, somehow, with that time, it came to me the idea of “wait a minute! I can add Doogie to the CD, I have a band already, I can add Doogie to it and then I can perform everything current and all the way back to the past with one line up!”

So, I’d already asked Steve to look into this seven string thing, but you never even know… maybe at some point, Wayne will come to the foreground too. You see what I’m saying? I cannot say anything, but there are always possibilities, and by the time we play America, I see additional things coming up that will all make sense and meld together. Who knows, maybe we’ll become a big, big circus! [Laughs]

What I’ve always taken away from our interviews is that idea – “there are always possibilities!” It must be a very exciting time for you!

Yeah, it’s fun, you know!

So, I know time is running short, so any final words for your UK fans?

Yeah, we’re looking very much forward to playing these shows and you have to keep on rocking because if you don’t keep on rocking there won’t be nothing!

Michael, thank you so much for the time and all the best with the tour!

Thank you!

 

MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST “LIVE” 
NOVEMBER 2017 UK TOUR 

Thursday 2nd November 2017
O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

O2 Priority Pre-Sale (12 noon on Friday 17th March 2017):
https://tickets.o2priority.co.uk/listings/michael-schenker-fest/44677
On general sale from 10am on Monday 20th March 2017: 
www.ticketweb.co.uk/event/IEH0211M

Friday 3rd November 2017
O2 Academy Sheffield

O2 Priority (12 noon on Friday 17th March 2017): 
https://tickets.o2priority.co.uk/listings/michael-schenker-fest/44676
On general sale from 10am on Monday 20th March 2017:
www.ticketmaster.co.uk/event/1F005270B87B778E

Saturday 4th November 2017
O2 Ritz, Manchester

O2 Priority Pre-Sale (12 noon on Friday 17th March 2017): 
https://tickets.o2priority.co.uk/listings/michael-schenker-fest/44675
On general sale from 10am on Monday 20th March 2017:
www.ticketmaster.co.uk/event/1F005270DEE6A248

Sunday 5th November 2017
Hull City Hall, Hull

On general sale from 12 noon on Friday 17th March 2017:
www.hullboxoffice.com/events//michael-schenker-fest-featuring-original-msg-vocalists-gary-barden-graham-bonnet-and-robin-mcauley

 

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