Uli Jon Roth
Interview by Deb Rao
One of the most innovative guitar players to emerge onto the metal scene is Uli Jon Roth. Uli Jon Roth has a career that spans from the early 70’s, as the masterful guitarist temporarily joined The Scorpions in 1973 and left the band in 1978. During his period with the band, The Scorpions released a live album, Tokyo Tapes". 2008 marks the release of "Tokyo Tapes", as the German guitarist will perform with his band at the same Hall that The Scorpions performed, at the Sun Plaza Hall for two nights on November 11th and 12th.
Uli Jon Roth recently released his latest sonic masterpiece, Under A Dark Sky" on SPV Records. The Cd is a sonic cosmic adventure filled with melodic riffs and deep emotion. I recently had the honor of speaking with guitarist extradonnaire Uli Jon Roth regarding "Under A Dark Sky", and future touring plans as Uli Jon Roth invades the UK and Japan.
How challenging was it to you as an artist to write, Under A Dark Sky"?
"Well, it is always like a new adventure. It wasn’t actually a challenge to write it, it kind of wrote itself. The music came very quickly, and very easily. It was an easy first. That was only the beginning. Actually, making the album I found much harder because in order to present it in such a way that my inner ear was remotely satisfied, it was quite a struggle. It was technologically difficult because it adds quite a vast array of sounds and textures. I had to orchestrate the band and the choir, different singers, lots of different guitar approaches. Sometimes we had up to 400 tracks going. Then I had to narrow it down to two tracks, which was to me just about the worst nightmare. I am never happy with the two tracks. Because I feel compromised. If I don like a three piece scenario bass, drums, guitars, and vocals, yes the stereo can be sufficient and you do get good results But with the sound that I have mind, I never come anywhere near it in the stereo department. To me that is always a horrible compromise and I have hated it from the beginning. Apart from the sonic aspect and the limitations, I do think that the message and the spirit of the album I wanted to portray comes through. That is why I released it. Because I could have gone on for another 3 months maybe made it a little more perfect but it wouldn’t have got much different in terms of the essence of the whole thing. So it I thought it is ready now. I like to actually transform melodies and give them a longer lifespan by actually making them into living beings or living entities. A melody will start a certain way and take on a life of its own. That is what I like. I like to take people on musical journeys. To me music reflects life. Music is build according to certain principals cosmic principals. I use the word cosmic it sounds very hippiesque. People think I am a hippie because I wear a headband. But I am actually far way from that mentality. When I use the word cosmic, I mean cosmic."
As a guitarist, how do you think you have evolved since your early days on the road with The Scorpions?
"I think I have a much wider scope now. I finally got the scope that I always wanted to have. I didn’t always have that in the beginning. I needed to learn the ropes first. I started out as someone, who was intensely in love with lead guitar playing. That was when I was twelve thirteen years old. I use to copy Eric Clapton, who was such a beautiful melodic player. Then, a little bit later on, I got into Jimi Hendrix who had all these other qualities plus his very own way of bringing in melody and rhythm. Then I started exploring Classical music, I learned the classical guitar and studied that quite intensely. I learned the piano and violin. All these things developed a life of its own and my own musical being; I wouldn’t say language because I didn’t invent the language. But maybe my own act. Usually we all draw from sometime we heard before and then we are the next generation and the fruit of the tree. I see myself as an ongoing fruit of trees that span generations. Because I do relate to early Baroque Renaissance music, and classical music. Actually, most musical genres, I can relate to in some way or another. I see myself very much as a musical cosmopolitan. I also love folk music, Indian, Chinese, Spanish, Italian, you name it, and I love it all. Some more than others. I think my playing reflects that to some degree. I like the Universal approach to music. My journey is far from finished. In many ways, I think I am only at the beginning. I feel that I am at the height of whatever powers I might have. I am fully in the flow. I feel like the sky is the limit. I don’t intend on stopping. I am just really at the beginning."
Do you think that "Under A Dark Sky" is a concept album?
Absolutely. Don’t ask me what the concept is because it could take up to one and a half hours. (Laughter) When you give it a little time, it is pretty self-revealing. A lot of it is under the surface and a lot of it is not obvious on first listening. That is the way I like it. To me the stuff that is behind the curtain is often more important than what is on the surface. I try to do music in the same way. Multi-layered, multi-faceted and multi-dimensional. Music that is totally clear on first listening is very often something that I find is not very exciting to my ear. I want some mystery there, something that captures me on just more than just one level. There is definitely a concept to it. A lot of it is a reflection in the title, "Under A Dark Sky". Because the way I see, we as a human race are essentially in my book spiritual beings in a material body. We are really living under a dark sky, the way I see it in more ways than one. Particularly, when you are looking from it from a more physical angle. The stuff that is going on behind the scenes, from behind the curtain is not good in many respects. There are a lot of positive things happening as well. There is a rainbow out there, that gives us a message of hope and there is hope. But at the risk of sounding like a nuisance, which I am not if we don’t get our act together as a whole humanity we (human kind) are like a doomed race. It is increasingly looking like we do need to wake up. There maybe is not much time left. A majority among us is fast asleep and just drifting more or less happy go lucky in everyday life.
How has technology played a major role in your career?
Nowadays, we live in an age where technology has become almost like a God that we pray too. I am a person who loves technology. I use technology. I love the Internet. I use the Internet. But there is a danger there. A lot of people fall into the trap of using technology like a drug including television. They are being controlled by it. I am German, so I know a lot about these things. A certain gentlemen 60 years ago by the name of Adolf Hitler was trying to rule the world. He could have done so had he had the right kind of technology. He eventually failed because destiny didn’t allow him to go that far and technology wasn’t there yet. Had that guy been here today, the cards on the table would have been stacked quite differently. My thought about politics is to do with stuff going on behind the scenes and it’s got a message of hope but is it also has a message of warning. I am not some kind of religious fanatic, although I totally believe in God as a creator, I believe in Jesus Christ. But I am not a closet Christian kind of type going around converting people. I am far from it. Because, I don’t think that kind of thing works. Everybody has to find their own answer. Answers can be found in many right places but they can also be found in the wrong places. You got to follow your instinct.
In your lifetime you have worked with some of the best singers in the business. Last year during your Sky Academy benefit, you worked with Don Dokken, plus Jeff Scott Soto. How did you choose the singer Liz Vandall and Mark Boals to be on your upcoming release?
There is a certain destiny factor involved. I always feel the right kind of people meet for the right kind of reasons or sometimes at the wrong point in time. (Laughter) During the Sky Academy, Mark came and sang, and I really liked his voice and attitude. I thought it would be great for our album, so I asked him and he said, Yes." So he ended up singing on the album and onstage. Liz, I was working on an album that hadn’t appeared yet called,"Requiem For An Angel". I was introduced to Liz through a friend, and when I heard her sing her voice just melted and I said that is the right one to sing on the record. That is how I got to know Liz.
Uli, What are your future touring plans after the U.S. Tour wraps up in New York City this weekend?
"We are a playing a week with The Scorpions in England. Then we are doing some days in Greece, a beautiful audience there. I can relate to Greek philosophers. I have a deep connection with that. Then we go to Japan. Thirty years ago we recorded ‘Tokyo Tapes’ in Japan and we are actually playing the same hall, Sun Plaza Hall for two nights in a row. I am looking forward to that. It is a great sounding hall. We are also playing the city of Hiroshima, which I am also looking forward too. Then we do some German dates and the Christmas season is upon us. We will have several Sky Academys next year. Next year we want to branch out. This year we did for the first time Phoenix, Arizona, that went well. We may do Sky Academy in several cities including Chicago. I enjoy the teaching and sometimes we even just do a one-day seminar and they seem to make a difference. I will go anywhere, all we need is an invitation."
Uli Jon Roth Tour Dates
Nov 26 2008 8:00P
Nov 27 2008 8:00P
STAZIONE BIRRA ROME
Nov 28 2008 8:00P
ROCK HOUSE PESCARA
Nov 29 2008 8:00P
HARLEY DAVIDSON MEETING ROME
Nov 30 2008 8:00P
TEATRO JUAN RAMON JIMENEZ GRAN CANARIA – TELDE
Dec 10 2008 8:00P
Dec 11 2008 8:00P
Dec 12 2008 8:00P
Dec 25 2008 8:00P
Dec 26 2008 8:00P
Dec 27 2008 8:00P