Interview with Michael Schenker
Interview and questions by Marko Syrjala
Pictures by Marko Syrjala and MSG archives
Transcription by Nick
Michael Schenker is definitely a legend. He?s one of the most respected guitar players of our time and he?s been a huge influence for many. In the 70?s, after a short period in the early version of Scorpions, the young German joined as a part of another legendary band U.F.O and together with that classic line-up they released a bunch of ?evergreen? albums like ?Light?s Out?, ?Force It? and ?Obsession? just to name a few. By 1980 he started his own band, MSG (Michael Schenker Group) which became another success story in Michael?s career. Since that, there has been many albums released by MSG, U.F.O re-union in the mid 90?s and a great number of different albums and projects that Michael has been a part of. I had a chance to meet him in his tour bus in Stockholm after their brilliant show in Klubben. Well here?s what was caught on the tape ?
It?s been a while since your latest studio album came out. This current tour, is it still a part of ?Arachnophobiac? tour?
Yeah. We started like last November and we?ve toured almost for a year basically now, with breaks in between. It?s the ?Arachnophobiac? world tour. That?s what we?re doing until we make another record, then we tour again and that?s gonna be that tour.
Then I have some questions about that album, ?Arachnophobiac?. This must be true: You were not able to play on the whole album, everywhere on the whole album?
Yeah. What happened was I had a depression because of the separation from my wife. I lost my recording studio, which was a first class recording studio, and everything basically. So I went through the normal process of suffering which you have to go through. It?s like when somebody dies, you have to go through the grief, it?s a process. I went through quite a period of that and? what was the question?
The question was: It?s true that you don?t play every single note on that album?
Yeah. What happened was, I was still basically suffering from the effects. We did the album in three stages. I was recording my parts for the backing tracks in Northern San Fransisco, then we did the vocals in Las Vegas and then for the rest of my guitars we were supposed to go back to San Fransisco and then mix in San Fransisco. But it got stretched, so instead of making the album ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding we would have periods in between with breaks and stuff like that. So I was dealing with my private life in one of those breaks and I kinda broke down. That?s basically what happened.
Jeff Watson was the guy who played on the album?
Yeah. Mike Varney decided, ?let?s get Jeff Watson in?. He lives in that area and Mike Varney has a lot of musicians that he knows. So I wasn?t really that worried about it, because I know that Mike knows what he needs to be doing.
Did you actually know anything about Jeff? Did you listen to Nightranger or any of his old bands?
I have bumped into Jeff and I?m sure I have heard Nightranger music in the past. I think they had a hit that was played in the States. I?m sure I?ve heard it, but I?m not conciously aware of it. I know that Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson were together in one band, because I was asked by Ozzy Osbourne to join after Randy crashed and then they got Brad Gillis in.
They asked you?
I was the first person. He called me in the middle of the night in England and he was stuttering and he was very nervous and he asked me if I would do this. I said ok, I looked at it and I spoke to Cozy Powell and all the people in my band and stuff like that. And then at some point we decided that it would not be a good idea to do it, cause I was in the middle of making an album too.
So you never actually did an audition for Ozzy?
It wouldn?t have been an audition, if I had said yes, that would have been that.
You?ve started your own company called GOOTT?
Nobody knows how to speak it! I don?t know it myself to be honest. Basically what it means is ?Get Out of the Trap?, so if you put it all together it?s GOOTT. So maybe it?s easier to say G O O T T Records that ?goott?. Nobody knows how to say it, I always come up with stupid stuff like that!
Are you going to do a webpage for the company, like an Internet store?
Yeah, I?m working on that right now. I had a store before and 14 months ago when I started the new website, I wanted to focus on the ?Thank you 4? album and tell people a little bit about my recent past, about by crisis and about the new album. I wanted to focus on that. My website is not about whose website looks best. That is not what I?m here for, I just keep it like it is for me, whatever I want it to be. I?m not competing with abyone and that?s the main point. Basically I?m getting close now to the next step of updating my website because the tour is getting close to being over. I?m doing a lot of projects until February. So I?m gonna be putting all these news on there. The items that are from the past I?m going to change, all this stuff is gonna get sent over there and they?re going to create a store.
Will the next Michael Schenker Group album be released by the new company?
Yeah, because it?s the 25th anniversary, 25 years of MSG celebration. That?s kind of a personal thing and the music is written and recorded and is already in the hands of a Scandinavian guy who sent me a demo and I thought it was perfect to do this with this guy. It?s gonna be called ?Tales of rock and roll?. It?s gonna be one big piece, just like ?Adventure of the imagination? but with vocals and it?s gonna go from one thing to another. Then we?re gonna put in some of the original singers, Graham Bonnett, Kelly Kieling, Robin McAuley and Chris Logan, they all wanna do it. That leaves Leif Sundin and Gary Barden. I?m hoping to get in touch with Leif Sundin somehow and when I get to England and when I get to England I?ll approach Gary Barden. So we put them in like three minutes, three minutes, three minutes throughout the whole album. That?s the MSG celebration. If somebody finds it very interesting I?ll sell it if they offer enough money. If not, I just keep it very personal.
In your mind, is that going to be the next Michael Schenker Group album or something else?
No, it?s gonna be something in between. It?s a celebration. Don?t look at it like it?s the new MSG album, this is the celebration of 25 years of MSG, it?s a different story.
How about the next actual MSG album?
Well, that could be happening somewhere around March-April-May. It?s a possibility. But after I?ve finished the recording of the 25th anniversary of MSG I have to really look at things and see where I?m at with everything and understand what I need to be doing. It?s way to early for me now. There is a plan of doing the next studio album around the time of March-April-May next year, 2005. But it?s too far away for me to really pinpoint it.
You just released your fourth ?Thank you? album. How did you get the idea, when you did the first one, to release an acoustic instrumental album?
It was in ?92 when I was leaving MSG (McAuley Schenker Group). I left MSG and I was also in the middle of opening my own company and making a whole new move. So I decided to? I wanted to say thank you to my fans for supporting me over all of these years and I was thinking ?What can I do that?s personal?? without other people being involved. So I thought of acoustic guitar, because I played some acoustic guitar with Robin McAuley the year before so I got really into that. That inspired me to make acoustic instrumental music. I kinda got excisted about it, because it was very basic and it was personal, so I did it. I borrowed some money, went into the studio and put it together and it turned out very good. Then I went on a Greyhound bus in America and just drove 10 000 miles throughout the entire United States and knocked on radios stations? doors, said ?You want an interview or not? No? Ok. Bye. Yes? Ok, go ahead.? You know, like 70 percent of all those people did spontaneous interviews. So I promoted the ?Thank you? album and when I came home I was rich. For the first time in my life! Not with UFO, not with the Scorpions, not with MSG, no, but with a humble ?Thank you? album. When I did the ?Thank you? album, I said to myself I love freedom so much. Just to be able to do what I want without people sucking me into their own world and stuff like that, tricks and lies and all of that. I was convinced that I could at least sell enough records every day to have a roof over my head, something to eat and be comfortable. But I got much more than that, so it was a very interesting journey.
So far you have made four of them. Do you still have the same reasons to do them as the first ?Thank you? album?
No. The reason now is that it has become a project of its own. It has developed into a whole other? it?s the soft side of me. It?s to capture the soft side, the romantic side. It?s something that heals people, it?s something that?s very positive, that keeps people clam and don?t listen to it when you drive, you might fall asleep. It relaxes people, it makes people happy, all sorts of things you know. I think it?s a very important aspect that got developed. Sometimes people don?t know how to develop something but circumstances lead you in a certain direction. Nobody knows what?s gonna come out of it but then you look back and you go like ?well, this is important?. So the ?Thank you? series or whatever you call it will continue, it has become a part of me.
So it?s an alter ego?
Huh? I don?t know what that means, alter ego?
It?s like when Gene Simmons is his personal himself, when he has makeup, he?s a different person you know?
No, it?s not a different person. This is Michael Schenker, it?s just a different part of Michael.
You also did a couple of other instrumental albums which are electronic.
Yeah, ?Dreams and Expressions? and ?Adventure of the Imagination?.
What?s the story behind those albums?
Well, I?ve always wanted to make an instrumental album, like electric instrumental, for years and years and years, ever since I was? I don?t know even. Ever since I was with UFO, I guess. I never got to it. And finally there I was. I always wanted to make an adventure, to piece one thing to another and just make you go somewhere, whereever that is. That?s what I wanted to do. I think a long time ago I wanted to do an instrumental album with songs. But then it never happened and by the time I was able to do it, I had a new idea already, to do an adventure, so that?s what I did. On ?Dreams and expressions?, because I liked ?Adventure of the imagination? going from one place to another without stopping, I did the same thing. But ?Dreams and expressions? is more rocky, it?s different. It?s somehow very different but it?s actually one of my favourite albums. ?Dreams and expressions? is one of the albums I could listen to myself for six months after the recording regularly and I never got bored with it.
There are a lot of stories on the Internet, you know? What kinda relationship do you have with the Internet? How much do you follow what people are writing there?
I don?t follow anything. I don?t have time to follow anything. I started on the Internet a year ago, or maybe 14 months ago. When my wife and I split up I lost everything. I was just back to scratch, you know. Then I decided, ok, let?s start from scratch, so I got a computer. Then I started to put together a website and found of that I can?t use Michael Schenker because a company in Hong Kong has my name. They?re doing some business with it, I have no clue what it is or how it works, so I had to come up with a different name. To make sure that people understood that it?s me, I called it michaelschenkerhimself.com. I guess not many people know it, but I promote it as much as I can. But I?m currently also in the process of getting my name back, I think if I pay 1500 dollars I can get my name back. I think someone is reserving it and is telling me they need jewellery and all this kind of stuff. I have people helping me, I don?t really know much about computers, but the basics that are important I can manage. I don?t have the time to go through the Internet or websites and look at other people?s websites. It?s not important to me. To me, it?s a tool that can be used productively. It?s also something that can waste a lot of time if you don?t use it wisely.
That?s true. You also know there are so many rumours flying around all the time about everybody? One thing I have to ask you: There was one rumour flying last spring or something that you were seriously ill and not able to play ever again. What was that rumour? It was hugely promoted everywhere.
I have no idea. That?s between you guys. Whoever gossips, keep it going, make up your own stories, whatever. What I?m saying is, there will always be people that love gossip and others who may not love gossip that much, it comes in all sizes. You cannot stop that. Internet is a tool. For people that are addicted to gossip, they gossip even more. People do with the Internet whatever they want. The fact is that people can make up their own stories and become important. Before the Internet you would have people that tell a story about somebody. Maybe there was some truth about the story, but they make the story so exciting in order to get enough applause from the people that are listening. It?s up to you guys what you wanna do with that.
You have just released a new dvd.
Are you fully satisfied with the result?
First of all, I don?t have a dvd player, like a professional dvd player, just equipment with dvd and television. They sent me over a working tape, like the rough version of it, which I liked much more. It had much better shots that they put together. The final dvd that came out, in comparison to the working tape, the working tape is better than the final dvd. Soundwise I don?t understand it, because there?s like 5.1? It?s technical and I?m not a very technical person. I also don?t spoil myself with great sounds in my home. I?m just a creator. I don?t sit back and be a consumer and enjoy, I enjoy creating. So I don?t really know what it means with 5.1, and there?s a 2 point something. If you don?t have a good equipment I?ve been told you should have it on 2 point something and with great equipment you should have it on 5.1. So I will do that when I go back and listen to it on 2 point something, maybe that will make a difference. But the way I?ve been listening to it, the working tape is much better, visual and soundwise.
So overall, how would you rate it?
You know what, I don?t really know now. Because I?ve been listening to and watching the working tape one-two-three-four-five times and then the final comes in. By that time I had already seen it five times. If I had never listened to the working tape and would have seen the final for the first time, I would have maybe judged it differently. When I did the comparison, I was already burned out. You can only watch something so many times, but when you see it for the first time, it?s very exciting. So I was wondering if I would have listened to the final the first time and not even have heard the working tape, I was wondering what my response would have been. Since it did not happen, I cannot imagine what it would have been. So I have to trust the fans when they say it?s great or they say like ?hey, something?s not right with the sound?. And then I say like ?Well, Chris told me that if you don?t have a good system, you should be listening to it in 2 point something?. I haven?t had the luxury yet to listen to it on a great system, I?m looking forward to that.
The sound is quite good on that one.
Do you have any plans to release some vintage MSG stuff on dvd format?
What does that mean?
Old stuff from the 80s MSG on dvd.
Oh. No, but people want it. People are approaching me and want to get a whole bunch of stuff that I have to research. They want the masters and I have to look in my storage to find all of that stuff.
Now that you have your own company, you might release them.
You know, I?m not so much into releasing old stuff, re-releasing or anything like that. I just like to move forward, to be creative and come up with something new. I leave it to other people who want to make something old into something new, it?s not my department.
One of my favourite musical periods of your history was your time with Robin McAuley. What?s the reason you?re not playing those songs at all on this tour?
It?s like McAuley, even though it still sounds like MSG, it?s a different project. When we did the McAuley Schenker thing I was looking for a partner to share responsibility with 50/50. It just happened that he started with an M. When I was looking at the name, ?what are we gonna do??, I was happy to discover that he starts with an M. I didn?t even care if he was in front of me or not. I just wanted to keep the name so we put him in front. But I want to keep that separate from what I?m doing. It was a different time, it was a different thing? I don?t even know how to explain it. There was a lot of other people involved with the song writing.
Do you see that as a different band?
Yeah, kind of. Even though UFO is a different band, you know, but for some reason I prefer to just do UFO and Michael Schenker Group music.
Maybe in the future you might do something from that period?
Maybe in the future I will do something with him and keep it separate.
Tell us something about ?Unlugged? album you did together with Robin?
That was a record company thing, it had nothing to do with me. It was a record company that was recording it and investing in it.
Have you heard anything from Robin lately?
Yeah, I was in the studio with Robin a few weeks ago and we redid ?Save yourself?, the song ?Save yourself?, and ?Run to the hills? by Iron Maiden. I had no idea that Robin can sing like that, you know, it took me by surprise. But it was fun, though.
Are you going to release it some day?
Well, I didn?t do it myself, it was a project that I was invited to with Bob Kulick, the brother of Bruce Kulick who used to be in Kiss. I don?t even know on what label it?s gonna be and under what name. I was just asked if I wanted to come down and do it and I was like ?oh yeah?.
Robin has a new project called Bleed, have you heard that one?
I?m not on that one, no. He gave me a cd but I haven?t found the time to listen to it yet. I remember it?s a silver disc with ?Bleed? on it?
You have been releasing so many albums during the last few years, but tell me something about Pattison/Schenker ? ?Endless jam?.
That was great. That?s stuff that I?d like to do in the future, just go into the studio. I only played lead guitar on that record. Mike asked me if I wanted to be a part of that. He told me that we was gonna be singing and that it would be cover versions and so on and I said like, ?yeah, do it?. I would just come in and he would play it and I would just play to it. It was so much fun, it was just to do whatever comes up in that moment. It turned out to be really good.
I heard there might be a part 2 for that album.
Yeah, I?m doing it in the end of December.
Which songs do you have on that album?
I let Mike Varney choose them, because there?s so many songs. I don?t really wanna get into that. I prefer another person picking the songs and I don?t even wanna know what the songs are. I just wanna hear it and then do it, I don?t wanna be influenced or anything. I just wanna feel and get inspired by it and then add my stuff to it. I think that way it sounds fresher and more exciting.
Then there?s one question that everybody asks: Throughout the history Michael Schenker Group has had so many lineups and you have said that the current lineup is your favourite one so far?
Yeah, it is. Because it?s fun, it must be my favourite. I?m actually having fun being on stage with these guys. But then again it could be also my personal development, I don?t really know. In the past I had a lot of different musicians. I cannot afford to keep people on retainer. If you make a record and you tour a couple of months then the rest of the year, nothing happens and I have to pay the musicians, I can?t do that. So they look for different jobs and stuff like that and when I make the next album I find out if they?re still available or not. If they?re not, I have to find somebody else. I call Mike Varney and say I need another singer or I need another bass player or this or that and he has a whole box full of people. That?s how it goes, it?s nothing really personal or anything. Usually things change during a period of eight months, people have different commitments.
By the way. Who is playing on that 25th anniversary album?
It?s actually Pete Way on bass from UFO, Jeff Martin from Racer X on drums and myself and a guy from Scandinavia who?s doing the vocals and then the original singers.
That is already done?
Yeah. Right now, we?re working on the vocals, then we?re gonna rearrange it and then I?m gonna be putting my lead breaks in and then we?re gonna glue it together with some little bits and pieces of creating, whatever it needs to make it whole.
What kind of style does it represent?
It?s very riffy.
Is it like 70?s style, maybe?
I cannot? I don?t know. I?m an amateur, when it comes down to analyzing music I?m an amateur. I honestly don?t know much about it, I only know what I do because I always look inside myself for music.
You are too close?
Yeah. I don?t even know what people call it. You have all these technical terms for runs and stuff like that, I don?t understand all of them. For me it?s just music that I enjoy playing, that?s what it is. It?s hard, it?s rocking, it?s loud, distorted, that kind of stuff.
If you compare it to ?Arachnophobiac??
It?s looser than that. Much looser and much more riffy. And it goes from one thing to another, you know. You can actually make three albums out of that one album, that?s how much material is on it.
And that album will be released on GOOTT Records?
Yeah ? G O O T T Records ?laughs?
Do you actually have a record deal with someone else at the moment?
I don?t have any record deals right now.
You split up with SPV?
I only do records on a one record basis. I don?t have to split with anybody.
How about next MSG album, who?s gonna release it?
Usually what happens is: When I make the next ? not the 25 years of MSG record but the next studio album with MSG ? I call somebody up who?s gonna make phonecalls around the world and find out what the offers are. Based on the offers, it?s gonna be the same company or a new company.
Which do you prefer of the two newest MSG albums, ?Be Aware of Scorpions? and ?Arachnophobiac?? They?re kinda the same style?
Same style? They have the same singer ?laughs?
But which one do you prefer more?
Ok our time is running out soon? And there?s so many questions still left? Well let?s take this one. What are your favourite guitar players, your influences?
You mean like in the past? I think probably Eddie Van Halen. He is a great guitar player.
He was the one to create ?the tapping? style?
I don?t even know what it?s called. All I know is that when the first Van Halen album came out, I went on holiday and my friend and I would listen to it every day for six weeks. Like I said before, I don?t know anything about technique. I listen to things on the radio maybe or someone plays something and I don?t know immediately how it?s being done. I don?t analyze it, I just enjoy it. Then later I heard that ?oh, he did it like that? and I?m just ?really??. But he?s still very melodic and he has a lot of taste, of feel, he?s very rhythmic, so I have always enjoyed his playing. But I have not really heard anything lately.
What about some other players, Yngwie Malmsteen for example?
He was great in the beginning. The first time I heard him, he was sensational, but then later he became repetitive. Because he plays so fast, there?s only so much he can do. There?s a lot of feeling missing, not being able to construct your playing in a tasty way. You have to know when it?s too much and when it?s not enough. It?s just kind of uncontrolled. You have to leave holes sometimes, you can?t just play [imitates fast guitar playing]. You can only listen to it so much, then you don?t wanna hear it anymore.
Have you ever played together with him?
I?ve visited him. I?ve been in his place once and I think we played but I was kinda drunk. I don?t remember much, but we?ve never actually played together.
Do you know any Finnish bands or players?
My old manager actually has quite a few Scandinavian bands on his label and when I was looking for a singer after Kelly Keeling, after I did the ?Unforgiven? album with Kelly Keeling and I wanted to go on tour and Kelly pulled out, there was a singer suggested to me. One of them was from Scandinavia, but I don?t know which country. I know that Scandinavian musicians are very good because someone told me there?s not much to do like in Finland and all of those places. It?s just like woods and it?s cold and in some places in Winter it?s just dark all the time. So all they do is either they get stoned or they play music ? or both.
Ok I understand ? ?laughs? Our time is done now? So thanks for your time and see you later!
When I came home one day later I heard that singer Chris Logan was seriously attacked after this show by a someone who?s travelling with a band and he was no longer a member of MSG, and that he?s been replaced by Leif Sundin (ex-MSG, John Norum). Sometimes things do change very quickly?.
Special thanks for MSG tour manager Fransisco
who helped me to get this interview done!