Interview and pictures by Marko Syrjala
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 on 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, UFO. Together with that classic line-up, they released a bunch of classic albums like LIGHTS 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 then, there have been many albums released by MSG, UFO reunion in the mid 90?s and many different albums and projects that Michael has been a part of. I had a chance to meet him on his tour bus in Stockholm after the band’s excellent 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 still a part of the “Arachnophobiac” -tour?
Yeah. We started like last November, and we’ve toured almost for a year now, with breaks in between. It’s the “Arachnophobia” -a world tour. That’s what we’re doing until we make another record, then we tour again, and that’s going to be that tour.
Then I have some questions about your latest album, ARACHNOPHOBIAC. First of all, is it true that you didn’t play all the guitar parts on the album?
Yeah. What happened was I had 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 recorded 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 kind of 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 worried about it, because I know that Mike knows what he needs to be doing.
Did you know anything about Jeff? Did you listen to Night Ranger or his other past bands?
I have bumped into Jeff, and I’m sure I have heard Night Ranger 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 consciously aware of it. I know that Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson were together in one band because Ozzy Osbourne asked me to join after Randy crashed, and then they got Brad Gillis in.
Did they ask 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. 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.
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, it means “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, crisis, and 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 anyone, 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 going to be putting all this news on there. The items from the past I’m going to change, all this stuff is going to get sent over there, and they’re going to create a store.
Will the new company release the next Michael Schenker Group album?
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 for doing this with this guy. It’s going to be called TALES OF ROCK ‘N ROLL. It’s going to be one big piece, just like ADVENTURES OF THE IMAGINATIONbut with vocals, and it’s going to go from one thing to another. Then we’re going to put in some of the original singers, Graham Bonnett, Kelly Keeling, Robin McAuley, and Chris Logan; they all want to 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 going to 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 look at things and see where I’m at with everything and understand what I need to be doing. It’s way too early for me now. There is a plan to do the next studio album around 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 wanted to thank 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 got excited about it because it was very basic and 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 radio station doors and 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 with. 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 very positive, that keeps people calm and doesn’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 going to come out of it, but then you look back, and you go like, “Well, this is important.” So the THANK YOU album series, or whatever you call, 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 side of Michael.
You also did a couple of other instrumental albums, which are electronic.
Yeah, DREAMS AND EXPRESSIONS and ADVENTURES OF THE IMAGINATION
What’s the story behind those albums?
Well, I’ve always wanted to make an instrumental album, like an electric instrumental, for years and years and years, ever since I was… I don’t know, even remember. 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, wherever that is. That’s what I wanted to do. I thought 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 it. ADVENTURES OF THE IMAGINATION going from one place to another without stopping, I did the same thing. But DREAMS AND EXPRESSIONS is rockier; it’s different. It’s somehow very different, but it’s one of my favorite albums. ?Dreams and expressions? are 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 kind of 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 that I couldn’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 was 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 jewelry and all this kind of stuff. I have people helping me, I don’t really know much about computers, but the important basics 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.
Last spring, there one annoying rumor circulated that you were seriously ill and would never be able to play guitar again. What was that all about?
I have no idea. That’s between you guys. Whoever gossips, keep it going, make up your own stories, whatever. I’m saying that there will always be people who love gossip and others who may not love gossip that much. It comes in all sizes. You cannot stop that. The Internet is a tool. People that are addicted to gossip, 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 made it so exciting to get enough applause from the people listening. It’s up to you guys what you want to do with that.
You have just released a new DVD called WORLDWIDE LIVE 2004.
Are you fully satisfied with the results?
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, which I liked much more. It had much better shots than they put together. Compared to the working tape, the final DVD that came out was 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 it. 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 good equipment, I’ve been told you should have it on 2 points something, and with great equipment, you should have it at 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 saw the final for the first time, I would have judged it differently. When I made the comparison, I was already burned out. You can only watch something so many times, but it is very exciting when you see it for the first time. So I wondered 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 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 points 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 at that one.
Do you have any plans to release some vintage MSG stuff in 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, 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 favorite 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 were a lot of other people involved with the songwriting.
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 just to 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 the UNPLUGGED album you did together with Robin McAuley?
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 someday?
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 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 band 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 the text 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 the 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 were gonna be singing and that it would be cover versions and so on, and I said like, “Yeah, let’s 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 came up at 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 at the end of December.
Which songs do you have on that album?
I let Mike Varney choose them because there are so many songs. I don’t want to get into that. I prefer another person picking the songs, and I don’t even want to know the songs. I just want to hear it and then do it. I don’t want to be influenced or anything. I just want to 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 history, Michael Schenker Group has had so many lineups, and you have said that the current lineup is your favorite one so far?
Yeah, it is. Because it’s fun, it must be my favorite. I’m having fun being on stage with these guys. But then again, it could also be 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 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 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 ARACNOPHOBIAC?
It’s looser than that. Much looser and much riffier. 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 have a record deal with someone else at the moment?
I don’t have any record deals right now.
Did you split up with SPV?
I only do records on a one-record basis. I don’t have to split with anybody.
How about the next MSG album? Who’s going to release it?
Usually, what happens is: When I make the next one, not the 25 years of MSG record, but the next studio album with MSG? I call somebody up who’s gonna make phone calls around the world and find out what the offers are. Based on the offers, it’s going to be the same company or a new company.
Ok, our time is running out soon? And there are so many questions still left? Well, let’s take this one. What are your favorite guitar players, who are your influences?
You mean like in the past? I think probably Eddie Van Halen. He is a great guitar player.
He was the one who created the guitar 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 feeling, he’s very rhythmic, so I have always enjoyed his playing. But I have not 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 want to 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 has quite a few Scandinavian bands on his label. When I was looking for a singer after Kelly Keeling after I did the UNFORGIVEN the album with Kelly Keeling and I wanted to go on tour, Kelly pulled out. There were singers 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 Finland and all 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. 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 someone who’s traveling 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 to MSG tour manager Fransisco who helped me to get this interview done!