Guitar legend Michael Schenker needs no introduction. Known by legions of fans in the rock world, his playing with the Scorpions and UFO was at the forefront of the wave of British heavy metal in the 70’s. Now in his fourth decade of creating music, Michael has just released a new solo acoustic album, simply titled Thank You 4 that continues the progression of the previous three acoustic Thank You releases. In 2003 he also has released ARACHNOPHOBIAC with the Michael Schenker Group. Earlier this year, Michael created some news when he decided to leave UFO and give up his rights to the band name. To say the least, the past year has been a very busy and hectic year for Michael. Now getting ready to go out on a short tour to support both releases, Michael was up to the task to do an interview to promote the tour, talk about exactly what did happen that led to him leaving UFO, and a number of other things to wet the fans appetite.
RAG – I’m going to start off with throwing out some of your past projects and you hit me back with some quick memories of that project.
Michael Schenker – Sounds good!
RAG – The Scorpions…
MS – I was only 15 years old on the first Scorpions album. It was unbelievable and exciting because I never had made a record before. I basically wrote most of the songs, but we decided to call them all a teamwork kind of thing. It was definitely an exciting part of my life.
RAG – UFO…..
MS – UFO was the next exciting step. I was 17 years old and leaving Germany. I was going to a place where I really didn’t speak the language and making a record with an English band. English bands were the bands everyone was listening to in those days.
RAG – How did you end up joining UFO?
MS – We (The Scorpions and UFO) did a concert together and UFO came without a guitarist. The Scorpions were supporting UFO. UFO could only do the show if I played with the Scorpions and then do the next set with them. I went with Pete Way and we rehearsed the set. I played 45 minutes with the Scorpions and then played for an hour with UFO. That was what got me in the band.
RAG – The Michael Schenker Group….
MS – MSG was basically the beginning of my own chapter of experimenting, just being myself doing what I love to do. Obviously, it was a chapter of many changes. It was basically really being able to experience what I needed to experience. That was the most thing for me. It was more important than being famous, being rich, or anything. Just to be totally free and uninhibited to express what I felt like I needed to express, regardless of if it was going to be a commercial success or not.
RAG – McAuley/Schenker….
MS – That was, for me, an important move. I felt like that I needed a partner to share responsibilities with. I was looking for a singer who would be like a partner. It wasn’t what I thought it could be. So after three albums, I decided to finish that idea and open my own company – Michael Schenker Records.
RAG – Contraband….
MS – That was something that was supposed to fill the gap between the second and third McAuley/Schenker albums. I was approached by the management to do this and I said “Yes” and it was pretty good.
RAG – The Plot….
MS – That was absolutely fun. Pete Way came over and he was in a bad place because of his wife passing away and so on. He introduced his songs to me. It didn’t take long when I felt that I liked what he had. So we decided to do this thing together and it worked out really good. Unfortunately, somebody decided to secretly release the Plot record. After Pete has sold his car and everything he had, in order to make this record, some jerk decides to do this kind of a thing. That wasn’t very good. It could have been somebody right next to us. It has to be somebody who was involved because no one else had anything. You never know with all of this stuff. Somebody who had the courage to do this could be somebody maybe closer than we think.
RAG – The current Amy Schugar/Schenker project….
MS – That’s absolutely fun. I met Amy at a concert. I saw her hanging next to the stage with a guitar and she was singing. She had this really interesting voice. We started hanging out together. I started writing a song for her. She did something to it and it was really good. I wrote some more and I realized we had a really good chemistry. It developed and then we came to the point of going into the studio and putting it together. At that point, we kind of looked at each other like “What now?” We basically decided to offer to record companies. In the meantime, we thought it would be a good idea to release it the way it is. Everybody on my brother’s side (Michael’s brother plays guitar for the Scorpions) loved it. Everybody he played it to/for was absolutely amazed by it. They said “What do you mean this is a demo? It sounds so good.” The way it is it is really a record. But, it can be taken to another level. It’s kind of an in between thing right now. We decided to release it anyway. We’re kind of approaching it in two different situations. One is that a record company may get interested in it and want to take it to the next level. Or two, it is just what it is and it stays there.
RAG – Amy will be going out on the current tour with you?
MS – Yes. I’m going to put her in the middle somewhere and have her come out and jam with MSG. She plays really good guitar. She’s an excellent singer. She’s an absolutely incredible songwriter. I really love the way she writes the melodies. I’m happy to give her a good push.
RAG – You have a massive catalog of songs. Does it come easier to you to write songs now after all of these years?
MS – You know what? In the last few years I’ve had a really good time writing. I’ve never enjoyed writing as much as I do now. It’s actually become my most favorite thing to do. To watch the birth of a song develop is amazing. What I don’t like so much is to repeat it or recapture it. For example, when I’ve already written something I don’t like to go into the same studio and recapture it with the same enthusiasm, etc. What usually happens is that I introduce the songs to the band and the producer. In the case of the new record ARACHNOPHOBIAC, I introduced it to the producer Mike Varney. Who I’ve been working with for the last few years. He always turns everything around and it becomes something new. It’s still exciting. I still put a lot of energy and understanding into the twist. It’s always really enjoyable to watch the process up to the point of a project being done. Then usually I go on to the next project. I think I have found a very conscious connection to a spring of infinite creation.
RAG – The Thank You releases are really a testament to your playing and writing abilities.
MS – Those releases are very naked and raw. Especially with the acoustic guitar. It’s the other side of me. It’s the romantic or the spiritual side. To be able to play music hard or soft and everything in between is the whole spectrum of music. I want to be able to express the whole spectrum of music. Because, if you get locked in with one band that plays a particular style, especially if they become famous, they can’t do anything other than what people expect them to do. It can get very boring that way.
RAG – Why did Jeff Watson (Night Ranger) have to finish up the ARACHNOPHOBIAC album?
MS – We did the whole session in three steps. It was done first in the San Francisco area, then in Las Vegas, then back to San Francisco. I did basically all my parts. After the vocals were done, it came down to meeting for the mix and overdubs. I had some problems of my own going on. It was due to the unresolved issues I was going through with my wife. I really wasn’t doing too well at the time. I decided that it would be better to do it with someone else if they (the band and the producer) wanted to get it finished. Mike Varney found Jeff. I didn’t know it was going to be Jeff. Mike knows so many musicians. Mike asked him and completed it. That’s basically what happened. When Mike Varney starts making a record, usually his budget and schedule is so perfectly worked out that if you put a hole in it or try to delay things it really screws him up. That played heavy into the mix of things.
RAG – Why did you sell your trademark flying V guitar?
MS – I actually sold three of my guitars. Basically, because of the separation of my wife and everything totally collapsed on me. I built a studio and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Everything just went poof! And that was it. Now I’m back to square one. But you know? Life is not so much what you have, but how you deal with life and what you learn from all of these fallings. I think that’s much more important because there are lessons in those situations which I am more interested in. It’s kind of like practicing a detachment. Detachment is important in life because when we get too attached that’s when suffering comes in.
RAG – Why did you decide to give up the UFO band name?
MS – Phil Mogg approached me and said, “Please give us back the name. We need to earn money.” I don’t know what that meant. We’ve had so many disasters in the last few years. Pete was getting totally out of control onstage. He doesn’t listen. He’s a sweet guy but he gets so obnoxious. He stands in my way and trips on my feet. He’s just messing around too much. Somebody has to take it a little bit serious in order to keep the whole thing together. Can you imagine if everybody would mess around like Pete does? There wouldn’t be any music. Especially, when I tried to introduce Pete and the Plot to the MSG fans. Pete was so bad it was very embarrassing for me. It kind of really totally distracted me from my band. It was becoming chaotic. So when Phil approached me, I went “What the heck. I think it’s time for me to get away from this” I feel a little bit like a snake when the old skin comes off. Kind of like a reborn type of a situation. I’m starting from scratch with my fan club, having no other people involved anymore, getting rid of all the sharks, and all the stuff that’s trying to sabotage my life.
RAG – With your connection to Germany and Europe, how would you compare the music scene there to here in America?
MS – Germany and Europe is a little bit more stable than here (America). They don’t change styles too fast. Rock music, hard rock, heavy rock, metal, anything on that level is still going pretty strong over there. America gets influenced differently because there’s a different trend out here. You have all the rap and all of that here. That’s really not present over in Germany and Europe. I’m only assuming this stuff though. Rap is much bigger here than in Europe. You cannot not notice it though. Once something becomes big in America it usually travels around the world. But, I think Germany and Europe has pretty much stayed in tune with the rock scene.
RAG – What lies ahead for you?
MS – I still feel very young. Towards music nothing has really changed. I’m basically who I’ve always been all these years. I’m just having fun doing what I’m doing. Period. Now with Amy in there, I feel excited for her. She is basically a new artist. She’s really good. I really enjoy helping her out and getting her out there. I also have a new web page that I want everyone to check out. www.michaelschenkerhimself.com I really didn’t put much thought into it. It’s not really a web page to show off or anything like that right now. I needed one to promote my new record. Amy has put much more thought into her website www.amyschugar.com (tour dates for the current MSG tour can be found there and the Schenker/Schugar demo project can be ordered there as well). I’m going to take it in steps though and add more things to my site to make it much better. After the current tour, I’ll definitely start updating the site.