Hello, Michael. Greetings from Athens, Greece and Metal Invader.
Your 50th Anniversary album, “Immortal” stands out. Such a powerful album by all means. Where did the title idea come from?
Actually the title of the album came from Nuclear Blast’s founder, Markus Staiger. He realized that over the years, approximately 80% of Nuclear Blast’s regular customers were Michael Schenker’s fans. He claimed that if it weren’t for me, the label wouldn’t have existed in the first place, so they decided (taking into consideration my 50 -year career) that the perfect title for the new album should be “Immortal”.
Your previous albums of Michael Schenker Fest era were also top notch albums. Yet again, things commercially haven’t gone so well for the Fest project. Why do you think this has happened? Besides that, does it really matter to you? I mean, at the end of the day, is it all about commercial success, or is it ethical satisfaction and having fun playing that surpasses everything else?
Exactly, I’ve always chosen to be like a kid in the sandbox, I love to play and discover, I don’t compete, I don’t compare, I don’t do it for success, I don’t do it for fame, I never look for anything like that, I’m just having fun, sitting in my sandbox, putting three notes together, creating acoustics, and making myself happy and other people along with me too.
“Immortal” seems to follow the pattern of two previous Michael Schenker Fest’s records, featuring a big list of friends and guests. Besides you, the album was recorded along with Mann, Sparks, Schopf, Philipps, Tichy, and Sherinian, while on vocals we have Joe Lynn Turner, Ralf Scheepers, even Michael Voss, with the uprising Chilean Ronnie Romero, standing out as the main vocalist. How did you actually pick up your cast? How do you manage to reach a solid and unified outcome, given that every single one of them has its own musical identity/ style?
Yeah… actually the original idea was … Well … I discovered that my fiftieth anniversary was coming up, and I wanted to celebrate that with tons of friends, but it was so complicated to get musicians from all over the world together that I thought it was just a waste of time, because I simply couldn’t make it on time. I was fifteen years old when I booked my first record, and I actually gave up on the idea, when my agent called and said to me “Michael the first album came out in 1972”, so I realized that I’ve got two extra years to get it all together. I wanted to put together a compact album, and to make it simple, make it a humble 50th anniversary, and get it out there. So I asked Ronnie Romero, that was singing as a guest in Michael Schenker Fest project, that has a fantastic voice anyway, if he would sing the whole album and he said yes. After returning from 70.000 tons of metal cruise to UK, I finished all my compositions and then I turned on the TV and I realized the Pandemic was about to become a huge problem for us as well. I used to drive through Eurotunnel to reach Michael Voss’s studio in Germany, but everything was blocked. I found an alternative route via boat till Holland, from where I drove to Germany. Everything was set but Romero had trouble getting there. Amy (Schugar) came up with the idea of using as an alternative Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear’s singer). Next day recording was on. Also, one of the best drummers in the world, Brian Tichy (ex Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne), called and said he was willing to contribute to my anniversary album as well (offering over six glam tracks). Actually, Tichy informed me that Derek Sherinian was interested too. I was a bit concerned about how the collaboration would turn out with such heavy sound players… you know… if they could fit in naturally on the new album. So, along with Voss we decided that with Sherinian, we’re gonna try something new/fresh, like a special guitar-keyboard coalition song for the 50nth anniversary. The outcome, “Drilled to kill” track, was a blast. I was blown away by Scheepers’ voice. Meanwhile, Ronnie Romero wasn’t still able to come, and Voss suggested that Joe Lynn Turner should join us, and I was thrilled even with the idea because Turner is one of my favorite singers. And that was it, Voss got in touch with him and next day Joe Lynn was recording another song for the album. For “Queen of thorns and Roses” track I encouraged my co-producer Michael (Voss) to sing on this one, and I was so excited with the outcome. So, there were still several songs left for Romero that finally managed to join us and he did, as expected, a fantastic job. He contributed to “Knight of the dead”, “Sail the darkness”, “In Search Of The Peace Of Mind”, “Come on over”, and of course to the bonus track –with Tichy on drums – that will be used as a promotion single for the upcoming tour.
Your new album is released a year after “Revelation”, that also came out, right after “Resurrection”. For almost thirty years you release pretty much one album per year or so. How do you keep yourself so productive and creative? Where does all this inspiration come from?
Well, I am a kid in a sandbox, I love to play and discover, I just want to be myself. Early in life I discovered that creativity derives from within us. I was very fortunate to realize that I am a creator and not a consumer, that there was no point in copying the people that I loved and was inspired by, like Jeff Beck. I mean, they have already done what they ‘ve done, I wanted to do something that comes from within myself, something innovative. I was never afraid, never competing, never looking for fame, never comparing, and never looking for success or being in the limelight, I just wanted to have fun playing and creating music, just putting three notes together and then waiting for a chemical reaction to happen, and it happened most of the times. By making the decision to stay away from listening to music, I understood very early in life that If I was only overexposed to someone else’s music, I wouldn’t have been able to reach the infinite spring of creativity. Dave Mustaine said about “Phenomenon” (UFO’s album) that he had never heard anything like that before. Well people may say that I’m old-school, but no …. I’m new school …. I’ve always been creative (Mustaine and Hammett admitted so too). The reason for that is because I’ve never copied from another track, I was always creating the track and I formed another generation, a new kind of musical approach. I injected something fresh that inspired the new generation and even became a flagship for major (thrash) metal bands. I cut myself off of the outside world – on the consumer level- and I’m glad for doing so because that’s how I released that freshness comes from within.
“Immortal” features ten tracks, including “In Search Of The Peace Of Mind” as well. This was your first ever written piece of music, and was recorded and included to Scorpions’ “Lonesome Crow” album, back in 1972. Can you tell as more about this attempt to re-record this song for your 50th anniversary album? What does it stand for, for you?
“In Search Of The Peace Of Mind” became the most important song of the album, because it was the very first note I’ve ever put on a record. It was also my very first original composition, I was 15 years old, when I wrote it. Scorpions though, credited themselves for it, Rudolf (Schenker) also credited the lyrics of it, but I wrote it all by myself. How could this have happened? I mean back at the time both Rudolf and I had zero knowledge of English, it’s a complete misinformation. Music credits on the record should have been under my name only, and lyrics’ credits on whoever did actually write them. Anyway, the song’s title became the theme of my life, because I was always looking for fulfillment, peace, and contentment. The lead part was played so perfectly right from the start that I wouldn’t change it for a thousand years, I do know now that it came from the heart. I was an amateur, a teenager, I was developing, but yet again these deep breaks sounded so perfect. So for these reasons, this song became so important for me to re- record and make it an epic one, so I added a new solo section and I brought in all the emotions I could think of. With the new solo, it is like I am having a conversation with myself about everything I have done in music and about my philosophy in life. After all, with guitars it’s like having a real conversation, questioning and answering at the same time. I was absolutely blown away by the outcome, I couldn’t imagine that it would be this amazing with such a nice chorus part, so I had the perfect ending for the album.
As a true believer of “play and discover” songwriting approach, do you still consider that broadening your musical horizons, does not compare to your “seeking inspiration from within” motto? How easy do you think it is for a young guitarist to embrace that, within our “Spotify/YouTube” world, to form an original and signature sound of his own? Your son is in the industry too… what would you advise him for example?
First of all, I would advise him and everybody else out there, to ask themselves this question, “Do you wanna be famous? Do you wanna have a piece of the pie of the stereotype sound which makes all the money in the industry? Do you seek success and commercial acknowledgment, or are you an artist and you want to create what is you?” You know… nothing is right or wrong, all we have to do is make decisions about what makes us happy. Be careful though on what you wish for cause this is what you’ ll get. After asking yourself “Who am I?”, “What will fulfill me in the end?” and finally answer, then despite any complications that may come up, you’ll still stay true to yourself and be there for fulfillment of your soul, cause that’s gonna stay forever. And this is exactly what will make you stand out to the external world. If you are looking for instant publicity, I tell you, this is just an illusion, that will die sooner or later, and there will be nothing left out there for you anymore. So you should create something that derives from you. Some people don’t have the confidence to chase that because they think other people wouldn’t love what they are about to do. Forget about it, do what you love and if you have people who embrace that well, that’s the icing on the cake, and then on top of that you will be fulfilled and happy.
Like you ’ve already mentioned, you are always battling for creativity. Is there any project that you haven’t yet experimented with, something that you’d still want to give a try?
I’ve done everything, that’s why I declined Ozzy Osbourne, I love Ozzy, but I told him I’m sorry I can’t. I had just left UFO, which would have been one of the greatest bands of the world you know, I could have stayed, but I left. Scorpions as well, asked me to help them with the “Lovedrive” album at the time, to open doors to America for them, but I didn’t follow Rudolf and Klaus, I couldn’t, I decided that I wanted to route a path of my own. And you know, in the middle years -that was when everything happened- that’s when I experimented with doing electric instrumentals, acoustic instrumentals, and it turned out that Michael Schenker Groups’ first albums were fantastic ones, and overall I did everything that I wanted to do. I was overflown with creativity, I would never have done that with Scorpions/Ozzy/Motorhead/Deep Purple/Whitesnake, I wouldn’t have done that, if I had stayed in the Lovedrives’ tour and hadn’t declined Scorpions, I wouldn’t be happy today, wouldn’t have been fulfilled. So I’m pretty sure I have done everything I wanted, but in any case I still have a complete free space to do everything I may desire in the future, I’ve earned that.
In my opinion, guitar is the most expressive instrument of all. Could you envision yourself playing anything else but guitar?
Guitar is the most perfect instrument for purest self-expression, especially the electric guitar with distortion pedal. Because of that combination, well you can give a note, it stays forever, and you can work on top of it, you can build it up doing all sorts of things, trying as many times as you want. It’s the most perfect instrument for me.
Is Flying V your alter ego?
Flying V came to me; I didn’t look for it! (laughter) Actually, I was playing generally with Les Paul. I had a gig with Scorpions back in the very early days, and somehow my Les Paul was locked up somewhere, and so I accidentally fell upon a Flying V, and then I immediately discovered that the wings fitted perfectly through my legs and it all came so naturally. That’s when I discovered that V was meant to be a stable rock between my legs, that would control my body perfectly (Kirk Hammett had asked me about that too). The position that I chose though – putting V through the legs – and the way that my body stood because of that was making people laugh at me, saying “Michael you look like you wanna go to the toilet” (laughter). At the end of the day this guitar shaped my image.
What about your near-future plans, are there any, considering all the inconvenience caused by the Pandemic?
My agent is working very hard at this point and it’ s time for arranging some events. The whole world has gone crazy about the new album, we ‘re getting phone calls from everywhere, and it’s probably gonna be, at the age of 66, the longest/ biggest touring in my whole carrier. We have already booked four shows with special guest Doro Pesch in the UK, and other five shows in the rest of Europe. Russia is showing up as well, and I can imagine Australia will be on our plans for the first time, North America, USA, Japan same. So everybody is ready, putting the tour together and I can only see that this will be the longest tour I’ve ever done. And I must tell you, you know, I had never played a three hours show before, until I was sixty. I keep wondering why I had to reach the age of sixty to do that (laughter). The older I get, the more I have to do, it’s unbelievable, but I cannot complain, it keeps me alive after all.
The floor is yours. Any greetings or special call for your fans in Greece?
Keep on rocking, and who knows, maybe we’ ll catch up in Greece.
That would be great! It was a pleasure.