I spoke to Rudolf Schenker, founder of legendary rock band The Scorpions, to talk about their new album “Return to forever” and their live shows including their first UK date in 8 years at this year’s Ramblin’ Man festival.
This year is the 50th anniversary of you founding The Scorpions. Fifty years without splitting is a pretty amazing feat that very few bands have ever managed.
Yes but you know when I started the band I was very much attracted by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and all the British wave that came over and affected me in a way that as a naive person, a young kid, I saw four or five friends travelling around the world and making music, and I said “I want to do the same thing”. I was so affected by this friendship thing that I saw from afar (sometimes later on I found out things aren’t always like this) but with The Scorpions I tried to get this vibe throughout the years because I believe more in friendship than in ego and money.
So I think this is the reason why the band is still standing and why the band even when coming from Germany, from a small place called Sarstedt could make it worldwide despite coming from this small place in Germany. Germany was not known for bringing Rock music out but you know when you have the right vision and you have the right team then you can make it. I was always working and always thinking for a great team, that’s the most important point. You know how soup tastes like – if you find the wrong thing in the soup then it tastes terrible, but if the soup is cooked in the right way and everything is perfect then the soup is a delicate thing to eat.
To live in a band like the Scorpions, we are travelling around the world and making music, showing people around the world, here is a new generation coming from Germany, they’re coming not with tanks and making war, but they’re coming with guitars and bringing love. That was our philosophy and is why “Winds of change” came, and why we are standing on three feeds, Love, peace and Rock’n’Roll. Love is represented by “Still loving you”, “Peace” by “Winds of change” and Rock’n’Roll by “Rock you like a hurricane”. So that is what it’s all about, building bridges between generations, between different systems, between continents and religions.
Something I’ve noticed at Scorpions concerts, there isn’t just one generation of fans there – you have the older fans who remember the early days and you have new young fans too.
We have now almost six and a half million friends on Facebook, and around 80% of them are between 16 and 28. When we first saw them in front of the stage when we are playing we couldn’t understand what was happening. I think digital on the one hand is bad and the other good. Here we have the good side, the young kids are going on sites like YouTube and seeing a band playing on stage sounding like a young band and reacting like a young band, and saying to themselves that they want to go and see the band, so here we are and that’s the reason why the farewell tour did so well, and the reason why MTV came to us and asked us to do this MTV Unplugged thing in Greece. That’s the reason why we’re still doing the 50 years tour, and a new album.
I found a book of my Mother’s from when I started the band in September 1965, and in the book was written exactly the income, because I had to pay the house back to my father and the rest of pocket money. I saw in there that it was in September 1965 that I started The Scorpions, and that is why the Bonus track album that we thought we would do as a present for the fans as a Goodbye, changed into a new album. Our manager came and said he had asked promoters around the world what they thought about a Fiftieth anniversary tour and they went crazy, so I said we had to do a new album, because we can’t do a bonus track album for a tour. Then we found that the bonus tracks had such great material that we just had to change a few choruses, lyrics and stuff and we put a new album together out of the good stuff from the late 70s and early 80s and also some new stuff like “We built this house” which is the story of The Scorpions – we built a house on rock, and also the kind of rock and roll band “Gypsy life”, “Rock my car” is the kind of stuff from experience on the road.
With the new stuff coming in like “Rock this house”, “Rock my car” is an old one, “Going out with a bang” is a new one, so we put this thing together as a fifty-fifty, connecting the old world of The Scorpions and the latest one. It was produced by these Swedish guys, Mikael and Martin. Mikael was growing up in Northern Sweden and his first album was “In Trance” and he is so connected to the DNA of the Scorpions because he became a Scorpions fan, that by working with us on “Sting in the tail” he gave us really the right things back to think about, and that is why many people say the album is the connection between “Love at first sting” and “Savage Amusement”. It’s a great example of how if we are happy then the fans around the world are also happy. We now have three things in our mind here – the new album, the film, and Fifty years of the band – it’s three things again. It’s fantastic where we are now.
How do you approach writing on the album – do you all write separately or do you come up with ideas then work on them together?
It’s a combination of them. My studio is here where we do most stuff. With “Sting in the tail” and also earlier stuff, Klaus built his own studio for doing the vocals, and sometimes we play live concerts in the recording, so you’re always connected between the real world and the studio world. That’s the best thing when you come back from life and you listen to what you did before and say “That’s great” or “no we went too far” because to be connected to the fans is the best thing you can do. You can write the best album in the world but if you write it only for you it’s not good. So in this case we were always connected and I think that’s one of the special things about this album.
As well as the album, you’ve got a film coming out – Forever and a day. Can you tell us a bit about the film?
We have been approached before by people wanting to do a film about the Scorpions but we always had the feeling that no, it’s not the right people, until Mr Beusenberg from ZDF and RTE came along. He said “The Scorpions have had such a great career and you’re doing the farewell tour now. We want to be a part of it and show the history of the band and also the tour”.
So we first of all started in Thailand, then the original producer had to do something else but we got a woman called Katja von Garnier. She is known for the film “Bandits” which is known around the world, so she was going behind the mask of The Scorpions – you’re not seeing the macho rock and roll face, you’re seeing a sensitive person behind that face, so she pulled something out of the Scorpions which made it appeal to fans and also people who don’t like this sort of thing. We let her very close to the band, and while making the film she found lots of material, Super 8 stuff from the 70s, I don’t know about the 60’s but certainly the early 70’s and the 80’s. I don’t know where she found this material, but in the end she put this whole thing together about our career.
The film was done for the farewell concerts, but because we had so many things changing – we got the offer of MTV Unplugged by getting into the situation that a new generation of fans were coming to the concerts, so there came a twist into the film, that we weren’t coming to the final concert, we were coming closer to the situation of “Why are we doing the final concert?, why are we ending? Going forward what will come up by doing the MTV Unplugged, thing”. Then we came to the book, the bonus track/no bonus track album – the book said fifty years and we came to the fifty years, and all of that went into the film.
The film is about the career of the little band coming from Sarstedt and from Germany and friendship an outstanding career, presenting German rock from a different side.
How does it feel knowing you have inspired other bands, particularly from Germany – a country that wasn’t known for rock music when you started but now has produced many great bands?
What can I say? That’s the great thing about this family of young rock kids because in our world where you see DJs and so much plastic around, you see kids enjoying rock music. That’s what it’s all about. Being a rock musician is a lifestyle, it’s not only being a musician, it’s being part of a lifestyle, and seeing these young kids and seeing many new bands from Germany coming out and presenting their music, it’s fantastic. It’s global, it’s the part which maybe can bring the world closer together.
Young kids have to learn that war and all this shit and whatever is happening is not as important as peace, and if you’re making music you are bringing people together and that’s a great thing. That’s what we tried when we started in the late 70s playing internationally. We were always looking for young fresh bands to put them as our support on tour, bands like Blackfoot, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Iron Maiden, Girlschool, and..and… We always were looking for new bands that maybe have a great future in rock. I think it’s great when we help and inspire people.
I remember in 77 my brother called me from Los Angeles, because he was playing with UFO then in America and he was living in Los Angeles and he said “Rudolf, why are you not playing in America, it’s unbelievable. There are clubs in Los Angeles playing Scorpions like crazy, and there’s even a band called Van Halen that are playing Scorpions stuff like “Speedy’s coming” and “Catch your train”. So when we saw Black Sabbath in 78 and the opening band was Van Halen, and Klaus and I were sitting in the fourth row, Eddie Van Halen saw us from the stage and after they left the stage, he came over the rows to us and said “Unbelievable, you guys come on backstage”. We went backstage and on the same day in Hamburg, we were celebrating David Lee Roth’s birthday when both the Van Halen brothers were smashing a cake in David Lee Roth’s face.
In this case we are a big rock and roll family and that’s fantastic, and that’s what we want to do, inspiring German bands to go out in the world playing music and inspire the whole world with music.
You’re playing the Ramblin’ Man festival in the UK this summer. If my memory is right, it’s the first time you’ve played the UK since 2008.
We really weren’t happy about that long gap, because our manager who died recently he had the philosophy of ok we don’t want to break your market to make special prices or stuff like this. We want to play where the fans are, and fans want us in England but maybe for our manager it wasn’t good enough but now he’s died, we’re using a slightly different philosophy. We want to play in England so we told our agent, ITB, that and he said he promised to bring us to England.
I actually played slightly later than 2008 in England – I played on stage with my brother when he played High Voltage festival in 2011. I played with him at that festival when Herman played drums, and Pete Way was there but I think he only played one song, and the owner from Dean Guitars played bass then on one guitar was the blond guy from Germany who was the producer for Michael’s album. It was great to be in England again at a festival with my brother.
What can the UK fans expect from a Scorpions festival headline show?
This 50th anniversary tour will be a tour where we go from “Lonesome crow” up to the new album. We try to make a perfect mix including songs we never played or haven’t played recently, and of course new stuff like “Going out with a bang” or maybe “We built this house”, or “Rock my car” or maybe “Gypsy life”, I don’t know how we will mix it together – we’re working on it at the moment, but not so intense because we’re doing a lot of interviews at the moment because the world is big and everyone is in charge. What I know is that we will start this Fiftieth anniversary tour in China on the first of May. That’s our first gig and we are very excited because we’ve never played in China and it’s great that we break new ground and start a tour by playing places where we haven’t played before.
You’ve got tour dates right up to the end of the year, so you don’t look to have slowed down too much.
We’re touring for two years – we’ll do the whole tour in two years. This whole thing, the new fans, the creativity, the reflection of the new album, the film, it kicks out ass. The good thing is what we didn’t know when we started the Farewell tour is that we’re still so fit and so full of power that we are really excited. I don’t know how extreme we can do it. We told our booking agency not to book too many dates in a row, so we really enjoy the tour. This year of the fiftieth anniversary, we really want to enjoy it. We have to take care that on one hand we have a good time, on the other we can reach the fans and everyone enjoys it.
That has to be important because if you’re not enjoying it then it doesn’t come across so well to the audience.
Exactly, it must be the right mixture, which is why we said to make sure we have enough breaks in between that we can enjoy it, be on the road and think back about special events or maybe special times in these places, maybe go to London, it’s always a fantastic place to be. Having time in between and not rushing and trying to do five concerts in a row and then breaking down – the right mixture is important. After China we go to Poland and Czech republic, then we go to Belarus, a along tour in Russia, then Italy, and England, Hellfest in France, and more. It’s a long tour but we will find the right mix.