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Michael Schenker interview

Michael Schneker hits the UK later this month to tour supporting Judas Priest.  He’ll be back with his band in January doing a headline tour (see below for tour dates).  A new single has just been released from the current album (Spirit on a mission) – check out the video for “Communion” at the end of this interview

You are on a European tour and tour for a month before you come to the UK.  Presumably you’ll be playing lots of material from your current album?

It’s going to be classics, and it’s going to be new songs.  There’s going to be Scorpions, UFO, MSG and Temple of Rock.  We’re making sure that there are classics for the  people who want to hear the classics, new songs for the people who want to hear new songs and there is going to be a good balance and some will be swapped around with other classics that maybe we didnt play last time.  People always come up and say  why didnt you play this, why didnt you play that?, so because we have a lot of songs to choose from that’s what we will do.

When you tour around the world, do you find that fans in different countries prefer different songs?

I’m sure that can happen, but I haven’t noticed it.  Of course every country has a different culture and reference points, it’s just like different people have different ideas of what they like.

After the European dates you are in the UK to support Judas Priest.

Absolutely, I’m looking forward to that.  We’re coming all the way from Rome studios, recording together.  KK Downing looked like me on stage back then – he had boots on and the curly hair and Flying V.  We have come a long way and it’s great to team up with those guys.

The downside is that as support you get a shorter set to try and fit the songs into.

I know but we are the special guest and we are focussing more ont he new songs this time because we’ll be playing the UK again in January on our headline show where we can do the whole party thing with the classics and everything thrown in.

You’re also playing the Axes and anchors cruise in February.  That looks like an interesting one – lots of great guitarists playing on a cruise.

I did one cruise, I was approached last year and didn’t really want to do it as it was an extreme metal event, but eventually they convinced me to try it and I was pleasantly surprised.  It was pretty incredible scene – 4000 people dressed for metal on a boat.  It was good food and a great atmosphere.  At least once you have to witness this.
I then got approached again, and as it’s a different sort of event, it’s guitar oriented then I said ok lets try it.

And of course it’s in the Caribbean where you’ll enjoy hot sunny weather when it’s cold at home.

I get a holiday at the same time.

You’ve spent so long touring in your career that it must be easy for you knowing what essentials to take with you to make things go smoothly.

I like to live in the moment, I love touring and being on stage these days.  Touring occupies me.  For instance I drive myself, which is a very good meditation tool for me as I’m contemplating while I’m driving, and you’re not being drained by people around you of the energy you need, so a lot of ideas come while I’m driving, I enjoy that.
I have a list of things I need to bring, things for my guitar playing – the little amp and stuff like that, but basically with the driving there’s not much time to do anything else, plus I’m looking forward to the show anyway.

Most bands have someone driving them so have a lot of free time in the bus while travelling.

I know what I need so I designed things that way.  Plus I need to rejevenate, so I need a lot of time where I can peacefully develop.

How many guitars do you normally take on a tour with you?

Four or five.

When you and Doogie wrote Spirit on a mission, did Doogie come up with the lyrical ideas or did you tell him your vision of the song for him to base the lyrics around?

It’s always the same, even with “Bridge the gap”. I have an idea, a concept, I know what I want for this band.  I go into the studio, lay down a skeleton, do my arrangements, then give it to Doogie and in the meantime we’re putting down the bass and drums.  Then Doogie comes back and presents his ideas and we pick what are the best.    I just do the music, and with the addition of Wayne Findlay adding some more seven strings to it. He sends me some riffs, I get inspired, I feel what needs to be done, I write additional parts to it, then Doogie gets it and puts his crazy stuff in to it, and it comes out like something unexected, like “wow that was fun”.

During the recording there was a robbery at the studio.  Did any of the stolen guitars ever get returned?

No, nothing.  No music, ideas, just gone.  You have to accept things and move on.  I look at the lost recording time as a pre-production.

That’s a good attitude to have – it’s so easy to just get upset or frustrated at having lost weeks of work.

Have you started writing for your next album yet? 

I play and discover every day, and Once a year or two years are gone we make a new album.  So when it’s time to make a new record I take my ideas and arrange them into order and then because as lead guitarist I have new sprinkles I can add to it to keep it sounding fresh.  “Bridge the gap” had some seven strings for instance but I knew then we’d use it more in “Spirit on a mission”.  I introduced Wayne Findlay with a song called Neptune rising.  As he loves the water and looks like Neptune with his crazy beard and stuff, I asked Dean to build him a trident guitar so he is now the ocean god on a seven string.
On this album I started to completely involve him in almost half the album.

If you look back you’ve had some impressive musical moments – you’ve been in Scorpions and UFO and were with the Scorpions when they broke America with Lovedrive.

Yeah I’m a frontrunnner.  I don’t listen to any other music for 43 years, I don’t copy anyone since I was 17, I create and invent from within, a spirit on a mission, spreading the joy of music from a place of pure self expression.  I’m always being a helping hand when needed for Scorpions or UFO.  When they’ve needed help I’ve gone back and helped them re-energise.  With Lovedrive, UFO was already on an arena level in the states, and I left the band.  My brother found out about it and asked if I could help out, so I came over to Germany I put my stuff down, and they were so happy they asked me to join.  So I was only there to help out but now I was asked to join the band, so I said ok and went on tour.  After only a couple of weeks I just couldn’t do it and left. I was six and a half years younger and couldn’t face telling them – they’d have just persuaded me, so I felt I had to run away.  My brother came and found me and he begged me, basically he cried and I felt so bad, so I said I’d come back, but after a few days there was just now way I could be there just copying Uli Roth from the last five albums with my vision out of the window and being stuck with my brothers vision.  I’d come to help out but now found myself trapped.  My brother’s vision was to become rich and famous, I wanted to be a great guitarist – those are two different visions, and I wasn’t desperate for fame or riches so for me the joy of playing in the moment is more fulfilling.

I left the Scorpions and then my brother called me from America and asked if he could borrow the black and white guitar design, and I said yes, and he also asked if he could get the whole credit for “Coast to coast” because we co-wrote it, and the intro to “Holiday” so I gave it to him, and I was happy to be free anyway, but at the end of the day basically I never really paid any attention to the writers credits because I played guitar throughout the whole album you know, to strengthen bits and pieces.  I think because I left they were so angry that they started to put down a false story.  I never checked anything till just recently because they’re putting a box set together, and I said “This is the wrong story”.  It says I was playing in Europe from club to club and I was tired of it, and asked my brother if I could rejoin the SCorpions.  Bullshit.  They made up a false story which I hadnt appreciated, but that has been happening all these years – people got fooled by the wrong story.

Is it a case of someone misquoted 20 years ago being taken as fact?

No, they’re writing it in their latest bio, they still write it wrong.  They write it the way they want to see it, not the way it really was.  There’s a true story and there’s the fabricated story, and they use the fabricated story.  I’m telling the truth and they’ll look like fools if they continue telling the wrong story.

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About Ant May

I spend half my life at gigs or festivals and the other half writing the reviews and editing photos, and somehow find time for a full time job too. Who needs sleep - I've got coffee.