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A Personal Revelation: And Exclusive Interview With MICHAEL SCHENKER

By Shelly Harris, Chicago Contributor
Wednesday, August 28, 2019 @ 8:25 AM


"If I write a book all about myself, without any reservations, and everything out, I am not going to be able to release it, because my mother might have trouble with her neighbors!"

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Live Photos By Travis Failey

Michael Schenker, indisputably one of the most influential guitarists in the hard rock/heavy metal realm, is remarkably at the top of his game almost 50 years into a career that began with the SCORPIONS in his early teens.

In fact, on the eve of the September 20, 2019 release of the second MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST studio album, Revelation, he may well be exceeding his pinnacle with early SCORPIONS, Strangers in the Night era UFO and Assault Attack era MSG (MICHAELE SCHENKER GROUP and MCCAULEY-SCHENKER GROUP).

Certainly, his career and personal life have had many ups and downs over the 35-plus years that I have interviewed him (dating back to an unforgettable performance at a rock club called Beginnings in the suburbs of Chicago in 1983), but no one has ever doubted his creative genius. He is often philosophical about it all, and, although he clearly recognizes himself as a "rockstar", there is actually very little rockstar jadedness or pomp in his interviews, or his MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST tours of recent years, where his playing and demeanor reflect a palpable creative joy and inspiration.

From his current home in England, he discusses his next career turn with MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST, which continues to feature vocalists and collaborators Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet, Robin McAuley, and Doogie White (plus a guest spot by vocalist Ronnie Romero), along with keyboard/guitarist Steve Mann and Chris Glen on bass. Michael Voss also returns as co-producer and collaborator, with Simon Phillips and Bodo Schopf sharing drumming duties after the sudden and unexpected passing of drumming great Ted McKenna earlier this year.

KNAC.COM: You just recently finished touring for the first MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST studio album, Resurrection, and this second album, Revelation, has a slight delay in its release. Is there any particular reason for that?

SCHENKER: I don't know if it had something to do with a holiday, or whether it was some things that I never knew about, but I said to myself, "If Nuclear Blast wants to delay it, there must be a very good reason," but I didn't really dig into that. I just accepted it, and here we are.

KNAC.COM: Yes, I am sure they do have their timing reasons. Would you consider it a loose concept album? There seems like there could be some connections with the themes in the artwork and the song themes, although I haven't been able to get a copy of the lyrics yet.

SCHENKER: I don't know what it means - concept - but, basically, there is no meaning behind it. It was just simply, I know what I want, and I put the blueprint together. I want energetic, fast songs, and drama. I want beauty and melody. All of the things that make a journey through an album enjoyable, like reading a book. So, I write all the music, and when I am done with it, I go into the studio and put them on the table. And then add bass to it, and drums, and the musicians, the singers pick their songs, and decide what kind of lyrics and melodies they want to add, and they start putting their own personality to the characteristics of the bass player, and the way that Steve Mann does his coloring to the keyboard, and does some solos on there. It is all over the place. Everyone makes contributions, but the blueprint - where the windows go, and where the doors are, the garage - I design all of that. And then we kind of just color it all together, and make it look beautiful.

KNAC.COM: Well, I was wondering how your were able to keep it cohesive lyrically, with 4 vocalists - five counting Ronnie Romero. Did you give them any idea what they should write about?

SCHENKER: No! Never, ever - ever! I always want the singer to sing something that he is behind. In my whole life, I never tell a singer what to sing about, and I rarely tell them what melody to sing as well.

KNAC.COM: Well, some things seem to have a plan behind them, like the last album was called Resurrection, and, as you mentioned, it had a cover playing on The Last Supper, and this new one is called Revelation, with the cover of it an allusion to the Crucifixion, and the last song on it is called, "Ascension", and that ties into all the Biblical references...

SCHENKER: Yeah (laughs) ... the thing is, with the Resurrection album [artwork], my idea was to have a big table in the recording studio party with a fest - a MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST! - with the control room in the background, with a more medieval thing going on, like priests with these thick pints of drink and wine, and just really having a crazy, wild time. But, then Michael Voss came up with The Last Supper. I don't know (laughs) - it just showed up like that! Then Doogie is singing "Take Me to the Church" - I have no idea why he would do it. (laughs) I thought, "What is going on?! Everything is going in a Bible direction!" So I thought I might as well call the instrumental "Salvation" ... You know, it just comes out of nowhere, no discussion! It just seems to be ... internally connected, or whatever. Everybody just does what they are doing at home and they are working on their contributions by themselves, without any instructions. All they know is what the blueprint looks like and now they are being creative with it....

Even the whole MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST was step by step developments over the past four years. I never knew what was going to happen next. Everything just came forward, based on moment to moment. And so, when Doogie did "Behind the Smile", he was actually talking about himself a little bit there. And the first song, "Rock Steady", almost didn't make it on the album. There were too many bits on there that I didn't like, you know? And I worked on it and it developed into something really, really good. We took all the stuff that didn't work, out, and replaced it with other things, so in the end I was very happy with it ... I never knew that that song was about me, either, because the song was different before. Eventually, it was Michael Voss's idea to sing, "the boy with a guitar in his hand became a rockstar," and stuff like that....

So it all developed by itself. And Michael Voss, he writes lyrics and melodies to every song. Every time I put a song down he already, in his mind, writes lyrics and melody, and keeps it all in his head until the next day. That's how Michael came up with "Warrior". I wrote the music, and the next day he played me the song, and said, "Look Michael what I did. I have the lyrics." I said, "Michael, that is incredible!" And so, we do that all the time. But, I am not sure what Robin [McAuley] is singing about, because I am not listening that much to lyrics because it's not that easy to on the phone. But I knew that Graham's [Bonnet] lyrics, from his songs were about him, and the first song was about me. Oh, and "Ascension", that is actually dedicated to Ted McKenna. And so, that means he ascended into Heaven. "Sleeping With the Lights On", which is the second video from the album, is about a nightmare. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: It looks like a nightmare! (laughs) And I slept with the lights on as a kid, and sometimes now, so I think a lot of people can relate to that! (laughs) The chemistry with Michael Voss in the production shows. The songs are very disciplined, condensed, and precise. Can you recap on your own creative process and routine?

SCHENKER: Yes, absolutely. It is like this: When I touch the guitar and start playing, I call it "Play and Discover". It's a bit like treasure-hunting. If you are treasure hunting, you already have fun in the hunting part, because you are thinking any moment something could show up. A piece of gold, maybe? If you find the piece of gold, you are very happy, and you put it to the side in a special place while you look for more treasure, and that is what I do. When I play and discover, I bump into pieces, and I go, Wow! That is fantastic! And I collect the colors, five or ten seconds of those pieces, then, when it is time to make a new album, I always have something there that is interesting. Of course, I only collect gold! (laughs)

KNAC.COM: What is going to happen going forward? I mean, you just got off of a tour, so, what are you working on right now?

SCHENKER: Yeah, yeah! I tell you, I wish I hadn't done the American tour - it was the second leg of the American tour for Resurrection - so we toured there two times [for that album], and we were committed to it a long time ago. It would have been great if we hadn't done that tour, and toured America with the new album. But, you know, we will put America on the end of the next world tour, because, obviously, you know it would be too close. Usually we start off in Japan anyway, and go to Europe and so on, but the main thing is that we are only taking individual offers where the production is right, and want to make sure that people know what the shirt looks like that we are selling, especially for world tours, and so I want that to be released one month after the album comes out, so that people get to know us, and what the album is about, so that we have a better way ... because it is a big undertaking. I want to make sure that we are not too quick and hasty about it. We just want to make sure it is done right. So, we start on the 20th of October, onward ... We are already working on the new program. Now America will be on the end of the tour for this album, and, for a long-long time, when people ask, "Michael, how do you put a set-list together?" I am starting to put something together that people would have wanted to hear in the past, but you can only play so many songs, you know?

KNAC.COM: This past tour seemed to be very successful. I go almost every time you are in Chicago, and you always have a great, over-the-top crowd there. Are you happy with the way this last tour leg went in America?

SCHENKER: Yeah!! Absolutely, but the thing is, you can't always do things 100 percent right, you never know ... But I think everything went great. And we are putting out the album [Revelation] and letting people get used to it, and the business world get used to it, and then go from there.

KNAC.COM: You have had a long and storied career, there is no doubt about that, which makes me wonder if you have ever thought about doing an autobiography, or anything like that?

SCHENKER: Well, I have written a book, in '91, and I destroyed it, but it was more like a therapeutic book. I had an idea to write a book, but I was so truthful about it ... I thought, if I write a book all about myself, without any reservations, and everything out, I am not going to be able to release it, because my mother might have trouble with her neighbors! [laughs] So, I destroyed it, and I realized if I actually really had written an absolutely honest book, and I was 100 percent convinced I was going to release it, that when the end was there, I would throw it away....

But, the point is, I don't think it was my idea to write the book. It was a suggestion that came from somewhere else, and somehow, I knew it would cleanse me. It was a really true book, and truthful about myself, because I really was going to release it. But, when the book was done, I didn't have to release it, because the purpose was fulfilled, as a therapeutic book. The thing about books is, it is a trend, it is what people do when they have nothing left to say, and nothing left to offer. And most books [autobiographies] are probably Science Fiction! You have to imagine, if you are famous, you can write anything you want and people will believe it. You don't even have to write what you did in your life, you can just make up a story, and write something people want to hear. That is not my cup of tea. I'd rather let the music do the talking....

Maybe I will write a book for free in my last days before I die, and donate it to some special musical cause, or something like that. But, if I write a book, I want it to be a true book, and a meaningful book. But, it may never happen.


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