Michael Schenker was one of my own favorite guitarists and source of inspiration. When I heard the Phenomenon album for the first time I was just knocked out by Schenker's tone and playing. Many years and albums later, just when a lot of people and fans thought the man had lost it (again), he bounces back with the new album In The Midst Of Beauty and again proves his qualities as a guitar player.
Dave's note: To add to what Janne said, despite his many well-documented issues, Michael Schenker is arguably the most revered and influential guitarist discussed on DRG. Lead guitar doesn't get much better Michael's work with UFO and early MSG. That legacy remains an inspirational high water mark for most of us at this site. His new album recalls some of that past glory, and is easily his best release in years.
4/2/08 Interview conducted by Janne Stark (also published in FUZZ magazine, www.fuzz.se).
Stark: Can you describe the new album in your own words?
Schenker: It's not that much I can say. I do what I do and what surrounds me makes the difference. Like in comparison to other albums like with Graham Bonnet or whatever, like people say: "This is great! It sounds just like the old days with Gary Barden," well it IS the old days. Because, if I would do an album now with Graham Bonnet it would be just like the Graham Bonnet days. If I would do an album with McCauley now it would sound like what we did then, it's the chemistry. A good example is if you mix red with yellow, you get a certain color, if you mix red with green and you get a different color and that's how it goes.
Stark: When you started writing for this album, did you write with Gary in mind?
Schenker: I was writing, I think somehow intuitively. I did not know in what order everything would happen but at some point I was. Pretty much from the beginning I knew it was gonna be Gary, but I had written a couple odd things before that came up. It all happened very spontaneously which was around August 2007 when we focused and kicked things around and I moved over to England and sat back and looked at what should happen now. While I was doing that I was already writing, then slowly but surely, a blueprint, or a vision came about and it wasn't happening in one day. It got together more and more different aspects. Actually right from the beginning I wasn't thinking of a re-union tour at all. I was just thinking about putting together a new MSG and then I was writing, sleeping, waking up again, and things kinda appeared, but by bit.
Stark: The album sounds very much like a continuation of the first two albums. There is a certain simplicity in the songs with great hooks, and the classical odd rhythmic things.
Schenker: Yes, what I've noticed with Gary is it brought back memories of how easy he picks up on ideas I have and you don't expect anything different than what he does with it, because it's something he already did before and we had this chemistry before. Working with other people the outcome is always different of course, but when we started it was like, yes, this is how we used to do it.
Stark: How did the writing process go?
Schenker: I sat down and started writing. I always have bits and pieces, so I connected them and started making songs basically. Then every time a new song was ready, when I started working on a new one I would listen to the old one etc. and keep doing this and started developing vocal melodies to the songs. I always write instrumentally and there are no vocals when I write. I focus only on the music. And then as I keep listening back to each individual song I would get ideas for vocal melodies until it would shape up to something I like. By the time I've finished all the songs I have the vocal melodies pretty much in my head and then I would get together with Gary and I would sing the melodies to him and he picked up on them and then he would start doing his way of doing them etc. Then he disappears and writes his lyrics and so it works.
Stark: And the recording process?
Schenker: After I finished with Gary he went home and I went to the studio and started my arrangements. I started with rhythm guitars to a temporary drum machine track and added bass, and then we got Don Airey in and did the keyboards and in the meantime the material was sent over to Simon Phillips and he has his own studio with perfect sound already, so he added his drums to it and sent it back to us. Then we put the bass on and then Gary's vocals and then mixed it.
Stark: My favorite solos on this album are in End Of The Line, Summerdays, and City Lights. They have that melodic feel with your patent sound. Were the solos written or improvised?
Schenker: I think on this album everything is improvised. I used to do several solos and cut and paste on slower things, like when I write a solo, but basically on this album every solo is improvised.
Stark: What equipment did you use?
Schenker: A split channel 50 watt Marshall 800JCM thorough a four by twelve cab and my usual stuff. For solos I had a Tube Screamer TS9 and a wah pedal, everything else just amp and guitar. I don't know what mic they used. I usually just go into the studio and if I like it we go and if not, we change it until I like it. I don't really know what they do, I just trust my ears. It's basically the same type of equipment I use live.
Stark: What guitars did you use and what pick-ups are on them?
Schenker: The Dean Flying V. Pick-ups, I'm not sure. I think it's the first Dean, and can't remember what pick-ups are on it. By now they have two or three different picks-ups developed. They develop something, I try it out and say yes or no and than that's it, I don't ask any questions.
Stark: Do you have any special precious guitar?
Schenker: Yes, one, standing right next to me. It's the one I take with me everywhere at this point in time, because I've had guitars stolen in Taiwan, my Flame guitars, and some got lost when I moved, so I have like two guitars of the first Dean edition that got released and now they are very precious as they are all I have, haha.
Stark: Your latest live line-up has consisted of only Swedish musicians. Why is that?
Schenker: It's because of Leif Sundin. He came over to America in 1995-96 and we did an album called Written In The Sand and then he got deported from America, I don't know what happened, but we kept in touch. He sang on the Tales Of Rock N Roll album in 2006, so he kind of started it all. Last year in March he called me up and said he wanted to do some gigs with me in Sweden and I said ok. He put together the band and that's how it started. We did some shows in Sweden and then I wanted to do a tour in the UK to promote the album and my well being, and asked him if he was interested and he was and he brought the band with him.
Stark: You've been doing quite different kinds of things like the instrumental Dreams And Expressions, the acoustic Thank You, the Schenker Pattison cover stuff and bluesy stuff with Siggi Schwatrz. How do you keep up with all these different things?
Schenker: It's more like making it up. I get offers and I fly around, and based on where I'm at, I decide if I wanna do it or not. If I have the time or am interested and if I like it. It comes in waves. It's no exact perfect structure, it's what comes along and what I feel like doing. It's a good way to express in different ways and make life a bit more interesting. For instance the cover versions I did I had some kind of vision at some point where I just wanted to go into the studio and just play solos, no more tuning, checking and writing or arranging. It was like a nice break and as I was thinking it, Mike Varney gave me an offer to do it, so I went out and just played solo all day long. It was so much fun! I didn't even know what songs they had picked, I just came in and played. It was cool. I always have the red thread coming back to do what I usually do, but it's good to have little side tracks.
Stark: It seems there's always some things turmoil around you, but then you get your stuff together and get back on track. How come?
Schenker: It's a bit like this. I look at it like I have this stream of gold within, like the foundation of it all, then there's all this black stuff around it. All this black stuff, dirt or what you want to call it, surrounds me, but fortunately I recognize that I have that stream of gold and that's the part I'm holding on to.
We at the Dinosaur Rock Guitar would like to thank Michael Schenker and Janne Stark for this interview. Copyright ©2008 All rights reserved.