Michael Schenker - 2013
By: janne Stark (Previously partly published, in Swedish, in FUZZ Magazine, www.fuzz.se)
I have interviewed Michael Schenker several times, and I have seen the German guitar genius in various stages of life and in various moods. The Michael I’m talking to today is a high spirited, sober, and sound Michael that seems to enjoy life and music to the fullest.
Janne: When we talked the last time, you told me about your dark side which sometimes came over you, but listening to what you’ve done lately, you seem to have overcome this pretty good.
Michael: Life is about challenges and I’ve got two tattoos on my back: Born to be free, and Born to overcome, so that’s my life assignment. I look at crises and hurdles as training grounds. It shapes us, it challenges us to stretch and create strength and it’s a necessity in life.
Janne: I’ve seen some live clips on the Internet from the Temple of Rock, and I must say you sound better than in years.
Michael: The thing is, if I look back at my life at this point in time, it seems like the first part of my life was more about focusing on rock guitar, excellence and self-expression, the middle part of my life was more about experimenting on a musical level as well as on a personal level. Now, all of a sudden I’m having an incredible amount of fun on stage. I never used to like being on stage, but in the last couple of years I’ve developed an extreme liking for the stage. So somehow I feel like I’m being thrown back into the loop of rock n roll and it seems to be something beyond me. I look at it like I’m celebrating the era of hand made rock. The era, which I fell in love with, which started off with Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Pretty soon it’s just gonna be a memory because people have started passing away. Gary Moore is gone, Ronnie James Dio, John Lord. My dad used to be an architect and every time he built a house, before they put they finished the roof they had a big party. So, I celebrate the roofing of the era of hand made rock.
Janne: For me, Phenomenon, was the album that made me really discover UFO.
Michael: Yes, Phenomenon was the next step, and incredible step from Scorpions in Germany, which was the first record I did. When I finished the album with Scorpions I was fifteen, one year before I heard Led Zeppelin III on the radio, and one year later I heard my own music coming out of the same radio, which was incredible. But going to England and being with an English band was an incredible step. The development from the first to the second album was pretty dramatic. Very fast accelerating. I basically developed from album to album up until Strangers On The Night with UFO, before I took a break and focused on experimenting and developing other aspects of life and getting things out of my system. This is something I wanted to do but couldn’t have done with a famous rock band like Ozzy Osbourne or Scorpions or Deep Purple, who had asked me to join them, but I couldn’t really do it because there was something else in the making, and today I know what it was. I had to experiment and do stuff.
Janne: Already early on you developed your own signature tone.
Michael: What you actually hear when people say that it’s pure self-expression. The purer we decide to self-express, the clearer you’re adding your own colour and that’s all there is to it really. It really depends on how deep we commit to show something how we see it or if we do something the way others see it. That’s the difference and the beauty about self-expression is that we’re adding a colour to life, to the world that nobody can add other that yourself.
Janne: Back in the 70s you had a bigger more open pallet to create your own sound. Today, there are so many guitarists and sounds around.
Michael: Yes, but still, it’s about being yourself. Not everybody finds it easy to be themselves because we may thing the way we see it is not good enough or would other people like it? I think the key is to be yourself and enjoy who you are, and then that colour will shine.
Janne: When I do interviews, your name often comes up as a big influence.
Michael: That’s great. It’s very strange because I’m getting awards and I never expected anything like that. Just being yourself and all of a sudden you get rewarded. It’s pretty incredible (haha).
Janne: You’re currently on tour, and you’ve got your old buddies Buchholz and Rarebell in the band. How did that come about?
Michael: Yes, that’s great. It’s funny how it all works out. When I did Temple Of Rock and I was in the studio, Michael Voss did the demos and I asked him if he would sing to help out. When he started singing I realized he could actually sing so I asked him to join. Then, Herman heard my demo with Pete Way when we were in the studio working on a live project and they wanted to be the rhythm section. That’s how I got the people for Temple of Rock. Then Michael Voss signed a solo deal so he wasn’t available for touring, so I decided to work with Robin McAuley in America, and Dougie White in Europe and Michael was available for Japan, so I had three different line-ups. Then eventually they wanted to book the line-up with Dougie White and I asked Herman. I wanted to play Lovedrive with original people, so I asked Francis what he was up to these days, and he was available, so I had the original rhythm section of the Scorpions, which was great because I could complete my Lovedrive-reunion, which I never finished. I did it before with Rudolf and Claus in some places and now I’m doing it with Herman and Francis. Now it has become a really nice band. There’s Dougie on vocals, Herman, who wrote Rock You Like A Hurricane, on drums, Francis on bass, Wayne Findley on guitar, who has been with me since 1990. We are currently in the recording studio and have almost finished a new album which will be entitled Bridge The Gap, and will be released in November.
Janne: That sounds exciting. Any more info on the album? What style will it be?
Michael: I don’t know what happened but I’m back to my youth. It’s really heavy and kind of metalish, with Dougie singing. There’s a lot of fast stuff and a lot of heavy stuff. I do have a rough mix of one song and almost played it on a radio show, but I was afraid it would start leaking out there. We’ll be playing one song live. Then it will be available for radio.
Janne: What equipment did you use recording the album?
Michael: The Marshalls, a bunch of them. We’re in Michael Voss studio and he has got several. He knows what works for this set up. He has a Randall there, he has a VH-amp, but for all the leads I use my JCM800 50 watt Marshall. But to have a little separation between the lead sound and the rhythm sound I use some other stuff with a bit of different characteristics so that my leads stand out of it rather than melt in with the others. If you have a lead and rhythm guitar with the exact same sound it kind of becomes one soup and you can’t distinguish them. It’s better to play the leads with another amp to make it stand out. I use my Dean guitars. I collected all the guitars I could find and had ten guitars sitting in the studio so I could keep picking one after another for a particular song. I basically play all my models all over the album.
Janne: You have several of your own signature models now. Which ones did you use?
Michael: Kaleidoscope, Strangers In The Night, Check Mate, Retro, Yin And Yang and the Flame Dean guitar that Michael Amott uses.
Janne: Wah wah and sweet note is kinda your thing when it comes to soloing.What’s your current favourite wah pedal?
Michael: I love the Dimebag wah right now. It has a very deep range, from very bassy to very trebly and it has extra controls on the side. He basically perfected the wah wah idea I had when I discovered the wah wah and went inside to look for the sweet spot. Then it got even more developed and the Dimebag has got a tone control on it and boost and stuff. It’s great pedal! Then I also use a little bit of delay and chorus, rarely. The more effects people use, the less I can hear the character. So I try to stay as pure as possible, as it feel more connected with the person playing.
Janne: Do you record with effects to track?
Michael: It depends on the engineer. With Voss we prefer not to put any delays between the guitar and amp. Rather on the mixing desk. You wanna be able to control the amount of delay during mix.
Janne: Do you use different delays for different types of solos?
Michael: Yes that’s the latest thing I’ve discovered. It’s not a new discovery, but for me it is. I use one delay with a little less delay and one with more delay, which I can control with a switch so you can one of them or both at the same time. Some people have pedal boards and they do it that way, but just for convenience it’s good to have two delays. The average delay is for the solos, and the more atmospheric for slower solos. I use Boss delays. I’m not really interested in what models they are as long as they sound good. I usually use the more straightforward stuff.
Janne: Do you use any other effects on stage?
Michael: I use a chorus on one song, just delay and sometimes a wahwah.
Janne: How do you develop your playing today?
Michael: I always play and discover. There’s so much you can do with one string only, let alone six string. The possibilities are endless. When I play I discover all the time.
Janne: You have never really experimented with tunings. How come?
Michael: No, for some reason I’ve never got into that. It’s strange. I don’t know. I think it’s a bit like this. I’m used to the guitar being tune the way it was when I started playing and so at that point that is the starting point and it’s up to me what I do with it. Instead of changing the guitar, strings or tuning or external things, I leave it up to me to do with what I have. In other words the change will come from me rather than from the external equipment. That way it’s internal rather than external.
Janne: You get the fat note with out even putting on thick strings or tune down
Michael: Yes, then you are confusing your spirit, too. When you have a different scale and everything. You need a platform to paint on. The six strings are set there in a certain way, so you learn that this is the way it is and now the spirit can get to work on that set-up. But if I change that set-up, it may be ok for people, but it’s impossible for me. If you go from within, the six strings give so many combinations, it’s infinite.
Janne: When you write new songs, how is the process?
Michael: When I play and discover that’s when it happens. When I discover something, it’s usually 5-10 seconds I just record it and get on with playing. So I collect these pieces and when it’s time for an album I listen to them and whatever inspires me immediately, wow that’s a great riff, I make something out of it.
Janne: Are there any special guitarists you admire yourself?
Michael: Well, one of the things I knew very early in life, when I was 17-18, was... I took my jump start from all the great players in the 50s and 60s, and then when I was 17-18 I knew it was time to create things the way I see them and so I knew if I wanna create I can’t consume, because consuming consumes and I need to stay fresh and my main desire was to self-express. So therefore I had learned enough and it was time to paint my own picture and add my own colours, so the best way is to stay away from guitarists, and from music altogether, in order also not to be worn out by it, because I wanna keep it fresh. By doing that over the years I’m not worn out because I never consume and it keeps yourself in a more fresh light, and you’re not… it’s like if you eat too much chocolate you get tired of it. But if you eat the right amount and not all the time it always tastes good. I like Snickers (haha).