Michael Schenker says he “became famous without asking for it.”
The legendary German guitarist, who first appeared on SCORPIONS‘ 1972 “Lonesome Crow” debut, earned acclaim in the 1970s on classic UFO albums such as “Phenomenon” and “Lights Out” before rejoining SCORPIONS for 1979’s “Lovedrive”. He departed soon thereafter to launch MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP. And while his sometimes-erratic behavior have derailed parts of his career, Schenker remains one of hard rock and metal’s most influential axemen.
In a recent interview with Alex Irons of Total Rock Radio (hear audio below), Schenker was asked what fans can expect from MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST‘s debut album, “Resurrection”. “It’s like, obviously, there’s four singers on there,” he said. “A couple of songs, I was hoping for three where everybody sings together, so I didn’t want to make it three songs for each singer, but I wanted to make it colorful, combine it a bit. We combined some backing vocals. I sing one with Gary [Barden] and Doogie [White] and then Robin [McAuley] and Graham [Bonnet], they’re singing something. It’s very colorful, but it’s snappy, fast, keeping it very interesting like a book. You don’t want to get bored, but there are enough elements in there. Ted McKenna is a great drummer so his personality shows in the album. I’m just very happy. It was an unusual album to make because it has four singers. You can’t just plan something like this and make a masterplan and say ‘Okay, these are the steps we are going to take.'”
Schenker went on to explain the studio environment while recording “Resurrection”, one that saw the three original MSG vocalists (Barden, Bonnet and McAuley) come together for the project. “I wanted to start MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST,” he said. “It was like MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST in the studio, like having a ‘feast’ in the studio. The control room is behind you and there’s big chunks of meat, drinks and wine, just having a party. MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST in the studio, that’s how it started. At some point, when I got Doogie in, he just came up with that song ‘Take Me To The Church’. I was like ‘Where is he going? What have you been up to, Doogie?'”
Schenker also talked about the meaning behind the “Resurrection” album title and the disc’s cover art, which depicts him, along with his band, posed in a “Last Supper”-type setting, with Schenker‘s trademark flying-V guitar laying on the table.
“I was sent, based on my idea with the table, I was sent a table and people sitting there,” he said. “It just happened to be something to do with the ‘Last Supper’, then Michael Voss-Schön, the co-producer, he was also writing a song ‘Last Supper’, where all the singers were sharing. I was wondering ‘Are we keeping the title MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST in the studio? Because this is moving in a different direction.’ ‘Unless something better comes up,’ was the answer. I thought and looked at that. With the album cover looking like that, all the meat was gone and all of the sudden it was my guitar and it just started to, I looked at my own life, in a way, because it’s just like a Jesus story there and I kind of thought of ‘Resurrection’ in connection with, somehow, I left the loop of rock and roll at some point, the lost years of Michael Schenker in the ’90s up to 2005 when I was living in Arizona. I didn’t do any interviews, nobody heard much of me and so being back made it full cycle, being back in the machine, so it’s bit like a resurrection, comeback. Basically, when you’re out, you’re in a different planet. You’re not connected to that, so basically you are left back in your innards. It’s like a resurrection. Plus, my bandmembers, they are back with me and who would have thought that Robin McAuley, Gary Barden and Graham Bonnet would have come back altogether in one go? It’s pretty outrageous. People may think ‘How is that possible?’ I get that question all the time. Basically, I wanted to, this is the third part of my life and I’m in celebration mode. In general, it’s the third chapter of my life. If you understand the different sections of my life, in the first section, I made my musical contribution to the world and it impacted generations and influenced people. In 23 years, I reached fame and success, I was fortunate to experience that to make the decision if I wanted to stay up there or if I wanted to go to the next chapter of my life, meaning, getting things out of my system, experiment with music, doing things I could never do. I look at UFO, it was my development years. I look at [UFO live album] ‘Strangers In The Night’ and [SCORPIONS‘] ‘Lovedrive’, helping the SCORPIONS open the door for America, as a completion. The funny thing with SCORPIONS, is I started off with the SCORPIONS, then I developed all the way up to ‘Strangers In The Night’, then I ended up and finished with the SCORPIONS. That I only realized a couple of days ago. It was an additional realization.”
The guitarist then detailed his thought process regarding creating music, a practice that apparently includes not listening to music at all in order to avoid unintentional plagiarism: “The black-and-white guitar marks the next chapter, the middle years of my life where I also wanted to focus on life itself and experiment with music, acoustic, electric instruments, anything I couldn’t do with that,” he said. “I wanted to break out of that and since I was 17 years old, I stopped listening to music and I stopped copying. My focus was on the fascination of the single string. It was like the art of lead guitar with pure self-expression. That’s why I stayed away from music and stayed away from copying people. There’s billions of people and each head has its own world, unique and individual. Something goes on, I don’t know what goes on in yours, but in general, rather than recycling what’s been recycled out there, everybody’s already doing it, so why should I share something that comes from how I see how I would do it and bring something out that was a new color to the world. Unless I do that, nobody would ever experience it. If you keep doing that over and over and over, you create your own style. Your by-product. That’s what many guitarists find attractive about it because they couldn’t find it in the room of recycled. It was something fresh and something different. They probably wonder why, but I have an explanation. That’s what it is. Everybody can do it, but it’s about making that choice.
“But, the other thing, I never wanted to be famous,” he continued. “I was just having fun playing guitar. I became famous without asking for it. That is just the way it went. When I said to [METALLICA lead guitarist] Kirk Hammett, ‘I unconsciously made my musical contribution to the world,’ he said ‘Get out of here!’ [Laughs] He didn’t think that was something anybody would do. In general, everybody, that’s what I was saying: A person who is over here, never experienced fame and that’s what they dreamed about: What was it like being famous, successful musician or something like that, they have their own ideas what it might be. If you haven’t actually tasted it, you don’t really know. If you make a decision in a different direction, you will always think you may have missed out somewhere. But because I experienced it, I was able to make that decision. I had enough of that. I don’t need more of that, but I think there is something here that is more satisfactory to me. That was doing acoustic electric instrumentals and giving my hardcore fans so much lead guitar playing that they got more than they probably ever asked for.”
“Resurrection” will be released on March 2 via Nuclear Blast. The disc, which was produced by Voss-Schön, was recorded in four different locations over a five-month period and features guest appearances by Hammett, Wayne Findlay and Voss-Schön. Also appearing on the album are musicians Steve Mann (guitars, keyboards), McKenna (drums) and Chris Glen (bass).