German guitarist Michael Schenker made a name for himself in the 70’s by playing on classic rock recordings by UFO and The Scorpions, before branching out on his own with the Michael Schenker Group. Schenker’s latest project is the Michael Schenker Fest, which features 3 vocalists from the classic 80’s line-up of MSG (Gary Barden, Robin McAuley, Graham Bonnet), as well as singer Doogie White, who performed with Schenker in the group Temple Of Rock. Also present will be the MSG rhythm section of Chris Glen and Ted McKenna. The Michael Schenker Fest comes to the Concord Music Hall in Chicago on March 17, and the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee on March 18.
MAXIMUM INK: The new Michael Schenker Fest album is ‘Resurrection’. Was there a vast catalog of songs to choose from when you assembled the final selections?
MICHAEL SCHENKER: I don’t really count, but I had more than needed. Basically, I wrote all the music, so by the time we got to twelve songs, that was it! I put the blueprint together as well as possible, so everybody would know where the journey goes, and I send it out to the singers and to the musicians. I know what I want to present. My focus is pure self-expression, so I try to keep it a “Michael Schenker thing” as much as possible, but it’s the personalities that I’m after… from the drummer, the bass player, and of course the singers do their own melodies and their own lyrics. But, there was maybe about twenty possibilities for songs.
MI: This is obviously a celebration of “all things Michael Schenker Group”, and I hear many different styles on this album, but in general I sense a feeling of maintaining the identity of the original decade of the Michael Schenker Group. Was that a conscious decision?
MS: No, everything happens in my life step by step. I never know what’s around the corner. I come in to the studio, and the way I write songs is, I play and discover. I don’t call it “practice”. I take my guitar, I play, having fun, recreational, no pressure, no scoring, no competition, and then it’s like treasure hunting. I find a piece of gold, a 15 seconds long riff or something, then when it’s time to write an album I get the tape out, and all the riffs I put down there are all good, otherwise they wouldn’t be on the cassette, and so immediately I go, “ah! That one, yeah! I remember that one!” and that inspires me to write the music, and that’s what I do. I have no idea who I’m writing for [laughing] but I know what I want, though. I know I want it snappy, fast, walking, melodic, energetic, etcetera, etcetera, that’s what I take care of. Then, we could’ve sent out 3 songs to each singer, but that would’ve been too clinical. I wanted it to be where on some of the songs everybody was singing together. So, I think Michael [Voss-Schoen], our co-producer, started secretly writing under the table, just in case. The second song I put down, the next day he said, “I’ve got some lyrics and some melody for this song”, and this became “Warrior”. I said, “this is fantastic, perfect for everybody to sing”, and Michael Voss is a Michael Schenker / Gary Barden / ’80s / Graham Bonnet fan, so he knows and understands. He was the man for the job. I have been working for him for 8 to 10 years now, so we have good teamwork. By him secretly writing and always having something up his sleeve in case we got stuck somewhere, was fantastic [laughing]. If anything, maybe he consciously knew what he was doing, unless it just happened by itself that each person who sings a line, makes it suitable for them. Or, it was distributed to each singer by Michael because it was suitable for them, one way or another. But nothing was worked out, or consciously done, it was just play as you go [laughing]. Just do what you do, as you do it, and everything else will unfold. That is basically always how I do my music. Every album I do, I never know what’s going to come out of it in the end.
MI: It sounds like you’re still having fun with it!
MS: Yeah! Absolutely. [laughing]
MI: You mentioned “Warrior”, which is the first video. When I listen to the album, there were certain songs I was immediately drawn to. The guitar fans will gravitate towards the instrumental song “Salvation”, but my favorite tracks were “Night Moods”, “Everest”, and especially “The Girl With The Stars In Her Eyes”.
MS: Yeah, good choice! When we first started the album, everybody was under the impression that we had endless time to do this. Nuclear Blast [Records] said, “just take your time, whatever it takes”, but I said, “no, I have a tour coming up in America, I would like to have an album ready well ahead of time to make sure we can promote it properly”, so we decided to finish everything by November. I think Graham somehow was still under the impression that he had a lot of time to do this, [and] was working on some other stuff for himself. Doogie was the first who immediately grabbed, like, 5 songs, then decided on 3 that he favored, and one was “The Girl With The Stars In Her Eyes”, and what an excellent song… excellent riffs, and very suitable for Doogie’s voice. Eventually, Graham understood that Michael Voss and I had immediately got to work on the album, and structured and paced it, and we were wondering why nothing was coming from [some singers]. It also took Robin a little while before he starting to come up with something, but Doogie was so fast, I couldn’t believe it. So eventually we got a call from Graham’s manager [asking if] we had any other songs, because whenever a song was gone we immediately informed everybody that those songs are no longer available. Actually, “Salvation” was supposed to be a song for Graham, but he couldn’t think of anything, so I turned it in to an instrumental. Michael Voss was writing, and eventually had to finish the vocals in Los Angeles because Graham and Robin live there, [so] all the stuff that wasn’t done in Germany [was] finished there. Michael said to Graham, “I’ve got a couple of ideas for you, what do you think?”, and Graham went, oh fantastic, you know? So, we were very fortunate that Michael Voss was able to write for Graham Bonnet, custom tailored for his voice. Remarkable! That’s how “Everest” and “Night Moods” came together.
MI: You’ll have 4 vocalists with you when you go out on the road. Is that going to be challenging in the tour bus?
MS: Well, everything we have done so far has been in baby steps. We’ve started with festivals, like Sweden Rock, and we had our first mini tour, 3 shows in Japan, one in Germany, 3 in Spain, and 4 in England, in the bus, and that worked out. I personally travel by myself anyway because I have to take care of business and I can’t do it with everyone around me, there is no space for creativity. But, they get along great. It’s the music world, they basically know each other anyway, you know. Everybody knows everybody in the music business. But, it’s going to go well, as long as it goes well [laughing].
MI: That’s a very diplomatic answer, Michael! [both laughing] I must tell you, I have been listening to your music for a long time, and I think the “Michael Schenker guitar sound” is immediately recognizable. You play fast when the song calls for it, but also leave a lot of space when the composition needs to breathe, and you’ve avoided a lot of the technical traps, like using pinch-harmonics or the hammer-on style of playing.
MS: Yeah, well… the thing is, most people are attracted to what the trend is, and want to be able to do what everybody else is doing. The moment something new is out, they are like, “oh look, I can do this too”. That’s not what I do. I stopped listening to guitarists when I was 17 years old. I knew intuitively that I wanted to self-express, that’s the art of lead guitar playing. I’ve been doing that for 43 years, without exception. You can’t completely stay away from music, but… as much as you can, because the brain is like a sponge. The moment you absorb and focus on something you already become a part of it. Besides, my area is to create. I love the world of creation rather than consuming. The spirit of vision and spreading the joy of music from a place of pure self-expression, that’s basically it. I’m just being myself, and as a result of it, you create your own style. I think that’s what has attracted so many generations of musicians, because there was always something there that has never been heard before, simply because I opened up myself. What goes on in each individual person is not known to the rest of the world, so whatever comes out of that person will automatically be unique. I made that choice because I was attracted to that. It is what I was fascinated with. I also had an idea of what I wanted to sound like. Everything else was already done. There were already enough people recycling, [and] I didn’t think I needed to be another one of them.
MI: You’re associated with the Flying V guitar, which is a visually stunning guitar to use on stage. Do you also use the Flying V in the studio?
MS: Yeah, I only use Flying V’s, but you know, the funny thing is, I didn’t pick the Flying V… the Flying V came to me. The moment I started playing it, I immediately developed a technique of holding it, because I was able to lock the guitar between my legs. Therefore I was able to do things [where] otherwise another guitar would just kind of wobble around. So it was very steady and I was able to develop a heavy vibrato and stuff like that. Then, automatically, because of the way I was standing there… it’s all based on circumstance, I was never looking for a particular position, it just happened to be that particular position made it possible for me to play a certain something. It just happened all by itself [and] became that visual thing, where I was bending over like that, and it just looked so peculiar. In the beginning people were like, “hey it looks like Michael is going to the toilet or something” [both laughing] but I didn’t care. I was just happy I was able to do the things I was doing, and that shaped the way I was standing.
MI: You’ve played with so many legendary musicians over the years. Is there anyone you wished you could play with?
MS: Well, you know, this is the third part of my life, the middle years are the most rewarding, getting everything out of your system, experimenting with music, and now I am just free. I can do anything I want. Obviously, because I only know the people I grew up with… my favorites, like Rod Stewart and Robert Plant… the way they were singing then, those are the guys. I love those vocals. It’s just the best of the best. Even David Coverdale, it’s a very attractive voice. I heard him the other day when I got my award in Las Vegas, and ahhh, that voice! It’s so big, you know. I had a chance to join him in Whitesnake, but I said, no, you join MSG! [laughing] And of course, nothing happened [both laughing]. Oh, and Sammy Hagar, he’s great too! I jammed with him also in Las Vegas, that was so much fun, with Michael Anthony, and it was a blast. But, you know, I don’t focus on anything like that. I just do what I do at the moment when I do it. So, here at the Michael Schenker Fest, is a handful. It’s fun, it’s connected with the past. It’s my life, where I had put all my energy, and it’s a treat for my hardcore fans. It’s a treat for us! And it’s a treat for newcomers who have never seen any of it, seeing it all on one stage. It’s a two and a half hour show, and we play anything. There’s something for everybody. It’s going to be classics, instrumentals, and new stuff. It’s a well balanced set. And the album is coming out March 2nd, so people will have a chance to get a quick preview before they go to the show. They can be familiar with some of the new songs.
MI: You’ve mentioned that this is the 3rd stage of your life. How would you like the 4th stage to go?
MS: Like the 3rd one! [both laughing]
MI: This has been a pleasure, Michael. Be safe on the road, and we’ll see you in Milwaukee on the 18th.
MS: Thank you very much. Take care!
• Website • Facebook • Wiki
CD: Resurrection Record Label: Nuclear Blast
• Purchase Resurrection on Amazon
• Download Resurrection on Amazon