Klaus Meine of the Scorpions: Unplugged

This interview first appeared in Goldmine Magazine in 2014.
The interview was conducted by Classic Rock Revisited’s Jeb Wright.
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By Jeb Wright

The Scorpions have retired.  Well, that’s what they say…but they seem to be doing a lot of concerts for a band that is no more.  One really cool concert they performed recently is even getting an international release. The next new product by that little rock band from Germany will be a new MTV Unplugged concert recorded in Greece.  The visual aspects of this work are nothing less than stunning as it was recorded in a Greek theater that sits upon high.  In the words of Ron Burgundy… it was recorded “on top of a mountain!” 

The Scorpions do more than sit on barstools and deliver the usual MTV Unplugged fair…for this show the band have strings, accordions and an acoustic guitar army on this sucker.  The track listing includes their greatest hits as well as rarities from the 1970’s, before many outside of Germany even realized that a Scorpion was anything more than an insect with a stinger… not a singer!

Another reason to question the Scorpions retirement is that vocalist Klaus Meine, in the interview that follows, even talks about a possible new studio album.  They may as well go into the studio and do electric versions of the five new tunes featured on MTV Unplugged, three new ones and two from the bands glory days of the ‘80s that were left in the vault.  

Of course any hard rock fan worth his salt does NOT want the Scorpions to retire and even with Klaus hitting that magic age of 65, the new MTV Unplugged looks and sounds great and the boys in the band seem to be still loving it… One thing is for certain, no matter how they deliver the music…unplugged, with a classical influence, or balls out, amps cranked up, the Scorpions always deliver. MTV Unplugged is no exception. 

Jeb:  So, are you guys retired or not?

Klaus: I mean, if this is retiring, then I like it because it is pretty crazy.  We have a new album coming out and a DVD of MTV Unplugged and the whole world seems to be excited about.  If this is retirement then this is cool. 

Jeb: MTV Unplugged is going to be released in 50 countries.  It has to be gratifying to know that you have that many fans in that many places who want Scorpions to be a part of their life.

Klaus: It is wonderful.  When you take a look at Scorpions Facebook site and you see that we have four and a half million fans with the average age between 17 and 27 that is pretty crazy for a band that has been around for forty years.  It shows in every show we are playing, wherever we go, we have a whole new young audience in front of the stage.  They make a perfect mix with all the fans who have been followers of the band for many decades. 

I think we are getting to where we have this Rolling Stones like audience.  There are a lot of young kids and they are singing along with songs that were written way before they were even born.  If just feels great and it gives you so much energy…we have toured all over the world the last few years and we did over 200 shows in something like thirty countries and we have sold out shows from Moscow to Paris to Los Angeles.  It is really wonderful to see that we reach so many people around the world with our music. 

Jeb: The Scorpions have done their songs acoustically, classically, with orchestras and, of course, as a rock band.  Why is your music so mutable to these other forms?

Klaus: The answer must be the songs.  It is the quality of songwriting and the quality of the songs; that might be the difference.  You’re right, we do all of these different formats and now we are releasing this Unplugged concert in Athens with many different instruments, from mandolins, to accordions, to harmonica, to strings. 

We just came back last week from a stretch of concerts we did between Russia and the Ukraine and Finland…some of them we played with symphonic orchestras.  We shared the stage with 65 to 70 musicians from these State orchestras.  I think those arrangements, if you would have had a chance to listen to them, it is much different than what we just did in Athens, but they are so strong, as well. 

It is the music and it is in the songs.  You take your own rock song, the way we play it live on stage in every regular rock show, and you take it and add a whole new dimension to the music.  That is the reason why not everybody can do it.  If you’re only a band that has screamer material, or whatever…you know what I’m talking about…there is not so much you can do other than to scream it out loud. 

Our music has a lot of emotions.  We have songs like “Dynamite” and “Rock You like a Hurricane” and “Going Crazy” and “The Zoo” but we also have songs like “Still Loving You” or the peace anthem “Wind of Change.”  The music has many dimensions and that is why we have a chance to do this sort of thing and that is why we reach a huge audience. 

It is not just the hard and heavy fans, although we can play at Wacken, like we did in August, which is the biggest heavy metal festival in the world.  We can, however, do many different things like Unplugged as well.  This is the sort of thing that keeps us going, keeps us awake and keeps us inspired. 

There is nothing more boring than when you do the same thing over and over again for years and years and years.  We have a chance to do different things and they are also a challenge because those sets are not easy to play.  When you do just a few a year, or maybe just one a year for a huge event, then you have to get back into it.  With MTV, we had six months of perpetration. 

We had the offer right at the end of the tour and we were surprised.  We were talking about MTV Unplugged back in the glory ‘80s, I am sure, but it never worked out.  With this offer, we want to come out with a whole new show, playing and performing songs that we’ve never played live on stage before.  We wanted to play new songs as well the classics.  It turned out to be a very long set of songs.  For the diehard Scorpions fans around the world this is the real deal, this is the bread and butter and the meat and potatoes and they will love it.  There are a lot of songs that they know, but there are a lot of songs that are out of the mainstream. 

Jeb: You play “Born to Touch Your Feelings” which goes back to the 1970s and then play “The Best is Yet to Come” which came out a couple of years ago.   There is a lot of time between those two songs.

Klaus: Absolutely.  “The Best is yet to Come” since Sting in the Tail came out in 2010 has been in our set list as it is a great live song.  “Born to Touch Your Feelings” is from 1977 and we never played it live, never.  It was one of those ballads that we never touched for a live show.  For this show, with the accordion, it was just perfect.  We had a Greek actress for the speaking part of the song.  I don’t know if you’ve seen it yet, but this lady was so emotional she started crying.  It was emotional for everyone.  You will have to check it out. 

Jeb: The Scorpions have always been willing to play some of the Uli Jon Roth era material, but this album has a lot of that.  You have “Speed’s Coming,” “Pictured Life” and others that fans have not heard for some time out of you. 

Klaus: We have played “Pictured Life” and “In Trance” before, but with those new arrangements the songs went to a new level again and it was fantastic.  We love playing this old material.  Some of them sound almost like they have this Western music part…Country music.  It has a country music touch when done this way.  The Scorpions doing Country?  What?  I know that in America Country music is very cool and very successful.  To turn these songs, with these new arrangements, and our Swedish producers and their Swedish musicians with them, who were all great, it was like it was tailor made for this kind of music.  That has never worked like this in a rock show, but for this kind of concert, where we were all sitting on barstools for two and a half hours–which was fucking hell–it worked great.

This was the very first MTV Unplugged under the open sky.  It was not recorded in a studio where they usually have a few hundred fans gathered around the stage, very relaxed and listening to the music.  This is not a big rock show.  They wanted the artists to sit down on the stage and perform the songs in a whole different way, which is cool.  The focus is totally on the music. 

It was impossible to nail the Greek audience down on their seats, as they were going crazy.  It was an amazing setup. The theater holds eight thousand people, but we cut it down to four and a half, or three and a half, or something like that, which, for an MTV production, is a lot of people. 

We played two shows and we recorded them for MTV and then we had another show crammed with 8,000 fans in there and played the whole show for our fans.  We had two shows we filmed and recorded and we pretty much took everything from the second day. 

When you see the DVD, it is really cool and it is very different.  Historically, it is the first MTV Unplugged under the sky.  The temperature, this was in September, it was perfect, it was 27 degrees.  I am not sure what that is in Fahrenheit.  It was really nice.  You don’t need a rooftop on your stage.  It was really under the stars. 

Jeb: How do you approach the performance when it is not a rock show? 

Klaus: I think it is all about trying to transfer the dynamic of a rock show and to make it work in an unplugged concert.  I think we ended up with eight guitars at one point.  It was acoustic, but it was still a guitar army.  Three guitars were not enough and I even picked one up myself.  For the very first time, I performed a song with just me on my own and a guitar and sent everybody off.  The guys got a break!  On MTV Unplugged I finally get to become a guitar player after all of these years.  I am going to start looking for a guitar tech right now.  I have got to have my own one [laughter].  I am not really a guitar player when it comes to playing lead fills or whatever. 

We had so many guitars and we had strings and percussion drums and it all made it very powerful.  How to make it work and to keep it interesting for two and a half hours is the dynamic in the show between the rockers and the ballads.  You have big emotions and the up-tempo stuff to get the audience on their feet; we had to build that set to keep it going between slower songs and emotional songs and it really worked. 

Jeb: There are five new songs.  For a retired band that is pretty good.

Klaus: That is not so bad for a retired band! 

Jeb: Were these newly written songs, or have they been around?

Klaus: I will tell you the truth, MTV requested us to play cover versions.  We went through a lot of stuff to check it out.  Even with my best Elvis performance, it was okay…I loved it but everybody else went, “Oh no.”  At the end of the day, it was like we were taking songs from the ‘50s and ‘60s and it could have worked by itself, but it didn’t work with the rest of the music so well. 

We decided to take some material that we had.  Matthias [Jabs] came back from Stockholm with an instrumental that was a totally new song.  I thought with a two and a half hour show the singer needed to have a break.  It was wonderful to have an instrumental to get me a break.  Matthias came back with this song called “Delicate Dance” which really turned out great.

I, then, heard through the producers that Rudolf had a new song.  They said, “Klaus, have you heard Rudolf’s new song?”  I was like, “No, he didn’t play it for me.”  I was really pissed because he didn’t play it for me.  I said to the guys, “If Rudolf played that song to you guys and if you like it then how about if Rudolf sings it himself.”  I really thought it would be nice if he would sing it. 

In the back of my mind, I also had a song that I had written recently.  I thought it would be cool if, in the show, in the middle, if the three of us, we present all of those songs.  I introduce Matthias and then he plays his song and he introduces Rudolf and then Rudolf goes, “Here comes Klaus and for the very first time he is playing guitar on stage all on his own.”  It turned out to be a nice little idea for the show. 

Rudolf’s song is called “Love is the Answer.”  It is a nice beautiful piano ballad.  I encouraged him because he wasn’t sure about singing it.  I told him, “If you can pull this off it will be like Keith Richards and it will be cool.”  Those three songs are brand new songs.  There were two other songs we performed that we had never released.  Matthias had the song “Dancing with the Moonlight” and I can’t exactly remember where that song is from, but it is slightly older.  I wrote totally new lyrics for it.  “Rock and Roll Band” is from a session we did back in the ‘80s and I wrote completely new lyrics to that one. 

Jeb:  Will you come back before you really retire and play in the USA?

Klaus: Right now it is unknown.  It is a big question mark and it is up in the air.  We feel very connected with America and we would love to come over there for shows but, right now, with this MTV Unplugged there are very few shows planned.  We don’t have a big major tour planned at this time.  We might play a few shows with MTV Unplugged, but right now I have no idea if we would come with this to America, or what we will do anywhere.  We have no plans whatsoever.  The last few years have been very busy for us with touring so, right now, I think all of us will take a deep breath and then we will see what life will bring.  It would be, of course, wonderful to come back to the States.

Jeb: Will these five new songs ever come out on a new Scorpions studio album?

Klaus: There is a good chance.  Since we recorded at least two of them already…the older ones, “Dances with the Moonlight” and “Rock and Roll Band’ we have recorded electric versions way back.  We know what they would sound like and in an electric version; they would really rock.  The same goes for the other three songs.  I hope we have a chance to go back in there and record them in full electric versions as it would be really cool.  I have a feeling we will do this since we are working on something. 

Before we started MTV Unplugged we were working on a project where we were taking songs that we had from the ‘80s and recording them.  We stopped right in the middle and picked up the MTV Unplugged.  If we go back to this, then there is a good chance those songs will see the light of the day as well. 

Jeb: I like how the Scorpions came to success.  You had to fight hard to leave your record company RCA and go with Mercury to come to America.  You had Michael Schenker join the band, and leave the band and then a couple albums later you had vocal issues that almost sidelined you, but you guys stuck with it and never gave up.  You guys stuck with it no matter what until you made it and I think that is a great story of the bands success…you stuck with it. 

Klaus: Absolutely, you’re right.  No matter what, you know.  When you’re a boxer and they knock you down then it is important to stand up again.  That is what we did, always.  Who would have thought, a year ago, that we would be doing MTV Unplugged.  This came in a time in our lives where you really don’t expect it.  This might be a whole new page in the book of Scorpions, we will see. 

The most exciting thing, after all of these years, is that we never lost the excitement for what we are doing and the passion for music.  With all of those classics you look back and you see all the excitement and you reach out to a whole new generation of Scorpions fans and it is really wonderful to get that feedback, especially when you’re out there for such a long time.  We feel very privileged that we have this worldwide stage and that there is such a strong demand.  At the same time, you say goodbye, but at the same time it is almost impossible to say goodbye because of this demand from all over the world.  It is wonderful, but at the same time, it keeps us going, but at the same time, we know, at some point, you need to step down a bit and recharge your batteries.  Right now, it is as crazy as it’s ever been.  If this is retirement, then I think we will just keep going. 

Jeb:  Last one: You are the only hard rock/heavy metal band that I can think of that had a huge hit where whistling was involved.  Did anyone go, “Klaus…what in the hell are you doing whistling?” 

Klaus: When I composed that song I just whistled, I guess because there was no guitar to play a cool little part that I could play.  I composed that song on a piano, on a keyboard.  I was just playing around with it and the whistle was not that I had such a smart idea and I thought I needed to do this cool whistle.  I just did it because there were no other instruments that I could play, or fill in for a little melody. 

If I was a guitar player I am sure I would have tried something on my guitar like Matthias did later.  He tried to do that, but they just couldn’t replace that damn whistle.  I remember that an A&R guy from Mercury Records in New York called me before that song was released in America and he said, “Klaus, I like that song a lot, but we have to take out that whistle.  It won’t work in America.”  I said, “No, the whistle stays right there as it is an important part of the song.  It’s like a hook.”  When “Wind of Change” became a Top 5 hit in America and we met the next time, he was like in Spinal Tap when the manager bends over.  He bent over and said, “Klaus, you may kick my ass.”