By Jeb Wright
Guitar Icon Michael Schenker has released his latest effort, titled Michael Schenker's Temple of Rock - Spirit on a Mission. The music is flowing out of the German guitar god with surprising ease... and it’s good stuff!
Making music comes easy to Michael; in the past he has been guilty of throwing out a bunch of guitar solos over lackluster rhythm tracks, presumably for a slightly tasty but quick paycheck. Those days, at least for now, appear to be over as Temple of Rock is a tight band and the members love what they are doing.
Schenker has been through the music industry rat race many times over the past several decades, and now with less time in front of him than behind him, Michael is hell bent on putting out solid rock and roll albums as he heads into the twilight of his career.
Joining Schenker on Spirit on a Mission is the Rock You Like a Hurricane rhythm section of Herman Rarebell and Francis Buchholz. The three Germans know each other well, as Herman and Francis recorded tracks with Michael on the classic Scorpions album, Lovedrive. Together, along with long-time Schenker collaborator keys/guitarist Wayne Findlay and vocalist Doogie White (Rainbow), Temple of Rock is bashing out some great tunes.
In the interview below, Schenker discusses where he is with his life right now, what it is like working with his old Scorpions bandmates and his philosophy concerning his musical future.
Jeb: You are back with a new Temple of Rock album. I love the way you name your albums. Tell me about the title Spirit on a Mission.
Michael: I was asked by someone recently how I wanted to be remembered. I said, “As a spirit on a mission.” When it came time to name the album, that is what came to mind.
Jeb: A few years ago, there were concerns about you, your passion for your profession, and your health. You have really embraced the modern day, the spirit of new music and you are more alive then you have been in some time.
Michael: This is the third stage of my life. The middle part was to learn and develop on a musical level, as well as on a personal level. The first stage was my contribution to music that was created in the 1970s for the ‘80s. Now, it is the final third stage and I want to put this incredible era, one more time, to the foreground. My assignment on the musical contribution point of view is the beginning and the final, you know. In the middle was the arena of life, the school of life: the learning, processing and digesting and so on.
Jeb: Would it be fair to say that after you survived all that you’ve survived that you have a good understanding of your time left?
Michael: It wasn’t like I almost died, I just had a few times I was showing up on stage drunk; that doesn’t mean I was dying. The middle section of my life was all about experimenting, musically and on a personal level. The thing is that we need obstacles in order to develop, and they came up. I am hungry for learning and for developing and stuff like that. That mid-part of my life is my teacher.
Jeb: I want to ask you a tough question about your composing skills. You can easily create a guitar solo that will make most guitarists jealous of you. How do you bridge the gap from being able to play that easily to creating songs with meaning?
Michael: It all comes down to being yourself. Anyone can do that… but most people have a problem doing that. To be yourself, and to be okay with that, is where you create originality. You can enjoy it very much rather than being in the rat race and competing with people.
Art is not a competition. It is just an expression and it is who you are. Most people can do that, but most people just don’t choose to do so. Most people want to be part of a trend and they want to get a piece of the pie and that is why that world is a bit confusing. If you have as much fun as I have, just creating, then you have already reaped all of the rewards. That, in itself, is amazing and the rest is all by-products.
Being yourself is endless. Expression is endless. The key is to actually realize that and to do it. If a person is, you know, copying, or being part of a trend, and being part of the rat race, then it puts pressure on you and you don’t have very much freedom to create anything. Real creation is where you’re not part of the rat race and you just simply, you know, have fun putting notes together and enjoying the outcome of it.
For each individual, when people do that then they express their own color, which they only can express. I cannot express your color, or your colors; I cannot express your colors. The moment you realize that, is when you start enjoying who you are, then everything else is a by-product. Everything happens the way you want it to happen.
Each person has their own way of finding. Once a person makes the decision of self-expression they automatically develop their own way of doing things. Basically, it is what I have done since I was 18 years of age. I stopped copying others and I stopped listening to music. I stop consuming, because consuming puts a groove in your head that you cannot get away from.
Copying other people puts a groove in your head that you cannot get away from, especially if you do it for many years. Anyway, it is just basically, you know, I play and discover on a regular basis, and when I bump into something I really like… like a five second piece of something... when it is time to make a record, I put my pieces together, that is what I do. The lead playing I just simply improvise on the last few albums and create out of the moment.
Jeb: The solos that are on these albums, do you have to go back and learn what you did in the studio?
Michael: Of course, it is not memorized, otherwise I wouldn’t have to make notes of the ideas we have. If I had perfect memory then I wouldn’t have to do it. I don’t have perfect memory, though. When an idea comes out it has a particular shape. If you try to memorize it, maybe in the past when I was younger, I would say, “I will remember that.” Even a half an hour later it is gone and you will never get it back. Now, when something excites me, a little riff that came out of nowhere, I make a note of it and make sure I can refer to it when the time comes that I need it.
Jeb: We will talk about the Scorpion members who are on this album, but first we have to talk about Wayne Findlay. He plays the 7-string guitar and he is growing in importance on these albums.
Michael: Because I already knew that when we did Bridge the Gap, I had been watching Wayne develop on the 7-string. On Bridge the Gap I started to, on purpose, introduce more 7-String and I knew I would feature more on the next album. When my plan worked out, I told Wayne to come up with a few 7-string riffs and he sent them over to me and I edited my ideas on there and the outcome was quite unique. When Doogie White put his thing on it, his vocals, it became really exciting. It is great to know that we have a great chemistry between Doogie, Wayne and myself.
Jeb: You stuck with the six-string.
Michael: I had Dean Guitars build me a seven-string many years ago and I tried it for a month or so. I realized it was a silly thing to do for me. It is not important.
Jeb: It is a like a true collaboration with Wayne.
Michael: I am working on making Temple of Rock stand on its own feet. We are still using the Michael Schenker platform, but we are getting close to being independent.
Jeb: Why is that important? Most guitar players like having their name out there…
Michael: My whole life has been upside down compared to other people. I am doing now what they used to do. You know, to me it looks like the ‘80s and ‘90s was a perfect time for me to be outside of the loop of rock and roll. My place was the ‘70s, so now I can feel that energy coming out and it is meant to be for now. I forgot the question that you asked.
Jeb: We were talking about what you were saying, using the Schenker platform, but how you’re doing this now and collaborating…
Michael: Oh yes, putting my name out there. It is like this. I couldn’t have put this band out calculated. It all started out in steps. We started with Herman Rarebell and then Pete Way and then Michael Voss. We had various different incarnations. Pete wasn’t doing too well and we got Francis in. You know, that chemistry was born. It is not something you can buy in a book. These things happen, or they don’t happen.
I have been with Herman and Francis before in the band called the Scorpions. Maybe that is one of the reasons. Maybe it reminds me that I can create something like that. It is like the feeling of being in the band, or something like that. I have done a lot of things like acoustic instrumentals and acoustic instrumentals and jammed with others and I have done who knows how may solo albums. This is something that is showing up and I like being with these guys. It is fun to play together and the outcome is great.
Jeb: Do you see a time Temple of Rock will only play their songs, or will you always play UFO or Scorpions?
Michael: Of course, that is what I mean by saying we’re developing. The idea of Temple of Rock started off like, basically, all of my written music. That is my temple of rock. When I did live performances in the beginning it was the most popular of my involvements from the past and now. That is my temple of rock.
Because we’ve developed step by step, every six months we understand what the next step needs to be. It is developing its own entity which means that after two, or three, albums you have enough material together to actually survive without getting into all of my other stuff. I can play my stuff in the future with Gary Barden, or with Robin McAuley, or whatever. Temple of Rock, sooner or later, will be ready and then we may only play our songs. Well, right now we must play past songs like “Rock Bottom,” or things like that. They are not really for Temple of Rock, but they are at this stage. They are the tool for Temple of Rock to become self-sufficient. That is the goal. We have three albums that have a lot of good songs on there and we can easily put together a set.
If people like what you do--in the beginning if you have only one album out then you don’t have enough material to tour and stuff like that. That period was important to perform the most popular of the past because that’s what that period was, but it won’t be that forever. You go through stages and over the next cycle bits and pieces develop. I can’t tell what is going to happen in the future because it is impossible. I can watch the steps. Once you’ve made one step, then you know what the next step should be.
Jeb: Did you have guitars stolen while recording this album?
Michael: I had four guitars stolen and we had some music stolen. It was extremely annoying, but we just said, “Come on, let’s do it” and we made it through it and the outcome is great.
Jeb: I have to ask you… Francis and Herman… what is working with them like after all of these years?
Michael: The chemistry is something you can’t really explain; it just is. Francis and Herman are family. Doogie, too, and Wayne… you have the chemistry. The first two albums are very much based on my concept. It is like I knew what kind of songs I wanted them to be, energetic, fast and melodic, et cetera. The rest of the guys just had to add their thoughts to it, but the skeleton was basically structured. There are a lot of fast songs on there and Herman had to kick some… he had to go for it. Now he is getting healthier because of it.
Jeb: Francis and Herman are solid. They really allow you room to solo.
Michael: That is the whole thing with Herman and Francis, to be honest. It is a screen that I can paint on. It is very important to have. I have played with the best drummers and sometimes it is very hard to play with a great drummer because there is so much coming from the drummer himself. It is, like you said, it is solid. I can do a lot with it. If you have too many people doing too many things it just becomes a ‘too many cooks’ kind of a thing.
The next album I already know what we will do. We will have an additional improvement…. not improvement… but an idea to involve Doogie more. In fact, on the next album, which is kind of exciting, as it means that something unpredictable can come out of that. I am looking forward to that too.
Jeb: I would like to see you go out and tour and do what you want to do.
Michael: I have a lot of space to be honest. I have a lot of space in this band and I have a lot of family, so I can do all sorts of things so I don’t have to worry. I just love to play music and I have never really done it for money or fame. That is just a by-product.
Everything that happens has just happened that way. I am not really connected to it. I am not connected to any trends. I am not really under pressure, especially now. It is much better now for me to play than it was in the ‘80s as there was too much competition and too much of a rat race and it was too much of a struggle then. That was the universe speaking that was not my place. As the musicians are getting older, I actually enjoy speaking to them more than I used to, as there is much more wisdom involved. It is much more fun to have a conversation with those guys.
Jeb: How is being in Temple of Rock different than being in UFO?
Michael: I was younger and I was developing then. Being in Temple of Rock I have developed and I have been through the school of life and I am celebrating. It is a different present and it is a different now.
Jeb: Talk about some of the songs on the new album. I really love the song “Communion.”
Michael: When I make an album, for me, it is never one song. For me, an album is like a book and it has to flow from the beginning to the end and it is a whole story. For me, that is number one on how I look at music.
I like all of the fast ones as they are my favorite. I also love all of the 7-string ones, as it is a new element and they remind me of a modern ‘70s, or something like that. There are a couple of mid-tempos that remind me of the UFO days. It is all of the emotions that I have collected over the years to put as many as I can into one album. I really like “Live and Let Live” and “Vigilante Man.” We used that one as a single and I think the second single will probably be “Live and Let Live.” “Rock City” and “Bulletproof” are all good.
For me, every song, when I play the lead guitar, that is my passion. That is where I am going out of the song into a little adventure and then back in. For me, when I listen I listen to the whole album and it has all different types of areas just like a book, where it gets exciting, dramatic, or whatever. That is how I look at it. I don’t really visualize individual songs, to be honest.
Jeb: Last one: I have something I’ve just got to know… your brother Rudolf is in a famous band. They are soon celebrating their 50th anniversary soon. You were in that band a couple of times. Is there any chance Michael Schenker might show up at one of these gigs?
Michael: UFO, Scorpions and my band are all putting out an album at the same time. I’ve been asked to do things, but I’m in the middle of promotion for my own album. The whole point is this: Scorpions… I have been doing a lot of helping out over the years. My place with Scorpions, if I look back over the years, is all about helping out. It is like, here and there, and it is spread over the years. Once in a while I show up and help out. It is the same with UFO. In ’93 they approached me and then I let them go again.
I don’t really know what the Scorpions are up to. Schenker Brothers album was going on too long with nothing happening, so I am focusing on my own thing. All I can say is that I absolutely admire my brother’s success. It is unbelievable how he did it. It is almost like from the jungle to the moon. It is great stuff and it is fascinating. I do my thing that I love doing with my own dreams of developing into a great guitarist. We both do our own thing. I am just amazed how he did everything.
Jeb: Any last words to close with?
Michael: This is the first time we are coming over to the USA with Herman and Francis, the Rock You Like a Hurricane rhythm section. We have been trying since last spring and we’ve got it together and we are excited to play the States with this lineup and we are all looking for it. Keep on rocking and we will be there soon!
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