Michael Schenker - February 2017

For more than 45 years, Michael Schenker has captivated rock fans with his virtuosic brand of hard rock, invariably leaving audiences spellbound after every performance. On 24th March, Michael releases Michael Schenker Fest Live. Recorded at Tokyo International Forum on 24th August 2016, he is joined by 3 vocalists with whom he has worked with over the years: Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet and Robin McAuley, all of whom deliver world class performances, their vocal skills overtaking their advancing years to reinforce their reputations as being some of the greatest rock vocalists ever. We sit down with Michael to understand where the idea came from to undertake such an ambitious project and how he managed to pull it off.

In March you will be releasing Michael Schenker Fest "Live" recorded at the Tokyo International Forum (available as a 2 CD, CD and DVD combo, DVD, Blu-Ray and digital download). This is an incredible package that beautifully captures what was a very special event indeed. And let's just remind ourselves on what a hugely ambitious project this was: Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet and Robin McAuley – 3 world class vocalists, all of whom you have previously worked with – and original Michael Schenker Group members Chris Glen (bass) and Ted McKenna (drums) all sharing a stage together. How did the idea to do this come about?

It actually started through a Japanese promoter who had the idea to have Graham Bonnet support MSG in 2015 in Japan and to have him play a couple of songs with us. When that idea came about, I went ‘wait a minute, I've been playing for quite a while now, to play my past with not the original singers?’ It's about time, and it would be a great thing to do, to put something together and play my past with Gary, Graham and Robin. So that basically was it. And I was thinking it’s a really unique line up because it’s a bit of everything but it embraces everything that’s connected. Steve Mann (guitar, keyboards) was available who is connected with Robin and myself. We have Chris Glen and Ted McKenna the original rhythm section of Assault Attack, and both of them were also the original rhythm section of MSG at the beginning after Cozy Powell. So put it all together you have a really well connected kind of thing and it's a great chemistry.

Thinking of the artists involved and how you all have your respective careers, how did you manage the logistics such as the scheduling and rehearsals?

Well, it's very expensive first of all. I have to fly everybody in but I've actually just come back from Glasgow, which is where we rehearse these days, and just spent 3 days with Chris and Ted and Steve and that is the main thing. The musical part is the most important part. The vocals we only need 1 full rehearsal because they can sing all day at home to the record and they just have to know their lyrics and words and remember the melodies. The main thing is that musically we are very fit and then we do the full rehearsal and we are, as the musicians, in 100% shape by the time we do that and then we focus on the vocals.

Recorded back in August 2016, what are your own memories of this show?

Unbelievable! Right from the beginning, it was just like Budokan again. It's kind of weird. It's like a cycle. It's almost like we have come full cycle and here we are again. For me it's already a written script really because the things that happen, they are meant to be and for some reason it's like I can feel the cycle. All of a sudden your are bumping into so many people who you haven't seen for so long and then you see certain people coming out of the woodwork who you haven't see for so long but all of a sudden they are there again as if there's some kind of orbit going on, like the Earth around the sun, or sometimes the moon is closer to the Earth or sometimes further away. But to me, at my age, when I look back there are so many things I understand now why they happened. This is a very, very special event. We had actually been offered to headline Loud Park Festival in Japan and I couldn't do it because Scorpions were playing there and we gave the slot to Whitesnake, but then my promoter found out about it and immediately jumped on me and booked the concert and that's when I realised I have to record this. This needs to be captured. This venue is so beautiful and it's just incredible. Right from the beginning when the intro played, all the people got excited. Japan has always been really special even though the next album, if I make another live album, is going to be in England! Well, in the UK, either Scotland or England because that's where everything started for me. The Japanese have been waiting for me. I never made it over to Japan with UFO or the Scorpions before. MSG was the first and the Budokan was the first time. By that time I was already developing myself as a lead guitarist or the art of lead guitar playing for 11 years and Japanese people actually understand the art of lead guitar and of course the British people do too. That's where the art comes from: Jimmy Page, Clapton and Jeff Beck and so on, but in Germany I think it's a little too detailed and too deep. With over 40 years of AC/DC people are getting ready to get a little deeper into the art of lead guitar and enjoy more of the details of lead guitar playing. In Japan it seems like they are really into that kind of thing. It's just kind of strange that they just understand. Spain and countries in the South are about lots of acoustic guitar playing. It's basically Budokan all over again. It was fantastic and so much fun watching the audience have a blast. Now we are taking it even further. We are booking right now a UK tour and shows in Spain. We are booking for next year already because the promoter needs that much time. October is the earliest that we can play in the UK so they want that much time to promote the tour. I am playing with Robin in May (Kalos Rock Festival in Madrid) and then we play in July a dual headline with Vince Neil (at the Bang Your Head Festival in Germany) as the Michael Schenker Fest. Then I guess if nothing else happens we will play a European tour in October.

And is that with all 3 vocalists?

Yes, as the Michael Schenker Fest. I do different things depending on who the promoters want and what we can afford to do, so depending on the offers they can have the Michael Schenker Fest or I can come with Robin. We have been requested in Spain to come with Robin McAuley which is a really nice thing. It's always kind of fresh for me and not being over-exposed as I was in my middle years when I kind of stayed out of the scene and built my recording studio and experimented with music and on a personal level etc etc . In 2007 I wanted to be on stage. It was weird. I changed 180 degrees from having stage fright to wanting to be on stage. It was the weirdest thing but it feel like that's my place. So maybe there's more than meets the eye. In the beginning I totally unconsciously developed all of my guitar playing out of pure fun for playing. I had no idea what I was doing. Rudolph called me up in the early 80s "Hey Michael, you won't believe it! They're playing your guitar style". I thought you must be joking! I never really learned about what kind of impact I created in the first part of my life on level until later in the 90s. I'm actually grateful that I was able to taste what it is like up there in the successful, what people call rat race, but I knew that was not for me so I was happy after Lovedrive when I opened the door to America for the Scorpions. I was happy to get away from all of that and do something small for myself without pressure. Doing what I want when I want. How little did I know that the moment I left following Lovedrive and the Scorpions, all of a sudden there was Peter Mensch looking for me wanting to do something big! Every time I wanted to do my own little thing, somebody would be looking for me and wanting to do big business, and that went on and on and on until the early 90s which was when I got away from everything for good. I lived in Arizona and I did a little experiment when a limo driver said to me "Mike, do you know you are being ripped off?". I said "What do you mean?". I didn't actually get paid for live concerts until ‘91 when I had this conversation with a limo driver. I was always in an okay place. I had an apartment, a roof over my head, my guitar and everything but I looked back and there were some things that I was aware of about getting ripped off and at some point in the early 90s I said to myself, all I need is a roof over my head and a few sandwiches a day. If I get away from all these people who keep screwing me around, I'm sure I can sell 1 CD a day and meet my needs. So I decided to make an acoustic, instrumental album with the last of the money and I got myself 2 bags of clothes, an acoustic guitar and electric guitar and went on a Greyhound bus public transport 10,000 miles through America and knocked on every radio station. 80% of all the stations opened the door, did an interview with me and played the music. When I came home I was rich! I couldn't believe it! It proved to me that all that time before when I was just so into my guitar playing and never really looked at the business aspect of things that I realised how much money went into someone else’s pocket. But that was an incredible experience. I built a recording  studio and I did all the things I wanted to do that I could never do before. I did a lot of experimenting. I was writing music from one theme to another that I've never be able to do in the commercial world. So I got all that stuff out of my system. In 2008, all of a sudden I felt like I needed to be back on stage, and I call that my third stage of my life - to celebrate consciously what I'd unconsciously developed in the first part of my life. The middle years prepared me to understand what I did in the beginning and now it's just really annoying that so many people are dying. So I just want to play as much rock music as I can and bring things to the next level as a lead guitarist and do things like what we’re doing now like the Michael Schenker Fest where people have a chance to see what it was like. Newcomers, people who have never seen us before may get a little taste of what it was like, and for the old fans to re-experience what it was like then. So I'm so glad that I captured that, that I made sure we recorded this and it turned out really good.

You mentioned of course some artists who are sadly no longer with us. Would it be a fair thing to say that you are conscious of the need to embrace opportunities?

First of all there is a script somewhere. There is a structure in life and life design for every person and I can see my life design. I can see it very clearly when I look back now. I can see the 3 stages, the first stage where I was able to taste what it was like up on stage and I was able to let go of that recording/touring/recording/touring machine. And there was something else I had to do in the middle years. I did something in my first part and what I did in my middle years prepared me for what I did in 2008. The black and white guitar marked the beginning of my middle years, and in 2008 all of a sudden I wanted to be on stage, like a force. Like someone had said "Okay, you are done with your middle years, you're back now where you started and take it from there" and I just want to celebrate the era of hand made rock while I'm still here!

You recorded Assault Attack with Graham Bonnet in 1982. Whilst you performed one show together in Sheffield, you never toured together to support the album. Why was this? 

It was the weirdest thing. I was playing guitar and one moment he was there and the next he was gone and never came back. That was it! (Laughs) We had to get Gary back because we had a headline at the Reading Festival but that was it. Assault Attack actually ended up to be a musicians favourite but what can I say? Things happen. Strange things happen in life! (Laughs)

What do your future plans include bringing new music?

Music is my life and what I love to do and I love to perform so much these days, especially being on stage, but I also want to bring the guitar playing to the next level as well and to ‘play and discover’ on a regular basis - that's what I call it. Treasure hunting! My fretboard is getting bigger and bigger and I'm experiencing that I'm finding more and more things that are coming from the infinite realm that are fresh. I haven’t been listening to music for 43 years so everything I do and my focus is the art lead guitar coming from a place of pure self expression. If anything I am a trend maker and some people get inspired by trends until the trend gets stagnant and then they need something fresh. So I stayed away. Since I was 17 I decided not to copy anything anymore and stayed away from music in general because if you are a creator, you need to put your energy in to that rather than consuming. I personally can't have it all because I decided the one very important thing is self-expression. If you decide to share something with people that only you have inside yourself, once you open it people know about it and if you leave it closed it will never be known. So with music that’s what I do. I share how I see it or how I feel it, so basically the art comes from spirit and every time I make a new record I have sprinkles that give it a certain amount of freshness that the hard core fans will understand from the art of guitar playing. They kind of know that and they are looking forward to it as much as I look forward to when I go ‘play and discover’. When I find those pieces I go "Wow, here's another piece of gold!" like treasure hunting and when it's time to make a record those little bits and pieces just mix in there. If people know what they listen to, they will understand when those fresh parts come forward. It's a lot of fun doing that kind of stuff. Music is my life and that’s what I enjoy doing. 

As our conversation draws to a close it’s with an enormous amount of respect that we reflect on not only what has been an incredibly successful career for Michael but also the huge influence and impact his music has had more broadly on the rock genre.

MICHAEL SCHENKER FEST "LIVE" TOKYO is released on Friday 24th March 2017 and will be available on 2CD, 2CD+DVD combo, LP, DVD, Blu-ray, Digital.

In the meantime, enjoy the official trailer for the package below.