Michael Schenker Talks About His New Album Universal - Summer 2022
2022 sees legendary guitarist Michael Schenker celebrate an incredible 50 years in rock, and with an extensive world tour and an incredible new album Universal to be released on the 27th May, he clearly intends to celebrate in style. It’s a huge honour to take a seat with the man himself to reminisce over the last 5 decades whilst also keeping a very excited eye on the future!
Well firstly let’s talk about how this year sees you celebrating your 50th anniversary in rock! This is such an an incredible milestone. It’s absolutely astounding that we are here now talking about a career of 50 years! 50 years, Michael! You have had the most wonderful career and it’s one where you have released over 60 studio and live albums. But when you look in the rear view mirror, what are the highlights for you?
I must say that the highlights are actually when the least happened! It was 1990 until 1995. I was on a very spiritual high. I had just departed from Robin McAuley and I had just done the acoustic album. I travelled by greyhound bus 10,000 miles through America knocking on radio stations’ doors without appointments and 80% opened. The point was that the limo driver told me “Do you know you are being ripped off left and right?” and I said “No I don’t”. I was happy but I thought about that later and finally when Robin and I split up I was thinking to myself “Michael, why are you hanging out with an these people?” My vision was 'I’m sure I can sell at least 3 CDs everyday to have a roof over my head and to have some clothes to put on and a sandwich or two to eat'. So that was the idea behind it. So I put together and acoustic instrumental album to say thank you to my fans for all the support for all these years and then I travelled 10,000 miles all across America with my guitars and bags. When I came back home my garage was full of envelopes. I was selling the CDs myself and in the interviews they were giving my address for those who wanted to buy the album. The first 1000 people had their names put on the cover and so when I came home I was rich! (Laughs!). It was unbelievable! My whole garage was full of envelopes with money in them! So that made me realise what the limo driver was telling me. Now, for the first time all the money was coming directly to me.
Fantastic! That is so wonderful to hear! Well, The 27th May sees you release your new album Universal. This is less than a month’s time. What sort of thoughts are going through your mind at album release time?
Oh I’m looking forward to it of course! It’s always fantastic and it’s always exciting to have a tour and an album release at the same time. The singles are coming out... and I’m getting busy anyway because of 2 years of ‘postpone cancel, postpone cancel, bank and forth, back and forth’. It’s about time that something was happening. So bringing this album out connected with the tour is absolutely fantastic!
You’ve been releasing albums for 50 years. Is releasing new music now still as exciting as it was back in the early 70s?
It's no different. I’m still on a mission spreading the joy of music from the place of personal expression. That’s what I do. I go within myself. Many people copy each other to be part of the scene or a trend, but if a person goes within themselves there’s an endless well of creativity. I have always done that. I’ve not been listening to music for over 50 years and I’ve not been copying anybody. Again it’s like a sponge, anything the brain hears it automatically copies, so I stay away in my car. I don’t have the radio on ever. I don’t have a radio in my house, I don’t have a record player. So my focus and my passion is pure self-expression. It’s as pure as possible of course. You can never do it 100%. So that’s why the whole thing has never diminished or has become less or more. It has always been the same. The excitement and passion have always been the same. I don’t actually live like a typical rock star. I have had many different ways of doing what I’m doing but self expression is always the number one priority. That’s why I didn’t join all these bands who asked me to join.
For this new album Universal, you have again collaborated with some amazing artists. I would like to start with your absolutely stunning vocalist Ronnie Romero. Ronnie is one of the very best and most gifted vocalists of the modern day. What does it mean to have Ronnie as part of the Universal album?
That kind of trickled in very slowly, very gently. We were working on Revelation and there was a song called We Are The Voice and it was the last song. Robin McAuley and Graham Bonnet were in Thailand and Los Angeles and it became a last minute thing. Michael Voss said “I know a guy who has just finished touring with Ritchie Blackmore”. So we called him and that same day he was singing We Are The Voice. I was actually shocked hearing it and him doing it so fast and so professional. So of course he stuck in my head and at some point while we were getting ready for Japan and even for the UK tour with the Michael Schenker Fest, there was something going on for Graham Bonnet so we put a couple of people on standby. One was the bass player Barry Sparks because Chris Glenn had a problem with his leg so we didn’t know how he was going to do, and Graham Bonnet had some personal problems so we had Ronnie on standby. We asked him and he was ready to do it. We’d done some rehearsals but then of course everything was cancelled, postponed, cancelled or postponed. In the end none of it happened. For this album Universal we decided to have Ronnie as our main singer and he sang most of the songs. Ronnie is one of those people who can sing like anybody. He’s very professional and has perfect pitch. He’s just great!
So many amazing artists have been involved. For Universal you have worked with people like Michael Kiske (Helloween), Ralph Sheepers (Primal Fear), Steve Mann (Lionheart), Simon Phillips (Toto, The Who), Brian Tichy (Whitesnake, Billy Idol) and so many other outstanding musicians and artists. In creating Universal, how did you decide who wanted to be involved?
Michael Voss and I just played it by ear. We never really know what we’re going to do. Michael Schenker Fest was perhaps a little bit more structured. Michael Voss kind of put together some lyrics and melodies with singers in mind. I think Michael never knows that when I come to the studio with my songs what is going to hit him. He gets to hear the songs for the first time when he presses the recording button. That’s when he hears the first piece of music. He then immediately writes lyrics and vocal lines to what he hears, and so everything gets developed step by step. We never know what the end result. That’s the beauty of our work together. It's so spontaneous. The only structure we have is the music. Everything else unfolds as we go
Also how did you manage the recording process? Were you able to get people in the room or did your need to rely on remote technology?
I don’t like people in the room! It reminds me of the days of Ron Nevison. He would get so angry because we would make so much noise in the background. It’s impossible with party people in the room to try and focus and concentrate. It’s much better to do it this way especially since I’m the writer and I want to stay away from external influences and to do this just between myself and Michael. The rest of the guys, sometimes they write a little bit here and there, but it’s the personality of those guys. For example, Simon Phillips, he has his way of drumming. It would be a waste of time to find a studio for him to set up his drums and try and get the same drum sound. It’s impossible! He is focused on having the perfect drum sound and it would take forever to try and duplicate that in a different studio. So it is much better that way. All Simon needs is the song he’s playing on and then he does his version of it – and it's perfect!
Let’s talk about the lead single and opening track Emergency. This is an absolutely outstanding track that really represents the very best in what Michael Schenker is all about - gorgeously infectious riffs and the most wonderfully melodic solo. How representative is this track of the whole album?
I always make sure that the album I make is well balanced. Mixing it all together keeps it all really fresh, energetic and exciting, and one gets curious what is going to happen next. That’s how I like to put together an album, so that it all flows and stays alive all the way to the end, like a good book. There’s a lot of stuff on the album that’s kind of here and there and a little bit different but very catchy, maybe progressive in parts. It’s kind of difficult to describe music with words.
As well as being the artist and composer, you were also actually the producer of Universal, with support of course from Michael Voss. How comfortable is it for you to sit in the producer’s chair and as a guitarist do you need to put yourself in a different mindset?
I'm just being myself. That's all that's required (laughs!). Just be ‘Michael Schenker' and co-produce with Michael Voss. That's all that's needed!
Let’s talk about Michael Schenker in a live setting. You’ve already made reference to the tour which starts in Helsinki on 27 April, the first of 14 European dates throughout April and May. You also have 31 US dates later this year from September to October. How excited are to to get back out on stage and play live?
Oh yeah! We did 4 shows in the UK in October last year. That was the beginning. That was a shot to the body after so long not playing on stage for 2-hours every night and then driving. But I’m very excited. Very excited! We are doing the Hellfest festival, Graspop in the summer time. From September to November we play the States and then we go to Japan and then maybe South America where there are some talks at the moment, and then hopefully Australia for the first time.
It currently looks like you have most of the summer free. As you mentioned, you have fairly recently played the UK but might there be an opportunity to squeeze in some UK dates?
Who knows! We will see what comes up. It wouldn’t surprise me at all!
One thing we do need to talk about is the fantastic artwork for the album! Zsofia Dankova has done an amazing job! We see you playing guitar in a futuristic spaceship floating high in orbit. Now for me, this really represents how stratospheric you have continued to be for 50 years. And it’s wonderful to see an artist investing in how the album is visually represented. But tell me how this concept came about.
It was a few years ago, I sketched something like that and I sent it to my website guy and asked him to put something proper together. By the time I got it it was really good! It’s actually where the Flying V became a spaceship. When I was making an album I remembered that sketch and I presented it to the record company and they said “Let us play around with it”. They made the guitar become the spaceship and changed it around a bit, and then of course it's the universe. The name came automatically. We have a song called The Universe and we decided to call the album Universal. I had Universe in mind at the beginning, and thinking about it, it’s like going from planet to planet rather than venue to venue playing concerts! It’s simply that music is the universal language that everybody understands. So it can be used everywhere throughout the universe and not just in every country like we can on planet earth. People can still feel the music even if they don’t understand the lyrics and I guess the same would apply to going out in the universe and playing music if there’s a life out there!
Finally, I would like to get back to the new album and pick up on the closing track on the album, Au Revoir. This is a wonderful way to close the album but it does of course mean goodbye. This isn’t really goodbye is it?
No, no! Michael Voss, he’s got his thoughts behind it! (laughs!)
As our conversation draws to a close, we reflect on what incredible year 2022 promises to be for Michael Schenker. It’s wonderful that this iconic guitarist is celebrating 50 years in rock, and that he is doing so with an extensive world tour and an incredible new album that beautifully upholds his legendary status!
To find out more, head over to Https://Michaelshenkerhimself.com. In the meantime, enjoy the video for Emergency below.