For over 40 years, “The Blonde Bomber”, Michael Schenker has been wowing music lovers and aficionados with his unique style of guitar playing and stunning array of songs. From his early days forming Scorpions, through to his tenure as lead guitarist in UFO and now on to his incredible new project, Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock, the living legend has done it all and, as he prepares to hit the UK for 10 dates on his “Spirit on a Mission” world tour, I was privileged enough to be afforded an interview with him…..
Rock N Load: Good afternoon Michael and may I first say ‘Herzlichen Glückwunsch nachträglich’ (belated happy birthday in German) for Sunday. Did you have a good one?
Michael Schenker: Ha ha, thank you! Yes, I had a very good birthday. I actually spent it editing our DVD, which is out in April, and I then went to Calais in order to be ready for our UK tour. We also have a double single out soon (“Rock City” and “Good Times” taken from the album “Spirit on a Mission”) and we are in the process of signing up to a record deal to produce our third album hopefully in 2017, so there is a lot to do at the moment!
RNL: Excellent, glad to hear it, especially the record label deal, that is very important…..
MS: Yes, it is! We have been working to an old deal that I signed in 2008, so it is very important that we get our own record deal for Temple Of Rock which will allow us to grow this band as a stand-alone project and mean we can move to the next level.
RNL: And so, are you looking forward to continuing your birthday celebrations during this upcoming UK leg of the tour?
MS: Well, yes, but, you know, it is more about celebrating my generation of rock music!
RNL: Ha ha, yes, of course! But being in the UK does hold special meaning to you, doesn’t it? You played your first UFO gig in the north east didn’t you?
MS: Absolutely! It is always so exciting to play the UK! I was only kind of 18 years old and I went straight on tour with UFO and played in Newcastle, in Sunderland, in Glasgow, all over the place. It was amazing. At 17½ I left Germany because there was no rock music and I came to England because that was where the music at the time was coming from and I immediately felt at home there. In fact, I have lived longer in the UK (and America) than I have in Germany! So it is always special to come back to these fans.
RNL: Fantastic! And what can these fans expect to hear by way of the setlist? As mentioned, you have the double single out, so will these be included along with the classics?
MS: Yes, I think so. We started our tour in the States last year and the setlist is constantly changing. When I look back at those setlists it is amazing how much it has changed and developed! We release a single and so that gets put in to the setlist, so it is a constant and natural process, and we also never want to repeat ourselves, so, yes, the setlist is always changing. We want to make sure there is enough new stuff in there for the fans to hear but also the classics and the ‘must hear’ songs that the fans want as well.
RNL: Brilliant. Does this constant changing of the setlist make it even more enjoyable to be out on tour? You know, finding the right balance between the classics and the new stuff…..
MS: Yes, of course! You know, as you progress and develop as a group, that is always reflected when you are on the road. You change your set a little bit and that keeps it fresh and exciting. You then look back one year and you are like, “Wow, was that really us!?”! It is like a photograph of yourself if you let your hair grow. You don’t notice the difference every day but when you look at an old photo, you can see it then!
RNL: Ha ha, excellent, yes! And with the line-up now, do you feel this is a settled line-up and one to carry you through to the next level?
MS: Yes, this is the one! “Bridge the Gap” was our first album together with Doogie White on vocals, and now we have “Spirit on a Mission”, with the original rhythm section of Scorpions, so I feel this is the line-up to take Temple Of Rock to that next level.
RNL: That is really good to hear, especially for the fans who like consistency and a settled line-up. Are the rest of the guys just as enthusiastic and inspired as yourself for the future and for touring?
MS: Absolutely because we are progressing! We started out with “Bridge the Gap” and then we started adding the 7-string ideas and we are getting that much closer to finding our own unique sound. We also have a good song-writing team with Doogie, myself and Wayne (Findlay, 7-string guitars/keyboards) which I feel will take us to the next level. We will show our results to the record labels and get the deal signed.
RNL: So is the record deal close then…..?
MS: We are going to start doing that after we have finished this tour, so that is towards the end of February, but in the meantime we have this tour and we have the DVD out in April, so that is taking care of keeping people entertained and growing our name.
RNL: This is all fantastic to hear as it does keep the fans in the loop on many different levels; firstly the album (“Spirit on a Mission”), then the double single, now the tour and the DVD to follow. It is all very exciting isn’t it?
MS: Yes absolutely, it is a lot of fun right now! I can’t wait to make the next record and have that released and then come back to the UK and play that record!
RNL: Again, fantastic, that is brilliant to hear! Your enthusiasm for it all is brilliant to hear, especially after all these years of touring and putting out music…..
MS: Well, yes, since 2008, I started to feel the fun in touring because I never really enjoyed touring before because of stage fright. For years I almost hated performing live but then, in my middle years, something happened and I really started to enjoy touring and being on stage and this has now given me the chance to celebrate my generation of rock. You know, unfortunately people are passing away all the time (in reference to Lemmy and David Bowie) and sooner or later you are just going to be a memory, so it is important to make sure it is a good memory. I don’t know what happened in 2008 but I suddenly didn’t mind being on stage and touring, so I took that as a signal to be out here and continue doing what I am doing and making a musical contribution until I can’t anymore.
RNL: Wow, that is incredible to hear and fantastic that you have managed to overcome your stage fright and it now shows on your face when you are on stage how happy and enthusiastic you are…..
MS: Yes, I am so glad that I did! And, you know, it’s good news and gives hope to other people who suffer the same that it can go away. It makes me feel like my time is now and I am so happy to see so many people come to see us and that this ‘movie’ can continue until, well, who knows!
RNL: Well, exactly! You touched on the passing of Lemmy and David Bowie. How did they, as artists, impact you during your career?
MS: Well, Lemmy asked me to join him in Motorhead! We (UFO) toured together with Motörhead and he obviously liked what he saw in me and so asked me to join him. But I didn’t feel it was the right thing for me at the time. And David Bowie, he was such an incredible artist and I always believed he would go on and on and I never knew, nobody did, that there was something wrong with him, and so it came like a shock, completely out of the blue. It was on my birthday too, so that was sad.
RNL: I can imagine. But these kinds of artists inspired you and still do today…..?
MS: Oh yes, definitely. I always define a great band as having a great guitar player but when I was sick, when I was 17/18 years old, I was given a Bowie record (“The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”) and it also showed me another way to make music and it was my first introduction to Bowie and I loved it.
RNL: But the guitar sound was always most important to you and you have gone on to develop your own unique style and way of playing…..
MS: Yes, definitely. Growing up I was more interested by the likes of Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and they influenced me a lot, the late 60s guitar music. But Bowie really did open my eyes to making music without being guitar-led.
RNL: Cool. And so what are you doing right now, resting up before the UK tour…..?!?
MS: Ha ha, no, not at all! I have just left the recording studio, doing some mixes and editing for the DVD, then I head to the UK, to Birmingham, to check our equipment and other things for the tour, so it is a busy time!
RNL: Ha ha! Well, I will let you get on with things then and I wish you all the best for an excellent UK tour. Thank you SO much Michael for affording me the chance to chat with you.
MS: Thank you and no worries! Take care now, bye!
A thoroughly engaging legend hangs up the phone and prepares to blow yet more minds throughout the length and breadth of the UK – do NOT miss him and the rest of the Temple Of Rock guys in action!
20th January – Robin 2 in Bilston
21st January – Holmfirth Picturedome in Holmfirth
22nd January – Queens Hall in Edinburgh
23rd January – The Ironworks in Inverness
25th January – The Sage in Gateshead
26th January – The o2 Academy in Liverpool
28th January – Academy 2 in Manchester
29th January – Rock City in Nottingham
30th January – Islington Assembly Hall in London
31st January – “Giants Of Rock” in Minehead