RUSHONROCK’s Ian Murtagh – aka Self Made Man – got the lowdown from the former UFO and Scorpions star.
RUSHONROCK: Michael, you have a vast back catalogue from your days with The Scorpions, UFO, MSG and of course as a solo artist. If you were on a desert island, which three discs of your own work would you take with you?
MICHAEL SCHENKER: I am a creator, not a consumer and I live to play and to discover. The music I would take with me would be new music so I would definitely have my new album Spirit On A Mission, which I am incredibly proud of. But in truth, as long as I had my guitar, I’d be very content. Of course, that is probably not the answer my fans expected or even wanted to hear so if I had to choose the most popular albums, then I’d go for Lovedrive by The Scorpions, UFO’s Strangers In The Night and Live At The Budokan, MSG’s first live album.
RUSHONROCK: As someone who clearly doesn’t dwell on the past, it must therefore be difficult compiling a setlist which satisfies your fanbase while at the same time not compromising your own principles.”
MS: You have to apply common sense. Any band or musician that has been around for a long time, has to think very carefully about this. Of course, it’s stating the obvious that you cannot play everything so it’s a question of balance. First, you pick the song that it is impossible to leave out and Rock Bottom comes into that category. Then there will be songs from the Bridge The Gap album because this is after all, the Bridge The Gap tour. I will also include at least one new song from Spirit On A Mission. Then it is a case of selecting material from my days with The Scorpions, UFO and MSG. It will be a nice mix but I can assure the fans, there will be one or two surprises.
RUSHONROCK: In the late 70s, you were widely regarded as one of the best guitarists in the business. Thirty-odd years on when do you believe you were at your peak?
MS: Definitely now. I would say that, wouldn’t I? But it is what I truly believe. I first picked up a guitar at the age of nine and ever since then, I have been on a voyage of discovery. I am still on that journey. Every time I play, I hear new sounds, learn new techniques, develop different styles and experiment with ideas. It is my passion. I still get great excitement from the instrument. The essence of playing is the same but there are endless possibilities.
RUSHONROCK: It’s been well documented that you have had problems in your personal life which inevitably affected you as a musician. Would you accept that there was a period when your performances dipped below the standards you had previously set?
MS: Yes I would accept that and I can tell you exactly when that was. 2002 was when a decline set in. It was the worst period of my life. I was divorced and the effects on me were devastating. The rot set in for a few years. If I am honest, probably until 2006 or 2007. That was when I knew I had to get back into the groove of rock n’ roll. When In The Midst of Beauty came out, that was when I got everything together again – the clue is in the title of that album. Since that time, I have felt great about my music and my playing.
RUSHONROCK: Which guitarists inspired you?
MS: Growing up, it was the obvious ones – Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Lesley West, Johnny Winter and Rory Gallagher. But the truth is, for a long time I have not listened to a lot of music. In the late 70s I was blown away by Eddie Van Halen because he introduced something new into rock music. Yngwie Malmsteen was another because of the speed he played though after a while, I found his sound too repetitive. But the truth is I have always wanted space in my head to allow me to express what I want. Influences are good up to a point but I want to create my own music and that means having an mind that is not cluttered.
RUSHONROCK: Modesty aside, where do you think you stand in the pantheon of great guitarists?
MS: I don’t really know and to be honest and it does not really bother me too much. When my brother Rudi formed The Scorpions, he wanted them to be one of the biggest bands in the world and he succeeded. I always had very different objectives but I am happy with the way my career has gone and with the decisions I have taken. Had I stayed in The Scorpions, I don’t think I would have been so happy. I need my own space and the freedom to explore my own things. That is a reason I chose not to work with Ozzy Osborne when he approached me. Fulfilment for me is doing what I want, playing what I want and writing what I want. There would have been issues had I stayed with the Scorpions or worked with Ozzy or Aerosmith. I think it is for fans to decide who is the best this or that. What I will say is that these days, no-one leaves my concerts feeling let down.
RUSHONROCK: Talk about your new album Spirit On A Mission.
MS: It has had a difficult birth because at one stage, we had five guitars stolen and some of the music too but now it is finished and will be released early in 2015. It is an album I could have written as an 18-year-old. Perhaps there are similarities with my early work with UFO. You are the judge of that, not me. What I will say is that Spirit On A Mission is an album that is fast, energetic, heavy and full of melodies. I had a vision of what I wanted it to sound like and am happy to say it has come out just the way I wanted.