Bridging The Gap from the Past to the Future
Words: TK Smith
Michael Schenker is an icon. Becoming a professional guitarist in his early teens, he has gone on to reach the very height of rock’s pantheon. His signature riffs brought UFO out of their space rock haze and led them to become arena superstars. He did the same with the Scorpions, assisting in their transformation from Hendrix-inspired krautrock to a worldwide phenomenon. As a solo artist, Schenker set the bar in Teutonic guitar playing, with each of his thirty solo albums resonating polish and world-class playing, second to none. It is with renewed enthusiasm that he celebrates a forty-year history, assembling a unique lineup that includes Scorpions’ rhythm section Francis Buchholz (bass) and Herman Rarebell (drums), while featuring ex-Rainbow vocalist Doogie White. Along with second guitarist and keyboardist Wayne Findlay, the five-piece deliver the goods in a 13-track opus that honors his past while blazing new horizons for the future.
We interviewed Schenker on his way to LAX for a Sunday afternoon flight to Denver. He is current playing a string of warm up club shows while spreading the word that he will be returning to the big stage after the European summer festival season.
The Electric Beard: Hello Michael, how are you doing?
Michael Schenker: I’m doing great. Very busy right now, as we are promoting this new album “Bridge The Gap”. It’s weird how it came about. We never knew we were going to make a record together. It happened by accident.
TEB: This time around you are using Doogie White as your vocalist. Do you like to do that change your vocalists from time to time?
MS: Yes, I’d like to have a different vocalist for Europe, Japan, and America. Robin McAuley already took care of America, and Michael Voss in Japan. Now it is Doogie’s turn. Pete Way was not doing well, so I asked Francis (Buchholz) if he was up to it. Then Herman got involved. We were doing some old Scorpions’ songs, so I thought it would be great if they could join. Our first rehearsal in the studio was just like it was at the beginning of 1979. It was like the joy I first experienced working with them. When we played on stage together - it was amazing. We were all re-experiencing the past. On a daily basis - on a weekly basis - it was getting better and better. I thought to myself, “before something happens, I need to record this on DVD”. We fit in a video shot during the tour and shot the show in Tilburg, Holland, May 2012. After we got the DVD released, we got so many offers we had to add a second leg to the European tour.
TEB: There was a gap between tours. Is that when you recorded the album?
MS: Yes, the first leg of the European tour finished in September 2012. Then I asked the guys, ‘Hey, what do you think of making a record?” They loved the idea. I went into writing mode. I realized there was a six-month gap between the end of the first European tour to the beginning of the second leg of the European tour, which started 4th of April 2013. I started writing 2012 October and finished by the end of the year. When I gave my material to Doogie, I already knew I was going to call the album Bridge the Gap. The last time I played with Francis and Herman, we made only one album together, and that was Scorpions’ Lovedrive. That opened the door for the Scorpions in America. We had all those years in-between, and here we are together for the second time and are making a record. That’s why I called it Bridge the Gap from the past to the now.
TEB: Doogie is an incredible vocalist. He has a very operatic range similar to Ronnie James Dio. There are times this record reminds me of early Rainbow.
MS: I gave the material to Doogie, and I said to him as an inspiration, “here is the stuff, think ‘melodic’ and think ‘bridge the gap’”. He took that idea and did an incredible job with it. I went into the recording studio (Kidroom studio, Muenster, Germany) and made arrangements to rent a special studio for the drums, then we put down the bass, some strings, and the keyboard. When we were ready for Doogie, he showed us what he had and we selected the best parts. We rehearsed and recorded through March (2013) and played our first concert in Russia shortly after that. We knew it would be a few months before the album was slated for release, so I made the decision to put it on the shelf. Put it away. I didn’t want to pay any more attention to it until after the tour was over. By the end of the tour, I got the album out. We all listened to it again with fresh ears, and we knew immediately what we should do to make it even better.
We opened it up, edited in additional parts, remixed it, then it was done. We had a new kind of luxury that was created. Many times I have approached the studio, recorded and released an album, and realized, ‘I wish I could have changed this or that’. But either the time or the money made that impossible. I’m so grateful, working with Michael Voss and Kidroom Studios, we were granted that opportunity to listen to the album with fresh ears and do what we did to make it that much better. The first song we worked on was “Bridges We Have Burned”. Doogie reminds me of this medieval singer standing on top of a mountain making an announcement. I think “Lords of the Lost and Lonely” has that vibe, a Celtic, medieval thing. It’s incredible with Doogie’s voice, he’s a great metal singer. It makes the whole album that much harder. By putting a melody on top of his voice, it created a real unique mixture of deep sounds, rockin’ sounds, melodic sounds. Lot of elements in there that create a really wide spectrum.
TEB: Was there a preconceived effort to make this a harder-edge record, something to really make a statement?
MS: Yes, before I started writing for this album, I thought to myself, I want this to be hard, loud, heavy, fast and melodic. So I made a special effort…plus I developed this incredible liking to being on stage which I actually never had before. I felt a little lighter and more comfortable with who I am now. I wanted to enjoy performing the songs as best I can and not make it too boring. I wanted to have a balance of fast and melodic songs to keep it interesting. I wanted the songs to be memorable as well, with an edge to them. A bit of drama involved, a bit of darkness, the whole spectrum. I also wanted this record to have elements of all facets of my career. I wanted to go all the way to back to when I was 18. I wanted that fire. My current (tour) program is my most popular music from past to present. It all fits together.
TEB: When you look back over your career do you see it in stages? Are there certain songs that could only have be written at that time of your life?
MS: This is the third stage of my life. I turn 60 on 10 January 2015. I’m back in the loop of rock and roll. I want to celebrate this incredible era of rock that I’ve lived through and been a part of. Some very important players have already passed away like John Bonham, Ronnie James Dio, Gary Moore, Alvin Lee, Keith Moon, Jon Lord. We’ve lost so many. Before you know it, we will all just be a memory. I want to emphasize this era one more time. I want to do that in the final phase of my life. I was there in the beginning, I used the middle for personal development, I wanna be there at the final to celebrate that era. Herman and Francis disappeared from rock and roll for a few years for various different reasons. Now, they are back. I feel the universe is the driver, I’m just doing my part. Maybe there’s a reason we have been preserved for the final era.
TEB: Wow, that’s heavy. As you were writing the album, was there a process to crafting songs around an early era of your career? Did you plan it out that much in advance?
MS: Actually, most of my playing on Bridge the Gap was all improvised. The only thing I actually sat down and worked out ahead of time was the middle solo on the “Lord of the Lost and Lonely”. All the others were improvised and basically, they are the outcome of developing from one album to another, and, for the moment, presenting my current state of playing. When we were writing “Where the Wild Winds Blow” I heard Doogie singing ‘Be still my love’. When I heard it, I thought, ‘this is a good place to add some acoustic guitar before it breaks out into the full rock’. I was inspired by the lyrics for a change. On “Rock N Roll Symphony”, Doogie sings, ‘the music we live for, the music we love’, so I think he was inspired by the music. He heard it as classic ‘70s or ‘80s and worked it into the lyrics of the song. It’s a song that naturally goes through the years.
TEB: Working together again with Herman and Francis must have brought back memories of the past. Do you view your current music in terms of a cycle? And did the band ever sit down together and say, “let’s play it this way, like the old days”?
MS: When we were recording, we never sat down and actually discussed what this album was about. It’s interesting that everyone responded to it the same way. If you analyze it, everybody seems to be part of the same cycle…and that cycle is closing. Our producer, Michael Voss, is an excellent musician, and is a great engineer as well as a producer. He was a big MSG fan during the Gary Barden years. He knows exactly where I’m coming from. In him, I had an incredible working relationship. He is also very current with his many projects. If I’m not very current, he makes sure to get me to that level. (ha, ha).
TEB: I want to ask about Wayne Findlay’s use of the 7-string guitar. What does it add to the songs and why did you feel it was needed?
MS: I wanted to add emphasis to the seventh string. Wayne Findlay has nicely developed his technique, using it since 2004. He’s really learned how to control it. It adds a deeper sound. I also thought it was time for him to become more present in the band and on record. Bridging the things from the past and adding a modern element to it like the seventh string made the record more full...more complete.
TEB: What is your writing process like these days? Has it changed over the years?
MS: For this record, I made the arrangements and recorded them to a click track. I give them to Michael Voss and explain what kind of drums sound I wanted. He’s a drummer himself so it made it that much better. I did the same with the bass and so on. We structured everything until the blueprint was right. Then Francis and Herman put down their track, but there were certain elements I had to have in there. For instance in “Horizons” the machine gun bass track was very important for me. It had to be a fast, driving, high note so the guitar can come from underneath and make it all work. Certain moods and certain aspects have to be kept in there. So, there were certain things I insisted on having. When we added the drums and bass, it became that much more wide-ranged. It made it complete.
TEB: You are currently on a club tour promoting the album with a different rhythm section. Do you plan to do a full tour with Herman and Francis and bring them to the states?
MS: Our “album line up” world tour is not ready to start now. Both Herman and Francis have other commitments. But I still wanted to get the word out about Bridge the Gap, so I’m doing a club tour with bassist Rev Jones (Mountain) and drummer Pete Holmes (Black N Blue), who have been with me for several years. Of course, Doogie will be on vocals. We will start in March with the “album line up” tour in Japan, and then will be coming to America around autumn 2014. It was important for me to make sure everyone knows I have a new album out coast to coast, and that there is going to be an album line-up world tour.
TEB: How different is it now, without major label backing, for an artist to promote and tour a new album?
MS: In my middle years I never promoted any albums, I just played basically for my hardcore fans. This time, I want to make sure everyone knows about it, and when we come back were are going to be touring on a much bigger scale. I’m here to pull in some shows together with Rev and Pete, while introducing Doogie to America. We are doing the promotion here and letting everyone know we have a new album out we are doing radio and TV. I feel a lot of positive energy for this record and want my fans to hear it and come see the shows.
TEB: Thank you, Michael, for taking a few minutes to chat about Bridge the Gap. I look forward to seeing you on the road and listening to these new songs live. Your playing is always inspiring.
MS: Thank you, Todd. Yes, we will speak more next time. Cheers!
Website: Michael Schenker