Rockin’ in Sao Paulo with Klaus Meine
An exclusive interview with Todd K Smith
On the eve of their US release for Humanity Hour I the Scorpions’ publicity machine is in full swing. Keyboards are tapping, Blackberry’s are blinking and Eddie Trunk is all over XM Satellite confirming to the world that this record is a major achievement for the German-based band and might well be their crowning glory. After nearly forty years in the business the Scorpions are still setting and breaking records. Since the international release of Humanity Hour 1 two months ago, it has placed in the top twenty album charts of seven countries including Greece, Germany, Japan, France and Russia and continues to see strong sales in South America and throughout Europe. The label’s spin on the record is that of a concept piece based on good versus evil / man versus machine that’s the surface. Dig a little deeper and it’s really about the condition of the world as viewed through the eyes of a band that is constantly encircling the globe. The Scorpions are touring band. They are aware, worried, and deeply concerned about the decay, lack of compassion and destruction that threatens the human family and environment. With guitars plugged in, bass and drums loaded and a singer with the gift of angelic harmony they’re going to tell us about it.
“There are some band’s that sing about saving this or that but never really put the effort into it,” says lead singer Klaus Meine in his gracious call from Sao Paulo. “We just played Manaus deep in the heart of the Brazilian rain forest to 30,000 people. Greenpeace was there and for us it was an opportunity to show that we really did care. To sing about humanity is one thing but to do it …well that’s why we’re here.” Ambassadors for global awareness has become the new mantra for the 80’s giants whose Hypgnosis covers were regularly banned from K-Mart. Fans and critics alike can point to the exact moment the band went from “the bitch is hungry” to “wind of change”. “Well, yes that was the turning point,” laughs Klaus. “Herman (Rarebell, drummer) would write about ‘bad boys going wild’ and ‘another piece of meat’ but by the early nineties we all started to mature.” If their landmark albums Lovedrive, Animal Magnetism and Blackout marked the band’s teenage adolescence, then Crazy World, Face the Heat and Unbreakable summed up their growth spurts.
“What we’ve tried to accomplish with Humanity Hour I,” says Meine, “is to continue our growth. The lyrics are deeper, maybe even darker but we still wanted songs of hope and more of a global theme. It was important that this album be a great rock record but we also wanted to say something important.” The band met with a number of writers from Sweden to America. When it came to recording they recruited famed producer Desmond Child (Kiss, Bon Jovi, Kelly Clarkson) and mixing engineer James Michael to lead the team. “It was completely different from anything we’d ever done before,” continues Meine, “Desmond comes in with a whole group and creates this amazing professional vibe. He would work with me on vocals and James Michael would work with Rudy and Matthias on the guitar parts.” An unusual request Desmond made of Meine was to hire a vocal coach. “In the eighties I would work with the occasional coach on the road,” says Meine, “but never in the studio. He hired this guy to come in and we went through different phrasing. Some of the songs on the record are very difficult to sing.” Meine recounted one night he was finishing his vocal training at the coach’s home in the hills of LA when in walked ‘a very popular movie actor’. “He recognized me and said, ‘Klaus what are you doing here? You don’t need voice lessons.’ It was a very funny moment.”
In the Scorpions’ past several singers were used for harmonies and guide vocals. Don Dokken was brought in for the Blackout sessions when Meine had throat surgery in 1981. Later Canadian ‘Metal Queen’ Lee Aaron sang harmonies on Savage Amusement (1988), however this wasn’t the first time the band hosted a guest singer. Tells, Meine, “Rudy knew Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins and they just so happened to be recording in the same studio. One night after a fun pinball game we asked if he’d like to sing a part in ‘The Cross’. He was knocked out because he is a BIG Scorpions fan. The result is a powerful combination of alternative-meets-classic hark rock in a titanic blast of energy.” John 5 (Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie) added another first as guest guitarist on Hour 1. “It’s not that we are insecure about our playing,” says Meine, “in fact we’re playing our absolute best now. It’s more of an invitation to join us in creating this musical journey.” The band continued the invitation this summer hosting past members Uli Jon Roth, Michael Schenker and Herman Rarebell for their live shows.
“We feel so fortunate to have fans from all ages,” says Meine. “That’s why we do it. They go crazy when we play ‘Fly to the Rainbow” with Uli and then go into ‘Humanity’ with Matthias. The fans connect through the music and we feel that energy on stage. We try to give them a good time, to make the show memorable. That’s one good thing about the internet; it gives fans a chance to share the experience with the world. The fans tonight in Sao Paulo might be communicating to fans in Japan. It’s the spirit of the music that unites the world. We tour all over from Tel Aviv to Cairo and into Indonesia and the music connects everyone. I feel very fortunate to be a part of that.” Meine teased us with a set list that included many of the band’s trademark standards as well as new numbers “321”, “The Cross” and “The Game of Life”. The band is already getting feedback regarding their live show through their online message board. Says Meine, “We love hearing back from the fans. They have already embraced several of the new songs, which is very rewarding to hear. Even through a number of writers, musicians and producers worked on Hour 1 it still sound very much like a Scorpions record and we’re proud of that.”
“A lot of people thought using Desmond would make the record too Poppy,” Meine continues. “What we accomplished with him was to make a record that’s both melodic and aggressive. There are fragments from our past in songs like “The Game of Life,” “We Were Born to Fly” and “Lovin’ Me to Death,” but then there are other songs that sound new, fresh, today.” We talked about the piano contribution of Russ Irwin in “The Future Never Dies” and the Nashville shadow in both “Love Will keep us Alive” and “Your Last Song”. “The music industry’s in so much change right now,” says Meine. “Twenty years ago I would have told you this would be a smash record and sell millions; but it’s so different now.” What matters to the Scorpions is they put forth their best effort and accomplished something they’re very proud of. “I’m a Gemini,” concludes Meine, “I want to see this band still enjoy playing live for years to come, I also want to see the fans going crazy and still having fun at out shows. It’s what’s in my blood.”