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Interview conducted December 12 2017
Interview published February 11 2018

"I stopped listening to music when I was 17 and I stopped consuming music when I was 17 in order to be as pure as possible."

One of hard rock's most influential guitar players puts out his new effort Resurrection on March 2nd under the name Michael Schenker Fest. This record includes vocal performances by no less than 4 well-known and respected singers, who each in one way or another has taken part in albums and live shows before over the long-running career of Mr. Schenker.

Tobbe: What is Michael Schenker able to bring to his fans in 2018?

Michael: What am I able to bring to my fans in 2018? Okay. The Michael Schenker Fest new album, with 4 singers: Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet, Robin McAuley and Doogie White. And we have just made a fantastic album. It was absolute fun. It was a journey and we had to run the extra mile at times, but it was all worth it. It was an unusual recording because it's not just like the normal one album/one singer kind of a thing. We had to be creative.

Anyway, the album comes out in March and one single, Warrior, is already out. I wanted to make an album where instead of each one sings just 3 songs, we would mix it up a little bit and Warrior became one of them. Michael Voss wrote the lyrics and the melody: you know, he came up one morning and said like "Here, what do you think?" and I said "This is fantastic!". It's a happy song, everybody sings and it was a perfect song to put out there planting the album, you know. Letting the people in on it. And we're doing an American tour for 3 weeks. We're starting on the 6th of March. 2,5 hour shows. We're already booked up to 2019; of course with a halt in the middle, and whoever can afford us we will play for.

Tobbe: How will you be able then to convince your fans once again that your music is just as relevant as it once was?

Michael: Well, everything happened in baby steps. It was not just a bomb that was dropped out of nowhere. One thing leads to another. So basically, you know, my fans were aware of Temple Of Rock: Spirit On A Mission, the DVD release, the live album. You know, we did 2 live albums, 2 live DVDs, 2 studio albums and 4 years of touring. Usually bands take those breaks by making a new album for 2 or 3 years, so I just simplify it. You know, we played the same towns over and over and we had to have a little break here to make the chocolate taste good again. So basically that was the time when I decided to… You know, everybody went their own way and I kind of realized that this is the Michael Schenker Fest, period. A celebration time, so I said "Michael Schenker Fest is: The most popular music of Michael Schenker with original singers, rather than somebody else singing all the songs.". So that was the idea. And to take all my energy that I put in all these different eras and different lineups and combine it together just like a band.

You know, if you have a band for 40 years you create a brand name because you just reinforce this over and over and you put all your energy into this one. So I realized I had energy there, energy there and energy there, so let's put it all in one room. So I asked the singers and they were more than happy to do it and then I put the band together. And that was it; off we went. First concert was at Sweden Rock and then we carried on doing bits and pieces here and there. And then we had an offer to play Loud Park, near Tokyo, a festival, the third biggest indoor arena in the world, 33000 people. [I just had to check out those facts myself. It's the second largest arena by capacity [36500] for indoor sports and concerts and these numbers are not including arenas or stadiums made for the purpose of any field sport.]

That was in 2016 and I asked who was headlining the first night and they said "Scorpions"; I said "No, I'm not doing it.". Then I got an offer from my usual promoter; 3 concerts, but when I saw the venue in Tokyo I went "Budokan", you know. Budokan would never sell out and I didn't even wanna convince anybody to film this, so I just took it from my own pocket and financed it myself. I hired a camera crew and behind the scene stuff. The concert was fantastic and I went to Germany and edited it and mixed it in Michael Voss' studio with Michael Voss. And that was the beginning of people worldwide seeing what the potential was of this, because those iPhone/YouTube little clips are not really very attractive.

So basically, the record companies found out about this as well. I was already going to the next level, Michael Schenker Fest In The Studio and I envisioned, like, a big table with a feast on it, and a big party and a fest with a recording studio behind us. And then Nuclear Blast was the most attractive company, and they were German, but I didn't wanna do it because I was happy with my cable company; selling CDs, you know, on the side, and I did that for 10 years. In 2008 I started wanting to be on stage, and before I was stage frightened. So in 2008 I wanted to be on stage, out of the blue, you know. I couldn't understand it and I took it as a sign to be back in the loop. So when Nuclear Blast approached me I didn't wanna do it and I kept saying no and it took a few weeks and then my representative said that maybe it's a good time to do this now. I got his blessing so I said "Okay. Let me think about it and analyze what's actually going on.". First of all, Michael Schenker Fest is a much bigger undertaking and it needs a much stronger support and it needs to be done properly.

And also, I'm not the Michael Schenker I used to be, so I don't need to have all these barricades and all that stuff. You know, from a fragile, shy, unstable person into a stable, strong person, so I was ready to do this and I decided to sign and that's how we started off. And then we started working on the album and step by step it started to… You know, Doogie comes up with Take Me To The Church and then the next one is writing The Last Supper and then all of a sudden I get the album cover of the feast and it turns into a last supper with Jesus Christ. So I was wondering "What's going on here? You're taking a completely different turn." and I said "I will still use Michael Schenker Fest In The Studio as an album title." and they said "Unless we find something better.".

So I was kind of looking at all the new elements that were showing up, like "What would be more suitable?". In the first part of my life: As a 23 year old I had experienced success and fame to its fullest and I was able to decide if I wanted to stay there or, you know, stop that and start a new chapter, which became Michael Schenker Group with a black and white Flying V and to experiment with music and learn about life, you know. That was basically the idea. I helped the Scorpions on Lovedrive and opened up the doors to America for them and then I moved on. So basically… What was the point of saying that? [Pause] I said to them when they said the Scorpions are headlining, "You know, maybe next time." and then in 2017 we got an offer again to headline Loud Park and I said "Who's headliner on the other day?" and they said "Slayer" and then we found out that Gene Simmons from Kiss was supporting us, or opening for us, and Alice Cooper was opening for Slayer.

So basically we did our first mini tour with 3 singers, 7 people, and we went from Osaka to Germany, and then to Holland; we did 3 shows in Spain, 4 shows in the U.K., and that was the end of 3 singers. So now we have completed the album with 4 singers, with Doogie White involved and he's being his own man now singing Vigilante Man and Lord Of The Lost And Lonely and stuff and new songs from the new album. When we first played he was just about the past and now the past has also become current because we have made an new album.

Tobbe: You have written and played on so many timeless and classic rock songs, so what motivates you today to make an album when you have such a great past?

Michael: It motivates me because I'm a musician and an artist. My focus is on the art of lead guitar with pure self-expression. I stopped listening to music when I was 17 and I stopped consuming music when I was 17 in order to be as pure as possible. And that's my passion and I fell in love with Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath and that shows metal music as the screen to paint the art of lead guitar on.

So basically I'm a passionate musician. I never wanted to be famous. It happened by itself. It just happened that way. And I had an impact on many generations and influenced a lot of guitarists, but it was something that never occurred to me, that that was taking place, because I was just playing music. And then on top of it, I was receiving awards and that was the last thing I wanted. It's just simply unbelievable, you know, that all of that stuff happened.

Tobbe: Do you think that you can still be an influence to young guitarists today or were you more an influence to people starting in the '80s.

Michael: Okay. You have to understand the concept, you know. You can either recycle music and be part of a trend and get a piece of the pie that makes the money up there, or you realize, which I did as a 17 year old, that there are billions of individuals with their own world in their hand. So there is something going on inside here [Points to his chest.] that is known to nobody unless I open it.

So I decided, as a 17 year old, to share myself and come out with new colors from the infinite spring of creativity from inside. So that will be always timeless. It will always come out as a side product. You actually end up with your own guitar style and by not listening to music and consuming and analyzing I kept fresh and exited about music. So basically I am a passionate guitarist writing and playing and performing from within and that will be always attractive to young, and old, because it's timeless.

Tobbe: It must be hard to not think about the legacy you have actually left.

Michael: I'm actually amazed, because I started off without looking for anything. It just happened by itself. And later, only much later, did I find out Metallica, Iron Maiden and Guns N' Roses and all these bands were fans, you know. Basically, the explanation that I have is they recognized that I was writing from within and it was something that was not there before and I think, you know, everybody was grabbing a piece of it and basically I became a trendsetter, so everybody was using it. And, you know, getting double platinum and stuff, so basically I'm hanging on everybody's wall now.

Tobbe: In what way do you try to get some variation in your life?

Michael: My variation is that I started off as a passionate guitarist with the art of lead guitar from a place of pure self-expression. It's a place that is always fresh. When I was 23 years old I had tasted enough from success and fame that I was able to make a decision, either to stay there or to start the second part of my life. And I started the second part of my life, which was about experimenting with music and living and focusing on life itself. Those were my middle years, the most rewarding years, because they did something to me. I got everything out of my system.

Actually I have no wishes left, because I have done electric instruments, acoustic instruments, I jammed with the best musicians in the world, etc, etc. And now it's celebration time, the third part of life, it's the Michael Schenker Fest. So basically I have never done what all the other people did, always the same for the last 50 years. I actually had a very colorful journey.

Tobbe: If I mention today's musical climate, what's the first thing that comes to your mind?

Michael: I don't know what the musical climate is today, because I'm not interested because I am just a creator and I write from within and I am a passionate lead guitarist and it will always stay attractive to young and old because it's always fresh, you know. It is not part of any trend or anything, so I don't connect to that because that would be consuming and getting consumed, you know, and I stay fresh if I just create and stay away from the rest and other people will take care of the other stuff.

Tobbe: It's kind of different because I can't ask you really if you think that you are still a unique guitarist today, because if you don't listen to other stuff you don't know.

Michael: It's obvious. Because you are writing from within. The infinite spring of creativity; how can you not be it?

Tobbe: I know that people have copied your work, because I listen to other guitarists too.

Michael: Yeah. But, you know, a kaleidoscope? You look at a kaleidoscope, you look at it, you shake it, always a different combination. Even if they copy me, and maybe they copied me so much that there is no space for me anymore, I'm not even playing there anymore and I'm already on the next level. I have a kaleidoscope inside here that always comes up new. I can imagine that people who know that are waiting for my next release and they copy as quick as they can so they can put it out there as a fresh piece of something. But this time it's not possible because now I'm connected to a professional company and they will be faster than anybody else. Because before I made music under the table, so everybody was marketing my freshness. I didn't use it, you know. But now, people won't catch up with me.

Tobbe: If we look at today's technology when recording records, how do you try stick to your original tone?

Michael: You don't stick to anything. You don't stick to the bloody wagon and the horse when all of a sudden the Volkswagen is driving. So as you develop in life, for every person, you're not necessarily writing the same way as you did before. You're using everything that is being available in the shops and it's just: you don't purposely look for something that is not there anymore. Why would I be so stupid?

So basically, I come from the year of handmade rock. That's how we started, but as we move on things change. So you can either walk to Hamburg or you take a train. You can take the wagon and the horse. Whatever, it's up to you. I'm not so bloody stupid to take the horse and the wagon if a train is available. It doesn't fit into today's time. So, the beauty is: I used to spend 75 percent tuning a fucking guitar, okay? And now I can actually tune in two minutes and spend the rest of the time recording. Okay, so I take advantage of a tuner. Would I be so stupid and sit there on purpose and tune for 75 percent if I can be done with it in two minutes?

Tobbe: A lot of singers think about their own performance mostly, but how are you able to make them think about the whole project instead?

Michael: They don't have to think about anything because each one is doing their thing. That's it. You have 4 singers and each one is singing their thing and then we have stuff where they are all together, like in Warrior and in The Last Supper. So you just put together a good, balanced set that includes new songs, not too many, not too few, and classics and you have each person sing their songs. So basically there's nothing to think about. The only persons that are, from the beginning to the end, on stage are the musicians.

I have to play, like, 2000 notes and basically each singer sings around 5 songs and it goes to the next and then we team together and sing something together. So you make it a show that fits together as a whole and it has nothing to do with each individual singer, because nobody is directing the other singer. I direct a theme, I come up with a set-up, I come up with a setlist and they just do their part, so it's very simple.

See also: review of the album Resurrection

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