Interview by Alex Stojanovic
Michael Schenker is a man that needs no introduction. His unique style of guitar playing has inspired a generation of guitarists for decades to come. He has played and recorded with legendary names like Scorpions, UFO and his own bands like the Michael Schenker Group and Michael Schenker's Temple Of Rock. He is getting ready to release his new album titled Resurrection under the name Michael Schenker Fest.
The list of high-profile players that Michael has influenced is endless. He has influenced players like Kirk Hammett, James Hetfield, Dave Mustaine, Slash, Eric Peterson, Alex Skolnick, Dimebag Darrell, Mike McCready, Warren DeMartini, Jeff Waters, Michael Amott, Gary Holt, Kerry King, George Lynch, Randy Rhoads, Paul Gilbert, Adrian Smith, list goes on.
We had the great honour of speaking with Michael on the phone about the new album and his upcoming tour plans. We also touched on UFO, Scorpions, who is still on his bucket list of people to work with, and more. You can check out the transcription of the conversation below.
Michael: Thank you!
Alex: So your new album Resurrection is coming out in March. I heard the record, and it's amazing. Tell me a bit about the title of the record, what is the meaning behind Resurrection?
Michael: I dropped out of the scene when I was 23 in '78, after I experienced fame and success with UFO, after Strangers In The Night, which is the 40th anniversary this year. I could then decide if I wanted to stay where the success, the fame and the money is, or just withdraw and have more fun experimenting with music, and have no pressure to do things the way I want to do them, when I want to do them, and so I created the Michael Schenker Group. That actually didn't happen until I quickly helped the Scorpions out with Lovedrive and opened the doors for America for them. It didn't happen immediately because Peter Mensch was waiting for me, and he was still focusing on doing big business with me and he sent me straight back to Aerosmith to replace Joe [Perry], but the main thing is that it didn't happen overnight and you can't just leave the scene overnight, especially if you are on the level I was operating on and developing into, all the way up to Strangers In The Night and Lovedrive. From 1990 until 2005, I completely dropped out. Those were like the lost years of Michael Schenker.
I had stage fright all my life, up until 2008, then I realized I wanted to be on stage. I took that as a sign, so I was slowly developing to being back in the scene. Eventually, I had the idea of the Michael Schenker Fest, and that all developed into making a DVD, and then being approached by several record companies, which I didn't really want to do because I still wanted to stay in more of a safety zone, but I realized that Michael Schenker Fest is a bigger undertaking. I also developed out of my fears and stage frights. I got everything out of my system. The point is that I realized that this was like coming back, carrying on where I left off when I was 23, it's like a rebirth, being back in the universe, being back in the scene, so I called it Resurrection. It makes sense to me. In the beginning, it was supposed to be called the Michael Schenker Fest In The Studio. I thought it was a funny title. I envisioned a big feast, big table, with a lot of food on the table, wine and beer, women with big bosoms, celebrating in the studio. That was the original idea, but then Doogie comes up with "Take Me To The Church", and I went "Whoa!" Then I got a picture of "The Last Supper", as an example of where we were going with the album cover and I thought "Wow, this looks like 'Jesus Christ Last Supper'", and then Michael Voss wrote the lyrics and melodies to my music for the song "The Last Supper". I was then looking at everything in my life, and it's kind of a resurrection. To make the whole thing complete, I didn't have a title for the instrumental, so I called it "Salvation". It's like a Jesus story in a way, in a musical sense. There's betrayal involved, there are the lost years of Michael Schenker involved, so I kind of look at it as what I experienced in my life on a musical level is kind of similar to the story we know about Jesus in a spiritual way, so this is more in a musical sense.
Alex: Right on! On this record, you also have Graham Bonnet, Robin McAuley, Doogie White and Gary Barden all on vocals, along with Chris Glen on bass, Ted McKenna on drums and Steve Mann on guitars and keyboards. And you also have a guest appearance by Kirk Hammett. Having a big lineup like this with your friends and people that you've worked with in the past, is that another reason why you went with the name Michael Schenker Fest?
Michael: Well, it's celebration time for me. It's the third part of my life, and also without guests, no fest (laughs). The main reason why I'm doing what I'm doing is because I realized that at some point, it was time to sing the most popular music of Michael Schenker with original singers, which I haven't done for a long long time. With this being the third part of my life, being celebrated and being celebrated by the other guys as well, we're all celebrating it together. We were even looking at Apocalyptica as opening the first song on the album because there were cellos on there, and they were ready to do it, but Michael Voss and I were so busy and three months later, we realized that we never answered the question: "Did we give them instructions?" By the time we were ready for them, they were already over the hills and far away, and I had a song for Dee Snider, which I thought of with the chorus I wrote, so we called his management, but we never heard anything back.
I was at the Hard Rock Hell Awards, and the funny thing is I just signed with Nuclear Blast, and they got awarded for Best Label, and I got awarded the Axeman Award, and all of a sudden, somebody taps on my shoulder and it's Dee Snider. I said "Dee! We were looking for you. We wanted you to sing on this album." He said 'Aw man, I don't know what happened, I would've been so honoured." He's a big UFO fan. Those were the guests I had in mind. However, Kirk was a different story all together. I'm his favourite guitar player. Peter Mensch basically told me that I'm his Santa Claus. Eventually, we made it to the Eddie Trunk show [That Metal Show] together and jammed together, then he came to play with us at a live show, but when it was time to make this record, Kirk became a friend, and I said "Kirk, do you want to do it?'. He said "Yeah let's do it!".
Alex: With a long career in music, and with the countless bands you were a part of like Scorpions, UFO, Michael Schenker Group, Temple Of Rock and so on, have you considered writing an autobiography?
Michael: You know, I just let the music do the talking for now. I've got so much more to say on a musical level, that there's no reason to think about words for now.
Alex: Alright, that's fair enough. Speaking of UFO, if there was one album from your era with UFO that you would choose to perform live in its entirety, which one would you pick and why?
Michael: I would say Strangers In The Night because it's the best of UFO, and we picked what we thought at the time was suitable to play live, and those are the songs I had decided to stick with because it became a really well-known live album and got voted one of the best rock albums of all time, and it's the 40th anniversary this year by the way. These are the songs I play in my set, especially this year because of the 40th anniversary. Who knows, maybe Phil [Mogg] will come on stage and sing a few songs.
Alex: That would awesome to see Phil with you! You've worked with so many people over the years as well. Who would still be on your bucket list to work with that you haven't yet?
Michael: I stopped listening to music when I was 17 and I stopped copying people when I was 17, so I don't have much knowledge of what happened from then on, but of course the people that inspired me when I was a young boy. People like Jeff Beck, Leslie West, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter, list goes on and on, all the great ones from the late 60s, so I kind go more by those people. I fell in love with stuff like the duo thing between great singers and great guitarists, like Jeff Beck / Rod Stewart, Jimmy Page / Robert Plant and stuff like that. That is what I fell in love with. Of course I love Rod Stewart's voice. Not necessarily when he sings his pop songs, but when he sings rock songs or blues songs. I love his voice. I love David Coverdale's voice, I love Robert Plant's voice, so those are the voices that I loved. Like I said, it's the 40th anniversary of Strangers In The Night, so it would be great to complete the cycle and have Phil Mogg sing some Strangers In The Night stuff with me for various reasons. To give the hardcore fans and the people that haven't heard that in a long time a treat, and to give the newcomers a little glimpse of what it used to be like maybe, but also for my own joy, which I love to do these days, play my most popular music with the original singer. Then in 2019, hopefully I can manage to have Klaus Meine on stage because we're celebrating our 50th anniversary of recording, and maybe I'll get a chance to play "In Search Of The Peace Of Mind" with him, which was the very first song I ever wrote. It'd be great if it could develop into something like that.
Alex: I agree! Even though I was born years later, I love the history of all that, and I would love to see you up there with Phil and Klaus, that would be simply awesome!
Michael: Yeah, the Ultimate Michael Schenker Fest with Graham Bonnet, Gary Barden, Robin McAuley, Doogie White, Klaus Meine and Phil Mogg.
Alex: There you go! Now THAT is the Ultimate Michael Schenker Fest right there! Hopefully that also happens on the next record.
Michael: Yeah maybe we could start the next record early, but maybe start off having Phil sing a few Strangers In The Night songs as we do Michael Schenker Fest performances at festivals and stuff like that. If that could be a possibility, that would be great. Then in 2019, have just as a treat, that one song "In Search Of The Peace Of Mind" and maybe more with Klaus involved, and who knows, maybe by that time, if everyone's happy being part of that, then maybe we'll make an album together.
Alex: That would be amazing! I know your birthday was just a week ago, so happy belated birthday to you. Did you do anything to celebrate?
Michael: Thank you! Yeah, I gave everyone pieces of chocolate. I didn't tell anybody, but they were all going: "Hey, Michael, it's your birthday, I just saw on Google." and I said "Okay, now you know. Here's a piece of chocolate for you, here's a piece for you." (laughs), so I gave each person a piece of chocolate, and we sang "Happy Birthday", then we continued with rehearsal.
Alex: Awesome, that's a pretty good celebration right there!
Alex: The last thing I'd like to ask you is that you've got a bunch of North American tour dates coming up in early March into early April. What are the touring plans for this year?
Michael: Well, we're actually booking into 2019 already. I have been on a promo tour all throughout December in the key cities in Europe, and while my organization is working on collecting offers and looking at what's doable and what's not doable, we're going to be on an American tour, which begins on the 6th of March, and the album comes out on the 2nd of March. We're going to be our for five weeks for about 20 dates. The show is going to be 2.5 hours. It's going to be including all four singers. It's going to be the Resurrection Michael Schenker Fest tour, so that's what we're going to be doing in America. Hopefully by the time I finish my promotion, I'm going to go back to the table and select offers for the rest of the guys, and there should be a European tour, an extended Japan tour, and anywhere people want to see us and can afford us. The Michael Schenker Fest is a bigger undertaking and people live all over the world. We want to make sure this is going to be promoted professionally, and not like the old days where you don't promote at all, you just show up and wonder why nothing's happening. We have a fantastic record company, we have a fantastic agent. We're approaching the bigger promoters and it's going to be a great 2018 and a great 2019 with the addition of Phil Mogg and Klaus Meine hopefully, knock on wood, and it's just going to become bigger, more desirable and fun.
Alex: Amazing! Thank you so much Michael again for chatting with me. It was a great honour. I wish you much success with the new record and good luck with all the tour dates coming up and I look forward to seeing you whenever you come back to Toronto!
Michael: Thank you so much!
Alex: You're very welcome! All the best to you Michael!
Michael: Thank you. Bye bye. Take care!
Alex: Bye Michael, take care!