Michael Schenker: ‘I Haven’t Listened to Music Since I Was 17 Years Old’
Guitar legend Michael Schenker was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. His newest album is Resurrection, billed under the Michael Schenker Fest moniker, which finds the axeman reunited with several of his former bandmates from various groups over the last four decades. He spoke about Kirk Hammett's contribution to the album as well, and explained he finds inspiration from within since, apparently, he doesn't actually listen to music. Check out the chat below.
We're here to talk about the Michael Schenker Fest, Resurrection release. Michael Schenker Fest reunites quite a few people from the Michael Schenker Group. What was it like for you the first time everyone came back together?
Well I experienced something like that with UFO and I tell you overnight it’s like you were actually together. It just takes a day or two and everything is normal for some reason. But the main thing on the musical level and the concert and being together with everybody is phenomenal because it’s like a complete cycle of our lives and I would have never dreamt at any time that something like that could ever happen.
And so basically I had so many different lineups with many different singers, but today it seems like it was all a preparation for something like this to happen at a time like this now. Because when you look at, if I look at myself, where I put my energy all over the place in all sorts of different, with different lineups and so on. So putting it all together and putting all the different lineups or different singers with their own unique voice and it’s a bit like a magnifying glass, you know. All the energy, you put it into one concentrated point and it becomes a very interesting and a chemistry as well.
Because you are putting all of these elements together that never actually showed up together, only in separate different lineups. So you put it all together in one. It’s a very, very unique experience and it seems to be the right time to do it. It’s like, it’s something that happens very naturally. Everybody is happy doing it. It’s great for the fans to re-experience and see all of that.
Michael Schenker Fest started as a single concert in Tokyo. When did you start to think it might be possible to do tours and an album?
It was simple, I kind of work a little bit with the unseen world I guess. It seems to be like, I always get little hints here and there. It was simply like, I was just wondering. Doogie and I, we worked together for four years now, playing the most popular music of Michael Schenker, and it just somehow, when a Japanese promoter had the idea to have Graham Bonnet opening up for MSG and have Graham sing a song with us, and we agreed to that. I think that sparked the idea of 'wait a minute.'
This is the third part of my life, I think it’s time to perform my music, my most popular music with as many of the original singers as possible. And I kind of looked at the area that was most doable, which was the '80s, with Gary Barden, Graham, and of course Doogie, who was not yet a part of it. But that was the beginning and so we started off with the three original MSG singers and we started playing Sweden Rock and a festival here and a festival there. And then I was offered to do the Rock Park in 2016, which is the third biggest indoor arena in the world to headline.
It was 2016 and I asked, who is playing on the other night and they said The Scorpions, and I said, oh, 'I’m sorry, I can’t do it.' But at the same time, the promoter and another promoter offered us three shows in Japan. And when I saw the one venue in Tokyo, I went this is it. I have to film it. One Night at the Budokan was never filmed. It was only recorded as a live CD. I didn't even discuss this with anybody I said I am going to invest in this again, I and I hired the camera crews and the behind the scenes people, and stuff like that. I knew it was going to be great and the show was fantastic, the audience was fantastic. I went to Germany, to the recording studio and mixed it with Michael Foss and it turned out fantastic.
This features four singers. What's the key to coordinating so many different vocal styles on a single album?
Okay. Well, there are two different ways of coordination involved. One is the logistics of actually making everybody being available when they need to be available. That's a tough one. That's a tough blow. Especially for touring. But my son Tao takes care of it. He's a master coordinator. He's doing a fantastic job. You know, everybody is always treated very respectfully and everybody gets paid on time and everything. There are no areas to, you know, complain about.
There were maybe areas in the past where people would complain. All of that, you know, we're older. We're wiser. I have a great organization behind me and so everything is done properly. Basically, on a musical level, it's like this. Michael Schenker has stopped copying music from when I was 17 years old, and I haven't listened to music since I was 17 years old. So, basically, my focus is the art of lead guitar with pure self-expression. That's what I was called to be and that's what I did for 43 years now, believe it or not. It's like, you know, of course, I can't turn off lobby music or an elevator.
But once in a while, you know, I buy clothes and they play the whole Metallica album. But in general, I don't listen to any music at home or in the car or anywhere. So, I put all my emphasis on creating it. Being a trend maker rather than a trend follower. As a result of that, also creating your own guitar style and your own music. So, basically, that also kept me very fresh and preserved me for now. You know, I'm not overexposed, I'm not worn out. The very opposite is actually the truth. I feel like twenty years old today. The energy that I have for music and pure self-expression. Working from the internal spring of creativity is endless if you stay there and if you have done it for some many years as I have, you know, it never wears out.
You mentioned that Kirk Hammett from Metallica plays on the record. He's very outspoken about your influence on him. What do you like most about his playing?
He wanted to meet with me. You know, I don't don't listen to music like I said to you before. But, believe it or not, the way I got introduced to Metallica was, in France, I bought some new clothes. While I was buying those clothes I got the got the whole Metallica album introduced.
That's when I learned about "The Unforgiven." It's a beautiful song. A fantastic song, actually. And I noticed when I was in the changing room listening to that music, that knowing that he is a fan, I realized that the classical stuff that he plays is very much Michael Schenker. And so, basically, for me it was more like he is a fan and he has become a friend. We did the thing together on That Metal Show.
He came to one of our concerts and he jammed with us. And so basically, you know, I just said like "Hey, why don't you play on our album"? It was just the next level of involvement of him together with me. So, it's not much about his playing. Plus, the other thing is that it's a newer generation and I don't analyze the music outside of my own creativity. So, for me, it's more like, you know, Kirk. It's about Kirk and knowing him and stuff like that. But you know, he did his stuff, and he did the stuff that is the new generation stuff that I don't necessarily understand. But, you know, it is music that goes on.
New generations do stuff that once in a while when I do hear it, I don't understand it. Period, you know. And that's the way it goes in life anyway. My parents never understood what I was doing. [laughs] But that's not what it's about. It's about Kirk and having him on the album. It was as interesting for me as it was for him.
Between Scorpions, UFO and MSG you've made so much music that so many people love. What goes through your mind when you think about all the music you've made?
It's a journey from a baby to eventually becoming an old man. It's my musical journey. It's a development. It's learning the first baby steps and realizing from one album to another, especially in the UFO period, all the way to Strangers in the Night that every time you made a new album I developed into a bigger person. Just like a baby grows up and becomes a young boy then a young man, teenager and so on. So I look at my musical development exactly like that. And it continues, it doesn't stop. I haven't finished anything. I am over and over coming up with new creative stuff and putting new sprinkles over my work because i'm working from within. So my musical life is all about a continued development and it'll never stop for as long as I live.
You've been playing guitar your whole life. Since you were a young boy. What makes playing guitar still feel new and exciting?
First of all that I don't copy, I don't listen, I don't get over-exposed. I don't get worn out and I take it all from the infinite well from within. So the focus on being fascinated with a single string, first of all. It's the focus on lead guitar playing with beautiful expression. The art of lead guitar with pure self-expression because if you're a trend maker or a trend follower, you are actually operating from a world within. It's like a kaleidoscope. It's never-ending. It's like a tropical ocean, there's always another fish that looks different. It's like that in the inner world.
A trend once out gets over consumed and gets out and stagnant and dies. But the spirit within, if you go to that world where the energy - the infinite energy comes from and creativity - it's a very different world. So, it keeps everything - you always come up with new sprinkles because it's endless. And if you've done it for as long as I've been doing it, not listening to music for 43 years and copying anybody then the more you draw from that inner world, the more you become it and the more it is impossible to actually slip into the external world and become a recycler.
Thanks to Michael Schenker for the interview. Michael Schenker Fest's 'Resurrection' is out now and can be purchased at the Nuclear Blast webstore. Follow the group on Facebook to stay up to date and find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show at this location.
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