Interview: Michael Schenker

Photo credit: © Jay Hawkins. Michael Schenker with Temple Of Rock

DavidI was quite excited (and a bit nervous) about interviewing Michael Schenker. You don’t win the Marshall “11” award for indulging amateur interviewers but on the plus side, you’re going to be a much more interesting interviewee than the winner of a Fisher Price “5” award! So it was with some trepidation I made contact. (If I posted the audio of the interview, you would hear me muttering nervously as I dialled the number and waited for Mr Schenker to pick up.)

Unfortunately, when he answered, the line was so bad that I could barely make out what he was saying and he was clearly struggling to hear me (my Glaswegian accent might not have helped either). Questions were repeated (frequently!) and replies were missed. Sometimes, what I thought was a good question got lost as I shouted a simpler alternative through the background noise. It turned what could have been a fun interview into a bit of a slog and I was almost relieved when my fifteen minutes was up.

What follows therefore is more of a paraphrase than a transcript of the interview. I will also interject frequently {in italicised curly brackets like this} with comments questions and explanations {such as, “What I really wanted to ask was…”}. To give you a flavour, it started like this:

Michael Schenker on guitar
Photo credit: © Laurence Harvey

Michael?: Salut! {I messed up dialling the number last interview. Have I done it again? He’s German… why would he answer the phone with an Italian word?}

David: Hello there. It’s David Muir here from the Moshville Times. Is that Michael Schenker?

Michael: Jah, Michael Schenker speaking. {Phew! He may have said, “Yeh”, rather than “Jah”, but I was just glad to hear something non-Italian.}

Excellent! {You can hear the relief in my voice at this point.} Good to hear from you…

{Interrupting…} Hang on a second please. {Now, I am almost certain that’s what he said… but there followed a confuffle of confusion and crackling phone noise, where I didn’t want to start but nothing seemed to happen. I waited for what felt like ages (but was barely seconds) before venturing:}

Hi, is that you now?


Is that you ready to go now?

Yeah, ready!

Excellent! {Opening question was supposed to be in the spirit of good hearted banter on the hard life of a rock star.} Have you been doing this all morning? Talking to various journalists?

Yes, I strtstgtwf arts erleevln.

Sorry. Say that again.

Yes, I started at eleven.

So, are you fed up answering questions? Have you got it in you to do a few more?

{Then came the dreaded reply…} Say again?

{Aaaaaaaaarrrrgh! This was the pattern for the whole interview. I had loads of questions I just didn’t get to and other questions were simplified and shortened for ease of shouting. Little opportunity for subtlety and nuance. Even less opportunity to build a connection and have a conversation. Now that you have a flavour of my frustration, I won’t bore you any further with the endless repetition. Instead I will try and extract what I can, and report it as if it were a normal interview!}

Are you fed up answering questions? Are you ready to do a few more?

{Laughs} I am ready heart and soul.

Good stuff. Glad to hear it. Can I start by getting the sad fanboy bit out the way. I’m not much younger than yourself and I first encountered you when I was a teenager and you were playing with UFO. I kind of went backwards into what you had done with The Scorpions and then forward with you into MSG. So I just wanted to thank you for being a part of my early musical education.

Of course, thank you!

Can I ask then… You played with The Scorpions when you were eleven, you were recorded on their first album when you were seventeen, at eighteen you were with UFO. When I was eleven, I was still listening to pop music! I hadn’t discovered rock. You clearly had a much more exciting musical upbringing than me. How did you get started listening to that kind of music?

Well, I started when I was nine years old and, yes, my first concert with The Scorpions was when I was eleven and the first record I made with The Scorpions was when I was fifteen. {Note: first record when he was fifteen. Take that Wikipedia!} And when I joined up with UFO I was seventeen and a half. {Not old enough to buy alcohol in the UK but part of UFO? That would have been… interesting.}

But what got you into Rock music? Was it your brother? Was it the music your parents played? …

When I was nine years old, I just picked up things from the radio: the hit parade, stuff like that. You know Beatles songs, stuff like the Sheik Of Araby, {couple of other names I can’t make out…} When I was eleven, I joined The Scorpions on stage, and when I was fourteen I had a band together with Klaus Meine and then recording Lonesome Crow with The Scorpions when I was fifteen.

{Still not getting at early musical influences, so, I’ll give it one more go…} Was your brother a fairly big influence on your early musical choices, or did you always carve your own path?

I always carved my own path. I was born as a musician. I remember I was singing when I was very, very young. At two or three years old I had a very good sense of rhythm and was banging on pots and stuff like that. When the guitar showed up for my bother’s birthday, he went to work and I started putting two notes together, I knew, hey, this is it! From then on, I wanted to be a great guitarist and that was my only focus.

Well, it’s certainly paid off! I asked about early musical influences, and suggested your brother, but it is clear you were always your own man. I think it is interesting the number of people who cite you as an inspiration: you have clearly inspired a whole new generation of guitarists. Is that something you are proud of, a legacy you are happy to have?

First of all, I used to teach my brother guitar playing. He used to go to work and ask me to find out things for him and when he came back, he would pay me a Deutschmark to show him what I had figured out. {Can I just say… Brilliant! Love this detail.} As for inspiring others, not “proud” but happy with all the things that came up that I never thought would happen to me, like awards, or that I have influenced so many people. I just did what I did and it is a very special reward when all of a sudden you get feedback like that. So, it’s fantastic.

Michael Schenker with Temple Of Rock
Photo credit: © Jay Hawkins

Well, that’s maybe a bit about where you’ve come from but let’s come more up to date with your most recent album, Spirit On A Mission. I thought it was interesting that your band is Temple Of Rock… Spirit… Mission, there’s a lot of religious imagery there. Is that how view music? As something spiritual?

Well, it’s like this… {Can’t make out the next bit at all! Something about 43 years. I think he may have been giving a generic, “why is the album called Spirit On A Mission”, answer.} … I needed to create my own stuff. So, it is like being a spirit on a mission spreading the joy of music from a place of pure self expression. …and eh… What was the question?

Do you see music as something spiritual? That it’s not a job? Is it something inbuilt? Almost religious?

Because I stayed away {I think that’s what he said but not sure what he is staying away from} and was always writing from the infinite script{?} from within. It’s a bit like holy scripture. {More stuff I can’t make out…} It’s a place anybody can visit and draw from but not everybody does it. That’s why I call it Temple Of Rock. All my music, from the past up till now, it’s my temple of rock.

It’s mostly you and Dougie that wrote the songs on the album but there are a few that are credited to Wayne as well. Did that change your approach to writing, that Wayne is in there as well contributing?

Jah. After Bridge The Gap {previous studio album from Temple Of Rock} I wanted to involve Wayne more. I asked Wayne to use the seven string, I added my part to it, then Dougie added his part and we created an additional great songwriting{?} team. Dougie is a fantastic singer and Wayne a specialist on the seven string, so we all had our parts and it works well together.

It has worked well. There are some very strong tracks on the album and you seem quite proud of it. Is it an album that you are happy to have produced at this stage? {I wasn’t brave enough to say that he is rapidly heading to retirement age but still producing new and exciting music. He is not just re-hashing old riffs like some might do…}

Oh yes, I am happy with the songs. I love the approach with the fast and melodic with guitars all over and I love the seven string and with a kind of seventies approach and that all mixed together. It’s a unique kind of mixture.

{I have covered that the band is called Temple Of Rock (not the Michael Schenker Group) and that while Dougie had contributed lyrics before, Wayne was now being credited with co-writing songs. I was hoping to note the same lineup had been with him for two albums and this would be their second tour. The question was therefore going to be, did he see himself now as part of a group (albeit leader of that group) rather than as a solo artist with a backing band? Instead, thanks to the dodgy line (and repeated shouting and simplification), the question I was able to ask was…} Who is in your touring band? Is it the same group of guys from the album?

Absolutely. We are having a new singer… {That’s what he seems to say but it doesn’t fit with the “Absolutely” response or what came next… Although what he said next was very hard to make out.} The band is Francis, Herman, Dougie, Wayne and myself. Of course, Dougie is ex-Rainbow, the drummer Francis is “Rock You Like A Hurricane” Scorpions and Herman wrote the song, “Rock You Like A Hurricane” and Wayne has been with me since 1999. So we will be touring together. So, also I’d like to tell you about… {Grief! He wanted to tell me something about Europe, “Communion” and “Saviour Machine”. Did he say “single” earlier when I thought he said “singer”? So this is my best guess at what he might have said…} So, also I’d like to tell you about our new single: “Communion” and “Saviour Machine” for radio play, along with a video built from exclusive behind the scenes footage for “Communion”. That will be this October. Also, we start the tour in Europe on the 22nd of October. And we are recording a DVD on the 19th of November in Madrid that will be released early 2016. We are on tour 23rd November with Judas Priest. Then in January we are doing our own headlining tour through the UK starting 20th January 2016. We will play classics, of course, The Scorpions, UFO, MSG and Temple Of Rock stuff. I also do a cruise with a different band lineup in February. Zakk Wylde and Yngwie Malmsteen are also on the cruise – it’s the first ever guitar-dominated music cruise. Then we do Scandinavia and Russia. At the end of our tour in 2016, around March, we go back in the studio and record our third Temple Of Rock album which will be released 2017. The tour to follow in 2017, we are having a very special UK tour. It’s not confirmed yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

That sounds interesting! A lot of touring mapped out and then straight into the studio. Do you prefer the studio or do you prefer touring?

It’s all good! Touring is where my roots are but at the end of the day, it’s all good. There are many reasons to enjoy being in the studio and there are many reasons to enjoy being on tour.

Michael Schenker on guitar
Photo credit: © Joanne Oliver

On the UK tour, when you are supporting Judas Priest, you are coming to Glasgow. I’m based in Glasgow, so I have a vested interest in saying that I hope it is a concert you are looking forward to. Do you have particular cities you look forward to visiting?

Absolutely! I love to get out to do that. Especially with Dougie now: with Dougie on vocals, it is a good mixture to play with Judas Priest. So, I’m looking forward to that.

Good! {Didn’t really answer question… So try again with a different question…} Well we’re looking forward to seeing you in Scotland. And Dougie born in Scotland, so will he be looking forward to getting back to his home country?


{I repeat the question but only get a strange noise for my pains. Stuff It. Cut my losses and…} OK. We’re almost out of time. I did just want to ask, you are famous for your Flying V and you’re still with the Flying V but you’ve gone Dean. Has that been a good move for you? Do you enjoy working with that company? {In my notes, I had, “Gibson verses Dean. Discuss.” but I chickened out from asking in exactly those words.}

Yes. Dean approached me in 2004, or something like that. They came on stage and presented me with a guitar and said they wanted to build me a Michael Schenker model. I played it, it sounded fantastic. It played fantastic. People really loved it, were amazed by it. They invited me to their warehouse. The people are fantastic. It’s all very professional stuff. I’ve been with them for eleven years and there’s no reason to change. It’s all good. I have a new guitar built now, it’s a double-neck guitar that they will show after this tour; it’s a double-neck V. So it’s just a great company and they make me all these great guitars! I can enjoy playing them on stage and change on stage, different types of guitars, and it adds colour to the live shows.

Good stuff! Maybe just one last question, if I can squeeze it in. You’ve been in the business a long time. You must have met a lot of interesting people. Is there anybody you still want to meet? Anybody you would still like to work with?

I always say Rod Stewart. He was born on the 10th of January like me and he has a fantastic voice. I already played with {goodness knows who: Aynsley Dunbar maybe?} who was also born on the 10th of January. One day I had the idea of making an album of people born on the 10th of January. But I can’t find a bass player! But, anyway, Rod Stewart was one of the guys. He has a fantastic rock voice. David Coverdale would also be a choice.

I would pay good money to see you with Rod Stewart, so let’s hope that one at least comes off.

Maybe he’ll sneak up somewhere.

That would be smashing. But thank you very much for your time. And I wish you all the best for your tour.

Thank you so much.

{Phew! I think I managed to get more out the interview than I thought I might have when I started transcribing the recording. I hope you manage to get something interesting from it!}

Comment: I love the, “Deutschmark to teach his brother”, detail, but listening to that part again, I think he was a bit miffed that I suggested his brother was an influence and seemed keen to explain that it was the other way about! The man is a genius, I had no intention of suggesting otherwise!

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