"I am basically like a monk - I stay away from listening to music period, and it's not that difficult for me because I enjoy creating. Consuming takes energy, and I prefer to create. That's my passion." ~ Michael SchenkerMichael Schenker is ready to release Bridge The Gap, the latest from his Temple Of Rock project, and after more than 40 years and 40 plus albums, he's still pushing the boundaries and developing as both a musician and a man. He looks back on his long and storied past with the equanimity of a wise sage - never critical of those critical of him, and always balanced in his reminiscences. He's an artist who is concerned with the present, not consumed by the past, nor immersed in future schemes or dreams.
Bridge The Gap is an album which will remind guitar lovers why they originally fell in love with Schenker's sterling riffs and molten, melodic leads - his writing has never been more adventurous, and his solos are riveting. You can read my full review here:
I recently had the chance to catch up with my old boss (in keeping with truth in journalism, I worked for MS as a guitar tech back in the days of the McAuley/Schenker Group), and after some catching up, I congratulated him on the album, which I consider his best in over two decades:
Michael Schenker: "Thank you, very much, Tony! And thanks for the great review! It's great that you perceive it like that."
At this point, I knew I was speaking with a man who has reconsidered certain things - I couldn't imagine Michael Schenker reading his press, good or bad. I began our discussion by asking him about his ongoing development as a composer:
Michael Schenker: "Well, the thing is that I keep developing and I kind of keep playing and discovering. It comes from a place within, therefore it is an intimate place - you decide to present the world with a color that only you can express, and you dig into that. Every album I do, I have found bits and pieces that usually haven't been heard before, because nobody can express what an individual can express if they fearlessly express it from their own insides, you understand what I mean?"
I do understand, and when you hear Bridge The Gap, you will, as well. It is astounding to hear an album chock full of brand new riffs that sound like a guitarist creating with beginner's mind, and not just a regurgitation of past glories. The album always sounds like Schenker, but brand new Schenker. I asked if this may be partially due to the fact that Michael does not listen to any music other than that of his own making:
Michael Schenker: "Yes! I don't listen to any music at all. Since I was 17 years old, I had that insight that I shouldn't and I guess subconsciously I was always aware of what I was interested in, which was basically pure self expression.
"When I was nine, and I completely understood what I wanted - then I was like 14, and I heard people like Leslie West, Rory Gallagher, Jimmy Page, stuff like that, and Jeff Beck. Then I knew that was what I wanted to do - when the distorted guitar came out. I became fascinated by the single string and what can be done with it, so that's what my world became, and I focus on that.
"I'm basically a monk - I stay away from listening to music period, and it's not that difficult for me because I enjoy creating, you know? Consuming takes energy, and I prefer to create. That's my passion."
Schenker's performance on Bridge The Gap is nothing if not inspiring - he riffs often in demanding tempos, but it's kept on track by ex-Scorpions drummer Herman Rarebell, and the compelling lyrics and melodies of Doogie White. Long noted for his choices of great singers, I asked Michael how it was that the Scottish veteran got the nod:
Michael Schenker: "Doogie - our paths had crossed several times in the last three or four years - we had a gig in Italy, a couple of times we did something together, once with Don Airey, Chris Slade, Neil Murray back again in Italy, and when I did the Temple Of Rock album in '11, either Doogie was interested in doing something on it, or somebody suggested he do a song, and that song, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, became an A-play on Planet Rock Radio for over three months, and became quite popular.
"So, one thing lead to another because the whole thing started with Temple Of Rock. When I played with MSG with Chris Slade, one of the shows in 2010, we played at Shepherd's Bush and I had up some guests on stage. Paul Raymond, Pete Way, Doogie, and that's when I found out that Herman Rarebell lived in Brighton, and that he always wanted to do something together, and Pete seemed to be in good spirits.
"I wanted to put together a live project - I hadn't played Strangers In The Night for a long time, the material from UFO, so I was going to put together something with music throughout my whole career. So, we teamed up in Brighton, we were jamming together, and at the same time I was ready to go into the studio and make a new record. I ended up in Münster and made a demo there with Michael Voss helping me out with the guide vocals. I liked his voice, so I asked him if he wanted to sing the whole thing.
"I came back with the demo, Pete and Herman heard it, and they immediately liked it so much that they wanted to be the rhythm section. So I had a drummer, bass player, singer, and, of course, Wayne Findlay, who is always there - that became Temple Of Rock, but when it came time for touring, Michael Voss wasn't available because he had signed another record deal.
"Now, I had to figure out how to tour and promote the album - I had Robin McAuley singing, as well as Doogie, so I had to figure out who was available for where! I ended up with Robin in the States, Michael Voss in Japan, and then Doogie in Europe, but before it went to Doogie's part, we did some shows with Michael Voss in the Uk, Pete Way was still there, but Pete wasn't doing well, so when the European tour came up, which was to be Doogie's territory, I asked Herman if we should ask Francis Buchholz if he would like to participate, since we were already playing a lot of the Lovedrive songs - it would be great to have three of the originals doing that, and he was happy to join. That was the beginning of that, and it became better and better - we had really good shows, and I thought, 'Wait a minute, I have to capture this on video before something happens!'
"It was too exciting to let it appear and then disappear with nothing but memories. So, I decided to make a DVD of it, and we picked a place in Holland (Tilberg) that was most convenient for everybody.
"The film crew had experience in that place, and it was a somewhat intimate experience - we edited in the High Voltage Festival footage with Michael Voss, so it came from the Tilberg intimacy to the London High Voltage kind of a thing.
"By October on that tour, our agent had already accepted more concerts, but they were not until April of 2013. I had six months, so I decided, 'You know, I had better make a record!'
"This window was perfect for making an album with this lineup, a studio album. I already had the title, Bridge The Gap, because that's what it felt like."
I broke in then and asked Michael about the process of making the album. I say that in jest - fact is, I was thrilled to hear Michael talking with such animation and excitement in his voice:
Michael Schenker: "Well, I started writing in October. As you know, Tony, I always collect pieces - when I finish an album, I keep playing and I discover, and whenever I bump into a great riff that came out of nowhere, then I put down that five seconds, 10 second pieces. When it's time to make a new album, I listen to them, and whatever inspires me, I write the connecting pieces and so on.
"By the end of 2012 I was ready to go to the studio, and I went to Münster with Michael Voss. I put down my ideas and made up arrangements, and sent them off to Doogie to come up with ideas, then we picked the best approaches. We had different approaches for the same songs, and we decided on whatever sounded the best.
"By the time we actually finished the album, mixing and mastering - the 31st of March, and on April 4th we had a concert in Russia! So, it worked out really good!"
I asked what became of the album between April and now - that's a lifetime for music sitting in the can these days:
Michael Schenker: "The problem was now we had 6, 7, 8 months before the release date!
"How am I going to deal with the finished product? I didn't want to wear it out in my head, so I stayed away from it to keep it fresh, and I didn't play it for anybody.
"I had to do it that way because it was the property of In-Akustik, and you know what it is like - you give it to somebody and it leaks, then everybody has heard it. So, I had to be very careful with it.
"But - the beauty of that was that by the time we ended the tour in July, somewhere around that time I had decided to let everyone hear it - I couldn't let anyone hear it before because it would have been too distracting on tour. They would have all come up with all sorts of, 'Well, what about this then, and what about that?' They would have wanted to change things and it would not have been a good time to be on tour, and to try to deal with that.
"So, I played it for them - I hadn't heard it for a long time, and they listened to it, I listened to it, and we collectively decided that we wanted to remix it. It was really, really good that we did that because what happened is that we added some stuff to it that Wayne had done, we opened up the drum sound, because it was too compressed, and we did little bits and pieces over and turned it into a much better album.
"In that way, it was almost like I hadn't heard the real album yet anyway, so by the time we remixed and remastered it, it was a few notches better. For me, that was good because it sounded better and extra fresh. It worked out very well in the end."
Fresh, indeed - this is the freshest product off the Schenker shelf in ages, it sounds as if a whole new world of guitar possibilities has opened before the man's eyes. I asked whether the guitar solos were all improvisations:
Michael Schenker: "There was only one solo that was worked out - that's Lost And Lonely. That's the only solo that was written, the rest were improvised, and you know, it's like this - when I made the last album, and then there's a year or eighteen months in between, I play and discover on a regular basis.
"By the time I make a new record I have enough new sparks, new found insights that the world doesn't know about, because nobody plays better than I do, because it comes from me. Like each person has a color that if they choose to show that color, it will sound unique and it will sound fresh because it hasn't been a part of a trend, or a scene, or anything!
"That's the secret about being individual, or having things sound fresh, and of course, it has to do with that I'm not a consumer, I stay away from that, and I just develop things the way I feel. Therefore, it will always be something that people haven't heard yet."
Not just the guitar playing is fresh - Michael appears to be getting healthy and happier with every photo-op, so I asked him how he was accomplishing this sense of well being:
Michael Schenker: "Well, the thing is, in 2007, I guess it was a turning point.
"The Universe was the driver and I just do my part. The middle time of my life and career was more experimental and developing, both musically and on a personal level.
"There was a very fast beginning at the peak of UFO, and that was enough for me to have a taste of what that was all about. Then I looked more inside myself to develop and overcome, and to learn whatever is important to use your time wisely while on this planet, and then somehow I guess it was time when the orbit came around to the point where it was time for me to get back into the loop of rock 'n' roll, so I started Michael Schenker & Friends. It was a very tough time, because I was so far away from the scene for so many years, it was quite hard work.
"So, step by step I developed - each year I would make another step and with In The Midst Of Beauty with Gary Barden, that was the first record that was presented as being back in the loop of rock 'n' roll. All of a sudden, out of the blue, I started enjoying myself onstage!
"I have no idea what happened, you know?
"It just went bit by bit, and that's it. I've grown out of the other stuff, and I have done a lot of studying about life - I've been on the battlefield, and whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and all of that is true!
"I keep in shape - physically, mentally, and spiritually, so that's what I do."
Moving on to current events, I mentioned to Michael that I had just the night before viewed the new live DVD by Europe, who featured Michael with the band on the UFO standard, Lights Out (which by the way is a brilliant concert presentation from beginning to end):
Michael Schenker: "Yeah, yeah - how did that look?
"They were very well rehearsed! I think Lights Out used to be one of the band's favorite songs when they were in their development stage. John Norum is a friend, I've known him for a long time, so when they did that concert for the DVD they invited me to play, and I guess they also invited Scott Gorham, who was also an influence. In their scene, UFO and Thin Lizzy were what they grew up on, so they invited us both to play with them and be in their video!"
Keeping things current, I asked if this iteration of the Temple Of Rock left him feeling as if he were in a band again:
Michael Schenker: "Yeah! It's like we developed!
"It's kind of weird - we've done so much touring already. The second half of the European tour was another three months, then there was another month on top of that, and it just keeps getting stronger and stronger.
"Having made the album, it turned out really good - lots of fast songs, melody, a bit of darkness, great vocals, and this is only a step - let's bridge the gap! I wrote a song for Wayne Findlay - he reminds me of Neptune, an undersea god when he comes out of the water! I can see him with his crazy beard and his crazy hair coming out with a trident!
"I said to him, 'Let's design you a guitar, like Neptune's trident!' That guitar is now done, and it will be out next year at the NAMM show, so we have created a character for Wayne, which is good because people like that sort of thing! He's a seven string player, so he has a purpose to be there, and he plays keyboards, so he gives us that low sound - that seven string's B string is a very, very low sound!
"So, I kind of introduced that step by step, making something - so that song is Neptune, so we have that heavy beginning."
I asked what else was in store for 2014 after the release of Bridge The Gap:
Michael Schenker: "I already have an idea for the next album!
"We will maybe just call it Temple Of Rock, and we'll all go into the rehearsal studio and write together! Just go in and play and play and play until we have collectively put an album together! Maybe make it more of a group effort. I'm looking forward to seeing how that will work out!"
From there, we broke off into a discussion of things more personal and a bit confidential - things like management, signature model amplifiers, and a frank discussion of the new album's American release date, which is currently slated to come an almost eternity of two and a half months after the European release. Like I've said, I'm not just a writer when it comes to Mr. Schenker, I consider myself to be both a fan and friend to him and his band.
It's tremendously exciting to hear Michael speak - he has never sounded more healthy, more happy, or more in command of his tremendous talents. When you hear Bridge The Gap, I think you will share our enthusiasm.
Great thanks to Michael Schenker, Felicitas Siegel at In-Akustik, and Peter Noble at Noble PR.