Flowers From Blueprints: an interview with Michael Schenker

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Often cited by many guitar legends as one of their biggest influences, Michael Schenker is arguably a rather underrated musician. But while he often doesn't receive the same credit and plaudits as many of his peers, any fan worth their salt recognises his huge contribution to the genre of rock. Whether it's his work with the Scorpions, UFO, his own Michael Schenker Group, or now Temple of Rock, the guitarist has a sound that is recognisable in an instant.

It is also this sound that is the driving force for Schenker's latest album, Spirit On A Mission. Featuring Doogie White of Rainbow and Malmsteen fame on vocals, the album also includes long-time side-kick Wayne Findlay heavying up the sound on the seven-string, the new band also reunites Schenker with the Scorpions' rhythm section of Francis Buchholz and Herman 'ze German' Rarebell, who have now become staple members of his band. Although this line-up has been a solid collective for some time now, it took a while for that to be the case, with the likes of Michael Voss featuring in early incarnations of the outfit.

The new band excites Michael, and the guitarist is keen to discuss Temple of Rock's formation; "All of this came together out of nowhere. It was time for me to make a record and I knew this guy Michael Voss. He had a studio in Germany, so I went there with some stuff I had and asked him to help me out with guide vocals. When he was signing, I thought he was singing well! So I thought 'hey, why don't you become the singer for this project,' and then it was fantastic, you know. Things just came together. I was jamming at the same time with Pete Way and Herman Rarebell and when they heard the demo, they were like 'we want to be the rhythm section' so I thought 'hey great'. Then I thought what else can we do here? So I invited a whole bunch of musicians from the past like Carmine Appice, then all of a sudden I get a phone call from William Shatner, Captain Kirk, to play on his album. So I thought 'hey, let's get him to do the introduction on my album', so it was an exchange and it was just funny how things came about, almost effortless, you know. Then it was summertime, and I decided to call it Temple of Rock because I've been writing for 43 years and I haven't copied anything since I was 17. So I call all of that stuff I've created my Temple of Rock. When it came down to touring Michael Voss all of a sudden wasn't available. Doogie White was singing on that album and I thought I have to move forward. I asked Robin [McAuley] to help me out in America, Michael Voss was OK for Japan, and then Doogie White was available for Europe. Then Pete Way got sick so I asked Herman to ask Francis if he wanted to do it and then it clicked. That was the Bridge The Gap line-up and now Spirit On A Mission."

Skip forward a few years to the release of Spirit On A Mission, a heavier album that Schenker "wanted to be that way". Yet despite the somewhat heavier sonic character, tracks like Rock City and Communion posses more similarities with the sound the guitarist is recognised for; "Yeah that's me, Michael Schenker is still visible. It's my style of writing that's who I am. I'm from Scorpions, UFO and you will hear all those elements." While every member of the band contributes to the process of the album, it's clear that Schenker is the architect of Temple of Rock; "Well in a way I designed it all. Because I knew what energy each song needed, so you design it and then they can do with it what they want, but it's already pre-presented. They don't have to write anything from scratch, they can pick up what's there and put their personality onto it."

Working with Herman and Francis is also a different situation in comparison to Schenker's time with the Scorpions. As Temple of Rock is very much Schenker's band, it's the guitarist that takes the lead; "I am the architect of the whole thing, so for me what is important is that Francis and Herman is a solid rhythm section who have been with the Scorpions and have been very professional. I just need a very solid screen I can paint on. I've played with the best drummers in the world, Carmine Appice, Simon Phillips, Chris Slade, Cozy Powell etc. At this point in time, with my development, I just need a solid screen and that's what Francis and Herman do and I can put all the stuff on there."

As for Wayne Findley, the guitarist has contributed to Schenker's work for some time now. His seven-string guitars are particularly prominent on Spirit On A Mission, which was another feature of the German's design; "I wanted the seven-strings in there. I wanted the whole spectrum. Knowing that the 7 seven-strings add the depths to it and I want the high, the low and everything in between. This is the time for me to embrace it all. Wayne is the guy now. I call him Neptune because with his hair he looks like the God of the Sea. He has a function that he operates, so that's why I asked him to come up." Although it's fair to say that Schenker is very much in the driving seat for Temple of Rock, he also welcomed the input of Findlay's song writing on the new album; "Wayne was ready to make a contribution as a songwriter. I asked him to send me some riffs on a seven-string, then I get some riffs, but then of course it's just a riff. You have to add others parts to it. You have to add the bridge, verse or whatever to it. So I listened to it and whatever comes out of that inspires me to write the parts that I feel fit together with that. Then Doogie puts his vocal to that, and that's how without knowing what comes out of that, is like a flower that's starts to blossom. Then you go 'wow, that's a great flower!'"

For someone who has had such a long career, the musician must be faced with the difficult task of maintaining creativity and keeping his music fresh; "[By] not having listened to music for 43 years, and not copying anybody since I was 17. I always say I'm a 'spirit on a mission' spreading music from a place of pure self-expression. That's my mission, that's what I stick with. That's who I am, that's my part and by doing so, you fearlessly are yourself and you're having fun being that. It does not matter if you fit into the market, or do not fit into the market. You can keep up with the commercial success or not. It doesn't matter. It's all about self-expression and having fun in the moment."

And is passing that ethic on to his sons, both of whom have had a role in the guitarist's career of late, and both joined him for his last UK tour; "My son Tyrone, he was doing the merchandise, he's now upgraded to tour manager, he's almost ready to do it. My other son Tyson, also from England, he was on tour with me and so he got to get his band [State Villains] on the road. They're growing up, they're really nice boys, they're eager to do their thing and they're great guys."

As for the guitarist's plans for the next few months, it's quite the busy schedule for Schenker; "We're doing our own headline tour in the UK in January 2016. Of course we're going to be playing classic and current songs and making sure it's well balanced, not too much of the same from the last time. Then we're doing the cruise [Axes & Achors] with a different line-up because it's about guitar players and more MSG stuff. It's just about classic songs. It's going to be with Yngwie Malmsteen and Zakk Wylde and all those guys". Along with the inclusion of a few new tracks, the 2016 tour will also have a few new surprises in store; "I had this idea about a double-neck I want to play, so I said to Dean 'can you please get a double-neck V. I have an idea on how I want to use that, but can you make sure I get it before I start the European tour?' So, It's already on it's way, it's flying to Cologne where we start rehearsing and then I have to figure out how to do what I want to do with it! By the time we come to the UK I want to be well established on it. It's black and white and it's a V. It's a particular idea I've had, I'll tell [everyone] more about it later!"

Following on from the tour, fans should be ready to expect another release from Temple of Rock; "We're releasing another album. Our third Temple of Rock album, and that will be the next establishment. It's the Michael Schenker platform trying to make Temple of Rock developed into it's own entity, it's own unique sound and that will happen overtime, step by step. So far we have two albums, by the third time we're almost there and by the time we do the fourth album we'll probably have classics already!" Given the huge amount of effort that Schenker has put into his work with Temple of Rock since it's formation, being patient for the outfit to gain significant momentum might be frustrating, but that doesn't seem to be the case; "I don't know, maybe I'm more capable of doing it that way these days. But you develop as a person and develop abilities that you may not have had before. So today I can do things the way I do them today, I can be in the moment but I can also contemplate ahead, but I know what I contemplate is just a blueprint I don't have to go too deep into it. You just have a direction, do the baby steps. I don't focus on something until it's completely time it will happen. Until then it's just a blueprint."

The band's full tour itinerary for 2016, starting in the UK, can be found here.

Written by James Abel
More: Interviews,

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