Michael Schenker chats with Kevin Cooper about fatherhood, his fondness for Rock City, his latest album Spirit On A Mission and his forthcoming tour.
Michael Schenker is a German rock guitarist, who first rose to fame as an early member of the Scorpions. He then achieved fame in the mid 1970’s as the lead guitarist with UFO. Since leaving UFO in 1978, he has been leading the Michael Schenker Group in various incarnations. He has re-joined UFO three times, and produced an album each time. His career has had many ups and downs, partly due to a long history of alcoholism and personal problems; still, Schenker continues to perform and record and tours with Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock.
About to embark on a tour of the UK, he took time out from his busy schedule to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Michael how are you?
I’m fine thank you Kevin, how are you today?
I’m good thank you, and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
It’s great Kevin, my pleasure. Thank you for taking an interest in what I am doing.
So just how is life treating Michael Schenker at this moment in time?
Life is treating me great Kevin. As you know we released our second album Spirit On A Mission last year and it was received really well, so much so that I now think that Temple Of Rock is well on its way to standing on its own feet without having to use Michael Schenker as a platform for the band. We are always establishing Temple Of Rock in whatever we do. It is all looking good. However for me I think that it will only ever be a Temple Of Rock tour when we finally go out on the road and only play Temple Of Rock material. So I think that, for now at least, it will remain Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock until the day finally comes when we stop playing any of my past material.
I have to say that I loved Spirit On A Mission and thought that it contained some of your best work to date.
Thank you Kevin it is nice of you to say that. I enjoyed it too. We are building and building and taking our fans on the journey with us. We are taking small steps at the moment but it is great to move forward. It is fantastic to see things grow.
It was also good to hear you playing once again with Herman (Rarebell) and Doogie (White). Just how did that feel for you?
It felt really good, it was unbelievable. We played together in the USA in April and May in 2015 and it was so exciting for all of us.
So when will we be seeing a third album?
(Laughter) give me chance (laughter). Actually we are already planning on recording a third album at the end of the tour in March and we hope that it will be released at the beginning of 2017. I have a feeling that the next album will be something really special. We are going to take things to the next level. Doogie is writing some great material so all is looking good. It is going to be big Kevin.
And I assume that you will tour the album?
Yes we will Kevin throughout most of 2017. Whilst it is a long way off, we are already planning ahead. In the UK we will be doing something really special which I don’t want to speak about just at this moment but I will keep you posted on that.
And will that tour once again take in Rock City here in Nottingham?
Yes Kevin, of course (laughter). We always have such a good time whenever we play at Rock City. The venue has such a special vibe. I wish that all of the venues we play around the world had such a vibe as Rock City. Something magic always happens when we play there.
On the subject of Rock City you are playing there once again on Friday 29th January. I assume that you are looking forward to it?
Yes Kevin, without a doubt. I wish that we could play there every night but that would be rather unfair to the rest of the world (laughter). In my opinion, Rock City is pretty much the best venue in the world. If all venues were like Rock City then life would be great (laughter).
And just what can we expect from the gig?
Well firstly it is going to be the same line up as Spirit On A Mission, and we are going to make it so much fun. We will be playing current material together with classics from The Scorpions, UFO, The Michael Schenker Group and Temple Of Rock. It really should be a great night.
I have been looking at your tour schedule and I have to say that it has made me feel shattered. Do you ever get any down time?
(Laughter) there is always some down time for me Kevin you just didn’t look hard enough (laughter). It’s not always work, work, work. During the summer we only play one-off shows and festivals which is a pretty hard thing to do but that is what we do. It really does give us plenty of time to rejuvenate (laughter).
I see that you are now getting up close and personal with your fans at meet and greets. Are you now relaxed and confident within yourself to actually enjoy that?
Totally Kevin, I now have no problem with doing that. It is all a part of my life. In the 1970’s and 1980’s I withdrew from the public spotlight to concentrate on my personal development. But now I find myself part of a fantastic era in rock music and I just want to keep it going for as long as I can. So many of my friends have now passed away so I intend to just keep going and going. I no longer have to drink before I go out onto the stage. I am now enjoying being on stage; I am enjoying meeting people, it is just great. It is almost as though I was preserved for this time. There is hope for everyone. If you are stuck in a situation there is always a way out eventually.
Concert Promoter Harvey Goldsmith has recently been quoted as saying that the era of the music festival is coming to an end. Would you agree with that?
I guess that the big promoters who are used to making a lot of money are finding it more difficult as the group of acts who they can book for such festivals is getting smaller and smaller. The festivals simply may not be as good as they used to be. Sooner or later there simply won’t be anybody left (laughter). Basically the world is getting smaller for both bands and fans from that era of big open-air festivals and you also have to remember that a lot of the great artists have now passed away such as John Bonham, Ronnie James Dio, Gary Moore etc etc. So we need to celebrate that era and that is what I am here for.
Who do you listen to when you manage to get some down time?
To be honest with you Kevin I have not been consuming music for over forty years now. When I was eighteen years old I made the decision that I would not copy anyone anymore and that I would pave my own way within the music business. My life here on earth is all about being a spirit on a mission and to enjoy music from a place of pure self-expression. And that has been my passion throughout my life. I am trying to express myself from the intimate well within me. That is what my focus is; that is what I am here for and that is what I will continue doing. I will keep recording stuff that is pouring out of a place that it hasn’t been out of yet.
As I said earlier I think that Spirt On A Mission contains some of your best work to date. Would you agree that you are growing into the role?
Absolutely Kevin. I play the guitar every day and I am finding that next level every day that I play. It is as though there is no exception (laughter). Every day I am finding that next level. Every day I am finding new developments. There is always something new that is available.
At what point in your career did you feel most musically satisfied?
That would have to be now, definitely now. Even though a lot of people like my work from back in the early days, at that time I was just being myself and I wasn’t really developing anything. I had no idea what I was doing. In my middle years I found myself developing on a more personal level and now I realise exactly what happened and now I can consciously enjoy the music which I created a very long time ago. It is incredible how this whole life structure for me has worked out.
Is Michael Schenker in a happy place at this moment in time?
Absolutely Kevin, absolutely.
You are one of the most recognised people in rock music. Is there still anywhere that you can go where you are not recognised?
This is the beauty about my life. I feel like I am a King walking through the streets and I feel like I am disguised. I think that it is because of the way that I dress that people don’t recognise me (laughter). I am able to achieve complete freedom. On the other hand people could be being respectful and leave me alone (laughter). It is exactly the way that I always wished for. I have never wished to be in the situation where everybody recognised me Kevin. If that ever happened then I simply wouldn’t be able to enjoy my life in the way that I want to. I can do whatever I want; I am being left alone and that is absolutely fantastic.
When you formed the Michael Schenker Group back in 1979, what did you hope to achieve?
When I formed the Michael Schenker Group it was for me the beginning of an experiment. The start of the 1980’s was a period of experimenting for me with all manner of things. I tried everything, both acoustic and electric instrumentation. I also got to perform with my very good friend Graham Bonnet. At that time during that period I really needed to play and discover myself. I moved to the USA and did all of the things that I wanted to experience. I had to play in order to invent things.
Are you optimistic about the future?
Absolutely Kevin, always. I am always optimistic. I am always so very excited about the next corner; it could be disastrous but on the other hand it could be incredible. Therefore I am positive and am always looking forward to the next corner. Challenges have to be there otherwise there would be nothing to work on. There would be no hurdles, there have to be challenges in order for you to create anything Kevin. If you want to build muscles then you have to do weightlifting. Challenges open up your eyes for a new life which at the end of the day is all good.
Are you a strict father?
(Hysterical laughter) I think that I may be a little tense Kevin (laughter). I totally let my children do whatever they want to do as there is no point in me forcing them into doing something which they don’t want to do. They have to take responsibility for their actions and do what they believe in.
Is there any chance of a UFO reformation?
Well Kevin I have to be honest with you and say that I think that we have missed that opportunity because everybody is now going in their own direction and are all loving what they are doing. I think that everybody is happy doing their own thing and that is what it will be.
On that note Michael let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me and I am looking forward to seeing you at Rock City.
Thank you very much Kevin. You take care. Bye for now.