Riding the wind of change, SCORPIONS keep on exploring the world and expand their horizons. The forty-year trek has brought the German band to the world’s recognition but their passion still rules the game and experimentation is never far. Having invited Israeli singer Liel to tour with them, the group not only accepted her reciprocating invitation to play the Holy Land but, a month before the show, sent their own singer over to record two ballads with Liel, one being “Send Me An Angel”. The collaboration resulted in Klaus Meine joining his new friend in performing “Golden Jerusalem” before the Pope, the news uknown at the time of this interview. Or, rather, half-interview, interrupted due to the time limitations. So the question of the reggae influence on the SCORPS’ music is still to be posed…
– With all the international success that SCORPIONS have, is there still anything Deutsch in your music?
Is there anything German in our music? I don’t know… That’s a good question! Obviously, we’re from Germany but we grew up with English and American music which was such a strong inspiration for the young band. Very early on, in the Seventies, we went to England and France, to Japan and America, we toured and then became an international band. I think our music was never German, it’s always had this Anglo-American influence – we never tried to be a German band! We are Germans, yes, but not in our music. When we grew up, there was schlager music, this pop music kind of thing…
– What about Kraut rock?
Kraut rock? Yeah! Today it’s kind of culty, and people say, “Ahhh, Kraut rock!”, but when the Kraut rock thing came up, back then, in the early Seventies, it was like all the international stars in big music magazines: they got big articles and nice features – it was like they were putting us down and making us very small. It was like, push, push, push when – especially when we were a young band – we needed support to gain the confidence. We felt there was no support and it encouraged us to go to foreign countries. We went to England in 1975 just to figure out, “We are German but we sing in English. Are we good enough? Are we strong enough to survive among English who invented rock ‘n’ roll?” This was always like a challenge, and so very soon we became an international band.
– You don’t seem to be connected to the German scene anymore. I remember some press call about seven years ago when you were asked about EINSTURZENDE NEUBAUTEN and had no answer…
…because it’s totally not our scene. I know EINSTURZENDE NEUBAUTEN and those ‘new wave’ bands have a pretty big following but it’s a totally different scene. It’s the same as if they would have asked us about some techo act – and techno was very popular, though it’s not so popular anymore – but we don’t have anything to do with that. When we started, there were KRAFTWERK and TANGERINE DREAM, and both bands also became very very strong internationally but in a different area, in a different field. They were doing, like, experimental kind of music, and KRAFTWERK were amazing, while we played just traditional rock.
– Weren’t you experimenting, when Uli Roth was in the band?
Well, Uli was very much influenced by Jimi Hendrix…
– Still is!
(Laughing.) Still is! Absolutely! I didn’t know how close Uli was to Jimi until some years later I saw some of Jimi’s videos and stuff and I said, “Ooh! It’s like Uli!” (Laughs.) It was amazing! But Uli is also an amazing, extraordinary guitar player, there’s no question about it. In those years, with Uli, we were very strong but it was a different type of SCORPIONS that many fans call “Scorpions Edition One”.
– And there was even different dress code! There’s a picture in my memory from the “Best Of Scorpions” double-LP where, in paisley shirts, you look like hippies.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah! Those were the days! We went to all those different styles as far as clothing goes, but as for the clothing we were always more close to THE ROLLING STONES, you know, because they also had these kind of fancy clothes.
– Which leads us to a song from your last album, “Remember The Good Times”, that somehow reminds me of THE SMALL FACES. Did you deliberately try to sound like late Sixties?
No, but it has this kind of retro sound. The version we used was from one of the first studio sessions, when that song was still in a demo mode, so to speak. Later on, we had a [proper] studio-recorded version but we went back and took the demo as an extra track, a bonus track: it sounds more rough and we like the feel of it. And it has this retro feel also in the lyrics.
– Yeah, I had to check the lyrics to see whether it was “Jimi” or “Jimmy” in there, Jimmy Page or Jimi Hendrix.
[It could be] Either one, but I thought of Jimi Hendrix. Actually, this March we played two shows in London, at the “Hammersmith”, and Jimmy Page showed up and came to our dressing room. It was like, “Wow!” because we grew up with LED ZEPPELIN’s music. It was fantastic!
– When you started, did you think it would last so long, for forty years?
No. No, no way. What a frightening idea! (Laughs.) We just didn’t even think about it, we take life as it comes and try to work a way in the business, in the world of music. In the first ten years it was more about finding your own style and the right people to work with – like Dieter Dierks: we did the first album with him, “In Trance”, in 1975. That was very important to us, to grew up as a band, to write strong songs and to have the right chemie in the band, just the right mix of people. So for us, the fact of friendship was always very very important, and I think the reason [it worked] with Liel is because of the chemistry: with all the differences we have in personalities, in the big picture, when we’re going to sing together in the studio, there is something very very strong. The philosophy of friendship has definitely paid off, because after all the highs and lows we’re still sticking together and we haven’t lost the passion for what we’re doing. In the Seventies, there were few changes, then we had this line-up with Herman [Rarebell] and Francis [Buchholz] for almost twenty years. Eighteen years is a long time! A couple of years ago Francis left and Herman retired, so James Kottack came aboard, and since the last year we have a new bass player, from Krakow in Poland, Pavel Maciwoda – a very nice guy and a great musician – so the line-up now is very strong.
– But if it flopped back then in the Seventies or in the early Eighties, what would you have done?
For me, it flopped big time when my voice was gone! In the early Eighties I lost my voice, I couldn’t sing. I went straight to hospital and had to have surgery on my vocal cords. I went to see a band at a local venue and, because I was not allowed to speak for a while and it was hard to bring the voice back up, I was thinking, “This is what I used to do. Can I ever do it again?” It was a very difficult time, during the recording of “Blackout”, but then Rudolf [Schenker] – and my family, of course, but in the band it was Rudolf – was a very strong support to take me through this thing. [He said] “You do everything for your voice, and we’ll wait for you. We don’t want another singer, but you have to work hard on yourself to make it happen”. It took me six or seven months, and then my voice was back. What kind of future would I have [if it wasn’t]? I don’t know. Maybe I would have been a writer, maybe a music journalist – I never thought about it! – but probably I would’ve gone to do something allowing me to stay in the music business: producing young bands or something like that.
– If SCORPIONS were taken from your life, what would’ve left?
Ah, a lot. My family. I have a wonderful family, my son is almost twenty now and he just went through his exams, so I’m a very proud father. But I’m a Gemini, so one side of my heart is my family back home and the other side is the Family Of Spiders, THE SCORPIONS! (Laughs.)
Our fan club, they call themselves the Family Of Spiders, because when you look in the books, a scorpion – the animal – is a part of the family of spiders. And, to answer the question, if you would take the fans apart it would hurt very much.
– I don’t really see any downs in your career. You’ve reached the apogee by 1984, with “Love At First Sting” and, since then, stayed on the same high level. What’s the secret of your appeal?
With “Love At First Sting”, we were on top of the game, with double-platinum albums in America and lots and lots of success, arena success all over the world, but then there was another chapter: Russia. We went to Russia – in 1988 to Leningrad, in 1989 to the legendary Moscow Peace Festival. Maybe this was because we were a German band! As much as we played in America and we always loved it and still love it, for us it was much more important emotionally to play in Russia than probably for any American band, because we wanted to see the other side of the world, we wanted to see this side of planet, this side of culture, since we are in the middle between East and West and, with the Berlin Wall, between the superpowers, Russia and America. We wanted to go there, and it was amazing, it was so emotional and it gave us a new spirit and a lot of inspiration. I think to go to Russia back then, after all the success we went through, was very important – especially with the success of alternative music, because when NIRVANA and all these bands came up, for many hard rock bands it was the end of the road. But for us it was a time when we opened a new book, a new chapter and, in return, had a world hit with “Wind Of Change”. Then the Berlin Wall came down, and this song became the athem for the coming down of the Wall, and in the East, like in Russia, the fans connect this song with the coming down of the Communism. But the Nineties were not so easy to survive also for THE SCORPIONS.
– It didn’t look like that!
It was hard work to keep it up there and keep it going. And the end of the Nineties… In 2000 we did this project with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra [“Moment Of Glory”], which was like a whole new challenge on a very big level. I mean, this orchestra approached us and asked if we would do this project with them – and this is one of the best classical orchestras in the world! This was something you really had to put your heart and soul in, and that’s what we did. And then we did the ‘unplugged’ project, “Acoustica“, in Portugal. There was always something new and exciting. In-between all these records and projects we’re still touring all over the world: last year, with this latest album, “Unbreakable”, we went back to Japan and played in Scandinavia again; before we come to Tel Aviv, we play in Paris, at “Olympia”; we go back to Russia, we play Kazan, the only show this year with an orchestra; so there’s a lot of things. And that, I think, keeps us going, and the fact that after all these years we have a chance to come and play in Israel is very very exciting and emotional, and it also feels like a new chapter.
– Would it be right to say that, in the eyes – well, ears – of your fans, “Wind Of Change” replaced “Still Loving You” as a favorite ballad?
It didn’t. No. I think… “Still Loving You” is, like, a big power rock ballad, and the words “power rock ballad” are for songs like “Stairway To Heaven”; “Still Loving You” belongs there – it’s a big big song for us. “Wind Of Change”, of course, became a bigger-than-life hit, because it has this political background: this is so Zeitgeist – this is not only a strong song or a hit single, there’s so much around this song that made it bigger than us.
– Did you feel that by that point you’ve crossed over to mainstream?
Yes. And that’s because we wanted to!
– What was more of a challenge, the orchestral album or the acoustic one?
Orchestral, “Moment Of Glory”, that was a monster challenge. To play with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra… they are really really good players, and in 1995 or 1996 they said, “We want to play with you, guys. We don’t want to do this album with PINK FLOYD, we want to make it with THE SCORPIONS”. And we were, like, “Wow! Here comes one of the best orchestras, the Herbert von Karajan orchestra…”
– By the way, you once again said, “THE SCORPIONS”, but the article, “the”, had been left off in the Seventies!
Where it comes from is when Rudolf started the band: in the Sixties, it was such a common thing to say “THE BEATLES”, “THE ROLLING STONES, “THE SCORPIONS”. It sticks with us, and in America is still that way, it’s still “THE SCORPIONS” [there], but I’m getting used to it so much that it’s just “SCORPIONS”. I like it much better! (Laughs.)
– Back to the records, wasn’t “Acoustica” so much of a challenge?
It was, but in a different way. We’d always wanted to do this, and this was about to pick the right songs and maybe some covers, but it was us with few guest musicians, so it was under our control. With Berlin Philharmonics, with eighty or ninety musicians, you not only record an album but you must please them with arrangements, and they said, “Give us a challenge!” So the guy who wrote it, Christian Kolonowits – he’s also on “Acoustica” – came up with amazing arrangements for the songs, from “Rock You Like A Hurricane” to “Wind Of Change”, and a couple of new ones like the anthem for the EXPO 2000, “Moment Of Glory”. And to play a show live together… I know, “Acoustica” is very popular, it came off pretty good, but you can’t compare it [to “Moment Of Glory”].
– Either way you play, the message seems to remain the same, a call to arms in the name of love, like in “New Generation” from “Unbreakable”. What do you think is SCORPIONS’ main mission?
To have a chance to reach out with music, to build a bridge between countries, cultures, religions. Whether we play in Europe or Asia, in all those different places people react to music very very much the same. And going there and making the connection with people, we can have our share in the world peace.