The Scorpions: 'Playing Live Is The Best Feeling Of Being A Musician'

artist: scorpions date: 09/01/2007 category: interviews
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The Scorpions: 'Playing Live Is The Best Feeling Of Being A Musician'
The Scorpions are Germany's most successful international music export. Having sold more than 70 million albums worldwide the band manage to still able to fill the biggest stadiums in the world each year and on Sept. 4th, the band kicks off the U.S leg of their current Humanity World Tour 2007/2008 that is in support of the band's new album Humanity - Hour 1. Coming thirty five years after the release of their debut album, Lonesome Crow, the group are poised to "sting" once again with one of their best efforts to date. Humanity - Hour 1 sees the band successfully blending their distinctive sound of old with one that is more contemporary in sound. For the new album, the band comprising Klaus Meine on vocals, Rudolf Schenker on rhythm guitar, Matthias Jabs on lead guitar, James Kottak on drums and Pawel Maciwoda on bass, decamped to Los Angeles and enlisted acclaimed songwriter/producer Desmond Child of Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, KISS fame and producer James Michael to man the boards for the new album. On the eve of the U.S tour, Joe Matera spoke to Matthias Jabs to discuss the new album, the evolution of his guitar and working with Billy Corgan. Ultimate-Guitar: The last time The Scorpions ventured to L.A to record an album was in 1990 for the Crazy World album. What led to the band's decision to return to L.A again for the recording of Humanity - Hour 1? Matthias Jabs: It was because of the producer. With producers like Keith Olsen who produced Crazy World and Desmond Child who did Humanity - Hour 1 these guys have their network where they live and work. So it provides the best surroundings and the best environment for them. And anyway, why should we drag them somewhere else? Also doing it this way, the producer can never blame anybody else if it doesn't work because they'll have the best stuff around the. And Desmond had a great team, a great songwriting team, great engineers and great everything. And L.A is the best for that anyway because there are studios on every block. And we had a really great time recording this album. But four months in Los Angeles is always good anyway. And it was a very good relationship working with Desmond Child and James Michael who was the co-producer.
"The producer can never blame anybody else if it doesn't work."
Whilst the album does feature the trademark Scorpions sound of old, it also is heavily mixed in with a very contemporary sound particularly in the detuned guitars? Yes we detuned the guitars for a few things. We have like a few drop Ds, drop Cs and drop C sharps and all of that. The way we decided upon the key of the de-tunings of the guitars for the song depended on the vocals. And sometimes if you play the guitar riff dropped to a D, it will not only sound different but play different. But what ever was the best for the vocals is how we proceeded. It is no point in recording something if it is too stressful for the singer to sing properly. After all these years, Klaus can still hit all those high notes on the songs. I think the vocal performances on this record are excellent. Desmond hired a vocal coach for Klaus which we thought was a fantastic idea because every day before the recording, Klaus did about an hour of a warm-up session. Vocal cords are like muscles and you need to warm them up. Desmond was a visionary guy and knew if the vocalist is in good form, then he'll get what he wants from them. Did you come up with a lot of songs in the studio? A little bit of both. Before we flew over to L.A we had a bunch of songs something like 30 songs. But once we were in L.A we started a new writing process. Some of the songwriters we were working with were working with different songwriting teams. So though some of it [songwriting] was done back home, a lot of the stuff was created over there. The first few weeks we were all working together in a rehearsal space, every day for eight hours. Then we started to arrange and record in different studios, like I would do the guitars in one studio with James Michael while Klaus would do the vocals with Desmond in another studio. With the remaining songs, did any of them get to be recorded? Some of them, but we recorded them only as demos. A lot of the songs were re-written, like a chorus was rewritten or maybe the lyrics were rewritten. Desmond encouraged us to write the songs to fit the humanity concept. But I don't see it as concept album as say Pink Floyd's The Wall or The Who's Tommy. I didn't get that impression listening to the album. I would say it had more of a common theme running throughout. Exactly, you said it exactly right. As that is how I see it as well. The songs are connected more on the lyrical side. The title song Humanity is to me one of the songs that has everything you can think of, the nice melody, the dynamics, the good riff, the good vocal chorus, the good hooky chorus, it's got it all. And I like it a lot. Billy Corgan makes a guest appearance on The Cross, how did he become involved with the project? He was recording the Smashing Pumpkins album around the corner. We had just found new U.S management at the end of last year and they happened to also handle The Smashing Pumpkins amongst many others. And one of the guys there told us that Billy Corgan was one of the biggest Scorpions fans. So management got us connected. And because Billy wanted to sing a part, we went looking for the right song for him. At the very end of the recording sessions for the album, he happened to be in the same studio where he was mixing with Roy Thomas Baker so it was an easy thing for Billy where he just walked in, sang his part, took a couple of pictures and walked out again.
"The songs on the album are connected more on the lyrical side."
Wasn't Roy Thomas Baker another of your choices when you were looking at producers? Yes we had considered him before deciding to with Desmond. We had Roy Thomas Baker come over to Germany for a week and together we went through some of the songs. What guitars did you use for the album? I brought over some of my vintage guitars, like a couple of old Strats, an old Telecaster, an old les Paul and my usual collection of Explorers. I also bought a few guitars while over in LA too. I bought a very nice Gibson SJ-200 from 1948 which is the acoustic guitar you hear on the track Humanity. But I used for the most part of the album, my own Signature model Mastercaster which I've had for two years now. It looks like a Stratocaster but has all the options I need to reproduce all the stuff I do in the studio, on stage. It has 24 frets, a Floyd Rose and new type of patented pickups that are Humbuckers but also a real single coil pickup too. So I can get all sorts of sounds whether that would be a Tele, Strat, Les Paul or Explorer I get it all in that one guitar. Luthier Boris Dommenget invented the pickups as well made my guitar. Rudi and I play almost exclusively Dommenget guitars now. They look like my Gibsons I used to play, but the way Dommenget makes them are great and they're reliable and they sound good. How did you come up with the now trademark stripes for your guitar? I had only this one white Explorer for our first tour of America in 1979 and we were coming through this small town in Minneapolis and were staying in a holiday Inn next to a guitar shop. I spotted a white Explorer in the display window of the store and I went' wow' and because it was cheap as well, I went in and bought it as that gave me a spare guitar for a change. And I wanted to show people that I had more than one so I put a couple strips of gaffer tape on the guitar in the form of the design that I've become known for today. And it was because I just wanted show people that I had more than one guitar because since the two guitars looked alike, nobody would have noticed the difference. Moving on from guitars, let's discuss amplifiers? Amplifier wise I used mainly my Fender Prosonic amp and a Fender Tonemaster and for some things I used a Marshall as well as an old Vox AC-30. Live, I use mainly the Fender Prosonics amp and Wizard cabs. You've been known to take the Marshall logo off your cab and replace it with your own name? I only really did that once! I have a few Marshall cabs and if you look at the Marshall sign the letters 'Ma' from Marshall looks very similar to my own name Matthias from a distance, so I had somebody do it in the same type of lettering and font and I just put it on as a joke.
"It is no point in recording something if it is too stressful for the singer to sing properly."
You first came onboard with the Scorpions for the Lovedrive album, do you think you were a major part in how from that album on, the band's now classic sound finally came to fruition? I think so. I mean nothing against Uli [Jon Roth] as he's a very good friend of mine and we just played in England together and a couple of festivals in Europe, but Uli had brought the Hendrix style and the Scorpions at the time didn't really have a style as yet. But when I joined I think it was the first time that we sounded like a unit. I'm not saying it was due to the way I played as I have my certain style too, but I think it's mostly because we sounded like a unit, like a band. And so for everybody it was more like we had arrived with a compact sound. Fans would be surprised to know that you once laid down guitar tracks for a Cliff Richard album? I didn't really. That was really blown out of proportion. We were in the studio [making Eye II Eye] in Austria with producer Peter Wolf who had just produced a Cliff Richard album prior to our and it wasn't finished. And when we were in the studio he asked me if I could play some guitar as he wasn't happy with the guitar playing that was on the Cliff Richard tape so I played a few things without thinking about it. I can't even remember what I played now or even the album title. I did it just as a favor and asked him that I didn't want to be mentioned. I think it was before there were any vocals on the album. Modern rock radio doesn't really embrace bands the likes of The Scorpions yet regardless of the lack of radio support or airplay you're still able to sell-out shows, continuously tour and record albums whilst enjoying a successful career. We were always a live band and it is what we enjoy doing the most. I also do like to be in the studio creating new stuff but playing live is the best feeling of being a musician. It is what it is all about. As for radio, I don't know what's it like in America, but in Europe it's really terrible in terms of what they play. There is so much pop on the radio that it all sounds like a drum machine with either a girl singing or some guy that sounds like some Julio Iglesias shit. But then again they also don't play Metallica, they don't play AC/DC, they don't Aersomith and they don't play us. And yet all those bands continue to sell out venues and sell out a lot of cities too. 2007 Joe Matera
More scorpions interviews:
+ Scorpions: Final Tour Will Be 'A Party To Celebrate With All Of The Fans' Interviews 02/03/2010
+ Uli Jon Roth: 'Bridging Classical And Rock To Form Musical Bliss' Interviews 02/26/2008
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