By Thomas S, Orwat Jr.
On September 11, 2015, classic rock legends, the Scorpions, will be releasing their 19th studio album, ‘Return to Forever.’ This 19-song recording came as a bit of a surprise to fans of the band, because in 2010, the Scorpions announced that they were retiring after a two year world tour. But, sometime during that tour, founding members Rudolph Schenker – guitars, and Klaus Meine – vocals, along with long-time guitar superstar, Matthias Jabs, thankfully, for their millions of fans, decided against that idea.
‘Return to Forever’ continues the Scorpions streak of outstanding work- going back to their 2007 album, ‘Humanity:Hour 1,’ and then the 2010, ‘Sting of the Tail.’ The band is celebrating their 50th year anniversary this year, and show no signs of slowing down. They continue to be innovative in the studio, and dynamic on the stage.
What follows is an exclusive interview with one of the greatest vocalists in rock music- Klaus Meine.
Rock Music Star: I’d like start out by congratulating you on 50 amazing years of rock ‘n’ roll. How do you feel, looking back and reflecting on it being 50 years?
Klaus Meine: I mean, it’s just the first 50 years, you know? (Laughs)
RMS: So, there’s going to be another 50 years after this?
KM: I’m just kidding. Yeah, it’s 50 years. Rudolph Schenker started the Scorpions back in ’65. I joined the Scorpions in ’69-’70, and then we recorded our first album in the early 70s. I mean, it’s been a long journey, no question about it. It feels good. There are not too many bands around that reach that kind of magic number.
But then, it’s just a number, you know? The best thing is that, we are about to celebrate this anniversary with a new record, and with a tour around the world. A whole new generation of Scorpions fans joined the party pretty much wherever we go – I don’t know about in the States; and we are very excited to come back in September – but, in the rest of the world; we started in China, we’ve played many shows in Russia and in Europe, and we’re playing in front of three generations.
It’s very exciting to see all of the young kids in front of the stage, singing along to all of those timeless classics. It’s very inspiring. The fact that, right now, we have about 6.3 million followers on Facebook – that’s a whole new generation, and that’s really motivating, you know? It keeps us going; you want to go out there and deliver a great show night after night. That’s what it’s still all about. We’re very excited to come back to the United States.
RMS: That must be very gratifying – to see that you appeal to generation after generation like that. That’s the great thing about the band’s catalog. It is, like you said, very timeless music. It can appeal to anybody.
KM: The back catalog is one thing. It’s the fact that we have a brand new album out there that we actually play – not only the classics – in this new show. When we come to the States, it’s also brand new material. I guess, not too many bands around there are celebrating 50 years and throwing out a brand new album, as well, which is ultimately for the fans. That just shows there’s a lot of gas in the tank.
We still enjoy being out there and writing new songs and presenting them for our fans. It’s all different. It’s not just looking back and back. And I agree – it’s a huge advantage after so many years. You have so much experience, and you’re much more relaxed about a lot of things. So, there’s less pressure. A huge part of it is that we still enjoy what we’re doing. So, there’s less pressure, and more excitement, and more fun to go out there and really realize what a privilege it is, after so many years, that we can still perform on this global stage.
RMS: Well, I’ll tell you, it’s a privilege to be able to see you guys at this point, and to hear you guys put out such quality material. Your new record, ‘Return to Forever,’ I feel, as a long-time fan, is one of your strongest records to date.
KM: Thank you.
RMS: You’re welcome. I thought that when you released ‘Sting of the Tail,’ in 2010, there was no way you would be able to top that. But, ‘Return to Forever’ is definitely close to topping that, in my opinion.
KM: Thank you. With ‘Sting of the Tail,’ we thought, “Well, in this point in our career, it may be hard to top.” It’s a great album. Maybe, also after all these years of playing concerts, year after year, we were kind of ready to ride off into the sunset at this point. But then, after 2012, we did this “MTV Unplugged” project, we had shows in Athens and Greece, and there was an all new excitement about it. We started writing new songs again, because we wanted to make this “MTV Unplugged” show more attractive. But, at the same time, it showed that there’s so much gratuity in the band. And, of course, we learned after this so-called “Farewell” tour, that it’s one thing to say, but it’s another thing to really do it.
This is our life. The demands of the promoters around the world, at the end, is what made us realize that this is something we don’t want to give up at this point. Let’s see what’s coming up around the next corner, you know? So far, it’s fantastic to play these concerts in so many parts around the world. It’s just wonderful; like I said, it’s a privilege. It’s wonderful that we still can do it.
Rudolph came up with this “50th Anniversary” thing when he found a book of his mother. Back in ’65, she was doing the bookkeeping in those early days of the band. He realized, “Wow, it’s going to be 50 years in 2015.” So, everybody was up for it, and we got to do this.
RMS: ‘Return to Forever;’ has 19 tracks. That’s a lot of songs. Were you guys writing ever since you were finished with ‘Sting of the Tail,’ or were you able to put together 19 tracks in the last couple of years, or so? Or, are some of these older songs that you revised?
KM: All of the songs were recently recorded; we recorded them last year. But, there was material that we were taking – some of it, from the 80s. I mean, a few years ago, we thought about going back to the 80’s, where it was a really creative time. There were some leftover songs, where we never released the material. We wanted to finish those songs. Back then, we were thinking about when we started working on that material a few years ago in between touring. We focused on that 80’s stuff, and made the diehard fans an encore-type of album. Like I said, after this “MTV Unplugged” project, we started writing new material.
Also, last year, everybody came up with new song ideas, and we ended up, at the end of last year, with about 20 songs. There is a balance on that album. There are some 80’s songs; it might be a 50/50 balance with some songs we took from the 80’s; some of them needed a new chorus. Almost all of them needed new lyrics. But, half of it is brand new material. When you think about it, you have to put 10-12 songs on the album. So, you always have more stuff, and we ended up with 20 songs. 19 are out there now. Last year we went, “Jeez, we have a double album.” These days, you always need some extra tracks. You need an extra track for Japan; you need an extra track for iTunes.
So, now, with this release in the United States, I guess they’re all out there. It’s 19 songs. It’s like a new album, what we thought it would be like a few years ago when we were just talking about those 80’s songs. But, there’s so much new material; everybody came up with new ideas and new stuff last year. So, it’s much more like a new album. I think it’s hard to tell the difference between those 80’s tracks and the new ones.
RMS: Yeah, I certainly can’t tell the difference at all. It sounds like a very cohesive recording to me. Also, I love how clean sounding the guitars are.
KM: I must give our Swedish producers, Mikael Nord Andersson, and Martin Hansen a huge credit here. What we tried to achieve with this album, like with ‘Sting in the Tail,’ was make an album with the typical Scorpions DNA. That is what our fans are looking for in a Scorpions song.
That is what he tried to define with those tracks. Of course, some of the material that was written during the 80’s, like “Catch Your Luck and Play,” “Rock My Car,” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Band,” which I wrote during the 80’s. But, the new material is matching this type of feel; that’s what we tried to achieve. Not to just make an 80’s album, but to take the Scorpions DNA and mix it with the modern sound of today, and just make a great record.
RMS: That’s a great description of the record. I really like the track, “House of Cards.” The Scorpions have always been brilliant at writing a good power ballad. You voice also sounds amazing on this track.
KM: Yes, thank you. That song, Rudolph wrote the music and I wrote the lyrics in 2001. We were thinking of using that track on our acoustic album that we recorded in 2001. The title and lyric were written way before the famous TV show “House of Cards.”
RMS: I think that your band really starting bringing your songwriting to the next level with your 2007 release,” Humanity: Hour 1.” What was it like recording that record and working with producer, Desmond Child?
KM: It was a great experience, to go to L.A. and work on a new album and new songs with Desmond and his whole team. We had a great time. It was something like a concept album, especially the title track. There was some great material on this album. After that, we went back to picking up more of the European vibe, and that’s when we decided to work with our Swedish producers with the follow up, “Sting of the Tail.” So after the LA experience, we decide to go back to our roots.
RMS: In following your career now, for over 35 years, I have always wondered, with you living in Germany, how difficult it was it early in your career to learn the English language and then write lyrics in English?
KM: Yes, good question. It was a strange thing. But our desire to write in English was because we grew up listening to all this American and English music. At the time, the German music scene was kind of like a pop slaga music, which was very popular, but was so different from the music that got us excited when we grew up. We listened to the The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and all the British bands that came over in the 60’s. The guitar riff oriented music, and guitar driven sound worked best with English words. Even though, our English wasn’t very good at the time, and even all these years we still haven’t perfected it. (Laughs)
But playing those kind songs with those riffs, for us, it only worked with English words. It was kind of tough, especially in the beginning. It became easier when we toured throughout the 80s so much in the United States, and spent so much time there. And, with so many people in our crew being from England or America since the mid 90s, when James Kottak joined the band, our American drummer; Pawe Mciwoda (bass player) – he’s from Poland. Inside the band, we talk, most of the time, in English anyway. So, to write songs in a foreign language became easier.
A lot of the inspiration came from touring, especially throughout the 80’s in America – writing songs like, “The Zoo,” or “Rock You Like a Hurricane;” it was all inspired by touring in the U.S. So, there was only one language – there was English. And at the same time, when you think about it, all those years back when we decided to write those lyrics, at the same time, it was a ticket for a world career. So, we had a chance to take our music all over the world. If we were to write lyrics in German, you would have never heard about this band. It was a world ticket. It was a world ticket to take our music all over the world.
RMS: I also think another interesting aspect of you career was how the band rebounded and became bigger than ever after Uli Roth left the band. The Scorpions exploded onto a whole other dimension starting with the release of ‘Lovedrive,’ in 1979. How surprising was that to you? That move, (Uli Roth leaving) – your fans probably looked at it as a negative – but it actually turned out to be a very positive thing, and it shot you guys out into the stratosphere.
KM: Before Matthias Jabs joined the band, and all those years with Michael Schenker and Uli Jon Roth, it was a different version of Scorpions – especially the Uli Jon Roth years. Uli used to compose songs with a Jimi Hendrix kind of feel. So, it was a very interesting verision of Scorpions back in the 70’s.
When Matthias joined the band, we became more focused on what I call the “Scorpions DNA.” This is when we talked with one voice, so to speak. Matthias was much more like a team player when he joined to band. Uli and Michael are still out there and had a lot of success following their career with the Scorpions. When Matthias joined is when we did ‘Lovedrive’ and ‘Blackout.’ For the first time, we played in the United States, and this is when we really hit the family of international rock ‘n’ roll and we became very successful throughout the 80’s.
RMS: Yeah, that was a really ended up being a blessing. I want to thank you very much, Klaus, for your time, and I hope you come to Western New York – you haven’t been here in a long time. Hopefully, on your next tour- maybe winter, or summer next year.
KM: Yes! Where are you calling from, Thomas?
RMS: I’m calling from Buffalo, New York.
KM: Ah, Buffalo, New York. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think we played there, but it was a while ago. The closest to you, I think we’re playing, is the Barkley Center in Brooklyn.
RMS: Well, actually, you’re playing in Toronto, which is about an hour and a half away, so I’m hoping to catch you guys there.
KM: Oh, that’s even closer to you guys! You’re right, ok (laughs). It was good to talk to you. Thank you very much, and hope to see you somewhere out there, ok?
RMS: You too! Good luck!
KM: Thank you. Bye.
For more on the Scorpions, please visit www.the-scorpions.com
Special thanks to Kim Estlund for setting up this interview. Also Dana Kaiser for helping transcribe it.