The Weekly interview: Scorpions guitarist Rudolf Schenker

Scorpions kick off their Hard Rock Hotel residency May 13.
Matt Wardlaw

A funny thing happened to the Scorpions as they were on their way to a planned retirement. They had announced in January 2010 that they would mount one more world tour in support of their new album at the time, Sting of the Tail, and then call it a day, writing that it was their wish to end an “extraordinary career on a high note.”

But more than five years later, the German hard-rock group is still out on the road, touring behind the appropriately titled Return to Forever album—a project that began as an idea to revisit unreleased material from the ’70s and ’80s. Instead, it evolved into a new album featuring freshly written songs that sat well alongside the vintage material. One thing was consistent when the band listened back to the songs—it all sounded like classic Scorpions.

As for that “retirement” thing, guitarist Rudolf Schenker says they had every intention of following through: “We were honest about it.” But when they got out on the road, they saw something important that changed their minds. “When we did the farewell tour, [we saw] that we have lots of new fans, young, young fans, [and] 80 percent of [our] Facebook fans were between 18 and 28 years old. It’s a brand new generation, who are maybe really bored by the computer music and they want to see a band onstage,” he says. “They went to YouTube and they were watching the Scorpions [and listening to] the back catalog and they were very much surprised that this band is rocking. I think that’s the situation that [pushed] us back into the music scene again.

“We did the last concert in Munich in December 2012; we wanted to take a break and do a vacation of half a year or something,” he continues. “MTV Unplugged called us and asked us to do this performance, which we of course wanted to do. In the ’80s, we couldn’t do it, because we always were busy. In this case, we said, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’ We have a good team, the band is in great shape, let’s do it and let’s do it in a different way than normal—not in a small studio in front of 250 people. Let’s do it in the big amphitheater on the highest mountain in Athens, in front of 3,500 people. It was a big success, which really showed us that we are not ready to retire.”

Now entering their 51st year as a working band—all of which Schenker has been part of—the Scorpions return to town for a five-night residency, Blacked Out in Vegas. Their 2015 tourmates Queensrÿche will open the shows, and according to Schenker, the Scorps plan to film several of the nights for a live Blu-ray release.

The Scorpions have been together for 51 years now. That’s pretty incredible. I think so, too. I’m always surprised when I hear the numbers. That’s unbelievable, because coming from Germany, nobody gave me a pence for maybe the next two years when we started. I said, “Oh f*ck, this will be finished before it’s even starting.” So in this case, we are very happy that we found the way to live with music and vision and make it around the world, especially to the United States.

You’ve been a part of the Scorpions since day one. What comes to mind when you look back at the different eras of this band? The ’80s were the most successful. It was like we were skating on top of the world, and that was the day where the energy and creativity were at the highest points. We were a part of creating a music scene around the world, creating our own dream and vision and being a part of the rock ’n’ roll family, including Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath. It was all a dream to really be a part of it.

In the ’90s when we had a hard time because of grunge and alternative, I said to my guys, “Don’t worry, everything will come back.” We didn’t split. [And] in the end, with Sting in the Tail, [producer] Mikael Nord Andersson gave us the inspiration and the fresh blood to create [new music] going back to the roots of the Scorpions with a young twist.

You probably have some good Vegas memories from all the times the band has played here. I think I celebrated my birthday two times there, which was actually not so easy. (laughs) Because when you celebrate your birthday in Las Vegas, party, party, party. And then you have to go onstage. It was the hardest thing. It was really rock ’n’ roll. It was a great memory, but also when you are there, you have to react onstage with a cake in your face, with a lot of drinks. I mean, you have to be strong.

Also, of course, meeting with Siegfried and Roy, that was fantastic, to be backstage in their dressing rooms, with all of the black and white tigers. Fantastic!

What preparation goes into filming shows like the ones you’re planning to film in Vegas? Hard Rock Hotel is very much prepared already to record shows. I think they put some cameras in the right places, and they can move them. You get some different kinds of angles of your show, and we have a very high-class multimedia show including—I don’t know whether they can do it in the Hard Rock—pyro and a lot of effects. We also are changing our set a few times. We’re playing stuff from the ’70s, including “Top of the Bill,” “Steamrock Fever,” “Speedy’s Coming,” “Catch Your Train” and some other stuff. That’s for the longtime fans.

We play a little bit from the new album, Return to Forever, and of course, we play a lot of stuff from the ’80s from our albums like Lovedrive, Blackout and Love at First Sting.

Some bands use a residency like this as an opportunity to play a classic album in its entirety. Is that something you’ve considered? Yeah, I think we were close to doing the Blackout album. We also were close to doing World Wide Live, because that was the second most-successful live album [ever] after Peter Frampton’s [Frampton Comes Alive] for a long time. I think the Eagles overtook us, and we’re now No. 3. Last year was the 30th anniversary of World Wide Live, and we had in mind to do it in the club in Berlin. But somehow, because of all of the gigs we did in 2015, we were so completely smashed that we didn’t want to risk [interfering] with our tour, and in the end we had to cancel things. Maybe later on we will do it.

You’ve said that you want to take a break after all of this touring is over. Will you do another album eventually? I don’t know. What we have in mind [doesn’t involve] going on tour again and again. We want to have a project behind [that touring]. That means that we have to focus on something which maybe was never done before or maybe it’s something special, because as I’ve said before, the world is turning. If you watch carefully, it’s the same situation like when you think about ’88 when we did the first Russian concerts, 10 shows in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg. I mentioned [to the band] that we have to go play in Russia, because we want to show the Russians, because of the World War, from Germany, a new generation comes and they’re not coming with tanks and making war, they’re coming with guitars and bringing music.

This situation opens up for us, the possibility to come one year later to the Moscow Music Peace Festival, where also Bon Jovi was there, Ozzy Osbourne, Mötley Crüe, Cinderella and some Russian bands. There, [singer] Klaus [Meine] was composing a song, “Wind of Change,” which became the soundtrack of the most peaceful revolution on Earth. This is the situation which gives us the chance later on to be invited to the Kremlin, meet Mr. Gorbachev and opens up for us a great big market. So these are the kind of things which we have in mind, not only touring, touring, touring, but to have something which we believe in and where we think we can help to really give hope.

“Wind of Change” still stands for hope—this was the song which was composed before the Wall came down, and that’s a very important point. To be included in something, not because you’re watching TV and you see the story. No, you are a part of the story. I think that’s what rock ’n’ roll was always meant to be, not only playing and having a good time, but also transporting a feeling and giving people hope, building bridges. That’s our vision for our music, to build bridges between generations, different religions, different philosophies and different systems. That’s what we’ve done over the years, for over 50 years and that’s what we want to be involved with—not in a political way, in a human-being way.

SCORPIONS with Queensrÿche. May 13, 14, 18, 20-22, 8 p.m., $50-$150. The Joint, 702-693-5222.

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