Interview with Rudolf Schenker of the Scorpions: The Final Sting

To paraphrase Rudolf Schenker, rhythm guitarist and founder of German hard rockers the Scorpions, you’d always believe the band would be there. After almost 40 years, the band announced that the recently released Sting In The Tail will be their final album and following a world tour, the authors of anthems such as “Rock You Like A Hurricane” will retire.

Why? Well, according to Schenker, the time is right. To secure their own story, they have to write the ending, so to speak, rather than have the ending written for them. Having endured the alternative era, one none-too-kind to the brash European arena metal of the Scorpions, the band has chosen this rock-friendly time to exeunt omnes.

With Sting In The Tail, Schenker, singer Klaus Meine, lead guitarist Matthias Jabs, drummer James Kottak and bassist Paweł Mąciwoda channel their late-‘70s/early-‘80s Scorpions sound faithfully without sounding self-parodic, something that befalls too many bands trying to recapture their glory days. And the album’s strong arena rock single, “Raised On Rock” champions the quintet’s classic, uninhibited appreciation for their craft in the most genuine of ways.

Schenker talked at length about the decision to retire the band and the band’s final musical statement.

Why now as your final album and farewell tour?

Actually, when we started the album, we took the possibility of saying we want to make a more European album. The time with Desmond Child [on Humanity: Hour I] was great; it was a great moment to make a concept album. We said everything that later on really was happening—the financial crisis—Linkin Park did it at the same time, Minutes To Midnight. So there was no reason to go for Humanity: Hour II, and in this case, we said ‘Let’s do it in my studio with the Swedish guys [Mikael Andersson and Martin Hansen].’ We knew them already; we had them in mind before we even started [the last album] with Desmond.

We had made the decision [to work with] Desmond, but this time we had said, ‘Let’s get them over here and see how they like the studio and the material we have.’ They were very happy with the studio, and we made the decision to record the guitars and bass in my studio and the rest of the stuff, like vocals and drums, in Stockholm.

It was a good mixture for them and us. We started recording, and near the end, nearly before mastering, we listened again to the whole album, finding out what songs may need a little bit more or less or whatever, and we were excited.

Our manager was there at the same time, and he saw the reaction of how happy we were. And he also recognized that this album is a very special album. And he said, ‘Guys, I don’t know if you can top this. This would be a great moment to announce the end of the group.’

First of all, we thought he was joking, but then we started counting. Klaus is already 62-years-old, I will be 62-years-old in August. You count three years, that’s 65-years-old, you have a break, then you go into the studio again, and you’re 67-years-old on stage. For a rock band, it is very difficult to play songs like ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane’ in a way where you feel like you don’t give the people enough and the people see some old guys on stage and for us, this would not be the right situation.

In this case, we really said that we have a very good moment for the ‘80s sound, the rock sound. It’s back again. And why not use this as a wave and surf on this wave and really give the people the picture of the Scorpions, what they are all about? We can finish the picture in a very perfect way because everybody is fit and we can really put the vibe of the Scorpions on stage.

I think the Scorpions always were a good live band and they made their name as a live band. And going three years on the road, it’s also a lot of work. For a blues band, it’s different. Buddy Guy or B.B. King [are] sitting on a stool playing their stuff. The decision was made, and it’s really a good situation for us, now many of the people around, especially in our home country, they are now realizing they always took the Scorpions as being there, now they’re realizing that ‘Oh, this band is leaving? I can’t believe it.’ Now we’ve sold out all the dates in Germany, and we’ve put extra dates in. In this case, it’s good for us, it’s good for the people. Forty years ago, in 2012, we released the first album Lonesome Crow and it’s a perfect 40 years.

We started to make music because we had fun making music. When music becomes a situation where you have to work hard to follow your own picture, then it’s no fun anymore.

You’ve always been very energetic on stage, and I think that might be hard to do in 10 years.

It’s not the situation that the people are saying ‘Why are they doing this? They could have stopped earlier.’ When you make the decision, you’re making a happy end. When other people are making the decision, and you notice, by doing the wrong move. How many times have you been to a party and you say to yourself ‘I’d better go now, there’s nothing happening anyway.’ You met somebody on the way out, he’s talking to you, ‘Oh, let’s have a beer.’ Then you go back again. You lost the momentum of the right moment, and the next morning, you said, ‘Shit, why didn’t I leave?’

It’s very hard! I know, it’s very hard! But I think the best way is when you stop on the right moment. And I think that’s what Led Zeppelin did also with the one concert in England, not following with the whole tour. It was maybe the right decision. One concert, you can always really put yourself together and get things together and make it good for everybody. If you do the whole tour, it will be difficult. You can see that with Van Halen, where they had their problems. But anyway, that is our decision.

We also wanted to have that freedom. When we went through the ‘90s, we had all this grunge and alternative music, ‘80s music was out, and we had to fight against the time. We tried to find our place in the music scene and tried many things out, and by the end, coming back to where we came from. Why? Because the time is right. Everything comes back in circles with a twist. In this situation, the time is perfect. You don’t know what is going to happen in three or four years, something like grunge or punk, a new generation, nobody cares when you go away.

A lot of reviewers have picked up on the first lines and the overall sound of the record and assumed that you planned this to be a farewell record before you even wrote it.

That’s not the situation. It [was] more in the end, as I said, we started thinking [our manager] was joking. Nobody from ourselves would come and say, ‘Here, let’s do this as a last album,’ because we are too close to the picture. Who wants to stop? Because our career as a German band was a fantastic career and to destroy this career by doing the wrong move—we were very close [to doing so] in the ‘90s because it was really difficult, but we had the Asian markets on our side, and we were 20 times platinum in Thailand, ten times platinum in Malaysia, eight in Indonesia.

We had a lot of things to do in the ‘90s in Asia and Russia. We had lots of possibilities, and also the work with the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra was a very good thing for us to do at that time, because it opened our musical picture more. Working with one of the best orchestras in the world. It’s amazing the work we did with Christian Kolonovits as a producer and conductor and arranger. It was fantastic. This gave us the situation to follow up with Acoustica, which was very successful in South America and Asia. In this case, we had lots of things to do, but we are very happy to come into the United States with our new album, go into the Top 30, that was great to know and I think ‘Raised On Rock’ was rock track number one for a few weeks. It’s fantastic, it’s good, and we can’t wait to come to the United States and make a real tour again. I know the last U.S. tour was in 2004. We enjoy playing in the United States, because of all the different countries we’ve been, America, the United States, is still the home of rock and roll. From Coca-Cola to the tour bus to the arenas and everything.

What is your set list like for these tours?

For America, we’re still working on it. It is interesting, we are changing our setlist from Europe to Scandinavia to Russia, Asia, South America and United States. Now we are in Greece and I think we have another big concert in Germany after the three dates in Greece. We’ll come with at least three or four new songs, and the rest will be, of course, it’s a must ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane,’ ‘Big City Nights,’ ‘The Zoo,’ ‘Still Loving You,’ ‘Wind Of Change,’ and maybe ‘Animal Magnetism’ because it was in the film with Mickey Rourke. We will put the right thing together for the American fans to make them happy. We’re still working on it; we have a big production, and it means we will rehearse in Philadelphia, I think, and we’ll find the right setlist, no doubt about it.

It sounds like Sting In The Tail was a lot of fun to write and record versus Humanity: Hour I which seemed maybe more intellectual. Was that the case?

I tell you one thing, why we made the decision to record Humanity: Hour I in Los Angeles was because Desmond said, ‘Okay, you guys are working with me, you have to do it in Los Angeles.’ Which was great for us. We said, ‘Fantastic!’ because Los Angeles is always a very good place to work, it’s inspiring. And the only situation was that Desmond is more a dictator. He knows what he’s doing, he knows what he wants, but he becomes more a factory, and we are more used to being open minded. From the first to the last minute, Desmond already has the picture in his mind. There was also James Michael involved, he was producing the bass and drums. Desmond was the uber-viewer and he was responsible for the vocals.

The difference was the two Swedish guys, one of them, Mikael, is a very well known guitar player in Sweden and Martin is the younger guy going for the more up to date kind of sound, new thinking. Mikael came to Matthias [Jabs] and me and said, ‘You know guys, we have to put the guitars, the riffs, we have to go basic again, to the essence of the Scorpions,’ which are for me, the ‘80s, between Lovedrive and Savage Amusement, or maybe Love At First Sting. He forced us to work on the guitar player very much, since he is a guitar player, and Martin was the guy for the vocals. The interesting thing was that because he is a guitar player and he gave us always the right signals that we really had fun to follow the signals and make something better out of it. It was a very, very loose way of working where Desmond was more the guy who wants to overview sound, kind of big and whatever. Polished and stuff. The Swedish guys were more the kind of loose guys in saying the most important point is the vibe. The feeling. It has to come across. And the situation that they did not put our stamp on us. They said, ‘We want to have the basic Scorpions again.’ And they can say that, because both of them are big Scorpions fans from the ‘70s until now.

We noticed, here we are back after the long journey through alternative, through the ‘90s. Now we found back again the classical kind of Scorpions sound. The moment we started to feel that, everything came very natural.

You can hear it in the guitar work. It doesn’t feel like there is anything extra; you have that way of not playing more than you need to.

The point is, especially when you’re becoming a band that is very long in the business, you try to make everything bigger and bigger and bigger. And by doing it bigger and bigger, you make yourself smaller. Kate Moss says she has makeup on, but the way she has makeup on, but nobody can see it. In this case, you have to find your way. The basic is, when the song is good, it’s good. If the song is not good, by trying to make the song good, it’s impossible. You’re putting makeup on makeup, and in the end, after a while, the song disappeared. The makeup can’t make it.

I wanted to ask briefly about the cover art. A lot of your ‘70s and ‘80s covers were sexual, like Lovedrive or Animal Magnetism. Did you not want to do that for the new album even as the music is classic Scorpions?

After we made the decision, we had to find artwork. We already had different artwork. The record company came with different artwork which was a great poster in the biggest magazine in Germany. Everybody loved it, but then the record company had the idea to put it as the artwork. It was a hotel room, destroyed, and we’re in it. I mean, okay, for this article it was looking fantastic, it made sense. But for the rock band like Scorpions, as the last album, not. Then we had some other ideas, but the classic artwork in the ‘80s where you had these albums, there was a big front you could look at. After the digital, the CD, more and more we lost this kind of spark to really make something outstanding.

The sexual thing was done. There was nothing new. We came with In Trance or Virgin Killer or Lovedrive or Love At First Sting or Animal Magnetism. Also working with Hipgnosis was a lot of fun. But those kind of things are not so interesting anymore. After we found out that this would be the last album, I always mentioned to the record company and to the guys, ‘Look, I think we have to go back to the real essence of the Scorpions, and that is the S. And when we put in the S the stinger, it’s perfect!’ Then we had the one guy working for us, Alex, he found the right, great designer, and explained to him the idea. When he gave us the first example, we worked on it and changed it, and on and on, and that is the result. Somehow, it’s like a testament, like a stone, which says ‘Scorpions.’ Back where you came from. The S starts the Scorpions and the S ends the Scorpions! (laughs) That’s great huh?

The Scorpions perform at PNC Bank Arts Center on June 18 and Nikon At Jones Beach Theatre on June 22.