Scorpions unplug the guitars but don’t retire

“We don’t have any plan!” laughs Klaus Meine, singer of the legendary Scorpions. We were asking him what they had planned for the next two years or so, but the band is actually enjoying life a day at a time, postponing the promise to retire they made after the release of Sting in the Tail. But it doesn’t really matter if it is the end or not. The musicians are now free from all constraints and pressure. Whether the crowd shows up or not is only a bonus; and luckily, almost four years after the release of their last opus, the audience is still very much here.

“It is much harder than we would have thought” he says regarding their decision to retire. Over forty years of career – more than two thirds of his life! – can’t really be left behind in the blink of an eye. We can therefore easily understand that the band takes its time. We can also understand the doubts and the fact that, in the end, they decided to make the most of their life and enjoy it a day at a time without thinking too hard about the future.

Making the most of it was apparently their watchword for the legendary MTV unplugged they recently recorded. Two discs of songs adapted to this acoustic project and enlivened with a few surprising arrangements. A few of these tracks are rare songs and five are completely unreleased material. They had even thought about forgetting their most essential hits but were called to order by their label.

We tackle these topics in our following interview with the most enjoyable, enthusiastic and talkative Klaus Meine. With, on top of this, a hint towards our national Johnny Hallyday!

« We wanted to surprise our fans with a whole new set of music. We didn’t want to sell the same songs, especially those big classics all over and all over again, you know. »

Radio Metal: You already released an acoustic live album called Acoustica twelve years ago. How different was the experience this time?

Klaus Meine (vocals): Well, it was different. This time, it was the legendary MTV Unplugged knocking at the door, saying: “How about the Scorpions doing an MTV Unplugged?” After all these years, and even though we talked about it back in the 80s’ but it never worked out really, I think it’s such an honor to be asked to do this because even though MTV isn’t the same MTV that it was back in the 80s’ after all these years, the MTV Unplugged brand is still a very powerful one. It’s a brand of quality, of very special artists, and by doing it, you become part of this illustrious family. Therefore, we said: “Yes, this is wonderful, let’s do it!” At the same time, it’s a challenge, and it’s different from what we did in 2001 with Acoustica which was our first unplugged album. But this is MTV, hey, come on! [laughs] This wasn’t about a big rock show, this was about music, music and only music. They request the artists to sit on bar stools, the audience to be seated… It was cool that they followed us to Athens, because for MTV Berlin, usually these productions take place in a studio, in front of a few hundred fans gathering around the stage… This was totally different in the history of MTV Unplugged, because it was the very first time it took place under the open sky, in front 3,500 people. It was really different from the beginning, and we were glad that MTV came along with us when we recommended: “Let’s do this MTV Unplugged in Athens, in Greece, in one of those beautiful amphitheaters!” It was an amazing trip and we enjoyed it a lot.

This MTV Unplugged features a lot of your older material. Was it important to go deeper in your history this time, compared to Acoustica?

Yes! From the very beginning, we wanted to focus on songs we never performed live. We wanted to surprise our fans with a whole new set of music. We didn’t want to sell the same songs, especially those big classics all over and all over again, you know. Our position was: “Let’s do this concert without ‘Wind Of Change’, without ‘Still Loving You’, without all those big hits. Let’s try to make a show that is attractive enough without those big songs.” Of course, our label Sony Music said: “Oh come on guys, no way!” Okay, in the end they were right and we did some of the songs with guest artists, and they got a whole new expression because of that and of course different arrangements… It worked all great in the end, but still, our focus was very much on music. A lot of this material we never performed live. This was our intention. Then along the way, there were five new songs, and in the end it became a very powerful set of music. And we ended up in Athens, playing a two hours and a half concert, it was like a whole new show!

« When we started thinking about guests, we thought hard and heavy: ‘It would be cool to have Lemmy, Slash, Richard Sambora, Doro Pesch’… But MTV Berlin were in charge, and they presented us with an all different list of artists and names, most of them I never heard about before. »

Acoustica was recorded in Portugal and this new unplugged album was recorded in Greece. Are there any reasons why the two acoustic albums were recorded in southern countries of Europe? Would you say they’re more receptive to acoustic music?

Yes, it might work better… I mean, we could have done it probably in France too, and we could have done this in Russia and in a lot of places. I think our die-hard, long-time fans will know that we recorded some of World Wide Live in the show in Bercy and the song “Holiday” was also unplugged, but that was a long time ago. I don’t know if we just go to the South of Europe… Of course, we go there for the fans we’ve had in Greece for so many years, but also for the climate, because to do a show outdoors, you have to be sure of the weather, for instance in September when we recorded we had a stage without rooftop. Where can you do this in Europe at that time of the year? It’s practically impossible. But there, you know that you can leave your umbrellas at home, there will be definitely no rain. And there, in the evening, at 10pm or midnight, it was still 28°C. That was just beautiful: the moon, the stars…It was just an amazing scenery. And of course we have so many die-hard fans in Greece after so many years, same as here in France, but in the South, people get very emotional… I don’t know, you have to see it! When you see the pictures, when you see the DVD, you’ll know what I’m talking about. They get very emotional. For example this beautiful Greek actress, Dimitra Kokkori, had a speaking part on “Born To Touch Your Feelings”. She looked so beautiful. She came out on stage at the end of the song, she talked – she was speaking a few lines of that song – and our video director said that night: “Klaus, did you see the pictures? You wouldn’t believe it! She started to cry! She was crying!” The camera was zooming in as her tears were coming down… She was all in tears because she was so full of emotions, and, in a way, it’s the whole Greek audience down there. It’s very emotional, and they have a big heart not only for those big hits, but they also know our material from the early years. We played songs like “Born to touch your feelings”, “Pictured life”, “Speedy’s coming”, all those early songs, “Where the river flows”, “You came into my life”, and there would be an emotion overflow. That was the way it was. And we were looking for the big emotions, but at the same time, we didn’t want to play ballads only. We wanted to play a rock show, even unplugged, with many up tempo songs, new songs that came in like “Dancing in the moonlight”, “Rock’n’Roll Band”, and even classics like “Rock You Like A Hurricane”, that had almost like a Greek arrangement with a mandolin played by Mikael Nord Andersson. Him and Martin Hansen are Swedish producers we’re working with since Sting Of The Tail. Mikael said: “Oh, it’s so great to share the stage with you”, he told somebody: “I will be playing, rocking out with the Scorpions!” And the other guy was like: “What do you play?”, and he said: “Uh… The mandolin.” [laughs] And it was great! They all did a great job. We also had a discussion in the studio: “Should we have backing vocals, like three beautiful looking ladies singing backing vocals?” That’s the way you usually do it. But the guys said: “No, this time, the band is doing the backing vocals. We are the band! Oh, come on Klaus, we make an audition! We sing for you and you say if we’re good enough.” They were really auditioning! I can’t remember the song but they were singing harmonies so beautiful, I was blown away! I said: “Come on guys, ‘is this good enough?’!? This is fantastic!” I think we never had such amazing backing vocalists in a show like this. It was fantastic. They were really doing a great job. We call them the Swiss Army Knife because they play every instrument you want! We had mandolin but also accordion, harmonica, piano, and all these different kinds of guitars: slide guitars, Hawaiian guitars… They’re great musicians. We also hired some string octet, eight musicians from Athens. Altogether, we were 18 musicians on stage, and it sounded great.

« I don’t know about the future, but all I know is that we always will be musicians, artists, and songwriters. But heavy touring… We just have to cut down a bit. »

About that, for these concerts you chose guest musicians such as Revolverheld’s Johannes Strate and Morten Harket, the lead singer of Norwegian pop group A-Ha. A lot of musicians could have played with you on this particular show. Why choosing these ones specifically?

When we started thinking about guests, we thought hard and heavy: “It would be cool to have Lemmy, Slash, Richard Sambora, Doro Pesch”… But MTV Berlin were in charge, and they presented us with an all different list of artists and names, most of them I never heard about before to be honest, except Morten Harket of course, Morten is a famous singer, legendary voice from A-Ha. He came to see us in Russia last year to our show in Ekaterinburg, and I think he was blown away when he heard the Russian fans singing “Wind Of Change”. He was the first one who committed himself to this project. He said: “Klaus, I would love to sing ‘Wind Of Change’ with you…” He picked that song and he did a great job. Thanks to him, the song has a whole new presentation, a whole new expression. For Johannes, it was MTV who said: “You should check him out, he’s a great young singer.” In the end we liked the idea of supporting young German artists that are not known outside of Germany, and giving them the chance to present themselves on a worldwide level since we’re releasing this MTV Unplugged in 50 countries around the world. In Athens, when they came up on stage, nobody knew them of course, but they did a good job for what they did. Johannes said: “I grew up with your music, and Hurricane is one of my favorite tracks, I would love to do this with you”, and I said: “You pick a good one!” The Greek audience loved it, the result is so strong. I think Johannes did a great job on it. Cäthe is a young, independent artist, not even well known in Germany. We did a TV show together in Germany lately, playing songs from the record, and when I asked her: “What are you doing next?”, she said: “I’ve got 25 shows until Christmas!” and I was like: “What?! That’s amazing!” She was very nice and very nervous at the same time. She’s a lovely lady with a beautiful rock voice, and I wanted to do “In Trance”, so it was me who picked the song. It came out pretty cool, I think, and the fans loved it right away.

You’ve been working on a new album made of unfinished songs from the Blackout and Love At First Sting sessions. What’s the current status of this project?

Yeah, we started in 2011 already, viewing some material from back in the 80s’, and we found some great stuff. Most of it was unfinished, most of the lyrics I couldn’t use just for simply the fact that they were never really finished, they were working lyrics. There is two songs we recorded already, in electric versions, which became part of the unplugged show: “Dancing With The Moonlight” and “Rock’n’Roll Band”. Our Swedish producers picked them and said: “They would be cool in the show.” “Dancing With The Moonlight” became our first single in Germany right now, it’s already getting some airplay, that’s pretty cool. Then on the way, there were some new songs like “Delicate Dance”, Matthias wrote an instrumental, Rudolf came up with the song “Love Is The Answer” and I also wrote a brand new song called “Follow Your Heart”. These songs were written in 2013. We might go back to this so-called “Outtakes album” next year, and record electric versions of those songs as well. There’s plenty of stuff, we want to do it as a kind of an “encore” for our fans, because the 80s’ were a great time during which we were very creative, and there’s some great stuff waiting just to be finished.

« We have no plans! [laughs] We take is as it comes.[…] We might go back to the studio this year, and finish what we started in 2011. But other than that, no major plans! »

So can we expect more completely new material from the Scorpions in the future?

I don’t know if we’ll go in there for a brand new album… Right now, we are completely focused on the MTV Unplugged, after that, we might go to this outtakes project, and there are already a lot of songs that are new for the audience because they’ve never been released… One of the other songs I thought would have been perfect for MTV Unplugged, but then we ended up with two songs from that session, and three brand new songs, so we ended up with five new songs, that’s not so bad. But for that album, I think there’s a lot of stuff that nobody ever heard, so there is new material. But let’s see for that. I can’t see in the future, I don’t know, we might play a few shows next year, we might even come back to France, but with this MTV Unplugged show, there will be only a very few selected concerts, because it’s so big to travel with so many musicians, so many artists… If we ever have the chance to come back to France, it would be so cool to do a duet with Johnny Hallyday [note: famous French rock singer], you know? That would be cool! So Johnny, if you hear this, that would be great! [laughs]

Since the release of Sting In The Tail more than three years ago, you’ve been touring intensively and releasing various new compilations and live albums. And you don’t seem to be slowing down! Would you say that it’s in fact much harder than you expected for the band to retire?

I did an interview with an American journalist a few days ago and he asked me: “Klaus, how does it feel like, retirement?” I answered: “If this is retirement, it feels great, I love it!” [laughs] I don’t know. It has definitely turned out much harder than we thought. To say: “This is it, last album, last tour…” after so many years felt definitely right. We still wanna slow down a bit. It’s impossible when you drive 200 kilometers an hour to hit the brake and stop and say “Good bye, this is it!” We figured that out, and on top of that, out of all the countries we wanted to go to for this farewell tour, we haven’t been everywhere. We did a lot of shows in a lot of countries, but we haven’t been in Japan or in the UK or in Spain. We announced a concert in Madrid next year in Spring, but it was sold out so quickly we added another one there right away! There’s still so many places we haven’t been to on this farewell tour… We just keep going, but not as heavy, playing 100 shows a year like we did in the last three years. And I tell you, when we played in France, we played at Bercy two years ago, I was totally sick. We were here for three days and everybody went shopping, but the only thing I did was walking to the pharmacy to get more painkillers. I was really sick. The doctor I went to see in Paris – thanks to him again! – checked my vocal chords, and said: “Klaus, I’ve checked everything, you can play tomorrow, everything’s good” I did, and it was a great show and a huge success, then we did a few more shows but when I came home, I collapsed, and the end of 2011 was really tough. It was a hard time for me. It looks so easy – and it should look so easy – but we’ve been doing this for more than forty years, you know. So now, sitting on bar stools isn’t too bad [laughs]. I don’t know about the future, but all I know is that we always will be musicians, artists, and songwriters. But heavy touring… We just have to cut down a bit. But we don’t split up. We enjoy it way too much, plus we have a whole new audience in front of the stage. On Facebook we have over 4,3 millions of followers, and the average age is between 17 and 27. This is amazing, and this is what we see every night on stage, same here in France. So many young kids in front of the stage that go totally nuts! We’re all thinking: “You came for us?!”, and they go just nuts! It’s wonderful to see that after 40 years of career, our music is reaching out to the new rock generations out there, this is fantastic.

« If we ever have the chance to come back to France, it would be so cool to do a duet with Johnny Hallyday, you know? That would be cool! So Johnny, if you hear this, that would be great! [laughs] »

Next year, Katja Von Garnier’s documentary called “Big City Nights” will be released. What can we expect to learn from this documentary that we do not already know about the band?

Katja and her camera crew was with us for concerts in Bangkok, Paris (the show we just talked about at Bercy), Los Angeles, Moscow etc., and we did a documentary that is like the life and the times of the Scorpions! It’s about all the way back in the past, when we grew up and started doing music. We just had the first screening a few weeks ago, and it came out pretty cool. There’s still some fine tuning to do with the movie. We want to present it into theaters as well, I’m sure it will be out as a DVD and for the television… Katja Von Garnier is a movie director, she’s very experienced and she’s doing great movies. We spent a great time with her and her team. There’s still some work but this might come out later next year, we don’t know exactly when, I think we need to have a closer view with the material, but from what we saw so far, I think the fans will love it.

What are the plans for the Scorpions for the year or two to come?

No plans. We have no plans! [laughs] We take is as it comes. I mean, other than playing a few shows with MTV Unplugged, we’ll do a few symphonic orchestra shows in Russia this Spring, there might be a few more shows popping up here and there but that’s not a major tour… Like I said, we might go back to the studio this year, and finish what we started in 2011. But other than that, no major plans!

You’ve been singing in the Scorpions for almost 45 years. How difficult is it for a singer to keep his voice in shape after so many years?

It’s the key to all of it. It’s only fun and enjoyable to do projects like this if your voice is there, especially for an MTV Unplugged because you can’t hide behind a wall of guitar sounds even if there’s a lot of acoustic guitars [laughs]. A project like this is very challenging for a singer, and it’s only fun if your voice is there. I try to take care of myself, of my voice… It’s a lot of focusing on your instrument, you try not to trash it like in the old days and you try to keep it up there. Playing shows is a good thing, you stay in the loop and your voice is more there when you’re playing concerts than when you’re not. It takes a moment to warm up yourself and take it up there to a great performance. It’s not so easy. The longer I’m doing this, the older I am, it’s a privilege and I feel so happy that my voice is still there. I take it from each show to the next and try to give my very best for the fans. As long as my voice is there, I’m the happiest man on Earth!

Interview conducted on December, 9th 2013 by Chloé.
Questions: Amphisbaena & Spaceman.
Transcription: Chloé.
Introduction: Spaceman.

Scorpions official website: www.the-scorpions.com

Album Scorpions : MTV Unplugged in Athens, out since November, 29th 2013 via RCA.

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