by Jeb Wright
In 1980 a friend of mine gave me a cassette tape by a
band he said I had to check out. I was 13-years old and new to the world of
hard rock and I was taking in everything I could get my hands on. The album
was by a band called the Scorpions titled Animal Magnetism. I plopped
in the cassette and the opening notes of "Make It Real" blasted through my
headphones. A while later the opening chords of "The Zoo" smashed into my
skull and I was changed forever. I went to the local used record store and
bought every used Scorpions album they had in stock. Soon I was an expert on
the band and knew every song, lyric and guitar solo by heart. I discovered
the band used to have a guitar player named Uli Jon Roth and another named
Michael Schenker. I was memorized by every note. It is hard to believe that
twenty-seven years later I am still cranking up albums by the Scorpions
including the band’s latest offering Humanity Hour I, which will be
released in the United States on August 28th.
The band has taken a new direction with the album and
brought in outside songwriters, including Desmond Child, to collaborate with
and take the band into the year 2007. Humanity Hour I is a daring
release as the band changes their guitar sound and writes about more mature
themes than can be found in most of their biggest hits such as "Rock You
Like a Hurricane," "No One Like You" and "Rhythm of Love." Child has led the
band to push themselves artistically and the result is a solid album that
the band hopes will be another important chapter in their musical
I was able to speak with Scorpions’ vocalist Klaus
Meine about the making of the new album. We discussed why they went with
outside writers as this is often seen as a sign that a band is tired and out
of fresh ideas. We compared Humanity I with failed efforts of
experimentation such as the disastrous Eye II Eye album from 1999. It
became clear that Meine and the rest of the band did not hire Child to save
them from oblivion. Instead they wanted to stretch out and bring the band to
the modern day but still retain the Scorpions’ sting. The band worked harder
on the making of this album then they have in years and they believe in the
music and the global message it contains.
We also chatted about recent gigs with former guitar
players Uli Jon Roth and Michael Schenker and how the band welcomes their
past with the same reverence that they welcome their future. The Scorpions
are showing signs of maturity with the release of Humanity Hour I yet
they still remember the power that comes from rock ‘n roll. The rest of 2007
sees the band touring the world once again, reminding us all that there
really is no one like them.
Jeb: Humanity I shows the Scorpions moving in a
modern direction. Your last album, Unbreakable, had a classic
Scorpions sound. There was even talk that you would do the new album with
Dieter Dierks. But you changed direction and used Desmond Child.
Klaus: You have to make a decision as to who will be
the producer for the next album. Could it be someone like Dieter Dierks who
would take us back all the way to the 80's or do you want to produce an
album that presents the Scorpions in 2007? Desmond Child was on the top of
our wish list. We met him last summer when we played a couple of shows in
California. He was busy working with Meat Loaf but he was very excited about
working with the Scorpions. He said to Rudolf [Schenker] and myself, "These
days I seem to be working with icons." I looked at Rudolf and said, "I
didn’t think we were icons yet."
When you work with a producer like Desmond then you
open your arms and welcome him as a songwriter as well. We also collaborated
with some of the other top writers in rock music. Desmond said to us, "Let’s
make an album that is more mature and will hopefully take your career to the
next level." It is not so much about writing songs about boys chasing girls
or the other way around. We have done that and we still play those songs
every night and it is still a lot of fun but he wanted the fans to take us
seriously as artists. He suggested we make an album with a theme. He
presented us with the idea of Humanity Hour I and we all liked it. In
a way he was taking us to where we finished off with "Wind of Change."
We wanted to come out with this album with a global
message. We wanted to also make a rock album. Our first priority is to
entertain the audience and hopefully come out with something very powerful.
We shaped the songs in that way. We just wanted to move on and not look
back. We did Blackout, Lovedrive and Love at First Sting. We
wanted to do something that would hopefully impress and surprise everyone
that the Scorpions, at this stage in our history, could come up with
something this powerful.
Jeb: As a lyricist, how challenging was it for you to
write a theme album?
Klaus: It was very challenging. After all these years
you don’t want to be characterized as a Spinal Tap, cartoon kind of band.
There are a lot of bands that, I must admit, very successfully repeat the
same kind of formula again and again. Some of these bands we really respect
like AC/DC but we wanted to move on artistically. We want to stay excited
about what we do and not just come out with another Blackout record,
which would probably fail. People would say, "It is good but Blackout
is much better." We had some great writers on our side. It was not so much
about, "this is my song" or "this is your song." Instead, we all worked
together and we were into it. We hopefully have made something that will be
another milestone for the band. We went into the making of the album with
Desmond Child is a visionary. Working with him and
writing with him was great. On the other side of the studio he is not the
easiest guy to satisfy. He works you very hard. He gets the very best
performance out of you. It was challenging in many different ways. We know
after all of these years that if you want to come up with something that is
not only good but is spectacular — like magic — then you have to be ready to
go through a challenge. You have to prove to yourself that you can do this.
You ask yourself, "Am I good enough? Am I really that good? Can I pull this
off after all these years?" The answer is "Yes." At some point you go to the
big producer guy in the other room and you go, "Okay Desmond, now let me
show you what I can do."
Jeb: There are a lot of jaded, grouchy rock critics
who say that bands go get Desmond when they can no longer do it themselves.
Klaus: I know that people think that maybe we are
running out of ideas. It is not so much that. The whole world of music has
changed. We made this album in an old-fashioned way, in that sense. We
worked in Los Angeles, in the studio, for four months, working every day. We
could have gone into our basement and made a cheap record and put it out on
the internet and hopefully we would have a hit. We made it the old-fashioned
way to convince the fans, and the new generation of fans who may be
listening to our music for the first time, that this is very powerful music.
We put everything into this.
We wrote a few hits and we know what we are doing. Of
course we can do it all ourselves. We know what to do and we are definitely
not running out of ideas. We are touring all over the world and that is
still the biggest source of inspiration. But to make something that is
outstanding and amazing you have to have a good team around you and you have
to open up. Desmond has worked with artists that we really respect like
Aerosmith and he really knows what he is doing. He lives for his passion and
his music. Desmond is a guy that you can trust if you want to go somewhere
else and you are ready to learn another lesson in the new chapter of this
Jeb: The song "Humanity" shows the best of what can
happen when you collaborate with others.
Klaus: Desmond said that one is a masterpiece. It is a
song that goes down well when we play it live. We started our tour in Europe
and we are now in Mexico. We just played in the rainforest in Amazonia.
There were 30,000 people coming to see the Scorpions. Our message to them
was that we have to take care of the rainforest in this part of the world.
This song makes a powerful statement. It has a deep message that is a global
message. In a way it is the old message of make love, not war. We have got
to get our shit together now if we want to make this world a more peaceful
place for ourselves and for our children.
Jeb: The Scorpions are a band that plays across the
entire world. You really do see, first hand, the different cultures. Once
Desmond brought up the idea of Humanity I then you had to relate and
be able to tap into that energy.
Klaus: You’re absolutely right — that is exactly like
it is. The Scorpions really are, in the best sense of the word, global
players. We play in Indonesia and Jakarta. We play in the Middle East and we
play in Israel. We also played at the Pyramids in Cairo. We see the Arabs in
the crowd rocking like a hurricane. They are not very different from the
fans in Israel or the fans in Los Angeles or in Brazil. Scorpions’ music
connects people and that is very inspiring. We connect to different cultures
and it is a very wonderful thing to see when you’re on stage. Then you watch
the news and it is a totally different world. We feel, as musicians, that we
can add something to world peace. It might be something that is very little
but there are a lot of people who take power from music. They need the kind
of energy that rock music provides to make it through their life.
Jeb: Do you still think music can really change
Klaus: We saw it change people when we played in
Russia in the 80's. "Wind of Change" was the soundtrack for the end of
Communism and the bringing down of the Berlin Wall. We saw that rock music
had a huge effect on the younger generation of Russians. They were tired of
the whole Communist system. They were tired of being behind the Iron
Curtain. We were breaking through the Iron Curtain with Scorpions’ music. We
talked to young people back then and they told us that the time of the Cold
War would be over soon. As a generation they didn’t want it anymore. I am
not saying rock music did that but it was a part of it.
Jeb: If you listen to Humanity Hour I you
realize that some of the songs are kind of dark. Yet you say that you want
to convey hope.
Klaus: Sometimes we were fighting with Desmond when we
were writing the album. He came up with the title "Love is War." I said,
"No, no, no, the Scorpions can’t have a song where love is war." He said,
"Think about it. So many young couples fall in love and after a couple of
years they start splitting up and they go see their lawyers. At that point
love is war." It really is a reality. This kind of feeling is more honest
and it really gets the message across more than singing twelve songs with
happy lyrics. There are some songs on the album that do persuade the dark
side of life. "The Cross" and "Hour I" both do that. We balance it out with
a song like "The Future Never Dies."
Jeb: "Hour I" really kicks you right in the teeth.
That is a heavy song.
Klaus: We kick the show off with that song.
Jeb: "The Future Never Dies" is a song that draws you
back to it. That is when you know you have something good.
Klaus: We know these days that people download single
songs but we wanted to make an album where people could listen and enjoy the
whole thing. The Internet Generation has many forms of entertainment. When
we grew up, we just had records. We waited for the next album by Ozzy and
when it came out we went out and bought it and went home and listened to the
whole record. These days it is just different. People don’t have the time.
They just pick out one song. It seems that people don’t care about song
quality. They download a song on their iPod — it is just so different. As
artists we still want to make an album where hopefully people go, "This is
really cool. I like the whole record." There are songs that could be big
singles on the radio but the album as a whole makes a very strong artistic
Jeb: Does the title Humanity Hour I mean there
is going to be a Humanity Hour II?
Klaus: That is what everybody is asking. There might
be. Who knows? Right now we are at the beginning of the world tour. It is
exciting to play the new songs and they go very well with the classics. It
is exciting that there is a whole new audience out there. There are many
longtime fans but there are a lot of young kids. We just played in London
and in Paris and there were young kids rocking out to songs that were
written way before they were born. It is amazing. I don’t want to think
about Hour II right now because Hour I is so exciting. It is
very inspiring to see how much the audience enjoys this new music.
Jeb: The last time the Scorpions really stepped
outside of the classic Scorpions sound was the album Eye II Eye.
That album was not well received.
Klaus: Not at all. The difference is that this album
still incorporates the Scorpions trademark sound and ingredients – even with
all these people involved. Desmond really put his stamp onto this as well
but you still recognize that it is the Scorpions. With Eye II Eye it
was a different kind of sound. We were experimenting. Peter Wolf produced
it. He played keyboards with Frank Zappa. He was very talented but it was
not a very professionally produced record. For some reason the Scorpions’
sting was not shining through. The fans couldn’t identify with it. The album
had no Scorpions DNA. People did not like the album because they could not
connect with hit.
With Humanity I, we were not experimenting. I
think we all learned our lesson — I know I learned my lesson. This album is
truly a Scorpions record but it has a more current sound. It sounds very
much 2007. A lot of rock magazines back in Europe said that a lot of rock
bands that are just starting to make rock albums should listen to
Humanity I because it is very cool.
Jeb: Even though the band is moving forward I have to
bring up a connection from the past. You have been playing a few shows with
Uli Jon Roth appearing in the band.
Klaus: We played the big Wacken Festival in Germany,
which is the biggest heavy metal festival in the world last year. We did a
show called A Night to Remember. We invited Uli Jon Roth, Michael
Schenker and Herman Rarebell to join us on stage. We put 50 songs on the
internet and we asked the fans to tell us what they wanted us to play. It
was a hardcore audience. Again, we wanted to prove that this band is not a
ballad band and that we like to rock. It was also a challenge that we threw
ourselves into. There were sixty thousand metal fans there and they freaked.
We filmed it and we will hopefully be putting it out soon. We enjoyed
playing songs with Michael and Uli. A couple of weeks back we played some
shows in Europe and we had Uli Jon Roth with us. We played songs from way
back like "Dark Lady," "Speedy’s Coming" and "Fly to the Rainbow."
Uli is an amazing and legendary guitar player. Uli had
a lot of fun playing on stage with the Scorpions. We played "In Trance." It
was fun for us as we would play "Humanity" and then we would introduce Uli
and we would play "Pictured Life." It is so cool to do that and the fans
really loved it. It would be great at some point to do this in the States as
well. It shows that it was an important part in the Scorpions history and it
still works to go from the present to the past. It also shows that we are
not just riding on the glorious old days. We have something new to present
but it really is like going full circle.
Jeb: Do you feel Uli had to leave the Scorpions for
the band to become what it became?
Klaus: Probably yes. Back then it was his decision,
first of all. He wanted to play his own music. He had his own formula of
writing songs. It was very exciting but we could see we were drifting apart
musically. We remained friends and we could respect that he wanted to do his
own thing. When Matthias [Jabs] joined the band then Rudolf and I could
follow our own way and do what we wanted to do. It was the next step up for
us. We had Lovedrive, Animal Magnetism, Blackout and Love
at First Sting. With Uli we would have still been a very powerful band
but I don’t think we would have survived the next ten years. We were just
too different. We are all more relaxed now. Uli is more relaxed too. He can
also enjoy this part of his life and his career. He loves to come back and
play with us.
Michael Schenker is going through difficult times
right now and we hope he gets back on track soon. But that is the story of
Michael’s life. He was back at the Wacken show and a couple of weeks ago,
MSG opened the show for us in London and Manchester. The fans just freaked.
It was difficult for Michael though. We hope for the best and that he is
alright soon. Uli is a very organized person and he is a great artist. When
we play a show in Paris then you know he is going to be there. With Michael
you never know.
Jeb: Last one: Which was the most enjoyable video to
make: "No One Like You" or "Rock You Like a Hurricane?"
Klaus: Probably "Rock You Like a Hurricane." Both were
great. I got to spend the night at Alcatraz and that was really exciting.
There were Japanese tourists there in the morning taking picture of the
electric chair because they thought that was where Al Capone was killed. To
be in a cage with all those girls around us in "Rock You Like a Hurricane"
was very cool. If you are just talking about fun then it would have to be
"Rhythm of Love" which was filmed in Hollywood. Those days were a lot of