Do you remember what you were doing fifty years ago? Guitar player Rudolf Schenker was putting together the Scorpions in Germany and half a century later they are still going strong. One listen through their upcoming Return To Forever album, which drops on September 11th, there is not much difference between the young men who brought us “Rock You Like A Hurricane” and “Still Loving You” and new single, “We Built This House.” The voices are strong, the guitars wail and right off the bat you can tell it’s the Scorpions.
Klaus Meine, the unmistakable voice of the band long synonymous with hard rock power ballads and metal anthems, is excited to be celebrating such an anniversary as #50 and celebrating it with not only a new body of recorded work but a worldwide tour that will be hitting the US starting in September. And the stage is where the Scorpions have always been at their most powerful. “Hurricane,” “No One Like You,” “Big City Nights,” “Dynamite” and “All Night Long” zing with an overwhelming vivacity when performed in front of thousands of people.
In the years since the Scorpions were formed in Hannover, only Schenker and Meine have remained mainstays throughout the band’s history; although Matthias Jabs, who replaced guitar player Uli Jon Roth in 1978, comes in a close second. Together, they form the core, the heartbeat, of the Scorpions. James Kottak has handled the drums since 1996, leaving bass player Pawet Maciwoda to hold down the “kid” position, having joined the band in 2004. And it is this group of musicians who laid down the tracks for the nineteen song Return To Forever. Pulling up song fragments from the past, Meine and Schenker decided to give some of them a new lease on life, working them over, adding new lyrics or guitar riffs, and in turn that sparked off new creative juices culminating in fresh tunes. “There had been quite a few unused songs over the years that were really good but in the end didn’t make the cut back then due to the limited space on vinyl,” Jabs explained recently. “We focused on eight songs, which were partly finished, which we then recorded from scratch … We were having so much fun we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of the songwriting process once again.”
Last week Meine called in from his home in Germany to talk with Glide about the old and the new.
How is everything going on in your world, Klaus?
Well, I’m in Germany, Hannover. Home sweet home. We just came back from South Korea. We played a show in Asia. We started in China in May and we went all over Russia and a lot of places in Europe. And now we’re pretty much ready for the US.
Is there any place left the Scorpions haven’t played?
Yeah, there are still some places on the map you could find. Very few though, you know, like Australia, for example, is one of them.
I didn’t realize you never played there.
Yeah, we never did. It’s strange, you know, but this is still on the list. Like with China, we’d never been in China and this year finally it worked out and we played a show there in early May, a huge festival we were headlining. And they invited us back next year so looks like pretty good start in China after all these years. We’re still hoping one day we make it down under as well.
This must be such a great time to not only be in the Scorpions but to be a fan of the Scorpions with everything new you have going on.
Yeah, we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary and at the same time we’re releasing brand new album, comes out in the US on the 11th of September. Then we come back for a tour. Basically, with this 50th anniversary we’re going around the world and we’re pretty much booked until next summer. So it’s very exciting. There is a movie, a documentary about the band, about the life of the Scorpions, and I guess we’ll have like a premiere in LA later this year. So there are a lot of exciting things going on at the same time.
When the band first came together, what were your original hopes and dreams for it?
In those days, the early days, late sixties/early seventies, there was no professional management whatsoever so we had to book our gigs ourselves. So the early days was quite a challenge, you know, because we wanted to get away from this amateur status and become professional band. And the most important thing, even before thinking about making records, was how can we manage not to play only some clubs on weekends but also do something like a tour. That was quite a challenge in those days. So from the early days on, Scorpions were always a live band and it was always important to be up on stage and play in front of the fans.
When did you notice that everything was starting to change and that you might actually go beyond what you imagined?
By the time we came to America in the late seventies, actually in 1979, when we hit the road and we played arenas every night. We were the opening act, AC/DC was special guest, Ted Nugent was headlining. Then of course in 1983, the legendary US Festival in San Bernardino Valley, California, that was a milestone festival. Then you realize, now we’ve really hit the big time and our visions and dreams, when we started out as kids, so to come to America in the late seventies was like a dream come true. Then going into the eighties, was very successful and we went home with gold and platinum records. With Blackout, we became headliners everywhere around the world. And I guess when we played Madison Square Garden in New York in 1984, to realize you’re on top of the world. Now you’re ready for what’s next (laughs). What’s next will be the icing on the cake.
So many dreams and visions came true. And the best thing is after all these years we’re still around, we’re still very successful and we still play this global stage and it’s a privilege to play in front of three generations these days. There’s a whole new audience that joined the party in the last couple of years and that’s fantastic, that our music became timeless.
What can we expect on the tour this year?
We have a whole new set of music, like from the last time we played the US in 2012. So we have a whole new set of music. Parts of the show we go all the way back to the seventies. I think, especially for the longtime followers, longtime Scorpions fans, they will really enjoy to hear songs like “Steamrock Fever, “Top Of The Bill,” “Speedy’s Coming;” songs we recorded back in the seventies. So it’s widespread of music, playing from early vintage Scorpions songs but also playing and presenting brand new songs from our new album, Return To Forever. We have a big multimedia kind of LED production. It’s a great show and by now we’ve been to a lot of places, many parts of the world, and it looks like fans really enjoy this new show.
The new album is so energetic. You can’t tell you guys have been doing this for fifty years.
Five zero is such an ugly number, right (laughs). But we’re proud of it. Very few bands reach that kind of anniversary, like the Stones, The Who, the Beach Boys. There are just very few bands out there. So we’re very proud of it but it doesn’t feel that we’re out there for fifty years, you know, and I guess our fans who have been following us for a long time, especially also the young generation of Scorpions fans, they find out about what we’re doing these days when they watch the shows on YouTube and see what we’re doing. It seems like this band is still very, very much a live attraction and the fans want to come to celebrate the great rock party and everybody have a great time with their friends when the Scorpions come to town. And that’s simply wonderful after all these years. So yeah, we’re getting older in numbers but we’re still very young at heart (laughs).
Some of the songs on the new album were older partial songs from before, correct?
Yes, that is correct. We wanted to pick some eighties material. You know, back in those days when you released vinyl records, most of the time you had seven or eight songs on the album. So there were many left over, many unfinished songs, and some of them they really good, you know. So we knew there was some great stuff sitting there, most of it was unreleased but never really finished. There were maybe a great chorus missing or the lyrics were just some working lyrics back in those days, in the eighties. So we picked some of it up and finished those songs.
In the meantime, like between 2012 and last year, everybody came up with new material so it was like the creative gates were opened again. So this album, Return To Forever, makes a great mix of early eighties, vintage Scorpions stuff and brand new written songs. But all those vintage songs from the eighties, they were all completely recorded so there is nothing really taken originally back from those days, because those songs were not really finished, and it needed just a little touch-up and new lyrics. I’d say the balance is about 50/50 on the album with some eighties material and brand new songs.
What are some of the older songs on the album?
“Rock My Car” is one of those songs. “Rock N Roll Band,” definitely is eighties material. The same with “Catch Your Luck & Play,” “Hard Rockin’ The Place;” “Gypsy Life” is another one but that’s maybe around the time 2000, we wrote that around 2000. “House Of Cards” is another one. I wrote the lyrics to that one way before this world famous TV series, House Of Cards (laughs). I think it’s also around the late nineties/early 2000’s.
“Catch Your Luck & Play,” that song had a great opening riff but what was missing was a great catchy chorus and a great hook line. I think it had a different title back then. It’d been called “Bite Of The Snake.” So we went back to that. “Eye Of The Storm” was another one that I wrote, I think in 1991, also quite a long time ago. Picked it up here and there but this time it turned out really wonderful and became one of the ballads on the album.
What was the newest song?
Since we’re working with our Swedish producers since Sting In The Tail, since 2010, they participated in the songwriting on a few songs on this record and some of the new ones are “Going Out With A Bang,” which is an excellent show opener. It’s the first song in the concert. That’s really a great live song. Also, it has, I think for the Scorpions DNA, it has a little bluesy touch, you know, which is great. “We Built This House” is the first single on the album. That’s also a collaboration between the Swedish producers, Mikael Nord Andersson and Martin Hansen, and myself. We wrote the lyrics together. So they participated in the songwriting on a few songs on the record and those songs are the newest ones. And I think that “The Scratch” is a song that has a swing kind of feel. It’s very different. That song came in the very last minute, I think last year in October, before the recording was finished. It came out pretty cool and it’s very different.
Isn’t “We Built This House” about the band?
Yeah, it’s about a relationship but it also stands for the story of the Scorpions. Like saying, “We built this house, brick by brick.” We survived all those musical changes all those years, from punk to grunge to alternative music and we’re still standing strong, you know. Severe storms along the way but the band is still standing strong. It’s still all about friendship, teamwork and the passion for rock & roll. We’re still out there and play for our fans around the world so we built this house on a rock and we’re still going strong.
How did you discover rock & roll, Klaus?
Growing up in Germany, back in the fifties/early sixties, I mean, in Germany it was all about very pop-y schlager music; our parents loved that kind of music, kind of sound. After all the years of Second World War they went through, this was like happy music, you know. Our parents’ generation were building up this country again so the soundtrack was quite a happy, pop-y, schlager sound.
When we heard Elvis Presley, Little Richard and those guys for the first time, we didn’t understand the English lyrics, we didn’t understand a word, actually, but we got the message of rock & roll (laughs). You know, we loved it so much. Be-bop-a-lula wop-bam-bang! It hit us really hard. It was very inspiring and when The Beatles, the Stones, The Who and all those great bands came over from the UK in the early sixties, it was such an inspiration to a lot of people, a lot of kids in the neighborhood, everybody wanted to start a band. This is when we started playing, when Rudolf Schenker founded the Scorpions in 1965. It was just so inspiring. There was so much great music around to grow up to.
Then it was Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, all these great bands. This is how it started, you know, and it was very, very inspiring because we had a chance to grow up with the best music around. You got hit by this whole new generation of amazing artists and some of them are still out there, like the Rolling Stones, like a generation ahead of us, still doing great. All those bands, they gave us this inspiration to start a band.
Are you surprised at all that “Wind Of Change” still connects to so many people to this day, even though you wrote it about a specific time?
Yeah, it’s amazing. Here in Germany we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the reunification in October; actually, it will be exactly October 3rd the day we rocked the Forum in Los Angeles. It’s amazing after all these years that “Wind Of Change” so very much connected with so many people in East and West and this song became like a peace anthem. It’s a song about Moscow but it stands for the coming down of the Berlin Wall, the end of communism, the Cold War, and for a lot of people these days it’s a song of hope, you know. This is what it is.
When I wrote that song it was like, I was hoping for the end of the Cold War. Playing at the Moscow Music Peace Festival in 1989, we all had a feeling that the world was about to change and that song expressed that feeling of hope that people would come together. And I think all those years, also having a good time, rocking hard like a hurricane, you know, but with songs like “Wind Of Change” I think we always went out to play shows and tried to build bridges; especially when it comes to these days the last couple of years when we play concerts in the Middle East, like in Beirut or in Tel Aviv or even in Cairo at the Pyramids, you have the feeling of music has such a strong voice to bring people together in a peaceful way. This is definitely also something about Scorpions and especially about this song “Wind Of Change” and people still get the feeling, especially these days where you turn on the TV and you see all the troubled spots around the world, so many places. We hope our children will grow up in a peaceful world. We’re only musicians and this is just a piece of music and the soundtrack to a moment of time but it still gives people hope where they have tough times to survive.
What still excites you about playing music after all these years? What keeps you on that stage?
It’s the fans. It’s the music. People ask, “How long, Klaus, you do this? How long will Scorpions do this? And Why? Because you did it all, you’ve had so much success in all those years, so many hit songs, even with a song I wrote something like history, you know. So why are you still out there?” And my answer is always like, if you would see with my eyes what I see when I’m onstage and see all those kids in front of the stage singing songs that were written before they were even born, it’s such a privilege to be on this global stage, between Moscow, Berlin, Paris, LA and New York City, you know, Chicago and we just played a show in Seoul, South Korea or in China. Music is connecting the world and to be proud of it and to express yourself in music and celebrating fifty years and a brand new album is simply fantastic. It’s a joyride. We still enjoy it so much. It’s connecting people through music and it’s simply wonderful.
Live photographs by Dan DeSlover