In America, we take this German phrase to mean “goodbye,” although a more apt translation might be “until we meet again.” Scorpions fans will surely hope for the latter definition, but the current album, Sting in the Tail [UMe], as well as the accompanying tour, will be the band’s last. By the time the marathon tour is over, it will be 40 years since the Scorps released their first record. Along the way, they have grown from a proggier, Hendrixinflected rock band (with Uli Jon Roth on lead guitar) to a lean, arena-ready powermetal outfit with the addition of Matthias Jabs in 1978. When Jabs added his fluid, melodic leads to the aggressive, pummeling rhythm guitar of Rudolf Schenker, the sound most closely associated with the Scorpions was cemented. It’s a sound that has been incredibly successful for the band, with sales of more than 100 million albums, sold out tours, and landmark shows in Leningrad. Schenker and Jabs talked to GP backstage before a recent show in Tampa, Florida.
When did you know that this would be your farewell album and tour?
Schenker: Some time between mixing and mastering. We were very excited because we knew we had a really strong record. Our manager said, “Hey guys, how can you top this? This could be a good way of really finishing your career.”
Jabs: Nobody in the band had thought about retiring, but then we did the math. The previous tour took two and a half years and this one could be even longer. Then there would be a break. Then you write songs and then go into the studio again, and it’s a couple of years later. Then you’re on the road again. So we thought, maybe it’s better to always be remembered as the Scorpions where they jump around and they’re in good shape. They’re fit. I would like to be remembered like that. We want to finish on a high note.
The new record has the classic ’80s Scorpions sound.
Jabs: We worked with two producers from Sweden, Mikael Nord Andersson and Martin Hansen, whom we met a couple years earlier. They approached us and said, “We are fans from the early ’80s. We would like to hear the Scorpions like we remember them.” So they had a lot to do with the way this album turned out. They had no problem saying, “This is the Scorpions sound, this is not.”
Schenker: The producers told us, “You know what guys? The Scorpions are great guitar riffs, great vocal lines, and great melodies.” They knew exactly what they wanted and what the Scorpions are all about. And more and more we came around to this idea of returning to our roots and playing those kinds of riffs, even if a riff is close to something that we had already done. The ’80s are back, and we were feeding off this ’80s vibe, because as you know, you can only make good stuff if the vibe supports you.
Did you go back to your old gear for the recording?
Schenker: When you look into fashion, you always see things coming back, but with a twist. We wanted to bring the Scorpions back with a twist. That doesn’t mean you have to use the old stuff, like my old Marshall. I mostly used Engl and Diezel amps. I used a lot of different guitars—custom guitars from Boris Dommenget and Gibsons. On the song “Sly,” I played a fantastic guitar. This guitar sounds unbelievable. It’s an original ’58 Flying V. I have four of them, one I got from Pete Townshend. It was on the cover of his Chinese Eyes album.
Jabs: I kept it very simple. I have my own amp now, the Mastertone. It’s hand wired. I used this amp throughout the recording and my Fender Tonemaster as well. I used them in combination most of the time, but sometimes, for leads, it was just the Mastertone. I used a lot of guitars. There’s a ballad, “Lorelei,” that we called the most expensive song on the album because of all of the vintage guitars on it. You hear my ES- 335 dot inlay from 1958. There’s a nice ’61 Stratocaster, the same one I used for “Wind of Change.” Then a Telecaster from ’63, a ’58 Les Paul, and my ’56 Les Paul Junior. That’s actually in quite a lot of songs because this record is the first time P-90s were used on a Scorpions record. Mikael, the producer, convinced us to check out P-90s and some of the rhythm tracks were recorded with them. It was very punchy.
Schenker: I also used an old Gretsch guitar for certain sounds.
That shows how much of the Scorpions’ sound is in your hands, because I don’t hear P-90s and Gretsches on this record.
Schenker: This is exactly the point that I have always made. I found this out in the early days. In 1975, we played in Belgium and Uli wants to know how his guitar sounds from the crowd. He says, “Can you play a little bit on my guitar?” So I play the guitar and the bass player says, “Hey! It sounds like you’re playing a Flying V!” It’s the hands that make the sounds. I don’t care about the technical stuff. What’s important to me is the attitude, the drive, and the feeling.
The lead tone on “Raised on Rock” is a big, wide sound. Are you doubling that in octaves?
Jabs: Yes. It’s doubled in octaves but you hear the octaves very little. That’s one of my Explorers, the white one with black stripes. It has a very full tone. I like the sound of doubled leads. The solo in “Rock You Like a Hurricane” was doubled, and all of the harmony intros are doubled too, so that’s four tracks. I remember winning a steak from Dieter Dirks, the producer, because it was like three minutes to 8:00, and if we finished the double of the solo by 8:00, he would buy me a steak. It was the time of no digital recording, no editing. It had to be played perfectly start to finish. So I went for it, and I made it.
How come you aren’t playing any pre-Lovedrive tunes on this tour?
Schenker: In Europe, we play “We’ll Burn the Sky” and “In Trance,” but in America, the real breakthrough was with Lovedrive and then Animal Magnetism, Blackout, and Love at FirstSting, so we concentrate on those albums. We did some research on our website asking the American fans what they wanted to hear. That’s how we came up with this setlist, but you can’t please everybody.
Jabs: We haven’t brought the old members to the U.S. yet, like Uli Jon Roth, Michael Schenker, and Herman Rarebell. We’ve done gigs where we played five songs with Michael, five songs with Uli, maybe three songs with Herman, so it’s like the full history show, which would be appropriate for the end of a farewell tour. So we’re saving the moment for a bigger event coming up later.
So you think it’s possible that you’ll do shows with Uli and Michael and go deep into your catalog?
Your rhythms always have this incredible sense of the pocket. Can you describe what it feels like when you’re locked in the groove and also what it feels like if the groove is not happening and you’re fighting it?
Schenker: I remember in the early days, when we were looking for a new drummer. When the drummer was in the groove, I was always smiling. When something is in the pocket, it drives me. It gives me an outstanding power, like I’m surfing on a wave. When the groove isn’t right, I feel lost a little bit. It’s very hard work and it’s somehow not fun anymore. I remember in the Blackout tour in ’82 we tried 15 different lighting designers. Why? While on stage, I felt that the lighting designers were either too slow or not on rhythm. There was one guy where I thought, “That’s great.” It was Roy Bennett, the lighting designer for Prince. Whatever he did let me get back into the groove instantly.
Any idea what you’ll do when this tour is over?
Jabs: I don’t want to make plans now. It is too early. If I start making plans, that means I’m occupying myself with that thought when I really should concentrate on what I’m doing right now. What I do after this tour will be music related, but aside from that I’m not sure. I have to find out what I would really love to do. I don’t want to go into the studio and put out a solo album just because I’ve never done one. I would only want to do that if the music is so good that it’s worth it. And if it’s never good enough, then I will not do it. It’s an interesting period in my life. I was so young when I joined the Scorpions. I had gone to school at a university for two and a half years and then I immediately joined this band. I’ve been so busy since then that I’ve never had time off. So I’m really looking forward to having an open vision of what I want to do. Whatever it is, I will love it.
Schenker: It will be good to do something else. I might do a Schenker Brothers album with Michael. We have 500 hours of Scorpions film, we have the back catalog— there is plenty to do. Right now the tour is the most important thing and it’s going great. This is how we want to be remembered. We never wanted to give 100 percent. We want to give 150 percent. That’s how you create a vibe that really gives people chills. The magic comes when four or five people are playing together—not perfectly, but in a way that is so different that you’re creating something special. That’s what it is. That’s music. Everything else is plastic.