Iron Fist Magazine

SCORPIONS INTERVIEW: “MUSIC DOESN’T HAVE THE SAME VALUE ANYMORE”

Ever since Scorpions released special editions of ‘Taken By Force’, ‘Tokyo Tapes’, ‘Lovedrive’, ‘Animal Magnetism’, ‘Blackout’, ‘Love At First Sting’, ‘World Wide Live’ and ‘Savage Amusement’ earlier this month, we’ve had very little on the turntables over at Iron Fist HQ. From blues jams to unreleased live tracks and raw demo versions of much-loved songs the bonus material is worth re-buying these classics alone, but the fact that the albums are available again on CD and LP for a new generation has made guitarist Matthias Jabs – who joined the band in 1979 for the ‘Lovedrive’ album – a very happy chap. We spoke to him about listening to LPs until they were scratched, almost working with Andy Warhol and how a duck was nearly the star of the artwork for ‘Blackout‘…

The last time we talked was in the run-up to the release of 2013’s ‘MTV Unplugged’ album and back then you talked so excitedly about plans for the band’s 50th Anniversary, which seemed like ages away. Now we’re almost at the end of the celebrations, where did the time go?
“Isn’t it like that in general? Time flies when you’re having fun. So many things have happened since then, we went on tour with the ‘MTV Unplugged‘ album in 2014 and we finished writing our album and then the 50th anniversary tour, we finished the movie, we’ve done so many things; unbelievable. And we’ve played, I don’t know how many, I didn’t count, but something like 50 shows this years. We’ve just come back from a five week run in the US and start again in Italy straight away, but everything has been fun, very successful. And there’s been a great atmosphere, better than I expected, especially in the US. Wherever we go, we are welcomed, it’s a fantastic feeling.”

Well when we talked for the Iron Fist cover feature we promised you we would start a campaign to get you to play the UK, and it seems that paid off!
“Yes, I’m so glad we finally did a show in the UK at Ramblin’ Man Fair. I hope now we have a chance to come back. We talked about it but I would say, over the past ten years, we really haven’t been visible at all in England and so it’s about time. I’m glad we played once at least, because it wasn’t even on the map for the farewell tour, but we have a new agent now, he’s from England and therefore I think things are opening up a bit more. Maybe there is a greater chance now to come back.”

Some of our American writers got to see you on the recent American run and said you were on fire, so if you came back and played an indoor show in the UK we would be there, no question…
“Thank you. America was great. We used to be extremely popular and my feeling was the tours we’d done there recently, three and five years ago, whereas in other countries where the audience had been getting younger and younger, I mean we play to a new generation in most countries, but in America it’s been like, ‘Oh, it’s the same people, the ones that are our age’. But this year it was different, lots of young people and a whole different vibe. The first show in Boston, we were all surprised, it was great, a lot of the big shows were sold out but the most important thing was that the audience were so excited, even for the new songs. We are going back next year in May.”

So it seems then that this whole ‘This is the last tour, we’re retiring’ thing is well and truly buried, but could we then presume that the growing younger fanbase are keeping you hungry for the road?
“Exactly. That’s what happened to us in recent years, and it’s much more exciting, of course it is. Look at these young girls jumping up and down singing and dancing. The album title tells you something, the last album was called ‘Return To Forever‘. We learned our lesson. There’s no point saying this is the last tour, we are never going to announce that again. If it’s the last show everyone will now afterwards. We won’t make a big thing about it, but at the moment we are feeling way too good. I think next year is already almost full up with shows and I know we are going to China in August and South America in September, so we will definitely be very active again next year.”

When we put Scorpions on our cover we had a lot of stick from certain corners of the internet saying that we were trying to be “too cool”, how do you feel being referred to as one of the “cool” bands, that wasn’t always the case, was it?
“No. Of course [laughs]! Cool is a very relative term, because some people think this is cool, other people think something else is cool. And in certain countries, and I think England is one of them, Scorpions don’t have exactly the coolness factor, but in other countries, we do. When we go to Italy we are absolutely cool there, or in Spain, and France we are the coolest. If you see a show in, say, Bucharest, there are 40,000 people going crazy and we are definitely way cool there, but I think in countries where people jump on every new trend, especially in the UK, how can a band that celebrates their 50th anniversary be cool? They can only be cool because they have longevity and endurance power but they’re definitely not new and hip. It’s the same probably with Deep Purple, they don’t have the coolness factor, but they’re still a great band.”

What is cool is that you are now re-releasing your albums from your 1977 – 1988 period with all sorts of bonus tracks and on vinyl, how did that come about?
“Those albums are the ones that, for many years now, were not available to the fans on the European market and in many parts of the world, I think they were only available in the USA and Canada, because it’s a different label. And our old producer, used to be the producer, publisher and the record company as well. It was one of those old contracts, so he had total control and we did not understand why he didn’t release the albums again, since it’s to his own disadvantage. That’s what makes it so difficult to understand. We talked earlier about having a new generation of fans, who wanted to go out and buy this stuff, and it was not possible. Maybe on the used market or whatever, but officially you could not get them, so finally BMG came in and bought all the rights. They bought the entire catalogue from this guy, including all the snippets and demos and all the other crap that we had recorded, and sometimes we couldn’t even remember, you know? Something like in the middle of the night, like a jam session. And so they bought everything and they were digging deep into the boxes of tapes and found some very interesting material and the idea came up you could pick any album out of those eight, take the demos and snippets from that period, left the way they are, very authentic, just mastered so they sound a bit more fresh, and release them. They’re untouched so you can pick any album, pick ‘Blackout’ and you would get five, six or seven demo songs from that recording period and hear something you’ve never heard before, which is perhaps interesting to the fans even though most of them will have the original recordings. These things couldn’t have even been on a bootleg or on the internet because they were just discovered now. This is stuff we forgot we recorded.”

What’s so exciting is that you’ve reissued these on LP, something which is enjoying a resurgence as much as your good selves, you could say. How important was it to you to see these albums on vinyl again.
“I learned guitar by listening to songs on vinyl. On a turntable at half speed, and you can imagine how many times I had to set the needle for this particular little piece of music and then try to figure out what the guitar was playing. Everything was vinyl for me. I listened to all of Jimi Hendrix, a lot of Johnny Winter. There was this fantastic live album with Rick Derringer, ‘Johnny Winter And’ is the title; fantastic guitar playing from all of them. And I listened to Jeff Beck, I listened to Cream and to Deep Purple also. You know, all the great guitar players, the classics. I remember listening to the ‘Crossroads’ guitar solo note by note and trying to put the needle onto the same spot is not easy so of course I scratched it like hell. I also had a tape player that had two different speeds so I recorded it on the fast speed, playing it back on the slow speed, so the very fast runs I could determine, you see I’m self-taught, I had to do it this way, I didn’t have a teacher. There were no teachers around in Germany that could play that type of guitar.”

One of the best things about vinyl is seeing the artwork in all that glorious detail, especially yours. You always had the most bafflingly vibrant covers, sometimes just completely off-the-wall and sometimes even controversial, is it great to see them back on 12”?
“You know, I come from that time and to me it’s still an amazing feeling to hold the record in my hands. The art adds to the value, or at least makes you appreciate it more. I know we spent weeks with the best designers to find the ideal cover, but when the CD came out we spent less time because the old motivation decreased. Now it’s just a little picture on your smartphone. The artform of designing album covers, inside, outside, putting some secrets messages in there, all this is gone and it’s a shame. To have the feeling that you bought this record, spending time with it before you even put it on the turntable, all this is gone, you just download it, forget about it, music doesn’t have the same value anymore. When I grew up it was music or sport, no computer games, hardly any television, that’s why I sat down and played five to eight hours guitar in my little room. Today there would be too many distractions and I would probably run around with headphones and have music come from a mini iPod or something.”

Also, when you bought a record it was an event, your friends would come over and you’d all listen to it, I mean, really listen, right?
“Yes, that’s what we used to do. Friends came over and we all listened and someone else brought another album and then we listened to that too. We used to listen in the car on cassette tape. I remember, we drove with four friends to an alleyway close to the airport, there was nobody there and we could open the doors and blast the music. Nice weather, doors opens, we were listening to Led Zeppelin like crazy.”

What was it like working with the king of cover art, Storm Thorgerson?
“We tried to work with the best and we loved the covers from Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd so we found out they were done by Hipgnosis and Storm Thorgerson. He came over to the studio, to Cologne, and presented us with ideas and he was so funny. At one point we couldn’t decide which one we liked so the producer called the lady from the kitchen and said, what do you think? And Storm immediately put a blanket over everything and said, ‘Are you crazy? It’s my art, you can’t ask a normal person their opinion’. That was for ‘Blackout’ and that was the first time we did not take a cover from Storm. I still have this sample from him, you have to see it, it’s hard to describe. A door opens and you see the big shoes of a grandma, and you can tell by the long skirt it’s definitely an old woman, and here’s a duck at the door she’s just opened and I don’t know, it looks good, we were laughing so hard but we couldn’t take it for ‘Blackout’, so then we ran into Gottfried Helnwein and he did it because we wanted to have that broken glass, which is at the end of the song. But the time with Hipgnosis was excellent, so much creativity, especially ‘Animal Magnetism’. Of course it is controversial to some people, but that was the idea I guess.”

Then you worked with famed fashion photographer Helmut Newton for 1984’s ‘Love At First Sting’, that must have been incredible…
“Yes, and I tell you, after we worked with Helmut, we tried to work with Andy Warhol, because it would have been another highlight but there was some problem. He was expensive but that was okay, the cover costs were high before too, but he didn’t allow us to use his artwork on merchandise and that was a big factor. If we couldn’t have used the album artwork on a t-shirt then it’s pointless. We still should have done it looking back, because of course he died after that, so we didn’t get a second chance but this would have been the fulfilment, it could have been complete. ‘Savage Amusement’ is average now, to me, I don’t know what he would have done but to have a cover by him would have been awesome.
“Here we talk about the coolness factor again, those people would look at the modern album covers and think they’re totally uncool. You see real art and think ‘Wow, that has so much depth that is hard to reach these days’. We were trying to ‘complete’ the product, if you like, because we really believed in it and felt it was valuable and deserved a sleeve that had the same value as the music and not just some graphic.”

So you’re pleased these albums are seen in the right light again?
“Yes, absolutely. But I’m just glad that our music is available again. It feels quite strange, people come to you and say I want to buy the album where you can find ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane’ and I have to say, well I can’t help you. It’s not a good feeling, but now they are available again, on vinyl, on CD, download, digital, whatever you like, at least you can get the music. I don’t expect anybody to go out who has the album already at home, maybe because of those special songs we found, but we don’t want to sell it twice, it’s just important that it’s available again for a new audience.”