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Rudolf Schenker, on stage with his "yin and yang" guitar.
Rudolf Schenker, on stage with his "yin and yang" guitar. / Ralph Arvesen

Rudolf Schenker: "Meditation helped me create great songs"

  • After 54 years on the road, the Scorpions founder and guitarist speaks to SUR ahead of the band's gig in Fuengirola in June

"It's all about timing," says Rudolf Schenker, "You have to wait for the magic moment." Before explaining how the Scorpions' story is all about doing the right thing at the right time, the 70-year-old founder of the band proves that he applies this theory to his daily agenda. How long is the interview going to be?" he asks when this newspaper calls him up at the allotted time, "Can you call back in 45 minutes? Then we'll have more time to talk."

Whatever the commitment that would have limited the original call, it was just as well we agreed to wait, because Rudolf Schenker likes to talk. His band, his music, his family, his career that already spans more than half a century, and above all the energy that holds them all together, spill out in a conversation with this German rock star who has found all the answers, and finds it frustrating that others fail to do the same.

The interview comes ahead of the Scorpions' trip to Fuengirola in June when they headline the Rock the Coast festival. Schenker, in his unmistakable German accent, explains that now, after 54 years on the road, the Scorpions only play what they consider to be "fun" gigs and festivals. It's not hard to see why the Costa event fits the criteria - Schenker's relationship with Spain goes back to when he was a child.

Memories of Spain

"My father was a big Spain fan, especially Malaga, and the streets of Granada and of course the Rock of Gibraltar," he explains. He remembers when his family first went to Barcelona when he was nine or ten and how "the next vacation was to Valencia, Tarragona, and then we ended up in Malaga".

As Schenker reminisces about Spain, it's easy to forget that at the other end of the telephone is the heavy metal hero who has toured the world several times over, made 18 studio albums and sold millions of records. Of course, he mentions touring in Spain and this country's "fantastic crowds" at their concerts, but it's clear that his family holiday memories are those that count.

When he had his own family they also holidayed in Spain. Why? "In Germany half the people went to Italy and the other half to Spain," he explains, as if his was just an ordinary German family who came on holiday and found, as he says, "nice oranges and nice people".

His visits to the Costa continued, especially after his father retired to a motor home and lived for more than ten years on a campsite near Algeciras. "It's like coming home," he says.

Unlike his father though, Schenker has no plans to disappear in his own retirement caravan. When his age - he was 70 last August - is brought up in the conversation, he laughs out loud: "54 years playing rock music, it's amazing!" he exclaims.

When he realised interviewers had started asking more about the past than the future, he looked back and took stock. "I see what we've done - travelling around, bringing people together, having friends in China, Spain, Africa - it's unbelievable."

The weight of 50 years hit home when Schenker came across an old accounts book from 1965 that his mother kept to keep track of the money he'd borrowed from his father - a loan, he hastens to add, that he paid back in full. This was probably about the time when people were telling him to "find a proper job", as they said the music wouldn't last.

Now he is a father and grandfather himself; "Of course they like the music," he says of his two teenage grandchildren, before proudly talking about his granddaughter's athletics and ice skating success. "They are a gift," he adds. And his life gained a new gift in 2015 when his girlfriend gave birth to their son, who, now nearly four, also finds his father's veteran rocker lifestyle fun.

So where does Rudolf Schenker get his energy from to keep going on stage? "From the audience, from the music," he says. "We get our energy from being on stage, seeing our fans smiling, full of emotion. If you give energy you always get energy back. We want to create a feeling, an atmosphere, where people become one."

As Schenker looks back at the 54-year history of his band it's clear what he means about things happening when the time was right.

In the heyday of heavy rock in the 1980s the Scorpions shared the limelight with bands like Def Leppard, Bon Jovi and Iron Maiden.

"We had parties like crazy; that was a fantastic time but you can't turn time back," says Schenker when asked whether he misses those years.

In the nineties the band's fame in Asia came as the ideal antidote to the damage grunge and alternative music were doing to heavy metal. "We were lucky. We could play in Asia and Russia so we didn't have to suffer," he explains.

It was a project with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, says Schenker, that made them realise just how good their songs were. "We said, 'we have to go back to where we came from'. Then we did our next albums in 2004 and 2005. which were successful, because rock music was in again. It's all about timing," he repeats.

False alarm farewell

The Scorpions guitarist claims that announcing their farewell tour in 2010 was also done at "the right moment", despite them realising later that saying goodbye was the last thing they wanted to do.

The idea that this would be their last chance to see the band live brought old fans out of the woodwork. "It was an alarm clock moment," says Schenker, adding that these old fans were joined in front of the stage by a new generation the band hadn't been fully aware of. "In 2010 we had over one million on Facebook," he says. Of them, "80 per cent were between 16 and 28 years old. Unbelievable."

So they didn't stop, and five years after announcing their departure they were on their 50th anniversary tour with a new recruit.

"We got Mikkey Dee [ex-Motörhead] in the band and we realised how much fun we still have, so this is why we changed our minds," says the guitarist. "The friendship is still there, the chemistry is right, we have everything we need to give the people the optimum."

Many of the classic songs the Scorpions produced over the years are the result of a different side to Rudolf Schenker that he admits does not fit much with the image of a heavy metal guitarist.

Songwriting

"Meditation helped me create great songs like Still Loving You, like Lady Starlight, like Rocking Like a Hurricane," he says, describing his daily routine back in the seventies as "meditate, compose, meditate, compose, meditate, compose, with lunch and dinner in between".

"If you do meditation you find yourself, and then you are what you are. Everybody is somebody special, but most people don't see it. Most people want to be somebody else," the guitarist explains with frustration in his voice.

Schenker explains that he has always been able to "find my way back home" when others lost their way during the party years of the 80s. "My guitar is black and white - yin and yang. I'm always the kind of guy that goes from one extreme to another," he says, "My good point is that I always find my way back to the centre."

Schenker's meditation is responsible for some of the ballads that, due to their popularity, perhaps eclipse the band's purer heavy metal tracks. The classic Still Loving You had its right moment to be recorded in 1983, seven years after Schenker wrote it, and became the most sold record ever in France, recalls the musician.

"I'm always asked why the ballads are so successful played by a rock band. I say that when a rocker shows his feelings, that feeling in music is stronger - that's the edge. It's like a rose with a thorn," continues Schenker. "The ballads are somehow very, very great, and also fearful."

Now the Scorpions have promised a new album and they'll be going into the studio this spring. No dates have been given though. "We don't want any pressure; we have to be inspired.

So are we likely to hear new songs at the Fuengirola concert? "Everything is possible," says Schenker. "Wait for the magic moment - that's the important point."