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Scorpions: Sting Operation

Ahead of the release of their 18th album and 50 years of being together, German hard rock band Scorpions feel that it’s too early for the band to retire

Anurag Tagat Apr 02, 2015
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Scorpions. Photo: Oliver Rath.

Scorpions. Photo: Oliver Rath.

Back in 2010, German hard rock veterans Scorpions announced a farewell tour that stretched well into three years. By 2013, the band decided it was “too much fun to quit now.” While they received a good amount of criticism from fans as well as the likes of Metallica frontman James Hetfield for not calling it quits after announcing a farewell tour, Scorpions turned around and announced in 2013 that they were working on old and new material for a full-length album.

It’s no surprise, then, that their 18th album, Return To Forever’s lead single “We Built This House” talks about the band’s legacy. Says the band’s lead guitarist Mathias Jabs over the phone from Germany, “It’s like, the house we built, it’s step by step, like Scorpions’ career. We were not an overnight success. It took a very long time to be at a certain level, and then we were able to maintain that level, of course.” Their first album since 2011’s Comeblack, Jabs says Return to Forever features outtakes from as far back as the Eighties. Adds Jabs, “We finished them [old material] this time, and all of a sudden, we started writing new material. It feels like a brand new album, even though it’s roughly 50 percent of older songs being finished now and re-recorded, and 50 percent brand new.”

In an interview with ROLLING STONE India, Jabs also spoke about how the audience at his shows have got younger and younger and his wish to return to India

RS: Your first single, “We Built This House,” is about the history of the band. What makes bands get to that point in their career where they’re talking about things like looking back and legacy and ‘making it’?

Matthias Jabs: I mean, I guess it’s a natural process. When you’re together for such a long time, I mean, not everybody in the band is at 50 years [laughs]. Rudolf [Schekner, guitarist] founded the band in 1965, which is amazing. Klaus [Meine, vocalist] joined in 1970 and I joined in ’78, which is almost 37 years. It’s a very long time. If you are able to stay together and still make creative music after such a long time, I think it’s a very good sign. So the new album and the new single, it’s about looking back a little bit, of course.

You’ve said your audience has got younger and younger. What’s been the best example of that? Just the faces you see at gigs or any particular incident?

I would say, maybe since six or eight years, we started to notice that we have younger faces in the audience. If it’s only once you think it could be accidental, but when it happens at almost every show, then you notice it and take it seriously. Meanwhile, we know that, due to the fact that we have more than six million Facebook members, we did a little research and we found that 80 percent of the six million are between 18 and 28 years old, which for a band of our age is quite amazing. Meanwhile, we can see it in every show. Every continent we play, we have lots of young faces. If somebody’s 28 years old, most of the classic songs we’re playing in the show are older than the young audience. “Rock You Like A Hurricane” came out in 1984, that’s 30 years ago [laughs].

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You said that originally 19 tracks were written for Return to Forever and 12 made it to the album and 16 total on the deluxe edition. At this point, is it difficult to let songs go?

M: Yeah, I mean, it’s always been the case that you write music and sometimes it doesn’t make it to the album for various reasons. I think “Still Loving You,” [from Love At First Sting] took seven years until it was released. No one can remember ”“ Rudolf said he already had the song in the early Seventies but we recorded it in 1983. So sometimes it’s like a sleeper, the song doesn’t really shine, then, when the time is right, all of a sudden, it does.

The new album, it’s partly songs from the previous albums, so-called outtakes that we did not finish. And you see, we found some good ideas from the early Eighties, leftovers from the Blackout and Love At First Sting sessions, and from various periods.

A new album also means that you’re going to have to push out a few old songs from the setlist, so how do you worry about doing that? Are there a lot of fights within the band about that?

[laughs] Oh no, but good that you mentioned it. Tonight, we have a production thing, and we also have to make sure what the setlist is going to be, because the crew needs to know. These days, everybody has a multimedia show, like content, movie and pictures and stuff. You’re right, automatically some of the ones we’ve been playing for quite a while, they have to go. But it feels fresh thinking about going on tour again, that we have new songs to play. We’ve been playing the same material for quite a long time now on this last tour, which took forever. So I’m looking forward to playing the new stuff.

What is your personal favorite from Return To Forever, the one you’re looking most forward to, to play live?

I think that “Going Out With A Bang,” is one I like very much. “We Built This House,” those will be most likely on the new show. I also like “House of Cards,” the ballad, which would be very interesting to play. I don’t know if we’ll put this in the setlist, but I like “The Scratch” also, because it’s like, it has that swinging feel, and it’s like a big-band orchestra done with scratch guitars, so for me as a guitar player it’s very interesting.

2015 marks 50 years for Scorpions – you have been around for nearly 40 of those years. And it’s always been nonstop. Is it going to continue to be that way?

You know, the title Return To Forever, says it all ”“ we don’t know. The Scorpions will somehow go on. We don’t want to announce like a definite date, like this is the last concert or this is the last this, we don’t want to do this. We keep it open because we don’t know, ourselves. We enjoy playing live and in the studio so much that we notice it’s too early for us to finish the career, we just have too much fun. And then the younger audience, and all these aspects just make it worthwhile. So we’re looking forward to the upcoming tour, which will go into the summer of 2016 at least. And then we see that if we stay healthy, why not continue? But the good thing is that we don’t have to. We’re not under the same pressure that we’ve always been throughout the career. Like, make an album, go on tour, tour the road for two years, go back to the studio, make a new album, it has been like this continuously without a break. So, you know, we still don’t take a break, but we don’t feel the pressure anymore.

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You mentioned in an interview in Germany that one of your unfulfilled dreams was to go on a vacation – has that happened yet? Doesn’t seem too difficult.

[laughs] So far, no vacation. It’s true, you wonder, but where we are, you have to travel very far in order to find sunshine at the moment, and if you have only one week then you wonder if you should go to”¦ So I’d rather wait until I have time for a real vacation and not just five days, rush into some place and rush back, you know then I’d rather not go at all.

I was watching this movie called The Interview and they used your song ”˜Wind of Change’. Have you heard about this or seen the movie?

No, I have no idea.

What is the weirdest place or situation you have heard someone use a Scorpions song?

I keep hearing “Rock You Like a Hurricane” in various places. Just by accident, I watched a Tom Cruise movie that I didn’t even know about, and all of the sudden it’s like, “Rock You like a Hurricane.” I saw it on The Simpsons, the same song, and I also saw it in a Microsoft commercial. So it’s like, the biggest variation. Lately, they seem to look more for famous rock songs than in previous years, because we get a lot of offers from all kinds of people, but you don’t want to go with commercials about like detergents or something like that.

You’re playing a lot of shows across Europe, all the way until next year. Are there any big world tour plans in the works? Have you got any offers to come back to India to play?

It would be lovely if we did come back to India. So far I haven’t seen a date, but the agency is just at the beginning of planning the world tour. I know it starts May 1st at China, and then we go Europe, Russia, summer festivals in Europe, the U.S. in September, Germany next year”¦ It goes into next year, so yeah, it would be nice to come back to India. I hope that our agency will be able to book a show in Mumbai. I have great memories of the show in Shillong, for example, or Bangalore, or Delhi would be nice, we’ve been there but we haven’t played there.

Any particular India memory that you can recount for me?

Last time I went to Mumbai, I went to a music store, and I bought a sitar, and I tell you, it’s difficult to play. I’m still working on it, it’s very difficult. Even though I’m a very good guitar player, but the sitar, it’s something else. But I have it, and it’s a great memory.

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