Had Scorpions not become one of the most enduring global forces in hard rock, guitarist Rudolf Schenker would have embarked on a very different, yet high-tension career.
“My mom wanted me to have a real job, as a power electrician,” the Hannover, Germany-born rhythm guitarist recalls with a laugh. Schenker adds that his mother just wanted him to have a more solid back-up plan in case Scorpions, the band he founded in 1965 when he was still a teenager, didn’t materialize.
Although Schenker managed to find work as a shopkeeper for a few years, a one-on-one with his father finally convinced the guitarist to follow his dreams and focus on music full-time.
Nearly 60 years later – racking up countless world tours and millions of album sales along the way – there’s no doubt that Schenker made the right call. In an abstract sense, however, one could say that the famous Flying V-toting guitarist has been working as an electrician all this time.
Fittingly, Schenker affably dabbles in all things Scorpions on Zoom while sitting under a coterie of hanging Vs in his living room — from see-through cherry-red acrylic beauties to his iconic black-and-white Gibson signature.
He reveals he spent the early months of the pandemic at home adding anecdotes to the recent German language reprint of his 2009 autobiography, rock your life.
For the past two years, he and the rest of Scorpions – longtime guitarist Matthias Jabs, singer Klaus Meine, bassist Pawel Mąciwoda and drummer Mikkey Dee – have taken refuge in the Peppermint Park studio in Hannover to record their 19th album, believer in rockadding 11 Marshall-starting anthems to the band’s crisp canon.
Both projects are a testament to Scorpions’ impressive decades-long journey. While the book finds Schenker nostalgic for the band’s history and mega-hits like Rock You like a hurricane and A wind of changeMeine’s lyrics throughout believer in rock a timid allusion to the massive stinger-sized imprint they all left on each other.
It has been seven years since the law delivered its back to eternity, making it the longest wait between Scorpions albums to date. More often than not, it’s rhythm riffer Schenker who gets the ball rolling on new material, but this time Meine kicked off the creative process after sending Schenker the lyrics for the opening track of Rock Believer, Gas in the tank.
A palpable charge of excitement gripped Schenker as he re-read the lyrics, in which Meine gassed his friend in the first verse, dubbing him a “king of riffs” with particularly rowdy flair (“Move your fingers up and down the fret / The V flies without a net”).
The singer then playfully challenges his bandmate to give him “a dirty riff” that proves they’re still here for the long haul (“There must be more fuel in the tank”).
Meine’s bet worked – contrary to the old adage, flattery will get you somewhere. Schenker confirms that Meine’s words prompted him to establish the basic power chord melody and a certifying chorus hook.
“This time was fantastic for me – I could give the words a boost,” Schenker said. “especially when you have lyrics where you remember [good] times – festivals in America, and knock them out. We say, “This is our story; it was our way of life [and it was] unbelievable!’ I put that energy into the music.
If it is remarkable that believer in rock arrives 50 years before the month of the group’s hard beginnings in 1972, lone crowstylistically the latest Scorpions appropriately approximates the larger, if hook-laden metal they’ve been perfecting since Jabs joined for 1979’s Lovedrive.
Even beyond Meine giving a knowing nod to his comrades through his lyrics, Rock Believer is a decidedly self-referential album for the quintet. There are implied nuances of China White to the filthy and singing approach of believer in rock“Seventh Sun”.
The plinking up Shining with your soul flirts with the reggae/rock hybridization that Scorpions had delivered on Lovedriveit is Is there anyonethough that last rocksteady groove takes on an odd flavor due to the jabbing minor keys of Jabs.
Same believer in rockThe Klaus Voormann-designed album cover, a close-up of someone screaming through a crimson veil, references the same kind of visceral, feverish scream a figure gives on the 1982 emblem cover. Blackout. As they enter their seventh decade in business, the Scorpions fully embrace their hard rock heritage.
Schenker admits, however, that there was a period in the mid-90s when Scorpions considered their direction as they played 80s-style metal in the post-grunge era.
A turning point came at the dawn of the 21st century as they worked on their moment of glory album with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Revamping old tracks with seasoned classical musicians revealed that the foundation of Scorpions was also “timeless”.
Since then, they have graciously leaned into their legacy status, with Rock Believer continuing to both honor and refine the band’s DNA. “After a while, everything comes back with a twist,” Schenker suggests of balance.
Naturally, one of the biggest plot twists to the making of believer in rock was the Covid pandemic. Initially, Scorpions had planned to record in Los Angeles with producer Greg Fidelman (Slipknot, Metallica), but plans to travel across the continent were canceled as the pandemic worsened.
Although the band and Fidelman attempted to work remotely via Zoom, Scorpions quickly realized that having Fidelman on the other side of an iPad screen rather than in the control room wasn’t ideal. .
Ultimately, they chose to follow at Peppermint Park in Hannover to co-produce the collection with engineer Hans-Martin Buff. Scorpions had already been in the studio for 2004’s Unbreakablewhich happens to be bassist Mąciwoda’s first album with the band.
Understandably, Schenker explains that the sessions brought some relief to the band as they dealt with the pandemic (“Outside was madness; inside it was ‘music, music, music “”).
Jabs added in a press release that being in a close-knit studio bubble boosted the energy of the sessions and strengthened the Scorpions brotherhood. “Everything looked like it had been in the 1980s, when there were five of us rocking together, [hung] go out to the local pub in the evening and [talked] on our music.
All of this resulted in a prolific musical streak, with the band recording over 20 new songs. Although they considered releasing a double album, believer in rock was reduced to 11 songs – five bonus cuts were added to the deluxe edition.
Despite Schenker’s large Flying V arsenal, he notes that he had cut most of the believer in rock along with an old ’58 V he got from German guitarist Alex Conti – Eric Clapton had apparently also been interested in buying the electric guitar before Schenker bought it for his collection years ago.
Jabs, for his part, played looser, bouncing between a Bigsby-mounted ’59 Les Paul, a ’58 Les Paul, a ’55 Les Paul Junior, an old Strat, a few Explorers, and the Telecaster he had played on. A wind of change.
For the guitar amps, Scorpions did much of the work using a collection of vintage Marshall heads maintained by Jabs guitar tech Ingo Powitzer. “We tried all our 80s gear — Marshall batteries, all that gear — to find that original 80s sound,” Schenker confirms.
Although he was composing in old school tones, Schenker was locking into a new groove alongside Mąciwoda and Dee. While Dee has been hitting the skins for Scorpions since 2016, believer in rock marks the first time the band have used the determined thump of the former Motörhead drummer in the studio.
It inspired Schenker to really dig into his rhythm playing, delivering wicked low kicks and muted chugs to a furious clip over tempo pushers like Roots in my boots.
“We were working closely together, pushing the pace further rather than playing casual. It gave the songs a different kind of spirit,” says Schenker, adding of the organic vibrancy of Scorpions’ current rhythm section: “The latest albums in the world, they’re mostly sound design. With Pro Tools, you bring a riff, you [play to] a drum machine, and later you put [real] drums on it. That’s not how you create great songs – you have to feel it! It’s like a body. You have to put the body in the right position, so that’s what we did when we played [at Peppermint Park].”
As Schenker tightened up his brawny beats, Jabs went wild with a series of brawny leads. The two guitarists opt for a tandem approach on bonus cut when you knowbut it’s Jabs alone that delivers the slash-and-burn roadhouse on knock them outor the furiously harrowing ladder climb on Roots in my boots.
While Schenker dropped a few important solos throughout Scorpions’ career, he’s the one crying on one iconic ballad. A wind of change – the band’s main songwriter lovingly ceded most of believer in rock‘s primary duties to his band mate.
“It’s important to me that everyone is happy,” Schenker says, adding his confidence in the personal touch of his longtime riff partner Jabs, “When I see Matthias already playing the right lines, I don’t want to not interfere.”
Fifty years have passed since the release of lone crow, more than 40 since the Scorpions locked themselves in their signature sting. It’s clear at this point that the band are metal lifers – rock believers, if you will.
It’s been a minute since Schenker was an electrician from Hannover dreaming of blasting the masses with a dose of high-voltage heavy metal, but some things never change.
“I see myself the way I [was playing] the Flying V already, and I see myself in the way that I had a goal and I achieved it. The result is what we have now.