Exclusive: Klaus Meine On The New Scorpions ‘MTV Unplugged’ Release + The 30th Anniversary Of ‘Love At First Sting’
It’s 8:00AM as we connect with Scorpions vocalist Klaus Meine to chat about their new ‘MTV Unplugged’ release. But Meine is already way ahead of us at that point, because he’s at home in Germany where it is 2:00PM and he’s settled in for a full slate of interviews that day. He’s wide awake and it’s hard not to get sucked in by the audible enthusiasm in his voice that comes across the phone line.
Four years have passed since the German hard rockers announced their pending retirement plans and after a planned cycle of extensive farewell touring, they’re still going — not that we’re complaining about that one bit. But what gives? We asked Meine about that during our conversation and if you guessed that it’s because they’re “still loving you,” you might not be so far off. But as he shares during our chat, even as they continue to work, they’re also taking some well-deserved time off to enjoy the good life that has come as a result of decades of hard-fought success.
Opportunities continue to come their way, the latest being a chance to record their own installment of ‘MTV Unplugged’ for the Berlin division of MTV. In typical Scorps fashion, they did things differently, as you’ll read in our interview, but the recorded results fit nicely into the well-known ‘Unplugged’ framework. The set features nearly two hours worth of music and it’s like the band is sitting right in your living room, strumming a variety of favorites on acoustics, something that you might not have pictured at the time that they were filling arenas back in the ‘80s.
Built up with a variety of instrumentation and even a string section at times, the newly reworked material still feels intimate. What really brings it all home is the material selected — rather than just rehash the familiar hits, they worked to put together a setlist that would include those songs, but also go deeper into the catalog to pull out album tracks and other unexpected surprises, some of which were played for the first time in a long while.
With ‘MTV Unplugged,’ the Scorps deliver a performance that has quite a satisfying sting. Klaus Meine tells us how it all came together.
Let’s talk about this new ‘MTV Unplugged’ album. It had to be a lot of fun for you, getting the chance to rework these songs.
Yeah, absolutely. When the offer from MTV came in to do an ‘MTV Unplugged,’ even though I think we had the first offer back in the ‘80s, but it never really worked out. So many years later after a long career, like the icing on the cake. [But] still, it’s a challenge. You want to come up with something very special and you feel honored — you’ve become part of this illustrious family of the ‘MTV Unplugged’ [series] and all of those artists from Eric Clapton to Nirvana and so many more that you think of when you think of ‘MTV Unplugged.’
So we wanted to come out and play songs we’d never performed live and to go all the way back to the ‘70s and ‘80s and create a new set of music for our fans, not only in Greece, but for all of our fans around the world, that they’d never heard live from the Scorpions. On top of that, we had a few brand-new songs and of course some of the classics. So in total, it made a pretty cool attractive set. To go down to Greece [where we recorded those shows in September], there’s no other country probably here in Europe where you can put on an open air concert in September. It’s still very warm in the evening.
Historically, it’s the very first ‘MTV Unplugged’ that took place under the open sky. Normally, those shows are studio productions and you have a few hundred fans gathering around the stage and this was [in front of] a few thousand fans in an open air amphitheater high above Athens. It was a beautiful setting and it was spectacular to do this under the open sky. Our Greek fans [love] our early material and they know all of the songs from way back so it was exciting for us to go back and pick songs like ‘Born To Touch Your Feelings,’ ‘In Trance’ and all of those [songs] far away from the mainstream [hits]. We had a really strong reaction from our Greek audience and they loved it. You can tell when you see the DVD.
That was something that really stuck out was that it did seem like you had fun going through your catalog to pull out some of the deeper cuts that maybe you might not always get a chance to play.
We never touched so many of those songs. [Working] together with our Swedish producers, we picked the right songs. Because with all of this instrumentation which was very different, we had accordion, piano, steel guitar — all different kinds of guitars — and harmonica, so I think some of the songs really came out with a country/western kind of feeling.
Like ‘Where The River Flows’ for example — that’s a song from the ‘Pure Instinct’ album, that’s also another song that we never played live. Or ‘When You Came Into My Life,’ a song that Rudolf [Schenker] and myself wrote during a song workshop in Bali, Indonesia in the ‘90s, which turned out pretty cool as well. With the instruments, that variation was amazing and on top of that, there were 18 musicians on stage and we had a string octet from Greece, beautiful players from Athens. The arrangements for the songs, the old ones and the new ones, the key to get something special was the arrangements.
Together with our Swedish friends and another Swedish composer/arranger, Hans Gardemar, they all got together up in Stockholm and [guitarist] Matthias [Jabs] went a few times to Stockholm and they were working on arrangements together. They came back here to Germany and then we went into the studio and we worked our way through the set. We were building up the show for about five or six months [during] the first half of 2013. The goal was to go to Athens and come up with something [that we could] blow them all away with.
For some bands, doing something like this can take the songs back to something that is pretty close to the way the songs were originally written at the time that they were conceived. How true is that with a band like the Scorpions?
We went the opposite way. We wanted to get as far away as we could from the original version in a way, not for all of the songs but for many of them. For the string arrangements, we thought [of] Led Zeppelin and ‘Kashmir.’ We wanted to give the string arrangements not a poppy Mantovani kind of sound, we wanted to find something like ‘Kashmir,’ like Middle Eastern, like Zeppelin did. In a song like ‘Speedy’s Coming’ or ‘In Trance,’ you can hear this rabid kind of touch and this feels more rock.
We wanted to present the songs in a whole different ways. With ‘Wind of Change,’ it’s really a stripped-down version with piano, rhythm guitar and accordion in there, it takes the song to a different dimension. It’s a whole new expression of that song [and others], especially for our fans who have heard [the recorded versions] for so many years and know them by heart.
For some of the songs, we had some guests and of course most of them are unknown in the U.S. This was [suggested] by MTV and our label. The idea was to give young and upcoming artists from Germany a chance. This album and DVD is being released in more than 70 countries around the world, so this is pretty much like a global stage and we liked the idea to give young talented artists the chance to present themselves in a global way.
Of course we get the question many times with the Scorpions, how about those special guests coming from the hard and heavy [side] and of course we were thinking about Lemmy or Slash, Alice Cooper and all of those guys, Richie Sambora, you know, but then since this was so much like a European production and MTV Berlin was in charge, they wanted to put some German artists on this show. In the end we agreed and when we take this on tour, we still might have a chance to invite some friends from the hard and heavy area.
The band has been engaged in what was initially called a farewell tour. But as this thing continues, it hardly seems like there is a goodbye anywhere in the distance.
Oh, there might be a goodbye in the distance, but it might in the far distance [Laughs]. We were really honest about it when we said, “Okay, with ‘Sting In The Tail,’ we really nailed this one and we hit the Scorpions DNA and made an album [that] hopefully our fans around the world [would be] exactly what they love about this band.” We thought after 40 years this might be the perfect time to say goodbye, go out on the road for two or three years and then ride into the sunset as they say. First of all, nothing is sweeter than success and coming closer to the final curtain, all of us had the feeling that, “Wow, this is weird.” You know, if you drive on the German Autobahn and you go 250 kilometers an hour and then you hit the brakes and go to zero, it’s no good. It’s not good, it’s no good for yourself and it’s no good for anybody.
It turned out [that as we were] coming closer to this final curtain, it was like, “Okay, maybe we should take a deep breath and do some project and this and that.” But to really call it a day at this point, it doesn’t feel right. Especially when you see that we have a whole new audience in front of the stage every night [with] so many young kids. Take a look at our Facebook site and you’ll see that we have 4.5 million followers there and the average age is between 16 and 28.
So there’s a whole new audience and they go, “C’mon Scorpions, we want to see you for quite a while out there.” It’s playing in front of a whole new rock audience and so many new Scorpions fans that are seeing us on this tour for the very first time. I guess it’s because of YouTube — wherever we play in the world, you can see parts of the show on YouTube and this is what brings us a whole new audience into the concerts.
I think we played more than 200 concerts between 2010 and 2012. We were proud that we reached the finish line still standing strong and it was really like “Okay, this is [a] good [time] to take a break.” Then in early-2013, this offer from MTV came in, so do you say “I’m sorry, we just quit?” You know? We said this is a whole new challenge and it’s an honor to be asked by MTV to do this and if you do it, then you want to do it really great. So then we’re right into the next adventure. But compared to all of the years before where we played a hundred concerts [each year] in 20 or 30 countries around the world, that’s a lot, so we said, “We’ve got to stop with this massive touring and take it a little bit easy.
So this is probably more of the real answer to this whole farewell thing and we had so much fun. We had way too much fun playing those concerts. With ‘MTV Unplugged,’ there will be a few shows that we will do at the end of April and early May in Germany. There might be a few in France and Belgium, but there are no major plans to go on a world tour with this because it’s just a complicated show and it involves so many musicians, so it’s not just saying, “Do you want to go out on the road for a long time,” you know? But we will play a very few selected shows here in Germany, because the German promoters went to Athens and they saw us live and they were begging us [to do more shows] in Germany as well.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the ‘Love At First Sting’ album — what are your memories of those times and recording that album?
It was a great time. In ‘84, the band hit a peak, especially in the U.S. I think there were times when we were touring nonstop up to six months and more in the U.S. only. We had the time of our lives and of course ‘Rock You Like a Hurricane’ was so much inspired by touring America. ‘Still Loving You’ was a song that became a smash pretty much everywhere.
But in America, obviously ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane’ became the rock anthem [that it is] to this day. It became a rock classic, so this album was very special. The cover was done by the legendary Helmut Newton. We were recording near Cologne in Germany at the Dierks Studios, but for pre-production, we went to Stockholm and worked in Polar Studios. That’s the studio that belonged to Abba where also Led Zeppelin recorded one of their last records. So we were on legendary ground there in a way.
But we only did pre-production there. We worked on all of the songs for quite a while in Sweden and then we went back to Germany and we really recorded the album at Dierks Studios. It became one of our best [selling] albums in our history with so many songs that became classics that we’re still playing after so many years.
You had a good run of success, working with Dieter Dierks on quite a few albums.
Oh absolutely. We started with Dieter in ‘75 with ‘In Trance’ and then worked our way from Japan to America and we had a lot of success from ‘Love Drive’ to ‘Animal Magnetism’ to ‘Blackout’ and many classic songs that have stood the test of time. Like ‘Holiday’ from ‘Love Drive,’ ‘The Zoo’ is another big one, from ‘Animal Magnetism.’ A lot of songs.
And of course, ‘Blackout’ was an amazing story, the story about tragedy and triumph when I lost my voice and found it, back in ‘82. We did our first video shooting ‘No One Like You’ and [that one] became another big song, especially in America, with our American fans. It [was] a long run with Dieter, up to ‘Savage Amusement’ at the end of the ‘80s and then it was like “Yeah, let’s see if there are other studios around [besides] the Dierks Studios!” [Laughs]
We had the privilege of working with Keith Olsen and Bruce Fairbairn between L.A. and Vancouver and it was a whole new chapter in the book. With ‘Crazy World’ and ‘Wind Of Change,’ we had a worldwide smash in the mainstream and one of our biggest hits standing right there with ‘Still Loving You,’ ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane’ and all of the big ones.
It was a whole new chapter and then alternative music hit us really hard before we came back really strong in the ‘00s with ‘Unbreakable’ and we [also] recorded ‘Humanity Hour 1’ with Desmond Child. Then we found our way back to Sweden and with our Swedish friends, we recorded ‘Sting In The Tail’ and after all of these years, this is our second unplugged album. The first one was ‘Acoustica,’ which was also a huge success. But MTV Unplugged, this is still a very powerful brand and this was a whole different story and something very exciting. We’re really proud that we became part of the MTV Unplugged family.