Interview: Matthias Jabs – Scorpions

It is fair to say that no other German band in the history of hard rock/metal has had the success and global domination of the Scorpions. Since the release of their first album Lonesome Crow in 1972 the band has been on a mission to rock the masses, dare I say it, like a hurricane. And that they have done with studio masterpieces such as Virgin Killer, Lovedrive, Blackout, Love At First Sting and Sting In The Tail among others. They also have a reputation for being one of the world’s most energetic live acts which has been captured on live albums such as World Wide Live and Acoustica. Now add to that their latest project and most spectacular celebration of their career MTV Unplugged In Athens. To get his thoughts on the bands career, the success of Love At First Sting and the latest MTV Unplugged CD/DVD I spoke to lead and rhythm guitarist Matthias Jabs.

Rock Man: Congratulations on all that you have achieved over the past 4 decades, most marriages do not last that long, what has been the secret to your longevity?

Matthias Jabs: Yes, first of all I think it is the friendship between the members because you have to like each other if you share a tour bus for many months and so fortunately we all get along great and the chemistry is right. Then secondly, I would say it is the interest for music and in the end for success as well, everybody is very determined in this band and everybody wants to achieve a lot and more and I think that is a drive that keeps us going.

RM: You have just released on CD and DVD a new acoustic live recording, MTV Unplugged In Athens, you must be very pleased with the final product?

MJ: Absolutely, I mean it was, first of all it was a fantastic time to prepare all the arrangements, I went to Stockholm to work with our Swedish producers and friends, so three Sweeds and one German arranging 25 songs and it was a great pleasure to begin with, but to then rehearse with all the musicians and then to finally perform in Athens, a great theatre, great atmosphere, great climate too and it was the first time an MTV Unplugged had happened outdoors and in one of those spectacular amphitheatres looking down onto the city at night was just spectacular. Yeah we had a fantastic time and you know, musically it comes across very well, so yes I am happy with this product.

RM: You have previously released acoustic shows such as Acoustica, how does MTV Unplugged differ from that release?

MJ: Yeah we did Acoustica in 2001 and some of the songs are even the same because, first of all, the band thought “Let’s not do our most popular songs again” because we have various arrangements for orchestra, electric versions, of course, so we were very doubtful about it but in the end, you know?. The record company and the audience too convinced us we cannot do a show without Rock You Like A Hurricane or Still Loving You but it is a whole new approach, apart from the songs we repeated, so to speak, but they got a different arrangement anyway. But the idea was to write a few new ones, to mainly do songs we never perform live and many of those songs from the 70s, some from the 80s, some of the 90s are songs the band never did on stage and so this is a first and to the die hard Greek fans it was a surprise, especially since it takes some time until you recognize the song if it is not announced, because the arrangements are so different, so that was a surprise factor built in for them. I think it is worth while doing it even though we have done Acoustica before.

RM: What was it about Athens that made it ideal for this MTV Unplugged show?

MJ: First of all, we have probably the most loyal fans in the world that are from Greece, even though we have great fans around the world, but they are crazy about us, that is one thing. The other thing is we were imagining an amphitheatre right away, like those you find mostly in Greece, there are some nice ones in Italy too, but in Europe and then climate wise in September, where can you go outdoors where the chance of rain is like zero and the temperature is nice at night? And you know, we are talking acoustic instruments, you cannot have a big temperature drop, if like the sun is out in the afternoon, very hot, like in the fall, like the rest of Southern Europe and then at night it gets cold that messes up tuning and the very expensive guitars we have, we thought for the recordings the tuning needs to be stable. So all kinds of aspects, all of that ended up like Greece, they have all that, they have the nice amphitheatres, they have the climate and they have the great fans so basically, no doubt it was our initial idea and we stuck with it.

RM: There are a couple of interesting tracks in this set list, can you tell me a little bit about Delicate Dance, which has a real Pink Floyd meets Led Zeppelin thing going on and Love Is The Answer, a ballad featuring guitarist Rudolf Schenker on vocals.

MJ: Yes, the initial idea was that we needed an instrumental, we knew we have 23/24 songs, a very long set, acoustic guitars means no long guitar solos, so lots of things to sing for Klaus. So we thought we need an instrumental and percussion solo too have at least two breaks for him during the show so he can recover his voice for a little bit at least and it was also recorded back to back so we played 3 shows, the first 2 are recorded. So that was the idea and I was working on this instrumental, Delicate Dance and when it was finished everybody liked it so much they went “Yes, great” and Rudolf had also been working on an instrumental but he thought mine is better so he added some vocals to his instrumental [laughs] and then we had Love Is The Answer.

RM: If you talk about classic albums of the 1980s you can’t go past Love At First Sting. In 2014 you celebrate the 30th anniversary of this iconic album, do you have anything planned to celebrate this milestone and why do you think this album has become such a jewel in the crown of your catalogue?

MJ: I mean, it has the songs, it has the right energy, we were flying very high in the early 80s and some people say it was our most creative time like Blackout and Love At First Sting and you know, it is really the time we achieved headlining status and multi platinum sales and all that. Meanwhile there are out takes from those two albums and in early 2012 during the tour we took a break and we looked at those left overs, so to speak, and there is some very interesting material, so we completed those, we have them as basic tracks, you know, they did not have any written lyrics, they were just demos but very good ideas from that particular time. Meanwhile we have some basic tracks and we want to finish them, maybe towards the end of this year [2014] and release them in early 2015, because Rudolf founded the band in 1965 and named it Scorpions, when it was still like a school band, so if you take this as the beginning then all of a sudden, I know it sounds strange, but then we have 50 years of Scorpions and we could release those out takes next year.

RM: Love At First Sting has so many big songs on it like Bad Boys Running Wild, Rock You Like A Hurricane, Big City Nights and Still Loving You, at the time you were recording it were you aware you had something special on your hands?

MJ: Yes to a certain extent. Songs like Rock You Like A Hurricane, but you get feedback from outside, our agent in America was crazy about it when he heard it over the phone, and we hadn’t even finished it yet, and songs like Still Loving You or Big City Nights, but especially Rock You Like A Hurricane and Still Loving You, which turned out to be two of our biggest songs, people from the outside said “You have got something special there”. As a musician I cannot remember thinking that way ever, because if you are still in the process of recording and creating stuff you do not think that way, at least we don’t, we are just too focused on the songs and how to play them and sing them right and once the stuff is released you get a more neutral perspective and if it is successful you go “Oh now I understand why” [laughs] but while you are close to it you do not think that way.

RM: If I can take you back to 1991, you had a world wide hit on your hands with Wind Of Change, at the time, were you surprise by how wide spread the success of that song was?

MJ: Yeah amazing. I mean, first of all in the beginning the people from the record company came in, we did like a pre-listening thing in the studio and they said “yeah, alright but take that whistling thing off” and in America they edited it out [laughs] we did not even consider the song to be important it was just too different to everything else we had been doing. And then we played the first show of the European tour, right after the release in Brussels and a French TV team came over and filmed the song live with one camera and made a video out of it, without asking us and the song and the video went to Number 1 while we were in the States playing and we went “Oh, this is surprising” and all of a sudden the song just took off and we did not do anything for it. So obviously, you know, this is what a hit is all about and since you are from Australia, I have to mention it was even on the charts in Australia and we made the mistake of not going to Australia because we were already on the road and at the end of the tour it was like one of the longest tours we had done, like two and a half years, and then somebody said “Okay, now you can go to Australia” and we said “Oh, next time” and we didn’t and we still feel like it was the biggest mistake. Because that is missing in our career that we have never played in Australia, I think it is a shame.

RM: Out of all the albums you have recorded is there one or two that stand out as personal favourites and why?

MJ: My personal albums, I think Blackout is one of my favourites. Blackout and Love At First Sting, we mention those now they are my favourites, because it shows how the band went on from like, professional? Yes but you know? so and so successful, to you know? with those albums we made it big we have a different, we sound more, even though we sound young and energetic, we sound all of a sudden more mature, I don’t know if that is the right word, but we sound like world class all of a sudden. That is when we really took off in the 80s, I must also mention I like the album Sting In The Tail a lot which was released in 2010, our last studio recording, it is also an album where I am totally happy with, because I like every song and that is not the case on other albums.

RM: When you play your final show and put away your guitars for the final time how do you think the pages of music history will remember the Scorpions?

MJ: Definitely as the most successful international band from Germany, that is already a given fact. I do not see anybody who can follow us and because we are one of the very few bands that can play in almost every country in the world. Yeah, I think the most successful international band from Germany, rock band, comes to my mind.

RM: Again, congratulations on the release on MTV Unplugged In Athens, on behalf of everyone here at Full Throttle Rock I would like to wish you all the best for the future and many thanks for all the years of great music you have given to us.

MJ: Yeah, thank you so much.