An Interview with
'Uli Jon Roth'
The Legendary Guitar Virtuoso
that took place on November 4th, 2018.
Glenn: Good afternoon Uli, how are you Sir?
Uli: Hey, I'm alright Glenn.
Uli: How's yourself?
Glenn: I'm good. It's a bit dreary up here weather-wise.
Uli: Same here. Haha! It's dreary today and where are you?
Glenn: I'm about 13 miles away from Sheffield.
Uli: Oh Sheffield. Perfect.
Glenn: Yeah, which is where you are starting your tour.
Glenn: I was in the Corporation last night for a band called 'Bad Touch'. It's a great place. The first time I ever saw you was on German TV – it was something like Rocklife or Rockpalast. You were doing your Hendrix Set and also the Sky Orchestra Show. I thought, 'wow this guy is unbelievable'.
Uli: Yeah. These were two different gigs. The Hendrix show was with Jack Bruce, Simon Phillips and John Wetton. The orchestra show was with different people.
Glenn: They played them back to back, This is going back to the late 90's. It was a good show and it put me onto you. A few years later I came to see you live at the Whisky A Go-Go in Hollywood.
Uli: Oh right, I've played there many times.
Glenn: Yeah you had Bumblefoot (Ron Thal) supporting. That was a cracking show that.
Uli: That's quite a while ago. I don't remember.
Glenn: No problem. You do that many shows I'm not surprised. You've done so much over the years.
Uli: Yeah. Particularly when you place some places (many times). They are part of the standard thing like BB Kings in New York. You play there 6 times in 6 years. Every year you make the rounds and it's another BB King show. This year we're at the Gramercy Theatre. In the end, your memory starts playing tricks and I can barely keep them apart.
Glenn: Another show, another crowd, another venue?
Uli: Well I take it very seriously. I love playing live and to me, every show is important. Always trying to do my best but still, memory-wise, my memory is not nearly as good as it used to be. I remember when I was in the Scorpions I could literally remember every show – almost every moment of it. But that's long gone and now I leave the stage and would be pressed to remember what went on. (We laugh)
Glenn: I guess if you wrote an autobiography you would be asking people what happened this time and that time plus have numerous ghost writers and interviewees. (We laugh) I was going to ask you if you have plans to write an autobiography some time.
Uli: I've dabbled. People have asked me and I thought it might be a good idea. I tend to think that I'm not really ready for it yet. I think a big part is still missing. So let's see... maybe I'll do it one day. I've tried to write various sections but it's not so easy because a lot of things went on in my life. Some of it I remember very well. It's what to write about and what to leave out. Some things that might be very important to me might be less interesting to the reader and vice-versa. One has to find the right balance there.
Glenn: I think you've got to be careful what you say about people because they are still around and end up with writs etc.
Uli: That is another point. I wouldn't go around slagging people off. Not that I have reason to anyway. Most of the time, most of my experiences with fellow musicians are usually pretty much on the positive side. Not many casualties in my closet at that respect. (Laughs)
Glenn: That's cool. That's always nice. What are looking forward to regarding your forthcoming UK Tour? Any particular things that stand out to you?
Uli: Yeah. I'm actually looking forward to it very much because it'll give me the chance to really delve deep into my repertoire because we are playing long shows – 2 ½ hour plus with an intermission. There's not really the usual time constraint but to make it interesting we will have quite a variety of things on offer. Of course, there will be the usual suspects – I'll have the best of my Tokyo Tapes and the Scorpions period. 'We'll Burn The Sky' and 'The Sails Of Charon' will be there.
For the first times in many years we are also going to play some of the best of my 'Electric Sun' period. I'm looking forward to that because that stuff is demanding to play – although it should sound easy. I've given it a good work-over – meaning I've edited certain bits and brought other bits up to my current musical taste. That's something I'm looking forward to.
We're also going to play a little bit of my 'Vivaldi Metamorphosis' with the band. We'll be playing one of the Vivaldi Concerto's 'The Winter' with one of my cadenza's. That's a totally different animal. A little bit of 'Hendrix' of course. We are doing one piece which I did with Ian Gillan called 'A Day Late And A Dollar Short' and I like that one. I'm doing a 15-minutes solo on my 8-string flamenco Sky Guitar. I've written some new pieces there and I really like playing that stuff. They are like 'Sonic Cathedrals In The Sky'.
We're also playing as a tribute to my Brother, Zeno who unfortunately died recently.. we're going to play two of his best songs. I love playing them. We have started doing that recently. For me, they are always a highlight in the set because he was such a good songwriter and guitarist. That's pretty much the programme. We have also have a big screen at the back with moving images, so it's a little bit more appealing visually throughout.
Glenn: That's cool. It gives us extra things to take photos of as well as you guys on stage which is great.
Uli: Yeah. I like it when the screen is behind us because I feel we have a strong theme up. It always makes you feel like you are part of an IMAX cinema. I like these landscapes at the back and flying clouds etc.
Uli: Yes! We've got an interesting support in the UK – Kaleb McKane. He is a real talent. When he was put forward to doing the support, I listened to him and was more than pleasantly surprised because he is unusual. I'm looking forward to have him on this tour. That's about it, in a nutshell.
Glenn: Yeah! Sounds good!
Uli: It's quite an ambitious programme. Those who are into my history will get their full moneys worth. A lot of stuff that we haven't been doing in years or some of it we've never done.
Glenn: Nice. I guess it's took an awful lot of preparation and rehearsing to get this altogether, especially with using a video screen at times as well?
Uli: It doesn't take an awful lot because everybody knows what they're doing. We only have five or six days rehearsal to do it all. Having said that, my musicians are so good at what they do. They learn the music. Everybody is on top of their game. All we need to do is gel it together and show some directorship there. With the screen yes - most of it or a lot of it is pre-produced. For the background, we are also having several live feeds that makes it more interesting. You can mix it up. That's why no two shows will ever be the same which is what I like very much.
Glenn: Yeah! It's going to be very, very interesting. I'm looking forward to it.
Uli: Well I hope so.
Glenn: Yeah Totally.
Uli: We've got to put a lot of effort into it.
Glenn: Yeah! Did it take long to put the actual screen stuff together?
Uli: It's still ongoing. I used to have a screen in the early 2000's. I used to carry them around with me. We used to play with it. If we played a place like 'Hiroshima'. You would see the bomb explode at the right moment in time. We had the aeroplane, the Enola Gay there and it was quite eerie. I love having that in the background. Some of that we're going to re-use but most of it is going to be new stuff. A lot of it is just atmospheric. I think it really helps with the general ambience. A rock concerts with just lights and one background can become a little samey. Just like in the music, I try to create a variety of colours, pictures, backgrounds and foregrounds. I like the same visually.
Glenn: It makes a lot of sense because when you've got a 2 or 2 ½ hour show, you want something extra to keep the audience.
Uli: That's what I say. It's going to be a little easier to digest because just like in a theatre or some theatre or classical concerts, we'll actually have a break in the middle and have a 15 minutes break. That'll be good for everybody to get back to normal. We're doing the more complex stuff in the 1st half and the second half is more 'fun and games'. As in fun and games that I'll have guests with me – not really fun and games (laughs).
Glenn: I was just thinking that in the intermission that it's going to be such a good show, there's going to be a long line for the queue to the blokes toilets isn't there?
Uli: That's not my fault. (We laugh). The depends on the beer consumption.
Glenn: Exactly. As well yeah! Sometimes you can judge a good show by how long the line is after the gig. (I laugh)
Uli: Really? Oh that is actually a new sense of measurement for me. I don't really notice that anyway because I have gone backstage. (Laughs)
Glenn: I know you don't. (We laugh more) You get such a large amount not wanting to move and they are just mesmerized with the show – you've got them which is great. I can see this show really grabbing people.
Uli: I hope so. It's all about trying to impart maximum inspiration. That's really my goal every night. With a programme that diverse, that really gives us something together to sink our teeth into. We will see. I mean, Sheffield being the first show... I'm quite sure Sheffield will be different from say, Tokyo which is two months later because shows like that tend to have a habit of evolving. Sometimes you find that certain songs you edit them out, whereas you bring others in or maybe you might change the running order of it. It's a learning curve.
Glenn: You see what works best for the audience?
Uli: Yeah exactly.
Glenn: How is it living in Wales? You've been there quite a few years now.
Uli: I've lived in Wales for many years now. Yeah. From 1997 to be precise. I first lived in Aberystwyth for nine years. There was a stint back in Germany for some years. Now I'm back in Wales but this time in North Wales. I love it here. It was never intentionally Wales. I found houses on the internet that were in Wales. I'm always looking for something that's off the beaten track. Not near the big cities but I love the countryside for my personal life. I get the big cities enough when I'm on the road. I enjoy that too but I don't really want to live in the big cities. I need a garden, animals and fresh air all round.
Glenn: Yeah! I totally agree with you. Yeah I live in a postcard like village in the country and I love that comparison. The air in Sheffield is disgusting but most cities are. Then you come back to your own are and you think, 'this is beautiful'. We do get some good shows coming through though. It's either Sheffield, Leeds or it's Manchester – somewhere like that.
Uli: It's absolutely one of the main towns in England when it comes to music. Absolutely. It's part of that circle.
Glenn: Do you find that because you are in the countryside its reflects onto the music and does the music reflect the countryside you live in?
Uli: That would be chromatically a nice notion but I am afraid not. I get inspired pretty much wherever I am. The reason I love the countryside is because it's incredibly healing and free. The music, I just close my eyes and I'm in whatever country when that happens. I guess I could even do that in a dungeon. It's the fact that most of my Scorpions pieces back then were written in a bit of a dungeon. We used to in Germany when I was still a kid, we had a tiny, tiny cellar – it was a cubicle in a dark cellar. Before I played guitar I used to be a photographer – that was my main thing and I had a darkroom. Then later on in there that became the room with my little 4-track recorder that became my world. It was pretty much like a dungeon. I remember it fondly. It's for the concentration.
Glenn: I tell you what, I miss those darkroom days. When you develop your film, then use your enlarger to create your photos and onto your developer, stop bath and fixer. They were great days.
Uli: You remember real photos?
Uli: Yeah! They were great days because the film back then it didn't have all the options back then that we have with the digital cameras but it had an incredibly soft light. It was just beautiful. I used to love photography back then. If you knew what you were doing, you could really create magical pictures. Particularly, I was very fond of using filters – all sorts of filters from smoke to haze – soft filters etc – dreamy filters. Sometimes when you do that on a digital camera the results are not quite as magical as they used to be. Another thing is, back then film was so precious, You only had a few shots and you had to make sure every shot was a winner. I don't like these rapid fire shot approaches because again, the magic of the moment isn't quite there.
Glenn: It's true.
Uli: At the risk of sounding overly nostalgic, I am now fully digitally. (We laugh). I have old SLR cameras but I don't really use them any more. Those days of analogue are gone. Probably forever.
Glenn: Funny you mention analogue. Do you prefer recording analogue or the sound of analogue as opposed to digital?
Uli: No I have to admit, I don't. When you were working with tapes, again, the same applies that applies to photography. It was more forgiving at the edges. It is like, use a tape and you can go +db over and it starts to compress gently and it's organic. Do that digital after the 0db and it's a horrible click which I absolutely hate. I've always hated that restriction in digital mixing. But the conveniences are so great that I've been corrupted a long time ago. I'm fully digital. Sonically, we have made progress. Very good digital is very good.
The problem is that we're still dealing with compact discs, mp3's and 16-bit. What we hear in the studio is not what the consumer hears unfortunately. There is a lot of room for improvement. But in recent years, not a lot of improvement has been made – at least not that I've noticed. Another analogy to photography – when you add the big master tapes for 24 or 48 tracks and you were in the recording studio, you really knew every take was a matter of life or death. It really helped the concentration because very often the engineer would have to punch you in at some point at the risk of erasing what was there before.
Uli: It also did happen but recording back then was very real and dangerous in that sense because you couldn't fix those things. Nowadays almost anything is possible including pitch correction and what have you, to the point where some people go overboard with pitch correction and the vocals and instruments sound incredible dull and flat because everything sounds like a piano.
Perfectly pitched but a really good singer or a really good instrumentally will use these little pitch discrepancies subtlety in order to create more of an edge and a shine to the note. That all gets lost when you over-utilise these and meddle with all these things. Some people need that stuff because they simply cannot play in pitch but it's become a bit of an industry disease.
Glenn: I agree.
Uli: At some point there was a disease when everybody was crazy about quantising everything – like quantised drums, quantised this... it got to the point where everything sounded very four square and absolutely not grooving any more. It was basically a misunderstanding of how music really works – what it can be or what it should be.
Glenn: Yeah. There's pro's and cons – especially when you refer to it sound-wise. You have to get a happy medium so the sound in the studio is going to be something like what the consumer gets and vice-versa. You have to get a compromise. It must be hard sometimes?
Uli: Yes. Of course, another thing is the vinyl is coming back. I am personally not such a great vinyl fan although certain old records do sound better on vinyl because they were produced for vinyl. We grew up listening to them like that. For instance, early Beatles records. I thought that when they were remixed, you could start hearing everything – the result to me lost some of that magic because they used to do it masterly back then with the very limited resources they had. The end result was very organic.
Glenn: Yeah, it was very raw!
Uli: Yeah! But nowadays that is one thing that vinyl has the edge with - the album cover and the sleeves. That's very much something you can touch. You can space and scope for an artistic statement. Whereas these tiny little mickey mouse CD things are just a pain because they are too small. I don't relate to that at all.
Glenn: Yeah it's not the same. I was talking to a buddy of mine, Jimmy Burkard – he played with Billy Idol and he asked me to ask you what recordings you had done that you are most proud of?
Uli: That is an extremely hard question because every recording I have done was very different from the others. I guess it's part of my journey to always come up with different stuff. It's not so much intentional, it's just the way I am. I think I might get bored otherwise. The result of that is that I don't really have a favourite recording of mine. There isn't anything where I would say, “that's definitely me”. I guess it's more a cross-section of what I've done. Most albums that I've done, there are certain things that I like that maybe stand out but I also see the flaws in things I don't like so much.
Recently, in the long terms or for the first time in a long time, I heard my 'Metamorphosis' which is basically the 'Vivaldi' Four Seasons Concerto's plus a concerto that I wrote – just Sky Guitar and Orchestra. That, I'm actually very proud of because it was very, very difficult to achieve that and to blend it sonically. At the same time when you listen to it, it sounds like it's almost easy. So actually that one I'm proud of. But it's completely unlike any of my Rock stuff. On playing-wise, sonically and musically. So, there you go. So sorry.
Glenn: That's a good answer. I like it.
Uli: It depends on what he likes – whether he is a rock guy or whether he's more into the early Scorpions period as many people are or he's more extravagant, experimental like the 'Electric Sun' period or my 'Sky Babylon' stuff which is more orchestral and classically orientated.
Glenn: Yeah exactly. There's so many different styles. I must ask you, you've recently come off the G3 Tour, how was that for you?
Uli: It was great. Particularly in England we had six shows and I liked every single one of them. We had a great run and I think it was probably one of the best G3 Tours ever – at least from what Joe (Satriani) told me. The chemistry was dead right between the three guys. We couldn't have been more different and yet we did find a way to gel onstage with each player adding quite a different voice – musically speaking. The nicest guys, both of them – Joe Satriani and John Petrucci. I really like them both. We got on very, very well. I think some of that translated to the audience. They could see that we were happy campers.
Glenn: That's awesome. I mean, none of you guys have got anything to prove. It's a case of getting up there and doing your thing and working alongside each other?
Uli: Yeah. It was a little bit of gunslinging. That's what that kind of format is all about where you are trading solos. You play a solo, you play a solo and now it's my turn – it goes around in cycles. We didn't take that too seriously. We tried to do the gunslinging thing and still try to be musical in the process which is sometimes a borderline experience. But when you do these kinds of jams, a lot of it is basically a form of entertainment. We did our sets, we did the work that was more serious and then at the end, we're all coming together and having a bit of a party on stage including that we have a bit of a laugh. I think that's also how it came across. That's what it was meant to be.
Glenn: No doubt the Joe Satriani and John Petrucci fans have got to see you as well – hence it has created more fans and you've influenced more people.
Uli: Yeah. That's good to hear. That's really nice.
Glenn: Yeah. What's it mean to you when you see your name listed as an influence? What goes through your head when you read or find out things like that?
Uli: The truth is that at the risk of sounding conceited, but I am used to it. Even in the Scorpions that started to happen. Forty years ago I remember Van Halen coming out with their first album and people said, “Look, they're playing 'Catch A Train' or Speedy's Coming'. There's an influence there. Then very shortly after that, Yngwie started to make it big in America and they called him the new Uli. My Manager back then laughed and said, “You're not even dead yet!” (We Laugh).
He was there playing in a similar vein and also playing some of my solos. I got used to influencing a younger generation just like I had been influenced by the ones before me. That's the result when you are doing something, when you're breaking new grounds with instruments, some people cotton on to it, they are using that new vocabulary and making it their own. Then they're taking it a step further. That's exactly what these guys did back then – Van Halen and Yngwie – so many...
Glenn: It's good that you mentioned Yngwie. We were invited to his office in South Miami. I remember him telling us after we'd done an interview with him that his favourite idols and heroes in guitar players were your good self, Angus Young and Brian May.
Uli: Yeah. He's very fond of Brian May for good reason.
Glenn: Yeah! Totally.
Uli: He's one of the greats.
Glenn: He is yeah. He's doing well with that 'Bohemian Rhapsody' film at the moment. Anyway, the Sky Guitar is such a beautiful instrument. Do you sell quite a few of those and where do they seem to be picked up and sold most around the world?
Uli: Yeah. Most of them are in American and Japan. I would say 80% are in America and Japan. Some in Europe but not as many. Maybe that's also because of the steep price tag. There's a guy in Japan who has ordered 2 more and he's already got four. There are several people who've got three who are now wanting a fourth Sky Guitar. It seems to be addictive (Laughs).
Glenn: I looked at the price and I went 'Wow!'
Uli: For some people it's just a collectors item. At that kind of price you know that the guitars are not gonna ever lose value. We are trying to make them as good as we possibly can. They are all completely hand-built by my guitar builder. We are selling them through the internet and there's a waiting list. People have to wait a year because we can only make so many a year. It's exciting for me because we are always looking for new prototypes. Whenever I have a new idea for a new Sky Guitar, we're just building it for myself. Then it ends up being available to the public too. But in the beginning, I'm the one who really benefits from this.
Now we have several new prototypes in the making. One of which is a nine string, fully acoustic but also electrical flamenco 'Sky Guitar' with a full body but it will also work through amps. I'm really looking forward to that. We're also building a new seven string model which hopefully will be finished by the tour. He's working hard to have that finished by the tour.
Also, during this tour, because we are playing so much 'Electric Sun', I'm going to showcase a new Sky Strat - a 'Super Strat' we call it. It's a 'Sky Guitar' with a 'Strat Body' just like the one I used to play but it's got all the interiors and the sonic engine at the neck, like a 'Sky Guitar'. It plays like a dream and it's very suitable to play these 'Electric Sun' songs. I'm playing that. We've also sold several of these as well. They are very popular. In fact, our guitar player, David is going to play one. He's left-handed so he's got a left-handed 'Sky Strat' and I'm going to play the right-handed one. It should be an interesting picture.
Glenn: Interesting to see. Very much so. Do you every display at NAMM?
Uli: No. We have enough orders. That would be pointless for us to go to NAMM. I love being there for the sheer mayhem of it. It's a really nice music fayre and you meet a lot of interesting people. Particularly in January and in Los Angeles - that's so nice. It's depressing here in the UK and Europe. You're there in Los Angeles with your shirt and no jacket (laughs). But I don't need to go to NAMM with the Sky Guitars. We have our market. It's basically just a very small nitsch market for people who really want Sky Guitars and who can afford them. Maybe one day we'll end up making them cheaper but then we have to build them by machine. At the moment I don't want to do that. We're still in the stage of development with each new Sky Guitar as a part of that.
Glenn: Do you have any particular favourite Sky Guitars you like to play apart form the ones you use on stage?
Uli: It keeps varying. It's usually the one I'm playing at the moment. On that tour I'll play no less than seven. Ones for different styles of music. My seven string 'Mighty Wing' used to be my favourite for probably 20 years. I've played hardly anything else. But when you play the Scorpions Electric Sun stuff, it's not so suited to play it on a seven string. Then I use a six string. They're all completely different. Some are very easy going and very forgiving.
I've got a Sky Guitar called 'Lionheart'. That one came to me during a NAMM Show. He had finished it, I picked it up and played it that evening. It was perfectly out of the box. To this day it's simply the most reliant guitar because never any prima donna like behaviour from that guitar. I've got a couple that are prima donna's. They are set up differently – they sound fantastic but they are harder to plat and less forgiving. They don't hold in tune as well and I have to tune them more often because they are more like a fragile ecosystem. The result is that on some nights it's a dream and other nights they give me a run for my money. It's controlling them properly. They are more like Formula 1 racing cars where you really have to tune in and get it right. Then that's it. They are all different and that's the way I like it.
For me, a guitar is like, forgive me the expression but it's almost like a person. They have a distinct individual personality and that's what I like about them. They are sonically different. Some of them are different wood; in different scale lengths. I like the interaction. It's also a challenge playing the same pieces on a different guitar on different nights because you are getting different things out of them – different responses. What they all have in common is a certain bottom line. They are all Sky Guitars – meaning they all have the range, they all have the singing tone and they all have very powerful palettes of sounds available which I love exploring during a show. I'm constantly changing the frequencies in the show to make sure that they're the best for the songs and the room since every location, every stage is so different.
The Sky Guitars allow me to tune in and get the best out of them. It doesn't always work because there are some times you at the mercy of circumstance. Some stages sound absolutely horrible, rooms sound horrible. It always depends on what PA is there etc etc. Even in the same room sometimes, when you stand ten yards to the left or right, the sound will change. When you're standing directly in front of the amp, usually it's the least good. I hate that. I try to avoid it. I am always worrying about the diehards who stand right at the front of my amp. We call it the 'Death Ray'. Very hard to turn the amps away so they develop. But again, that differs from gig to gig, In some halls you can't do that. Some people do stand in the 'death ray' but I like to stand some distance from the gear.
Glenn: You've used various types of Amps. You've got Blackstar, Vibeware and there's Dean stuff you use as well.
Uli: Yeah. It depends what gadgets I am using that work with the magnetics best. The Blackstars are my main amps at the moment. Sometimes I use my old Machs. It also depends on certain festivals. When you fly into a festival, quite often they can't get you the amp that you want – particularly in countries like South America or Japan. I will play a different Amp that's sometimes with mixed results.
To get the best out of the Sky Guitars I need a certain type of amp. There's a huge amount of headroom. I'm always starting from the very clean sound and then go into the singing tone on the same channel. Most of the so-called Modern amps are designed differently. When the guitar play plays a lead he switches channel and suddenly you have a lead tone. I don't like that. I like to have tone organically developing from 0 to 100. Most amps cannot do that.
Glenn: Do you like to have hobbies outside of music? Or is it mainly music?
Uli: No absolutely not. Music is a artistically my centre – the most important thing but I don't actually spend a lot of time with music. That is probably a good thing because it keeps it incredibly fresh for me. Each time I play music, it's just as exciting as the first time. If I spent a lot of hours daily on it that would not be the case. I'm very interested in general knowledge. I do follow all sorts of social development, politics and news. I still read a lot. I'm very interested in science and metaphysics – two completely almost opposite subjects. I am interested in what I call the metaphysics of music and life.
That's what my Sky Academy is all about. I find that the laws of music are very much the same laws that make the universe go round. They also apply to us. Ourselves, our minds are so deep in our bodies are constructed according to the laws of music. That may sound a little strange but of course it's just a metaphor I am using here. You have to look at it with a soft glance and then one might understand. I realised that a long time ago and I find that fascinating. A part of me has always analysed the ingredients of music, sounds, single notes, pitch and rhythm in a way that is almost scientific. For example, why do certain notes have a certain effect on us? Why does an A sound so different from a G and why does it feel different? And how does it feel different? How can they use this knowledge in music? Things like that.
Glenn: Yeah. Certain notes are a joy to hear and others are more depressing. That makes a lot of sense.
Uli: There are certainly some which are much more bright. Some are more dark, some are warm, some are cold just like the colour spectrum which is the rainbow colours of seven, you have the same spectrum in the pitch of a note. Although you can divide them into twelve. You might end up having two shades of green, two shades of yellow, several shades of blue in the long part of the spectrum, But yes, it's very much the same with the pitch of the notes. It's kind of universal.
Glenn: How did you assemble your current band? What sorts of personalities and characteristics do you look out for that will work to become band members?
Uli: That's a good question. First of all of course, I'm looking for people with great musicality and great ability. An ability to listen, an ability to play music in a musical way. It may sound obvious but I don't think it is necessarily a gift with a lot of musicians. Then on an equal level, the person in my band needs to fit in psychologically into the band. I don't want any idiots. No people who are not capable of working as a team, working with the others. I try to have people who are well-balanced and not emotionally on the underdeveloped side. That's very important because when you are on the tour bus in close quarters for two months in America, the unit develops. Even one guy who isn't a team player who doesn't fit in, he really rocks the boat.
So yes, I'm looking for emotional maturity and stability because my band, forgive me the expression but it's a little bit like you have a car or like a ship and I'm the 'Captain Of The Ship'. I am wanting things to run smoothly. The last thing I want when I am on stage is to think about somebody's emotional stabilities. I'm not looking down on these things – they are all part of life for most most people and a lot of people. But in the touring environment, I need people who can stand side by side – instrument in hand and deliver night after night. To be able to do that it takes a certain kind of person because it's not easy to tour for a long time.
It's a lot of demands on your self-discipline and being able to cope with difficult situations. Lots of lack of sleep. Sometimes lack of food – whatever when you're travelling 24 hours to South America. These are the things I am looking for and then once that person is part of that environment with us, from then on it's a learning curve. I'm trying to teach them my way of thinking – musically and communicating with... sometimes it's not so much verbal but just doing it and giving them a chance to gel. Also to grow and to develop. I don't like to talk a lot in rehearsals.
A lot of these things have to come naturally. Also, when preparing the music, I want them to get on with it and do it by themselves. Not ask me or what chord did you play there or how was that done? I expect that kind of level of craftsmanship. That's very important for me.
Glenn: Tell me about your band members and how they became a member of your band?
Uli: With each person it's different. Most of them go back a long time. Some of them to 2006 and 2006 to the 'Under A Dark Sky' Tour. Back then I was looking for a keyboard so I asked around. One guy came highly recommended by someone whose judgement I trusted. Then I auditioned him and I was very, very pleased – that was Corvin Bahn. He's still my main keyboard player, although there are others who sometimes take his place when he's not available. Very often it's a recommendation, you then audition and you try... it's trial by fire. The best ones – they stick. The ones that I'm not so keen on after a few shows, I maybe won't call them again. It's that simple. It's like jump off that ship. I have a responsibility also towards the audience.
Glenn: Yeah. Makes sense. What are your plans after the tour? Have you got some new album plans?
Uli: I have many new album plans but don't ask me (he jokes) because I've got a lot of unfinished business in my drawer. A lot of it is very finished business. All it takes is to 'record it'. That is the problem, because for me, making an album is always a big deal. I'm not one of these guys who goes walks into the studio and a month later I've got a finished album. I'm more like the opposite. Maybe I'm taking it a little bit too seriously and I'm not really keen on recording. I prefer writing music.
It's not the recording that is the problem because once you're up and running, I find it's very easy-going. But it's finding the sounds. I'm always unhappy about the sounds. I'm at loggerheads with the medium of stereo as we know it and the entire set-up. I'm just never no matter what I do get anywhere near the level of what I want to hear. That's a bit of an affliction for me and it makes it hard to crank out album after album.
Glenn: Yeah, it's a double-edged sword isn't it. You are happy with what's in your head, then when you get to the finished album, you think, 'I don't like this, I don't like that'. I guess you are a continuing perfectionist?
Uli: Well I'm also so aware of the fact that there are so many different possibilities doing a piece. I kind of dislike the actual act of nailing it down to the point where the butterfly actually gets killed and conserved. I know it's a bit of a cranky way of looking at it but I analyse myself enough to know that this is part of the problem. Say if I was writing a piece of music in a classical way and I'm just writing a score – that for the classical composer is the finished product. Then other people will interpret it differently. That score will pretty much give you the pointers of how to get to A to B or what note to play when. But it doesn't tell you how.
There are many different ways to interpret a piece by Mozart or Chopin or by Beethoven. If it was just me having to finalise a piece on paper that is the easy part but the recording, I've always found it a real struggle. Although I tend to like it once I'm in there but at the beginning of an album it's finding the sounds. It's deciding and I'm just never happy. That's a problem.
The next thing is that nowadays.. because back in the olden days we used to live off our albums and they used to make a lot money depending on how many albums were sold. It was part of the industry. Nowadays, the commercial aspect has largely gone and making an album is more like a hobby. In fact, it may cost more. Basically I have to finance it because particularly I take such a long time – that makes it even more difficult. Now after all these excuses have been said – they are not excuses: it's the truth!
These are the reasons why I am recording so little. I have dabble and started stuff and we will see what happens. One way around it maybe, is that I may record large sections of the new album live, then give it the studio treatment and use some overdubs. I think then it may be an approach that I find a little more organic. That's what we did with the Scorpions 'Revisited' album. I think that went pretty well.
Uli: That's exactly what we did. It was all recorded live and very few overdubs. The result was something that I was reasonably happy with (We laugh).
Glenn: So I guess possibly this next tour may bring something out for a new album?
Uli: Absolutely. We're gong to record every night. I will probably have a live album at the end. We're not just playing the UK. This is followed by Germany, Japan and then two months of America. A similar programme and we're recording every night. If we have any gem stones and a really cool evening in place x or something from place x, that may well be end up being an album.
Glenn: Are you going to be the guy who is going to sieve through all the stuff or are you just going to know when something's going to be happening?
Uli: No. I hate listening to the stuff I've done. Usually I would just make a mental mark of the gigs that are really good, write it down and do that at the end. Listen to the ones that particular stick in my mind as special.
Glenn: Awesome. Let's hope Sheffield could be one of those but you just never know. (We laugh)
Uli: Sometimes the first show is really good and sometimes it's not so good. I cannot make a prediction.
Glenn: You can't. It's impossible. Is there anything you've like to bring up that we've not covered because we've covered quite a few things?
Uli: Well I feel it's been an in-depth interview and we've covered a lot relevant to the tour.
Glenn: We sure have. Well it's been an absolute pleasure taking to you Sir. I look forward to seeing you in Sheffield.
Uli: Yeah. Oh I enjoyed it. My pleasure. See you then.
Glenn: Thanks. See then then. Take care.
Special thanks to Peter Noble of Noble PR for setting up the Interview .
Interviewed by Glenn Milligan.