With over 75 million albums sold worldwide, it would be difficult to name a German band more influential or popular than The Scorpions. Hits like “Rock You Like A Hurricane,” “Wind Of Change,” and “No One Like You” are still being heard in arenas and stadiums around the world all these years later, whether it’s The Scorpions playing them or sporting events using those tracks to get people excited. But even more amazing to me about The Scorpions is that they formed in 1965, which means 2015 to be their 50th year of existence.
In my recent article about Chicago’s Robert Lamm, I discussed what most bands were doing for their 50th anniversary. The Who is playing arenas, but they’ve only released one new song in the past nine years, “Be Lucky.” The Rolling Stones are still doing their victory lap tour, but have only put out two new songs in the past nine years. The Beach Boys came out with a reunion album in 2012, although it has come out since that it was pretty much a Brian Wilson solo album with guest vocalists. Some effort from these bands, sure, but a lot of resting on laurels.
And then you have The Scorpions…They’re not only in the midst of a large world tour – which takes them to the Barclays Center on September 12th alongside Queensryche – but touring in support of a new studio album, Return To Forever. Return To Forever follows the release of last year’s MTV Unplugged album, which was recorded in Greece and aired extensively as a TV special. Before that was an album of re-records and covers in 2011 called Comeblack. One year prior to that was 2010’s Sting In The Tail, which included a duet with former Nightwish vocalist Tarja Turunen. Hardly the behavior of a modern classic rock band.
Frontman Klaus Meine — who along with guitarist Rudolf Schenker is the only band member to appear on every Scorpions release — spoke with me by phone to discuss their upcoming Brooklyn gig and forthcoming 19th studio album. Not only was Klaus patient and polite, but there was a lot of humility in his responses. Even when you consider where his first-ever Manhattan concert performance was.
Your upcoming show at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, is that the first time that The Scorpions have ever played in Brooklyn?
Klaus Meine: I think that’s the first time. I mean, we’ve played a few venues in and outside of New York City like from Jones Beach to the [Madison Square] Garden…uh, what’s the name of that theater where The Stones did…
I believe you’ve played The Beacon Theater.
K: Beacon Theater, yes.
And I believe you played Giants Stadium with The Monsters Of Rock.
K: Of course, how can I forget that? (laughs) Absolutely. Giants Stadium, yeah, ah well. I remember on the way back, the helicopter, going all along the Hudson River and making a few swings around the Statue of Liberty on the way back to the hotel. Beautiful, great, how can I forget that? No way! It was fantastic, yes, Monsters Of Rock.
So this is going to be your first time in Brooklyn.
K: It’s first time in Brooklyn, yeah, but what I’ve heard so far, it’s a fantastic venue and we’re looking very much forward to go there. It’s exciting to come back…Jones Beach, it is what it is out there, it’s a long way for the fans to go. I think we played there a few times. We’re really ready to present our new show in an arena and that’s really fantastic.
Have you ever been to Brooklyn aside from touring as a visitor?
K: No, I mean we might have gone through on the way to some East Coast places up there, New Hampshire or to Boston. I’m not sure when you leave Manhattan, you pass the Bronx, right?
I think if you were going to JFK Airport you would have driven through Brooklyn.
K: But I never went there as a visitor. Brooklyn has this really cool kind of vibe, you know? I don’t know if you feel the same about Brooklyn, but coming from Europe, Brooklyn has a nice vibe, it has a nice sound. It’s great that we have a chance to play there.
Do you remember your first New York City concert? The first time you ever toured here?
K: Yeah, there must have been something before we played Madison Square Garden, I’m not sure. Back in those days, in the first half of the 80s, I think it might be the Garden was the first gig we played in Manhattan, being the special guest for Rainbow before we came back headlining the place ourselves. I think the first gig there was the Garden.
That’s quite a first gig.
K: I mean, I cannot think of anything else. We went to the PNC [Bank Arts Center] in Jersey or Jones Beach…The Garden is very expensive, I think, because of unions and all that. We played there a few times, great memories, it’s the kind of venue where you — as an artist — really feel like you’re on top of the world. It’s just a wonderful venue and I hope one day we have a chance to make it back there. But I think coming back to the New York City area and playing Brooklyn, we always used to play, what’s the big gig on Long Island? Long Island Arena?
The Nassau Coliseum, which they’re going to tear down soon.
K: The Nassau Coliseum, exactly. That’s where we played maybe once or twice. Great gig. We are very excited to come back, and this Barclays Center is a real cool-looking arena, and so it’s quite different from when you play Jones Beach.
So you’re touring in support of Return To Forever. How would you describe it to someone who hasn’t heard it yet?
K: Well, if you like Scorpions music, this is where you find Scorpions DNA, what The Scorpions are all about, you know? It features brand new songs and also some vintage Scorpions. Like we were taking a closer look at material we wrote in the ’80s, some songs that have never been released, because in those days, it was about seven, eight songs, maybe nine on those vinyl records so there were always leftovers. We knew we had some great material sitting there from the old [producer] Dieter Dierks studio days from the ’80s and also some stuff we wrote or recorded later on as well, like early ’90s, early zero years [Writer’s Note: This is how Klaus refers to “the ’00s” and I find it quite endearing] as well. But the majority of this material was from the mid-80s. But it was to go back there and finish those songs, most of them needed new lyrics, some of them needed a new chorus or a middle eight or whatever. Some songs started with a great riff but a great hook-line or chorus was missing, so we went back to those songs…Especially after this MTV Unplugged session, which we did in Greece in 2013, we started writing again. When we picked up what we have called “outtakes from the ’80s” project, we realized there was a lot of new material. So at the end of last year, we had about 30 songs and it was a lot of new material, and it was about 50/50. It turned out to be a lot more like a new album than going back to memory lane…It’s a great album for our fans, and it’s really compact with Scorpions DNA. But the good thing is you don’t know which songs are new and which songs were written back in time.
About two years ago you had the MTV Unplugged, which was excellent.
K: Thank you.
I remember about 15 years ago you did an album with an orchestra. So you’ve done an acoustic album and an album with an orchestra. Is there another specialty kind of album that The Scorpions might ever do?
K: No, I think we are ready to put the Marshall amps up to 11. I never want to leave that again (laughs) It’s a lot of fun to work with one of the best classical orchestras, the Berlin Philharmonic, in 2000. A Moment Of Glory was a very successful project we did. We did Acoustica back then and after this farewell tour, MTV made us the offer for this MTV Unplugged project and how could we ever say no to this? It was a lot of fun and turned out great and I’m glad you heard about it and liked it, obviously. But we had to go back and to make this album, we started it a few years ago, we wanted it to have an extra album with all those old songs from the 80s to give our fans something extra and special. But back then we were thinking “this is the farewell tour and that’s it”…It all changed dramatically and we went back to the studio, we finished this album and we’re on the road already since May. We kicked off the tour in China, where we played for the very first time, and we played all over Russia, Siberia, Moscow. 10 days ago we played a big festival in South Korea. So we’re back in the old crazy kind of madness with this new album coming out in the States, and we’re ready to go to the U.S. very soon.
I also have to compliment you about how your voice has held up over the years. Do you have any tricks or methods to keeping your voice strong?
K: Yeah, well, I have actually since we recorded Humanity in Los Angeles with Desmond Child, I had a vocal coach Desmond introduced me to, he gave me some vocal sessions, piano sessions where you go through all those scales. I think that was 2007 or 2008, Humanity, but I still work with those sessions while I’m on tour or in the studio. I really like Eric Vetro, the vocal coach, and here and then I’m in touch with him, I hope to see him we come to Los Angeles on this tour. He’s a great guy and I learned a lot of new things. I think that keeps my voice up there, that’s part of it. Other than that, I try not to trash my voice as hard as I did back in the 80s. I just try to be on top of the game for a long tour and deliver hopefully every night. I just try to stay out of trouble and give my voice a good night’s rest. I regret to play too many shows in a row these days, which I guess when I take a look at tour schedules from bands of the same age like us, like Steven Tyler.
For example, when we watched The Rolling Stones last year, when they played in Berlin last year, I watched the show with Steven Tyler. I said to Steven, “look at Mick Jagger, he’s 70 years old, it’s amazing what he’s doing.” And Steven went, “I’m 66, man.” And I go, “Yes, and me too.” (laughs) So yeah, we’re getting old in numbers, but it looks like we’re young at heart. We do what we do and it’s important to deliver, especially for a singer. It’s only fun to be out there and play to a sold-out arena when your voice is there, when your instrument is there, and you really enjoy the show.
I’ll tell you to play in front of three generations these days, it’s either our music became timeless, we’re also reaching a younger generation with our music and that’s fantastic and it’s very inspiring. I think it’s a privilege that we can still play this global stage. The last couple of years, there was a whole new audience joining the party. They’re young kids in front of the stage, but these songs were written before they were even born. (laughs) When you take a look at our Facebook site, you see over six million fans from all around the world, and a lot of those fans, the average age is between 16 and 34 or 35 or something. That’s quite something and it’s very inspiring and motivating and you want to give every night a great show and deliver what they expect to see from one of those bands that have been around for quite a while.
You sing almost all of your songs in English, do most of your stage banter and interviews in English. What percentage of the day are you speaking in German versus English?
K: Say that again, please, you see, my English isn’t very good (laughs).
No, your English is great, Klaus. [I then re-worded my question]
K: I speak German most of the time, most of the day. The minute we hit the road, the minute we’re out there…Our drummer is from Los Angeles, our bassist is from Krakow in Poland, our tour manager is from Scotland, our second tour manager is from Poland, it’s a very international kind of thing. Our crew from different countries, Germany, U.K., a lot of places…and so the minute I leave the house and I’m on the road with the band, most of it is in English because it’s so international. But when I’m at home, in my normal daily life, except if I’m doing interviews with America, it’s all German. That’s my mother language and I guess you can hear it in my accent, even after all these years…But being on the road, I feel very comfortable with the language, even though sometimes I feel it could be better.
Most people know The Scorpions for the hit songs and the names of the band members. Is there something that you wish more people knew about you and The Scorpions in general?
K: I think it’s a good thing when you can have a life and live your life out of your professional life with your family. I go to, this weekend actually, to support my local soccer team, Hannover 96, I will be in the stadium and we will cheer them on. And hopefully they will win, let’s hope. This is my private life, I hang out with my friends, we go for dinner and stuff, and I’m glad that it pretty much stays private. I have to do some selfies everywhere, sign some autographs, this and that, but it’s all cool. Most of the time people leave you alone when they see you’re with your family and you’re just enjoying your leisure time. I’m pretty comfortable with that, I feel good about it. Being this “rock star” out there, that’s one thing, but I don’t need to be a rock star 24 hours a day. It’s good to have a private life where I just can hang with my friends and do what I do. This weekend, like many times when I’m here, unfortunately this year there have not been so many chances coming to follow the Bundesliga [soccer league], what’s it called, my soccer team in Hannover, I won’t be there for most of the time and I won’t be there for the 25th anniversary of the reunification of Germany, which is October 3rd, because we will be in L.A. rocking The Forum. Yes! (laughs)
Finally, Klaus, any last words for the kids?
K: I’d like to say thank you for all of the support in all those years. America is the country where rock is still alive, America’s always been a huge inspiration back in the day for young bands to hit the big time, to live the rock and roll dream. After all these years, we’re still excited to come to the United States and play for our fans, bring this new show to our fans. Hopefully check out our new album, Return To Forever, but more than anything, I’d like to say thank you for the love and support for so many years.
-by Darren Paltrowitz