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Kerby's Exclusive Interview With Scorpions Guitarist Matthias Jabs

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Saturday, February 12, 2005 @ 2:08 AM

The Axeman Stingeth! Kerby's E

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There are but a few select bands still touring and making music today who can qualify as undisputed metal legends—the Scorpions are obviously one of those groups.

As any discerning hard rock fan knows, the heart of the classic Scorpions sound consists equally of Klaus Meine’s inimitable voice combined with the charismatic, technically sound dual guitar attack of Matthias Jabs and Rudolf Schenker. An early version of this band first appeared in 1965 and various incarnations of the group have been rocking the world like sonic hurricanes ever since. As is true with their German brethren Accept, cover bands tend to find it nearly impossible to recreate the classic Scorpion sound due to both the singular instrumentation and the distinctive voice of Klaus. Lyrics from the band are always delivered powerfully whether the words come within the context of a ferocious rocker like “Big City Nights” or a ballad such as “Still Loving You.” In addition, the music that envelopes Klaus’ voice is consistently imaginative, energetic and seemingly designed to drive the listener into a frenzy of lust, love and all that typically results from the typical male-female dynamic. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to suggest that there may have never been a band in metal history that has proved as proficient at energizing the crowd while at the same time possessing the ability to sensitively articulate feeling without sounding in any way like band of rocking, spandex-clad pussies. Basically, the Scorps have managed to garner the respect and affection of both male and female rock fans all over the world. Not only that, the group has also cultivated the type of career that hardly ever inspires negativity among the legions—that alone should qualify them as living legends.

Matthias Jabs in particular has lived the type of life that most musicians picking up a guitar for the first time only dream of experiencing. The famous blonde axeman who now sports some… uh, interesting hats almost exclusively these days--can seemingly always be found playing to crowds and doing it with that same emphatic smile famously depicted on the cover of the quintessential album World Wide Live. The Scorpions recent record, Unbreakable, is a mix of all the elements that first made this band great to begin with and actually contains some of the best work the group has done in the last fifteen years. The only problem the band has experienced promoting it concerns the dilemma of how to publicize a record when regular radio won’t play it because the band is deemed as being “too old,” and classic rock stations won’t touch it because it’s too new. Granted, it is a malady many in this situation have had to deal with, yet that realization doesn’t make the problem any easier to rectify when the objective is selling records. As Matthias sat down for this interview, the person before me was simply a vaunted veteran of the game—a person obviously used to finding the positive in any given situation and committed to continuing his quest and creating the type of satisfying metal music that keeps both him as well as those around him rocking and satisfied.

KNAC.COM: Whenever the Scorpions sit down to write, does it ever occur to you that you can never go wrong with topics such as love, heartbreak, lust—all the universal themes that deal with relationships?
MATTHIAS: I don’t know—I’ve never done a study, but I would say that over half of all modern rock songs written and their lyrics have to do with love. It is amazing all the different variations people have come up with over the last couple of decades. All of the different love songs people have come up with that basically deal with the same topics are amazing. It just seems to be the thing most people are interested in hearing about. We have some songs that discuss social or political issues or other times road stories, but with that, there are only so many possibilities. We are aware of it though, and at times we try to stay away from it—otherwise every song would probably be a love song. So yes, sometimes we are conscious of that. Everyone can relate to them though, so in that sense, they are always new.

KNAC.COM: Is it always a new concept to you because of the nature of your occupation where you are always meeting new people… females?
MATTHIAS: Yeah, everything revolves around the relationship between man and woman. Everyone from say the President of the U.S. all the way to the leaders of other countries down to regular men can all relate to issues at home--therefore, it’s not a bad thing. There are just so many possibilities.

KNAC.COM: True, and looking back is there any way you could possibly encapsulate the wide range of experiences you have gone through? I mean, you have to figure that you may have experienced a little more in life than say an insurance salesman in Toledo. Do you ever sit there and go… “Man, I really have done quite a lot”?
MATTHIAS: We don’t really think like that at all. Really, we don’t even think about it. The other day, we saw a sixty-minute documentary about us that someone had done six or seven years ago about our history up to that point. Now, watching that did sort of make me realize just how amazing much of this has been. That isn’t to say that we run around every day with that thought in our minds, but we have achieved quite a few things. I do need to be reminded sometimes of it sometimes though. [Laughs] That being the case, I mean, no one is running around thinking, “I’m a rock star!” Some people probably do that though.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, but it doesn’t seem like it is the really big ones the majority of the time who are guilty of doing that. It seems like mostly it is the mid-level guys or the new stars on the scene that have the attitude issues. Opening bands will say the same types of things too. “The Scorps treated us great and so did Black Sabbath, but… these other guys were just horrible.”
MATTHIAS: Exactly. We noticed the same thing. I mean, the thing to realize is that for someone to hang around in this business for ten years… it’s a long time. It is just that much harder to go on if you’re a narrow-minded asshole. We are going on thirty years here, and this business is about just so much more than making music. It is also about keeping the band together and keeping that chemistry. You also have to have a common vision of what is important and what isn’t important. It is important to not get aggravated by the little things that may come into your way. You just have to keep a proper vision and be thoughtful and determined.

KNAC.COM: Did you know early on that you guys had a similar, workable vision? Did that realization come years later?
MATTHIAS: I think we started out having the same determination and vision without really talking about what it was. We just all had this drive--especially as a band coming out of Germany. There was no real music industry when we started out and no real management or anything. We just had to do so much on our own like go abroad or go into neighboring countries like Holland, Belgium, Denmark and England. It was already a huge step for us at the time just playing in England. Since 1979, we have also been in the United States as well. We have also been around the rest of the world such as Japan and South America. You can only do this by having a certain motivation and drive. Over the years we realized this, but at first, it was just this energy we all shared. You just want to be successful at that point. You just want to be doing something. We are all on the same level.

KNAC.COM: Did you always want to be a lifer in this business as well or did you generally just keep your eye on what was in front of you at the time? I mean, is this what you want to do until the bitter end?
MATTHIAS: Yes. When we started out, nobody was thinking about how long it was going to last. It seems like for the last fifteen years though we’ve been asked about how much longer we want to continue. This was like in the middle of the eighties! [Laughs] That was twenty years ago--meanwhile, we realized that we have turned our hobbies into our profession, and that is very nice. It would be great if everyone could do that, but unfortunately that isn’t possible. As some other point, it even goes beyond your profession and becomes your life philosophy. We are musicians. We love to be musicians. We love music in many shapes and forms. Of course the other question would concern what we would do if we would stop at some point. I just imagine that if we would call it a day at some point like 2008 or whatever that after a couple of months, one of us would call another one and get something together. It’s just the biggest part of our life. If you look at the great blues and jazz musicians, many of them are playing until they are eighty-five or whatever. Rock and roll is relatively young.

KNAC.COM: There isn’t much of a precedence is there?
MATTHIAS: Exactly. We celebrated in April with a big television show in Germany, and there was an all-star band made up of members of Elvis’ band as well as Bill Haley’s. If you start the period of rock with the release of “Rock Around The Clock”--that was 1954. Everyone was saying that now we are celebrating fifty years of rock and roll, but the thing is that fifty years isn’t that much. That is true especially when you compare it to blues, jazz or even classical. You never know—it could go on. During the time of the Frank Zappas and Mick Jaggars, the saying was “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Now, those people are turning sixty, and many still perform.

KNAC.COM: Doesn’t that contribute to why the Scorpions have been so successful though? I mean, you guys aren’t itching to do anything else, and you don’t want to be told when the ride should end.
MATTHIAS: Exactly. The only way we would stop is if there was no more demand. That would definitely be a sign that it was enough. That being said, we have had the luxury of performing and hitting all markets in the world. We just did six weeks in Asia, a large show in Malaysia and even New Caledonia for the first time. We can just go on and on. Some bands are very dependant on a certain market.

KNAC.COM: There just aren’t that many bands anymore who have that type of appeal. I’m sure though with being exposed to the many different countries and regions that you have to have decided that you enjoy playing in some places more than others.
MATTHIAS: Yes, but considering that people come from a different culture whether it is South Korea or Albuquerque or even Mexico, they seem to react to our music in just about the same way. The reactions to certain songs may be a bit different though. Some songs that are big here may not be as big someplace else. Asians tend to prefer the softer ballads and the Europeans do as well. America tends to respond more to say, “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” Basically though, the reactions are the same. That’s quite amazing.

KNAC.COM: Is it that much more gratifying for you as a band to tour behind a solid record like Unbreakable rather than just touring and allowing yourself to become a nostalgia act? Have you found that it has been easy to play those new songs without having the audience go into a type of lull?
MATTHIAS: Exactly, but the reaction over here has been a bit slower because not too many people knew that we had a new album. In Europe though, we played eight new songs from Unbreakable. The just seem to fit right in with the new classics. Eight songs is a lot, but then we play longer over there as well. We cut it down to five here. Of course we all suffer from the fact that classic rock plays only our older stuff, and in Europe, they won’t play us because we’re an older band. It’s a catch 22. Our record company is terrible. [Laughs]

KNAC.COM: It does seem like there is a market though. The big question seems to concern how to expose the potential audience to the new releases.
MATTHIAS: Yeah, and how do you do that when the radio won’t play you?

KNAC.COM: Of course, MTV isn’t going to play it.
MATTHIAS: They won’t even play the Rolling Stones. Concert DVDs are a new possibility, but the outlets just aren’t what they used to be.

KNAC.COM: Did you enjoy making videos back in the day?
MATTHIAS: Yes, and we did lots of them in the eighties.

KNAC.COM: What was fun or cool about it? Did you just like being in front of the camera?
MATTHIAS: Actually, it was hard work. Generally, what the audience would get to see was us playing, performing or doing what we do, but really, this was all happening at like five in the morning. Usually we were just getting in some time over night and then it was this hurry up and wait and put on more make up. Then, it was like “let’s do it again and again and again” at five in the morning. Most of the time though was spent waiting on people to get the lights or the sound right, and while that is going on, you are just sitting there getting tired.

KNAC.COM: Of course you’d never know that by looking at it.
MATTHIAS: Well, we are in the illusion business anyway—not as much as the actors are. I shouldn’t say this, but no one wants to know that this is actually hard work. [Laughs] As far as most people think, we have fun for two hours on stage at night, and that is all that we do. We might as well keep it that way!

KNAC.COM: That is funny because there seems to be this whole myth that someone could pick up a guitar and through some kind of luck end up with a career. Although for some one hit wonders it is true, but generally your musicians with longevity are hard working and intelligent.
MATTHIAS: I think so! [Laughs]

KNAC.COM: Of course you would qualify, right?
MATTHIAS: Yeah, well when I first began playing guitar, it wasn’t for the money or cars or anything like that. You find that more with the American Idol type of thing, which might be good, I guess, if you discover talented people who might not be found otherwise. On the other hand, it is just sad that a band in a garage in a city somewhere has almost no chance these days.

KNAC.COM: How easy is it for people to confuse good music with what is monetarily successful?
MATTHIAS: The industry is all about making money now, and it really is a “music business.” To a degree, it has always been that way, but in the past it was more about music. Back then, many of the people in the business had been musicians themselves, but now they come from more of a corporate place and seem more interested in numbers than anything else.

KNAC.COM: How difficult is it to find yourself in a discussion with a 30-year old whose previous experience consisted of a management trainee program at Sears trying to tell you about music?
MATTHIAS: It is a problem. We run into record company reps all over the world who aren’t even as old as we are. As a band, we just try to stay true to our vision and create the music that sounds good and true to us.

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