Guitarist Matthias Jabs Talks Scorpions MTV Unplugged
Since forming in Germany in 1965 the Scorpions have become one of the most successful international hard rock bands of all time; selling upwards of 75 million records worldwide while playing more than 5,000 concerts in over 80 countries.
Known for colossal hits that include “Rock You Like A Hurricane,” “No One Like You” and “Wind of Change”, the band was ranked #46 on VH1’s “Greatest Artists Of Hard Rock” special, while “Rock You Like A Hurricane” came in at #18 on the channel’s list of “Greatest Hard Rock Songs”.
In 2010 the band announced a final studio album, “Sting In The Tail” that would coincide with an epic Farewell World Tour. It’s a tour that to the delight of fans has been going on for more than three years. Late in 2012, just as the band was finishing up their final show of the year, they were approached about doing an intimate, all acoustic project they had never done before. The result: Scorpions MTV Unplugged.
Taken from two dynamic acoustic performances from the Lycabettus Theatre in Athens, Greece, this deluxe CD + DVD package and Blu-Ray features new acoustic versions of the band’s best-loved classics as well as five brand new songs.
The Scorpions is Klaus Meine (vocals/guitar), Rudolf Schenker (guitars/vocals), Matthias Jabs (guitars), Pawel Maciwoda (bass) and James Kottak (drums). Additional musical support on MTV Unplugged includes contributions from Swedish musicians and producers Mikael Nord Andersson (guitars, mandolin, lap steel, vocals) and Martin Hansen (guitars, harmonica, vocals). The duo is also responsible for the arrangements on MTV Umplugged.
I spoke with Matthias Jabs about MTV Unplugged and got an update on the band’s current activities. We also discussed the 30th anniversary of the band’s monumental album, “Love At First Sting”.
What made the band decide to undertake an unplugged project?
It was something that we had never done before and something that we had missed out on in the 80’s because we were so busy. Now that we had the time, we went to Stockholm and worked with Swedish producers. They’re also great musicians and ended up being on stage with us.
How was it arranging the songs into an acoustic format?
In some ways it was easy, but for some of the songs that everybody knows it presented a much greater challenge. We also chose some songs that we had never performed live before. We really wanted to make it special for the fans with the acoustic guitars and classical orchestra. The end result is quite good. It’s interesting and different, especially with all of the guest musicians.
Did you find it more challenging performing songs this way?
Playing in an acoustic setting is very unforgiving and the arrangements were done in such a way that you couldn’t just pick up one guitar and play the entire set. There were many different tunings and capos that we used. And the deeper we got into the project, the more instruments and tunings would come out. We ended up adding piano, mandolin, accordion and even a harp. We also had close to 56 acoustic guitars on stage with us!
Why did you choose this particular venue?
MTV originally wanted to release the album in the late fall before Christmas. Summer is always vacation time in Europe so to be outside in September, we decided to go to Greece. They have the best climate and great audiences. The temperature was so perfect you didn’t even have to think about it. The amphitheater actually sits on top of the highest mountain in Athens. From the top, you can look down at the city and see the millions of lights below. it’s almost like looking down into Los Angeles from the Hollywood Hills. It’s a stunning view.
Is the band planning any U.S. tour dates this year?
Yes, we’re working on playing some U.S. shows maybe in late summer.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of “Love At First Sting”. When you think about that album, what comes to mind?
We knew we had something special. Even though “Blackout” was very successful and our first major success as a headliner in the U.S., “Love At First Sting” topped it. Songs like “Rock You Like A Hurricane” and “Still Loving You”, which became a big hit in Europe. “Big City Nights” was another song that was played on the radio a lot. There are so many good songs on the album that made it so strong. I remember it was a bit hectic recording and we almost missed the deadline, but once we heard the first mixes we had a very good feeling about it.
How did Rudolf come up with the riff for “Rock You Like A Hurricane”?
Rudolf and I were actually talking about it before hand. I had told him to try to find riffs that used pauses and accents. Not ones that just play continuously through all the time. So we talked about it, and that’s when he came up with that riff. At the time, I remember being more concerned about writing the lead guitar intro for it, which was something I had already done for “No One Like You”.
What was the process like for building the intro?
The rule was find a riff, then put a melody on top and then play it in harmony. I still remember the first time I played it for the producers and band when we were in the studio. I played the first line and then the harmony part and everyone went, “OH, YES! HERE COMES THE SUN!” [laughs]. We knew we had something great. I felt the exact same way with “No One Like You”. It instantly sounds like a hit, even when you hear it for the very first time.
In the 80’s, new bands like Def Leppard, Iron Maiden and Bon Jovi supported Scorpions before making a name for themselves. What was your criteria for choosing them?
Good songs are what made the difference. All of the bands you mentioned that supported us, starting with Def Leppard in 1980, Iron Maiden in ’82 and Bon Jovi in ’84 all became huge, but we chose them because we liked their song material and attitudes. That’s what was the deciding point.
What can you tell us about the band’s new album of unreleased 80’s material?
While we were digging into the archives we found a lot of unfinished songs that we didn’t use for various reasons. Mostly material from the Blackout and Love at First Sting era, which was our most creative time. We now have 12 basic tracks down that we’ll finish recording sometime this summer and maybe even include a few new songs as well. The ideas are from then, but the album’s from now. We’re hoping to release it next year.
What are some of the biggest highlights of your career?
The US Festival in 1983 was amazing because it was so unexpected. All of a sudden, we were coming out of the studio to play in front of 300,000 people. Then there was Rock in Rio in ’85, the Moscow Music Peace Festival, Monsters of Rock in ’89 with Van-Halen and Metallica. There are so many highlights, it’s hard to find a dull moment. But I think the biggest highlight is that we’re all still together and are still friends after creating this great career. We’re still having fun making music both in the studio and playing live. That’s the real highlight.
In retrospect, do you think that “Sting In The Tail” and The Farewell Tour might have been a bit premature?
The original idea was that this was going to be the last studio recording. For the last 35 years we’ve been recording an album, going on the road for 2 1/2 years, coming back home, recording an album…. It’s become routine, but we never wanted to stop making music. We just wanted to scale it down a bit. We also said that we’d be open for special projects, like MTV Unplugged and digging down for older, unreleased material. Those are things we don’t do everyday. The fans love it, and that’s reason enough to do it.
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