Thursday, June 7, 2012

Scorpions' Matthias Jabs: When the Smoke is Going Down

The Scorpions are set to embark on the final leg of their last U.S. tour.
Most Scorpions fans would agree, "Blackout" is the band's take-to-a-deserted-island album.

The 1982 release not only truly broke the band in America, but it is pretty much a melodic hard rock masterpiece from start to finish. While "No One Like You" -- and its breakout solo by guitarist Matthias Jabs -- was the defining hit, the album was littered with songs that could have been successful singles. I often wonder how "Can't Live Without You," "You Give Me All I Need" and "Arizona" would have fared on the charts, if only they'd been released.

Despite all the album's air-guitar anthems, however, it is the haunting closing number, "When the Smoke is Going Down," that inevitably stays with me long after the song has ended. I've always been intrigued by the imagery wafting through the seemingly perfect combination of lyrics and music as the song examines the post-show viewpoint from the band perspective.

"Just when you make your way back home
I find some time to be alone
I go to see the place once more
Just like a thousand nights before
I climb the stage again this night
'Cause the place seems still alive
When the smoke is going down."

I've been to enough backstage affairs over the years to know the routine -- with all the aftershow hoopla, greeting of fans and inevitable walk to the buses that will take the band to a new city, where the process will all be repeated again -- and this perspective rings true to me. I get lost in the song, and can totally see band members returning to a mostly empty stage for a moment of quiet solitude, reflecting on the power of the shared experience with fans an hour or two earlier and their different paths of the present. All, quite literally, as the smoke is going down.

"This is the place where I belong
I really love to turn you on
I've got your sound still in my ear
While your traces disappear
I climb the stage again this night
'Cause the place seems still alive
When the smoke is going down."

 It's hard not to see parallels between this song and the current state of the Scorpions, who are beginning the final leg of their final U.S. tour on Friday. (The tour's third stop is Monday at USANA Amphitheatre near Salt Lake City.) With their announced intentions to retire from touring, most likely at the end of this year,  the smoke is metaphorically beginning to swirl around the band's 37-year career.

But with so many memories and so much great music that always will remain only an album, cassette, CD, iPod or YouTube clip away, perhaps the smoke will never completely settle over Scorpions nation -- a place which will always seem still alive.

Here's my latest interview with Jabs, which occurred on May 22, where he called from his home in Germany during a short break from the band's grueling three-year ultimate tour. We only had 10-15 minutes to chat, so there were many topics left uncrossed on my preferred-questions list. But we did have time to discuss an array of subjects, including where the band is at mentally at this stage of the final tour, some of his favorite openings to Scorpions shows over the years, one more studio project that should be intriguing to fans and why he has been so underrated and never received his due in the annals of all-time great lead guitar players.

Oh, and we also touched on "When the Smoke is Going Down" and why he can't resign himself to the tendril mercies of that metaphorical mindset just quite yet.

DOUG FOX: I've got to say, it is such a pleasure to talk with you again.

MATTHIAS JABS: Have we talked before?

DF: We did, we talked two years ago when you came to Salt Lake City.


DF: Yeah, we had a great interview. It's been one of my favorite ones.

JABS: Oh, good.

DF: When we talked last, two years ago, you were just at the beginning of this
final victory tour around the world behind "A Sting in the Tail" and this
grand retirement idea that you'd adopted was still kind of fresh and new, I
imagine it still seemed like quite a long ways away to think about it. But
now that you're entering the homestretch and just about to embark on your
last U.S. tour, how is everything standing? How are you holding up, and what
are your thoughts.
Klaus Meine, left, and Matthias Jabs making it real in 2010. (Doug Fox)
JABS: Yeah, first of all, it's amazing how time flies. Two years ago and more 
when we started this final tour, this farewell tour, and you know, two years ago
I didn't expect that we would return to the U.S. one more time. It felt like
the last time. But thanks to the demand all around the world, we are playing
certain cities one more time. And that feels great. And we have had a lot of fun
on this final tour. In the beginning, you know, it started out like maybe
I'd expect it -- very mixed emotions, half sad, half OK, not knowing what to
think. But meanwhile I can tell you we've really enjoyed this tour. The fans
are fantastic and the thought is much clearer now. We know that this is
going to be the end, and we're really enjoying the final tour so much that
it's all been worth it. And now I can imagine much better that, you know, 
things will come to an end.
DF: Right. Now when we talked before we talked about the song "When the 
Smoke is Going Down," a fantastic song, and how, you know, maybe the smoke 
wasn't quite going down on you guys yet, it was maybe floating around 
and hovering ... but now that you're in that final stretch, can you get yourself 
to that place where the smoke is going down, so to speak?
JABS: Yeah, I know what you mean, but you know the difficulty is, when you're
still on the road, the next show is the most important one for our fans.
Like tomorrow, we are flying to Morocco for our very first time -- and last
time -- in Morocco. And to those people, it's the first time they'll ever see
the Scorpions, you know? We cannot, like, tour, generally speaking, with a
feeling, "Oh, the sun is going to set," like we're slowing down or
something. We have to keep it up 100 percent until the very last show and
then we can go, "Oh, OK, last night was the show and that's it now." It's
difficult mentally to think that you are on your final tour while you still
are preparing for every show like you've always done it. I don't know if
that makes any sense, but you have to sort of forget it, forget that you are
on the final tour in order to be in 100 percent shape for the upcoming shows in
order to enjoy them. You don't want to, like, be sentimental. You want to
have fun and have power. And therefore it's like in conflict to a certain
extent and it's better to decide mentally to go, "OK, surprise me. Tell me
when the last show is done." Mentally I can't do that every night to prepare
myself for, you know, this could be the last time in Salt Lake City, or the
last time in lovely whatever. It's like afterward is better than before.
DF: Well, I can totally understand that feeling because I think us fans are
experiencing that feeling with this tour because I know when you came to
Salt Lake City on this tour last time, I prepared myself that that was going
to be the last show that I would be able to see you guys. But then to see
that you're coming back, I was just like, "Oh, this is unbelievably great!"
I must say that you guys are really going out on a high note because I've
seen you since way back -- the first time I saw you was on the "Blackout"
tour -- and your show this last time had such energy and was so well-prepared
and everything, as a fan, I could say, "You know, I appreciate what they've
done and this was such a great show that I can accept that it's the last
one." But now, you've got to live up to that again!
JABS: Yeah, indeed. Yeah, I understand. You're right, even for the fans it might
be the same twist, so to speak. But I'm glad that we have another chance to
come around because everybody likes to play and perform. We are enjoying it
so much and we are in great shape. Most people say, you know, "Unbelievable,
you guys should continue." But I think our decision is the right one because
now we are in such great shape. Klaus [Meine, vocalist] turns next Friday, like in 
three days from now, he turns 64, and we will continue definitely until the very 
end of this year. If we do anything next year, we don't know yet, I don't think so.
I think the touring will probably end this year. And even though we might
finish a studio project, we don't stop making music, but the typical go on
the road and never stop touring, that will come to an end. And, I think, to
leave the last impression, like what you just said, the show was great, the
band is in good form and you leave the last impression, and the people go, "OK,
they were a great band, good career and everything." And that is the idea
behind staying like this long time on tour.
DF: So you may still do other studio projects?
JABS: We have one. You know we released "Comeblack," I don't know if you 
know about this ...
DF: I do. I have that, yes.
JABS: Good. The funny thing was when we announced "A Sting in the Tail" as
the last studio album and the last tour, the record company offered us a
contract for two new studio albums.
DF: Oh, OK.
JABS: OK, this makes one of them. We also have unreleased stuff, from, 
especially, the early '80s. It was a very creative time for us, you know, starting 
with "Blackout" and "Love at First Sting," and lots of songs which didn't make it
to the albums back then are still great, they're just unfinished. We already
started earlier this year, when we had, like, a certain break from touring. We started 
to listen to everything seeing what's good, what's not good, what's worth updating 
and improving. So this is something we're going to take a serious look at early next 
year in January or February, and I think it's a good thing and the fans will enjoy it. 
It's the sound and the musical ideas from the time when we really got very popular. 
People say the early '80s were our strongest time, anyways. It's a final album for 
the fans with a big thank you for all the support and love all these many years. 
And it's something that could be great.
DF: Yeah, I think that could be fantastic. Hey, I also wanted to ask you about
something that's always fascinated me, it's that special moment at the
beginning of the show, you know, when the house lights go out and everything
is dark, and there's a surge of excitement that goes through the crowd. I'm
talking about those moments right after the lights go out, but before the
band starts playing. I know what that moment is like as a member of the
audience, but I was wondering what is that moment like for you personally?
JABS: Oh, that is the moment when you definitely know, and the adrenaline flows
and you're just about ready to go on stage, or run up the stairs, because
you're always, like, waiting behind the stage. Then the intro starts, then
that's the moment where you have, like, full concentration. I usually warm
up half an hour before we go on stage, so the fingers are well warmed up.
That's the moment when we hear a click, like a starting click, so that we
all know when to come out of the dark. It's very dark up to the stage.
That's the moment -- and from then on, you forget everything that's
happened before the show. Then for the two hours, I'm within the music and
with the audience. It's a great place to be, on stage, I'm telling you,
because we have so many people around us who keep talking to our ears, you
know, all day. But on stage, there's nobody who can talk to us. And we are
way too loud, we couldn't even hear what they are saying. So that's kind of
cool. It's like you live in your own world.
DF: That's what's fun talking to you about that because those of us in the audience, 
we have an idea of what that must be like to be up on stage, but we can never really 
know. That's why I like asking about it. One thing I've thought the Scorpions have 
always done really well is capitalize on that momentum at the beginning of the
show. Over the years, you've had great concert openings. You know, I can think 
back to the "Blackout" and "Love at First Sting" tours where you come running out 
from under the drumset, and you did that different version of "Coming Home" on
the "Face the Heat" tour with Klaus out there sitting on a stool before you
guys came running out ...
JABS: Yeah.
DF: And I thought you did a fantastic job, like I mentioned a few minutes ago,
with the "Sting in the Tail" opening. How much time do you spend coming up
with those ideas, and do you have a favorite one of the tour openings that
you've done?
JABS: I always remember that "Blackout" opening, and it seemed so great with 
the drum riser going up and the Venetian blinds flipping over and the lights
from behind and the smoke.
DF: Exactly!
JABS: And actually we all liked that so much that we integrated it again into this
show again.
DF: Yeah, at "Blackout" again, right?
JABS: Yeah, after the drum solo, it's the same visual like [from] the "Blackout"
days. We talk about it all the time, about the new ideas. But to actually do
them, we don't take that long. We have good production people. And we have a
production meeting, say, like two months before the tour, and then
everything gets prepared, and then we usually have very little rehearsals.
The production rehearsals might take, depending on how big the shows, maybe a
week. But I know that some bands are rehearsing and practicing their music
for a show for like four weeks. We've never done this. We do maybe a day.
But it's mostly the technical side that needs to be rehearsed. Or if we do
pyro, which we don't use all the time. Sometimes we do, but the Scorpions,
we're never really like the pyro band like Motley Crue or other bands that
have explosions all night long. The Scorpions don't like it so much, it's
deafening. We don't rehearse that much, but I like that, it's like
spontaneity and the freshness at the beginning of the tour. If you don't
over-rehearse things, then it's more vital, I think.
DF: I agree. I've got to say that when it comes to great lead guitar players I
think you've been criminally underrated all these years. I mean, I never see
your name on the lists of guitar greats that they come out with, and I think
that's kind of a travesty. Does that bother you at all, not getting the
recognition in that fashion?
JABS: Actually, years and years and years ago, yes it bothered me a little bit.
Never too much because I know what I can do. Sometimes, yeah, I wonder why? 
Is it because we are a German band and we are far away from the [United] States 
most of the time? I don't know what the reasons are. I'm quite happy the way I
am (laughs], therefore I can do without that. But you know, I've never
figured out why it is. I don't know. You tell me. [laughs]
DF: Well, you know, I was thinking about it this morning as I was listening to
tapes driving in, getting in the mood for the interview, and it occurred to
me, I wonder if it's because you're in a two-guitar band? A lot of the top
guitarists that are considered and get the notoriety, a lot of them are
from one-guitar bands. And, to me, that shouldn't make a difference, but I wonder
if it does.
JABS: The attention is divided, even though I'm very clearly the Scorpions' lead
guitar player. Yeah, maybe it's because of that or because maybe, I don't
know, the Scorpions were changing guitar players. But then again, that can't
be a reason because one guitar player was there for a year and a half,
another, Uli [Roth], for five years, and I'm in the band for 34 years. The career 
basically started when I joined.
DF: I agree, I totally agree. My friends and I have talked about that, too, that
are Scorpions fans. You're up there in our top five or 10 guitarists of all
time, and yet we can't even find you on a Rolling Stone list of the top 100. I think 
that's insanity.
JABS: I don't know, maybe it's bad management, too. You know, the other guys 
have, like, a better publicist! [laughs]
DF: I suppose having 10,000 people a night going crazy over your work helps you
forget about all that?
JABS: Oh, absolutely! Yeah, I don't think about it every day.
DF: Hey, I just wanted to say, because I'm not sure when they're going to cut
this interview off ...
MODERATOR CUTS IN: Actually, I'm sorry to interrupt, but I'm going to 
have to ask you to wrap it up.
DF: OK. I just wanted to say that probably one of the most favorite parts of the job 
that I have is getting the opportunity to tell people whose music has had such a
big impact on my life, just to have that opportunity to tell them thank you.
So when I tell you that you're criminally underrated, I really mean that.
Your music and the way you play and the way you approach the instrument and
the concerts and everything -- it's really been like a real charge of energy
and excitement listening to your music for the past 30 years, so I just
wanted to take this chance to tell you thank you.
JABS: Yes, thank you. That's very nice.
DF: Matthias, thank you so much. It has been a pleasure again.
JABS: Yes, thank you.
DF: I'll see you in Salt Lake.
JABS: See you in Salt Lake!
Related content: To read the news story based from this interview, click HERE. To read my 2010 interview with Matthias, click HERE. To read my backstage report from the Scorpions' 2010 concert at USANA Amphitheatre, click HERE.

Like The Editing Room Floor on Facebook: CLICK HERE.

No comments:

Post a Comment