by Christophe Pauly
– Photojournalist –
Interview with Uli Jon Roth @ Spirit of 66, Verviers, Belgium on may 27th 2013
Hardrock Haven’s Christophe Pauly talks with Uli Jon Roth prior to his live performance at the Spirit of 66 venue in Belgium. Roth talks about the Scorpions, the digital age, his Sky Academy and more …
Hardrock Haven: So this tour is to celebrate your arrival in the Scorpions 40 years ago. What’s your best moment from this era?
Uli Jon Roth: I don’t have a best. But it was a very nice time. I was in the band for 5 years and really enjoyed that time.(Particularly the first 4 years) And then I felt a little bit tired and I wanted to do something else.
Hardrock Haven: So you decided to quit the band …
Uli Jon Roth: Yeah.
Hardrock Haven: After that you began a solo career did you have some doubts then?
Uli Jon Roth: No! I didn’t think in terms like that. I did what I really wanted and it was a normal decision for me. To me, it was inevitable, it was an artistic decision.
Hardrock Haven: I saw you like Classical music a lot (like Yngwie Malmsteen).
Uli Jon Roth: Yeah, but we come from different perspectives. He likes more the Baroque music. I like it too, but I prefer the Romantic music.
Hardrock Haven: When did you begin to listen to Classical? Was it Rock or Classical music at first?
Uli Jon Roth: The first thing was the Beatles. Then I started with the Blues and the electric guitar. And a little bit later, I started to get into Classical music. All of this took place during my teenager years.
Hardrock Haven: When did you start to learn the guitar?
Uli Jon Roth: When I was 13 (1968).
Hardrock Haven: So Why did you learn the music?
Uli Jon Roth: Because it was my destiny. I was born for this. And something told me “you have to do this!” So that was easy, because that was what my feelings told me to do. I haven’t any question mark.
Hardrock Haven: You decided to create the Sky guitar several years ago with a luthier. And I saw your fret-board has some scalloped frets (like Yngwie Malmsteen).
Uli Jon Roth: Yeah, but Yngwie wasn’t the first to use it. He took this from Ritchie Blackmore (who took it from the classic luthiers). And I tried it and really enjoyed the sound. There’s a little bit sustain. Even if the playing is more difficult, I really enjoy to play with a scalloped guitar.
Hardrock Haven: How do you chose the musicians you play with?
Uli Jon Roth: I do it in several ways. It depends on what I’m doing. If I want to do a tour in America or in Europe or in England. It also depends on what kind of music I’m playing. If I do a classical show, I’ll ask to different musicians. If I play Rock, some musicians are better for that and some for other things. So I have a big list of people I played with before. Sometimes, I’ll ask the same ones, and sometimes different ones. It also depends on their availability. For the live shows, they had to have a certain talent to improvise as I’m changing things a lot. They have to be very quick and very dedicated. And finally, I like to have people who have a good personality. I don’t like to have any idiot or aggressive people in my band. Everybody needs to be gentle and polite. Just like music! I like music to be like that.
Hardrock Haven: Do you have any guest for this time?
Uli Jon Roth: No, not on this tour. That’s something we do sometimes but not on this tour.
Hardrock Haven: Are you going to play only Scorpion’s songs?
Uli Jon Roth: I’ll play mainly Scorpion’s from the first 5 albums. I always play a little bit of Hendrix at the end and sometimes some Electric Sun’s songs. But this tour is specifically dedicated to the 5 albums I was part of. So, I’ve picked my favorites (and there’s quite a few like 3 and a half hour program) Most of the time, we’ll play 2 and a half hours. There are some songs we’ll play every night (like “Sails of Charon,” “In Trance” …) But for the others, we’ll change the set every evening. And that way, every show is different and I enjoy that. I don’t like to get bored. If I would have to play the same things every night, it wouldn’t be good to me and I would begin to play less good.
Hardrock Haven: I saw a documentary with you and Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins). What do you think about the evolution of Rock music? (The new talents, … ?).
Uli Jon Roth: I haven’t really followed it because many years ago, I started to do my own thing and I never looked at other rock band to get my inspiration (it doesn’t give me much inspiration). I sometimes hear a good band, but I would never go and buy an album. I wouldn’t get my own albums. At home, I like to get complete silence. That’s the way my mind works. I have a lot of music in my mind, so I don’t need to hear it physically.
Hardrock Haven: The new Dave Grohl’s documentary, Sound City, tells about the evolution of the recording process and the changes that the digital recording brought in the process. What do you think about the digital recording?
Uli Jon Roth: I like digital, it became a lot better nowadays. It gives you a lot of artistic freedom. But it’s also true that some old mixing boards, amplifiers and microphones do sound better than a lot of the new stuff because it’s organic. Digital has not been fully explored. I don’t say it’s at the beginning, but it’s not at the end yet. In the future, we will perhaps think that digital will be better because we’ll have limitless hard drives, faster processors … And the more information we get in, the better the sound will be. The problem for now is that the signal has to be converted into digital and that it loses some information because it’s not limitless. When you use a tape machine, no sample is lost, it’s 100% of what you have. But the tape machines have other problems. They’re very noisy, not stable, etc.
It’s a big subject. I’m looking at the future to see the technology. We’re in a time where technology seemed to have made a lot of progress. But the culture of listening has definitely deteriorated during the last 20 years because of MP3 and all this kind of stuff. So all the sounds we produce in the studio are not heard by everybody. Unless they have some better quality support like blue-ray, surround sound, etc.
And the kids grow up with the MP3 and don’t ask any question. But if look further, their favorite food is McDonald’s. That’s the same thing basically. To me, MP3 is the McDonald’s of the music. For an artist like me, it’s definitely not understandable. But the world isn’t run by artist, it’s run by money and McDonald’s sells a lot of hamburgers. No matter if they’re poisoning the people and they go for more. And the kids get addicted to that stuff. It’s the same in every field of society. The McDonald’s approach is everywhere, trying to get it in. It’s a shame, but the world is changing so fast. It’s interesting because some things change for the better and some for the worst. And you never really know where the journey is going. Sometime it looks like it’s going somewhere and then you have a new generation that changes everything. That’s why I see these things in a more philosophical way. I’m not really upset about it. 30 years ago I would be, but no more now.
Hardrock Haven: But some young bands are coming back to Classic Rock and the vinyl is coming back too. So it seems that the new generation is bringing some good things…
Uli Jon Roth: Yes. There’s a new generation of very young players discovering the guitar. You know, in Hamburg, Germany, we have the Robert Johnson Award. I’m a member of the jury and I teach to young generation there with my Sky Academy. And I saw very young talents from 14 to 15 years old. The best are those I teach myself. I enjoy connecting with them and I take some of them on tour. I enjoy to see that the young generation has an understanding for it and it also remind me the time when I was young
Hardrock Haven: Could you explain what the Sky Academy is?
Uli Jon Roth: Sky Academy is much more a concept. It’s not a place, because I’m going from place to place in different countries. It’s very different from music schools and guitar clinics. It’s not a clinic or even a workshop. I talk very little about technical guitar. And sometimes, I talk a very little about guitar. It’ much more about music The rules and principles of music are the same as government and universe. And if you understand it and apply it not just in your hands, but into your mind, it’s very positive. I call that the metaphysics of music. Most of what I teach in Sky Academy is about it. Those things provide an idea of how to elevate in a better way. And how to become a better musician, better artist and even a better person.
In some masterclass, we’ll talk about the guitar, about composition, improvisation. We sometimes have some Sky Academy concerts where we’re doing a lot of jamming. So it’s wide colorful. Each one is different. Sky Academy brings a new way of seeing music and feeling it. And that helps to get better performance.
Hardrock Haven: Do you plan any new record?
Uli Jon Roth: I’ve written a new album. I haven’t started to record it yet because I have a little time. I have also recorded a live album for this tour. But I haven’t edited it yet. So yes, there’s stuff in the pipeline, but nothing is finished.
Hardrock Haven: Thank you for this interview, see you soon on tour!