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Julia Escobosa

An Interview with Uli Jon Roth

The German rocker talks to College News about his thoughts on music, technology, and metal today

How many takes did it take for you to get the leads down on “Catch Your Train” for the original recording?

That was so long ago I really don’t remember how many. The only thing I remember was the feeling. The song starts with intense feedback, and I remember we were recording in this small studio room, I was right next to the amp and it was very loud. I don’t remember it being too difficult – we were in a good flow that summer. Those leads were really pushing the envelope at that time, it was very avant-garde.

How did it compare recording it this time around for “Scorpions Revisited”?

Well it was much easier this time, I’m a much better guitar player. It wasn’t an easy song to play back then. I needed to concentrate on it then, but that’s not to say I don’t still have to concentrate when I’m playing. I always need to concentrate, but the technical aspect of it isn’t as difficult now.

What are you feelings towards the Schenkers (Rudolph and Michael)? You and Michael played a show a while back and some viewers felt there may have been a bit of a battle going on.

Michael and I get along great on stage, so I’m sure there wasn’t a battle – at least no intentionally. We’re always good together on stage. That may have been on the South American tour because it had been a while since we had played together on stage. There’s no rivalry with Mike or Rudolph, there’s a lot of mutual respect there.

What inspired you to create the Sky Guitar?

I originally came up with it for practical reasons. A standard electric guitar has 21 frets, sometimes 22, so there’s a certain limit on the treble range. You run out of notes at one point. I was always fascinated by the violin, it has a much wider range, although the guitar has a great singing range. During my time with the Scorpions I would run out of frets because my leads went higher, so I thought “I should do something about that” so I added frets. The guy who was building my guitars in the 80s said “I can build anything you want” so I came up with my dream guitar. The Sky Guitar extended the fret board and added way more octaves. I also added a seventh bass string, so some Sky Guitars have six strings, some have seven. I mainly used a six string for the Scorpions. The aesthetic angle and shape came from wanting to build something out of necessity that was also aesthetically gratifying. I wanted a guitar that was beautiful. Late it became more and more of a cutting edge tool. The Sky Guitar today is like a Formula 1 race car – you can really do anything with it.

What are your feelings towards today’s technology? Do you embrace it or do you prefer to keep it old school?

I love technology, it keeps it interesting. I have embraced technology, but maybe not everything. I like to stay in control of technology, I use computers left, right, and center. I see a lot of people having problems with technology, especially young people. I think some people get addicted to it, especially to texting, like when you’re sitting at a table and texting each other. Everything has a good and bad side, and I think a lot of developments run away from us. It’s hard to keep track and on top of technology. It has a lot of benefits, but it can alienate people from themselves. It can be hindering to discovering yourself, what your destiny is, might, or could be – that requires introspection. Media clamoring for our attention 24/7 can be hard for many people to escape or ignore, like a drug alienating people from themselves and each other.

What is your favorite piece of technology?

I have a Galaxy S Tablet, and I’m using 30 apps on it regularly. Although, I hasten to add, I’m not addicted to it. It’s more like a personal assistant.

Has technology had an influence on your music?

I wouldn’t say technology has influenced my music. I still have the same process for writing. There have been changes within myself and music that effect how I create, but technology has had little impact. The biggest impact was in the 80s when computers first appeared in the mainstream. I used to write scores by hand but then I began using programs to write music. That changed a lot, it sped up my process of formally writing music, it made orchestral scores infinitely easier to write.

Recording certain thing has changed, it’s become a bit easier. With analog it’s hit and miss, you have one shot or you have to wipe it and redo it. Now you can layout tracks with no danger of losing them. The old way of recording was way more exciting, dangerous. When that little red light was on it was a matter of life and death.

How long do you think you will continue touring? Do you have an end date in mind or will you just tour until you can’t anymore?

I think that’s a great way to put it. In the mid-80s to mid-90s I didn’t tour for about 13 years – I stopped touring completely. I just got bored with traveling. But then I had this resurgence in my appetite for touring and I got back into it. Sometimes it can be hard on your body, traveling to all these different time zones in America, Japan, Europe, all within a short time frame while playing at the same time. I’ve just developed my own time zone that I carry with me. When I get tired I just curl up in the corner like a cat and sleep. That helps. When I’m at home I try to get back into my time zone.

When did you first get involved with music? Did you always plan on it being your career or did it just sort of happen that way?

I loved music so much, it drew me in like a giant magnet. I didn’t think of it as a career, I was motivated by the love of it. At 17 I wanted to be a classical concert guitarist. Then I got involved with the Scorpions and chose electric guitar, then just started being a full time musician. There wasn’t a lot of planning ahead, it just kind of happened, it was destiny.

What is your favorite city you’ve been to?

I don’t have one favorite city where I feel a kinship and feel at home. I like cities for different reasons. When I first visited LA I thought it was strange, like Spain goes Disneyland. It was surreal, but with a  very real undercurrent. Now it feels like a big holiday camp. I love visiting but I couldn’t live there. I have lots of friends there and feel very relaxed there, sometimes too relaxed. LA also doesn’t have a “face” like most cities have. New York, Singapore, Berlin – they all have a face looking at you, an unmistakable flavor. LA isn’t like that. What I see in my mind is endless suburbs, melting one into the next, with almost no high-rises, and then of course the water line. That’s what you see from the plane as well. I relate to cities and I read up on the history of places I’m interested in. I have a bond with many cities. New York is the opposite of LA. It’s very intense, I couldn’t believe the amount of psychic electricity, like a mix of light and dark at the same time. It was almost dangerous in its intensity. It seems a little less intense now than it was in the eighties, but it is still very unique. In that way it’s inspirational – its draws you in, the frequency permeates the air and you become one with that place.

What is your favorite venue that you have played?

I don’t necessarily have one favorite venue either. Each venue has its own frequency, they develop a certain vibration. Each has its own history as well. The Royal Albert Hall in London is steeped in history. In the US one of my favorite venues is the House of Blues in Chicago. It was modeled after a theatre in Prague, the last venue Mozart played at. It’s a beautiful venue with a great sound. Also, the venue where we recorded Tokyo Tapes, Nakano Sun Plaza. I just played there again last week, but unfortunately it will be demolished soon for the upcoming Olympics. Also, the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, Illinois. It seats about 900 people and it’s an old Vaudeville style theatre that’s been refurbished, I had a great show there. The dressing rooms are downstairs and one girl who was looking after us said that it was one of Al Capone’s favorite hideouts and she pointed out a door that still had blood stains on it from a shooting there. It was blood churning. This room was right under the stage and we had no idea about the history while we were playing. It was very interesting to say the least.

Are there any venues that you would love to play but haven’t yet?

I always look forward to playing new venues, when its right and gives a great show. Maybe the Hollywood Bowl.

Do you have a favorite song to perform live?

I would say they are all my favorites, I do prefer some to others but there’s no one song that rules supreme. I treat them all with respect and I try to do each song justice to the fullness of my abilities. There are some songs I like less than others, but someone could call a song out at a show and we play it and I’ll rediscover it and love it again. We played in Osaka and someone asked for Hellcats. We rarely play that live but we were playing a lot of encores and someone called it out. We went into it and it was electrifying. Some songs can have a metamorphosis on stage. It’s most important to bring the essence of the song alive. I don’t want to sound over rehearsed, I want to feel like we just made it up on the spot. Some musicians will rehearse a song to death and it turns into a ghost of a song, rather than a spirit of a song.

Are you consistently writing or does your inspiration come in bursts?

It comes in bursts. I’m not interested in being overly prolific, I don’t want to do what I’ve done before, so every album is different. I also work on different projects, right now I’m writing a book for Sky Academy about the metaphysics of music. I’m always exploring and learning new things.

So what motivated you to do Scorpions Revisited?

I wanted to revisit my past material to reconnect with that early energy to see what would happen. It was a very interesting journey, full of surprises. I learned a lot and reconnected with things I’d forgotten about, certain aspects of playing and tuning in. It was like a reawakening process. I deliberately went beyond and used the energy to recreate a new emphasis and a new force field. I wanted to consciously bring old ideas into the present, and I saw it materialize and take on a new form and new life. I was watching as I was doing it, like an outsider. I really enjoyed it and I may revisit the Electric Sun period as well, we had a good following in America and Asia.

How do you feel about Metal today?

Honestly I’m not really a big metal fan, it’s too 2-dimensional. It lacks dynamics and lacks what I want to hear in music. I think music is at a crossroads at the moment, and I wonder what the future holds. I gravitate towards melodies and harmonies, not so much the basic aspects of music. I come from a classical background and I miss the subtle approach to music making. A lot of it is mechanized, machine-like, and rough. I’d like to see it develop back into something sensitive.

Director Yann Demange and '71 Shades of Grey

Yann Demange on his directorial debut feature film

Why did you decide to take on this script?
I loved the screenplay. It was sent to me and I immediately connected with how muscular the writing is and the humanity in the script. We developed it and moved it on a long way, but when I read it, I was like “Oh my God, this really transcends the specificity of the troubles and it has a universality.” It feels like it could be talking about a lot of contemporary conflicts taking place in the world right now from Iraq to Afghanistan to Syria, you name it. I felt like it really identified a pattern of human behavior that keeps repeating itself. Also, it was really touching about children growing up in conflict and that’s something I feel passionate about. I met with the writer and the producer and I loved them – straight away we hit it off and I had ideas that they really responded to so we started this journey.We wrote about 4 or 5 drafts in the space of 2 or 3 months. Next thing we knew it was like “okay, let’s try and get this made,” so it was a real old school collaboration. But it’s the themes and the quality of the writing and the people involved that really attracted me to it.

Do you think everyone really came together and was able to make a universal idea of what they thought the movie would turn out like?
Well I had a very strong take on what I wanted it to be and once they agreed,responded and connected to it we worked as a united front. I created a tone document, a sheet that makes sure everyone’s trying to make the same film. The stars aligned. I’ve experienced it on a TV show, where the people involved actually all have their own version of it. You want to make sure you all want to make the same film, and on this one we were real collaborators.  In fact, I’m working with the writer and the producer on a new project; we’re setting up to do something about the LA riots so it was just a great collaboration and it’s rare and few and far between that you have those experiences.

So do you think the finished product reflects what you all had in your imaginations when you were bringing it together?
Yes. It’s certainly what I had in mind when I created the tone document. I knew how I wanted it to sound and look, and in the end it’s pretty much what we were always talking about doing. It was one of those times where I wasn’t being prescriptive and telling them i’m taking their baby and making my own out of it – it was like “this is what I’m thinking” and they loved it. We were vibing and it was a toing and froing cause sometimes you have a vision and the writer’s vision is completely different, but in this instance we agreed and we worked towards the same end.

I thought it was really interesting that you had the score finished before you even started filming.
Yeah I worked with the composer quite closely and we became great friends. Because I had to start shooting with the night shoot and the sequences before I’d shot any lines of dialogue, I basically needed something to help me find a way in  terms of tone, pace and rhythm. I found that asking David to write the music beforehand and actually having it on set and listening to it on my headphones as I was shooting scenes and sequences that were purely visual, gave me like a metronome, a rhythm. It gave me a sense of atmosphere and what would work. It’s the first time I’ve done that and I think I’ll keep doing it. It’s a wonderful thing to have on set, it gives you a depth when you listen to the music – there’s a depth to a movement or a little camera moment. When you’re caught up in the hoohah of production on the daily you don’t see that, you see it later, but it’s nice to have on set I’ve found.

Do you have a preference as far as directing television versus film?
I don’t think of it like that -it’s not one versus the other. There used to be a time when the landscape was always compartmentalized – Are you a film director? Are you a TV director? – you can’t do them all? That bullshit is falling away now, people cross pollinate and you can work across mediums and I find that exciting. I love television and I love film. Film was my first love and it’s always been the thing I’m most passionate about. I want to do more cinema, but there’s nothing better than a box set. I love True Detective and I was watching Nik the other day, I mean I love that you can create a world and go in. The Wire was a turning point for me, I was like “oh my god television can do this?!” In a way it’s the golden age of our generations, the mass migration of the most intelligent drama, the most interesting writing and the most interesting talent are going to television just as a byproduct of studios being more interested in franchises and pre-existing brands that they can invest in. The television landscape is exciting, but so is indie film, so it’s not one or the other. You’ve got all these wonderful forms -what suits the story you’re trying to tell most? I’ve got one I’m developing now and we’re asking ourselves the question – is it better as an 8 parter or is it better as a movie? The beauty is that we’re in a place now where both are exciting propositions.

If you had an unlimited budget to make any movie, what would you make?
I’d make Blood Meridian, it’s a Cormac McCarthy book, it’s really good. It’s a wonderful western, it’s crazy, violent, poetic, beautifully dark, in many ways possibly unmakeable. Many people have tried, but I’m convinced you could make it. But also right now the thing I really want to do and what I’m putting all of my energy into is the LA riots and looking at what happened there,looking at the shades of gray.

How to throw an epic summer party

A guide for party vets and novices

Whether you’re trying to top your own legendary parties of summers past or attempting your first epic party, we’ve got you covered.

Plan Accordingly

If properly executed, this party will leave you semi-destroyed. You should allow yourself at least 24 hours of recovery time before you are expected to be a fully-functioning human. If you can host the party in a venue that is okay to leave in a post-apocalyptic state for a day or two, that’s a definite plus. Hide anything fragile and/or valuable, and hide it well. Cars, TVs, 15th century Chinese vases, they’ve all got to go. Off-site is best, but it you have faith that you can lock them in a room that will stay locked through the festivities, go for it. Also have the party start in the day time to allow for enjoyment of sunshine and lessen the chances of noise complaints.

Pick a Theme

Theme’s make everything more fun. Superhero, luau, summer nights, dinosaurs, whatever you fancy. Can’t think of a theme? Make it a “Bring Your Own Theme” party to encourage people to go all out in a way that really excites them. Can’t pick just one theme? Tell everyone something different, it will make for an amazing variety of characters.

Stock Up

You want to have enough booze to kill a Russian battalion. Make sure to have beer, cider and hard alcohol, and plenty of shot glasses. Ideally plastic shot glasses so you don’t cry absurd drunken tears when someone shatters your shot glass shaped like boobs. Also have LOTS of ice and mixers.  And, if you happen to live in a state where recreational marijuana is legal, tons of pot. 

Provide Engaging Activities

Ideally there’s a heated pool with a blow up beer pong table and a big hot tub and a Slip n’ Slide. Have food available so you don’t have people puking in the pool after just one hour of drinking. Easy stuff like BBQ sausages (always better than hot dogs) and burgers and wings. Make sure there are girls, without girls parties suck, the only sausage fest should be on the grill.  Music will be needed, something commercial free, being played out of good speakers that can easily be heard in the backyard. Bands are awesome too, but make sure they can actually play. You also want a plethora of drinking games to include but not limited to King’s Cup, Spoons and True American. Have dice and decks of cards in abundance and at the ready.

Be A Good Post-Party Host

Finally there should be ample sleeping space available for guests. Nothing kills the after-party high like a friend getting a DUI or getting in an accident. Consider charging someone who isn’t drinking with the task of key-keeper, you can barter for their services if necessary. Perhaps befriend a bus driver who will make your party his only pick up of the night. If you want to go that extra mile, have breakfast in the morning, stock up on eggs, bacon, coffee, OJ and LOTS of drinking water.

Have Fun. Make Memories.

Top 5 Spring Songs

Our top picks for music to fuel your spring break playlist inspiration!

While most of the US bundles up to brace the winter chill, we thought we’d bring a little springtime sunshine to your ears! It was tough to pick just 5, but here are our top picks!

1. “Sunny Afternoon” – The Kinks

2. “I’m Good” – The Mowglis

3. “All I Wanna Do” – Sheryl Crow

4. “This Charming Man” – The Smiths

5. “Hey Soul Sister” – Train