Interview: Michael Schenker & Robin McAuley, MSG

More Than a Feeling

Michael Schenker and Robin McAuley pull the plugs on their new album and dig deep into the heart of a successful writing partnership that's brought the new look MSG into the 1990s.

Back in the early eighties there were a plethora of bands who dominated the Hard Rock scene with an emphasis placed on a certain type of Rock song filled with melodic guitar lines, soulful lyrics and solid structured foundations. Acts such as RAINBOW, WHITESNAKE, GILLAN, MAIDEN, and PRIEST took Rock by the collective collar and shook it into commercial shape. From the ashes of the indulgences of the late Seventies THE MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP joined the ranks of these quality acts.

Along with the ever versatile talents of Cozy Powell, Graham Bonnet, Chris Glen, Paul Raymond, and Gary Bardens, amongst others, veteran UFO guitarist Michael Schenker unleashed a phenomenon that purveyed everything that was best about music in the early part of the last decade.

With the demise of THE MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP in the late eighties, the German axeman joined forces with ex-GRAND PRIX vocalist Robin McAuley and changed the name to THE McAULEY SCHENKER GROUP - although still bearing the monicker of MSG.

Since then they're delivered up two studio albums; 1987's Perfect Timing, which they supported heavily in Europe when they toured with WHITESNAKE, and 1990's Save Yourself, which they failed to support live due to managerial problems.

February this year sees their third collective work, simply entitled MSG in the shops, an album that highlights an emphasis on good songwriting and a return to basic musical values, values that are, according to Robin McAuley, lacking because of the visual imagery that has infected Rock.

"The music should speak first. How often can you wear the same lipstick?"

In that respect one wonders, with the impending death of the American Rock N' Roll dream, if British bands are ready to kick back again.

"That would be nice," ponders Robin. "It's been a while since a good British rock band started to kick ass. There is a difference between British and American bands in their approach to writing and the sheer raw energy of their playing."

Talking of their latest work MSG, the band were bolstered by the powerful rhythm section of James Kottak on drums (ex-KINGDOM COME) and Jeff Pilson on bass (ex-DOKKEN). But are they actually in the band? Robin explains.

"They're not actually in the band, but they were used on the album. If we tour we'll approach them and see if they're available because they have their own bands in the States, respectively WILD HORSES and WAR AND PEACE."

Of course the nucleus of MSG in the 1990s is the strong writing partnership between Michael and Robin. According to Robin, that particular partnership has progressed, the new album being enough evidence of that.

"It's not something we consciously worked on or discussed. Michael writes the music, I write the lyrics and melody, and what comes out seems to come out from where we are at that time. What's on this new album is where we are. It's another year on and it's a very strong album."

Turning to Michael I ask him whether he had to change his approach to guitar playing with the new MSG compared to the old.

"I personally believe that I have been writing and have had the same attitude and the same feeling towards music since I was sixteen years old. I've done the same thing basically over and over again because that's what I love doing. Everything I play comes constantly from the heart, and that's why I'm still doing it, enjoying it, and still happy with it. The technical part has developed but the heart is still the same. You keep practising and you kind of keep going forwards."

So how do Michael and Robin actually approach their songwriting?

"It basically comes from a selection of ideas," explains Michael. "Then one idea strikes me and this gives me the inspiration for a connecting part, then I create a song."

Is there any pressure placed upon them to come up with a hit album? Michael immediately goes on the defensive.

"A musician should always do what they enjoy doing. If you do that then it doesn't matter whether a record company gives you a chance or not. It's an external thing that is a bonus. If it happens it happens. It's the same for MSG. We've been going for six years and all we can do is do the best we can and put out an album, and if it is meant to be, it is meant to be. One should never forget that moment of creation..."

The key to their songwriting is, as Michael stresses, 'individuality' as opposed to the photocopy technique of playing and writing that many bands adopt to become successful.

"It's important for guitar players and singers to be individual. You can only get it if you do it from the heart. You are the only person who has access to your own soul. That's where quality starts, when you give something that you can only give because you're the only person who's experiencing it."

Back to reality, it actually comes to light that Robin didn't want to join the band in the first place, fearing that Michael wanted a Gary Barden type of vocalist to complement his guitar work.

The proof of the pudding, I venture, is the fact they've managed to produce three albums together. However, Robin thing that in the space of time they've been working together more could have been done.

"That's really disappointing because we really thought we were going to do at least an album a year. It's no work at all. We haven't done anything when you consider it.

Since rock has turned into a rather large marketing machine, upon the release of an album, a year seems a very small period in which to support it.

"If you've got a heavy touring schedule, it kind of upsets a year's production," affirms Robin. "We always seem to be that close to the next level or the next stage, then we've run into management problems and all sort of shit that seems to build up a wall. And, from being located in Germany for three or four years, now in the last two years we've located to LA, and again for reasons that pertain to new management and record company pressure. It makes it more easy having all those elements in the same place as you are ready yo go when you're ready to go."

On the subject of being "ready to go," the band have apparently been playing acoustic showcases to promote the new record to media and retailers Robin elaborates.

"We discovered a whole new thing after recording this new album when we were asked by the record company to take a number of the tracks and re-record them acoustically. We discovered a more personal and more soulful intimacy on tape, which was really good."

I put it to Michael that acoustic jams do seem rather in vogue at the moment.

"We have found something that's so unique that it kind of adds to what we've already got. It's fascinating how such a simple idea can open so many doors. I discovered something that I cannot get across on an electric guitar. I found something that is becoming important for me as an expression."

Will this acoustic set be taken out on the road when MSG tour?

"That all depends if we get a headlining status or not, because then you have time to do it properly," reasons Robin.

So what are their live plans, and will they be coming to the UK?

"Our management are already talking to Japan with a view to starting there in march. We never had the opportunity of supporting Save Yourself here in Europe, so we'd particularly like to be here around the Spring if the plans and everything works out.

Mark Crampton
Riff Raff
March 1992

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