Uli Jon Roth

The guitar maestro, Uli Jon Roth, one of the most influential guitarists and songwriters in rock music, talked to Grande Rock about his touring, his new Sky Guitars and his future plans among other interesting things. It was a great honor to have Uli on Grande Rock! Read more below…
Uli Jon Roth pic
Hi Uli, thank you very much for taking the extra time. I am here on the behalf of Grande Rock.
U: Where is this?

Uli: We will probably play there next year June.
How’s the tour so far and what are the best moments that you’ve had up until today?
U: Well, I think that we have some really good moments, and there’s some magic, but we still finding our way with the songs cause it is a lot of new material that haven’t played in a long time and we also changed them quite a bit. So, we still experiment a little bit. So it’s like a metamorphosis… every day is different. My experience is, when you play songs live you always need a little time to find the complete key to have it completely under control, cause they’re like living beings, these songs. To be exact when they’re unusually structured, you can sometimes feel you grow through it like the early days. You know, it will get better and better.
It’s like on a concert when you and as you go along towards the final songs you get more and more into it.
U: Absolutely! Absolutely… (smiles)
It’s already been 50 years since you got into music, so how do you feel about it now?
U: Oh I am still feeling. Music is completely exciting still, and each time when I play is like a new experience. That’s the amazing thing you know. Because I like to keep it fresh, I don’t actually play that much. I don’t play the guitar a lot on stage or the studio. I think that’s maybe the secret of keeping it fresh. So each time when I start playing it feels like, you know, almost like the first time, and that’s a really good feeling. That I think it is very important, you know, to make it come alive, like it is happening for the first time. So luckily that is still happening, it is an ongoing process; you know fifty years on stage is a long time I went through many different stages on this journey… and I also felt very comfortable even fifty years ago but we played very different songs. Now we are playing our own music and lots of things have changed. Yeah, It’s an ongoing journey. I won’t stop until I get it right. Hopefully (laughing)! There is always room for improvement. It’s all about imagination and inspiration.
You’re already a legendary guitarist that has released some great albums and has influenced so many bands and artists along the way… do you feel that you have fulfilled your music dream?
U: No. In many ways I still think I’ve got a lot still to discover, to learn, and umm find new music. This summer was very interesting to me because I wrote a lot of new music, and also due to my eight string guitar New Sky guitar. It was a completely new beginning and I loved doing that. So, I will play more acoustic shows in the future, but I’m not gonna abandon the electric ones too. For me it’s a new dawn and I really enjoy doing that, you know, and I played one of that today.
That was really inspiring!
U: Thank you! It’s a different sound. With this guitar I can do things that have never been done before. It’s a really incredible tool. And I find it very very fascinating to be able to do all these chords on the eight string guitar which I cannot do on a six string guitar. Not even on a seven string guitar. It’s almost like a completely new instrument. You know. I am still exploring it, and experimenting with it, and that what is making it interesting for me. I don’t know where the journey will go... but I’m just following... the journey wherever it takes me.
Are you thinking of releasing a new studio album at some point? Are there any songs already written or recorded as we speak?
U: I’d love to do a new studio album. The problem is that I have written a lot of new music, and I am quite pleased with some of it. But I’m not the kind of artist who just walks into the studio and has a new album ready the next day, you know. Unfortunately I maybe too much of a perfectionist in the studio, so for me it’s always a big deal and an album always takes a long time. Because we’re touring so much these days it is a little bit difficult to find enough time. I have started a new album, but I have no idea when it will be finished. I know that it is long overdue, but that’s the reality. You know. Who knows maybe it’ll suddenly come quickly, maybe we will record it live. I’m beginning to think that maybe that is the way to do it, in order to finish it more quickly. And that could be a good thing. A different approach.
Do you have any regrets all these years? Things that you should have done or things that you shouldn’t have done?
U: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you know, anybody who walks through life does have regrets, I always wonder when people say “I would do everything exactly the same”. I have to say yes, there were quite a few things that I would do differently. In life, musically, or whatever. Having said that, life is like that. You travel through life and it is a journey, and you don’t know what the tomorrow brings, you know. I’ve always tried to do the right thing, but there were definitely things that I would have done differently now. To me is a challenge, a learning curve, you know. For me living is giving and at the same time you also experiencing and you learn things, always trying to get better in what you do. That’s always my permanent motto. That’s my driving force really.
I liked when you said living is giving. As a first word to come to your mind. I find it a cool thing.
U: Well. It could be; it should always be. You can’t always give. Sometimes you take. It’s like breathing in breathing out. You have to create things but you also take things and digest them. I think we’re all part of this whole (laughing) interplanetary experience called mankind. A very strange journey in these days is a strange journey indeed. Things are changing so fast, and most people cannot keep up with the changes. I have to say I am one of them. I try to just watch what’s going on and I watch politics which is usually a disastrous thing in every country not just Greece. Just as much in Germany, England, America or China; wherever you look there are upheavals and you just shake your head and think that mankind never learns. I mean how stupid can we be? We are sometimes stupid. The next generation makes the same mistakes over and over again. Some things are changing for the better, but there are also things which I find regrettable. And it would be interesting how things would be in 20 years from now. I hope things get better. At the moment the picture is very confusing everywhere. One thing I miss from the world more than anything is certain wisdom of life. You know, like trying to do things the right way, and not just the money way, or the “me me me” generation... I think we’ve got a long way to go.
What do you think is your best release to date and what’s your personal top moment as a guitarist and songwriter?
U: You know, I really don’t have any of that. All the albums I’ve done are all completely different from one another. Even the Scorpions albums. That’s probably my trademark. It’s not that I’m trying to do it, it just happens to be this way, because I am a traveler. I like to explore new countries, new thoughts, new ideas, and each album is a station of that. I don’t think I’ve got a favourite one. I’ve got some I’m more proud than others. Recently I worked on my “Methamorphosis”, which is a rendition of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” with the orchestra. Also a guitar concerto that I wrote. I thought that was really good. I was proud of that. It’s not very well known, cause it is certainly not for the rock audience. It’s something that I was proud of because it was very difficult to do, but when you listen to it does not sound difficult. To me that was an achievement. When it comes to the electric sound period my favourite is “Beyond the Astral Skies”. With the Scorpions I don’t really have a favourite. I like certain songs more than others. I really enjoy playing with orchestras, that’s more my way, I’m gonna do more of that in the future. So, I cannot tell you one specific moment. There were many many different moments. Every year there’s highlights that I never forget. And there are some shows that I prefer to forget, you know, when things go wrong which also happens. You gotta roll with the punches… you know.
Speaking of Scorpions, would things have turned out differently if you had never left to start your own career?
U: Off course that would have been different. I have to say if I have stayed in the Scorpions I would have played as a team player and they did write some fantastic songs after I left. And they have all the reasons to be proud of that. Beautiful melodies and it was an honor to be part of that band. I don’t really had a choice, because that moment in 1978 I started to write songs that really did not fit into the Scorpions framework. They were not commercial; I wasn’t really interested in commercial. I just wanted to explore music. That’s what I did with Electric Sky. So have I stayed in the Scorpions I would have been a different person. The band would have been just as successful as they are, because I wouldn’t destroy any of the songs. I would have done the right thing. You can’t really destroy any Scorpions songs. I would have found the way to play these songs.
Which are the 3 best pieces of advice to any guitar player?
U: Three is probably not enough. And the problem is each guitar player needs a different advice. Because each person is different. You can’t categorize this and put into them into a box, that would be to easy. It is difficult do give this kind of advice. What I can say is, maybe I sound like an old man saying this but to the younger generation. There are a lot of kids out there now with a lot of talent who play the guitar. There are two things that I am missing usually when I am listening to music. There is a not enough melodic emotion, not enough innovation, and usually a very bad sound. That seems to be the problem at the moment. So, what I am saying is there are a lot of people who can play very well, but the great tone, the expression, the feeling seems to be a little bit of a casualty, at the moment. I don’t quite know why’s that but maybe it’s part of the superficiality of our time. We live in a very superficial time. Where the surface is more important than the substance. And the kids, the younger players they suck that up. This is an iPhone generation. And that’s not necessarily a good thing. Although I do love smartphones. I have a smartphone myself and I use it, but for the kids it is almost like a drug and that’s not very good if you want to master an instrument. Because the social media and all of that is very much a superficial surface thing and it is very difficult for the younger generation to connect with their inner soul. Everything is happening too fast and a lot of them fall into the trap of staying at a superficial level. If you want to go really deep, you have to do that in silence, in a peaceful place… close your eyes, meditate, or something like that. You can’t do that when your phone is calling you. We are in-between times. We will see what’s going to happen.
How did you decide to release the UJR Sky Guitars? Are those three models (Pegasus, Aquila and Unicorn Sky) made specifically for certain guitar players or for everyone?
U: Not for everyone. The guitars were made for me. So not everybody will be happy with the Sky Guitars. Also they are not so easy to play. In order to play a Sky Guitar is like driving a formula 1 racing car. It’s slightly dangerous. You have to get it right. It’s like a wild horse that you need to control; you have to be a good rider. It’s more for advanced players, I would say. But if it is on the right hands with a really good player, you can do amazing things with it. The guitar will respond and it will lift you up. And it can make you fly. But, you have to know how to fly. You have to be a good pilot. I would not say anybody; if they want to learn, the guitar to start is not a Sky guitar. Start on a normal guitar. Once you’re on an advanced level then get the Sky guitar and then that guitar will challenge you to get better. If you don’t get better you won’t play a Sky guitar. It’s that simple. It won’t respond. It will resist (laughing)! Sometimes it resists me. I have to be really on top like a dragon lord to control these guitars, and it’s not that easy. When it becomes easy at a good night, yes the sky is the limit (laughs)…
That’s why you gave them the Sky Guitar name?
U: That was my manager. One day he said listen to your sky guitar, and I said oh, that’s a good name. From then on it was the Sky Guitar. It was not my idea.
It basically means limitless, right?
U: Yes the idea is to transcend the limitations. That’s the whole idea. And that also means: transcend your own limitations. You gotta grow and really rise to the occasion. Then with a bit of luck, (laughing), and with the right equipment, yes you can create some magic.

PS: Special thx to Andras Paul for conducting the interview.

PS2: The second part of the interview, where Uli talks about a specific Scorpions album, will be published shortly – so stay tuned!