By Jeb Wright
Udo Dirkschneider is a living heavy metal icon. His approach to songwriting guarantees the music will be loud and intense. He has the look of a German Metal God and his voice rips through the venue with the force of an atomic bomb.
His band, U.D.O. has a new record company in AFM records resulting in the early U.D.O. albums being given new life, complete with bonus tracks. The band is also hitting the USA for their first tour in over a decade and will be releasing a new album. The first single, “Metal Machine” is a slab of classic, head-banging Metal that will have fans of U.D.O. readying themselves for whiplash.
Classic Rock Revisited caught up with UDO to discuss the USA tour, as well as new music, how Udo keeps his voice razor sharp and what it was like to swing on that giant ball in the classic Accept video for “Balls to the Wall.”
Jeb: I bet 30 years ago you would have not imagined this much would be going on with your career.
Udo: Not really, but what can I say? I keep rolling. It is still a lot of fun to do this. Maybe I can do it for another ten years? We will see.
Jeb: The legacy of Accept and U.D.O. is worldwide. More than just the music, people are drawn to you. Do you ever wonder what it is about you that people like?
Udo: Why me? I don't know. That is a really good question. I can think about it, but maybe the answer to that you should get from the fans and not from me. Maybe there is something special, or something different about me, but what can I say?
Jeb: You are a very genuine person. What you see is what you get.
Udo: The music, for me, is what it is all about. After all of these years, I still play some Accept songs in my concerts. I see people in the audience who are only fifteen, or sixteen years old, and they sing along with all of these old songs. They sing along with both Accept songs and from some of the old U.D.O. songs like those from 1987 from Animal House. This is very interesting to see and it means that I did something in this business that will stay forever.
Jeb: Are there going to be any surprises in the set list for your upcoming tour?
Udo: No surprises, really. The last time I have been on tour in the US was in 2001 with Saxon. In the meantime, it was not making any sense to come over. U.D.O. albums were not released in America during that time because we didn't have a record company over here. Now, twelve years later we have a record company and are managed like you need to be.
What we are doing now, on this tour, is in support of the new record in the US. We tried to make a good mix up of all of the old U.D.O. records, not everything, or we would have to play all day. We will also play some classic Accept stuff. I think we are doing a good mix up on this tour and, for the first time in all of these years. They are already talking that we are coming over next year for a longer US tour. This tour is for more promotion and to see what is going on with U.D.O. We will be playing songs from Animal House to the Rev-Raptor album. We really have made a great mix, as you will see.
Jeb: What do you think changed where the USA wants you now?
Udo: We had offers in between, but we always said no because we didn't have a record company over here. We didn't have promotions and booking agents here. It made no sense for us to come over. Now, we've got everything and it makes sense to start now, again, in the US.
Jeb: The new single “Metal Machine” is classic stuff. It kicks ass.
Udo: We never change our style. Why do people like U.D.O.? We never follow trends and we always do this kind of music. Sometimes we do it a little bit harder and sometimes we do this more melodic, but it is all the same. When you buy an album then you certainly know what is in there.
Jeb: “Balls to the Wall” is always going to be known in America. How important is it for you to pound us over the head with U.D.O. and show us what you've been doing over the last ten years?
Udo: I think it is important for us to tour here. When we are done with the tour then we will know more about how much people want us here. So far there is a lot of interest. I have done nearly 150 interviews, which is a lot. That shows me there is interest in U.D.O. Now we need to get people to the shows. I know one show is already sold out and they are talking that tickets are selling very well other places, so that means something is going on over here with U.D.O.
Jeb: How involved were you with the remasters that have recently come out on AFM Records?
Udo: It was not easy to get all of the rights together for all of these albums. The back catalog, up to the Man and Machine album, is also out again in Europe.
The record company was asking me if we had some bonus material, or some live songs, or unreleased songs. We gave them everything we've got and now the box is empty.
Jeb: Animal House was your first solo album. What makes this more unique is that your old band, Accept, wrote all of the songs. That is usually not how it works.
Udo: Remember that I did not leave the band, they fired me. I think to make everything much easier for me, and nicer, Animal House was going to be our next album. They said they wanted to be more commercial and more American styled, so they didn't need all of the songs from the Animal House album. They said, “You can have them and you can have an easier start on your solo career.” For me, it worked out very well and it made it to where I had an easier start.
Jeb: It did give you time to transition.
Udo: Animal House was a good start and then the Mean Machine album came out, which was not written by the old members. The Mean Machine album was selling very well and was a really good album. From then on, I was on my own and I didn’t need the old members.
Jeb: It is not like you didn’t try with Accept. Even after you were kicked out you went back to the band.
Udo: I did one reunion with Accept and, in the beginning, everything was looking very good. We did the Objection Overruled album and to me, it was a real Accept album. Then, all of the changes started again with Death Row and Predator. They wanted to be more modern and more Grunge in the 1990's. They wanted to be more trendy and I said, “Guys, this is wrong.” On the Predator album we had the same situation we had in 1986 and it just didn’t work anymore for me. The best thing was to split up before we destroyed the name Accept.
Jeb: What got you into Metal music?
Udo: I can't really explain this. I feel this kind of music comes from the inside; you just have it in your body. I started with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and then started listening to Jimi Hendrix and Deep Purple and stuff like that.
I started making music as a hobby. I started up a school band with Michael Wagener, who became a very famous producer. We were creating Accept in 1971. There was no Wolf Hoffman or Peter Baltes or anything like that. It was not the plan to become the professional musician. In a way I am lucky, as my hobby turned into a professional thing.
Jeb: The Scorpions came from Germany and you came from Germany. There were more afterward like Rammstein, but you and the Scorpions were the first.
Udo: In the old days, it was the Scorpions and Accept. Scorpions were much more the softer way and Accept was much more the harder way. The two bands adjusted to international status. Rammstein came much later. They were big fans of Accept. We have Helloween and Gamma Ray came from Germany, but in the old days it was just Scorpions and Accept.
Jeb: Live in Sophia is a great concert DVD and CD release.
Udo: Those were not just concerts special made for the DVD and the live CDs, as U.D.O. always plays for over two hours. We do long live sets. It is a good mix up of songs on Live from Sophia.
Nowadays, in America, they tell us that we can only play 90 minutes, but we say, “No, we will play over 100 minutes. I can't play 90 minutes as that is not long enough.” We are changing the set from Live from Sophia for America, as that set was more for Europe. We are in America again and it is important that we include U.D.O. songs from all U.D.O. albums.
Jeb: You have kept your voice in great shape. What is your secret?
Udo: I do nothing special. Really, I think I am lucky with my voice. I know a lot of singers have had problems. I know Klaus Meine had some problems and I know Rob Halford has had some problems, but many, many singers have problems.
I just go out and sing. I do nothing special. I stopped smoking now for nine years. I was scared about stopping smoking because I was worried my voice would change. It didn't change. It makes me a little bit healthier. I go to a doctor every year and he checks things over and I have no problems with my vocal chords. They told me everything is strong.
Jeb: Tell me when you know that a song is good enough to make the new album?
Udo: I think you have a feeling for that. Maybe when we start songwriting with this album I start with Fitty [Wienhold], the bass player. We had thirty songs and then we start feeling what is good and what is not good. You can discover when one is not good enough, or when you need to change this one, or that one. It is hard to explain, but you just feel it.
Jeb: Is it fair to say that you understand your music?
Udo: Yes, but you also learn as you are writing songs, which ones will be very good live. Over the years, you get a feeling for this. From the new album, you know which songs will work well live. Some songs end up just being for the CD to listen to, as they are not good enough for the live show.
Jeb: Do you control U.D.O. or are you a democratic band?
Udo: We are democratic in this band. Of course, in the end, I say yes or no, but it is a very democratic thing. A lot of people say, “Oh, he is doing a solo project...” and it is my name, but it is very important for me to work as a band. It was always very important for me.
I do say yes or no, in the end, but we talk about things. We have new guitar players who are really young and I said to them, “As a U.D.O. fan, if you go to a U.D.O. concert, what songs do you want to hear?” They started making up lists. It was very interesting. We have put two songs in the set for the US that I have never played because of that. I am very happy with the new guitar players. They are 29 and 32 and they really keep things fresh and they really keep me moving.
Jeb: Last one: In the video for “Balls to the Wall” what was your reaction when they asked you to swing on the giant ball?
Udo: It was in January and it was really fucking cold. They said, “Can you do this?” I have always been the guy who says, “Let’s give this a try.” I was not really happy about it, but you do things...it was okay and we did it, but it was something else.
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