INTERVIEW: UDO DIRKSCHNEIDER, April 2022

INTERVIEW: UDO DIRKSCHNEIDER, April 2022
By Shane Pinnegar

Udo Dirkschneider is one of the elder statesmen of Heavy Metal, having fronted German pioneers Accept from their foundation in 1976 through to his departure in 1987. Through that time he helmed the band through seven mighty studio albums, including the seminal Restless & Wild, Balls To The Wall and Metal Heart.

After leaving the band Dirkschneider formed U.D.O., and has released an epic SIXTEEN studio albums. He’s also played as Dirkschneider and performed duets with the likes of Raven, Doro and Lordi, but for the very first time in his career, he has just released a solo album – a collection of cover songs titled, appropriately, My Way.

Udo generously made some time to place a Zoom call and discuss the new album in detail with 100% ROCK MAGAZINE, just two weeks after his seventieth birthday.

100% ROCK: So, I have to say, it’s an absolute honour to talk to you. Restless and Wild, and Metal Heart were amongst the very first records I ever bought. Also, happy birthday to you for 2 weeks ago. How does it feel to be a 70-year-old headbanger?

Udo: Thankyou very much. Well, it’s just numbers [he laughs]. I don’t feel really that I’m 70 years old! Let’s say I’m full of energy, I’m looking forward to go on tour again. And after 2 years of pandemic, sitting in your home the whole time doing nothing. What can I say? I’m really full of energy to go out on tour again, and start slowly on the next studio album, so here we go.

100% ROCK: After all those years with Accept and U.D.O. – I think it’s almost 30 studio albums, and all the live albums, and compilations and everything – why was this the right time to make the first album under your own name?

Udo: It was a cover album. It was not really the plan to do one, it kind of just happened during some studio stuff. And we was making the first song that we did, just for fun, let’s say it in this way. That was Faith Healer, Sensational Alex Harvey Band, and that was a song when I was young – [and] still dancing [he laughs]! This song was played everywhere in discos, work clubs, everywhere. And that was always a song we would like to make a cover version of it.

So, and then we did it, and the song was great, and then people came up around me, producer and some other guys, they said, “Hey, what do you think about maybe to do a whole cover album?” I said, it’s always a cover album… I wouldn’t. Aie Aie Aie… It’s a little bit scary to do this! Okay. And then we did two more songs and then yeah, it came out very good and then we start talking with a record company, and then they said, “yeah, this sound is great – make up lists what kind of songs you would love to do.” So, and then I was making the list and, yeah.

All these songs that is now on the album is songs I would listen to as a person, not as a musician. That was my favourite songs in the end of the ’60s, the ’70s, beginning of the ’80s. And very important point for me was, with this cover album that I can put my own stamp, my own character on this. So we was arranging the songs a little bit different, making sometimes a little bit more heavier and stuff like that. But I think in the end, I’m really happy – REALLY happy – with the result.

100% ROCK: That’s fantastic. And you nailed it right there – it very much sounds like an U.D.O. album but those songs are still in there. I mean, We Will Rock You is a perfect example. It doesn’t sound anything like Queen. It sounds like YOU. But you know that the original song is in there somewhere.

Udo: Yes, very much.

100% ROCK: Was it difficult – or even intimidating – to find that balance between your sound and the original?

Udo: Not really. I mean, I had a really good team around me. For example, my producer, he knows also with together with this German guy who was also involved, Peter Coates in arranging stuff like that. Then, Stefan Kaufmann, of course, my old bandmate of Accept and U.D.O. I mean, I’m still doing all my work with him together, recording wise, and he knows exactly what is good and what is not good for me. And so it was really teamwork and to make the songs in the right direction for my voice.

100% ROCK: You are an icon, a rock legend in your own right, so is there a responsibility to do something special with these songs for their legacy and for your own?

[Udo looks almost embarrassed by the praise, modestly bowing his head before answering]

Udo: Not really. I mean, it’s like I did all the songs I really like, and that worked in a way also let’s say a little bit of my gift to myself for my birthday. Is that okay? There is no plans to go on tour with this [album] or something like that. Maybe we play some songs on the next [leg of the] Game Over tour [promoting the 2021 U.D.O. album of the same name], but we are now back, thank you, after two years that we can go on tour again. Maybe we will play a couple of songs, maybe two or three off the cover album, we will see. We start rehearsing in a couple of weeks and then we will see – maybe not in the main set list, but maybe at the encore.

100% ROCK: Were there any songs that you thought you wanted to do, but then you just couldn’t make them work?

Udo: [nodding with a chuckle] Well, there is another Queen song, that I really like, Who Want To Live Forever, but I think that it’s better not to do with my voice! This is something different. [laughs]

100% ROCK: I don’t think there are many people that could do that one really, really well. So I don’t think that’s anything to be ashamed of. Some people might not expect to hear you singing My Way, the way you sing it, which is far closer to Frank Sinatra’s original than anything else on the album. And, laden with strings and everything, it’s such an epic performance.

Udo: We’ve done this already when we did the Dirkschneider tour, and that was always a closing song when we said goodbye to the audience – but with the original version by Frank Sinatra. And then we want to put this on the live record, on the Dirkschneider live record and DVD, but then the publishing said, “no, we don’t give you the right to do this.”

And then we said, “we want to do this, what we can do?” And then Stefan Kaufmann came up to me and said, “we do the song on our own.” I said, “what that means?” “Yeah, you have to sing it. And I make all the arrangements for the song, blah, blah, blah.” And then, okay. I said, “if you are sure I can do that.” And they said, “yeah, I know you, I know you can do that.”

So here we go, we did this. And then it came to the cover album and we were searching for a title for this album, that was like, why we not named the album My Way? You did everything in the Udo way! You did what you want in your direction. And then they said, “okay, why not we put the song again on this album? Make a little bit like a remix of the song.” And here we go. And I think it fits perfectly on this album.

100% ROCK: It absolutely does, and you’re right about the title. It’s a no brainer. As soon as you made that decision, you must have said, “That was it all along.”

Udo: Yes, so it fit perfectly.

100% ROCK: Did you feel that doing My Way, and doing Nutbush City Limits in the way you did them, might have been a little bit risky for some of your hardcore metal fans?

Udo: Maybe, but in a way I think, if I do something, I never was thinking, oh, maybe the fans can say, “oh, what is this?” I did everything in ‘My Way’ and in a way, hopefully, nobody gets me wrong, but I don’t care. I want to make this like I want to do it. But so far everybody’s really like, “Whoa Nutbush City Limits? That’s interesting to hear,” so no problem!

100% ROCK: You used to do that as a rehearsal song with Accept, I’ve read somewhere?

Udo: Yeah, that was long time ago. When we start rehearsing for touring and stuff like that, it was many times we was warming up with the song but we never recorded this. When I start thinking about this cover album, I said, “now I have the chance to do it. So here we go.”

100% ROCK: Would you have made this album if the pandemic hadn’t have happened?

Udo: That’s a good question. Maybe… I think not. I mean, time wise definitely we [were supposed to be] on tour America, Canada, already before the war started in Russia, Ukraine, all the things. Touring in Russia and Europe, everything was moving, America and Canada was moved already two times. And now they’re working on dates at the beginning next year. And South America now, finally, we make it in June, we go to South America and over the summer we do some festivals and then we do Europe. Of course, there will be a big hole in October now we cannot go to Russia and Ukraine, this is completely cancelled about the whole situation there.

And then next year I think America, Canada is coming up and maybe, I cross my fingers, and we do Japan after a long time. And if we do Japan, we try again – we did try already many times to come to Australia. That is my dream, to do some shows in Australia. We never been with Accept in Australia, it was very near a couple of times. But then for some reasons, it doesn’t work. So if we do Japan, definitely I will really try for us to do some shows in Australia. It doesn’t matter if it’s small clubs or whatever, I want to do this.

100% ROCK: Fingers crossed – that would be a dream!

Udo: It’s also my dream.

100% ROCK: You have your son, Sven in the band now. Does that feel full circle to you? That you’re getting your own child into your band?

Udo: Yeah, it was not really planned. A little story behind this: I was on a promotion tour in Germany and Saxon was playing in Berlin. I was at the same day in Berlin and I went to the soundcheck to see my son [who was working for Saxon as a drum tech] and he was replacing for a couple of shows, the drummer of Saxon [Nigel Glockler), he was ill. And then I was talking to Biff and I said, “I have to look for new drummer. It’s not so easy for the kind of music I’m doing.” And he said, “why you are looking so far? It’s sitting behind the drums – it’s your son.” I said, “Hey, come on, are you joking?” He said, “believe me, he can do that.” So, and then I was talking to my son.

I said, “Hey, can you imagine to be the drummer in U.D.O.?” And it took a while. I think he was rehearsing everything, to see that he can do that. [laughs affectionately] And yeah, so now he’s given seven years in the band and I’m really happy to have him. He’s a really great drummer and now he’s becoming also, let’s say an important person for me musically. Now I start writing lyrics with him together. He’s coming up sometimes with some melodies for the vocals, he’s getting really into that and it’s good to have young people around me. It’s a different generation, they have sometimes a little bit different ideas. I’m old fashioned anyway and it’s good to have young people around me in a band. So, everything worked fine, but it’s not a typical father and son thing, it’s more like a friendship, it’s great to have him.

100% ROCK: That’s really special. And you’ve always had very high standards with the musicians you played with. So you must be very proud that he’s good enough to be in your band.

Udo: Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, when he started playing drums, that was when he was 5 years old with a little kick drum set, it was a horrible noise in our house! [laughs] But I thought, “okay, maybe after a couple of months, that’s it.” No, he was keep going and keep going. He had some lessons of drumming. He was playing in some youth bands, church bands, and then he was making his own band. And so he became better and better and better. So here we go in the end now finally [he is a] professional.

100% ROCK: Fantastic, mate. You’ve been a musician, and – if you’ll forgive me for saying so – a rock star, for pretty much your entire adult life, and you’ve seen extraordinary change both in the music industry and in what’s popular. How have you managed to stay sticking to your dream and not just giving it up and going and working as a plumber or a postman or something?

Udo: For me, when I start to think about to become a professional musician, that was in ’80/’81 to make the decision, you know what I mean? We had a tool factory at home, my parents had a factory and of course their wish was that I take over the factory.

100% ROCK: Right. I didn’t know that.

Udo: Yeah. But I was always into music and it grows bigger and bigger and bigger also already with the first album of Accept. And then in the ’80s, I had to make a decision. Factory? Or go into the madness? And I joined the madness, you know! [laughs] But also I had in a way, always a direction in my mind. I want to do it like this. And that was like, I never was listening too much to people around me that they say, “you have to do it like this or this.” I was always like, “I want to do it like THIS.” And I did it and I’m still doing this. And I think that’s the best thing what you can do – believe in yourself. And if you have your direction in your mind, then do it… and look, I don’t know how long, over 40 years in this business now and I’m still doing it, so I think that means I think I did something right!

100% ROCK: Is that self-belief what has kept you away from the negative side of the rock and roll lifestyle – the sex and drugs and rock and roll?

Udo: Yeah. Okay. Well, rock and roll, sex, also, but drugs, no. Let’s think of it this way, some people ask me, “if you can do this, the whole thing again, you will do the same way?” I say, “yes.” Of course there was some mistakes you did, bad things happened, but you’re learning, learning out of mistakes and you say, “ah, okay, this way you have to do like this and this and this.” And I think that’s very important. I think I will do the same again.

100% ROCK: Do you think that because the world’s starting to come back to normal, and you’re starting to get touring ready again – do you think that we can get back to a normal now or has the pandemic made some changes to the music industry forever?

Udo: It changed some things, definitely some promoters they went bankrupt. About the pandemic, I mean, there was no concerts, no selling alcohol or stuff like that. But I think in a way getting it would be normal. Definitely I know that already in South America it is not a problem. Of course you have to be careful – the pandemic is not over, really.

And in the summertime festivals, there will be no problem, definitely not. I mean, they have a really good hygienic system going on. And then the tour in September, the European tour, I think that will be happening, definitely. And America, at the moment, everybody’s touring in America. And now they are also working on dates for the beginning of next year. So I think in a way that will become normal again.

100% ROCK: We can only hope so. You have written so many songs in your career. Is it difficult when you sit down to write for a new record to not repeat yourself?

Udo: That’s a good question, yes. You are always in a different mood if you start with a new album. And I always say like this, the basic recipe of the cake will be not changing, but on top you can put different items on and that can make the whole thing more interesting. I don’t care what has happened with the last album. There are some ideas left from the last album, but we never used them. We always start from the beginning again and then we will see what’s coming up. Maybe it’s more melodic, more harder, I don’t know yet. So we will see also how the next U.D.O. album will be.

I have no idea, but I think always like what I did with U.D.O., definitely, is that I think all the albums are in a way a little bit different. Like for example, people was really surprised I did in the ’90s Faceless World was really melodic with harmony vocals and keyboard for the first time, and everybody said, “whoa, you cannot use keywords in heavy metal.” In the meanwhile, it doesn’t matter. And then the next album was Timebomb, that was so hard, so fast. And it’s, I don’t know, we will see what’s coming up the next time. And also what I don’t like is sometimes that people are coming up and saying, “why you not making an album like Animal House or Faceless World or something like that?” My answer is – they’re already existing, I don’t want to make a copy of this!

100% ROCK: Yeah, you don’t want to be Status Quo and make the same album 10 times. That’d be boring.

Udo: Yeah, that would be boring, definitely. Yeah!

100% ROCK: Do you have a favourite rock and roll movie?

Udo: Rock and roll movie… Oh yeah – the last movie I really like is the, I don’t know the name, but the Motley Crue one.

100% ROCK: Oh, The Dirt!

Udo: The Dirt. I’m really good friend with Motley Crue, especially with Mick Mars. I know Mick Mars from before he became the guitar player in Motley Crue. And I was on tour two times with Motley Crue – and this is EXACTLY like in the movie!

100% ROCK: And who do you think you would get to play Udo Dirkschneider in a movie about your amazing life?

Udo: Oh, I don’t think so. [shakes his head seriously] But, I mean, I am working slowly on a biography – I have around 100 pages already. I know some guys when I was making a movie in Russia together with Ken Hensley and Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, a rock and roll movie in Russia. I know there is one producer. He said, “why we are not making a biography about your career?” Maybe… I don’t know. But at the moment it’s not possible to make any connections with Russia at the moment – completely not possible. But you never know. I always say never say never.

100% ROCK: Absolutely. And that leads very nicely into my last question for you, then I’ll let you go, mate. After such an amazing career and so long in the business, do you have any pet projects which you haven’t managed to do yet, but you really want to do before you finish?

Udo: Yeah. Be careful, but my dream is to maybe write a rock musical. But it takes time to do this, you need first the story. I have the story in a way in my head, you have to write down the whole story and then you can start working on the music and all that stuff. But it takes time. I mean, we will see, maybe. I know some people, they maybe can be very interested to be involved in the whole thing, writing the story in the right direction, and then also music. But you need a lot of people writing songs and who can be the singer and then who’s playing the role. A big thing, but we will see, you never know.

 

NOTE that although Udo Dirkschneider speaks excellent English, he is first a German speaker, so I chose not to anglicise his answers, and instead left his phrasing pretty much exactly as he spoke it.

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