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Interviews U.D.O.

Interview with vocalist Udo Dirkschneider

Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen

Date online: March 14, 2024

Live pics by Luxi Lahtinen

When vocalist Udo Dirkschneider departed from Accept in 1987, he formed his own band U.D.O., which has had a colorful history (no reason to go into detail, google it if you are curious).

Many tours later and with 18 studio albums in its catalogue, the U.D.O. caravan shows no sign of slowing down. The band started their "Touchdown European Tour 2024" in Stavanger, Norway on February 1st and it arrived in Helsinki, Finland, on February 17th, where they played in front of a nearly sold-out audience, with Italian power metal band Frozen Crown filling the support slot.

The Metal Crypt managed to hook up with Udo right after soundcheck and got the chance to inquire about the ongoing tour, the Touchdown album, bassist Peter Baltes rejoining the band after leaving Accept in 2018, etc. Read on...

Thanks to the tour manager, Richard Peach, for setting up the interview.

First off, welcome to Finland, once again!

Udo Dirkschneider: Thank you. Once again, yes. It took a long time to come back. But finally, we made it.

You have been to Finland many times over the years, so playing in this country is nothing new. Is there something special about Finnish crowds in your opinion that sets them apart from other crowds? Can we Finns only have fun when we are drunk?

Udo: Haha... The Finnish crowd has always been good to us, yes. I have never had any other crowd in the world like that. The Finnish fans seem to be really into us, which is great, of course!


Have you felt overwhelmed by the fact all your shows have been pretty crowded, and even completely sold out, in some cases?

Udo: Yes, we have had some nearly sold-out shows. In Germany, more than half the shows are sold out already and in the Czech Republic, the shows are already completely sold out, so it looks like we are on a good tour right now. [*laughs*]

Touring isn't something one can take for granted because it requires a lot of pre-planning to make it happen. Do you see touring as a "mandatory evil," so to speak, that needs to be done so you can sell more albums and merchandise, or do you still enjoy it after so many years, even if some things may feel routine?

Udo: Yes, I still like touring a lot. You do need to plan it carefully beforehand, do all the needed routine stuff, just to get onto the right touring track. I'm still into doing it all. Otherwise, I'd not be here. [*laughs*]

Of course, once we make a new album, the most important thing is for me to go on tour and see the reaction of the fans. Also, when we have like - I don't know, 19 (!) studio albums, it's not so easy to make a set list anymore [*laughs*].

That was something I was going to ask you next. Was it easy to build a set list for this tour? I mean, the more albums you have under your belt, the tougher it may become because you have a lot of songs to choose from, right?

Udo: Yes, I think we have a good mixture of both old and new songs. We will play four songs off our latest album Touchdown on this tour. We try to combine our newer albums with older albums. So far, it looks like the set list works pretty nicely.

In other words, you found a good balance between old and new stuff for this tour, it seems.

Udo: Yes, I think so. Absolutely!

The stuff you play also seems to link generations of fans together, which, of course, is such a cool thing...

Udo: Yes, really all of them.

You've also played Queen's "We Will Rock You" on this tour. Where did this idea come from?

Udo: Well, I made the cover album, My Way (released in April 2022), and this particular song is on the cover album. Everybody said, "Hey, let's try to bring it in as the last song of the set list on this tour." I hesitated a little bit at first and wasn't sure if it was a good idea, but it seems to work, so eventually we just went for the idea and started playing it.

When I arrived at the venue a while ago, I heard you playing it at the soundcheck, and it sounded really, really good, actually.

Udo: Thank you. Here we go. Now it's a part of our setlist. [*laughs*]


German label, Atomic Fire Records, put out your 18th studio album, titled Touchdown, in August last year. It has been very well received among the fans of the band. When you recorded this album, did your gut feeling tell you that you had a great album on your hands?

Udo: Yes, I think, on the one hand, there is typical U.D.O. stuff on the album, but, on the other hand, it has a lot of modern stuff. For me, it is a really good mixture of everything that we have incorporated into the songs on this album. Everybody's really into the album. I think that people like it and I guess that's a reason why we have so many sold out shows on this tour. People are interested in coming to our shows, which we are grateful for, of course. We were like, "Wow... what's going on?" It was really overwhelming to find out how well the tickets were selling in advance for this tour, so it's all good, of course.

As far as writing a new album is concerned, let me put it this way: I never sit down and say, "Okay, let's write an album that sounds like this or that, like Holy or Man and Machine, or whatever. We simply try out different things to see what sounds good to us and what doesn't. Then, after a while, little pieces just start locking into the right places and we have full songs on our hands. Peter may say, "Oh, that sounds very interesting. Let's try it here and see if it works or not."

So, in other words, you are not afraid of trying out different things when you are in the middle of the songwriting process...

Udo: No, never. I think that keeps us motivated when we try out something new every once in a while. Well, I don't want to say new, but different. Of course, I have three younger people in the band nowadays. Our guitar players, Andrey and Dee, are both young. My son, Sven, is young, so all of them come from a different generation. They listen to different kinds of music, and it's very interesting. Also, as we now have Peter Baltes back on bass, it's going to be interesting to see how our next album sounds due to having people from different generations in the band. That will be very interesting when writing the next album. I know Peter's a really good composer, and he has already come up with some ideas. His ideas don't sound like your typical Accept stuff, so it will also be very interesting to see how everything works out for us regarding the band's new material.

We will see but at the moment, we are doing this "Touchdown" tour, so we don't have to worry too much yet. [*laughs*] I guess it will take at least two years before we have reached the point when we have a new album on our hands again.


How has it been working with Peter after so many years?

Udo: What can I say? With Peter, it's a lot of fun. He feels very, very comfortable in the band, and I think also for him, it's a lot of fun to be in the band, too. He's always together with the guitar players - and of course, with me, too. In a way, I feel like, "Oh, he's back." When I'm on stage, in the very beginning, it felt a little bit strange, but now, it feels like there was never a break between two of us. It's fun, yes.

The brotherhood thing never goes away, right?

Udo: Yes, that's true. It's definitely bonding the two of us together.

What about Mathias Dieth (ex-U.D.O., etc.)? I heard here's in town right now.

Udo: Yes. He will join us on stage tonight.

So, this is like a hush-hush thing?

Udo: Yes, nobody knows yet, except you now. [*laughs*] We already did the soundcheck with him.

How was it seeing him?

Udo: It was all good. I don't see him that often, but he always comes to our concerts in Germany. We did The Old Gang stuff together. We are still in contact.

It's nice to see him again. It will be the first time with me on stage in twelve years for him.


You recorded this album in many locations over five months. Did this happen because it was tough to get the band together in one place, and record all of your instruments for the album?

Udo: Yes. We had to do so because of the pandemic or COVID stuff. That was the reason. Normally, when we start working on a new album, we get together in a small studio and then come up with some ideas and then we start working on those ideas together.

For the next album, we will definitely go back to the normal studio routine when we can all be in one place and share ideas. In fact, we already have a plan for this, but for the Touchdown album, it was not just possible. That meant I was doing vocals in one studio. My son was doing the drums in Stefan Kaufmann's ROXX studio. Peter was doing the bass recordings in America. He has his own studio. With modern technology, you can send audio files back and forth, so things can be done this way, which is great.

Our guitarists, Andrey and Dee, did their things sometimes in the studio, sometimes from their homes. The thing is that nobody really likes that. Okay, it works somehow, having these Zoom meetings that allow you to talk about this and that and blah blah with each other.

I thank God that, hopefully, everything is over COVID-wise at least, and we can work as a band like we did with the Steel Factory album. We worked together in one room, working together as a tight unit, so hopefully we can work this way with the next album, too.

Indeed. When jamming together in one place, different ideas may start hurling back and forth and you are also able to give your sincere opinion in that kind of situation to everyone if something sounds good or not...

Udo: Yes, exactly. You can tell each other directly, "Hey, perhaps you can try to play this or that part this or that way, just to make it sound better." That's the true advantage when everyone has gathered in one spot, so different ideas get shared instantly. That's a much better way to work with each other than being in different locations.

The songs on this album are heavy and they are straightforward heavy metal from start to finish, which is something the fans want to hear from the band. Would you also say that you have been the type of guy who prefers singing rough and powerfully rather than doing ballads, which are a whole different ballgame really?

Udo: Yes, but then again it always depends on what kind of mood you are in when you start working on a new album. Sometimes, I prefer singing a little bit more melodic. On Touchdown, I took a harder road so to speak because the album's got more straightforward songs than softer songs but there's still a lot of melodic stuff in there, too. As I mentioned earlier, I never pre-plan how our next album should sound when we start working, we just try to pick the best moments from those sessions, and that's it really.

On the new album, you have a song called "Fight for the Right," which kind of surprises some listeners with its short snippet of Mozart's "Turkish March." Whose idea was it to get some Mozart into this song?

Udo: That was Andrey's idea. He has had this idea for a long time, but we never had the kind of song where it fit, but this one was perfect for that.

"Fight for The Right," of course, is about something that's been going on between Russia and Ukraine. He was in Ukraine when the Russian invasion started, which was also a nightmare for the rest of us. Fortunately, now he's here in Germany.

Sadly, the battle and struggle go on in Ukraine, but let's not get to those things more accurately this time, just to avoid any political talk, you know... [*chuckles*]

Udo: Yes, let's just skip this subject and move on...


What's your take on some classical music composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Brams, Wagner, and so on?

Udo: First off, let me say that my favorite is Bach. I like Bach and Tchaikovsky, stuff like that. Sometimes, when I'm in the right mood, I listen to classical music, but not always. For me, Bach's "Fugue" series just makes me feel calm and good, you know.

Is it the kind of stuff you want to listen to when you want to relax a little bit at home, perhaps?

Udo: Yes, sometimes. It depends on what kind of mood I am in. Sometimes at home, I put some Bach on and then listen to it, sometimes just to calm down a little bit. This is not to say it is the most important stuff for me personally.

Do you think that a big chunk of classical music has some elements that are also used in heavy metal music?

Udo: Oh, yeah! A good thing about classical music is that if you are into that, you really start to understand better what the overall meaning of atmosphere is in heavy metal music. You kind of realize like, "okay, if I put this piece here, then I believe I can also make it sound more atmospheric" you know. It's not a bad thing to listen to classical music at all.

There is a song called "Living Hell" on this latest U.D.O. album, which tells about the tough life of a poor woman who simply tries to make some sort of living, even selling her body for extra money. Is this song based on a true story, or does it tell the harsh reality for many women who are simply trying to survive in their lives with their low-paid jobs and stuff?

Udo: No, it's not based on any single true story. We all know some women try to make their living like this, let's say, simply to survive. They're, of course, not really happy to live their lives this way, but they struggle and try to make some money to get their bills paid and all that stuff you know. So, we figured, "okay, why not write a song about this?"


Your son, Sven, has been touring with the band since 2015. How has this father and son collaboration been working for the two of you for these past nine years, from the father's point of view especially?

Udo: Yes, he's now been nine years in the band. [*chuckles*] Our relationship works perfectly. He's now really into a lot of things; touring-wise, production-wise and so on. Besides being involved in the music creation process, he's doing so many things as well. He's a really good drummer, by the way. He has really good ideas; plus he can also sing very well. I'm happy to have him in the band. Let me tell you I'm proud of him. He has become a very, very important guy in the band.

Last time I got to talk to him here in Helsinki, Finland, in 2017, he was telling me that it was normal to him to meet famous rock and heavy metal people during his childhood because he was going to places with you, and this way he got to meet all of these, if you will, rock and metal celebrities.

Udo: Yes, also when he was like, I don't know, like just a kid, I took him to Wacken with me, for example, which, of course, allowed him to meet this or that person.

Nowadays, he knows everything. He was on tour with Saxon. He was playing with Saxon when their drummer was ill. He really knows what's going on. I don't want to say it's like a father-and-son thing. It's more friendship, in my opinion. If we have to talk about something really private, then that's not about the band. This talk between the two of us goes somewhere outside of this band-related topics.


Just a couple of questions about touring matters. You have a lot of touring to be done this year, and after this Scandinavian tour, you'll head back to Europe and then in September and October this year, you have plenty of North American dates, like 25 or something. Seems like you have a pretty hectic touring season going on right now....

Udo: Yes, indeed. First off, this summer we'll also have some festivals to be done, and I know already there are also some more festivals coming for us as well. After the festivals, we'll head our way to America and Canada. Then we'll see what may happen in the latter part of the year. If there's nothing coming for us, then we most likely will slowly start working on the material for our next album. Next year? We will just have to wait and see what we'll do next year. I don't know yet. We will be writing new stuff for sure.

You basically don't do like two or three years of plans ahead of time, pondering what you might be doing the next couple of years or so?

Udo: No. Of course, you have to make some touring stuff, but first and foremost, you need to get a new album out and to go on tour to promote it. We don't have any master plans for 5 or 7 years into the future or anything.


Okay then, I have just one last question for you and then we are done. What's up with Dirkschneider & the Old Gang? Can you see this band getting reactivated at some point?

Udo: Maybe, you never say never. It may happen that we may do something together again sometime, but at the moment, there is simply no time for that.

So, in other words, it's not on your bucket list right now?

Udo: No. If it happens, it happens. If not, so be it. Also, Mathias is involved in that, so we will see. I don't know. Everything's possible, though.

Never say never...

Udo: Yes, never say never.

Well, that's all I had in mind, so thank you very much, Udo, for your time, and, of course, all the best to your tonight's show as well.

Udo: You're welcome. Thank you very much.

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