U.D.O.: There’s No Stopping This Heavy Metal Icon

UDOAs the intense and dynamic frontman of German heavy metal band Accept in the late seventies and early eighties, Udo Dirkschneider’s stage presence was much bigger than the man himself. Almost every music fan is familiar with his growling vocals on Accept’s 1983 single “Balls to the Wall”. Since first leaving Accept in 1987, Udo has had a successful solo career of nearly thirty-five years and seventeen studio albums with the seventeenth, “Game Over”, just released October 22. The album is classic Udo and his mostly new band which includes son Sven on drums, who keeps him young. At 69 years of age, Udo is not slowing down, rather he’s restless and ready to get back on the road and do what he does best.

You have a new album coming out, “Game Over.” That’s your 17th studio album. You’re a very busy person. It’s a very somber message in this album. Do some of the songs have to do with war and climate change? What’s the creative process that you go through for that?
It was a little bit different during the pandemic, to begin the whole album during the pandemic time. Although that was the reason that we have more time, and we can put up a lot of songs. But it was difficult to do the recording and the whole process of the album.

Normally, when we are coming up with ideas, we go in one room together and start arranging together with the producer but that was not possible. So that means we did everything over the Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, stuff we did over the conference and that took time.

Then you say maybe you can change something here and then you have to wait for a link so you could listen to that, do another conference, and that took some time and then also the major recording in the studio.

That was also not possible, it only allowed two people in the room at a time, so that was the sound engineer and one musician, also doing one by one.

What can I say, not so easy and normally we would be working different but I think in the end I’m happy with the result. I think we have good songs, there’s a good mix up on the album. I hope people like it.

Who does the writing, is it you?
Everybody. Let’s say of course on some songs the main idea came from Andrey, or from Dee, or from Tilen. For the first time, I was doing all the lyrics together with my son and also he came up here. There’s a lot of trust. He would come up with some melodies and asked, can you do this like this? Or he was changing some melodies of what I was doing.

He says Yeah but you can do it different and in the end it was a whole bunch of us working. Everybody was, okay, can we change it here? Can we use another harmony or whatever. So for me this album is definitely a bent album.

I understand that something happened with your son’s studio, it got flooded during the tours in Germany.
I was lucky before the flood happened we did all the melodies and lyrics for all the songs. That was not really funny at the moment, he can’t live in the house anymore. It not only flooded the cellar but also the basement, it was unbelievable. He might be able to move back to the house maybe next year in March or April.

UDO album coverIt’s kind of ironic that your son’s studio is flooded because you talk about climate change in the music as well.
In a way, I did it more on another one, but on this album it’s also a little bit in there. But of course we definitely have climate change going on. If you are watching TV, you see all the fires going on in the south of Europe, also California and in Siberia and Russia.

There’s also the floods that have happened in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland. I think the title of the album fits perfectly now. If we are not doing something then it’s game over. So the title fits.

Your son Sven has been your drummer now for five or six years. Did you think growing up that he would ever be in your band? Was that a thought that you had or did it just kind of happen?
No, not really. The funny thing was we were looking for a new drummer, of course I had some people in mind and then I was in Berlin for some promotion and Saxon was playing. My son was replacing the drummer of Saxon because he was ill at this time and then I was talking to Biff and I said, well you know I have to look for a new drummer. He instantly said yeah while you’re working so far away, why don’t you take your son. I said hey come on, are you sure. He said yeah come on, if he can play with Saxon and stuff he can play the U.D.O stuff.

Then I was asking my son. I said You think you can do that? Or do you want to do that? And it took awhile and then he came up and said, Okay I’ll do it. He’s been in the band for six years now. He became in my opinion, a really, really good drummer. And he’s really into that and he’s doing a lot of stuff for U.D.O. I can say I’m really proud of him and what he did. In the beginning I was never thinking about how my son is playing now or sitting behind me now on stage.

Were you a little unsure about having your relationship change to that of a working relationship?
Yeah. The rest of the members were a little bit scared. They were like oh no, the son of Udo is in the band. But I made it clear directly from the beginning, I said guys this is a member of the band and if you have to do something in private, maybe do it in private and not in front of the band. I don’t want to say it’s not a typical father and son thing, but it’s more a friendship. It worked perfectly.

You also recorded “Shoot To Thrill” for the Back in Black re-ducts album.
Yeah, Peter Baltes was asking me, is it possible to do one song, but his son is in his band, you know. I said yeah Peter why not, I mean, which song is it? Oh I’m doing a tribute for AC/DC and I said yeah and then I did it, so no problem at all.

I think you’ve always been compared to Brian Johnson over the years with a similar voice.
Yeah, but sometimes people are writing okay next time if AC/DC has a problem with a singer then Udo can replace the singer.

I think when you were younger you actually sounded a little bit like Bon Scott in my opinion.
Also, a lot of people were talking when I was younger, I was a little bit more in this direction. But I never did any copy of Bon Scott. But it was very interesting what people said.

How do you take care of your voice after all these years?
To be honest, nothing, I do nothing. The only thing I did seventeen years ago was stopped smoking and the rest I don’t have any lessons. I never warm up before I go on stage. I never warm up before I start singing in the studio. I don’t know I’m lucky, I’m really lucky.

There’s always been that AC/DC tie. Back in the day, you guys recorded a AC/DC song, “I’m A Rebel”.
That was when we got to demo that for the “I’m A Rebel” album. Our publisher came up and said, hey we have an A track demo from AC/DC but they don’t want to use the song, are you interested Yeah. Okay let’s have a listen and then we said, oh yes, of course we want to do that. It’s a little bit more softer than the original one, but it’s a little bit more funky in there.

You always had more of a punk sound I think in my opinion.
Sometimes I play that song as an encore. It just went worldwide, unbelievable. That’s on AC/DC then they didn’t use it.

Are you going to continue to play Accept songs in your set list because you went out as Dirkschneider a couple years ago as basically your farewell to that part of your career, but are you having second thoughts?
With the way the world is, I was too quick to say that I won’t play any Accept songs anymore, after three years and nearly three hundred shows that we did. I also had enough U.D.O stuff. People are always asking about this, they want to definitely hear the classic stuff from time to time, so I do this, but it’s not really planned. We don’t have to rehearse the songs because we played them so many times and if we are in the mood, we do it and if we are not, then we don’t do it.

It’s almost a curse having had so much success with Accept back in the day.
Oh yeah of course it’s like history. In a way, all the people are definitely always asking for “Balls to the Wall”. It was one of the biggest songs for Accept back in America. The promoters for example when we were talking about the American tour, we heard that Udo said he would never played any Accept songs and my management said yes, but U.D.O can’t do a tour without doing “Balls to the Wall”. Then I said okay please tell the promoters no problem, I’ll play that one in America. I know that the people want to hear that, it’s in a way you mentioned Deep Purple without “Smoke on the Water”, the people want to hear this.

I think for the people in North America, that’s the one song that they know, even if they don’t know your music. It’s almost kind of the hook to bring you in and then they get to hear the U.D.O songs.
Yeah but I’ve been out two times already with U.D.O on tour, they already know a lot of stuff with U.D.O but of course they wish they could hear more Accept songs. But anyway, I can live with the whole situation.

UDO smallWhen you left Accept and went solo in 1987, the music was written by your Accept band mates, that doesn’t usually happen. Can you explain that?
The album Animal House, was normally planned for after the Russian Roulette album, but they wanted to be more commercial, more American marketed. I didn’t want to do that. They said they didn’t need these songs, and if I wanted to do some more completely different stuff, I could take all these songs and do whatever I wanted with it. To me it was an easy start to do my solo thing and it was quite successful. Everybody says this Accept album – wow! Under the name Accept, I said yeah I’m lucky maybe.

You guys have stayed friends over the years obviously and collaborated.
Yeah of course, I worked together with Peter Baltes as he was on the We are One album. He left Accept but he has to tell the world why, I don’t want to do that. I know why but anyway it’s not my thing. For me, the most difficult thing is to work together with Wolf, there’s many reasons it doesn’t work. In the meanwhile I did a new album over 17 U.D.O albums, but of course the Accept history will always be there. But U.D.O can tour world wide, we can do headline shows, we have a really good reaction on U.D.O.

You have a much longer history with U.D.O then Accept and you’re not afraid to experiment either. You do some symphonic stuff like what you did last year with the German Army band. Do you feel like your music inspired a lot by symphonic metal that you hear in Europe today?
I’d always wished to do something with an Orchestra but not with a Symphony like violins and cello’s and all that stuff, it’s too soft and I don’t want to do that.

For some reason, I met all these guys who were the best and then felt those were the songs I want to have and so we did an album together. It was still metal, heavy metal. I was really happy to do this, it was a lot of work but the end result, I was really happy with that.

It was our plan to do this last year at the festival but because of the pandemic, it was not possible. Of course lots of people said oh no U.D.D. is coming out with this, but then when the album came out it was like oh whoa what’s this.

Was that the only live show that you’ve done since the pandemic?
Yes that was, the promoter came up and asked if we would like to do an outdoor show and I said yeah okay. But in the end it really worked and then they showed the venue and it was ‘Wow that looks fantastic’ so we recorded and everything is done.

Go to UDO-Online.com to check out tour dates, music and more.

 

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Dan is a photographer and writer who loves all forms of music and entertainment with a particular passion for the classic rock of his youth. Whether in the photo pit or chatting with local or international artists, Dan is in his element and enjoys bringing the story to you, the 519 community. https://www.facebook.com/27thfloorphotography | https://www.instagram.com/27thfloorphotography