By John Parks
Whether singing for the legendary German metal band Accept or fronting his own band U.D.O., hard music fans and critics agree that Udo Dirkschneider is a certifiable legend in the industry.
Dirkschneider’s signature leathery vocals are unmistakable, and even more interestingly, just as strong today as when he started releasing albums in the late 1970s with Accept.
U.D.O., the band, has a new album coming this May titled Steelhammer, but are also touring the U.S. promoting re-issues of their back catalog, including a “best of” collection and live album. The new tour is including a stop in the area at Back Bar (www.thebackbar.com) in Janesville, Wis., April 17.
I recently had the chance to speak with the iconic vocalist about his past and current music when he arrived in the United States to begin preparations for the tour.
Q: Thanks for talking to us today, Udo. It was just recently your birthday, but by the sound of your new material, you are not slowing down at all!
A: Thank you. The sound on the new album Steelhammer is a little more down to earth, and I produced it along with our bass player, Fitty Weinhold, and it is a little bit different than what Stephan (Kaufmann, producer) did in the past. Stephan was more into computer stuff, and it was nice to be able to work on this album face-to-face with each other in the studio. We were going back a bit to how we did things in the past, rather than sending files back and forth on the computer. I think you can hear it in the energy of the album, and so far, the people who have heard it have said, “Yeah, this sounds much better than the last couple of U.D.O. records.” Fitty and I wrote the songs, and we ended up producing it together — and our partnership has been going pretty well, so I think we did the right thing.
Q: I am friendly with a dear old friend of yours, famed record producer Michael Wagener, who told me you guys go way back and knew each other as kids. Do you have fond memories of those days?
A: Yes, yes. What can I say? Michael and I have known each other since we were 6 years old (laughs)! We knew each other from the moment we started going to school, and I grew up with Michael and we created Accept together in 1971, and there is a long story there, of course. I also had a production company with Michael in the early ’80s, so we did a lot of production stuff together. I am still good friends with Michael, and actually had it in my mind that maybe he could produce the new album, but he was busy with the band Lordi.
Q: You and your bassist Fitty have been working together for over 10 years and it been a pretty good partnership. You know how difficult it can be being in a band if people don’t see eye to eye. How is this particular lineup of U.D.O. getting along in general?
A: Very well. The lineup changes were nothing we ever planned on. We never planned on Stefan (Kaufmann, former guitarist/producer) leaving the band. We have two new guitar players — Andrey Smirnov from Russia and Kasperi Heikkinen from Finland, and in the band, and they bring that young, fresh blood to the band. I am really happy with these guys and the energy they bring to the band. We have only played one show, a big festival in Ecuador, and it felt like we had been playing together for years. So that is a good sign!
Q: Being such a classic metal musician, I would have to imagine you don’t really listen to metal at home on your down time. Is that fair to say?
A: No, I don’t really listen to metal at home too much in private (laughs). Of course, when something new comes out from one of the old metal bands like Saxon or Motorhead, I will listen to it and see what kind of production they have and things like that. Also, my son is now 19 years old and the drummer in a band, so he’s always sending me stuff from new bands, which is very good, but I can never remember their names, there are so many. There is so much good stuff out there, but when I’m at home, I usually am taking a break from it a bit.
Q: That’s cool about your son. I imagine you have plenty of advice!
A: Yeah, I do. He was growing up around all this stuff, of course, and it is good to see him drumming. He is very good. He played with us a bit at the Wacken Festival in Germany, and he and his band are writing songs for their first album already. I will keep an eye on him, of course.
Q: The first single from the new album is appropriately titled “Metal Machine,” which works since it is such a classic heavy metal-sounding track. Will the rest of the new album follow suit, or are there a lot of different moods on Steelhammer?
A: Well, there really is a lot of different stuff on this new album, to be honest. There is a ballad on this album. There is some piano and orchestra on one track, and quite a lot of melodies on this material. At the same time, there is, of course, plenty of really heavy stuff like “Metal Machine,” and speedy songs like that. You can see the whole spectrum of what U.D.O. can do on this record. There will be 15 songs on the U.S. Digipack version. The record label was thinking it was a bit too much material, but I wanted to put it all on here and make it all available for people. I think they will really like all of it.
Q: You not only have the new album coming out, but your back catalog and “best of” collection has also been remastered and re-released. Do you hear from fans who are maybe so young they weren’t even born when the albums were originally released?
A: Yeah, it has been really interesting the last three or four years. Especially in Europe, there have been really young people coming out to the concerts. We will see what it’s like when we tour here in America, but in Europe, there is a completely new generation coming up who are only interested in the old style of metal like this and not so much into the newer bands. It is very interesting to see 15- or 16-year-old guys and girls in the crowd up front singing “Balls to The Wall” (laughs). Very interesting, but it’s definitely good to see. It will be nice to be back in front of the U.S. audiences again, playing not only the U.D.O. stuff, but also the classic Accept songs as well.
From the April 10-16, 2013, issue