INTERVIEW AND PHOTOS BY MARKO SYRJALA
U.D.O. is a German heavy metal band founded by legendary lead vocalist Udo Dirkschneider following his departure from Accept in 1987. The group has released sixteen studio albums, several live albums and toured extensively around the world. In 2015 the band announced that U.D.O. would take an extended break, which toured several years as Dirkschneider. The tour, titled “Back to the Roots,” turned out to be extremely successful and lasted close to three years. But after closing the tour with a series of summer festival dates in 2018, it was time for U.D.O. to return. “Steel Factory” was released in August, and soon after, the renewed lineup started the tour, which reached Finland in March. I met a good-humored Udo in Helsinki, and here’s what the man had to say about the new album, renewed lineup, and various other things.
THE RETURN OF U.D.O.
First of all, welcome back to Finland. It’s been four years since you last performed here as U.D.O.
Yeah, but after that, I played Finland a couple of times as Dirkschneider. But yes, this is the first time we are here as U.D.O. since then.
However, a lot of things have happened since 2015, so let’s start with that. How would you sum up what has been going on with the band during the last four years?
After the “Decadent” album that we were on a tour of last time, we said, “Okay, maybe we want to make a little break?”. A lot of people were always asking, “Oh, can you not play more and more Accept songs and blah, blah, blah?” and then we said, “Okay, we will do some special Accept shows, maybe just 10, 15,” and then at the end it was nearly three years and nearly 300 shows [laughter]. Yeah. In a way, I mean, we honestly think that it was a good time. I didn’t expect that much like it was completely exploding. So, and then after that tour, we started working on the new album “Steel Factory,” and here we go, we are again.
I was at Wacken when you announced the “Back to the Roots” tour, and then you said that it’s going to be only a couple of selected shows to celebrate your past with Accept. But as you said, things changed, and the tour lasted nearly three years.
I didn’t know that it was like going to explode, the whole thing. In a way, it was a good sign, but then I also said, “Okay, after this, I don’t play any Accept songs anymore.” So, on this tour, we don’t play any Accept songs. So, and the people accept it and, yeah. So, I mean, there was nobody– there were some people who still keep on asking Accept songs, but I said, “Okay, now it’s a different band.” So, everything is fine. I think this works out very well on this tour so far. You cannot satisfy everybody, but people have to remember that we have sixteen U.D.O albums out. It wasn’t easy to make up a setlist, but it has worked very well so far.
The band has undergone several changes since the last visit. Would you tell me something about the recent line-up changes and also present the new band members?
Yeah. I mean, the first thing was when we lost Fitty Wienhold after the festival season. So, he said to me that he didn’t want to do it anymore. He was tired of touring and many other things, and he said he would never want to do it anymore. For me, it was a situation after two years on the road, you know? But, okay, it was his decision and what can I do with it. Are you sure?” And he said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
And then, the guitar player, Bill Hudson [laughter] Let’s say, he is a good guitar player, but he is not a guy to work in a band. He is not a team player. He is more Bill Hudson. At the end of the Dirkschneider tour, everybody felt like we were doing the Bill Hudson show. And he was never — you don’t get a feeling that he really wanted to do it or be in the band. He was always just Bill Hudson. So, and then after the tour, I said, “Okay, Bill. Sorry. That doesn’t work.” And so then, for the summer festivals, yeah, Stefan Kaufmann did the rest of the tour. I mean, it was easy for him to play Accept songs. It was not a big deal for him. We were rehearsing only one week together, and then we said, “Okay. Everything works.” So, after the festivals, it was important for me to have time to find a new guitar player. So, we found Fabian Dee Dammers. He is 26 years old. And I cannot really explain it. It was like he just came for an audition, and I said, “That’s it.” And he is now really into the band, working together with Andrey really well. And he’s a team player.
It’s like the same with Tilen Hudrap, the new bass player. It wasn’t easy to find the right guy. So, once Andrey came up and said, “Hey, there was that great bass player with Vicious Rumors. He was open up for us. Maybe he can be the right one.” So, and then we got in contact, and that was it. We decided to go forward. Yeah. So far, I mean, what can I say about the band? It’s a group of young people around me [laughter]. Yeah, my son is 25. Our new guitar player Fabian is 26 and Tilen is 30. And the oldest one is now Andrey with 35. But that is not old. “Laughs” Yeah, for me, it’s all good. It’s really like fresh blood. And everything is really like pushing each other. Yeah, everybody that has seen the show so far they have said, “You can see they have fun on stage. The whole band!”
Let’s discuss a bit about the latest U.D.O. album, “Steel Factory.” What do you think about the record now, eight months after the release?
I’m really happy with the album. It did very well everywhere, so it’s a good thing.
“Steel Factory” has succeeded much better than any U.D.O. album in a long time. And I think that the reason for that is that you’ve gone back to your musical roots with this album. This album sounds like a mix of the early U.D.O. albums like “Animal House” and the old Accept stuff. So, what makes this album different from many previous U.D.O. albums?
The thing was that after “Steelhammer,” which was not such an easy album to do, because Stefan Kaufmann was out of the band. I knew that he was not producing us anymore. And let’s say that I’m going back to the musical roots and composing-wise with this album. It wasn’t anything like the previous album. What we did then was that we did the whole album over the internet. Somebody would send me a link, and I’ll have a listen. “Ah, yeah, maybe you can do it like this.” So, and then they said, “No. I don’t want to do this”, and so on. But this time, we went together into a rehearsal room for three weeks, and we did everything face to face. And I think that’s it was the right choice. If somebody comes up with an idea, “Ah, maybe you can change it here, do it like this.” I couldn’t try to add some melodies on there. So, and that was the best decision we’ve made in a couple of years.
This album also differs from many previous U.D.O. albums because instead of using programmed drums, there’s a real drummer (Udo’s son Sven) used on the album. And that makes the whole sound much dynamic and authentic compared to some older records.
Yeah, also “Steelhammer” and “Decadent” were played by a real drummer. But this is a little bit more like really real, the whole album. So, I mean, we did do the bass and the guitar. No, the bass and the drums were recorded by Holger Thielbörger in the old Accept studio. You’ll hear the old stuff in the sound. I did work vocals together with Stefan Kaufmann again, and we did those in Denmark with Jacob Hansen. So, then Jacob went on to mixing the whole stuff. And, I don’t know, I think I will do the same with the next album. It was a perfect combination. Yeah, and now with a new band, I mean, I’ve already got some ideas. Yep, I’m looking forward already to the next album.
This album was released in August of 2018, but it was recorded a long time before?
Yeah, in a way. We finished the album at the beginning of January 2018, and it came out in August. So yeah, I mean, it’s like I think that was the best thing to do. In a way, we can be lucky that we have this luxury, and we can do that; not all bands can do that. That’s why most things are going over the internet, and blah, blah, blah. So, we are lucky.
DEEPER INTO TRACKS
Like you mentioned, with this album, you kind of went back to your roots. Not only musically but also how to record and use certain studios and people in the process. And I can say that your plan worked out great. For example, there are songs like “Rising High,” which could have been on any Accept album?
It is because Stefan Kaufmann composed that one. [laughter]. The song could have been on any Accept album. And that was an interesting thing… When we were sitting together, Jacob said he brought these old ideas, and he said, “It’s a little bit old-fashioned,” but he put a modern sound on it, so the combination was perfect.
Another really “Accept” sounding song is “Make the Move.”
Yeah, many people say it’s a little like “Living for Tonight” but has a different groove. It’s different, but it worked perfectly, so good.
A good song is a good song.
Yeah. That’s what it is.
“In the Heat of the Night” is a great song, and if you ask me, it could have been included on recent Lordi albums because it has that big melodic hook on the chorus. Do you agree with that? “Laughs”
“Laughs” Yeah. I mean, “In the Heat of the Night,” it’s not directly, I would say, heavy metal. But we played it tonight, and it worked perfectly live. So, there are a lot of melodies. It’s like going more like into pop-rock stuff a little bit. Yeah, what I also like about this album is that now we have many different styles of this album, which makes it interesting to listen to.
And then there is “One Heart, One Soul,” which has already become the ultimate U.D.O. anthem.
That’s definitely a song we really like. That’s why we also did the video clip of the song. Yeah, I mean, the meaning of it, if you know. Okay, it’s a dream? I don’t know if it will happen, but it’s like one world, one heart, one soul. It’s like we are living in one world, and I mean, why are we fighting each other? I mean, the world is not so big? I think it’s better to live together in peace. That’s the whole meaning.
It’s a great song and very different from other stuff on the album.
There are a lot of– I don’t know? But it was not like that we were sitting there and said, “Okay, we have to do it like this or this,” it won’t just happen that way. We had, I don’t know, about 27, 28 not finished ideas, and that was one of those, and I said, “Okay, let’s use this, this, and this, and this, and this, you know?
Since U.D.O. started, you always had a strong “left hand” in the band. In the early days, there was Mathias Dieth, and then you had Stefan Kaufmann and Fitty, so is there someone in the band who is your “trusted” man now?
Now I think for me the main person meanwhile is definitely Andre. He’s, for me, the main person also coming up with ideas and stuff like that. So, we are up at the same what I had a long time ago with somebody else. And now definitely I think that also the next step will be Fabian. He’s coming up with pretty good stuff. And the good thing is for after a long, long time, I now have two great guitarists in the band, not only one, and the other one is like just standing there. It’s now they’re really working together, and this is like what I’ve been searching for for a long, long time. And, yeah. So, I mean, what can I say? Tilen is also coming up with some ideas. My son is coming up with some stuff, you know? So that will be very interesting, the next album.
Yeah, and it will be a real band album again, I suppose?
Yes. And that’s the most important thing.
Interestingly, the former Accept singer David Reece was the opening act on the previous part of this tour. How well do you know each other and did everything work well with him after all these years?
It was good, and I never had any problems with David. I mean, in 1989, when they were recording the “Eat the Heat” album, and they were downstairs, and at the same time, I was recording “Mean Machine” is upstairs, at the same studio complex, you know? So, he was always hanging in our studio and talking, drinking, and stuff like that. I never had any problems with him. And then when he was asking about the tour, he said, “Okay, if I play some “Eat the Heat” songs in my set, is it ok for you?”. I said, “David, that is not my album. Do your thing on this on this tour, of course. You can do that; no problem.” So, yeah, that was very easy. I don’t have any problems with those people.
If I remember right, that was maybe ten years ago, when I put you two together at some festival. In SwedenRock?
Yeah, that was in SwedenRock. I remember. So, yeah. I mean, he’s a nice guy. Maybe I don’t know exactly what was happening when Accept split up with David. I don’t know, and I don’t care. But for me, he’s a really nice guy. It was nice talking to him. Everything was easy going with him on tour.
Okay, the last question. I decided not to talk about Accept, but I have to ask one thing. What do you think about Peter Baltes leaving the band?
I would say there will be something really heavy thing going on if Peter is leaving. I mean, he was always very close with Wolf, you know? There must be something really heavy. I don’t know exactly what? But that will be, in my opinion, if he’s leaving the band, something is going on. I mean, I heard a lot of stuff about Wolf. Okay, for me, I don’t care, but he’s now the only one left. I mean, come on, that is getting more and more like a joke. Sorry to say that. But I don’t know what he’s doing at the moment. Is he doing the classical thing?
Well, their next European tour is called “Symphonic Terror” so, it says it all?
Okay, so we will see. I don’t know, But okay. And then we will see what’s coming up. And for me, something happens if Peter is leaving the band. I mean, I know that he is working together at the moment with Michael Wagener because Michael was on the ship, on the Monster of Rock ship. So, I talked with Michael, and he is working on some of Peter’s solo stuff that I heard. And Peter is also doing some stuff for other people.
That’s all for now. Thank you for your time Udo and see you at the show.
Thank you, Marko.
LIVE PICTURES FROM HELSINKI SHOW BY MARKO SYRJALA