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Interviews   

U.D.O. is forging a new youth


Udo Dirkschneider is what we can call an inflexible man. Always true to his heavy-metal, with his aggressive voice, although quite a bit damaged because of heavy smoking, Accept’s ex-leader is U.D.O’s indestructible captain since 1987. Udo is 61 and has dedicated more than the two-thirds of his life to heavy-metal: he’s a man who loves what he does and when he does it, he’s always passionate about it, like he’s always been. He’s an artist who takes what’s best in the youth of the musicians around him in order to maintain his direction and to offer to the metal fellowship the testament of a whole life.

However, U.D.O has changed some things for its new record, Steelhammer, further to the departure of Udo’s producer, friend and founding member, guitarist Stefan Kaufmann. We took the opportunity to discuss the reasons of this departure, as well as guitarist Igor Gianola’s ones with him. At the end of this interview, Udo gives us his opinion on Accept and states that, to him, it’s a totally different band now.

« As long as I don’t have any health problems, as long as my voice is still good, as long as people come to our shows, I’ll continue maybe for another ten years. »

Radio Metal: You celebrated your 61th birthday recently: how do you manage to stay on form vocally and perform on stage?

Udo Dirkschneider (vocal): Oh, what can I say? I try to stay as healthy as possible and regarding my voice, I think I’m really lucky, you know, because I don’t have any problems, I never warm-up, I don’t do anything special, so yes, I’m lucky.

What were you feelings that special day? Were you happy, or did you say “Oh no, I’m getting older!” (laughs)

(Laughs) When you’re in this business, you don’t think too much about how old you are! I mean, I work with younger people so it’s nothing more than a question of numbers.

Have you ever felt, during your career, that you were too old to be a frontman of a heavy-metal band?

No, never. This is the music I like to do and I’ll never get tired of it. I’ve always had and still always have fun to do this.

Do you think you will continue to sing until you die?

Oh, I don’t know! (laughs) I’ve always said that as long as I’m having fun, which is a very important thing, as long as I don’t have any health problems, as long as my voice is still good, as long as people come to our shows, I’ll continue maybe for another ten years. I really don’t know.

What advice could you give to the younger musicians who wish to last as long as you’ve had?

Hummm, this is a very hard question! One very important thing is to be yourself and not listen to people who tell you what you have to do. Another thing is to stand out from the crowd and for me, especially, if you wear for instance some outfit on stage, try to be different. Also, the Internet and all the new medias make things much easier now than it was for us in the old days. Now, you can spread your music all over the world with the Internet. I think that all the young people know how to use all this modern stuff.

Igor Gianola left the band a few months ago and was replaced by Kasperi Heikkinen. Why did he leave?

Hummmm, it’s an interesting story! I mean, it was time for him. He would also say “I need some information before we go on tour or do a show two or three months in advance about what we’re going to do, where we’re going to sleep” and things like that. Of course, that is not possible if you’re in a professional band. Igor had also many side-projects, like an AC/DC cover band, he had is own band, he worked as a freelance for a radio station, but there were also some private stuff going on. In the end, he said: “Yes, I quit U.D.O, it’s too much, I don’t have time to do this anymore”. What can I say? It was a big surprise for us that he came up with such a story like this. I mean, when Stefan left the band, he was getting more involved in U.D.O. It’s up to Igor: I told him that he was throwing away fifteen years and all this for what? Just to keep a cover band? I don’t want to say anything bad: if he thinks he did the right thing, that’s his decision.

About Igor Gianola: « I told him that he was throwing away fifteen years and all this for what? Just to keep a cover band? I don’t want to say anything bad: if he thinks he did the right thing, that’s his decision. »

Did you audition a lot of guitar players before choosing Kasperi Heikkinen?

When we auditioned to replace Stefan Kaufmann, we nearly had some 300 demo tapes. In the end, we had 4 players left, Andrei Smyrnov, Kasperi Heikkinen and two guys from Norway and Germany. The first we chose was Andrei who did all the guitar parts on the new album, Steelhammer, and when Igor decided to quit U.D.O, we had already sent some emails to the three guys left telling them “Thank you very much, but we’ve found our guitar player!” (laughs). So we talked to them again but the German and the Norwegian guy already had found some contract, so the last one was Kasperi Heikkinen, who was free and happy to get the job.

In heavy metal music, the guitar is the most important element of a band. Andrei Smyrnov replaced Stefan Kaufmann on guitars and you had to replace one guitar player again this year: how did this affect the writing process of the new record?

Stefan had to leave the band because of health problems so he came to see me and said: “Please give me a break. We’re still under contract, but I don’t want to neither write nor produce the new record”. For me, this wasn’t easy in a way, because I’ve always written songs with him, and because Stefan has always produced the U.D.O albums. So, I talked to Fitty Weinhold, our bass player, who had already written some good songs for U.D.O. So I said “OK, let’s give it a try and see if we can work together as a team”. In the end, we finished writing the whole new record. The next step was of course “Who would be the producer?”. We had some names in our minds, and I called my long-time friend Michael Wagener but he was busy with Lordi. He said to me: “Udo, why don’t you do it yourself? You can do this, I know that”. So I had again a talk with Fitty and said “Well, let’s give it a try as a producer”. And then, we ended up producing the entire record. When we found Andrei, he was in Germany for the audition, but he eventually stayed in the studio for five weeks, recording all the guitar parts of the new album, because Igor didn’t have the time to do them. We were lucky to find Andrei at the right moment.

Is Stefan not too much frustrated not to be on stage with you anymore?

No. I mean, in a way, it’s new for him of course, but I’ve already done with the new guys an American and Canada tour. Don’t get me wrong, but for me, when I’m on stage, it’s like I’ve been playing with these two new guys for years, the chemistry is right: they work really well, they play very well. They are very young, they put so much fresh energy into the band, and it’s a lot of fun to work with these guys. Of course, it’s sad that Stefan had to give up because of his health: I’ve been with him for so long, as a drummer in Accept, as a guitar player in U.D.O, as a producer and as a songwriter. It wasn’t easy, but I think that taking care of your body is much more important than being on stage and taking pills against the pain. I definitively don’t want to see Stefan in a wheelchair.

The fist single from the album is called “Metal Machine”: can we say that you guys are the “Metal Machines”? (laughs)

(Laughs) No. The meaning of “Metal Machine” is “robot”. We have to be careful that they don’t take away all the jobs from humans. But you can also say that we are the “Metal Machines”.

There’s a song on the album called “Basta Ya”, written in Spanish: what’s the story behind it?

“Basta Ya” means that you have enough of something. We had this song called “Dust And Rust”, written in English, about this financial crisis in Spain and in all Europe. We had in mind, and this for along time, to do a ballad in Spanish, but was it the right time to do it? We called Warcry’s singer, Victor Garcia, with whom we were in contact, and told him about the lyrics of “Basta Ya”. He said: “Ok, send them to me” and he translated the English words into Spanish. He said that the lyrics were very hard. In the end, he sang on the demo so as we would know how to spell some Spanish words in the right way. The song figured out to be very interesting so why not doing a duet? And that’s the story of “Basta Ya”.

You don’t speak Spanish, do you?

I lived in Spain, so let’s say I understand pretty much everything but I’m lazy when it comes to speaking Spanish. However, I can speak it.

« When I’m on stage, it’s like I’ve been playing with these two new guys for years, the chemistry is right: they work really well, they play very well. They are very young, they put so much fresh energy into the band. »

How about your autobiography?

I’ve stopped writing it right now, because of all the situations we’ve had to deal with last year. I didn’t have the time and the mind to work on the book. I will start to work on the book again during the next European tour, in September.

Does writing about yourself made you understand some parts of your personality, your life or your career?

That’s interesting, because when you start writing something like that, there are so many things coming back in your mind, like things you’ve forgotten and you go “Oh, yes, it was like that and like this”. Then you start talking to people who were around back at the time, and yes, you see your whole life in front of you.

Did you listen to the last Accept record?

Yes, I did listen to « Band of Nations ». It is well produced, even if for me, it is a bit too much “Wolf Hoffmann”: there are too much guitars. The songs are a bit too long for me. The album was quite successful, they have a good singer: what else can I say? But for me, though, it’s a different band.

Interview conducted by phone on May, 14th 2013 by Metal’O Phil.
Introduction: Alastor.
Transcription: Jean Martinez – Traduction(s) Net

U.D.O.’s official website: www.udo-online.com

Album Steelhammer, out since May, 24th 2013 via AFM Records



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