U.D.O. (Udo Dirkschneider) INTERVIEW
Udo Dirkschneider is a man that needs no introductions! Having fronted the mighty Accept during what is considered to be their ‘classic era’, he has been following his own musical path since the release of his first effort under the U.D.O. moniker back in 1987. Well, the man with the very harsh voice and the truly metal heart is back with his thirteenth studio album entitled “Rev-Raptor” and, being fully aware what a pleasant intrviewee he really is, I jumped at the opportunity to have another face-to-face chat with him while he was visited London. Having resisted asking any questions related to Accept’s recent acticvities, I instead focused on the thirteen new compositions that are on offer, the accompanying videos and talked about the posibility of having the band performing on UK soil after a ten year absence. What I found out, amongst other things, is that this metal heart is still pounding stronger than ever!
By Yiannis Stefanis.
• Hi Udo, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. I am well aware that you have been answering questions all day so I will do my best to ensure that our chat will be a pleasant one.
Udo: (laughs) No problem.
• Prior to meeting you I was reading AFM’s press release and I definitely believe that the person who wrote the text knows your band really well as some of the words that are used to describe “Rev-Raptor” are very accurate indeed. Words such as ‘consistency’ and ‘integrity’ come across through your music as much as ‘emotion’ and ‘humour’ – things I really felt when listening to your latest work. Congratulations are indeed in order as during the last six years you have released three albums, all of which have been very impressive indeed.
Udo: What can I say, a lot of people ask me ‘how do you do this’, so…how can I explain this…we are the kind of band that, when we come back from touring, only really want a couple of weeks off in order to relax. Then, we begin working on already established ideas. Stefan and I will sit together and I will share with him my ideas with regards lyrics and then we will begin creating new songs together. For example, after this new South American tour we have alreday arranged a meeting to start working on new songs! I really don’t know whay to say, we just keep going. I do believe that it is good that we don’t start working on ideas simply when a new album is scheduled to come out – we work all the time. Our bass player (note: Fitty Wienhold) lives only five minutes from my house and has his own studio so he always shows up saying “Udo, I have a new idea” or something like that and we will have a coffee together working on his idea on the spot…well, maybe not the lyric but certainly we will put together a vocal melody. What can I say…
• It sounds as a very natural process to me.
Udo: Yes, it is indeed quite natural. We do not start writing songs when a new album is to come out. If we want, we can alreday record our next album by this year (laughs) but it’s good that we work the way we do as the last couple of years we have come up with a lot of good material, you know? For this album we had twenty five really good ideas to work on.
• Were they all finished, complete ideas?
Udo: No, they were not complete ideas…it’s hard to explain this…when we get sixty five per cent of complete ideas, we get the feeling of which of them best fit together on an album. Some riffs may be great, but something may also be missing so we would combine different ideas together. This led us to having produced sixteen complete songs which then became fifteen as one composition we had initially felt was good, but in the end it wasn’t good enough for the album. In the end we settled for fifteen songs, some of which will be included as bonus on special editions. Some people ask me often what it is that we do with stuff that we throw away and the answer to that is that we simply throw them away and then begin working on new stuff. I believe that if you end up throwing something away that means that there is something wrong with it to begin with, so these are ideas that we never come back to. Every time you start working on a new album you have a different feeling about it; sometimes you think that you want more melodies involved, others that you need to be more aggressive, so the best time is when you find the right combination of all those elements.
• I am not sure whether you will agree with me on this one but I believe that the last three U.D.O albums are somewhat connected.
Udo: Yes, I know what you mean. “Mastercutor” (2007) and “Dominator” (2009) are connected and the new one “Rev-Raptor” is a result of the existence of these two albums. This time round we were looking to achieve a more modern sound and I believe that we found that on “Rev-Raptor”. For me, “Rev-Raptor” combines elements from both our previous two efforts.
• I hope that I will not annoy you by saying this but when I first listened to “Rev-Raptor” what came to mind was late 80s Judas Priest and albums like “Turbo”. You seemed to have followed a similar approach but ended up in the end sounding much heavier. I believe that the ‘mistake’ that Judas Priest made was to allow all those electronic elements dominate their sound whereas you, on the other hand, kept the core of your sound intact while indulging in such elements.
Udo: This is exactly what we wanted to do, you are right. Let’s take “Leatherhead”, for instance, which is a really experimental song. We were not really sure whether we wanted to put this song on the album, but all the other people around us who were listening to this song from quite early on insisted that it was good. At the time, I was not really sure about it but now, the more I listen to it, the more I understand that it was the right thing to do. We still have guys visiting our website and posting comments like “this is too modern” or “we don’t like all this computer stuff” and things like that but I do not agree; this is not ‘computer stuff’ – it is modern technology that we are using. In the old days we would hear comments like “oh, this is drum machine that they are using” and that was certainly not the case. What we did back then was to put microphones on the drums whereas now we have our drummer playing and recording directly into a computer. That means that Stefan (note: Kaufmann/guitars) can do anything he wants; if he records something that he doesn’t like he can chage it directly instead of having to record a different take from scratch. It is recorded in a computer but it is real playing and this is something that a lot of people don’t seem to understand. This is the modern way of doing things and this is exactly what most people do nowadays.
• I guess that we simply have to accept the fact that some peope will always find something negative to say no matter what you do, right?
Udo: Yeah, and the funny thing is that some of them come up a few months later with comments such as “yeah, this album was better that the previous one” while they were negative to begin with. I mean, what can you do, right (laughs)? You can actually see that on our website: it’s always the same people that say the exact same things every time a new album comes out – they are the ones that want us to start sounding as we did back in the 80s or something like that. Well, this is 2011 so we are not supposed to sound the same, right? 1988 was indeed a long time ago!
• Sad as it is, people who come up with such arguments don’t really understand what being a musician is all about! If you really love an artist, the first thing that you will want for them is freedom to express themselves rather that having them recycle three main ideas that they came up with earlier in their careers. That very concept must be too painful for you as an artist.
Udo: Definitely! If we wanted, we could sit down and simply copy some of the oldest albums that we have put out and which we know that pople really love, but this is not going to happen – forget it (laughs)!
• Udo, tell me a few things about the “Leatherhead” EP which you have already released. You have mentioned the fact that you have gradually accepted this song and obviously it has been important enough to be released as a single – a single that features four songs, if I am not mistaken.
Udo: Yeah, there are indeed four songs here: two songs that are already featured on the album, “Leatherhead” and “Rock n’Roll Soldiers”, and two more songs that were originally featured in the “Thundervision” (2004) DVD (see “Free Or Rebellion” and “Run”) which were never before released. This is one case where the record company had a good idea (laughs). They came up with it and we agreed, especially as I really like the song “Run” very much.
• Udo, this is the one somg that I really wanted to talk to you about! This song really touched me on a massive emotional level. Each time that I listen to it and the refrain comes up, I…don’t know what to say, really.
Udo: This song is written by a guy called Albert Böhne and this song was originally written in order to accompany a book and it is a song that is really quite emotional. So, he came up with this song and when he asked me whether I would be interested in recording my version of it the answer was of course “yes”. I believed that it was a real shame that this song only really made it to the “Thundervision” DVD before and that is again why I said that sometimes record companies do come up with some really good ideas. I would never had thought of adding this song here but when the idea did come up I immediately agreed to it. “Free Or Rebellion” is another normal heavy song.
• I like the fact that this is quite a pompous song, it has that “let’s party and singalong” approach.
Udo: Yeah! What I also think that is a good idea was to release this single in more than two hundred copies, which was the case with our previous one called “Infected” (2009). This new single will come out in large quantities everywhere in Europe so that is really good for us.
• You are quite inventive when it comes to forming fictional characters, some of which may not necessarily make sense straight from the beginning, but ones that eventually win you over. So, I guess one very good question would be, who is this new character – who is the “Rev-Raptor”?
Udo: Well, if you go on the Internet and you make a search under this name you will find out that this is a comic character, something that I was not aware of in the beginning.
• Is it again something that your son came up with, as was the case with the “Mastercutor”?
Udo: No, that was only the case with the “Mastercutor” and that was the birth in a way of this character. With regards the “Rev-Raptor” we had a guy, actually we still have him, who has made the back drop for us. This is a crazy guy, as people who do this kind of thing have to be a little bit crazy (note: the guy in question is called Dirk Huttner from Cappovision). He told us “just give me the album title when you have it and I will prepare something for you and then all you have to do is say whether you like it or not”. The album cover that we have chosen was the very first idea that he came up with and everybody, and I mean everybody, went like “That’s it” (laughs). The only change that we made was to bring the name of the album in.
• So what is it that the artwork says about the new album?
Udo: The “Rev-Raptor” is…he is half machine and half human an he was in a way created to be a police robot. This robot came out of control and became very dangerous eventually. This is the story about the character we came up with for the new album, and what we did was to create lyrics that have various meanings to them – something that we always do.
• Ok, noted. One other thing then, what is a “Motor-Borg” – the title of another new song that you have included?
Udo: “Motor-Borg” is another entity which is half machine and half human and which participates in races – combines the words ‘motor’ and ‘cyborg’. I don’t know why but we are naturally drawn to all those science fiction stuff. Are you aware of a song we did called “Time Dilator”?
• No, it was not included in the promo I was given access to.
Udo: Well, this is a song that will be included in the digipack version of the album. This character was the result of an idea based on a film called “Time Machine”and which features a guy that goes back in time, like in the middle ages, and at one point becomes a king where at another ends up fighting with aliens or stuff like that.
• I really like the fact that you take up on hypothetical science fiction themes but you always end up making them sound relevant to things that are currently happening in the world – things that are happening to normal human beings in their everyday lives.
Udo: In a way yes, this is what I do. I wrote a song that is called “Renegade” which could relate to organisations like the C.I.A or the MI5 that you have here in the UK. These are organisations that train people to kill and this is exactly what is happening to Libya at the moment so what you say is true. “Terrorvision” was all about doping taking place in sports and how nothing is real any more when it comes to that field. It is so easy to make stories like that, especially for guys like Stefan and I who like watching many political documentaries and live discussions on TV and all the changes that are currently taking place in North Africa and also the tragedy that has recently struck Japan! There are already a few stories that we want to write about, you know? So, yes, in a way, writing stories like that is easy – all you have to do is walk around with your eyes and ears wide open and you will come up with many things to say.
• Apart from including more compositions that your previous efforts, “Rev-Raptor” features shorter compositions in comparison – compositions that focus on simple ideas that are revealed to the listener almost instantly. That ensures that the album is pretty straight-forward and easy to understand.
Udo: We really don’t want to make our songs too complicated. Actually, I believe that it is somewhat easier to write a song that is complicated than one that is straightforward and what we always try to do it to ensure that our songs are simple to digest but also ones that a fellow musician would be able to tell that they include moments that are not too easy to create.
• I mentioned this fact in order to explain to you that, even though I had limited time to listen to the album prior to doing this interview with you, I still feel as if I know the album really well. I found the songs on offer to be really welcoming from the start but I still found out little details about them as I was listening to them on my way here. Now, that is what I call a clever approach to song writting!
Udo: There will be times when you will detect similarities between songs that we wrote on this album and some that we did, for exacmple, for the albujm “Holy” (1999) but we always try not to copy ourselves. Obviously there is a common denominator which is classic Heavy Metal riffs. What I like about “Rev-Raptor” is the fact that we achieved a good mix of many different things; we have a modern sound and we still have riffs that sound classic.
• There is indeed a good balance between the heavy/punchy riff-orientated material and melodic compositions such as “Fairy Tales Of Victory” which is one of my favourite songs of the album. I absolutely adore this one.
Udo: Oh, you really like “Fairy Tales Of Victory”? This is a song whose main idea was provided by Igor (note: Gianola/guitar). I also like this song very much and especially the verses. The vocals that I used on this one…I don’t know; maybe Stefan created the right mood to it also. The idea behind the lyrics is that it is always the victor of the war that dictates how history is written, not the loser. It might have been more interesting if it were the losers that were to write history, you know? Maybe things would then be more objective then. What we are getting now is not the truth about things but some sort of fairy-tale. I like this song but Stefan was a bit sceptical at the beginning. We had many discussions when choosing material for this album as not everybody was really in agreement on things. I wasn’t into “Leatherhead” while Stefan was, and he was not really into “Fairy Tales Of Victory” while I was. Another song that divided us initially was “Days of Hope and Glory” whose chorus and verse we changed a few times as I was not really satisfied with them initially…there was a lot of talking taking place this time round.
• Is it possible that this is a result of you having lifted the bar quite high with your previous efforst? Maybe there was an underlined insecurity, a feeling that you had to kept the momentum going?
Udo: Yes! We also need to ensure that we all talk good English in our albums and when going on tour. We have a guy from Switzerland who only speaks English and Italian and we also have an Italian drummer who speaks Italian, of course, and English. Sometimes we will undoubtedly make mistakes such as using the wrong tense when writing lyrics, but when we reach the final stages of the creative process, there is a guy from England that we use who corrects our lyrics. In English you have fifty different words to describe heaven, for instance, whereas in German you only have a couple of them. When we create lyrics we want to ensure that verses do rhyme and that doesn’t always happen in a natural way so it is good to have someone that can help us achieve that without altering the meaning of things. This is a very important thing for us and that is why we have been working with this guy ever since the release of the “No Limits” (1998) album. The moment we are ready with our lyrics we ask him over for a long weekend during which we work on alternative ideas and sometimes he does come up with some weird words that we never heard before and us ending up asking him “are you sure that we can use that word” and him saying “yeah, of course – all the people in England will understand this word”. Now, as you know, Americans don’t speak English but their own dialect so we also say to him “Frank, we have to be careful about things”. I mean, I like the old English much more, but we have to be careful as we need to ensure that our lyrics are more ‘international’ – that the Americans will also understand, you know?
• Was there a song from “Rev-Raptor” that you found difficult to work with in the studio, one that really had to grow on you in that respect?
Udo: Not really but, as I said before, we were talking a lot about things related to the songs that we recorded but there were never any problems related to singing these songs, you know? The good thing about Stefan is that he knows exactly what my vocal range is and he sometimes tells me to try something that I am not necessarily comfortable with but he will insist on is saying “you can do this”. In the end, things will end up sounding very good indeed and to be able to say that some songs still bring goosebumps to my body after all these years is a great thing indeed.
• Udo, in the last three albums you have really pushed yourself with regards your vocal performances; you have done things that I have never listened to on any of your previous efforts.
Udo: Yes, and that is only the beginning as I feel that there will be more things to come from me in the future in the vocal department. My range has grown and become much wider and Stefan is indeed the person that deserves all the credit for it. He often comes up with ideas that I initially find quite difficult to execute and he will say “Ok, it is really easy – you will get there” and it almost always works! He still believes that I can hit all those high notes and I always ended up doing exactly that, so…there you go.
• The “Leatherhead” EP includes a video which I have already seen on YouTube. That is a pretty straight forward video in the sense that it features the band performing but from what I know there is another video that you are working on, right?
Udo: Yes, there is a video for the ballad “I Give As Good As I Get”.
• Will you be following a similar approach with this one, or will there be a story line behind it? The reason why I am asking this is because you go through the trouble of coming up with all these strange characters and so I believe that you ought to be investing in them in that respect.
Udo: There will be a theme on this ballad as it is a song that will also be aired on the radio and so this video will be completely different: you will only see my face. It’s a little bit like the things that Sinead O’Connor does in her videos. You will just have my face creating the overal effect and it will all be shoot in one go. It was really difficult but I did the whole thing in five or six different cuts and finished when one version was recorded that everybody said “that’s it”! There is a lot of emotion involved all all feeling have to be conveyed through the face and that was very interesting. I really didn’t know what to expect from it but the first impression I got from watching the video…what can I say – I think that it is great!
• Everything seems to be working for you, Udo, and that is very nice indeed!
Udo: Yeah, so far (laughs). We have been very lucky, you know? What can I say; with this album, I think that it opened up new possibilities for us as a band. When we start working on the next album there will be quite a few surprises I think. I mean, we did experiment a bit on this album, like in the case of “Leatherhead”, which it did work, so we will be moving things a little bit further next time round. We always take things one step at the time and so I believe that there are many new possibilities available for us after this album.
• With regards live shows, and according to the band’s website, you start with South America and then you move in June and July to central Europe. This is not, however, the most full-blown tour that I have seen you guys undertake. Is that because it is still early days and things are in the pipeline or as a result of Stefan’s recent health probelms?
Udo: No, no. First we will do the South American tour and then we will do festivals over Europe. It is in the middle of September that we will start touring properly, starting in Finland and I am also really looking forward to performing three shows in England – a place that we have not performed for a long, long time!
• Finally, Udo, we were beginning to be worried that you had forgotten all about us!
Udo: Finally! It was long and hard work to book those shows but there will definitely be one day in London, but I am not sure where we will be performing the other two shows; I am still waiting for our management company to make these announcements soon. I will know in the next three or four weeks. I am not sure if they will be big shows or not but I am hoping that they will take place in good clubs. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter.
• What is your gut feeling with regards these shows? The last couple of times that you came here when I had the pleasure of talking to you, I saw that there was a huge demand for interviews. You spent the whole day doing interviews here in London, so there certainly is demand for your music here. Do you expect to get a positive reaction from crowds in the UK when you come for these few shows?
Udo: I think that the reaction will be positive. I believe that when we come to the UK we will need to change our set list slightly as we have been playing almost the same songs over the last three or four years while on tour. We feel the need to change our set list this time round and when we visit England we will need to go a little bit back in time, you know what I mean? The last time that we played here was ten years ago, so we have to change things a little bit and, of course, I may also need to play more Accept material for you guys! On this tour we most probabaly will be playing three Accept songs or something like that.
• Udo, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you again. “Rev-Raptor” is a splendid album which deserves all the attention that it gets, so good luck with everything and looking forward to seeing you again for the promised London show.
Udo: That will definitely happen in the fall. Thank you very much.
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