Udo Dirkschneider. A true heavy metal legend, one of the forefathers of the German metal scene, co-creator of the mighty Accept and one of the most recognisable singers ever. After Accept's breake-up Udo decided to go on under the U.D.O. moniker and has released a good bunch of awesome traditional metal albums since, keeping the high standard of his work and delivering fantastic live shows. His newest album is called "Mastercutor" and is nothing else than another great release by this legendary musician and his band. It was also the main subject of this interview, but we spoke about Accept too, obviously.
The intro and the outro of the new the album are quite interesting. Whose idea was it to introduce the album in this TV-like way?
The lyrics on "Mastercutor" are about the show master. They're about all these stupid game shows on TV and all these reality shows. It has developed. At the beginning, when we had the song title "Mastercutor", we didn't know that we were gonna call this album "Mastercutor", and we didn't know what it was gonna look like. I have a son, he's 13 years old, and I went into his room one day, and he had a wallpaper on his PC, and there was a scary face on it. And I thought, "Yes, this can be the Mastercutor". And then everything developed. He's introducing the whole thing like a TV show, the ending is like, "Thank you very much for listening, see you next time!", and also in the last song, "Crash Bang Crash", there's a line "I'm not dead yet", that means we've survived all these games on this album. It's not a concept album, but there's a story line, in a way.
Who's the guy who's introducing the album?
Oh, this voice is a guy who's been working for us for a long time, he's a guy from England, from Manchester, his name is Frank Knight. He's always looking over our lyrics, that we do the right thing, he takes care that we don't make any mistakes and that we get the sense right.
Oh, I didn't recognise him! I love his voice on X-Wild albums, but his voice is a bit different when he's speaking...
OK, when all the songs for an album are ready, you have to put them in some sort of order. How do you decide this? For example, why is "Mastercutor" the opener, and why "Crash Bang Crash" closes the CD, etc.?
I mean, the "Mastercutor" of course is the opener, because the meaning of the Mastercutor is the show master, he's directing the whole album, and he's announcing everything, "Good to see you back," blah, blah, blah... And "Mastercutor" is the title song, and the lyrics on "Mastercutor" are like all these bad, stupid game shows and reality shows. Of course it had to be the first song, it's the title song, and also I think we will open up with it when we start the European tour in September. The rest of the order, I mean, we always try to make an atmosphere on an album, you know? Slow everything a little bit down, then come back, and slow down a little bit, and make a little funnny happy ending, like "Crash Bang Crash", that is a really straight-forward rock 'n' roll song. What can I say, we try to make an atmosphere on a CD.
"Mastercutor" is U.D.O.'s 11th studio album. With Accept, you've recorded 10 albums. But most journalists are still using the phrase "U.D.O. - the band of the former Accept singer". Do you think there are any self-respecting metal maniacs out there who know what Accept is, but don't know about U.D.O.?
Yeah, I think this is not up to us. I mean the record companies, they play games with this Accept thing, sometimes they put on "the voice of Accept". Don't get me wrong, but I think everybody knows that I was the voice of Accept, ha-ha... I don't think that you need to write it anywhere. But sometimes you have to live with what the record companies do. What can I say, this is not coming from us, this is coming more from the record companies.
Like I've said, the U.D.O. back catalogue is now equally as big as Accept's. Could you pick one album of Accept and one of U.D.O. which you are the most satisfied and the least satisfied with?
Hmm... For me still the best... No, I don't want to say the best... For me, the most important album is still "Breaker" from Accept, and from me, U.D.O., it's hard to say, we've had many different things. I started with "Animal House", and then the second time I started with "Solid", and these are two periods, in between them, I did Accept. I will say for us a real challenge is the new album "Mastercutor". On this album we changed our sound, arranging style, more in a modern way. And for me it's a big challenge already for the next album. For me, at the moment, "Mastercutor" is so far the best U.D.O. album.
And the least satisfying ones?
You can't say really the worst one, but I think searching one, for me - I always say it's a searching one - was the second U.D.O. album "Mean Machine". For the first time I had to compose songs with different people. I think this, in a way, is a searching album.
OK, and Accept?
It's also the second album I think, "I'm A Rebel". There's so many different styles on this album, it was like searching for my own identity.
So, out of 20+ albums with Accept and as U.D.O. which one would you say was the hardest to work on?
For me the hardest work was as U.D.O., that was "Mean Machine". That was the first time I was writing songs with different people. But the rest of the albums, I cannot say that was hard work, it was, in a way, easy.
You've also produced other bands. Which one was your favorite?
I mean, I did this for a while, but it's a long time ago. I did Raven, and two other bands called Streetfighter and Faithful Breath. But after this, I never produced any new bands.
And if you could pick a band to produce, who would you choose?
Ha-ha... I can say I would love to do an AC/DC album.
You always play Accept and U.D.O. stuff about 50-50 live. When Accept broke up and you started your own thing, the music was still the same. If you had had the rights to the name back then, would you have continued as Accept?
If I had the rights, of course I would use the name Accept instead of U.D.O., but I don't have the rights to the name, the rights are owned by Wolf Hoffmann. But now, with U.D.O. it's also OK. I mean, a lot of people say, "Why don't you try to get the name back?". But I say, "No, after 11 albums, U.D.O. is a very well known band and it makes no sense to change the name to Accept".
OK, back to the new album. You shot a video to "The Wrong Side of Midnight". The song has a great story line about a man who mutated into a monster. Were the lyrics the reason for choosing this song for a video clip?
In the beginning, the idea was to shoot a video about the "Mastercutor", the title song. But then a lot of people said the song "The Wrong Side of Midnight" was much stronger. In this video you see the ghost of the Mastercutor. In the beginning he's a normal guy, and they did a lot of experimental stuff with this guy, with his brain and so on, and you can see his face is changing into the Mastercutor face, he is looking for a stage, where he can perform his madness, all his crazy stuff, and then in the end he found the TV to present crazy game shows and crazy reality shows, to present his madness in front of millions of people. This is in a way the story behind this video clip. On one hand in the story there's a bit of lyrics of "Mastercutor", on the other hand a bit of lyrics of "Wrong Side of Midnight". If you do something wrong, you open up the bad side of the world.
And could you tell me about the adventure with bats in that old tunnel where the video was filmed? Was it just a funny accident or did they scare you or something?
No, that wasn't a funny accident. We were shooting the video in Stuttgart, and there was the tunnel system of the Second World War, and we were looking for different locations for the next scene, so we had some hand lamps, and then we brightened everything up and then I think we woke up the bats. And then, you know, there was like 15 or 20 bats, they woke up, and in a way, they were scary. We all were very scared too, but then the girl who was directing the whole video thing she said, "Shit, I never go out with my camera, and this was maybe a perfect scene to put this in the video". But it was just an accident, we didn't know that some bats were there, sleeping.
Having recorded 20+ studio albums, you've gained a lot of studio experience. I'm curious, are there still any things during the recording sessions that take you by surprise, like some strange equipment problems, for example?
I mean, after a long time we took an outside guy into the studio, it was our live engineer, and he always said, "Yeah I would like you to sound a bit different, more modern" blah, blah, blah... Then we said, "OK, come into the studio and show us how you see U.D.O., sound-wise." And I should say, during the whole recording, with these modern sounds and experiments that he did, you get new ideas, you start arranging songs in a different way. Yeah, what can I say, it was, in a way, different from the other albums, and when I think about the whole result, I'm very happy. But there were no bad experiences. For us, the whole thing, the "Mastercutor" album, there were new challenges, it opened up a lot of things already for the next album, you know, that we can do more.
And how was the session for "Mastercutor" in general? Was it a kind of calm session, like everybody was well prepared and knew exactly what to do, or were there some arguments about different visions for the sound or arrangements?
No, I think we composed songs in a different way. I mean most metal bands, they start first with the music, and then they have the lyrics and then the vocal melodies on it. So we started first with the lyrics, and then the hooklines. I knew already how the melodies were, and then we collected all the ideas of all the musicians, what kind of riffs they had, then we knew exactly what kind of atmosphere the song needed. For example, "Tears of a Clown" is a very sad song, with sad music. This way is much easier for us. Of course, the rest of the guys in the band, they are involved in the arranging and also composing. I mean, on the new album, the guitar player is Igor Gianola, he has worked on three songs, composing wise, the bass player is involved in three songs. I always was against what people say, "Ahh, U.D.O. is a sort of project." I always said I would love to have a band behind me, I cannot work in a solo project and say, "OK, now I get this guitar player and this drummer" and so on. No, U.D.O. is a real democratic band definitely, and everybody can say what he wants, and we listen to it. Of course, on some songs, people have different ideas, so then we try to find the best one - and the best one, we put on the CD.
Talking about sound and arrangements, it's obvious that in 2007 you can't sound like Accept did in the mid-'80s, but to be honest, I find some parts of the new CD a bit too modern for traditional heavy metal, like guitar sound in "Walker of the Dark". Do you think the progress in sound is a must for every band?
I don't know. We were looking for something new sound-wise, like vocals, and guitars as well. It's a different guitar sound, you know, it's more in a modern way, you can say in a way, like Rammstein's sound. But I don't wanna think too much and too deep into it. I think the whole thing for us, is that the sound is modern, and I think you cannot turn the wheel around and go back again to the '80s, you have to be in a way, sound-wise, modern. But music-wise, I think we don't go away from our roots. It's still U.D.O., Accept, but we put a modern sound on this album.
Your voice is one of the most recognisable ones in the metal world. But sometimes you sing in a different, clean way. For example, on "Mastercutor", you sing clean in "One Lone Voice" and "Tears of a Clown". Do you like that way of singing, or do you just have to sing that way in the ballads, because your traditional voice doesn't fit calm compositions?
We never know when we start writing the new album if it has a ballad or a song like "One Lone Voice". I like to sing in different ways. I mean it's still Udo, but it's a little bit more, how to say it... nicer, in a way. But it's proper for a song like "Tears of a Clown", you cannot shout this song out, like "Mastercutor". We try to get the right atmosphere, and that means you have to sing it a little bit cleaner. And I think it's also interesting for people, to show them that I can also sing a little bit different than only shouting.
Which songs from the new album are you going to play live, besides the title track?
Definitely, we will play the "Mastercutor" and "The Wrong Side of Midnight", but the rest of the songs, I don't know yet. I mean, what we would like to do is, when the album is out on the 18th of May, we will make up the voting on our homepage, where the people can tell us which songs they wanna hear live on stage, and we will see. I mean, maybe I would love to do "The Clown" live, but maybe the people tell, "Oh no, we don't wanna hear this", I don't know yet. We will see which songs we will play on the European tour in September, October, November, December. So, in a way, first I wanna see which songs the fans wanna hear off the new album.
Would you say you're still a rebel?
Yes, still I'm a rebel, I think so...
"I'm a Rebel" is actually a kind of a cover song, written by some guy from AC/DC, isn't it?
Yeah, his name is George Alexander, but this is not his real name, it's George Young - he's a brother of Angus Young and Malcolm Young, and he was a guitar player in Easybeats. And our publisher, when we were working, he came up and said, "Yeah, we have an eight track song from AC/DC, they don't wanna do this, maybe you wanna do this song, listen to it." And we said: "Yeah, OK, we'll do this song." And I still play this with U.D.O., we played this with Accept, what can I say... It's a song, that now is over 25 years old.
I've got some questions about your beginnings as a musician. Is it true that you wanted be an organ player in the beginning?
Yeah, I started with a keyboard for a while, let's say for around a year - two years.
So, what pushed you to start singing?
I mean, I liked it. When I started playing the keyboard, I was also singing to the keyboard. And I found out that I like it more than the keyboard playing. So, that's the way it started.
I sometimes wonder, how did you develop this unusual way of singing?
I did nothing special, that was just there, you know? What can I say, gift just out of the nature.
And how was Accept created? Whose idea was it? Yours?
Yeah, of course. I started Accept in '71, and that was the first time we had the name Accept. Before, the band was called Band X. I did this already in '68. And so, from then on, in '71 the band was called Accept. And then I was looking for 4-5 years for the right musicians for the band.
Your debut album was recorded because you won a competition...
Yeah, we took part in a competition, but there were just right people, who saw us.
The first albums were more in the hard rock direction and "Breaker" was actually the first one we could call heavy metal...
Yeah, so, in the way when you listen to the first album, you can hear some Accept style, but everybody knows what we did on the "Breaker" album. I think on the first two albums of Accept, there was more searching. Searching of what kind of style we wanna do. I mean, the first one was not completely in the right direction, and the second one was completely out of any direction. So then when we started with the "Breaker" album, I think we found out which direction we wanna go. So we said, "OK everyone, let's do it as hard as possible." And then "Breaker" came out. I think that was the point when the sound of Accept was born.
Is it true that in the very early days, when you couldn't speak English very well, the lyrics had no particular sense, just sounding like English?
No, no, the songs were in English, but the pronunciation was wrong. And somebody came and said, "This is not the right English" blah, blah... But I learned it very quickly. And from the "Breaker" album on we had somebody who was working with us, he was helping us about lyrics and so on. From then on, it wasn't a problem.
You had to self-finance your 1981 UK tour with Judas Priest...
Yeah, we were paying by ourselves. We saw it would be a very important tour for us, at this time, so we said, "OK, we don't care, we'll get this money together and do this tour with Judas Priest". And I think it was right. Yeah, what can I say, it was a very successful tour for us.
Your first live album's title is "Kaizoku-ban", I know it means "bootleg"...
It was only made for Japan, but then I think it was so successful, that also the record companies all over the world said, "OK, we wanna release it also."
When did you first have the idea to wear the military clothes on stage?
It was when we were working on the "Restless and Wild" album. So, I think it was in '82 or '83... More '82 I think... Yeah, we were looking for something different, to look different on stage. And then yeah, I was not planning that military stuff, but we went for some reason to the army shop, and I put this military stuff on, and everybody said, "That's it!" ha-ha... And here we go.
And when did you start doing the choreography with Flying V guitars, and whose idea was it?
That was during working on the "Restless and Wild" album as well, when we started all the stuff, new stage clothes, doing something different on stage. That was the idea of the management, they said to do something different, and we came up with this idea. So, what can I say, it was the trademark of Accept since then.
When looking for the intro for the "Fast as a Shark" song, did you know at that time, that this traditional German song referred to nazis?
We had no idea. This a normal German folk song, and when we did this, nobody heard anything of nazis or stuff like that. I never heard it, I never saw it, but later somebody told us that when the Germans were going into France or Poland, they were singing it. I don't know. I saw a lot of shit about World War II, but I never saw any pictures or any movies, where the Germans were singing this song when they were going to France or Poland.
Have you ever had any problems because of that, when coming to Poland or Eastern Europe?
Yeah, I mean this is also very interesting. We don't sing this in the beginning, but the people start it.
I've heard a funny thing, that after the "Balls to the Wall" album people were saying you were gay, because of the cover and the song "Love Child". So, the band must have had a lot of fun with it. Do you remember those times?
Aha-ha-ha... Yeah, after we had the "Balls to the Wall" album, I heard we were the first gay metal band. But it had nothing to do with it. We were just talking in some lyrics like "Love Child", that somebody... It was not really is he gay, is he not gay, whatever... I mean at that time nobody was really talking about this. And we maybe were the first ones. But it has nothing to do with that, that anybody in the band was gay.
Why are there so many fast songs on the "Russian Roulette" album? Were you inspired by some speed metal bands?
No, we were not inspired by speed metal bands. I think "Russian Roulette" has just happened, nobody was really thinking about doing the direction of "Metal Heart" thing. When we started composing songs at this time, that was it.
And why did you leave Accept after "Russian Roulette"?
Oh, it was not my idea. The band came up and said they wanted be more commercial, they wanted to do the more commercial stuff for the American market. And that wasn't my kind of music anymore. So they said it's better that I do my own singing, and they're looking for a new singer. I never was thinking to leave Accept, it was the idea of the rest of the band.
They recorded an album without you, but it wasn't very successful...
No, they did the "Eat The Heat" album and it was not successful, and then they started touring for six weeks, and then they split up.
Maybe Mr Dirkschneider took the fire from the band with him, and put this fire into his new band called U.D.O.?
Yeah, I mean I started then with U.D.O. and I did four albums with U.D.O. And after the "Timebomb" album, there was in between, there was a live album of Accept "Staying A Life", and then we got a lot of fan mail from all over the world, and they said, "Please do a reunion". But for me, it was not easy to do a reunion, I was already quite successful with U.D.O. when we had the "Timebomb" album out. Then we had a meeting with all the members from Accept, and then I said, "OK, before I say yes for a reunion, first I wanna hear what kind of music is coming up". And then they came up with all the stuff for "Objection Overruled". Then I said, "Yes, this is definitely an Accept album" and then I said yes to the reunion. But after three albums, we split up again.
Do you like "Eat The Heat"?
In a way there are some good songs on it. But maybe in the wrong direction arranged and produced, maybe too commercial. I mean the "Eat The Heat" album in the beginning was not the same. It was more commercial, but then they changed it in the studio to a little bit more heavy. I think they found out, it is wrong, what they are doing. But this is a long story, ha-ha...
So then the band got back to the previous style on "Objection Overruled", but the next release "Death Row" was quite modern. Were you like following some trends?
You're asking the wrong person, ha-ha... I mean, I was not really satisfied with "Death Row" and definitely not with the "Predator" album. I don't know, for me it was also wrong to work only with one guitar player. Always the Accept sound was two guitars. And yeah, Peter and Wolf they said, "We wanna be more modern" blah, blah... and I said, "Guys, this is wrong, we have our own sound, we don't have to be modern in a way", you know? I mean the people wanted to hear Accept stuff. So, what can I say, I mean that's in a way a long story, I mean Stefan Kaufmann couldn't play the drums anymore, and he was not really involved in the songwriting. So, you could already see at that time, that it was going again in a different direction.
The songs for your first U.D.O. album were still written by the Accept guys. But you were not in the band anymore...
Normally these all songs that I was recording on "Animal House" album, that was normally the next album right after the "Russian Roulette" album. It was already written. But then I don't know for what reason they came up, there was a lot of business things behind, blah, blah, blah... So they said, "We don't wanna do this stuff anymore, we wanna be more commercial, we wanna have a real commercial singer" and so on, blah, blah, blah... And then I said, "OK, when you don't wanna use these songs, it's easier for me, I'll take them, and it's very easy for me to start the U.D.O. stuff."
When you were starting your career the bands you were drawing inspiration from were surely the likes of Deep Purple, Uriah Heep or Black Sabbath. I wonder, when you write music these days, do you ever get inspired by today's young metal bands?
No, not really. I mean when we start recording or composing a new album, I stop listening to all kinds of music, you know? I don't wanna be influenced by any other music. I'm not inspired by new bands or something like this, but I'm also not inspired by the old bands. When we write a new album, it's completely coming out of ourselves, and we don't say, "Oh look, there's a new band, that sounds like this, and we'll also sound like this", we never do this.
You supported Lordi on their show in Germany in autumn last year and you also were a guest on their last album. Do you personally like their music?
Yeah, I mean, I didn't know too much about Lordi when they came up, and the record company phoned me up and asked if I was interested to sing a song on their new album. The only thing I knew about Lordi was that I saw just one videoclip and I heard some music, but I said yes. I mean, I'm open minded, and they sent me a song "They Only Come Out at Night" which could be also an U.D.O. song, you know? So, then I went to Helsinki and they told me that Lordi is one of the biggest U.D.O. fans and what can I say, now we are very good friends. When we were recording the album, nobody knew that he was winning the Eurovision Song Contest. It was interesting for me, and after all this we are very, very close friends, and he's a nice guy, so... I also did a song together with Doro, so I like from time to time to do stuff like that.
Do you think it's good to collaborate with a band that is so popular? You know, it's kind of free advertising...
Yeah, maybe, I don't know. At the moment nothing like this has happened, I mean if something happens, it happens, you know? I'm not really looking for it. Maybe sometime somebody calls me, "Oh, maybe you're interested to do this or this". For me the most important thing is that the song is right.
Not long ago you recorded an acoustic version of Accept's "Balls to The Wall" for a VH1 compilation. Why didn't you just re-record the traditional heavy metal version?
It's a compilation album, a lot of bands are doing acoustic stuff, and they said, "Are you interested maybe to do "Balls to The Wall" as an acoustic thing?" I mean that was not so easy to do this, we did it, but I don't know, maybe some people say, "What the hell is this?", but other people so far they said, "Oh, this is really interesting". Music is always a matter of taste, but I think when you read the lyrics for "Balls to The Wall" I think you catch the right atmosphere of it, it's really sad lyrics, and a really sad song. If somebody says this is completely stupid stuff, I can live with that. Music is a matter of taste.
I'm sure you have heard what Peter Baltes said about this song. I haven't heard the new version, so I can't take part in the discussion, but in your opinion, why did Peter say it's the biggest crap he's ever heard?
OK, if he thinks so, what can I say, ha-ha... But sometimes, you know, when you read something... I think that was not Peter Baltes himself, but somebody else was writing something like this. I know Peter and this is not the style of Peter Baltes.
The Russian band Aria is one of my favorite metal bands ever. It was a real surprise for me when I heard you singing guest vocals on their song "Stihl". And you also sung in Russian in "Train Ride in Russia", your own song. Is it hard for a German guy to sing in that language?
Not anymore, ha-ha... I mean now with the "Mastercutor" album we have a bonus track for Russia, and we took a song from the "Mission No. X" album, "Cry Soldier Cry", and I sing this song completely in Russian. So what can I say, in a way, maybe you know that U.D.O. is quite big in Russia, and it's always good to do something for people, as a tribute, and say "thank you very much" when you sing something in their own language. At the moment, U.D.O. is also getting bigger and bigger in South America, and at the moment we are thinking about doing an Accept song from the "Objection Overruled" album - "Amamos La Vida", at the moment we're trying to change the lyrics completely into Spanish. Of course, it was not so easy to sing in Russian, but it's interesting when you hear the vocals in "Cry Sodier Cry" in Russian, it's very interesting, it's a little bit different. And by the way, it's a nice language to sing.
Did you learn some more Russian, or just the lyrics for these songs?
Of course, I mean we've been so many times to Russia and I don't speak Russian, but when you're in the country, you know, you understand a little bit, and in a couple of days you can say "thank you", "hello", blah, blah...
When I spoke to you in Wacken two years ago, you said you were going to film the upcoming tour, and a live DVD would be out soon. It's been almost two years since then, so why hasn't the DVD hit the shops yet?
Ha-ha! I can give you the phone number of the record company, ha-ha... Yeah, this was a big problem, I mean, there was a lot of changes going on in AFM Records and definitely I know that now, with the "Mastercutor" tour, we will be filming and recording the shows. So, there will be a DVD from this tour, definitely. But there was so many changes going on, the owner died, and they had to move to Hamburg, there was a lot of business changes going on and on and they really couldn't handle everything, so that was really a problem for them to say "yes" to the DVD, blah blah blah... But this is business, you know?
The album is out in a few days, so you have to promote it on tour, as usual. You play a few dates in Mexico soon and then some summer festivals. But are there any plans for a regular European tour? Are you going to visit the UK?
I hope so! The last time I did a show in the UK that was in 2001, on "Holy" tour, and yeah, I'm looking forward to it. Hopefully, we will come back to England. Of course, it's easy to do a show in London, but I wanna do more. At the moment we are working on it, maybe we'll do a festival there, maybe we'll come over for a tour here with another big band, maybe for example with Motörhead or Saxon or something like that, we will see. We are working on it, but I know we will definitely do a London show.