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Interview

Udo Dirkschneider Discusses Covers Album, "My Way," Singing In German, Signing With Atomic Fire And More

The word "legend" is thrown around a lot these days. It seems that anyone who has been a musician for longer than two years can be tagged with the label. However, there are still those out there who truly deserve to be called a legend. Such is the case for the unmistakable voice that is Udo Dirkschneider.

Udo Dirkschneider's career began in the seventies with Accept, one of the most popular and influential bands in the history of German metal music, responsible in part for making the country one of the most welcoming places for the genre in the world today. He would leave the band in 1987, forming a new group, U.D.O. the same year. Since then, U.D.O. has gone on to become another staple name in German metal and the vocalist remains a touring machine.

Last month, Udo released an album under the name Udo Dirkschneider for the first time. It was a collection of covers entitled, "My Way," an appropriate name for someone who's stood the test of time and touches on everything from fellow metal icons to overlooked rockers to Frank Sinatra. To find out more about this album, Metal Underground caught up with the man himself, who revealed why these songs were chosen, what it was like to sing in German for the first time and what his plans for the road are. You can watch the interview in full at the bottom of the page.

Diamond Oz: The album, "My Way" was released on April 22nd. It's a very interesting album. Obviously it's the first one you've done just with your own name, why did you decide to release it under your name rather than U.D.O.?

Udo Dirkschneider: It is definitely a solo album. It's songs that I like, that I listened to when I was young in the end of the sixties, the seventies and beginning of the eighties. It's songs I like but not ones that I'm influenced by as a musician or a vocal wise. These were songs that in the old days when we had the BBC, I would sit there with a cassette recorder and record them, so it was important to put all these songs together on a cover album. The album wasn't really planned in the beginning, it was more for myself in the studio.

I was working with Stefan Kaufman from my old band Accept and of course we had some time during the pandemic. The first song that we did was "Faith Healer" by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, which is one of my favourite songs and it's still played at rock clubs and that in Germany and it turned out very well. We were talking with the record company who suggested a cover album and the producer said to make a list of what kind of songs you'd like to do and... Here we go!

Oz: It's a huge selection of songs, there's seventeen on the album, which is quite impressive. It's a good variation as well. Obviously there's a lot of rock & roll and heavy metal on there, but there's also Ike & Tina Turner, Frankie Miller, Frank Sinatra, a good selection. You've mentioned some of these songs, including "Nutbush City Limits," you used to play with Accept during rehearsals. Are these all songs that you've played at some point in your life?

Udo: No, "Nutbish City Limits" was just for when we were warming up, so we played it many many times, but the rest are just songs that I really like to listen to. Also, for example Frankie Miller - Jealousy, a lot of people don't know these songs. They might know "Darlin'" by Frankie Miller but not "Jealousy." Or when I was young and I first saw The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown play "Fire," with the facepaint and burning helmet, I was like, "Yeah! This is something crazy!" All these songs are just songs that I really like and that's why they're on the album.

Oz: What I really like about what I've heard is that they're not carbon copies, they very much have your own stamp on them and I really love the "We Will Rock You" cover. For a song which is basically, stomp stomp clap and a guitar solo, you've done so much with it and really made it your own, while still retaining the "We Will Rock You" sound. It's so impressive that you've been able to do this.

Udo: Yeah but you know, this vast version is on the "Live Killers" album by Queen. Actually the last two interviews I did, they said that they'd never heard this version and also it's interesting because the guy who played guitar on the album, he's more interested in German schlager music, but he's a heavy metal guy at heart and he's good friends with Brian May. So he sent the version that I did to Brian May and Brian May said, "Wow! Say hello to Udo. This is a great version and not the version that everybody does."

Oz: Yeah, like I said you can hear the Queen influence but it also sounds like a perfect U.D.O. song. I've not heard the whole album yet but looking at the tracklisting and seeing songs like "Rock And Roll" by Led Zeppelin, I can hear that being done by you very clearly.

Udo: It came out very good, yeah! But to be honest, it's not easy to sing. It's really high you know? But it worked and you will be surprised.

Oz: Another standout track on the album is "Kein Zurück" by Wolfsheim. I believe this is the first time you've sung in German.

Udo: The reason why I did this song was because of the lyrics. The lyrics basically say "Don't go back, only forward, take it step by step, never look back in anger, always do your thing," it's everything that describes my career, so that's why I wanted to do this song. Originally I wanted to change the German lyrics into English, but the meaning was gone, it wouldn't have the same feeling. So then I said, "No problem. This will be easy to sing. It's my mother language." It turned out to be the most difficult thing I did. German is a very hard language. The words are completely different when they come out of your mouth in German. It wasn't easy but in the end it works and you learn by doing. I'm happy with it, but I think it will be the only song I ever do in German!

Oz: Have you always sung in English to reach a wider audience or did you feel that English just suited the music better?

Udo: The English language is definitely the language for rock and roll. The words come out the smoothest, it's easier to sing and of course, if you want to make an international career, for us in the late seventies, it was important to sing in English. We now have one band from Germany, Rammstein, who sing all over the world in German, but leave that to Rammstein and not with me!

Oz: This album is released through Atomic Fire, previously you'd been releasing music through AFM. Is U.D.O. still signed with AFM are you exclusively with Atomic Fire now?

Udo: I'm exclusive with Atomic Fire, including U.D.O. After sixteen years or so with AFM, it became like an old marriage. I don't know if I can explain it, but it became like, "We have a new album," "OK, we'll do what we always do." The guys from Atomic Fire are the old guys from Nuclear Blast, I know everybody, the main guy is a really good friend of mine and he knew that my contract with AFM was over. So they came up and asked if I'd think about changing my record company and I said, "Yeah, why not?" I think this will be the last contract! I'm seventy years old and I have a contract for three more studio albums, so I'll be seventy six, seventy seven or whatever. I even asked, "Are you sure you want to do this?" and they said, "Yeah, we know you. You don't stop." Of course I don't stop. I'm healthy, the voice is working, here we go. It makes no sense to sit home.

Oz: Absolutely. It must feel very rewarding as well to be at your age and sign with a label like Atomic Fire which as you say, is made up of former Nuclear Blast staff and has so many big and very good bands on the roster. It must be very rewarding to be at this stage in your career and still be wanted by such a label.

Udo: Yeah. I just said, "Thank you very much, I can do this. Let's keep going."

Oz: I think people know you for doing that. You look to the future all the time. I was lucky enough to see you a few years ago as part of the Dirkschneider tour, the final time you were playing Accept songs. It was an amazing show but I liked that you were drawing a line under that because you still have so much to give as an artist and creative mind.

Udo: Yeah, I mean that was around 2015 and we said, "We want to take a little break from U.D.O." and so many people had been asking us to do a show with only Accept songs. So we said, "OK, maybe we'll do ten or fifteen special shows all over Europe." In the end it was nearly three hundred! The whole thing completely exploded, it was unbelievable. So after three years, I said, "OK, I don't play any Accept songs from now on." Of course, people said, "You can't do this. You have to play the classic stuff like 'Fast As A Shark' and 'Metal Heart.'" We'll see, maybe I'll play a couple of Accept songs in the encore. Accept is part of my history and the people want to hear it. It's like Deep Purple without "Smoke On The Water," you have to do it. I don't have a problem with this and now I'm really looking forward to going out on tour again and entertaining the people.

Oz: And you do it so well! Just finally, what's the plan once this album is released? Will you be touring doing a covers set?

Udo: No no no. We'll go on tour with the "Game Over" album now, finally! We'll start in June, spending nearly the whole month in South America, then we'll do a lot of festivals over the Summer, then on the first of September we'll begin a European tour until the beginning of December. However, October is gone because that was when we were meant to be touring in Russia and Ukraine but this is not possible at the moment, so we'll try to book some more European shows, but it's not easy because everybody wants to go on tour. Next year we have to go to America, Canada and Japan so we're keeping busy and in between all that, we'll also be doing a new U.D.O. album!

Oz: You're twice my age and you work five times harder than me!

Udo: Well I had a nice relaxing two years thanks to the pandemic. Four shows in two years, it was horrible. OK, I did a lot of work in the studio but otherwise I'm sitting at home and thinking, "This is how it is when you're retired? No. It cannot be." So ever since then I've been working again and here we go!

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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