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Raise The Game: Udo Dirkschneider On Life, Music & Forging U.D.O.’s ‘Steelfactory’

The Unstoppable Udo Dirkschneider

After more than 40 years in the business and with a renowned breakthrough in the early 80’s with ACCEPT behind him, as well as several million records sold worldwide, Udo Dirkschneider remains one of the biggest rock legends in the business. Along the way, U.D.O. enjoyed more than two decades in the spotlight. Regardless of changes in the metal scene or the U.D.O. lineup, the band never deviated from Dirkschneider’s vision of serving up traditional balls-to-the-wall, no-nonsense heavy metal. As an artist, Dirkschneider remains as driven today as he was in the early days of his career. After honoring the classic ACCEPT songs live with his other project DIRKSCHNEIDER over the last several years, he has already penned what will prove to be the next exciting chapter in his already legendary career. U.D.O’s “Steelfactory,“ an unrelentingly powerful album, will be unleashed on August 31, 2018 via AFM Records / Soulfood Music. Influenced by the past Dirkschneider shows, the songs on “Steelfactory” deliver the anthemic songs his devoted fanbase craves. With its earthy handmade sound – with the help of danish producer Jacob Hansen – “Steelfactory“ catches the spirit of the age. The current (core) band lineup is working and playing together successfully for many years, like a good family business: Udo, Udo’s son Sven Dirkschneider (drums), bass player Fitty Wienhold and guitarist Andrey Smirnov.

Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with living legend Udo Dirkschneider to discuss is life in music, the challenges he’s faced along the way and bringing U.D.O.’s fiery new album, ‘Steelfactory’ to the masses!

You’ve been in the music business for decades. Where did the journey begin for you musically?

How music first came into my life was through my parents. They listened to a lot of Elvis Presley and stuff like that — rock and roll music! I liked that and, of course, The Beatles came and the Rolling Stones. When I was 14, I started playing keyboards. I started making music with Michael Wagener. The reason I started making music was because of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley! When we started composing songs, I was about 17 or 18 years old. It was called hard rock and not heavy metal. Heavy metal came in the ‘80s. As I said, I started with the Beatles but when the Rolling Stones came they brought a style that was much harder, aggressive, dirtier or whatever you want to call it. There was also Jimi Hendrix or the B-side of Sweet that brought really heavy rock stuff. Then Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Deep Purple came! That is when I said, “This is the type of music I would like to do!”

Tell us about the first time you stepped on stage.

That was so long ago! [laughs] I think it was in 1969 when we were playing in a small club in my hometown in Germany. It was a show that was like 40 minutes. There may have been 30 people or whatever but that was the first show I ever did! We did some cover stuff from Black Sabbath and already we had two or three of their own songs. We had “Free Me Now” from the first Accept album and “Sound of War.” We started very early composing our own stuff because we didn’t like to play too much cover stuff. It was so long ago!

There have been milestones for you along the way!

Yeah, what can I say! A lot of things have happened! The breakthrough for me was in Europe when Accept was on the Judas Priest tour after the “Breaker” album. Then it was the breakthrough worldwide in America, Canada and Japan with the “Balls To The Walls” album. There have been so many things that have happened through the years. Sometimes I wonder to myself how I’m still doing it after over 40 years! [laughs]

You’re known for an amazing command of the crowd. That doesn’t happen overnight. When did you come into your own as a frontman?

Yeah! To be honest, in the beginning I hated my voice. I would say that really started with the “Breaker” album from Accept. That’s when we started having a concert on stage and making it entertaining. You feel more comfortable if you know exactly what you’re doing. We were learning a lot from Judas Priest in 1981 on the long European tour. It was very entertaining, and I was learning. I think the whole band was! When we came for the first time to America in 1984, we started touring with KISS. They taught us a lot about bringing entertainment on stage, you know? What we are doing on stage is entertaining people and you feel more comfortable when you are entertaining.

Music is a hard business to make a living. What lessons did you learn early that helped chart the rest of your career?

Let’s put it this way, in the beginning there was a lot of fighting with record companies! [laughs] They want to put you in one direction and, also, I was a really tough guy in those days! [laughs] I was doing everything before we had the right management. I would say, “I want to do this” and I kept going on. I knew exactly what I wanted, and I think that helped a lot!

What are the keys to longevity in a business like this one?

Be down to Earth and, like I said, do what you believe! People often ask me what keeps me going on and I tell them that I’m still having fun doing this. I think that’s the most important thing!

Where do you look for inspiration?

You know, I was never good at sitting down and saying, “OK, let’s make an album like this … ” I think I was lucky to always have the right people around me, especially now with U.D.O. they are coming up with good ideas and it’s always interesting to create songs! We never focused on only one idea, so we never run out of ideas! I think that is a good thing!

U.D.O. – Udo’s son Sven Dirkschneider (drums), Udo Dirkschneider, guitarist Andrey Smirnov and bass player Fitty Wienhold.

You’re busier than ever! In fact, you have a new U.D.O. record, “Steelfactory,” headed our way. What made now the perfect time for the release?

We’ve been on tour with Dirkschneider only playing Accept songs for nearly three years. It was not planned. In the beginning, we had planned to do maybe 10 or 15 of the exclusive shows in Europe but then the whole thing exploded! For me it was unexpected, but it showed me what the people really wanted to hear! It just kept going on and on and on from one tour plan to another. And then we started composing and recording the new U.D.O. album, “Steelfactory,” in between touring or when we had a break. We just sat down and started working on new songs. Now, we have two more shows to go after nearly 300 shows with Dirkschneider! Next, we tour with U.D.O. for the new album! I’m really looking forward to this! I feel healthy and I have a lot of fun doing this, so I like to be on tour and doing live shows.

How does this new album compare to past U.D.O. albums?

If you look at all the U.D.O. albums, in a way, every album is a little bit different. Sometimes it’s more melodic, sometimes there are more keyboards and sometimes it’s more aggressive. For me, the most aggressive album we did was “Timebomb.” It’s always a little different. I never sit down and say, “Now we have to make an album ‘Animal House’ or ‘Unholy.’” I never know what’s coming out when we start a new album. I will say this new album has a good mixture! There is nearly everything on it from ballads to midtempo to up-tempo to fast songs and a lot of harmonies and solos. There are even big choirs. There’s a lot of different stuff! I’m really happy with the results of the new album. In Europe, we got a really, really great reaction on this, so hopefully we will have the same experience in America. I hope they like the album!

Tell us about how the songs took shape?

I wanted to take it a little bit back to the roots with this one. In the old days, where the record company still had enough money to give you to do this, they had pre-production. With the last few albums, “Decadent” and “Steelhammer,” there was a lot of composing over the internet. It was a process of sending links back and forth to each other. This time I said, “No! This time we go into the studio!” My son has a studio, which is also our rehearsal room. We sat there for two weeks and everybody came up with ideas. We were working face-to-face, jamming and stuff like that! That was definitely a more creative way of doing things than doing them over the Internet. It was a big challenge. To get everybody together and rocking as a team is the most important thing! We will definitely do more of that in the future. Everybody in the band said that when we start working on the next album, we will do the same thing again.

Jacob Hansen (Volbeat) served as the producer on “Steelfactory.” What did he bring to the table?

Jacob worked a little bit on “Decadent” and “Steelhammer” and also our “Navy Metal Night” stuff. He always said, “I would like to produce an album for U.D.O.” We were sitting together and he said, “Some of these ideas are very, very good. It’s like old school metal!” I said, “Yes!” [laughs] He said, “The whole thing needs a modern sound.” I think, in the end, that was the result! He did a fantastic job and I’m really happy. I can say this could happen that we work with Jacob on the next album.

You and your son, Sven, have worked together for some time. What does he bring out in your creatively?

With my son, what can I say, he is from a completely different generation musically. He is 24 years old. When we were working on the songs it was the new generation coming up with some ideas. I don’t always like those ideas, to be honest. It’s very modern stuff. So, I say, “Maybe we can do the arrangement like this, this and this.” The same is true with Andre, who is 34 years old. It’s very interesting to see these different generations. Fitty [Winehold] and I are the older guys! [laughs] We are there to keep the basics! It was very interesting working with them only songs and the ideas.

You have your eye on the future. What do you have in store for the fans?

Yes! Now, as I was saying, we have two more shows to do with Dirkschneider and then we start rehearsing for the tour. We start the tour in Russia at the end of October for four weeks. We have a small break in December and then in the middle of January we start to tour in Europe. I know that they are already working on some American stuff, so maybe that will fall directly after the European tour. We could be coming directly to America in April or after the summer. I don’t know for sure, but I do know we are definitely coming!

U.D.O.’s ‘Steelfactory’ will be released on August 31st, 2018.

There are many things that can be said for the state of the music industry. What excites you about its current state?

The good thing is social media. You can spread around news in seconds! This is a very good thing. The not so good is we are not selling as many CDs anymore. It’s not something that affects me greatly. I have a huge back catalogue and I can tour worldwide but the same is not true for new bands. It’s much harder these days to make a living of it and continue. Most of these bands also have a normal job and then take their holidays for touring. They cannot make a living of it. For a professional musician, it’s not easy to keep going on as a band.

What has it been like to be able to connect with your fans on a worldwide level?

It’s been very interesting to talk to fans. I have always liked doing meet and greets. I like to ask them what they like and don’t like. I think it’s very important to know what your fans are thinking about the whole thing. That connection is very important! You can’t be a big rockstar that not give a shit about anything! No, no, no, no! This is very important to be connected with the people!

What is the best lesson we can take from your journey as an artist?

To learn my story, you must listen to the music. I always say to write songs that you can remember and sing-along. Don’t make them really complicated. This is sometimes much harder than making complicated songs! For example, when I am on tour with Dirkschneider and play “I’m A Rebel” from 1979, the young people also know this song. That is very interesting to me. The same is true of “Balls To The Walls” or Metal Heart.” “Balls To The Walls” is 34 or 35 years old but the young people are singing along with this song! That means you have created a truly memorable song! I always tell young people, “Believe in yourself and believe what you are doing.” I think that’s the most important thing!

Thanks for your time today, Udo! I wish you continued success!

Thank you, Jason! I look forward to seeing you at the show in America! I’m looking forward to coming back to America and I hope the people like the new album, “Steelfactory.”

For all the latest news and tour dates for Udo Dirkschneider, visit his official website at www.udo-online.com. Connect with him on social media via Facebook! U.D.O.’s ‘Steelfactory’ will be released on August 31st, 2018 via AFM Records.