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For Musicians There Are No Borders


Архив интервью | Русская версия

At 66, Udo Dirkschneider is still a frequenter of live venues, newswires and even the charts. Yes, make no mistake about it: “Steelfactory”, the 16th studio album of his band U.D.O. has become their highest-charting record in most of European countries, proving that the “German metal tank” can stand strong on his own feet even without Accept songs he was performing for the past three years under the Dirkschneider monicker. Now U.D.O. are looking forward to a huge tour in support of the new album, and this tour will obviously make quite a few stops in Russia, where the man and his music have been loved by thousands of fans since the 80s. This tour has yet to happen (most notably, U.D.O. will play Moscow’s GlavClub on November 5), but in late September Udo came to Russia on a promotion tour to talk to various media and meet the fans. I happened to help him as a translator at the press conference at the ITAR-TASS news agency and at the massive meet-and-greet at Podsolnukhi Art&Food later that day, and I used this opportunity to make a compilation of the most interesting and relevant questions asked at both of these events for our website.

Your new album “Steelfactory” ranked 7th on the national German charts, which is the highest chart entry in the history of U.D.O. – you didn’t have such high entries even in the 80s, which is widely considered to be the golden age of heavy metal. In your opinion, what is the reason for such success?

(laughs) Yes, it was the highest entry in Germany. What can I say? I’m really happy about it. But you never know. A chart entry in Germany or anywhere always depends on what’s coming out in a particular week, if there are too many releases, also by pop artists, hip hop artists or whatever. You never know where you are. We were lucky this time, there were not so many releases coming out. Once again, I’m really happy about Germany, and also about Sweden – in Sweden we are number one, and in France we are number one, also for the first time. It looks like the response to the new album has been fantastic, which means we did something right. I think so.

It’s been a few years since you started working with Andrey Smirnov. How has Andrey changed over this period as a musician? How does Andrey interact with the other band members? Is it easy or difficult to find points of contact with him in the creative process?

When I was searching for a new guitar player… I don’t know when it was, maybe six years ago (laughs)… he sent us a demo video, and it was quite professional. I was watching it for just three minutes, and I thought, “This is the guy for U.D.O.” When we met for the first time, he told me that it was his dream coming true, because he saw the band in concert for the first time when he was 15 years old. Now Andrey is a very important person in the band composing-wise, and we have a really good friendship. What else I can say about Andrey? He’s a really good guitar player, he has a lot of feeling in the guitar. He brings some Russian atmosphere into the songs, especially on the new album you can hear that.

Prior to joining U.D.O. Andrey recorded quite a few albums with other bands and artists. Which of them have you heard, did you like any of it? In general, what’s your opinion about what Andrey is doing outside U.D.O.?

I know that he did a lot of his own albums with completely different stuff. It’s very interesting, and it’s showing me also that Andrey has a really wide range of guitar playing. Everlost is more like… what do you call it? (laughs) Thrash, death metal? I don’t know. When I heard him going like, “Grrrrr”, I was really surprised. That shows me that Andrey can do a lot of things, a lot of different things.

Exactly five years ago in Russia’s Irkutsk there was an incident when you cancelled your show just before it was due to begin, and the promoter announced that it was because you just didn’t like the club. Can you explain what actually happened? And won’t such a situation happen again in other Russian cities?

The problem in Irkutsk was that technically-wise it was not possible to play. That was the first time I cancelled a show, I had never cancelled a show in my whole career, but it was really impossible to play there. I was really sorry for the fans that came there, it was the third time that we tried to make a show in Irkutsk. But this was a good learning thing – now we make sure that when we come to Russia, everything works. Hopefully this will never happen again.

Your home is at Ibiza, but you also have an apartment in St. Petersburg. The climate in these two places is completely different, and people usually prefer the one or the other. How do you manage to combine the two, and why do you do this?

I’ve lived in Ibiza for 10 years, and I’ve also had an apartment in St. Petersburg for 2.5 years, but it’s because of my girlfriend. The climate is also very warm when I’m together with my girlfriend.

It’s been announced on the web that bass player Fitty Wienhold is quitting the band after this tour. Is that indeed the case? Could you please confirm or deny it?

What can I say about Fitty? Fitty was in the band for 23 years, I will miss him, but he made the decision. He’s tired of touring, he wants to give up making music, he wants to spend more time at home with his family, and he is doing a completely different business now. But we are still friends, and he will definitely be involved if he comes up with any good songs. He will always be a part of the band, but he’s really tired of touring. I’ve noticed this for the last three years. Everybody is getting older, but some people can still do it, and some people not. (laughs) But it was a very difficult decision for him to make. He will do with us one more Dirkschneider show at Majorca, and after this show he’s quitting the band. We have a new bass player and also a new second guitar player.

By the way, what went wrong with your former guitar player Kasperi Heikkinen? And why did his replacement, Bill Hudson, never work out?

(coughs) I don’t wanna say anything bad. Kasperi was in the band for nearly three years, but he never became a real team player. It’s very important in U.D.O. that we are one family, and we are one team. I’m not a big rock star who does not care about anybody else. This is a band, and teamwork is very important for me. Kasperi never really got into that, especially when we were working on the “Decadent” album (2015). When Kasperi was not in the band anymore, we were on tour, so we needed a new guitar player really quickly, and some friend of mine told me, “Bill Hudson could be the right person”. But, let’s put it this way, he was too much of a rock star already. Sometimes I was thinking, “Am I on the Dirkschneider show or the Bill Hudson show?” That just doesn’t work. Moreover, he didn’t get along with Andrey. So – I’ll try to make it short - after the second American tour we said, “It’s not possible to work with you”. But we still had a couple of festivals to do over the summer, and I asked Stefan Kaufmann if he could do this to help us out. We’re still good friends, there are no bad things happening, and he said, “Yeah, I’ll do this”. For us it was important to have enough time to find the guitar player that fits in the band, and I think this one does. He’s really young, unknown, 26 years old, can also be my son (laughs), and a really really good guy. I’m really looking forward to work with him.

Does your son Sven have any frontman ambitions?

No! Definitely my son does not have any frontman things in his head. He’s a drummer, and I’m really proud of him. “Steelfactory” is his first record for which he was recording drums in the studio, and I think he did a great job. He’s a good background singer, but he has no things in his mind to be a frontman.

It’s no secret that many rock and metal bands have problems with finding the right drummer. Is it the reason why you have your son on the drums – to kind of make sure that he will not quit in favor of another band?

It’s very important to get the right drummer for the music we were making with Accept and now with U.D.O. We need a specific groove, and not everybody can play this groove. I can tell you a lot of stories… (laughs) Of course, Stefan Kaufmann was perfect in that, but he cannot play the drums anymore. Francesco Jovino was also a really good one, so when he was leaving the band, for me it was not easy to get the right drummer. We did a lot of auditions, and then I was in Berlin one day on a promotion tour, and Saxon was playing there. My son was at the time replacing the drummer of Saxon, who was ill, and I was asking Biff (Byford), the singer of Saxon, “Biff, maybe you know a good drummer for me”, and he said, “Yeah, he’s right behind me. If he’s able to play the drums for us, I think he will be the right guy for you”. I hadn’t even been thinking about my son in the first place, but then I gave it a thought, and it turned out the right thing to do. He has this kind of groove – of course, he was growing up with this kind of music. I’m really happy now. It’s more of a friendship than a father-to-son relationship, everybody is having fun.

I know that you’re currently doing a cooking show on German TV. Do you cook? And what’s your preferred dish to cook?

I do have my own TV show in Germany, but it’s not only about cooking. I’m not cooking, I’m the host of the show. The idea of the show is that some bands are coming, and they’re coming with a recipe that they wanna cook. We have a cook there, and he’s trying to make it a little bit better. In between cooking I start talking – exactly like you’re doing it to me. (laughs) I ask them questions, but the thing is that I don’t wanna do a normal interview, my thing is to get something more personal out of the band. It’s very interesting for me to do this at the moment. In the beginning I thought, “Hmm…”, but it turned out that it’s a lot of fun. At the moment it’s on TV in Germany, and it’s doing very well, so maybe in the future it will continue.

It’s been leaked that you’re also taking part in a movie shooting in Russia. Could you please elaborate on that?

Yes, but this move isn’t finished. The director died, and there were some problems with the rights. I don’t know what’s really going on there, but I heard that they wanna continue with the rest of it. I was just meeting the main actor in St. Petersburg on my birthday party, and he told me that something would happen with it. Hopefully they will continue next year – that’s what I heard.

As long as you spend so much time in Russia, are there any plans for you to work in Russian studios?

No, we’re very lucky that we have our own studio in Germany near Cologne. But you never know, something like this may happen. What we did with the “Steelfactory” album was that we were recording it in our own studio, in Stefan Kaufmann’s studio, and in a studio in Denmark. So things like this may happen when we are working on a new album, the next one. It can also be somewhere else in the world.

It’s becoming quite common for foreign movie stars and artists to get Russian passports. Have you considered it?

(laughs) I don’t know yet. Maybe. It can happen.

Now that the Dirkschneider project is coming to its end, what are your feelings about it? Are you happy that it’s over? Or is there still a bit of sadness about it?

It was not planned that the Dirkschneider project would last for three years and do nearly 300 concerts only playing Accept songs. But for me it was like… I had to close the book. U.D.O. has its own history, we have 16 albums out, and now it’s time to do our own shows without Accept songs. We have yet one more concert to do in Spain with Dirkschneider, and I honestly don’t know what to feel about it.

What shall we expect from U.D.O.’s upcoming Russian tour? Will there be old classic songs in the setlist?

The tour starts on October 27 in St. Petersburg, we will play Moscow, of course, on November 5 at GlavClub, there will also be Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don, Ekaterinburg and a few other cities. As to the setlist… I will go back to Germany after this, and we will start rehearsing, and it will be a nightmare to put the setlist together. At the moment we have 45 songs (laughs), and we will have to cut them down to 20-22, I think. We will see what songs we will choose for the setlist, there are so many songs that we have to play. Hopefully we will make the right decision, and hopefully the set will be good for everybody, but you cannot satisfy everybody.

What inspires you in the songwriting process? Your songs are so full of emotion that even when I listen to faster tracks, I sometimes want to cry.

I do try to put a lot of emotion into the songs… This is very hard to explain, it’s like a feeling that you have inside, and if you’re recording an album, you try to put it on there. It’s good to hear that I manage to get some emotional response from the fans.

In your song “One Heart One Soul” you sing, “One heart – one soul – one world forever”. Do you think music can influence people, somehow bring people of different countries together? The thing is that politics mostly divides people, but it’s the music that helps them understand each other, as we can see from the Wacken festival, for example…

We the musicians don’t have any borders, we can play everywhere in the world. What we as musicians can do is try to write some lyrics like “One Heart One Soul”: we’re living on a small planet, we’re getting more and more people, and I think it makes no sense to fight each other. We have this problem now in Germany, and also in Brazil and in the United States: a lot of foreigners are coming to these countries, and it’s obvious that poor people wanna go where the money is. There are some political things being done, but I think they should have started it already 20 years ago, like helping people in Africa, and the world could be really different. I think it’s very important that we can live together, it doesn’t matter what kind of religion we have or whatever. As a musician you can write lyrics about it, and if the people are interested, it’s good. If they’re not so interested, it’s also good – I don’t wanna be a teacher. But for me it’s important to write lyrics about what’s going on in the world.

In the lyrics of your song “Poezd Po Rossii” you mention the former members and describe their most memorable experiences in Russia. But now all the former members are gone, except yourself. Don’t you think it’s time to write new lyrics for that song to reflect what the current members have experienced in this country?

No! It’s very easy to put the names of the new members in. I did that already, I changed it from Igor to Kasperi or whoever, it’s not a big problem.

As you said, musicians don’t have any borders. But why is it so difficult for Russian rock bands to become accepted abroad? Is it because their product is of inferior quality? Or is there still a sort of “iron curtain” in the music business?

That would be really good to know. If I find it out, I’ll be a millionaire. (laughs) It’s not about the quality: Aria is a really good band, and Kipelov is a very good band. Maybe the biggest problem is that they sing in Russian. But on the other hand, Rammstein are singing in German, and they’re popular in Russia and all over the world. I don’t know why no Russian bands can come over. Maybe the first step would be to do big festivals like Wacken or whatever, maybe it would help.

U.D.O. on the Internet: http://www.udo-online.com

Special thanks to Irina Ivanova (AFM Records) for photo accreditation and for an opportunity to spend a day with Udo

Compiling and editing by Roman Patrashov
Photos by Natalia “Snakeheart” Patrashova
September 21, 2018
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