U.D.O. – Prepare for TouchdownThursday, 31st August 2023
Photo: Martin Hausler
Little did we expect U.D.O. to be delivering a potent fist to face record as Touchdown this deep into their long career – but that’s what we have here. The quintet contains a mix of seasoned musicians plus younger, hungry gentlemen who are able to gather all sorts of traditional, classic, to modern influences at play for a metal album that stands up very well to every generation that lives for this genre. It’s time once again to catch up with vocalist Udo Dirkschneider – bringing us up to date on the return of Peter Baltes to this lineup, the many current events topics that are a part of the lyrics, his stronger vocal range this deep into his career, how his son’s abilities have helped him keep fresh perspective, the challenges of a satisfying setlist with nineteen studio albums to choose from, as well as the wide array of tour plans.
Dead Rhetoric: The latest U.D.O. album Touchdown features the return of bassist Peter Baltes to the fold after he subbed on an emergency basis when former bassist Tilen Hudrap had to leave for health reasons. How did the recording and songwriting sessions go for this set of material – and how does it feel to have Peter back once again, a seasoned musician you trust?
Udo Dirkschneider: Yeah, we are happy with Peter being a member of U.D.O. – but it wasn’t planned. It was planned that he would be helping us out until Tilen, our other bass player recovered. Then he decided he didn’t want to be in U.D.O. anymore – don’t ask me why, he didn’t tell anybody. We were talking about a new bass player, and then Peter suggested he wanted to be a member of U.D.O… I was like, are you sure? In the end, he is a new member. He just played the bass on the album; he didn’t have a hand in the songwriting because everything was already done. I’m really happy that he is back and that we are working together.
Dead Rhetoric: Did the songwriting process work the same as the last album due to coronavirus, trading files back and forth through the internet?
Dirkschneider: We had so many issues to deal with in corona-times with Touchdown. It was the end of the time, we had built a new studio in my son’s house, and then there was a big flood in Germany and all the stuff in my son’s house was completely gone. Then we had to improvise, and then we had the issues between Russia and the Ukraine, Andrev was living in the Ukraine, and we stopped everything, and we had to get him out of there. In the end he made it, he took a car, put his family in the car, drove to the Polish border on back roads because it was dangerous. He made it, now he’s living in Germany. It took him a while before he could start working on songs for the new album, he had to calm down.
I’m really happy with the results. I think it’s more aggressive than the last one. With all the things that happened, it was how we went straightforward. The basics are still there though, so it’s a good mixture between the aggression and the catchy parts.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of the subjects you touch upon for the lyrics this time around – as I am guessing aspects of the Ukraine/Russia war, the pandemic, and personal struggles factor into the topics?
Dirkschneider: Yeah, these are true stories. With the pandemic, we were sitting at home, couldn’t do anything, you couldn’t go to see your brother or their family, I couldn’t see my son. It was strange times. Then the flood came, and then the war came. “Isolation Man” is about the pandemic. “The Flood” is about the flood in Germany, “Fight For Your Right” is a song about the war between Russia and the Ukraine.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the guest appearance with violinist Stefan Pintev come about for the title track?
Dirkschneider: The title track – we were thinking about what kind of title we wanted to give this album. We were in South America at the airport, in a sports bar there was a football game going on and over the air we kept hearing the word ‘touchdown’. Hey, guys – that’s the title for the album. Football, and it’s powerful, aggressive, going forward. It’s pushing ourselves over the line. I’m not a huge football fan, but I have been watching it more now that we are being introduced to it in Germany. It’s getting more popular. Peter has been living in America since 1986, he is able to tell us more about what is going on with that sport. I know more about the rules, and I’m happy that it’s a good title.
The violin wasn’t planned for this song. When we had the title, we needed another song for the album. Fabian had worked on the demo, and he would normally have put keyboard parts where the solo would appear on the song. When we heard the demo, we said we wanted to keep a violin feel, as nobody expects to hear something like this in a song like this. Here we go – the violin, he’s associated with the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra. He’s a good friend of our producer.
Dead Rhetoric: Martin Häusler handled the cover art once again – who has worked with U.D.O. in the past not just in this capacity, but also handling photography on certain albums. How did the concept come about, and do you enjoy the specific color scheme that’s used for this record?
Dirkschneider: Yes, I like the cover very much. It has the football in there, but it’s very metal. The pictures that we did, we are wearing football vests and doing normal stuff, not too much with chains. It’s sometimes good to do something different. So far, the reaction has been good, it’s not like people are saying ‘what are they doing now?’. It’s interesting, and it’s sometimes good to do different stuff.
Dead Rhetoric: During a recent press conference held in Germany, you mentioned how you believe your voice has grown and your range has gotten wider over the years. Where do you think you’ve noticed the most changes, and has that helped in keeping things fresh and dynamic for the new songs due to expanding that vocal range?
Dirkschneider: I don’t know. I’m really lucky. Stefan Kaufmann is still recording my vocals, and he said, ‘this is unbelievable – your voice is a miracle’. You can sing higher than you could in the 80’s, and you can sing lower – the range is much wider. What can I say, nothing special. I’ve never had any lessons, I never looked at it as anything special. I never warm up before I go on stage. I think I’m very lucky. It’s no secret – it’s just natural.
Dead Rhetoric: In the early Accept days, Peter would often handle the vocals on ballads such as “No Time to Lose” and “Breaking Up Again”. Did you ever have any worries when you finally did approach a ballad such as “Winter Dreams” – as it seems within U.D.O. you have no fear now when tackling these softer or more emotional tracks?
Dirkschneider: No. On this album we don’t have a ballad, but I’ve already talked to Peter about the next album, and now that he will be composing some songs, I want him to do a duet or sing a ballad alone. We are thinking about it when we do festivals again under Dirkschneider where we play Accept songs, maybe in 2024 we will do a ballad in there that he can sing. He said it would be great. Peter has a good voice, and for him to sing those ballads makes things even more interesting.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the making of the video for the title track to the new album. How did the shoot go, and do you still enjoy the process of making videos at this point in your career?
Dirkschneider: To be honest, I hate making videos! (laughs). It’s not like I really hate it, but it’s not my favorite thing ever. This one, there was a nice director, and everything worked out very well.
Dead Rhetoric: Given heavy metal’s fifty plus year history as a genre, what impresses you most about the level of effort put in to keep this movement alive – especially in terms of the connection between the bands and the fans?
Dirkschneider: The live thing for me is the most important thing of all. The studio is also important, but for live for us, it’s the most important thing to give the people a good time. We want them to forget about their problems for two hours that they may have, go home with a smile on their faces. We always try to keep the audience involved in the show, they give us power, we give them power. It’s coming together, and that works fantastic, and that’s the best part of everything.
Dead Rhetoric: Is it also a very enjoyable feeling at this point in your career to play with your son Sven in the band?
Dirkschneider: I never thought that this would happen. He has been in the band now for eight years, this is not like a father and son playing together, it’s more like a friendship. He does so much in the band, I’ve worked with him for the past two albums on the lyrics together. He creates the vocal lines with me, and that’s very important for me right now. It’s a completely different generation, as he’s 30 years old. He listens to a different type of music, and he gives me suggestions to sing things in a different way. I’m always open, I never say no, and sometimes these vocal suggestions work. Nobody has an ego in this band, we are all working together, and that’s also important to work together as a band.
Dead Rhetoric: You mention in the background information that when it comes to your philosophy of life, honesty is the best policy. Do you believe that is why people connect and relate to your work, that passion and vitality that comes from the heart with authenticity?
Dirkschneider: Yes. Everything is coming from the heart for me. This is my passion, making music. It looks like I’m doing something right, I’ve been in this business for over fifty years. I still have fun doing this. It looks like I’ve done something right in this business.
Dead Rhetoric: U.D.O. contains a wide age range in membership these days – from the late 20’s to yourself at 71. Would you say this helps the band stay relevant to not just the older generation who grew up on yours and Peter’s discography in Accept, but also the newer, younger generation of people just getting into heavy metal music for the first time?
Dirkschneider: Yes, this is an interesting lineup that we have. We have three younger members, and now with Peter he’s 66 and I’m 71. There is a good mix, even if Peter wasn’t involved in the composing of this album, he did play the bass. The older ones are more to the ground, and the younger musicians are a little wilder to come up with some fresh ideas. That’s what I like about the new album. The basics of U.D.O. are there – I cannot change my voice, it’s also there, but there is a lot of modern stuff on here, different arrangements and that’s good. To do this with the young generation, everybody has to be open-minded to say that things are good.
Dead Rhetoric: Obviously pulling together a setlist with so many U.D.O. studio albums is a challenge – do you mix things up for different countries?
Dirkschneider: No, not really. We know in South America we may play one or two more faster songs, as we know they are really into the faster material. But in the rest of the world, we don’t change that much. When we go to the United States, we definitely have to play “Balls to the Wall”, without this song people will revolt. Normally, it’s a nightmare to create a setlist, we have nineteen U.D.O. albums now. We will try with this next setlist, play some new stuff from the Touchdown album, but we will also play some songs that we haven’t played from the past. There are already a lot of classic U.D.O. songs, we have to play “They Want War”, “Man and Machine”, for example. You cannot satisfy everybody, but we try to do our best with the setlist.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the touring schedule for U.D.O. going into the rest of 2023 into 2024?
Dirkschneider: We have some festivals in Germany and Austria until the end of October. Then the American tour will start on the 3rd of November and goes until the middle of December. We will have a break, then the European tour starts in the beginning of February. At the moment there are some dates out in Germany, Czech Republic, Sweden, Norway, Denmark – a lot of stuff coming up. Then we will see – we may go to South America, maybe to Japan and Australia. In the summertime there will be more festivals coming up. I know the next year will be a busy year for touring.