Udo Dirkschneider turned 66 this year. 66. The iconic heavy metal frontman has been at it for over 40 years. Professionally, Udo started out in 1976 at the Rock am Rhein festival. The band, known as Accept, didn’t even have a record deal. But what was purported to have been a raging live set landed the young Germans a deal, and that, as they say, is history. Now, in 2018, Udo returns, with his Dirkschneider band, to play the Accept classics one last time. Certainly, fans will remember the last “Last Time Ever!” statement on the Back to the Roots – Farewell to Accept tour, but this round of touring is different. Udo, his son and drummer Sven, bassist Fitty Wienhold, guitarist Andrey Smirnov, and new recruit Bill Hudson have combed the Accept vaults to assemble a setlist of never-playeds, rarely playeds, and a few classics as a final send off. Before they put Accept to bed forever.
Forever is a strong word. It implies eternity, never again. But that’s exactly what Udo and team are up to. They’re closing the Accept book for good in order to open new chapters (and to revisit a few old ones) for Udo’s other project, U.D.O. But that’s not before unfurling tracks like “The Beast Inside,” “Bulletproof,” “Objection Overruled,” and “Can’t Stand the Night,” as well as classics like “Midnight Mover,” “London Leatherboys,” “Princess of the Dawn,” “Fast as a Shark,” and “Balls to the Wall.” Decibel sat down with Sven to talk Udo, Dirkschneider, drummers, and next steps.
The Back to the Roots – Farewell to Accept tour was last year. Now, the Back to the Roots Part II tour is in its final throes. Wasn’t the 2017 supposed to be the last time we heard Udo singing Accept songs?
Sven Dirkschneider: [Laughs] Yes! We pretty played all the classics last year. After we got back from playing Europe and the states, people started to ask about the other tunes. The Accept catalog is pretty huge, so we thought, ‘Why not?’ Some of the songs we’re playing on this tour have never been played live. Ever, actually. “The Beast Inside” is one of those songs. “Another Second to Be” was another one of those ‘never played’ songs. So, we changed up the setlist to reflect songs that were either never played or that were played not that often. Of course, we still have to play some of the classics, like “Balls to the Wall,” “Fast as a Shark,” “Metal Heart,” and “Midnight Mover.”
Did the fans inform the setlist or song choices?
Sven Dirkschneider: They did. The response was very strong. They had a lot of input, so that made it much easier to decide which songs we were going to play. But it was up to my dad to figure out which songs exactly were going to be part of the setlist.
The hits will always get a massive response. Songs like “The Beast Inside” and “Another Second to Be” may not have the same response. Nervous about that at all?
Sven Dirkschneider: No, not at all. We know which songs get the best response. But there will always be a few audience members who are singing along to the really obscure tracks. These are tracks they’ve always wanted to hear but never had the chance to experience them live. Some for obvious reasons, like they were too young. Some for others, like my dad never performed them. We’re playing “Russian Roulette,” better known as “Wargames” off the Russian Roulette album. A lot of fans go nuts for that song. We did change up the setlist a bit. On the last European tour, we played a few different songs from the songs we’re playing on this tour. We played “Ecstasy” and “Hard Attack.” We threw them out for the U.S. set. They’re not very well known in the U.S.
Your dad. He’s a legend. When he was 20 I’m sure he didn’t think 40 years later he’d be doing world tours.
Sven Dirkschneider: I don’t know. I’m sure he didn’t think about it back then. He just turned 66. On the 6th of April. He’s doing good. He’s in good health. His voice is doing good as well. We do a 2-hour set every night. I’m impressed how he deals with it. For this tour, we’ve done 36 shows in the U.S. and Canada. Last year, we did 57 shows in one run. That was every night. Back to back. He kept up every night. He was keeping the heavy metal faith alive! [Laughs]
There aren’t many people out there doing what Udo does. I saw David Coverdale in 2016 on the The Greatest Hits Tour 2016 tour. He’s also in great shape physically and vocally. Most artists at this stage are thinking of retirement.
Sven Dirkschneider: That’s cool thing about heavy metal. It keeps you going. He wants to keep going until he can’t. He will keep going until he can’t. If his voice ever gets fucked up, then he’ll retire. But he’s as strong now as he was back in the ’80s. Luckily, he’s never had issues with his voice. It was given to him, I think.
Overall, what’s the feedback like to the the Back to the Roots Part II tour?
Sven Dirkschneider: It’s been great! We played some new places this year, to switch it up a bit. We’ve had awesome reactions from fans. Every night they’ve been there for us. I will say I can’t wait to get back home. Just for a couple of days.
You’ve also reconfigured the lineup. There’s a new guitar player in the band now.
Sven Dirkschneider: That’s right. Bill Hudson replaced Kasperi [Heikkinen]. Bill has played with TSO [Trans-Siberian Orchestra] and Circle II Circle. He’s originally from Sao Paolo, Brazil, but is now living in Orlando, Florida. He got in contact with us last year when we were looking for a new guitar player. He came over to our studio. The jams were great. He works well on stage. He looks good. He plays good. And he’s fun to play with. [Hudson has since left both U.D.O. and Dirkschneider–CD]
Accept is known for its heavy, twin-guitar sound. That of Wolf Hoffmann and Herman Frank. It’s probably a bit difficult to step into those shoes.
Sven Dirkschneider: It is. But there’s a balance. You have to keep the original in the same shape you found it, but there’s always room to add your style. I was lucky to have worked with Stefan Kaufmann, who was the original Accept drummer. He taught me a lot about how to play the Accept songs from back in the day. It’s a completely different way of playing drums, however, compared to modern drumming. Once you realize or try to play it like he did, you can read the song. You can feel it. You can hear it. You get the rhythm. It’s pretty much the same for the guitar and the bass. You have to stick to the main melodies while also doing your own thing. A little flavor. Otherwise, we’re really just a cover band if we don’t add our own style to the originals. That’s not what we are, obviously. [Laughs]
Were you around in the early days?
Sven Dirkschneider: Of course! I grew up with Accept. For example, Bon Jovi’s son hates what Bon Jovi does. I was never liked that. I always loved what my dad did. I was always rocking out to his music, like when was 7 or 8 with friends in the living room. I had the camo and everything. [Laughs] I grew up in a bizarre scene, but it was normal for me. I grew up going to Dieter Dierks’ studio. I’m really good friends with his son. I met the Scorpions there. The first time I met Mikkey Dee, I was 9 years old. We were visiting Motörhead during a gig in Düsseldorf. I remember standing behind his kit while he was playing. If you tell that to some people, they usually start shaking. For me, it was, ‘OK, cool!’ I’m still in good contact with Mikkey. He’s a great guy.
Most kids start off with the guitar. How’d you get into the drums?
Sven Dirkschneider: It’s a funny story, actually. It was 1996, I guess, when Fitty [Wienhold], the bassist for U.D.O., was at our home at Christmas. I got two presents. A little guitar and bongos. I picked the bongos and Fitty picked up the guitar, and then I’m just standing at the table, ‘1, 2, 3, 4… Go!’ There’s even a video of it, I think. So, I started playing drums when I was 5. Then, I took lessons. Here I am at 24 still playing.
I would’ve thought Kaufmann or Dee would’ve influenced you.
Sven Dirkschneider: Oh, they did. Totally. Nigel Glockler, from Saxon, is also a big influence. I had the chance to substitute for him in 2015. I did five shows with Saxon. I also grew up with Ray Luzier from Korn. Also, Scott Travis from Judas Priest. Rush has always been a big favorite of mine, too. Neil Peart is unbelievable. The classic drummers.
Do you think there’s a difference between technicality—sheer precision—and feel? Of course, both can be present in drummers.
Sven Dirkschneider: I came from feel. Now, I’m moving on to the technical side of things. I’ve always wanted to just play. I was never into doing solo stuff. For me, drums should support or back up music. Not stand on their own. That’s where I came from. But I watch all these guys on Youtube. They’re crazy. It’s great, I think. To reach that level of technicality you have to start early and do it very seriously. I basically just played with bands. I had my own band [.Damaged] when I was teenager. I’ve always played to music. Now, I sit down at home and play. More to get my technique down.
So, what are you and your dad up to next?
Sven Dirkschneider: Well, we’re doing the summer festivals like Summer Breeze and Wacken. We have an upcoming show with U.D.O. in Germany. It’s with the German Armed Forces Band, the military orchestra. We’ll just be playing U.D.O. songs, but it’s a huge bass orchestra. Like 64 people. We played with them at Wacked in 2015. But this will be a single show in Germany. A very nice place. The last show with Dirkschneider will be in October. We’ll be doing the Full Metal Holiday, which is part of Wacken. We will put out the new U.D.O. album in August/September on AFM Records. Then, we’ll go on tour with U.D.O. again.
OK, will there be a Back to the Roots III?
Sven Dirkschneider: [Laughs] Absolutely not. It’s pretty weird to think we won’t be playing Accept songs again, but U.D.O. have 16 albums. That’s a huge catalog. There’s a lot of U.D.O. classics to play. I’m looking forward to it.
** Dirkschneider’s new live album, LIVE – Back To The Roots – Accepted!, is out August 25th on AFM Records. Pre-orders are available for CD and Vinyl (both HERE).