Q&A: Udo Dirkschneider on ‘Game Over,’ Set Lists and Pandemic Touring

Udo Dirkschneider is one of the most recognized voices in metal. He’s recorded and toured the world for more than four decades both with Accept and his own projects (he was also inducted to Decibel‘s Hall of Fame with his former band for Restless And Wild).  The pandemic brought a huge change to his troubadour life. Dirkschneider responded admirably, writing and releasing the new U.D.O. album Game Over, which includes some of the most politically charged songs in his long career.  The metal institution talked to Decibel about the record and how it’s a challenge to cobble a set list together from a catalog of classics.

I’m sorry to hear you had some tours get canceled. Was it an issue with COVID?

We had to move the Russia tour to February of next year. The second part of our European tour got moved to the second half of next year. It’s the promoters. Everything was looking good, and we had visas, but then officials in some of the cities said we couldn’t have concerts. That happened more and more till there were like four or five shows. Coming over for like four or five shows makes no sense. It just went on and on until we decided to put everything on next year.

How have you been surviving the pandemic? You haven’t been able to tour. 

I was quite busy. We had one show in 2020 in Bulgaria. We recorded the whole thing. After that, we started slowly collecting ideas for Game Over. Usually, we’d go to a rehearsal room or a studio to work on the songs. This time it wasn’t possible to be in the same room. We did everything over Zoom, Skype, Facetime, and others. We’d have a meeting and work on one song and decide what we wanted to change. Then you’d need to wait for the guitar player and bass player to send files. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t possible to have more than two people in the studio. It was a challenging recording session. The title Game Over came up during the sessions. Our guitar player said, “everything is over. We can’t go places and work – it’s game over.”

Some people seem to have thrived during the pandemic and become more creative. It seems like you and your band just endured it. 

Well, everything is fine now (laughs). I want to go on tour as soon as possible but a lot of touring isn’t possible.

You’ve spent your life on tour and being able to tour on a record as soon as release it. The situation now is different: it’s hard to be in the same room, and you can’t go many places. 

It is getting better – you can meet each other. Before you couldn’t go to restaurants and only two people could get together. But now everything is open even if some things aren’t possible yet. It’s getting better and better, and I’m hopeful things will be normal by next year.

Did what was going on in the world affect Game Over and your lyrics? 

It did. I also wrote about the climate crisis and Afghanistan. “Kids And Guns” is a song about weapons and how it’s better to talk to each other rather than kill each other. “Midnight Stranger” is about feeling like a stranger to yourself. “I Don’t Want To Say Goodbye” is a very personal song. It could be about several situations, someone dying or someone leaving you. “Metal Never Dies” is a typical song (laughs). I hope it never dies, but I don’t think it will. “Marching Tank” is about me. People call me the German tank. It came from writing lyrics with my son. There are a lot of different sounds on the album. There is a lot of melodic stuff and good guitar work, and different tempos. There are also sixteen songs!

Some of the songs give a nod to the fact that you are now one of metal’s elder statesmen. What do you think of where metal is now? 

There are a lot of bands around now — sometimes a bit too much (laughs). It’s getting harder and harder for young bands to survive in this business. The business has completely changed. Still, there are a lot of really good bands around. To survive in this business you seem to need a concept now. Music-wise you can’t make anything new. I think the record companies are making a mistake by signing too many bands.

You are part of the last great generation that could make money on records. The paradigm has shifted and you can only make money on tours. 

Yeah, you can make money on tour and maybe with merchandising. Now record companies are trying to get a percentage of merchandising or what bands make at a show. It’s hard enough for young bands. I’m fortunate. I’ve been doing this for years and I have a huge back catalog and it’s still selling. I don’t have to think about it. I wouldn’t want to start again from the beginning.

How are you keeping your chops up while you wait to tour? Are you seeing your bandmates?

We can see each other. We’ve been working on five or six songs from the new album and then a mix of older songs. It’s always a nightmare to put a set together. We have to put two or three Accept songs in there. It’s not possible to satisfy everyone with so many albums. We do try to include songs we haven’t played for a long time or songs we haven’t played before. Maybe it would be better to stop making albums (loud laughter).

You have a back catalog that people revere and you could keep touring on those records. What compels you to keep writing? 

It’s important to make new songs and be creative. Of course, I could say let’s just go on tour and play festivals and play all this old shit. I always want to do something, create new songs. It’s good to have a history but sometimes people talk about it too much. With Dirkschneider I played only Accept songs for three years and I got tired of it. In Russia, I don’t have to play Accept songs. In America, promoters wouldn’t accept Udo not playing Accept songs. They’d say a tour without “Balls To The Wall” isn’t possible. I know people love it, especially in America, so give them what they want and let them have a good time. I remember talking to Ronnie (Dio) one time and asking him if he was tired of playing all these old songs. And he said, no, the people want to hear it.

You do have to think about the fan out there who hasn’t heard any of these songs…just playing those two songs helps you reach that fan. Bands who only want to play their new stuff seem to just stick it to certain fans. 

You have to compromise.You can’t throw away your history — that is unfair to the fans. I hope I can put the right set list together for the next tour.

What kind of stories have you heard about “Balls To The Wall” over the years?

Chuck (Billy) from Testament told me one. He said he was 18 or 19 years old and was about to get married. He had a ghetto blaster in the church and was going to play “Balls To The Wall.” He played the song and decided he didn’t want to get married he wanted to make music like Accept. A lot of people have written emails saying certain songs helped make their life easier or lifted them out of depression. That means something. Music can really help you.