Stefan Kaufmann – DATOG is complete artistic freedom

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One of the biggest and most pleasant surprises came in late 2020 with the announcement of the project Dirkschneider and the Old Gang (DATOG). The three songs that they have released are nothing less than spectacular…after all, we didn’t expect anything less from Udo Dirkschneider, Peter Baltes, Stefan Kaufmann, Mathias Dieth, Sven Dirkschneider and Manuela Bibert…collectively known as DATOG! So, we decided to get in touch with Stefan Kaufmann for all the details regarding this new project in this really interesting interview! Interview: Sakis Nikas

Rockpages.gr: Stefan, first of all, it’s great to be talking to you after 14 years…we last did an interview together back in 2007 for the promotion of “Mastercutor”.

Stefan Kaufmann: OK…that’s a long time ago. Glad to be talking to you once again.

Rockpages.gr: Before we go into the details of the upcoming “Arising” EP by Dirkschneider and the Old Gang (DATOG), I wanna ask you what have you been up to after your departure from U.D.O. 10 years ago…did you focus on the production and spend time on your studio?

Stefan Kaufmann: Basically that’s what it was. I quit doing shows back in 2012…that’s already 9 years ago. Since then, I’ve been producing various bands and spending time in the studio, as you said. But not only this…I did the editing of a few U.D.O. live DVDs/Blu-ray stuff…I did the same for other bands. So basically…yeah, studio work.

Rockpages.gr: I know that you had some health issues with your back but do you miss life on the road?

Stefan Kaufmann: In 2018 I did eight or nine gigs with U.D.O…I enjoyed that very much and it’s good to be on stage from time to time but when you are constantly touring life could be boring…it’s all the same. So, when I decided to retire from the live shows, I didn’t have fun anymore. It’s OK to be playing on a few festivals but the straightforward touring was a little too much for me. Every day was the same.

Rockpages.gr: Let’s talk about DATOG…I gotta tell you that I was absolutely blown away when I heard “Where The Angels Fly” back in September 2020. It came out of nowhere…did you expect such a positive feedback by the fans and press?

Stefan Kaufmann: To be quite honest, we didn’t expect anything! It was simply a leftover song from the “We Are One” album. It wasn’t a case of being a bad song but it simply didn’t fit on the album so we had to put it away and not release it back then. But Udo, Peter (Baltes) and I thought that it was a pity that this specific song was not on the album and decided to make this cheap video clip. Also, we rearranged the song by leaving out the orchestra parts and worked on the guitars and the vocals. We already had the drum parts and Manuela’s vocals ready so it was only a matter of working on the backing vocals and add a few guitar melodies here and there. After that, we shot the video and released it because we simply liked so much the song…we didn’t have any expectations whatsoever. We thought that the fans should listen to this song…it was quite surprising to see that the video appealed so much to the public because we didn’t do any marketing or promotion for it. We gave the video to AFM without signing any contract or discussing anything regarding money. We simply gave it to them to put it on their official YouTube channel.

Rockpages.gr: Naturally, the biggest surprise, back then, was having Peter Baltes in the band and sharing vocals with Udo. How did you approach him?

Stefan Kaufmann: We have already been working with Peter on “We Are One”…

Rockpages.gr: Yeah, but it was totally different this time as he shared vocals with Udo and Manuela…

Stefan Kaufmann: Absolutely! You are right…that was different. It was Udo’s suggestion…after all, we had done this duets in the late 70s and early 80s.

Rockpages.gr: Surely, it brought back some memories from the Accept glory days…

Stefan Kaufmann: Yeah, I know. We thought that maybe the fans would appreciate it if we revisit that kind of singing with both Udo and Peter. But the most interesting thing was that we also had a third verse that featured Manuela’s angelic voice. So, it was pretty easy to work with Peter again…we talk to each other almost every day via FaceTime and we work quite a lot together. So, when I said to him that Udo suggested sharing lead vocals with you, Peter had absolutely no problem. I recorded his vocals via FaceTime because Peter lives in Nashville. It was really simple. 

Rockpages.gr: Was this positive reaction the element that put things in motion for the “Arising” EP?

Stefan Kaufmann: In the beginning, somebody suggested to release “Where The Angels Fly” as a single and include both versions: the rock and the orchestral version. We wanted to donate the money from the sales to the young musicians and the crew of U.D.O.. So, I thought that it will be even more tempting for the fans if we release an EP with three songs. And this is how the idea for “Arising” was born…all the money from the sales will go to the crew and the young band-members of U.D.O.. The old gang financed the whole thing without taking into consideration the costs for the studio time and the production.

Rockpages.gr: Stefan, that’s a great gesture.

Stefan Kaufmann: Well, I prefer to do good things than talk about them, really.

Rockpages.gr: Personally, the biggest surprise came when you released the second video “Face of a Stranger” and realized that Mathias Dieth was also a part of the band. And not only this but he delivered one of his best solos ever. Tell us how you managed to bring him back in music because I know he’s practicing law, if I’m not mistaken…

Stefan Kaufmann: Well, Sakis, if you think that this was one of his best solos, wait until you listen to his solo on “Every Heart Is Burning” which will be released in a few days (ed.note: the interview took place in mid-May). I loved Mathias’ guitar solo on both songs but he really delivered an unbelievable solo on “Every Heart Is Burning”. When we came across with the idea to record two more songs for the EP, I immediately said that we need guitar solos…I do not play guitar solos…I am a rhythm guitar player. I suggested that we should use Mathias. I am in close contact with him as he’s my lawyer (laughs) and most and foremost he’s my friend. He had also done some guest guitar solos on a few U.D.O. albums of the last few years so we were always in contact with Mathias. So in December 2020, I invited him to dinner and I asked him if he wanted to be part of the Dirkschneider and the Old Gang. We gave him full freedom for the solos…Mathias is responsible for them. He composed them without any help or any suggestion from us. He had full freedom to come up with his stuff. I am sure that Mathias enjoyed playing once again with his old friends but most importantly he enjoyed the freedom that he had throughout the whole process.

Rockpages.gr: Having Mathias on board wet our appetite for more guests from the past. Have you thought about that?

Stefan Kaufmann: There won’t be any more guests…that’s the six of us. It is a project, after all. It’s not like we are launching a new band. If someone wants us to play live…well, I don’t know…we only got 3 songs. Before we even think about that possibility something else must happen. But I must tell you again that this is a project that we really enjoy and we don’t have any pressure. We don’t have to fulfill any expectations or something like that. Maybe in the future if we think that we have 12or 15 great songs together then maybe we will think of a full album. But it’s not an immediate plan and we don’t want to replace U.D.O…that’s for sure. It’s simply a side project for all of us and it’s really the fun of the music and the fact that we are totally free to do whatever we want.

Rockpages.gr: Being yourself a drummer for many years, did you work closely with Sven? Did he ask you for any specific advice?

Stefan Kaufmann: Basically, I am talking to Sven every single day and we are working closely together not only for the Dirkschneider and the Old Gang project…I have recorded him in the studio a few times over the years but we are also working together on the upcoming U.D.O. album. Well, Sven is 27 years old and I am 60…it’s the normal thing…he asks me things but on the other hand he is a modern drummer with other influences. He plays on the drums ideas for me that I simply could not have come up with. Sven is highly professional and he’s always 110% prepared!

Rockpages.gr: Stefan, would you say that the best thing about this project is the complete artistic freedom?

Stefan Kaufmann: I think so. When you play with U.D.O. or Accept people always expect something…with DATOG is a complete freedom. We can do whatever we want in the studio, we can use any instrument we like and we think that it fits the song. You put it right, really…it’s a complete artistic freedom for us. In the end, you should be able to do what you really want to do and not be restrained.

Rockpages.gr: Do you remember the last time that you had complete artistic freedom?

Stefan Kaufmann: Yeah, of course…it was on “Faceless World” with U.D.O.. That was the first album that I produced in my career…I remember that Udo, Mathias and I worked really hard on that album. That was a very melodic record for us and as a matter of fact there are already a few journalists who say that “Face of a stranger” (the song by DATOG) could have easily been on “Faceless World”. Melodic and powerful together. To be quite honest, “Faceless World” is one of my favorite albums of all time by any band. Two or three weeks ago, I listened to the whole album again…I never do this or rarely do this with albums that I produce. “Faceless World” still sounds fresh and maybe it’s the spirit of complete artistic freedom that makes it so special.

Rockpages.gr: My last question…any news on Jorg Fisher?

Stefan Kaufmann: No…we tried to locate him throughout the years. I think that he must be somewhere in USA but nobody knows for sure. He has disappeared and it’s really sad because the fans keep asking for him.