ACCEPT (Wolf Hoffmann) INTERVIEW
When I first heard that Accept had reformed and were about to and record a new album without legendary Udo D Dirkschneider, my reaction was one of pure disbelief, since a previous such attempt (see “Eat The Heat”) was far from successful. This time round, the Teutonic quintet managed to do things the right way as the band’s twelfth studio effort “Blood Of The Nations” has been recognised by most music journalists and fans alike as one of the band’s finest. Just a couple of hours prior to hitting the much ‘congested’ for their standards stage of north London’s Relentless Garage, I met up with guitarist Wolf Hoffmann – a man whose pride over what Accept have achieved these last twelve months is, both clearly and understandably, difficult to hide. Wolf was both kind and accommodating and more than willing to talk about all things “Accept”, culminating in a promise that it won’t be long before another album sees the light of ay by this really tight group of musicians!
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis
• Hi Wolf; it’s great to be able to meet you in person and to tell you how much I love “Blood Of Nations”. It is a stunning album and, if I am to be very honest with you, that was something that I did not really expect to happen.
Wolf: Yeah, yeah…
• I hope you don’t take it the wrong way…
Wolf: Well, that was you and the rest of the world! Nobody expected it and I cannot tell you how many times I heard such a statement.
• I believe you and I am also very surprised with myself as I believe I am a fairly open minded person. I mean, when “Eat The Heat” (1989) came out I remember not being negatively pre-disposed, preparing myself for something different which ended up indeed being the case. I am not sure whether my reaction this time round, and that of all the others for that matter, was a result of the band being away from the music scene for such a long time (note: previous Accept album “Predator” was released back in 1996 – more than fifteen years ago). Still, it only really took a couple of goods spins on “Blood Of The Nations” in order to shut everybody up for good. Well done!
Wolf: Thank you! It’s a story that…this last one year and a half has been quite crazy for all of us I have to say because first we run into Mark (Tornillo – vocals), you know, and we never thought that this might even happen because we were not really looking for anybody – we just met him and on the spot decided to put Accept back together with Mark as the frontman. And then, we got this wave of negative…criticism before anyone has even heard anything which surprised us quite a bit. I mean, we knew that it was going to be an uphill battle as that happens anytime that you have a new singer but we weren’t really ready for the sort of fact that everybody had already made up their minds and thinking that this is never going to work – people saying “nobody needs a new Accept album”. That, in turn, made us work even harder because we said “well, wait a minute guys – you haven’t heard anything”. We were convinced that this is going to be good, so we maybe worked a bit harder than usual in order to ensure that we make really good songs as we wanted to show to the world that “yes, it can work” and by God it did!
• Ok, but in defence of those who were perhaps too hard on you, there were quite a few rumours and attempts going on with regards reforming Accept and maybe it was that people felt slightly tired or even annoyed by the fact that nothing was happening. You know what they say about great loves and passion, right? These people have been waiting for fifteen years for a new album to come and that is a long time indeed, so you can surely sympathise with people’s reluctance…
Wolf: Sure, I don’t mind reluctance but at least wait until you’ve heard something before making up your mind. I am not talking about reluctance, I can deal with that, but I am talking about people who made comments like…you know, I don’t even want to repeat them. In their defence I can say that at least when the album came out and everybody heard it there were a lot of people apologising to us and at least they were honest enough to say “you know what; I didn’t believe in it but the album really convinced me and thank God you’re back”. At least people are open minded in that sense that when the album does come out and it is good that they change their mind. Right now, all this is history anyhow and it’s been quite alright, I tell you. It is very interesting to see it become ‘album of the year’ in many different occasions and our tour becoming ‘tour of the year’ and all that good stuff happening. It’s quite nice now to see all that praise come in and see how much people really dig it! It has been voted number one album in more than forty different publications and websites – it has been awarded the title “Metal album of the year” in a lot of different places.
• I am not sure whether it translates well in English, but in Greece we say that “revenge is a dish that is best served cold”, which is pretty much what you have achieved.
Wolf: Yeah (laughs). I know what you mean but at the end of the day it’s all about music and nobody’s out for revenge. We are just happy that people like the album and I wish that they will be a little bit more open minded next time and wait till they’ve heard something before becoming critical as you never know what you’re going to get.
• Fair point. Anyway, let’s move away by me asking this very important question; why did it take you guys fifteen whole years in order to record another album? Ok, you did not have a singer, but…
Wolf: It’s very simple! We didn’t have a singer and we never thought that we would find anyone else especially after having gone through such a process with “Eat The Heat”. At that point, we wanted to take the band into a different direction and we thought that we wanted to change our style and that didn’t work, so we sort of ran out of energy trying to find somebody new – something that never even crossed our minds. Peter (Baltes: bass) was doing his own thing, I was quite happily living my life and being a successful photographer and it never occurred to us until one day, completely by accident, we discovered how much we missed it. I have always knew that I wanted to play if I could but I thought that this was probably never going to happen because I cannot play by myself and I don’t want to start my own band, you know? If the guys don’t want to do it and Udo (Dirkschneider: vocalist and founding member) didn’t want to do it then, you know, it’s not meant to be. Obviously now everything has changed.
• My question stems from the fact that the music of Accept was more about the riff so I assumed that finding a vocalist would have been less of a problem than, let’s say, trying to find a new lead guitar player. Anyway, as you said, this is all in the past now, so…
Wolf: Exactly. But you need to have a vocalist that fits in the band and which the fans will accept by the end of the day. It’s not up to us; it’s really up to the fans, who they like and who they don’t like – luckily, they all really like Mark and, like I said, it’s all history at this point!
• I believe that Mark is the best kept secret in history of classic Heavy Metal!
Wolf: Absolutely (laughs).
• I am not sure whether, apart from TT Quick he was a member of any other fairly known band.
Wolf: No, he’s been doing this thing since the 80s and they (TT Quick) had a major deal and they have done quite a few things but never got a lucky break which was needed. Just when they were on the verge of going somewhere their label either kicked them out or shut down because all of the sudden it was all about Grunge and people didn’t want to hear about Metal anymore…who knows! Sometimes you don’t really know why things happen the way they do! A lot of times it’s only about being at the right time at the right place that really gets you somewhere. Life is full of mysteries as we know, especially in the music business. You cannot plan for all these things; sometimes things happen and they all fall in place and some other times…I remember times in our career when nothing was going right and times when everything was going right, and right now I think that a lot of things are going right!
• Earlier today I had a quick look at your photography site (http://www.wolfhoffmann.com/) which is indeed quite an interesting thing in itself and as I realised you are quite skilled with the camera. It kind of made me think, what it is that forces a man who has already taken a different but quite successful path to leave everything behind and move back into a business that is so unpredictable and maybe even outward unsafe? Based on the band’s website you have quite a hectic schedule so I guess doing both photography and music is not an option at this time, right?
Wolf: I took that decision because one day…well, first of all you say “once a musician, always a musician” – that is still in you. Once you’ve been on stage and in front of eighty thousand people or more, once you’ve had that rush in your life then it becomes like a drug that you always want back. If there was ever a slightest chance that I could have it back I would take it, as I did. Yes, I have a successful, or had a successful, photography career but the excitement or the satisfaction that I get out of taking pictures is nothing compared to being on stage, having a successful album and doing interviews and all that stuff. I mean, come on – you cannot compare it! I’ve had nice things published. I have had book covers printed and stuff like that but one day you will get to ask yourself “what is it going to say on my tombstone; is it going to say photographer or musician”? What is your legacy going to be? What is it that you have done best in life? I believe that I am probably best at playing guitar!
• With regards the new reincarnation of Accept you made two very important decisions, both being very successful. First you got Mark as a singer, a man whose voice stays true to the spirit of Accept without trying to be an Udo imitator in the process and secondly you ensured that the band’s image is one that is contemporary but still somehow classic – quite a difficult achievement for a band of the status of Accept.
Wolf: Right! And that’s why we are so fortunate to have Andy Sneap as a producer with us, because he’s clearly from a new generation of Metal heads who grew up listening to Accept and, as a producer, has worked with many new bands, many of which are Thrash or even heavier in orientation. He is responsible for bringing many modern elements into Accept in the way that he made us sound. He was really instrumental in this album in the sense that he knew exactly what a fan would like to hear simply because he is one and he grew up being one and, at the same time, he’s got that modern aspect in his production work, you know? That was a really fortunate decision for us to go with Andy and everything else we have a good team of people with us – people who know and help us through these crazy modern times, you know? We are clearly old school guys; Ok, we do a little bit of Facebook and all that stuff but we are not computer kids – we are just grown up musicians who grew up in a time when we spent hours and hours in the rehearsal room instead of on the laptop, which is what most people do nowadays.
• What was it about his CV that made Andy Sneap the producer of choice for Accept?
Wolf: It was a very similar thing to when we met Mark; we just met him one day, loved what he had to say, loved talking with him as we immediately clicked and it was after all that that we checked what he has done in the past. The same was with Marl; I didn’t know anything about Mark until I met him. I mean, I had heard of the name TT Quick but then he started singing with us one day and I felt like “wow – perfect”. With Andy it was very similar; he looked us up, he came to see us, we exchanged a few words, drank a few beers and started working on a couple of tracks to see how it all felt and it was perfect. That is because he knew so much about the band.
• The thing that I notice from the fan perspective and being quite knowledgeable with regards his work with many different bands, is that he never tries to create the same sound for two different bands. Each band that he works with is quite unique sounding and I do also believe that he managed to capture the essence of accept with “Blood Of the Nations”.
Wolf: Honestly, that is a very difficult thing to do, to do a band like us…it sounds very easy but, in reality, it’s difficult because we have such a long legacy with the stuff that we have already done and naturally one compares the new stuff to the old stuff. As an artist you want to sound a little bit as you did in the past but not too much as you don’t really want to repeat yourself. Then again, you feel the need to add new elements that you’ve never had before but not too many as the end result would not be Accept…there is always this fine line that you need to be aware of and I think that he walked that line with us. I mean, we would not let him do his own thing completely; we all worked as a team, but we did manage to walk that line and come out successfully.
• He probably also felt slightly intimidated knowing that you as a member of Accept have probably spent more time in the studio than him being a producer (I laugh).
Wolf: No (laughs)…he’s done a lot of albums, let me tell you; yeah…it was kind of funny as his eyes started to light up at a certain moment. On a certain level he is still that fan boy, something that you notice when we start talking about my old flying V guitar, something that he was always super excited about, and of certain things that we did in the past and now we ended up doing again like using certain effect or pedals. He is a guitar player and that is an extra help when the time comes to record guitars and you talk about riffs and stuff – he totally understands when you talk about riffs and ways to play them. He was really the ideal producer for us so we will end up working with him again this year, so…enough praise for Andy I think (laughs).
• ‘Let’s focus back on Accept’ kind of thing, right (I laugh)?
Wolf: Honestly, every interview that I make I always say the same thing; he’s had a big influence on this record – we couldn’t have done it without him! Initially, we even thought about producing ourselves as we have done it in the past with “Balls To The Wall” (1983). We thought that we can do it but I am so glad that we didn’t because we probably would have drifted off to some other direction.
• In the fifteen year gap between “Predator” and “Blood Of the Nations” many things have changed, especially with regards album production techniques. Obviously, I am not suggesting that you had not played guitar at all during that time but being away from a studio environment on a professional level must have left you slightly behind with things. Did you find that you had to adapt yourself to many new ‘realities’ in the studio?
Wolf: Not really…I mean…let me think about that…I don’t…no. Going to the studio and writing new songs felt natural. The biggest ‘unknown’ looking back was really the ‘can we still write songs’ thing and that was because we hadn’t written any new songs for over ten years! I had confidence that we could as I thought that if you can do it once, then it must be the same like riding a bicycle; if you know how to do it then you will probably do it again! I didn’t doubt it for one second but we didn’t know to be quite honest; we had no idea what would come out of it but, luckily, when Peter and I sat down and started writing stuff, you know, and we ended up having an abundance of ideas; things were good – we ended up writing all this stuff within a couple of months!
• Wolf, most of the songs on the album are simply amazing so I am not sure how you are going to get away by simply playing two or three of them every night while you are on tour. Is it indeed such a number that you have to come up with?
Wolf: I believe that it’s more like five and that is simply due to the fact that the album was so well received and as a result of being so strong. Normally you would expect to have two songs and bands like AC/DC normally do one and let all other being old material, but we figured that this would not do this album any justice as we do have a new singer in the band and this is a whole new chapter for us, plus it has been ‘album of the year’ in so many different places around the world, so why only do two or three songs?
• You have made a very cool video for the quite anthemic “Teutonic Terror” and I assume that this is an indication that this specific song stands out for you. Are there any other songs which could potentially be used for a similar purpose?
Wolf: Actually we have already done some work on “New World Comin’” and that was quite recently filmed – actually it was edited earlier today and will continue to do so tomorrow so we will have to wait and see for that. I am very excited and hopefully this will turn out to be as good as we are hoping. We have many other strong songs; “Pandemic” might be a good one as it is a crowd favourite. We play this song as an encore and that is also a rare thing for us; I don’t think that we have ever played a new song as an encore before. It worked so well and people first time round did dig it.
• Wolf, on a couple of occasions you used what can be described as discrete orchestral arrangements, which I assume is the right way of describing them as you did not react badly to this (I laugh). How did that feel? If my memory serves me right, you have never attempted something like this in the past.
Wolf: No we haven’t and we didn’t really know whether people will find that being a little bit awkward but I guess that nowadays people are so used to it. I always loved this kind of stuff and I have personally worked with an Italian guy in some classical arrangements previously, his name is Melo Mafali. He and I worked together on a classical music project that’s unreleased at this point. We took a couple of ideas from that project, as Andy really liked them, and we added them to two of our songs as a form of experimentation and they worked so well so we thought “we might as well use them for Accept stuff”. I was a little bit insecure thinking “are the fans going to like that – is it Accept enough having strings and horns in there” but Andy said “don’t worry about it – times have changed”. I don’t know how people would have reacted if we would have done that back in the 80s, but times have changed and people are a lot more open-minded.
• Plus, I personally thought that you did use those elements in a very tasteful way; they didn’t dominate the proceedings – just added some character.
Wolf: Yes, that’s right! I agree.
• In terms of touring, as we already said, you have quite a hectic schedule. You returned from a stint in Russia…
Wolf: That’s right! We came back from Russia, now we are doing the UK for a week or so and then we’re off to both North and South America and god knows where else! We are really going to be busy until the summer and then we are actually going to stop and write new songs.
• Now, you live in the States so you have a very good understanding with regards how things work there from a musical point of view. Do you find that America is more receptive to classic Heavy Metal bands today than it was perhaps ten or fifteen years ago when for every band of your generation touring was a difficult thing to do?
Wolf: Yes definitely. The scene is definitely stronger in Europe because in America audiences are much more trend-orientated and they listen to, you know, all these modern sounding acts and then the hop off onto the next popular act so a lot of bands there don’t seem to even have a longevity any more. As far as Heavy Metal is concerned, yes, there’s still a following there but you really almost have to look for it, you know? It’s there but it’s a much tighter community, meaning that there are normally smaller venues that you get to play. At the same time, there are some really nice venues and opportunities over there just because the country is so big that really allows you to stay on the road for six weeks if you do it right, you know? I am referring to all those casinos that they have now, all those House Of Blues venues. I don’t know if you have heard about them but they are really good venues to play at with great PA systems and great lights – those are really well organised places indeed, not like this one here (laughs). (note: Wolf is referring to the Relentless Garage; the venue in north London that the band is performing in tonight).
• This is certainly not the worst venue in London but for a band like Accept I would expect something a little bit more ‘appropriate’ let’s say (I laugh).
Wolf: I almost…we call it…we are going to be very intimate tonight (laughs). Look at the bright side; we’ll get the chance to be really close to the fans tonight!
• Well, I certainly hope that this will not put you off with regards playing in London.
Wolf: No, no. We’ve done so many shows over the years…you’ve got to laugh at such things, shrug it off. It’s a somewhat awkward place to play but, you know…look at the bright side and move on. Tomorrow we are going to play Hammerfest which is going to be a lot of fun and we have played some very big places last year with AC/DC in front of eighty thousand people and each has its charm in a way.
• Well, as we have said, many things have changed over the last fifteen years and now you are part of what is known as the Nuclear Blast family which is a very renowned and respected label in Metal. I trust that a band like Accept has a way of dictating what the “rules of the game” are going to be, right?
Wolf: Oh yes, sure!
• That probably means that we are going to have more products of such collaboration between you and them in the future, right? Please say yes!
Wolf: Yes, I already told you that we are going to be working on new songs coming July and probably spend the rest of the year working on the new album, so definitely yeah – there’s going to be more to come! If everything goes well and we stay healthy and all that then we plan on being around for a few years!
• Wolf, it’s been a pleasure meeting and talking to you. I wish you all the best and good luck.
Wolf: You are more than welcome – have fun tonight! Next time we are hopefully going to play a bigger and better venue anyhow.
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