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| 10 September 2014 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

Wolf Hoffman, guitarist with German heavy metal legends Accept, tells SHANE PINNEGAR that he’s over the moon with the response to their new album Blind Rage – the band’s third since reforming in 2009 with new vocalist Mark Tornillo. It’s well deserved praise, too: the album, released last week, is every bit as good as their classic ‘80s records which proved the forerunners to speed metal.

Wolf Hoffman 01

“Wow, man,” Hoffman exclaims down the phone line from his home in Nashville, USA, “a lot of fans are telling me nowadays that this new era of Accept is beginning to overtake the old, and they think it’s even better than the past now. How good is that!”

The perfectionist guitarist has every reason to feel excited and proud. Previous Tornillo-era albums Blood Of The Nations and Stalingrad have been great, but Blind Rage sees the band going full circle back to their classic roots: a place where powerful rhythms, razor-wire riffs, classical music-influenced solos, anthemic melodies and chanted choruses meet in a perfect storm. The band are, in no uncertain terms, revitalised and sounding at their best.

“Yeah! I think it sounds that way because we are pretty revitalised,” he says emphatically, his accent somewhere midway between Germany and America’s Midwest, “and we feel like, totally energetic, and it feels like we’re having the best time ever. I think that’s happening – that’s what you can hear on these albums, because we feel… we know what we’re doing, where we belong, what fans want to hear… and it feels like we’re having, I don’t know, a golden era of success right now.”

Hearing the melody back in the bands songs over the past few albums has been a real joy after the albums recorded immediately before their 1996 split (they reformed in 1992 for three albums after a previous split in 1989) sacrificed melody for power and intensity. Hoffman stops short of criticising those albums, but he agrees

“I don’t know, it’s hard to say. We’re just sitting there trying to write the best songs we could think of at the moment, then later on you discover that an album had a certain flavour, or bite to it. But that’s something that’s really hard to realise while you’re doing it. It sort of happens without you noticing it.”

There’s no argument when we suggest that riding the crest of a wave makes it easier to know what Accept fans are going to want to hear, and to target their new material accordingly, or, to put it another way – if they were down and out and desperate, they’d be reaching a lot harder and not knowing which direction to focus on.

“It certainly helps that we are no longer searching for anything, really,” said the veteran guitar hero. “I mean, we feel like we have arrived, and we just need to keep doing what we’re doing, and trying to get better at it. That’s sort of my personal understanding of where we stand, you know? I felt like, let’s not try anything new because we know what works, and we know what doesn’t work, so let’s just do more of the same. Let’s try to write songs we should’ve written 30 years ago, but never did.

“Let’s just get them as good as we possibly can, but let’s use the elements that we’ve always had, and let’s use the same producer, and the same singer, obviously, and the same theme, and let’s just make the best possible album, without it being different, you know?”

Wolf Hoffman, Accept 02

From a footnote in metal history fifteen or twenty years ago, Accept are now travelling the world, playing in places they’ve never even visited before – including Australia (more on that later.) The best part of their resurgence though, is that there’s no resting on past glories: the three Tornillo-led albums really are as good as the old, yet Hoffman admits it’s not as simple as it might sound.

“Yeah, I know. That sounds like it might be… it sounds like it should be real easy, but it actually isn’t, you know? I think we were able to do it now, because we’re totally secure in what we’re doing, and we have the guy on vocals who can deliver it. So Peter [Baltes, bassist and along with Hoffman, the only constant member of Accept throughout all their incarnations] and I can write all the songs we want… and we can really rest assured that Mark can really deliver them.

“All the groundwork is laid,” he continues after a short pause, “and we can just go to town and do whatever we want, which is awesome to me, you know? We can sit there and come up with any melody lines that we want to, and he’s gonna make them come across – which wasn’t always the case in the past. Sometimes in the past, we had to lean this-a-way and that-a-way because we knew it wasn’t going to work, but now we can sit there and then write songs all day long, and we know Mark can do it.”

Accept’s ‘classic era’ vocalist was Udo Dirkschneider, a pitbull of a man with a screaming larynx who influenced many metal singers in his wake and recorded many of the tracks the band are reknowned for, including Fast As A Shark, Princess Of The Dawn, Balls To The Wall, London Leatherboys and Metal Heart. By 1987 though, the band simply weren’t getting along and Dirkschneider left to form his own band, U.D.O. Accept drafted in first Rob Armitage, then David Reece to fill the chasm left by Udo’s departure, but the album they made with Reece was a pale imitation of the Accept sound and the band folded in 1989. Hoffman spent another five years working with Dirkschneider in the ‘90s, but his comments above prove there’s no reunion expected between the two.

Having lived through their early success and demise, Hoffman seems to have an older and wiser outlook about keeping the band on an even keel.

“You know, there really isn’t any secret to all this,” he says plainly. “At the end of the day, it’s a lot of personalities that have to get along. It’s always hard. It’s like anything else in life, I mean… what are the chances of five guys getting along forever and ever, and staying together? The odds are always against you in that respect, but hopefully, having done this now for a while, hopefully we have a line-up that’s very stable, and can go on for a long time.

“We certainly have a great time right now, and we’re all feeling the same way. This is the time of Accept again, you know? We would be foolish to change a winning team right now.”

Accept 02

When Hoffman last spoke to me, as Blood Of The Nations was released in 2010, he described how it felt like almost a miracle that Tornillo turned up when the band weren’t really looking for a vocalist, and then Andy Sneap appeared when they weren’t really looking for a producer. All the pieces fell into place almost magically – does he think it was fated, I wonder.

“That’s true,” he says of meeting Tornillo and Sneap in quick succession. “ At the time it sort of felt like it [was fated]. It honestly felt like the stars aligned in our favour – it was bizarre there for a while, because everything was going right. Initially it was all going wrong, and then everything went right. Sometimes things go your way, if you try hard enough.

“Yeah, it certainly felt like it was meant to be. We haven’t looked back since. The last five years have been nothing but amazing. It doesn’t feel like five years, honestly. It feels like two years to me, but it has been five years since we met Mark. It’s hard to believe.

“What else is weird, is that it’s been the most consistent period in our time, as far as the line-up, and the producer [Sneap has produced all three latest albums], and this is a very consistent time for us right now, which, that never really happened in the past.”

With three great recent albums under the bands belt, the pressure of writing a set-list that pleased the older fans with their classics, but also left room for new material that has the potential to be future classics, must be huge.

“Well, you use your best judgement, and go with it,” chuckles Hoffman. “We know from having done hundreds of shows over the years, now with Mark, and thousands of shows overall… you kind of know what the fans want, and what works, and what doesn’t. So we know we have to play certain songs until we die, like Fast As A Shark, Princess, Balls – half the set list, almost, is songs that we feel like we have to play, just because… that’s what we’re known for.

“But then we have those new albums that are beginning to really turn into classics themselves, like some songs like Teutonic Terror for instance, or Pandemic … I think they’re in the set, and they will stay in there, forever, and they’re every bit as good as the old material, as far as the reception they’re getting. They almost feel like new classic songs, already.

“So it’s a good problem to have, and I’m not complaining here. Yeah, it could be much worse!”

Accept 01

The video clip for Blind Rage’s first single, Stampede, is an epic affair shot in a canyon outside of Los Angeles by helicopter. Directed by Greg Aaronwitz, the striking video features sweeping shots of the band playing on the sandstone outcrops, Hoffman explains how it came about.

“It was really a good friend of ours, Dave Blass and he’s the [director] behind the Teutonic Terror video that was very successful, and almost instrumental in the comeback of our success a few years ago. We were talking to him, that we wanted another sort of grand, epic video this time, for this new album. Because we hadn’t really done one for the Stalingrad album, because there was no time.

“We said, ‘this time around, let’s try something that can compete with that Teutonic Terror video, where I was on top of a tank, and playing my solo up there – which was quite epic, I thought. We wanted something that was equally grand. We don’t want a dingy sort of video, in a dilapidated building, that you’ve seen so many times. We wanted something, like I said – grand, epic. So we came up with that idea of using helicopters, and being on this mountain top, and let the landscape be grand, and let’s place ourselves in this grand environment, you know?

“We filmed it outside of Los Angeles, in this area called The Devil’s Punch Bowl. We went out there super early in the morning, to catch the first sunlight, and we had a great time shooting out there in the middle of nowhere, in this desert rock surrounding. Quite cool. It was a lot of fun. And I think it’s better to have one high budget video, rather than having a bunch of little lower budget videos.

“You could argue, why you didn’t make a video?” he continues. “It’s because, you know, you spend a ton of money on it, and it takes a lot of effort to do, and then you just sort of give it away and release it, you know. In the past you could make some money back, by releasing it on DVD, but nowadays it’s just a giveaway thing. But I think it is important. It helps to sell the band, and the image of the band, and it really says something: if you’re going to the extreme of making those videos nowadays, you know?”

Accept 03

In the dozen years the band was inactive (bar a short reunion tour in 2005, again with Dirkschneider centre stage), Hoffman forged an impressive career as a professional photographer, something he misses now that Accept is busier and busier.

“[Accept] was a part time thing, but now it’s turning into a 100% gig, where I don’t find any time to shoot at all right now,” he says. “I regret that, because I’d really love to keep going with my photography, because it’s something that I love to do. It’s easy for me to do, and sometimes it’s quite nice to clear your head – especially when you’re working in the studio day in and day out, on the same thing all the time. It’s nice to break away sometimes, and just do something that’s completely different, and outside of the music world, which is what photography was, and is, for me. It’s like a totally different mindset, different environment. It really hasn’t got anything… no overlap, hardly ever.”

The other main reason we have Wolf on the phone, of course, is because in November Accept are set to come and play in Australia for the first time ever. Unfortunately it’s only an East Coast tour, not a full Australian tour, but metalheads in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are frothing at the mouth in anticipation of the Teutonic Terrors hitting their town. The guitarist is philosophical about not being able to play the whole country first time round.

“Well at least it’s a step in the right direction… we’re sticking our toes in the water, here, you know? We can’t take a full bath yet. We’re not quite ready for that. We’re just putting our foot in the water, you know?

“That’s always what it takes, I think,” he continues thoughtfully. “A lot of places have been like that. South America was like that. Initially we just went there, a couple or three shows, next time it’s a little more, a little bigger… it’s actually like building a market. It’s really hard to come somewhere you’ve never been before, and just do a full blown tour. It doesn’t work like that, unless you’re an overnight pop sensation, but in the metal world, I think fans want to really see that you can deliver the goods, and come to your shows. The next year they’re going to come more, and more, and you build it that way.”

With sales for these three shows going well, we certainly hope to see a full Australian tour from Accept in 2015. In the meantime, Hoffman is excited about visiting the country, albeit briefly.

“I want to kiss a kangaroo!” he laughs. “What do you think, I’m going to come all this way and not kiss a kangaroo!?! I’ll take that back, I don’t want to kiss one – I want to see one, but, that’s for sure. I also want to see a little bit of the landscape… although I know already I won’t be seeing much of that. I’ll mostly see airports, and hotels, and backstage, but that’s how it usually is. It’s all right. At least I get a hint of the country. You always get a little bit of an idea of what it’s like there. And, yeah, of course we’ll meet the fans, and see what the fans can do.

“So, we are really looking forward to seeing Australia! I’ll bring my camera, if I can, take pictures.”

Flying halfway round the world to do three shows on consecutive days in different states sounds more like hard work than a holiday, and Hoffman agrees that the jet lag is sometimes hard to shake off in time for the show.

“Yeah, it is. It’s very hard, and it doesn’t get easier with time. It’s brutal sometimes. The lack of sleep, a lot of times, you know, we don’t have the luxury to take a day off, just because we feel like it. Usually it’s like, bang, bang, bang. Get in, get out, and do the job, and, you know, that means a lot of times after we play a show at night, into 1 or 2 am in the morning, we’ve got to catch a flight at say, I don’t know… 9 in the morning, and then you’ve got to be at the airport by 7, which means you’ve got to get up at 5, so if you do the math, a lot of times that’s like three or four hours of sleep. And then you try to sleep a little bit on the plane, and it’s just brutal, you know? But what are you going to do! Nobody forces us to be rock stars.”

Wolf Hoffman, Accept 03

You might think that having sold over 17 million albums (according to Wikipedia) and touring internationally means there IS a certain level of luxury afforded to the bands lifestyle, but Hoffman says it’s considerably more modest than it sounds, and days between gigs are rare.

“No, because touring is still touring. You’ve got to make all the numbers work, and you’ve got your whole entourage, and the crew. It’s just the logistics. Sometimes it’s not even so much the money, sometimes it’s really the scheduling that does it. You can’t just ever really seem to take a day off, just because you feel like it. You booked the shows, and the tours, to where it all makes logistical sense, and you take your days off, and, I don’t know, when they just have to happen, but never just because you feel like.

“You know, that’s just the nature of the beast. Touring is always rough, I think. It’s a little bit like going to war, man. You know?” he chuckles wryly before adding. “No, it’s not that bad. It’s not as cushy as a one night thing. Let’s put it this way, we’re not coming in here on our own private jets, and all this stuff – it won’t be that cushy!”


Friday 14 November – The Factory, Sydney
Saturday 15 November – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Sunday 16 November – The Hi Fi, Brisbane

Category: Interviews

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