Wolf Hoffmann / On keeping the Accept train rolling and their legacy intact (Part One)
8 December 2020
There is a saying that the good guys finish last, but I am here to tell you that Accept guitarist Wolf Hoffmann has thoroughly chewed up and spat that saying out. I spoke to him a few days ago and it is fantastic to report that he is on top of his game and as nice as they come.
Interview: Mark Rotherham
Hoffmann is the only remaining founding member of Accept and the German kingpins of Heavy Metal will release their sixteenth album ‘Too Mean To Die’ via Nuclear Blast 15 January 2021.
It comprises of eleven tracks of toxic Metal, all of them guaranteed to pour guitar fire and screaming vocals all over the bad times of 2020, in a way that only Accept can. And hey, even the ballad rocks!
MetalTalk: What can fans expect from the new album?
Hoffmann: “It’s a collection of eleven songs, totally straight in your face Metal along the traditions of Accept. Brand new songs in a familiar sound. I think the fans are going to get what they are waiting for. Everybody I’ve talked to so far was very excited about it, they say it’s some of the best stuff we’ve done since ‘Blood of the Nations’. The last few Accept albums have been strong altogether, but this one, particularly, has been well received so far.”
I’ve seen Accept play live twice and I was struck by your showmanship. Very energetic, always smiling, great playing, but not taking it, or yourself, too seriously. Is that a reflection of your personality or just part of the show?
“A little bit of both. For a live show, you really want to entertain the audience. People want to have fun. What’s the point of going to a live show if the performers onstage appear to be miserable?
“And I am never miserable onstage, because the audience is out there, they pay their money to see you. They are having a good time and that reflects on me and the band. And besides, being onstage is the reward for all the stuff we go through; all the travel, the waiting around, all the stuff that is less pleasant.
“The highlight of everything is that hour and a half, two hours onstage. And if you don’t enjoy that, then why be a musician? That’s my motto.”
2020 has meant big changes for everyone. How have Accept coped and what did you have to do differently?
“Well, this was a sh*t year, wasn’t it? And it still is, kinda and I wish it was over already. But we are gonna start the next year off right with the release of our new album.
“We spent a good part of this year working on the album and in the middle of all this, we could not get together again, because Andy Sneap (the producer) was in England and we were in the US, so we had no other choice but to work remotely with him.
“It was a little strange, but at the end of the day we got it worked out and it turned out well. But we only did a small part of it that way, thank God.
“We just finished the last few songs that way, so you could say we limped home with a flat tyre.”
Was the album recorded in different locations?
“No, the majority of the album was recorded in Nashville, but we did it in two sections. We recorded the first seven songs early on in the year because we thought Andy was gonna be on tour in the summer. So we thought, let’s get started, let’s record what we can, and do the last batch of songs whenever.
“Then we had some good news that Andy had time because he was not on tour, but the bad news was that we could not travel. So he couldn’t come to us, so we had no other choice but to do the last few songs remotely.”
The end results are great, but I guess you wouldn’t use the remote method by choice?
“No. Why would I? It’s like doing a zoom call over a personal meeting. You know, you would always prefer to sit there with the guy, have a beer, look him in the eyes. It is a different thing doing something online, isn’t it?”
I read a 2008/9 interview with you and at that point you were not even playing guitar or considering a return to being a musician. What brought you to that point, and what brought you back?
“That’s a good question. Yeah, it all came to an end in the late 90’s. Well, that was a dark decade altogether for Heavy Metal, I would say, and we had a hard time as a band.
“The internal struggles were endless, the audience was dwindling and most bands were struggling.
“And then Peter Baltes decided to raise his family and he wanted to make normal music, so all of a sudden, again, I was the only member out there with no band any more. So I thought, do I really want to keep doing this?
“I thought that the good times were over and it was maybe time to look for something else.
“So I did what was passion number two in my life, photography. I did that for fifteen years or so, ten of which were professionally. I had a great career and I did not miss much, to be honest.
“Udo Dirkschneider was not interested in working with us ever again, so that was out of the question. But then we met Mark Tornillo and that changed everything, because there was a singer we thought did not exist.
“He really sounded like he could reproduce the old songs perfectly, but he also had so much more to could offer, that Peter and I both thought, here is our chance to regroup Accept. And we did, all guns blazing.
“I left everything behind, because music has always been love number one, y’know. Photography was always a distant second, always, as far as what it means to me. And if you can not do something properly, there is no point doing it at all.
“I hate doing stuff half-assed, knowing it is not the real thing. I wanna do something full-force or not at all. It has always been the case, so once I could not do music the way I wanted to, because times were tough and the band was gone, and the guys were gone, I thought it was better to quit with my head held high. Then go for something else full force, if you know what I mean.”
You mean it’s better to leave on your terms?
“Yeah, yeah, exactly. It is fun if you can make music because you want to, but maybe not so much fun if you have to make music because it is the only way to make a living and, all of a sudden, now you have to play music, I don’t know, in a bar band, or a bar mitzvah, or anything like that. I would not want to do that.”
How has having a third guitarist in the band changed your sound?
“It really has not changed it, it has added another little nuance to it, more than anything. It really happened because we discovered what a great player Phil Shouse was when he was touring with us during this orchestra tour that we did in 2019.
“He was sitting in for our original guitar player and after the tour was over, we thought it would be a shame to not ever play with him again.
“He is such a brilliant player, a nice guy, so why couldn’t we have three guitar players? Live, that would really allow us to do some of the tracking overdubs that we do in the studio, and just open it up a little bit, but it really doesn’t change anything.
“It makes it a little more colourful, that’s all.”
And do you all take turns with the solos and the verses and the riffs?
“We do, we do. Sometimes we all three of us riff, which really adds another dimension, sometimes we trade off licks and twin solos, and we still have a rhythm guitar in the back, so it is just another colour on the palate, so to say.”
You have been associated with many guitars over the years: Flying V, Stratocaster, Framus, Jackson, Fernandes. What guitar, or guitars do you currently use?
“The Framus. I’ve been using them exclusively for the last seven to eight years now and I am super-happy with them. It is the first time in my life that I have really found an instrument that does it all for me.
“In the past, especially in the eighties, I used a Flying V onstage because I thought it looked cool, but in the studio I always preferred the Strat because of the sound and because the handling was nicer.
“But ever since Framus made me that wonder instrument, it has got everything I need. It has got that perfect blend of all the different elements that I was looking for, so that is all I play these days. Maybe on a couple of overdubs I used one other guitar, but in the past I would use different guitars for each track and I am not even doing that anymore.”
Accept have been around since 1976. Your first album was released in 1979. It is fair to say you have seen it, done it and bought the t-shirt. And my reflection on your new song ‘The Best is Yet to Come’ is that it could only have been written by a band with that experience.
The song said to me that no matter how old you are, your day is not done and good things can still be just around the corner. What advice would you give to new musicians/bands just starting out?
“Hmm, that is always the golden advice from the elder statesman, and it is hard to say. One thing that has always been important to me is that you should never settle for mediocrity.
“If you record an album or a track and you have a sinking feeling that maybe it is not quite there yet, but you just hope it is good enough, then it will not be good enough. That is a lesson I learned hard over the years, because sometimes I was talked into something where I had that feeling that maybe it is not really quite there yet and then sure enough, it never turned out to be a smash success.
“You always hope that miraculously it will be amazing, even though you had the feeling that it might not be. But in my experience, that has never panned out. So, stay with it until you are one hundred percent happy with it, then at least no matter what the outside world says, you are happy with it.
“Because there is nothing worse than when you release something and then nobody likes it, including yourself.”
With the departure of Peter Baltes, you are now the only original member still in the band. Within the band, does that make you the daddy, or the captain, or are you all a democracy as equals working together?
“That makes me the dinosaur, baby [laughs]. Yeah, it is strange. I joined this band forty-four years ago and just never left. It was not by my choosing and I wish we still had the same members, but that is just not so.
“People leave and times change, but the train keeps rolling and I try to keep that train rolling the best I can. I try to be true to the original sound and intention and legacy of Accept and it seems to be working, even now, without Peter.
“I don’t know what that makes me. I never wanted to be the boss. I always like being in a team and in a band where everybody has an equal say, an equal input. But a lot of times that is just a pipe dream that does not really work in reality.
“As people develop over time you find out that with some people there is a driving force and some guys are just passengers. They just ride the coat tails and have less input than others. But nobody knows that when you start as teenagers.”
In Part Two, tomorrow, we talk more about the new album, the chances of the original line-up playing again and memories of playing live.