An Interview with Wolf Hoffmann of Accept

All images credited to Mattias Ericsson/Courtesy of Michael Brandvold Marketing


By Andrew DiCecco
adicecco@vinylwriter.com

In spite of Wolf Hoffmann’s nearly 50-year history of captivating audiences around the world and leaving an indelible imprint on heavy metal history, his creative exuberance never ceases, refusing to let the veteran axe-slinger become complacent.

In between his creative pursuits, however, Hoffman, and his band Accept, are currently enjoying some rare idle time before launching into their highly anticipated North American tour later this month.

For the first time in 10 years, Hoffmann will lead Accept on a 22-date tour of North America in support of the band’s 16th studio album, Too Mean to Die, released in Jan. 2021. The tour begins Sept. 29 at the Brooklyn Bowl in Nashville, TN, and concludes Oct. 29 in Columbus, OH, at King of Clubs.

Accept’s reconfigured, albeit lethal, lineup includes fellow guitarists Uwe Lulis and Philip Shouse, bassist Martin Motnik, drummer Christopher Williams, and vocalist Mark Tornillo, who has, along with Hoffmann, spearheaded the band’s resurgence since the release of the monumental comeback album, Blood of the Nations, in 2010.

In our recent conversation, Hoffmann and I discussed Accept’s upcoming North American tour and the addition of Philip Shouse to the band, as well as various avenues he has pursued through the years.

Andrew:
Accept will finally have a bit of a lull before embarking on the highly anticipated North American tour in late September. By all accounts, the band seems to be firing on all cylinders, Wolf. How are things?

Wolf:
It definitely is, man. We’re feeling better than ever – and I think the band sounds better than ever – and we definitely feel better than ever. We have a really good camaraderie in the band; it’s fantastic, and I think that reflects on stage. That’s what people say who are objective and who have seen us many times over the years; a lot of people say, “Man, you guys are on fire, and you’re better than ever.” So, that makes me happy because we feel the same.

Andrew:
When Philip Shouse joined Accept as a third guitarist, what impact did he have on the dynamic?

Wolf:
Well, first of all, he’s a super nice guy and fits in personality-wise really well. But his playing is amazing; I mean, he and I really play together well, and we love and enjoy sharing solos on stage like never before. So, in essence, yeah, he’s a nice, welcome addition to the band. And playing with three guitar players is something that I never thought I would enjoy as much as I do right now.

Andrew:
Did you contemplate going in this direction at any point in your career? What made you decide to pursue this avenue?

Wolf:
We didn’t really wanna go that route. It sort of just happened and fell into our lap because Phil was subbing one summer when we did the Orchestra Tour, and we basically didn’t wanna let him go after the tour was over; he’s such a nice guy, and, like I said, a phenomenal player, so we said, “Why can’t we have three?” I mean, there’s no law that says only two guitar players are allowed – it’s certainly not the norm or the usual thing to do – but I enjoy it more than I would have ever thought is possible. I have seen it all; for a number of years, I was the only guitar player in Accept, and of course, traditionally, there were two. But now, playing with three? It adds another dimension somehow. It doesn’t change the band at the core – the music is still what it always was – it just adds another flavor to it somehow. It really opens it up a little bit. It’s great.

Andrew:
I know you don’t really like to dedicate an entire setlist to a specific album, but given the overwhelming response for Too Mean to Die, is that something you’ve considered ahead of the North American tour?

Wolf:
Actually, we did. We talked about it during rehearsals, and we rehearsed all the songs. They’re so much fun; we should actually do that. I mean, right now, on this tour, I think it’s a little premature. I don’t know; it feels like we haven’t been here in the states in so long, that there are so many of the old classics that people probably wanna hear from us. But I wouldn’t rule it out in the future. The thing is, playing an album back-to-back, an album with a certain vibe and a certain running order, and a concert is different. So, what works well on an album doesn’t always work so well on stage. We’ve done it a few times, and it never felt like it gelled as much as a regular show, where you can pick and choose the best songs from certain eras and mix it all up. It sometimes flows better than one complete album back-to-back; I don’t know what it is. It doesn’t mean we won’t do it, but not right now.

All images credited to Mattias Ericsson/Courtesy of Michael Brandvold Marketing

Andrew:
Can you recall a time when you integrated some deep cuts that didn’t work well with a live audience or translate as you expected?

Wolf:
It goes through changes. Yeah, I remember some songs not working initially when we tried them, and then a few years later, we did them, and they were fantastic. So, I mean, everything has its place and its time, maybe; that has something to do with it. I don’t know what it is. Right now, we’re playing some really old stuff that we haven’t played in years, like “Demon’s Night” and “Flash Rockin’ Man.” Things like that that we haven’t played in a long time; we put them together in a different version, in the way of a medley. And that’s a lot of fun.

Andrew:
You mentioned in our last conversation that you were “gathering ideas” for the next Accept album. Any updates on that front?

Wolf:
I have. I have. And I’m actually still collecting. That’s the way I work. I record something when it comes to me in the heat of the moment, and I don’t even think about it much. I just record whatever comes to mind, almost like brainstorming. I don’t even think about anything; whatever happens, happens. Then I go back the next day, or a week later, and listen to it again and see if I can maybe combine it or write something that would work within the context and then build it from there. It’s a piecemeal approach. I usually don’t write songs in one – unless I’m super lucky, and everything just sort of falls together really well. But a lot of times, I go back to these ideas again and again.

Andrew:
While you’re on the North American tour, will these creative aspects be put on hold temporarily, or will you continue to work on them?

Wolf:
We’ll have to see how the tour plays out. You need to be in the right frame of mind, and if I have enough time in the day, I usually break out the stuff and take the guitar and set up the laptop, and then get into it. And sometimes not; it all depends on how I feel that day. But if I was really disciplined, I would sit there every day and just work away. But hey, who’s that disciplined? Not even a German. [Laughs].

Andrew:
As someone directly correlated with its origins, I wanted to hear your perspective on the evolution of speed and thrash metal.

Wolf:
Well, I feel partly responsible for all of it. We wrote that song “Fast as a Shark” that supposedly – I heard from so many sources – supposedly was sort of a starting point for a lot of bands and the beginning of a genre, or genres, really. Because up until then, no one had quite done a song that fast, with double kick all the way through. But for us in Accept, we had no interest in taking it much further. It was a bit of fun at the time, and we really enjoyed it, but we didn’t really identify ourselves so much with it as some other people did. We saw ourselves more in the footsteps of Deep Purple and Judas Priest and ACϟDC, those bands that we admired, and we formed our own style from them. Yeah, we did that song, “Fast as a Shark,” but we kinda left it at that. We didn’t really wanna take it to the extreme like all the other guys did. Good for them, but to each his own.

Andrew:
In retrospect, Accept influenced a wave of acts that followed throughout the 1980s. Did you take notice of that at the time?

Wolf:
Not so much at the time; it was more later. There was a time when, obviously, the internet wasn’t around, and people were doing things like cassette tape trading. There was this whole underground movement in the states that [people] maybe traded Accept tapes, and they got into it and did their thing. But it didn’t really circle back to us, all the way over there in Germany, in those days. It wasn’t until years and years and years later that people told us, “Man, when we heard that stuff, we were blown away.” But at the time, it was far, far away, and very silent.

All images credited to Mattias Ericsson/Courtesy of Michael Brandvold Marketing

Andrew:
The band worked with [producer/engineer] Michael Wagener and [producer] Dieter Dierks during its most pivotal period. Which aspect of each resonated with you the most, and how do you incorporate it into your methods today?

Wolf:
I mean, producers all have their own working style, and they’re completely different from one another. It’s not really anything that they have in common, to be honest. Dieter Dierks, for instance, was a very, very involved producer. He basically sat down during rehearsals, during songwriting, and he made suggestions and really did the groundwork with us, too. And we learned a ton of stuff with him about timing and tightness; how you record properly, and when does it really bounce and groove properly, and when does it not? Because we were still pretty inexperienced when we started working with him, but after a while, we definitely caught on, and that’s something that once you understand it – and once it registers – it stays with you forever. So, I’m still grateful to Dieter for these things after all these years.

And then Michael is a great engineer, too. He had some really good tricks; he mixed Balls to the Wall, and that still sounds killer to this day. So, everybody has their own things. And then the last five albums, we’ve done with Andy Snead, and he’s completely different from those guys. He’s more of a younger generation, and he’s very knowledgeable with pro tools, computers, and all the latest tricks and stuff. He grew up being an Accept fan, which puts him in a completely different category; he really knows and understands metal more than some other guys. He really helped us find our style with Mark when we regrouped after that long break. So, everybody has their own qualities. It’s amazing, but they’re really quite different from one another.

Andrew:
What are your memories of working with Alexander Young on the unreleased ACϟDC track “I’m a Rebel?”

Wolf:
We didn’t understand half the stuff he said to us because our English back then was quite bad. We realized the song was very cool, and he came into the studio for like a day and made suggestions. I’m not really sure if he produced the final record. He definitely wrote the song; it was his song that we recorded. To this day, I remember the demo that we heard with Bon Scott singing that song, and it was killer. I know that. It’s cool that we ended up recording a song that was written for ACϟDC.

Andrew:
Was it ever discussed whether it would be released?

Wolf:
Well, you gotta ask ACϟDC; I think they kept it in their vault. I’ve heard it, I know it exists, and the last I heard it was maybe ten years ago. It was still killer, but no, I don’t think they will release it.

Andrew:
In 1989, you released Eat the Heat, Accept’s eighth studio album. I think it’s under-discussed, but as the lone album with David Reese on vocals, it holds significance. How did you find the experience of making that record?

Wolf:
Horrible. [Laughs]. That was an album gone wrong from the get-go. I mean, we wrote some really good songs, and we finally found a good singer – David Reese, I think, had a great voice and still does, as a matter of fact – we just never gelled with him on a personal level. And the other thing that I have to say is that Dieter Dierks when he produced that album, he was on some weird mission; it was more or less his album more than ours. It was at the time when the big-named producers, you know, it was all about Mutt Lange – everyone talked about him and all these studio recordings that take a year, and everything has to be under the microscope. I don’t know.

Basically, long story short, we blew it with that record, in a way. It could have been great, but we took too much time and didn’t have a clear vision of what we wanted because we basically said, “All right, Dieter, you’re the experienced guy. You do what you think is right, and we’ll see what happens.” The result was not what we had hoped for. When you work on something for so long, you almost lose all objectivity. And that’s a lesson that I’ve learned; when something takes too long, and you’re in too deep, you better walk away. It becomes stale after a while, and you can’t be objective at all anymore.

I mean, it’s always hard to be objective during the recording process, but when something is drawn out over months, and months, and months, you’ve heard these songs by then so many times that you don’t know what left and right is anymore. You have no idea. That’s kinda what happened with that album; it just took too long, and everything was taken too seriously.

Andrew:
Did you consider moving forward with David as the voice of Accept at any point?

Wolf:
Well, no. He left the band – we basically fired him – and the band broke up after that album. It was just not happening.

Andrew:
During the recording of 1993’s Objection Overruled, how were things going for the band? With Udo [Dirkschneider] back in the mix, the album conveys boundless energy and seemingly channels Accept’s signature sound.

Wolf:
I guess every time you break up, and then you get back together, there’s all this extra energy because you kinda wanna prove to the world that you still got it. The same thing actually happened after that long break we took when we finally found Mark Tornillo and made the album Blood of the Nations. There’s this extra vibe and extra fire on this album that you can really feel, and I think it’s due to the fact that we hadn’t been doing it for a while, and we were anxious, and we wanted to prove to the world and to ourselves that we could really deliver. So, there was a certain spirit on that album that came out of nowhere, and it seems to happen more often than when you get back together or something. I don’t know, man.

Andrew:
As the musical landscape of the 1990s drastically changed, did you ever feel compelled to alter your approach to playing?

Wolf:
Well, the ‘90s were weird, man. Accept, along with everybody else, tried to fit in somehow into the changing landscape. You could definitely feel that heavy metal as we all knew it, the traditional stuff, was kinda much done. It was a time of changing styles and, you know, Seattle and grunge. You could definitely tell you couldn’t stay the way you were, but at the same time, we didn’t really know where we belonged. You can really hear that on [Predator] stylistically; we were trying to adjust a little bit and make it more raw and more spontaneous. Less produced, in a way; less overdubs, certainly. For a while, we had the thought, “No overdubs, no overdubs.” I don’t know why; it was just the vibe of the time. We all felt it was the right thing to do. The ‘90s were a strange time, and I think that same thing happened to a lot of other bands; they made albums that they’re not so proud of during that time.

Andrew:
Looking back on that period, specifically when recording Predator (1996), do you have any reflections on how things turned out and what could have been done differently?

Wolf:
I try not to even think about those days too much because it was a sour time, and there was a bad vibe in the band. Nobody was quite happy with the way things were going, and nobody had gotten along particularly well. So, it wasn’t happy times; that’s all I remember. I don’t even like listening to that album so much because it all brings it back. You know, it’s weird; these albums are almost like milestones of your life. When I think about a certain year – when somebody says 1984, I immediately think Balls to the Wall tour. Or ’86, I think Russian Roulette. These things are almost like building blocks of my life, and in happy times, it brings back a good vibe; in not-so-happy times, eh, not so much.

Andrew:
You mentioned Blood of the Nations, one of my favorite Accept albums and a masterful comeback that holds significance in that it marked the band’s relaunch. Walk me through how that one came together.

Wolf:
Happy times. Like I said, we were all fired up because we had met a singer, Mark [Tornillo], and we felt we could finally do what we always wanted to do all along, and the sky was the limit. We can write any song we want; we could play old stuff; we could play new stuff. But it seemed like all of a sudden, anything was possible. And we really wanted to make music all along, we just didn’t have a singer, and now we did. And the same with Mark – he kind of stepped into this thing – and you can hear that he was fired up and firing on all cylinders. You can definitely hear that on this album.

But I remember the happy times; Peter [Baltes] and I wrote all this stuff together, and a lot of times over Zoom because he lived in Philadelphia and I was in Nashville, and we couldn’t always travel back-and-forth because of time and money. We only met a few times, for like a week or so, here and there. But very often [Peter] had an idea, and he called me up, and we Zoomed and actually worked on songs on Zoom – er, no, actually it was Skype back in those days – but still, it was killer. We had a really good time. Then Andy Snead stepped into the scene and became the producer, and that changed everything also. It was great, man. Everything was meant to be.

Andrew:
You’ve been active in the industry for nearly 50 years, Wolf. Your career has taken you around the world, and you’ve played some of the biggest stages, yet you show no signs of slowing down. What’s next for you?

Wolf:
I don’t know, man. World domination and then the universe, what do ya say? [Laughs]. No, man, we’ve done so much already, and there isn’t the one thing that’s still missing; that’s simply not there; I’d just like to continue what we’re doing. Obviously, you wanna have more success, and you wish for bigger shows and better tours and all that, but it’s really just incremental stuff. The core of it all is that we’re still able to do what we always liked doing and that in itself is a blessing, man. Sometimes, I pinch myself, and I say, “We’re really fuckin’ really fortunate to still be able to do that after all these years.” And hopefully, I can do this until the day I drop, because who wants to retire from something like this? I certainly don’t.

All images credited to Mattias Ericsson/Courtesy of Michael Brandvold Marketing

Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is the Senior Editor for vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at adicecco@vinylwriter.com

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