Tyskhjältarna Accept släpper snart ett livealbum, “Symphonic terror – Live at Wacken 2017”, så vi tyckte att det kunde vara läge att ringa upp riffmakaren Wolf Hoffman för att höra vad som pågår i Accept-lägret. kanske blev det inte så mycket snack om själva livealbumet, utan istället bl a om kommande studioalbumet, debuten från 1979, toppar och dalar och om att hitta lyckan i livet:
“I´m really living the dream in a weird way. There are always things that could be better and yeah, we could be filling stadiums instead of playing clubs and theaters and shit, but would it really make a big difference as far as happiness is concerned? I don´t think so. I mean, at the end of the day it´s all inside of you, it´s all in your head.”
What is it with metal bands and symphony orchestras?
Wolf: I don´t know. I´ve always been a fan. The last 20 years a lot of bands have sort of discovered this. I can honestly say it´s been on my radar for a very long time and it just took forever to finally come true. I´ve played around with the idea for at least 20 years, but there was never the opportunity to actually go through with and do it and now that my solo album came out two years ago, the stars finally aligned for us to make it happen. I´m glad that it did happen. People always talk about the similarities between metal music and classical music and I don´t know if there really are that many. There are certain elements that are similar and it kind of lends itself maybe to be played by an orchestra, but I don´t know mostly why that is.
What would you say is your favorite classical piece?
Wolf: I´ve always liked the ”Peer Gynt suite”. That was maybe one of the first pieces I fell in love with. One of the first composers I really got into as a teenager was Tchaikovsky and pieces like ”Swan Lake” and ”The Nutcracker”, those are the easy accessible ones that everybody has heard and then there´s obviously other stuff that is quite amazing.
Another solo album, similar to the latest one, is that something you´re thinking about?
Wolf: This was number two for me. I made one in the 90´s without orchestration and this is number two with an orchestra and if I ever did another one again I´d play with strings again and maybe with a bigger ensemble with horns. Now that I´ve gotten the taste of it and how much fun it can be, I´d say ”Go for it!” and complete warfare. Unfortunately it´s quite intense to write this stuff and to pick out the right pieces and write the scores and that kind of stuff. It takes weeks and months of uninterrupted time, but that would definitely be something that I would want to do, just because there are so many more pieces that I would love to play around with. I constantly listen to classical music and I always make a note when I hear something, like ”Oh, this might sound cool if it´s played on guitar.” I have a long list of stuff that I would one day attempt to fiddle with.
When you´re at home writing music, do you ever come up with stuff that is not metal and could fit something totally different or do you always write in the metal vein so to speak?
Wolf: I guess everybody writes songs and come sup with stuff that is nice, but it´s not really me. I always try to put the songs through the test ”Can I really imagine myself playing this live on stage?” That´s always the ultimate test. There´s a lot of stuff that´s cool and interesting and you go ”Yeah, it´s kind of nice, but can I really see myself playing that live with my head held high and can I really see the crowd get into it?” That´s my litmus test. Sometimes the song is kind of dragging on or something and then you go ”Yeah, it´s cool, but it´s not really for us.” So sometimes we´ll just leave it, or very often we´ll leave it and I think that´s the way it has to be. I think you have to be super selective. For every 20 songs you write, you come up with one keeper, maybe. The older we get or the more songs we´ve already published, less songs turn out to be keepers. I don´t know. You just have to be more selective, I guess. It´s weird.
Do you have tons of riffs stored away on your iPhone and so on?
Wolf: You bet! For every album we make I have a folder that goes from 1 to 100 and you click through the riffs and as you go through the stuff from previous years, there´s tons of stuff that was used and tons of stuff that was never used.
When you´re writing a new Accept album, does it ever happen that you go way back and check out old ideas to use on the album or is it mostly just fresh stuff?
Wolf: Mostly fresh stuff, because it´s really not that exciting to go through the recycling bin to be honest. It always feels a little stale and it always feels like ”Well, we didn´t use it then, why would we want it now?” Unless… sometimes there´s a little piece of the puzzle missing. Sometimes there are songs that really went nowhere because you didn´t have the right idea for it. Sometimes there´s just a cool riff and a cool verse and then it stops because there´s no chorus because you didn´t come up with anything that you really liked. On an odd chance there might be something that you find now that you didn´t find back then, but honestly, it´s more exciting to come up with brand new stuff and that´s how it usually is.
There are bands now calling it quits, like Slayer and we had Mötley Crüe a few years back. Do you look ahead and actually see when the end of Accept will be or do you think you´ll just keep going and going?
Wolf: I decided that I´m gonna keep on going and going till I drop dead on stage. Honestly, I´m not even kidding. That´s my personal goal, because I don´t think retirement is really an attractive option. That is maybe partly because I´ve already been retired and away from the music business for 10 years when I became a photographer and I did something completely outside of the music business. I mean, those were good years in a way, but now that I´m back into it I feel it´s much more fulfilling and I have something… a goal where I get up every day in the morning and I have something I´m really looking forward to and it´s something that keeps me busy all day long. Retirement is just a terrible thought to me because I wouldn´t know what to do to be honest. Maybe if I found something to do, because I´m never really bored… I´m a guy who´s always doing stuff and a I have a lot of different interests, but it wouldn´t have the same meaning and appeal as working with music and working with this whole machinery that´s called Accept. I don´t want to retire if I´m not forced to it. You never know what´s in the future.
You´re turning 60 next year. Looking back on your career, what has been a high point and a low point so far?
Wolf: You can always talk about the golden 80´s and there was certainly something very special about it. Mainly because there was all of this sort of pioneer spirit. Everything was new and exciting and everything happened kind of for the first time. We went to America for like eight months and stayed on the road and discovered the world so to say. We were still kids, in our early 20´s, so the year 1984 was very, very special. But since we were so young and everything happened for the very first time, you couldn´t really put it its proper place. You almost took it for granted in a weird way, because it just sort of happened and we weren´t as reflective on things. Now, that we´re a little bit older and we´ve been around the world dozens of times, when things happen now you can put it in a much more clearer perspective. The last ten years of our career is something that I´m very grateful for and I think in a weird way, it´s been more consistent than anything we´ve ever done in the past. We´ve made four solid albums and there´s really no end in sight. I think this period now is very consistent and on a sort of upward trend and it just goes on and on. It´s very good.
A low point then, when it wasn´t fun?
Wolf: Yeah, no doubt that whole period with David Reece in the 90´s when we had that album ”Eat the heat” out, that was definitely a dip in the curve I´d say. Another dip was in the late 90´s when the band dissolved, but that was a time when heavy metal wasn´t cool and nobody wanted to hear it and everybody was just into grunge and alternative this and that. That was definitely a low point for metal i general everywhere in the world. It was also the time when I decided that it was maybe time to call it quits and do something completely different in my life. I didn´t really want to go down with the ship any further and didn´t really want to make music because I had to play music to make a living or anything. It sounded like a dreadful idea to me, so I said ”Maybe it´s time to walk away from everything.” A ”It was fun while it lasted.” sort of thing.
Looking back on all the albums, do you have a personal favorite? An album you really think defines Accept as a band?
Wolf: Two albums come to mind. Mainly ”Restless and wild” (1982) because it´s got that sort of youthful spirit and independent ”I don´t give a shit!” attitude and it really only happens when you´re young and you´re in that exact point of time in your career. It´s very unique that album, for that reason. Then ”Blood of the nations” (2010) when we started again. It kind of had a similar vibe to it and maybe it´s that attitude you have when you have to sort of prove yourself against the rest of the world in a weird way. Back then with ”Restless and wild” we definitely had that attitude in the band. We had a dream and we wanted to prove ourselves. When we came back in 2008 there was a similar vibe in the band because a lot of people were writing us off before we even had begun. We had a new singer and we announced to the world ”We´re back!” and there was a lot of negative and attitudes online in those chatrooms and it really sparked something in us to say ”Wait a minute! We´ll show you! You haven´t heard anything yet. Just let us write some songs and then you can judge it.” That energy is definitely on that album.
I recently talked to Max Cavalera who mentioned how he used to listen to ”Restless and wild” and he said ”I still think Fast as a shark is the ultimate pre thrash song. It has all the elements of thrash, the double bass, the guitar picking and it sounds fantastic. I think that album was way ahead of its time when it came out.”
Wolf: That´s really cool to say that. I´ve heard similar things being said about that song by a lot of different people. Unbeknownst to us, it really had that impact on people at the time and funny enough, in those days you didn´t get that feedback that you get now. Now you release an album and a few hours later you know where you are, but back then you released an album and it was silence. You didn´t hear anything. There was no internet obviously and whatever was written in the papers was written months ahead of time and it wasn´t really written by the fans, it was written by the journalists so you never got this immediate response that you get now. It was only years later that people came and told us ”Hey, when I heard that album it changed my life!” and all that kind of cool stuff. At the time we were in Germany doing our thing going about our business and we had no clue it had that resonance in the music scene.
That has to be the ultimate thing as a musician, to be acknowledged for something you wrote many years ago and having other musicians say it was a song that influenced them and got them into music or got them into start playing the guitar or whatever?
Wolf: Totally is and I´ve always said that to me, in a weird way, it´s more satisfying and worth more than, you know, maybe having a cheesy pop record out there that sells ten million. That´s great and everybody wants that in a way, but what makes you more proud at the end of the day? I think the accomplishment to influence people like that and almost change their lives is amazing.
The first Accept album turns 40 next year. Are there any plans for anything around that?
Wolf: No. We´re not into anniversaries at all. We´ve never done anything anniversary like and we don´t want to. We could have an anniversary every year because something always happened 25, 30, 35 years ago, but I think it gets old after a while and it´s just a marketing gimmick. Nothing´s really planned.
Looking back at that first album, do you remember what the thoughts were about the album cover?
Wolf: That album cover was done by the label. We didn´t even know what they were going to do for a cover. We just supplied the music and sent it to the label and then one day in the mail we got this album. We thought ”That´s kind of cool!” Nobody told us and nobody asked us and the same thing happened again with the next album (I´m a rebel, 1980) which was terrible with an upside down phone booth and it was like ”What the fuck is that?” It was done the same way only it didn´t turn out so good.
The producer for the first album, Frank Martin, who was that guy?
Wolf: He was an unknown guy from our hometown and funny you should ask, he was a keyboard player and a little bit older than us and a little more experienced. I didn´t really know that he was a producer as such. Maybe he called himself a producer? He was just a guy that knew more about things than we did I guess, is the way to describe it. He wasn´t really a full blown engineer or anything. We just knew of him and we needed guidance and a little bit of help, but I have no idea who even suggested him. All of a sudden he was there and he went to the studio with us and produced the album. A year ago I actually had some contact with him again and he´s still out there and he´s still playing music, but I don´t think he´s produced anything since that, to be honest.
What kind of advice would today´s Wolf give 20 year old Wolf back then when that first album was recorded?
Wolf: (Laughs) That´s a good question! I would probably say ”Worry less about what other people do. Just concern yourself with what you think you can do good.” I remember I was terribly insecure back then, because I thought everybody else was much better than I was and everybody could do all these amazing things. A ”I´m not worthy!” kind of thing. In those days you always looked up to your heroes and Ritchie Blackmore was a big influence of mine and Uli Jon Roth and these guys were seemingly on another planet and in a weird way they still are. But I´ve discovered since that if you just work on what you can do and forget about the stuff that other people can do, eventually you find your own style and maybe that is worth more than anything. Nobody´s really interested in somebody who can play and emulate everything. There are a ton of those guys who are, a lot of times, studio musicians and they´re amazing which is fine, but I think it´s more worth if you have your own style and your recognizable and eventually you´ll find that, if you work hard.
When it comes to a new album with Accept, have you started working on it?
Wolf: We have some very rough first sketches of ideas. While I´m on the road I try to collect some riffs and ideas and song snippets and when we finally get back home and start working on stuff in earnest, I will go through those ideas and hopefully hammer them out into songs. That usually take dedicated time off the road. It´s really hard to do these things if you only have a few days or a few hours here and there. I need to lock the door for a few weeks or months and get to it. I´ve said it often, but I can only do one thing at a time and then I get into it with everything. It´s really hard for me to do things simultaneously or like half assed.
Are you looking for a release later next year?
Wolf: We´re working on a 2020 release and we want to call the album ”2020” also, so maybe if it all works out… Next year we´ll do some orchestra shows here and there similar to the one at Wacken last year, but on a smaller scale. We´re actually going to travel with it so that takes a bit of planning and effort. We are doing shows like that all over Europe and even in Sweden. That´s what we´re doing but it won´t take up all of next year, so we´ll have enough time to work on the new album.
A final question. After all this time, travelling the world, making music, selling a lot of records, ups and downs, do you think you´ve been able to figure out what true happiness is?
Wolf: Wow, that´s a deep question! I think I totally have. I think… I don´t know when that happened, but I definitely would say that I´ve arrived… like I said earlier, when you´re young you are searching for something and you haven´t found yourself yet or really found who you are, who you want to be and all that good stuff and I definitely have arrived in that sense, that I know who I am and what I am. I´m totally at ease with all the things that happened in my life. It´s not the musical part of it or the rock star part of it, it´s also on a personal level. I really can say that I´m a happy person and I love what I do. It sounds terrible and cheesy, but I´m really living the dream in a weird way. There are always things that could be better and yeah, we could be filling stadiums instead of playing clubs and theaters and shit, but would it really make a big difference as far as happiness is concerned? I don´t think so. I mean, at the end of the day it´s all inside of you, it´s all in your head. If you´re unhappy being a billionaire then what the fuck, you know!
Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen
Foto: Therés Stephansdotter Björk, Björn Olsson