Interview with Wolf Hoffmann of ACCEPT
The legendary guitarist spoke to Antihero Magazine’s Anya Svirskaya about touring, photography, the music scene and much more!
How are you doing Sir?
I am excellent. And you? Where are you?
I am well too. And I’m in Brooklyn, New York.
In New York, excellent. Just wondering.
You’re in Nashville right?
I’m in Nashville, yeah. I’m the only German in Nashville. (laughs)
That actually brings me to one of my questions. Living in Nashville you work as a photographer?
Yeah, I do.
Did your music career have something to do with that? What do you like to photograph? Do you do music photography as well?
I always had a strong interest in photography and it was a really serious hobby that turned into some sort of an obsession while I was still a touring musician. Once the band came to sort of a hibernation point where we didn’t tour for many years, it seemed to be a logical choice to be a photographer. I started pretty much building a career and a livelihood from scratch. I just retired from the music for a long time and just became a photographer.
Initially I did all kinds of stuff, artsy stuff, and then even a little bit of music photography. I dabbled in a lot of things, but in the end I settled on corporate photography. I’ve done a little bit of concert photography, but if you have to make a living it’s one of the hardest things. I don’t think it’s even possible anymore doing concerts.
I’m a photographer too, and that is the advice I always get. If you want to make a living out of it get your MFA or photo weddings anything but concerts. So that’s it why I stick to teaching as my career choice.
Yeah, exactly. I’ve never really done weddings or personal photography. That’s a wide field, you could do food, you could do cars, all kinds of specialized stuff.
I just found my niche in corporate photography in Nashville there’s a lot of companies in health care, I did a bunch of advertising things for agencies, lifestyle photography. It really has nothing to do with music at all, really.
It’s awesome that you are able to do both music and photography. I always maintain that whatever your career is it nice to have a hobby that you are passionate about and if you are fortunate enough to make a living out of it too than that is just the icing on the cake.
Anyway, moving along. Two years ago Accept released the highly successful fourteenth studio album Blind Rage. You guys toured nonstop around the world. After you finish the remaining dates you will be working on new material. Is it still in its early planning stages or has there been any music written already?
Well, we’ve got some stuff that is semi-finished, either way that it works it is never really a one-step approach, it is always piece-mealed together. We usually arrive at a few riffs and a few song ideas, put them aside and go back to them a couple weeks later and then we just build it slowly. A whole archive of riffs and song ideas and eventually out of all of that, hundred, sometimes it is literally hundreds of song ideas we just build a few songs that make the album. We don’t really ever write complete songs in one swoop if you know what I mean.
After 40 years creating music, does Accept still write the same way?
Oh Yeah, very much the same way, it is always the same exact thing. Back thirty years ago it was Peter and myself with a reel to reel tape machine and a little drum computer. We thought drum computers were amazing back then. Of course, they were just toys compared to what we have nowadays, but we now do it exactly the same way. The two of us get together and we will sit there with a guitar and come up with a few riffs and song ideas and that is how we arrive. It is just the two of us alone in a room locked away for weeks at a time.
When you have a formula that works, why change it?
Exactly right, we’ll do that for weeks at a time, do our rough demo’s then we will give those to Mark the singer, and he can just formulate his own ideas on top of them and turn them into what then is the final album version, but it always starts with Peter and myself.
Do you recycle any riffs that you may have written previously?
Sometimes. It’s not as much fun to do that, it is always more exciting to write new stuff, but sometimes we go back and start with, it is a shame we didn’t use that last time, let’s go look at that again. It happened in the past. Maybe, I’d say ten percent of the songs we release they contain something that has been previously written, but the majority is usually new stuff.
As the Blind Rage tour wraps up in April, what have been some of the highlights for you over the past two years on this tour?
Oh my gosh, we’ve done so much. We started with a full blown European tour when the album was released, we went all over the globe almost. We even did some US dates, but maybe the highlights would be the festivals I would say. We played a bunch of really cool festivals last year, last summer. Some of them were monsters of rock in south America, they were really cool. With Kiss, and we played a bunch of shows with Judas Priest and a lot of those big names that we all grew up with and are still … those are the guys that are our heroes.
It must be a great feeling to play alongside your heroes.
It is. It’s always fun to play with those guys.
Are there any places where you have not toured yet that you wish to explore?
Oh yeah, there are actually quite a few places, for instance, there are continents we have never been on, like Africa. I’d love to go to South Africa someday, maybe just see what it is like. Never been to China, haven’t been to India yet, so there are places.
Well, wherever you have fans I’m sure you guys will eventually come to those places.
True, but there have been many countries we have visited. One year I counted it, we went to like thirty countries.
A lot of places. (chuckles)
On these remaining dates, you are performing in Brazil and Argentina. I always heard bands say that when they perform in South America it is a different atmosphere compared to other parts of the world. What is your opinion?
It is quite true. The fans are really wild down there. To them, I don’t know if you have ever seen soccer matches on TV?
Yes, I have.
To them it is like a religion almost, they are so fanatic about it that it is amazing. The same goes for metal, or for concerts. They just really go nuts on another scale altogether. It is great. I’m really looking forward to it. They love to sing. We always like an audience that sings along because we have a lot of segments in our songs that you can really sing along to, whether it be melodic stuff in solo’s or chorus’s or sing along parts, they do that really well. It is always fun.
From a fans perspective there is nothing like seeing your favorite band and escaping from all your troubles at a concert surrounded by your closest friends and getting to meet the band after the show…Have you ever had situations in that part of the world where you had groups lined up waiting for you because some how it got word that Accept might be there?
We have a lot, usually at the hotel lobbies there’s always fans who want autographs. We don’t mind it, as long as they are respectful and cool about it, it is always fun. Actually one of the most fun parts of touring nowadays is that our fans, there is a whole multi-generation situation, we have fans that have been following us for thirty plus years, and when they wait in the lobby they are really respectful and they are bringing a whole collection of albums they might have accumulated over the years. It is always fun to talk to these people and at the same time there are sometimes, there are sixteen or seventeen year olds that just discovered us.
Now you mentioned teenagers. I discovered Accept at an early age. My father actually before we did this interview was telling me how me listening to metal and hard rock that I take all this access for granted. That I don’t know how lucky I am to have that kind of freedom. My generation does not know how difficult it was at one point. I am from the former Soviet Union, so he would always tell me stories about how it was just very hard for that kind of music to find its way into Russia. Bands were not allowed to perform and CD’s were bootlegs. Very different than what I am used to growing up in the United States.
Right, different experience.
It seems that there has been a resurgence of young people from my generation discovering this kind of music. Leaning towards the iconic bands as opposed to the more mainstream kind of stuff. What goes through your mind when you see all these kids at your shows and press events?
I think it is amazing. Of course it is really good for us, and I love it that they are rediscovering that, for a while everyone thought that this genre was going to go away altogether. In the 90’s in particular when all of that grunge stuff happened. A lot of people had written metal off, like it was a dying thing and it would never come back, but thankfully it never really did. Especially in Europe and South America and other countries, my gosh, it never went away.
Yeah, that is big difference in certain other countries or parts of the world it has been strong all along.
Exactly, is really only in the US where things seem to be a little more trend oriented or a lot more oriented anyhow, that you sometimes have the impression that metal is gone away or was going away and coming back and what not. It’s always great if younger kids, younger people sort of discover this stuff.
You’ve performed all over the world, stadiums, festivals, smaller clubs. Do you ever find yourself nervous before a show?
Oh yeah. Usually do actually. Especially when you haven’t played in a while, then you think, oh my gosh am I rusty? Do I still have it? Can I still do this? Then once you go on stage it sort of goes away quite quickly, then while you are on tour a routine sets in and you play every other day or every day, then no I’m not that nervous anymore. It is just when there are unusual circumstances, it is a huge festival or I don’t know. Mostly I don’t get that nervous anymore.
I guess it doesn’t matter where you play, you just want to perform for your fans? And watching you play your instrument one would never think there was nervousness.
Yeah, pretty much. You have to realize, maybe the longer I do this the thicker skin I develop on stage also. If something doesn’t go one hundred percent right, like a technical glitch or something, it doesn’t bother me anymore that much.
I just think it is part of the experience. If you try to be too perfect, then you always have the risk of becoming really boring. There is never really any danger in our style of music, because it is man-made stuff if you want. It is still five guys sweating their asses off on stage and just playing the hell out of their instruments.
Is there anything special that you do to prepare before a show?
Not anything special, I just sit there with a guitar sometimes and just noodle away a little bit to get warmed up. I don’t like to go on stage really totally cold and unprepared. It is always better if you have stretched your bones a little bit and get warmed up. Mark too, the singer, he is really very meticulous about a warm up routine that he has thirty to forty minutes before a show, he has his tape that he sings along to and warms up his voice, which is super important.
For a singer it is almost more important than for guitar players, but for anybody.
I agree, resting your voice and doing exercises is very important. In 97′ you released your solo album “Classical,” it was entirely influenced by classical music. Would you do this again and are there any plans to do so?
Funny you ask, it is in the can and it is going to be released in a few months. It is already finished.
Oh perfect! Is there a release date yet?
Yeah, I’ve taken the time over the last two years, every time that I wasn’t tied up with Accept I was able to go sneak into the studio somewhere and work for a little while and it just now, recently over Christmas I had the time to actually sit there and mix everything and finish it. It is ready. It will come out here in late spring at some point.
Oh awesome! Looking forward to hearing it once it out. I am curious what kind of music are you currently listening to? I can just imagine living in Nashville, the country mecca, do you listen to that at all?
I have to because it is always somewhere on the radio. If you go somewhere you are constantly exposed to it, but I don’t personally like it that much because it is so formulated. It is really like Bon Jovi like pop kind of stuff nowadays. I’m not going to knock it because it is mega successful, it is huge business, people make a living doing it, hey fine with me. It is just not my favorite thing, at all.
I personally, if I listen to music I usually listen to classical music, if it is a Sunday morning or something and I want to put on something, I’ll put on a playlist of classical music. That is what I do. Other than that I’m just sort of a background consumer, I don’t really put on vinyl, I don’t put on CD’s per say I don’t really have a good CD collection other than classical.
Speaking of collection, at one point you were selling some of your gear on EBay. How many guitars do you own?
Funny, yeah. I don’t really have an Ebay store, I just did a little bit of housecleaning last fall, I might actually do another one here coming up in a few months. Just because you accumulate so much stuff over the years and there is limited space in my studio. Like I could probably have a studio twice its size and it would still fill up. Sometimes you have to make a little room, get new stuff and throw out some old stuff. I sometimes do Ebay auctions, because I think it is better if it lives with somebody that appreciates it rather than just sitting here in a warehouse somewhere not doing anybody any good.
That makes sense, especially if those instruments have not been used for quite some time.
I don’t have a huge guitar collection, maybe I have … honestly I haven’t even counted them ever. Maybe fifteen to twenty, but that’s it.
That’s a large number. But every guitar has its use and its purpose.
Yeah, and if you play for thirty, forty years, most people have a lot more than I do, but I just try to keep only the stuff that I actually use all the time, that is useful for me. If stuff hasn’t been used in a few years than I usually get rid of it, just because I don’t see the point in collecting gear if you know what I mean. The same with amps and other equipment…. so much stuff, speakers, amps, it all adds up quite quickly.
Things build up especially if not used. So is there something you are looking forward to when the tour ends?
When you come off a tour it is great to be in one place for a long time. To not have to pack your things every day. To just have your stuff that you … when you travel like that every day for weeks there is always stuff you can’t take. You always have limits. You only just have your bare minimum stuff with you. As soon as you are back home you’ve got all your toys to play with, all of the stuff that you have in your living space. That is always great, to not have to move, to just be surrounded by your own stuff and to be with your family of course. That is something that you miss when you are on the road, that goes for everybody.
You’ve traveled all over the world. Do you get downtime to just explore places that you are performing at?
Heck yeah. All the time. Especially if it is a place that I have never been to and it has some touristy potential. If there is anything to see, I’ll be the first one out there. Usually Peter and I go together and just wander the streets, or take a cab and go see a museum, go see a cathedral, go see something a lot of times, yeah.
Do you bring your camera?
I was curious about your camera gear, from one photographer to another. Canon or Nikon?
Nikon Actually, I switched over Canon a few years ago and I don’t regret it. I think they are actually really good cameras.
It’s not what you use it’s what you do with it that matters.
Do with it, exactly.
Another question. Mark Tornillo, was previously in a band called T.T. Quick before he joined Accept. Are you at all familiar with his former band?
Little bit, yeah. I’ve heard some of the stuff they’ve been doing, I’ve met some of the guys, but I can’t say anything more than that really. It was a total coincidence that we hooked up with him and I’m totally glad it worked out.
And it seems like there is a new renewed energy within Accept and we are all happy that it worked out…. Accept played a show in New York at the Gramercy Theater back in 2014. When you tour in America, most of the time you are not playing the same type venues that you would normally play if you were to be touring Germany or somewhere else. What is it like to play in the United States versus Europe and other parts of the world?
Thank you, and it’s really not that different to be honest. People always assume things are totally different in other countries as far as the audience or the stage, but they are really not. The band community worldwide is very similar. Like I said earlier it may be that the South American audience is more crazy then the rest of the world, but that is pretty much the extent of it. To us on stage it doesn’t really feel that much different whether we are at New York or whether we are in Frankfurt, Germany. Sometimes the venues are slightly different sizes, or a lot bigger sizes or a lot smaller, but it doesn’t really matter to us, because we are there to do a job. We are there to entertain the people who are in front of us. It’s always fun. You don’t feel any different just because you are in a different venue or a different country.
At this point, it doesn’t matter what stage you’re on your fans will follow where ever that might be. But do you have a preference though?
The circumstances are all right. I like the small places. The only thing of course is when it gets so small that you can’t get the sound that you need, or if you can’t move around on stage or it is like tiny, tiny, I don’t know it kind of takes away from the experience a little bit. I like it when at least the stage side, I don’t really care about how many people are in the audience, I care more about what the stage looks like and if that enables us to do a good show. Good presentation. I care about the sound system the light system and all of that, but if it is a good spot with just not thousands and thousands of people I don’t care about that. That is all well and good, fine with me. Sometimes those are actually also fun, those smaller venues, because you get to be closer to the audience.
Right, of course
When you are in a massive stage it is always good and fun, but you get a lot of times, the first people are so far away that you can hardly see their faces sometimes because there is this huge pit and thirty forty feet there is nobody but security people and cameras and whatnot
And from a fans perspective it is much more intimate and a different experience seeing your favorite band at a smaller venue.
Last question. Looking back at your long career and everything you have accomplished. All the way from 1976 until the present moment, does it still feel like it has been years or is that feeling a little different?
I can’t believe it is really that long, sometimes I have to pinch myself because it seems sometimes everything we talk about happened either twenty or thirty or longer ago. It is so crazy, this number alone is hard to grasp, because when you are younger like that, thirty years seems to be like something like an unimaginable eternity, but the older you get and the longer you have been doing this, thirty years or twenty years is really nothing. Looking back, it is always very fast it is crazy. Looking forward it seems to be an eternity. Looking back, it is like yesterday. I guess we have achieved more than we could ever have hoped for, that is awesome, but I think the best is yet to come.
Agreed the best is yet to come.
If you are in an artistic or creative job or field like that, that’s how we have to think. You shouldn’t ever say, “Well we’ve done it, we’ve reached it, this is it, awesome. Let’s just say like this.” I think we should always strive to get better and it is supposed to be that way. We are supposed to get better at this, we are supposed to look forward to even more things to come.
Exactly, the best is yet to come. Your 15th studio album is in the works and we are all looking forward to it. As well as when the band returns to play in the States. Well, I don’t want to take up any more of your time, I know that you are really busy, thank you so much for your time and I hope the rest of the tour goes well and safe travels to you.
Thank you very much it was great talking with you, good questions, I enjoyed it.