Wolf Hoffman has maintained his position as the unwavering lead guitarist and pivotal songwriter behind Accept for the lesser part of three decades. Throughout fourteen studio albums and multiple lineup rotations, Hoffman has continued to attribute the distinctive lead harmonies and chord progressions which the band is synonymous for, and is currently content to continue the Accept legacy with the aid of lead vocalist Mark Tornillo.
The band’s third effort featuring Tornillo at the helm, ‘Blind Rage‘ arrives on shelves today (August 15), and not only stands as Accept’s most formidable offering from this current incarnation but also amongst the strongest material from the band’s lineagy. With a new album under his belt and a follow-up to his ‘Classical’ solo release currently in the works, Hoffmann is preparing to hit the road and spread the word of Accept’s latest installment.
I recently sat down with Wolf Hoffmann to discuss ‘Blind Rage,’ the heavy metal heavyweights which the band pays tribute to on the album, the role which Mark Tornillo has played in reestablishing the Accept name, and his plans for future endeavors both in and outside of the group.
William Clark: Prior to the recording sessions for ‘Blind Rage,’ Accept already held two positively received studio albums with the current lineup. What was the goal you and the members of the band established before heading back to work on your follow-up to 2012’s ‘Stalingrad’?
Wolf Hoffmann: We wanted nothing more but to keep going with what we had already started with the first two albums. Didn’t really want to change anything, didn’t really want to rock the boat. We just wanted to have more of the same. We just wanted one thing, with a little more time to finish the songs before we started recording, because last time with ‘Stalingrad’ we were in such a hurry, in such a time crunch that it was quite painful at times to finish everything on time.
We actually had to start recording half the songs while we finished writing the other half doing ‘Stalingrad,’ and we said, “This time around let’s just wait until we’re totally ready, and when we are ready we’ll schedule the recording.” And that’s what we did, and not the other way around, you know? We had a good six to eight months or so to write stuff, and we had the luxury to have the time to put songs to the side for a little while and pick them back up, go over it again and again. So a lot of the stuff went through a gazillion revisions and we ended up with a sh*t load of good usable material.
William: “Dying Breed” appears destined to become a fan favorite live anthem, between the signature Accept vocal chants to the clever lyrical references to Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Judas Priest and Motorhead. Was this an intentional effort, to create a song which paid homage to your predecessors?
Wolf: It sort of just happened along the way, I mean a lot of times these things usually start with a little building block like an idea. In this case we had the riff and we had the phrase “The last of the dying breed” kicking around our heads and thinking, “What can we do with it?”
And then eventually we thought, “Why don’t we do it from the perspective of us looking at our heroes and looking at those guys who came before us?” Because they’re the last of that dying breed, like the first generation of heavy metal bands.
We would consider ourselves like a step behind those guys, you know we were around ten-fifteen years, almost a generation behind them because we’re a little bit younger. We started in the eighties, whereas the first generation pretty much started in the seventies, I think, late sixties, whatever.
We were looking at this as sort of a tribute to, you know the first ones who have started to go away now. As if we were standing at Ronnie James Dio‘s grave with a drink in hand and saying, “Here’s our salute to you, buddy.” You know, and Jon Lord and all the other guys.
William: I agree, I thought it was a very touching tribute lyrically.
Wolf: Yeah, I think Mark has done a tremendous job. You know, we didn’t really know he was going to come back with these cool references to all of those. We sort of had an idea like that, but he really improved it a thousand percent when he came back with his final vocals on that. You know when we write the songs, Peter and I sit here initially alone and sort of kick this stuff around back and forth between each other until we have something that we like, and it’s always Peter doing some scratch vocals, really pretty much with mumbo jumbo nonsense lyrics. But usually we have some chorus idea, and it was “The last of the dying breed,” that’s all we had, we didn’t really know a whole lot more. Then Mark just took that and ran with it.
William: That was pretty creative, however your guitar work really puts it forward. While your guitar playing on ‘Blood of the Nations’ and ‘Stalingrad’ was ruthlessly engaging, you seem to head back towards the approach of your earlier years on songs such as “Dark Side of My Heart” and “Wanna Be Free,” the latter of which includes some choice acoustic guitar playing. Were you deliberately incorporating a more varietal method on ‘Blind Rage,’ or was this the outcome of experimentation?
Wolf: That’s it! It was just me taking my time, seeing what I could do with all of these songs. You know, having the time to think about stuff and trying out different arrangements. I always record these things alone, and it was just a matter of me taking the core of the song which usually ends at the second chorus. It’s normally verse/chorus/verse/chorus, so I’ll sit there and think to myself, “Alright, what else can I do here musically that’s maybe inspiring and fits to the rest of the song? What can I do to maybe enhance that song and really take it a notch forward?” You know, I never really feel quite satisfied just sort of playing lead on an interesting part like a chorus or something, which sometimes I end up doing anyways. Ideally for me, I have yet another part or riff or melodic part or something that has been there before that opens up the song in the middle.
William: In almost every case where a prestigious band appoints a new lead vocalist, that band is met with almost unrelenting controversy and criticism, however it’s an isolated case when it comes to Accept and Mark Tornillo. Why do you believe fans have been so welcoming since Tornillo stepped out as the new frontman?
Wolf: Well, it could be several reasons. It is really first and foremost that Mark can really deliver the goods when it comes to old material, and at the same time he’s bringing something to the table that wasn’t there before, which is the sort of melodic mid-range quality that we’re really exploiting on this new album more and more. That’s maybe one of the reasons why we find so many melodic songs on this album, because we really wanted to feature the other side of Mark a little more on this album.
You know, we really didn’t want him to just do the high pitched stuff all the time, that’s fine and good and we need that and we have plenty of it, but at the same time we’re really proud of the fact that the guy can actually carry a melody really well and he almost at times sound like another person when he’s doing that, when he’s singing like in the chorus or something. It almost sounds to me like, “Wow, it’s almost like a different singer there.” And that’s what we really wanted to showcase with this album, we wrote a lot of stuff specifically for that. I think that’s why it is so successful, because people see it’s genuine and it’s not just, you know a clone of somebody that we found at like a singing competition or something, you know? Someone who can mimic Udo the most, or whatever, we didn’t really go for that at all.
William: There are some bands who go that route. I think there’s also something about when a band goes through a controversial dispute or feud, like Queensryche with their original singer Geoff Tate or Great White with Jack Russell. There seems to be something about a band who is able to overcome and find a suitable replacement and continue to create great music.
Wolf: Well I was going to say, that’s the other half of the equation, that having Peter and myself be the consistent songwriting guys all these years from day one. I mean we wrote the stuff back then, we’re writing it now, so that pretty much guarantees that it sounds like Accept. We wrote all that stuff back in the eighties and we’re sitting in the exact same working method here and cranking out the stuff nowadays.
That’s why it sounds so much like a lot of these songs could have been written back in the day, you know, because we didn’t do anything else then. We’re doing the exact same thing now, and it’s only another guy who can do even more stuff. It enables us to do songs where in the past we might’ve said, “Eh, it’s not going to sound right with Udo singing, so let’s not even try.” There was a lot of that stuff going on in the eighties where we left it away because we knew it wasn’t gonna work, but now whatever we can think or dream of, if we wanted to Mark could sing it.
William: It’s safe to say that Mark Tornillo is a welcome fit to the Accept lineup, however it isn’t the first time that the band introduced another singer to the mix. If you would engage me in a quick reflective moment, what was it like working with David Reece on the ‘Eat the Heat‘ album?
Wolf: Ah, totally different. I mean I can’t even compare… there’s nothing to even compare in those scenarios, other than the obvious that it was a new singer, but that was it. The times were terrible for us internally, the musical landscape was totally weird, everybody was trying to find a new direction for everything, and we were trying to redefine Accept with a new style. And on top of that, we’d never connected with David Reece on a personal level, we never got along.
We never were pulling in the same direction, it wasn’t mean to be from the get-go, but it always proves my point when people say — initially people said, “Well you’ve tried it before, so you should know it doesn’t work.” To me that’s almost like saying, “Well you’ve been married before and that didn’t work, so why even try again?” You know, all it takes is the right partners and then anything is possible. If it just works it works, and if it just doesn’t it doesn’t, there’s nothing you can do but it doesn’t mean it will never work. You just have to find the right people to do it with.
William: I agree. I thought Accept did take more chances musically on the ‘Eat the Heat’ album.
Wolf: Oh yeah, deliberately. We deliberately wanted to go away from what we had done before, we wanted to explore new areas and, you know, a new phase, a new musical direction. As we now all know, it didn’t work, but now is a new time and now that we’ve gone back with Mark we’re where we want and where fans want to see us. There’s no reason to try to go to different areas musically, we feel totally comfortable with where we are and that’s why I said we didn’t want anything different musically on this new album. We just wanted to have more of the same, only better, you know?
William: While you sound a little hesitant to revisit that era, is there any possibility we’ll see songs like “X-T-C” or “Generation Clash” performed live in the near future?
Wolf: Actually there’s quite a good chance, we just recently, funnily enough, just talked about it, whether we should go there and maybe pull a few of those songs into the set, because there is some pretty cool material there that doesn’t get played that much. You know, I think we’ll actually try that during rehearsals coming up.
William: That should be something a lot of dedicated fans could look forward to, I think it’s pretty easy to say that Mark has more than enough range to cover those songs.
Wolf: Oh hell yeah, absolutely.
William: Shifting attention back to the new album, you have previously acknowledged that the music you release stands forever as part of the Accept catalog. How do you feel your performance on ‘Blind Rage’ compares to that found on the band’s classic efforts?
Wolf: I think this is better than anything we’ve ever done in the past, or as good, at least. I think it holds up fine personally, having pretty much just come out of the studio. We’ll have to wait and see, give it a little time for people to reflect on it and see how it stands the test of time, but I thought, coming out of this I thought this is pretty darn good. I can tell you this much, so far the new material that we play — well new, I mean off the last three albums, anything we’re doing live stands shoulder-to-shoulder with anything from the eighties. As a matter of fact, a lot of fans come up to me now and say they like the new phase with Mark Tornillo as good or maybe even better than anything we’ve ever done previously. So it’s starting to take a life of it’s own, where the new Accept is beginning to overtake the old.
William: Just focusing on the old Accept for a moment, sort of like how you talked about earlier with bad marriages and breakups. This seems to be a popular topic within the rock and metal community: if Accept were to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is there any chance we’d see a live reunion with Udo for a couple songs?
Wolf: Who knows, man. Who knows what – I mean at this point, why even think about it because there’s a remote chance that will ever happen. It’s almost like asking me if we were on the moon, would you… I don’t know. (laughs) Such a hypothetical, let’s just wait until we get there and then we’ll figure it out.
William: I figured that. Has anything changed in that regard? Has Udo tried to reach back out or reestablish communication?
Wolf: I haven’t heard from him in forever other than indirectly in the press, and honestly none of us are even thinking about him. It’s really not been an issue at all, I mean we surely put it to rest with this album. Clearly it was a big deal the first time around for ‘Blood of the Nations,’ a lot of people were asking “Why?” and “What?” and “How come?” But the story has been told so many times now that it’s clear that we’ve started a new life and Udo didn’t want to be part of it. He made his choice, we’re moving on, and that’s that.
William: I share the same perspective, there’s no reason to dwell upon the past in that regard.
Wolf: Nah, I mean he’s doing his thing, we’re doing ours, fine.
William: Once Accept fans get their hands on the new album, I have no doubt we’ll see an increase in the demand for the band’s live performances. What are your plans for touring in support of ‘Blind Rage,’ and are there any artists in particular you’d like to share the same bill with?
Wolf: Ah man, well first of all we’re going to be doing our headlining tour here in the fall in about three or four weeks, we’re going to head out to California and New York, going to do a few shows here in the U.S. and then it’s off to Europe for two-three months. Australia, Japan, Russia until about Christmas, then next year we’re going to have more of the same including hopefully a full blown U.S. tour.
So yeah, we’re going to be touring our asses off in support of this album, for sure. Whoever else will play, we’ll have to wait and see. We’re not making any “plans, plans,” it’s up to the manager to book the band. Wherever they book us, we will go, and I haven’t heard anything specific. I’m normally the last to hear, they normally push me into a tour bus and wherever that thing stops, I’ll play! (laughs)
William: I understand you’ve been entwined with your fellow band members in Accept both on the road and in the studio, but have you made any progress on the follow-up to your solo album, ‘Classical,’ since I spoke with you last?
Wolf: I have made some progress, actually! I’ve made numerous sessions with it, the last was this Spring just briefly after ‘Blind Rage’ was finished mixing. I did a few weeks with my friend working on string arrangements on the stuff, playing some more guitar, so I’d say it’s getting closer to completion but unfortunately, I was hoping to get something done before the end of the year and release it for Christmas or something.
But I can already tell you now that we’re so close to the tour, it ain’t gonna happen. Hopefully, I think we’re going to have January or February some time off, and hopefully I can finish something by then and release it, maybe. I won’t promise anything I can’t keep, because I’ve said multiple times, “Oh, hopefully before long it’s going to come out,” but it’s going to be ready when it’s going to be ready. But I have been working on it, I can tell you that much.
William: One last thought. The way many prominent musicians have created solo albums lately, they like to incorporate a lot of guest appearances from other well known musicians. Would you be interested in doing something like that – recruiting a cast of friends from within the music industry to appear on the album?
Wolf: Sure! If I had any friends… (laughs)
William: Aw, you can’t say that!
Wolf: I wouldn’t know who to invite, to be honest. I don’t know, so far I’ve been working on it alone. We’ll see if somebody magically appears out of the woodwork, maybe.