Latest release: Blind Rage (Nuclear Blast/Riot!)
Germany’s Accept are European heavy metal pioneers and in due time became a success in America and elsewhere. This was back in the 80s, so for some Australians, the first introduction to the band may well have been via TV advertised compilation albums and the odd soundtrack song. After several quality albums, the band rose to higher fame to then suffer personnel disruptions, resultant stability issues and a tumultuous period of temporary reunions until the unexpected, current line up well and truly solidified several years ago. Their most recent albums have been hailed as substantially worthwhile material and with their latest release, Blind Rage, it appears that Australia will finally get to witness the German powerhouse in the flesh. Guitar legend Wolf Hoffmann and Accept co-founder called from his base in Nashville to talk to Loud Online about the long awaited tour down under and anything else that time allowed.
The upcoming Accept tour will be the band’s first time here. How are you going to put together a comprehensive set list for such a huge back catalogue?
Yeah, I don’t know. We’ll probably go with our gut feeling from having done so many other shows around the world, knowing what people want to hear from the old stuff. At the same time, there might be some favourite songs that the Australian people want to hear more than others. We will probably play half and half of the old and new stuff.
Of the old material, how would you say songs have changed when you play them live?
Some songs have gone through an evolution whereas some others are exactly like we recorded them. For instance, ‘Princess of the Dawn’ has gone through many changes since the audience starts singing along so parts get drawn out.
That song is on the bonus live DVD of the Stalingrad deluxe edition recorded at Bang Your Head 2011. Is that pretty much where the song is at these days?
Ah, on that live version I believe there was even a bass solo in there which we don’t do anymore so we do a different version now, which is quite exciting. That song has changed many times over the years. Others stay pretty much exactly as they are.
The album Stalingrad was very well received by fans and critics. Did you feel any resultant pressure with the latest album, Blind Rage?
Not more than usual. We always put the most pressure on ourselves just because we want to deliver the best that we possibly can. We don’t ever want to do something just because people expect it from us. We want to do it because it challenges ourselves. You want to get better at what you do. That is what I tell myself, anyway. I think that the best songs haven’t been written yet and we just want to get better as we go along. That is where the pressure comes from, not so much from the outside.
You’re working with producer Andy Sneap again. Does he push you in a different way or bring a certain creativity into the project?
He doesn’t push us in a different way anymore because we know where we belong now and what we want to achieve. There is not much pushing going on, we just pull in the same direction and Andy is great to work with and really is one of the team. In our first album that we did with him in 2009 [Blood of Nations], he was very helpful and necessary to us to show us how Accept should sound nowadays. Whereas on this latest album, we knew what we wanted and wrote all of the songs on target.
Given Andy is also a guitarist, is he more sympathetic to longer guitar solos?
He leaves that to me and lets me do what I want. I record a lot of the guitars myself. We usually do the basic rhythm tracks together because he is very picky on how tight he wants the guitars to be as that is part of our sound. The rhythm guitar has to be totally in sync on both the left and the right as we always double track the guitars. I’ve done all of the guitars in the studio since 1981 or so. When it comes to the solos, he doesn’t care how long they end up being but I don’t let him tell me what to do.
Do you spend much time on the harmony lines in the solos? There’s a few on the latest album. How do you challenge yourself to come up with different ideas?
I work all the stuff out myself. I just lock myself away in my basement picking at stuff. The way that I work is that I usually think of melodies ahead of time. I don’t just use the guitar to come up with parts. I sing to myself in my head, asking myself what I want to hear or what would be a nice part to go a long with a chorus or as an additional riff. So, I come up with ideas in my head and try to play them.
When you did the classical album [Classical] and effectively returned to Accept, did you find that your style had changed at all as a result of doing that album?
Hmm, I might be a little bit more refined as time goes on. I have always noodled around with classical stuff all of my life so this wasn’t something that was new to me. It has always been a part of my playing. The classical album didn’t really change my playing but maybe it refined it a little bit more.
Something like that is an interesting thing to do. Is it one of those creative outlets that you have to do in order to keep going with your main role?
No, the solo album that I did years ago was a labour of love project that I’ve always wanted to do because I enjoy combining metal guitar and classical themes. I had a bunch of demos kicking around but never really found the right Accept songs to use them in so I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be fun to do a whole album of just classical’. That is why I did it but since the solo album was so well received, I’ve decided to do another one and that has been in the works for a long time. Maybe it is going to come out next year.
Do you drop the odd quick classical piece into a live show?
A lot of my playing is classically influenced so I do these sorts of melodies all the time. It is not something that I notice in particular or that I do on purpose. I mean, with all my playing, I don’t really think about it too much, I just do whatever sounds right to me.
Back when the Scorpions were breaking in the States, what was it like for you being in a German band, seeing that happen at the same time?
Well, those were the amazing years because we were all young and it was all happening right in front of us for the first time. In Germany in the very early 80’s, there wasn’t a metal scene and there wasn’t even another metal band. I think we were the first and only metal band to ever be around in Germany. To finally break internationally in 1984, to go to America and then come back and be a sort of hometown hero was amazing. It was great and so much has happened after that. The whole German metal scene developed with a gazillion bands that started after us. I wouldn’t say they got started because of us but we influenced a lot of those guys. I know that and it’s great to have been on the forefront of this whole movement. We cannot possibly take credit for all of this stuff but we have definitely been the first band to come out of Germany in the metal genre. The Scorpions were always more in the hard rock and pop side of things and we’ve definitely been the first German band to say, ‘yep, we’re heavy metal’.
There must have been a strong camaraderie because you had Dieter [Dierks – Scorpions producer] producing Metal Heart.
True and we saw the Scorpions all the time, running around the studio and in other parts of the building. We always crossed paths along the way. They became good friends but unfortunately it took us thirty years to be on the same stage with them. It was last year that we did our first ever show together with the Scorpions. So the camaraderie was never really musically as we never did anything together professionally, we just respected each other. They’ve been our heroes because they were huge back in the day and still are. They have always been way ahead of Accept so we’ve always looked up to them on a professional level.
Can you talk about recently opening for AC/DC in Stuttgart in 2010?
Man, we did that for the first time ever, not many years ago. We had the honour to open up for them, even though we played one of their songs that was intended for them. In 1981 we recorded, ‘I’m a Rebel’ [title track] which was written by one of the Young brothers and was meant to be recorded by AC/DC but they never released it. So we ended up using that song on our album. There were times where we could have crossed paths indirectly but we never played with them until recently and it was amazing.
The album Breaker from 1981, was great and still sounds decent today. What are your memories of that album?
Oh many memories and I think that is the album where we started to define ourselves and go in the right direction. Restless and Wild, the album after, was where we felt we’d arrived stylistically. But Breaker was an exciting time and an important stepping stone. There are a lot of great songs on that album.
Some other songs during the 80’s ended up on soundtracks [‘Fast as a Shark’ appeared on the Demons soundtrack]. Was it worth doing that back in the day?
These things happen after the fact and usually they would ask us whether they can use a song. None of this stuff was ever written for a soundtrack. One song on Metal Heart was actually written for a soundtrack but they never used it, which was funny. But, all the other stuff happened after the fact where they used licensing to use the song after it was finished. ‘Balls to the Wall’ was used in The Wrestler a few years back.
Guitars wise, you have a signature line of guitars. How did that come about?
I’ve been working with many guitar companies over the years and I got to know Hans-Peter Wilfer who owns the Warwick & Framus company in Germany. I expressed my frustration to all of these different companies but I didn’t think that they would even consider making an instrument for me. Framus line didn’t make any guitars that I could play live but I told them, ‘man, if you make me a custom guitar, I’ll be honoured to play it’ because they make amazing instruments. When he finally came across with the finished product, I was blown away. That was two years ago and I’ve played that guitar exclusively ever since. This is honestly better than anything I have ever used and it is made to my specifications. It is built on a flying V shape but it has got a lot of Stratocaster features because I have always been fond of the Stratocaster and the flying V shaped guitars. So the signature guitar combines the two of them.
I was curious how it might compare to a Gibson flying V.
Gibson flying Vs are okay but they are really only okay because they are kind of square and to me they never felt very comfortable. I’ve always liked the shape because they looked good on stage and that is why I initially chose one but I was never quite happy with the way that it felt in the studio. I wasn’t happy with the fact that it doesn’t have a whammy bar or Floyd Rose. Those features on my signature V are quite amazing. The Germans like their technology as you might know if you’ve ever driven a German car. You notice how much nicer they are than some other brands. The same goes for the Framus guitar factory. Everything is computerised and they have got the most modern gear you’ve ever seen in your life. But they still build them one by one even with the help of all that technology so the quality is really outstanding.
Have you ever considered doing instructional guitar clinics?
It has occurred to me but I have never done one because I shy away from talking about what, how and why I play. I could show people what I play but I couldn’t say anything too intelligent about it because I never really think about it too much. I’m not one of these guys that can talk about scales and why this mode works over that chord structure because I have no idea about that. Maybe one day I’ll have enough energy and time to do something like that.
What would you say is the song on the latest album that best represents your guitar playing today?
Now that I have to go back through the songs and analyse them, it is strange as the recording happened several months ago. I have to learn them new because it feels like I am coming in as a listener. The other night I sat down and listened to the stuff and thought, ‘oh, that’s pretty cool’ because I have go back and learn the solos. I sort of forget them after I’ve recorded them as I move on to the next thing. Solos I recall that I really liked were in the songs ‘200 Years’ and ‘Fall of the Empire’. There are also songs that have extended solo sections. ‘Stampede’ has a few of them. Overall the guitar work turned out really well on this album.
With Herman [Frank – Accept’s live co guitarist], what sort of differences has he got in his guitar sound so that you don’t clash sonically in a live situation?
Herman is our live guitarist as I do all of the guitars in the studio. There is not much happening with Herman in the studio but sometimes he might contribute a solo like he did on the first album. Other than that I do all of the studio guitars and always have. Live, Herman is using an ENGL amp whereas I use Kemper amps. On this next run, we’re both going to use Kemper amps and we just dial in our own sounds in the way that we see fit. I discovered those Kemper amps a few years ago. You can actually take the sound of any amp and feed it into that machine. For these last couple of years I’ve been touring with those Kemper amps because it really reproduces whatever amp you want to hear.
After so many years, do you prefer playing festivals or headlining shows?
We recently played two huge shows in Wacken [Germany] and Woodstock [Poland]. Wacken had 80,000 people but Woodstock had 700,000 people. It is just a sea of people and those are magic nights. There is nothing that compares to that. Playing shows in a smaller venue has its own charm because you can take time and do stuff that you wouldn’t do in a festival. At a festival, you usually play your greatest hits whereas headlining allows us to do longer guitar solos but I like them both.
Finally, how do you think your songwriting has changed over the last thirty years?
It hasn’t changed one bit, I would say. If anything, I hope it is getting better because that is the idea. The approach hasn’t changed as it is still, Peter [Baltes – bass] and I locking ourselves away in a studio somewhere, exchanging riffs and just sitting there for hours trying to come up with something. The basic idea is exactly the same as it was thirty five years ago. Back then it was maybe with a four track cassette recorder. Today it is with Pro-Tools and all of these fancy tools that we have nowadays. A good song is still a good song no matter how we record it and a bad song is still a bad song, no matter how many layers of tracks that you put on there now or how perfectly you record it. If the song is not any good then all of the modern technology in the world doesn’t help. Forget technology initially, just take a little guitar and show me that riff and melody that excites me and then everything else is easy. If you don’t have that, you have nothing.
Thanks for talking to us, I’ll let you go.
Thanks, that was great, I’m really looking forward to coming down there, man.
Accept is touring Australia in November:
14/11- Factory Theatre, Sydney NSW
15/11- Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC – SOLD OUT
16/11- HiFi Bar, Brisbane QLD
17/11- Corner Hotel, Melbourne VIC