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Accept: Reborn, Again. Exclusive Interview with Guitarist Wolf Hoffmann

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Saturday, September 18, 2010 @ 10:38 AM

When people write you off from the get go, you feel like "Gosh man, I want to show you." If everybody would have said, "Oh, it's gonna be phenomenal...the kids are gonna love it..." that makes you lazy. In this case, the skepticism surely fired us up.

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The on-again, off-again career of German metal legends Accept is on again in a big way. What started with an innocent jam session a year ago has ended up as a full-blown reformation - though with longtime vocalist Udo Dirkschneider, who made it known he did not want to create new music with the band, being replaced by T.T. Quick frontman, and New Jersey resident, Mark Tornillo - that has yielded the band's first new music in 15 years and first live dates since 2005. Despite some initial skepticism, the new Accept - with Tornillo joining longtime guitarist Wolf Hoffmann and bassist Peter Baltes as well as former guitarist Herman Frank and drummer Stefan Schwarzmann, who took part in a short reunion tour that included Dirkschneider in 2005 - has been a resounding success, even before the release of their new Blood Of The Nations album.

With Tornillo, the band really don't miss a beat, despite the hiatus, which was actually Accept's third period of inactivity. Boasting a voice that recalls Dirkschneider and AC/DC's Brian Johnson, but with a personality all his own and a confidence honed by years of club show obscurity, Tornillo provides the spark that helps this non-Udo version of Accept triumph where a previous attempt with David Reece at the mic in 1989 failed. Blood has all the hallmarks of classic Accept - punchy, lockstep hooks; catchy, gang-sung choruses; and an unapologetic grandiosity - but a modern sound that seems perfectly natural.

Over the phone on a recent Sunday morning from his home in Nashville, Hoffman talked about the astonishing quickness with which rebirth of Accept came to be, how it all really happened by happy accident, what he feels Tornillo brings to table that makes the band even better and how he spent most of the last decade as a working stiff like everyone else.

KNAC.COM: So how are you on a Sunday morning?

HOFFMANN: Oh, I'm just peachy. Life is good, man.

KNAC.COM: I almost had reason for profession contact with you a couple years ago. I was looking for a photographer to do a shoot in Nashville for my regular job and came upon the Wolf Hoffmann Photography website. The name, of course, rang a bell, I read the bio part of your site and I'll be damned if it wasn't you. Small world.

HOFFMANN: It sure is, you should have hired me then.

KNAC.COM: As it turned out, the photographer we use a lot in D.C. has family in Nashville and she was going to be visiting when we needed the work done, so we had her do it. Sorry!

HOFFMANN: I tell you, all of my photo assignments for magazines have really shrunk over these last years because these magazines don't have any money anymore or they are going online, so the only real good jobs that are still out there are advertising stuff and corporate work. That's what I gravitate to. That's what I've really been doing these last few years.

KNAC.COM: So that was a full-time gig, not just a paying hobby?

HOFFMANN: No, it was a full-time gig. I actually was doing really well with it. I got some really nice assignments from time to time. Advertising stuff has been what's been paying my bills for these last 10 years. I've been doing nothing else. But all of a sudden, music comes back and I'd much rather be doing that. While I can, I try to keep my photo business going because one nice job a month is really all a guy needs.

KNAC.COM: Well it's nice to have something to fall back on in case this rock and roll thing doesn't work out, but it would seem this rock and roll thing has been going pretty well for you again lately?

HOFFMANN: Yeah, man. More than well, I tell you. It all started about year ago, just by pure coincidence. I was hanging out with Peter [who now lives in Pennsylvania] and all of a sudden we walked into this guy Mark and we decided we wanted to start the band again because he is such a perfect fit. And that's really what sparked this whole movement. We decided if we have this new singer we almost have to make a new record just to give the fans an idea of what it sounds like and also to give them new material, so that's what we did.

We wrote and recorded an album all of last year and here we are, a year later, it's coming out. We've already done a bunch of shows together, about 20 or so all over Europe and one in New York, and it's been going phenomenal. I can't believe it.

KNAC.COM: It's ironic that when bands seem to force a reunion - and I guess that may be even what you've done in the past - it almost never works out or lives up to expectations. But when it's serendipitous, like this seems to be, it's got a better chance of having some real legs?

HOFFMANN: Oh yeah. The thing is we're all wanting to do this, it's not like we have to talk some guy into it who's not really into it. We all really want to do this because it means so much to us. Like I was saying earlier, for me, myself, I might make more money being a photographer, so it's not like I have to do this music thing, but I really love doing it. It's really who I am and it's really what I do best in life and what I want to do if I can, so I'm really fired up about it.

KNAC.COM: When you and Peter and Mark were first played together and you decided to make a go of this, was there any talk of doing it as another band and not as Accept, or was it "it's Accept or it's nothing?

HOFFMANN: It was Accept or nothing. I've been in Accept for 30 something years, this is my band and I don't really see why I should name it anything else because as soon as Peter and I write the songs like we did in the past it's going to sound like Accept, and especially if we've got a guy like Mark it's really going to sound like Accept, so why the heck would we call it anything else?

KNAC.COM: How long after Peter and Mark were onboard did it take to get Herman and Stefan back into the mix, and how much if any coaxing did it take?

HOFFMANN: It took about 24 hours. It was really just one phone call, sleep on it overnight, and the decision was made, so it really all happened over one day that we decided we wanted to try it. This is what we wanted to do and we announced it to the world the same day. It was amazing.

A funny thing happened because we were so excited and maybe a bit naive about it, we published a very rough live recording from the very first jam session, because we thought everybody was gonna love it like we did, but we got some really bad backlash because of it (laughs). A lot of people said "well, this doesn't sound anything like I'm used to, like it does on the records." Of course it's not going to sound like the records (laughs).

We didn't think people were going to analyze it and dissect it and really take it for face value. Now that we have the record out it's like water under the bridge, but at the time we had to readjust and think about this Internet thing and what we put out there, because people take it pretty darn serious.

KNAC.COM: Obviously some of your longtime, hardcore fans are still very into in the band?

HOFFMANN: I wasn't quite ready personally for how seriously people were going to take it. This whole Accept thing means so much and so many things to so many people, it's amazing how passionate they feel about it. When you read those things online some times, my gosh they kind of fight over this thing as if it was life or death (laughs). "Which record was the best? No, you're an idiot, it was this one."

KNAC.COM: Did you hear a lot of stuff like "Who is this Mark guy? How dare they carry on without Udo?

HOFFMANN: Oh yeah, there was a bunch of that. I would say 99 percent of what we heard early on was "this is never going to work." Everybody said "it didn't work before. They tried it with another singer one other time and it failed miserably." And I was telling myself, just because someone's been married before doesn't mean they shouldn't try again. Maybe the match wasn't right the first time around, but to draw the conclusion that "it's never gonna work" is a bit farfetched.

But I guess all these naysayers have fallen by the wayside, and a lot of these people have even apologized to us. Publicly, some journalists have made statements on their websites, "I was so wrong and please forgive me." I guess the proof is in the pudding in the end, when the record is good, it's good.

KNAC.COM: Udo made his feelings known when you did that last batch of reunion shows with him that he wasn't interested in making new music with Accept. But given his long history with the band, did you ever feel the need to get his blessing to move forward with this?

HOFFMANN: No, no, no. As you mentioned, we wanted him to be the singer before but of course, he turned us down. So at that point if someone says they are not into it and doesn't want to, we obviously don't need his blessing to move forward. What are we supposed to do? We are musicians and we are in Accept and, heck, if he doesn't want to be the singer, we'll find somebody else. And funny thing is, we didn't really look for anybody, but we did find someone that one day and everything came together so well, so we figured "now or never, this is our chance. We can do anything we want." So that's what we did. To get Udo's blessing, that ain't gonna happen, because he let us know a while ago that he didn't want to be part of it.

KNAC.COM: I know Udo was one of the people early on who said he didn't think the new lineup was gonna work, but he's been pretty quiet about the situation since then?

HOFFMANN: And he should be. You cannot decide to not go to a party and then be pissed off if the party is a success without you.

KNAC.COM: You mentioned some of the backlash you got from the song snippet you posted. Have you run into any other bumps in the road along the way?

HOFFMANN: No, nothing really. It's really been triumphant so far, honestly. Our first show ever was in New York City, which was quite daring to begin with because it was the debut with our new singer and we knew the eyes of the world would be upon us because it would be on YouTube the next morning, so if we would have screwed up everyone would have known it right away. Nowadays you can't hide (laughs). You can't do any secret gigs anymore in Siberia and get your stuff in order, you have to be ready from day one. So we did and it worked phenomenal.

We had a couple shows in Germany opening for AC/DC in front of 80,000 people, that was quite amazing too. Everybody had been super supportive and the fans love it. And that in itself is quite a thing to achieve, with a new singer and all that. It's going so much better than anyone could have hoped for and we're super pleased.

KNAC.COM: How were the Sonisphere festivals you played, they were in some unique locations?

HOFFMANN: For sure. We did one in Romania that Metallica headlined one day and Rammstein did the other. But it was a huge success. We played another in Istanbul, Turkey. We'd never been to Turkey before and here we are in a stadium and there's 20,000 Turkish metal freaks singing our songs. It was a quite remarkable night, it kinda took us by surprise, to say the least. Here we are, we haven't been around for like 15 years and we get to headline a show before 20,000 kids who know our stuff and are totally into it.

KNAC.COM: In a live situation, was Mark able to click with you guys right away, or did it take some getting used to after working with Udo for all those years?

HOFFMANN: Yeah, totally. We just fall into our place and do our thing. Peter and I have been playing together for like 35 years, we're just joined at the hip. So we fall right back into what we've always been doing onstage and Mark just finds his place and is right there with us. Obviously the longer we stay together the more we're gonna grow together, even onstage, but it's really been super smooth. And Mark is a professional, he really pulled off the old material like you wouldn't believe, he really nailed it, which is what impresses people the most.

You can always tell there are people coming to the shows who at first are skeptics, just like some people were skeptical at first about the whole idea, and they've kinda made up their minds that it's not going to be any good, but they go anyhow to just see it and it doesn't take long to realize how wrong they are. Honestly, after two or three songs everyone's right there with us, fists in the air and they kind of forget the whole Udo thing and "the whole thing is never gonna work" and they just enjoy the music and they get carried away and they love it.

KNAC.COM: And it's not so radically different, like it was the first time you changed singers.

HOFFMANN: No, it's not like that at all, and that's for good reason. Back then it was all different, we were looking for a new direction and we wanted to just change everything. But now, we just know where we need to be and what Accept stands for. We don't want to reinvent anything, we want to give the fans what they want to hear and enjoy doing it.

KNAC.COM: The album you did with David Reece, was that a case of trying to do too much all at once that was too different, or just not having the right guy?

HOFFMANN: Really all of that together, and the wrong production, there were a lot of things. That was weird times then. I would say if you look at any band with a long career that's still around, you'll find they made some mediocre albums along the way. We just happened to make an album where we were trying something that didn't work. For crying out loud, that doesn't mean you can't ever learn from it and do better the next time around.

It was a time also in the '90s where bands were looking at "where is this whole thing going to go?" Metal was kinda dead for a while, it was really not selling and nobody really wanted to hear it and everybody was looking to Seattle and all the grunge that was all the rage. And at the time all these bands that now are going strong, like Iron Maiden or the Scorpions or Judas Priest, they were all struggling and looking for new ways to keep their fans. That's just normal and you live through it and you learn from it and everybody's back on track now.

KNAC.COM: When you were writing the material for the new album, what was your intent, to capture that classic Accept sound but do it in a 2010 kind of way?

HOFFMANN: You nailed it right there, that was the goal, man, just do what we always did, but do it with fresh ideas and do it with full force, do it with all the enthusiasm we can have and just make it sound good. That's really all we did. We found an incredible producer in Andy Sneap who really made us sound better than ever and the rest was just trying to do what we did back then, come up with good ideas and don't try to just rehash old stuff and write good songs.

The songs that are on the album [there's 12] were all taken out of the context of maybe 30-40 ideas. Peter and I got together and wrote and wrote and wrote, and we wouldn't stop. Andy came in and picked the songs he liked best from a fan perspective. He grew up listening to Accept. So we picked the strongest ones and concentrated on those.

And when people write you off from the get go, you feel like "Gosh man, I want to show you." Maybe it made for a better record, who knows. If everybody would have said, "Oh, it's gonna be phenomenal, just do something and everyone will buy it, the kids are gonna love it no matter what you do," then maybe that makes you lazy. In this case, the skepticism surely fired us up.

KNAC.COM: Andy Sneap seems to have the magic touch, he worked with Testament who hadn't recorded with their classic lineup in a long time, Exodus and Onslaught when they got back together, Megadeth and Kreator when they were looking to get back on track and the albums have all come out great.

HOFFMANN: He's really the man, I can tell you. Everyone I talked to told me how great Andy was and that's for good reason, because I really believe it. Without him all this could have been, who knows, way different. We definitely made the right choice working with him.

KNAC.COM: Did Mark's voice allow you to be a little bit more versatile with the songwriting?

HOFFMANN: No, not really, because the voice always comes in later. And that's where Mark's versatility paid off. We usually write riffs and chorus ideas first and, yeah, we have melody in mind and we have vocal lines in mind, definitely. We look at the song as a whole and vocal lines are the most important element of that. You could have a great playback, but you could change it completely by doing a bad vocal or you can take it to the next level with good vocals.

In the past, sometimes we had songs where we were imagining a certain way but then Udo came in and did it his way. And sometimes we were mildly disappointed by the outcome, but that was only because he did what he did and he was who he is. But now, man, we can really feel like we got everything we were hoping for each time, and then some. As a songwriter, it's always good if you imagine the vocals going a certain way and when he goes and does it, it's better than you were hoping for, then you're really like "Wow." It lifts it up and takes it to yet another level. And that's way cool. I wouldn't say we wrote differently, it just got better automatically.

KNAC.COM: Did your wife [Gaby Hoffmann, aka Deaffy, who is also Accept's manager] write the lyrics again for this album, or was it up to Mark to write the words?

HOFFMANN: Mark wrote the words. When you write a song you usually have some sort of hookline idea, sometimes he took that and fleshed out the words, other times he really gave the songs their meaning. We felt that we had an American guy, he speaks English and he's a good lyricist, so he should get the chance to do his own lyrics. He did it, and he did a great job, I think.

KNAC.COM: Were you familiar with Mark before you started jamming with him, had you heard TT Quick or anything?

HOFFMANN: No, he was out of the blue new. The only thing I seemed to remember was the name of the band, because our friend Michael Wagener had worked with them in the past. So it kind of came full circle when he said he was in this band TT Quick, it was like "oh that's right, I've heard of them."

KNAC.COM: They didn't exactly have a storied career.

HOFFMANN: Well the funny thing is when we met up and got together, we were all in the same boat. None of us were actively in a band or playing, we were all sort of on hiatus or retired and working day jobs, if you can call my photography work a day job. Mark was an electrician, yet he had the passion and when he got the call to join us that day he felt, "What's the worst thing that can happen?" Maybe he'll get to know us and whatever, walk home with an autograph or two and some great memories. Nobody thought it was going to lead to anything, but boy did it.

KNAC.COM: So the idea is to keep this moving forward, this isn't a one-shot deal?

HOFFMANN: No this is a long-term idea. We'll see how far we can take all this. We'll do whatever we can and stick with it.

KNAC.COM: You've got to be pretty excited about your first tour of the states in forever?

HOFFMANN: Oh yeah, totally. We start it off with a festival show in Atlanta, Prog Power, then we're gonna do some of our own shows in a package with King's X. That's gonna be good.

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