Photo: Deaf Music
January 13, 2021

It has been three years since The Rise Of Chaos and while the Covid-19 pandemic has got in the way of tours, it has not stopped Accept with their new album Too Mean To Die. guitarist and lone original member WOLF HOFFMANN talks to Velvet Thunder about the new record, new band members and takes a dive into the past

Photo: Iana Domingos

Lockdown. A word synonymous with 2020 and depending on perspective is either a government led freedom suppressant or something that we really have to do to keep us all safe from a contagion which has managed to wreak havoc across the globe. Whatever the viewpoint, the world has spent more time indoors due to the pandemic. While there are plenty of negatives to this and the loss of live music has been tragic for bands, crews, venues and fans alike, many a music fan has taken either the opportunity to find something new or a deep dive into their collections spinning long forgotten albums and taking journeys of rediscovery.

With the new Accept album Too Mean To Die in hand, it would have been easy to just go directly to the new tunes but in lockdown there was another choice available: revisiting Accept’s history and not just being limited to a few choice albums but by listening to the whole discography from beginning to end and closing with the new album. “That’s crazy,” laughs Wolf Hoffmann. “Even I wouldn’t do that!”

What a discography though. Over five decades and sixteen albums, Accept has delivered some incredible records and monumental songs. As well as characterising their own sound Accept also had a hand in the genesis of thrash and speed metal and influencing bands as far and wide as Metallica, Guns N’ Roses and Alice In Chains. Formed in the German city of Solingen, the band can be traced back to the late 1960s as Band-X before the first Accept line up being formed in 1976 with Wolf Hoffmann on guitars, Udo Dirkschneider on vocals, rhythm guitarist Gerard Wahl, bassist Peter Baltes and drummer Frank Friedrich and it was this line up that released the self-titled debut in 1979. Accept was prolific in the 1980s releasing no less than seven albums in what is considered a classic period for the band, constantly gaining momentum with each album and from 1984’s Balls To The Wall began hitting the world’s charts as well. The line up changed in 1989 when distinctive vocalist Udo Dirkschneider left the band to be replaced by David Reece for the controversial Eat The Heat record before disbanding several months after the album’s release. Accept re-formed and reunited with Dirkschneider for 1993’s Objection Overruled and two further albums before disbanding again in 1997. Accept briefly reunited once more with Dirkschneider in 2005 but he declined to continue and was replaced by Mark Tornillo for the 2010 record Blood Of The Nations which reignited Accept’s fortunes and renewed their popularity. Ten years later and another five albums and Accept is on an unstoppable roll.

Accept: Wolf Hoffmann (l) and Mark Tornillo (r). (Photo: Scott Duissa)

“To be honest, I never listen to my old stuff,” says Wolf. “Unless I have to re-learn a song or just listen to something for enjoyment, it’s not that enjoyable for me to hear that old stuff. I don’t know, there are always things that I wish I could have done differently and I immediately judge everything. You know, I can’t just be a consumer, I’m immediately too judgmental.” Wolf Hoffmann is probably not alone as an artist who does not listen to his old material but for the consumers, these albums are the fabric of musical existence. “Of course it is,” Wolf agrees. “What I am surprised by when I do listen and especially to live recordings is at the back of my mind, I expect them to be terrible but then I am surprised by how good they really were – even back then. I don’t want to toot my own horn but you would think that your musicianship has improved so much over the years that it’s dramatically different but it’s not and listening back to the ‘80s and even the ‘70s recordings from the rehearsal rooms, it’s pretty damn good most of the time.  Even though the basic technology was completely different and much simpler back then, it was before we had Pro-Tools and better PA systems, but they sounded quite good even for back then.”

That is the point though, knowing that these albums are from a different time is what makes them so special and how they fit into their listener’s lives but those old albums are still Accept doing what they do best and sticking to their guns. “Of course,” says Wolf. “We had the one misstep with Eat The Heat [1989] and the 1990s when we tried to go in a different direction and realised that was not the way to go. When we came back ten years ago with Mark Tornillo we swore that we would stick to our guns, do what we were known for, concentrate only on that and not to try and change anything. We realised that Accept are known for a certain thing so why waste time and energy to search for something that is already there? We have a style, we have a fanbase and all we have to do is write new songs in the old style with new technology, new members and new ingredients but the same old approach. It sounds super easy but it’s not, we wrote those old songs in our teens or 20s and here we are 40 years later and trying to recapture the spirit, but I think we did ok!”

Wolf Hoffmann earlier referred to the Eat The Heat album as a “misstep”. Granted, it was an album that was not instantly recognisable as Accept and with a new singer, it made sense to take a different approach but as a stand-alone album it still handled itself and has some great songs. “It’s not as much that it’s me that sees it as a misstep, it’s more what the public sees it as a big mistake because they weren’t ready for that much of a change,” explains Wolf. “What we did was too much all at once. We tried to go slightly more commercial, slightly more radio friendly and of course there is a different singer on there [David Reece] and the production was terrible.” Wolf pauses with an audible shrug, “Sometimes everything falls into place and sometimes nothing does and it was one of those times when nothing seemed to work or be in our favour. I thought that if we had recorded the album as we originally intended then it would have worked.If you listen to the demos for that album they are really, really good. We should not have messed with it too much and there is that old saying ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’, and you question everything. At some point you have to leave the songs alone, don’t second guess everything and that was one of those times when nothing was good enough, this had to be done again, that had to be done again and after a while, you eventually lose touch with what you started to do.  It also has a lot to do with when you record for too long, it is very dangerous so, that was also the case there and it was just basically not meant to be, it could have worked but it didn’t.  I meet people all the time that love the album but it’s not what the majority of people say that they wanted at the time, so we’ll leave it at that.”

We just said ‘fuck it’ this is our way of saying ‘enjoy life’.

Wolf Hoffmann on Accept’s new album title Too Mean To Die

Line up changes have been a part of Accept’s history and unusually, the band added a third guitar player in Phillip Shouse. “Taking an additional guitar player is unusual in the metal world,” admits Wolf. “It’s not totally unprecedented but not the norm and the reason why we did it is that we discovered what a great player Phil is when we toured with him for the orchestra run [captured for 2018’s Symphonic Terror]. Phil is such an easy going guy, a great guitar player and a great fit for the band that we decided it would be a shame to send him back home after this time and took him on as an addition to the band. We have already done some shows together in South America and we loved it. Great guy.” The new album does have a beefed up sound, did Phillip bring an extra quality to the studio material? “Yeah, exactly,” says Wolf. “Since we now have Phillip in the band, we really try to write the songs and have that in mind. We did a bunch more things like twin solos or trading off solos where he starts and I pick it up and we kind of trade licks back and forth in these new songs than in the past so we really tried to incorporate that. We are already thinking ahead to the live shows and to bring that out some more and with three guitar players you obviously have differences. When you do play a twin solo for instance and still have the rhythm guitar in the back or doing regular songs you can do overdub parts from the studio that normally you can’t play with just two guitar players. I think that it’s going to diversify the sound a little bit, it’s going to be a lot of fun.” Was having a third guitar player something that took time to get used to? “No, not at all,” exclaims Wolf. “It was all very natural, and it fell into place super easy. We’re all professionals, everybody knows their parts and when we get together for rehearsals, it’s minutes to sort out ‘you play this, you play that’. It’s really not that a big a change in any way, it’s just an additional person.”

As well as Phillip Shouse joining the ranks – completed by second guitarist Uwe Lulis and drummer Christopher Williams, Accept lost bassist and original member Peter Baltes in 2018. Was it an amicable split? “It’s all good,” says Wolf. “It was sad more than anything, really. No arguments, no shouting, none of that stuff. Peter was my brother but what can you do, man? He’d had enough and he’d made up his mind, we had no choice but to keep going. Peter left the band after 40 years and he’s been my buddy, friend and song writing partner for all of this time and I dearly miss him, but life goes on. Basically, I was left alone but I write more stuff than ever on this album all by myself but luckily, we have a new bass player called Martin Motnik who stepped up to the plate and delivered some good material, contributed several songs and song elements and lyric ideas which meant that I was not completely alone in the end and I really welcomed that.”

And onto the new album Too Mean To Die which is not just Accept’s 16th album but one of their best, it sounds fresh, it is heavy but it has texture and all of the Accept signatures in place.  How had life been between The Rise Of Chaos and Too Mean To Die and considering that there has been a pandemic in the way? “It’s been really busy,” says Wolf. “We did a fantastic tour in 2019 for Symphonic Terror with the orchestra, that was brilliant but then this whole Corona mess started to happen, and everything came to a screeching halt. I mean, we used the time to work on the album but originally, we wanted to do a bunch of summer festivals which we couldn’t do and now we can’t do our headline tour that was planned for January 2021, that’s been put back a year. It’s crazy and all of a sudden, we have a lot of time on our hands.” How much of it got in the way of the recording? “It was a bonus really,” explains Wolf. “Originally, we started to work in January 2020 before all of this started and we didn’t know how much time we would have with our producer Andy Sneap – as you may know, he’s the guitar player in Judas Priest. We were thinking ‘let’s use the time and see how far we get before Andy has to go on the summer festival tour with Priest’, we were working away and then Corona happened, we had to interrupt, and everybody flew back home. The bad news was that Andy could not come back to the US because he couldn’t leave his country, but the good news was that he had time for the same reason in that he could not travel. We finished the album remotely with Andy being present on a laptop and through Zoom so we kind of worked together but a little differently and it was okay. The good news was that we had the time, but we couldn’t be in the same room together, the band was in the studio in Nashville while Andy was listening in remotely from the UK which was a new experience.” Was there something to be learned from working this way, were there any advantages? “Yes and no,” says Wolf. “Yes, you can have a conference call on Zoom but everyone would prefer to be in the presence of the other guys.  To do it in person is still different, you act differently when someone is next to you, you can look in their eyes which you can do on Zoom but it’s not the same. Yes, it can be done but is it the same? No.  It’s the human interaction that is missing.” Was creating the album an enjoyable process despite the differences? “It was and the good thing was that we had more than half of it done the traditional way and being in the same room, we only had the last few songs to complete. As to mixing, Andy does everything on his own anyway so there was no need to for us to be together for that.  In the end, it worked out ok and the good part was that we had a little more time all of a sudden, the schedule was more relaxed because of not being able to tour. I could take my time to finish the songs and just let them simmer for a little while and to think everything through. So, yeah, that helped.”

Andy Sneap has produced the last five albums, he must feel part of the family by now? “Yeah, he does,” says Wolf. “It’s actually six albums because he worked on the classical stuff with me [Sneap performed mixing duties on Hoffmann’s classically inspired solo album 2016’s Headbangers Symphony] so it feels like he is part of the band for the last 10 years. It’s great, we know each other really well, I think that he really likes the band [laughs] but I really trust his judgement and it gets easier and easier. The weird thing is that it was pure co-incidence how we got together 10 years ago. We were introduced through a mutual friend. I had never even heard of Andy Sneap or his past work in the thrash metal scene, so he was totally new to me and we just hit it off right away, we’ve been working together ever since and it’s been fantastic.”

To their credit, Accept has made a point as to lyrically leaving Covid-19 alone and not wallowing in the situation. The album title has a cheeky wink and tongue firmly planted in cheek. There is such a mixture of material, the fury of the title track with its razor-sharp guitars and the slower burn crunch of first single The Undertaker to the sole ballad on the album The Best Is Yet To Come but Accept does not miss a trick in reflecting the world around them such as the divisiveness of world leaders with the gnarly No One’s Master and the pop at social media ‘fame’ with Overnight Sensation. “It’s a song about these annoying Youtube clips and these kids that want to be famous overnight sat in their bedroom doing something outrageous playing Paganini on their guitar or something. Some are just influencers and they just offer an opinion on something. It’s a crazy world, man.”

In 2021, Accept is about to hit their 45th anniversary as a band and it has to be asked – what keeps him going after more than four decades. “Crazy isn’t it?” exclaims Wolf. “Part of it is still the sheer fun of playing in front of people. That motivates me and I’m going slightly crazy that I can’t do that at the moment, I haven’t performed live for almost a year now. That’s definitely my main motivation in playing live but also creating songs in the studio is a lot of fun when you see it taking shape, improving and at the end you have something that you’re really proud of.  I mean, an album for musicians like us is like a notch…it’s almost like in the westerns when they put a notch in their gun [laughs] or on the bomber planes there is a symbol for how many enemies that they shot down, it’s another big achievement, I should get a tattoo for every album I make. It feels like a big milestone, when I look back at my life, I think 1984 Balls To The Wall, 1985 Metal Heart, 1986 Russian Roulette, they were the building blocks of my life.  To make another album is…”. Wolf does trail off, but it is the reflection of an amazing life achievement in constantly changing times. “That was something else as to the discography: 1984, 1985, 1986 it was so quick back then and now it’s 2 or 3 years between records.” Considering the change and development of tech, why do think that it is so different now? “I have no idea!” laughs Wolf. “The other day I was reading up about Uriah Heep because Ken Hensley just passed away, I was looking at their discography and I see that they were making two albums per year in the early 1970s and I think how did they do that; they were always on the road and did two albums? I recognise that we did one per year back then which was the norm and now it has shifted slightly to more like 2 or 3 years and some bands even do 5 years between albums, we cranked out 5 albums in 10 years which is pretty damn good for nowadays. Another reason why it takes longer these days is because I have at the back of my mind that when I write songs you always  think about everything that you have already done previously. There is a bunch of stuff that you put away and when you start afresh, everything is new and everything is allowed but when you sit with the discography you always compare and start eliminating straight away and it becomes harder to come up with material that is new and exciting. You’re more limited when you already have so many songs.”

This is one of the terrific aspects of Too Mean To Die. There are of course nods to the past but it is an up to date solid metal album fit for the 21st century, it is brash and it is exciting. “I love to hear that,” says Wolf. “One of the criteria when we sit with Andy is that we love it all and when it has that ‘80s feeling that brings us back to those days but at the same time it’s new and fresh.  It is that balance of a new idea, I always say that I wish that I could write songs that I could have written 30 years ago and never got around to it. Now is the time to do it. A brand-new idea that could have been released back then and that could have appeared on one of those albums. Mission accomplished; I think.”

Accept decided to stick with the original release date of January 2021 – although the original date was recently postponed by two weeks due to more Covid-19 related pressing plant closure – rather than put it back because of the touring situation and being unable to support the album on the world’s stages. “It’s a case of waiting,” clarifies Wolf in relation to touring. “We have dates planned throughout the year, but we have to wait and see whether they can happen or not, it’s in the lap of the gods as to the virus. We’re just waiting to a time that we can tour again and hopefully it is sooner rather than later but the album is going to be released because we don’t know how long we would have to push it back, so we decided to go ahead with it. Maybe it’s good for the fans to get some fresh songs and to enjoy it just the same without the tour. Who is to say that there can’t be an album before the tour?”

It is strange and unsettling times and people do need entertainment. “Exactly,” concurs Wolf. “That is why we decided on the tongue in cheek title Too Mean To Die and not go into the whole virus vibe if you know what I mean? We just said, ‘fuck it’ this is our way of saying ‘enjoy life’.”

Accept’s new album Too Mean To Die is released on 29 January, 2021 on Nuclear Blast Records and is available for pre-order