Intervju med Wolf Hoffman i Accept.
Tyska Accept har fått en ganska stor revival i och med den nye sångaren Mark Tornillo och två hyllade album i form av "Blood of the nations" och "Stalingrad".
Jag satt ner med Wolf på Warner HQ och fick en trevlig pratstund med den gamle tysken som sedan många år bor i Nashville. När jag ställde första frågan om just valet av Nashville kände jag för en sekund att det här kunde gå åt helt fel håll, men allt styrde upp sig och det blev en hel del skratt.
Vi snackade bl a om hans karriär som fotograf, senaste plattan, låtskrivande och en kommande livedvd.
What was it that made you end up in Nashville? I´ve talked to a lot of musicians and that city is apparently a very happening place when it comes to music, and not just country music.
Wolf Hoffman: Yeah, you´re right. It´s all there. It just never ceases to amaze me why people are so fascinated with where I live. It´s got nothing to do with Accept really, yet everybody always wants to know. It seems to be a fascinating subject with people, which is cool. I don´t mind talking about it, but I always wonder what it´s got to do with anything? But hey, Nashville is a music city, man. When you live in the States and you wanna live anywhere where it´s about music, it could be New York or LA and both places I hate. I mean, I don´t hate them but I wouldn´t wanna live there and then there´s Nashville and that´s where I live. It was really almost by accident I ended up there. Like I said, it´s about music and everybody is in one way or the other connected to music and there are a gazillion amazing players, there are record companies, rehearsal facilities, trucking companies… all the ingredients that we all deal with all the time, so that´s why I´m there. None of these things never really matter to Accept because it´s not a metal town. Usually we start our tours there, but that´s all really. I don´t play in the local scene and I don´t mingle much with the local players. They do their thing and I do metal, so I just enjoy being there.
About your photography then? I was checking out some of the stuff on your site and there were some photos of an airport, I guess, and they kinda reminded me of Andreas Gursky.
WH: (laughs) Yeah, I know who he is.
Do you look at other photographers for influences?
WH: Occasionally yeah, but to tell you the truth, I´ve gravitated these last few years to corporate photography and advertisement stuff and those airport photos are more of a personal work that I put online because people always respond well to it and it shows my German side because they are very… I don´t know. I like architectural photography because it´s all about clean lines and that´s the perception a lot of Americans have of the clean Germans and the preciseness and whatever. I enjoy these photos and I actually enjoy Gurksy, but he´s an art photographer and I´m not. I would never dream to be anywhere close to what he´s doing. It´s been a great way to make a living and I would still be doing it if Accept hadn´t happened all of a sudden. I was not unhappy. I was totally happy doing photography, but man, when there´s a chance to do music again, I´ll drop anything and do that. I´ve never found the same satisfaction in taking pictures as I have in making music. It´s nice to have your pictures published and it´s nice to see them on billboards or book covers. Most of the time I don´t know what they do with them. I just deliver the files and they do whatever. It´s nice, but with music, this stuff lasts forever and making records that people still talk about 20 years later and to be in front of 2000 kids that sing your melodies, that´s a thrill you don´t get as a photographer, I have to say. That´s why I´m back here doing this. It´s amazing, huh? But I´ve been really fortunate to have two careers that are artistic and that essentially were hobbies and then turned into professional careers. First it was music and as we all know, it´s pretty damn hard to make a living from music, but it´s also quite difficult in photography and I´ve done it twice, so I´m very fortunate in that regard.
Very. A lot of people go to their jobs and they hate it for 30 years.
WH: Exactly and I´ve never had that. I´ve never hated my job yet. There are some good days and some not so good and that goes without saying. It´s not a permanent vacation. Living the dream is not always quite the dream, but still.
Bryan Adams is also a photographer.
WH: Yeah, I´ve seen his stuff and it´s pretty impressive. But I´ve never take the approach of selling me as the rock star that takes pictures. I´ve always tried to keep the two things separate. A lot of people that hire me have no idea that I´m in Accept and I like it that way.
Cool. Writing music, like for this album, I saw an interview where you said you don´t write on the road. I just thought with all the down time you have when you´re on tour… is there never a time when you sit down and strum on the guitar trying to come up with stuff?
WH: No. For me, I need to get deep into it. I don´t know. Maybe song writing is like a spiritual thing where you gotta immerse yourself into it? I need to know that I have an open calendar. Even when we´re in song writing and I know there´s an appointment at six, I hate to sit down at two o´clock and think that I only have four hours. What happens if I have the greatest idea of my life and I wanna finish it? I hate the thought of having something on my schedule that blocks it, you know. I need to have nothing else that day that I need to do. It´s weird. Another thing is that when you´re on the road you never have all your gear. I hate to do it on a little laptop with crappy guitar sound. I wanna have my shit and sit there with my stuff and get inspired.
Is it easier or more difficult writing songs these days?
WH: No, it never gets easier. I think most artists would say… especially if you´ve already done 15-20 records and that´s some 150 songs that you´ve already published, you always run the risk of repeating yourself. It´s a very fine line that you have to walk because you want it to sound like you, you want it to sound familiar but you don´t want it to sound like it´s a rip off of yourself, so that´s where the challenge is. It´s not so much writing something, that´s always easy, but that something better be as good as the things you´ve already done but not too much as something you´ve already done and that´s where the challenge is. Maybe that´s why bands and artists take longer and longer to come up with new studio albums. Maybe they feel at a certain point that they´ve done everything they can do and if it´s something you haven´t done already, maybe it´s so far away from what you´re known for and there might be nothing left for you to do. Right now we don´t have that problem, but it´s been going through my mind sometimes. You don´t wanna repeat yourself but you want it to be typical you.
Right. But there is a bit of a vintage thing going around like the latest Van Halen and KISS albums. Both of those albums having songs that sound like they did back in the day.
WH: Yeah! We wanted our stuff to sound like it was written in the 80´s and there was nothing wrong with that. It actually helped us to do it because we knew exactly what we wanted and this last album “Stalingrad” also had the advantage that we knew exactly what we wanted on this one. We´re totally happy with “Blood of the nations” and we were just like “Let´s make another record like it, if we can.”.
Both albums received a lot of praise all over the world and that´s gotta feel good since there has to have been some nervousness with a new singer and all that? You probably did exactly what the fans wanted.
WH: That was a huge relief of course. Once everybody was embracing those records, it was like “Wow, talk about dodging the bullet.”. Quite honestly we had no idea. We felt it was great. I´ve done that in the past when I thought something was really good and then everybody hates it for some reason or another. You never really know as an artist. You can´t. You never know what the fans think. They´ve got a mind of their own, so we were totally nervous by all this. Then when it came out and the way it was received and it was number one in the charts and still is in some of the readers polls in Rock Hard and Metal Hammer, it was totally satisfying to see that. We were totally nervous, of course. Or I wouldn´t say nervous, but we were fully aware of it because at the same time we said “Well, if this isn´t gonna work with Mark, we haven´t lost anything because what else is there for us to do?. We can either all go home and do nothing or we can do this.”. Udo wasn´t available so hell, what have we got to lose? It´s worth the effort and we felt it was the right guy at the right time.
Is it correct that Mark wrote the lyrics for the album?
WH: It is. In the past it was Gaby, my wife and manager, who wrote most of the lyrics back in the 80´s and she was great at it and she probably would´ve done it again, but we felt like “Here´s an American guy and it´s his native language so he doesn´t need Germans writing lyrics for him. Let him write his own lyrics damn it! Let him work for his money!” (laughs) I also thought that he would probably do a better job singing it if it was his own thoughts. Of course there was a certain amount of discussions about what he was writing down and what we wanted to hear, but in the end he really paid tribute to our tradition and I think he wrote the lyrics in a way they should be written for Accept. There were still some discrepancies where I thought “Well, I probably would´ve said that a bit different.”, but that´s fair. After all, he´s the singer so he might as well put his own words into the whole thing. Sometimes the way we write songs, Peter and I start the process and we sit together and jam on riffs, but it´s always about the song. It´s about the melody and very early on it´s about the chorus too. We always kinda know what we want the chorus to sound like and Peter usually puts down some scratch vocals without any words, he´s just sorta mumbo jumboing his way through it just to speed up the process. Mark is different. He can´t just fake it. He needs to think and think deep and it takes hours to write something down and then when we hear it for the first time, it might not be what we want so just to speed up the process, we let Peter mumbo jumbo something and it´s so ridiculous, but we treat it like an instrument and we judge it for the melody and the rhythm and when we´re happy with all that, then we´ll give it to Mark and he can really put his deep thoughts into all that stuff.
Do you ever write songs thinking “This one will be great for radio.”?
WH: Not anymore so much. In the 80´s we did. Everybody was chasing that dream of having the big smash success. There are always examples of all these other bands that had these massive radio hits, but we never did. The closest we ever came was probably with “Balls to the wall” because that one ended up on MTV and stuff. Now days we don´t think in those terms anymore, which is good. It´s actually kinda a relief. You put that aside. “We don´t need a ballad.”. (laughs) We don´t need the radio hits so thank god that´s out of the way, so we just concentrate on metal. I mean, we always like a catchy tune because I think it´s become a trademark over the years. I always want people to be able to sing along and memorize it. If it just goes by you, in my mind it´s gone. Other bands don´t have memorable melodies and they´re doing just fine. For our stuff, a great Accept tune for instance like “Pandemic” turned out to be a great live song because people get into it right away or like “Stalingrad”. You hear it once and get into it right away.
I guess there´s always stuff that never makes the album. When you´re writing for a new album, do you ever go back to the “riff bank”?
WH: we do. We have a “riff bank” and a lot of the time it´s kinda a graveyard of riffs. It´s funny, there are certain riffs we keep pulling out again and again and they never turn into a song. Rarely there´s a part that we actually end up using. For some reason you always think these parts are great and you go back to them, but by that time we have 10 new songs for each one of those cool parts. Occasionally we have a snippet here and there.
I talked to Robb Flynn and he does the same kinda thing and there was one song he talked about where they had a riff and it didn´t work out and then several years later he pulled out that riff again and then it worked and he used it in a song. Can that happen?
WH: Actually it did happen on this record. We had this riff for “Shadow soldiers” and I remember it was written for the previous record. I played it to the guys and no one was responding that much to it then and this time it was like “Oh, cool!”. It always depends. It´s a combination of things. It´s the music and it´s the timing. If we would´ve released “Blood of the nations” 15 years ago, in the 90´s or whatever, people would probably have hated it, but now the time was right for this. Nobody really knows. My point is, a lot of things have to gel together and it´s a matter of timing.
Absolutely. Did you know about TT Quick back in the 80´s?
WH: I heard that there was a singer who was reminiscent of Udo and I always heard about TT Quick, so I was aware of it but I´ve never really been familiar with them.
I remember back in the day when there was a Swedish radio show called “Rockbox” and he played their cover of Dave Clark Fives “Glad all over”. I liked that one but not the rest of the album.
WH: I thought they had some potential but their song writing wasn´t all that great. Maybe that´s where they lacked a little bit. They didn´t have that one song that you need.
Are you involved in any other projects, solo stuff or otherwise?
WH: Yeah! I made a record over 10 years ago called “Classical” and I´m working on a follow up album for that one. I always felt that all my rock and metal stuff ends up in Accept and I don´t really need a side project. I´m not a frustrated song writer that needs to vent his ideas, but what I love to do and have already done once, is an instrumental record. That´s really what I´d like to do. It´s a very unique challenge. It´s one thing to have song writing with vocals and lyrics. It´s actually a lot easier than instrumentals. For instrumentals you´ve got just your guitar. You don´t have the vocals to keep your attention and song writing is also very repetitive. You´ve got your first verse, chorus, second verse, chorus so you only need like two parts and you´re already three minutes into the song. Whereas in an instrumental, after 30 seconds it can be awfully boring if you don´t come up with something that is interesting so it´s a very unique challenge.
Are you a one guitar kinda guy or can you play a Jackson, a Fender or a Gibson?
WH: Yeah, pretty much. I like different guitars and that´s what I do in the studio too. I don´t like using just one sound all the way from start to finish. I try layering stuff with different sounds and guitars. I think that´s a spice, an audio spice. I mean, if you cook a dish you don´t just wanna put salt in there.
True. I also heard that you´ve recorded stuff live. Is that for a possible live dvd?
WH: It´s in the works, man! A lot of fans are asking for it and they feel that Accept is so strong now and they´ve seen us live. They think “They´re on fire! Where can I get proper recorded dvd from?”. We´ve already recorded some shows and it´s actually quite challenging. Everybody´s doing these live dvd´s at festivals because that´s the easiest thing because the cameras are already there, but I´m not sure what we end up doing. I think it´s almost a discrepancy because at the live show you really have to focus on the audience at that moment and you´ve got to play the greatest hits and maybe two or three songs from the new one, where on a dvd I always wanna see more obscure songs that might not work so well at the concert while you´re there. I´m always thinking “Wouldn´t it be better if we had a sort of a special occasion where we recorded some stuff that we don´t normally play live? I´m not sure. I haven´t debated that all the way through to the end, but I always think “If we just record a show, maybe that´s not enough? Maybe we should have a special event where we just set aside for filming and look at it that way.
That would be cool. Fans love that kinda stuff.
WH: Yeah, I´m thinking, but we definitely recorded some stuff and we will come out with something, like a dvd, for sure.
For how long are you gonna keep on touring for this one?
WH: Another five weeks or so and then we´re back home and we´ll take a break. We´ve actually been on the road for 10 weeks already. It´s quite a long stretch, man, for us old guys. (laughs) It doesn´t get easier, I´ll tell you that.
That I understand.
WH: I mean, as much fun as it is… being on a tour bus and getting sick all the time. The coughing and the sneezing, that stuff doesn´t get easier. But still, I´m enjoying the hell out of it.
Any plans for next year?
WH: Yeah, definitely. We´re gonna play all of next year through. Festivals mostly and then it´s time to work on new material again. Probably sometime in the middle of next year or whenever we have some time off, like a month off or so, we´ll start the song writing process again.
So a new album towards the end of next year?
WH: That´s too soon. We´ve already done two back to back and people were surprised that we came out with the second one so soon and to tell you a little secret, we put ourselves under stress with this one. We came off the road last August and committed to a new release in May or April, I think. That meant it had to be finished in January, mixed and delivered because they always need it two months in advance which meant that song writing started in August right away after the tour and man, it was tough.
Is it a good thing to work under pressure?
WH: It is, but this time we overdid it a little bit. I would´ve loved to have the luxury of taking a break for two weeks and then doing another round. But we couldn´t stop and we couldn´t afford a break and even Andy Sneap, it was rough for him too. Sometimes it´s nice to step away for a week or two, but this was every day. We really put on the pressure on this one. Luckily it worked. A little pressure is good. If you have no pressure and it´s like “Oh, take your time!”, we´ve done that one time with “Eat the heat”, the infamous “Eat the heat” album and that was a bad. That doesn´t work. We worked on that damn record for almost a year and in the end you don´t know what is good or bad, you just totally lose it.
And Andy Sneap has really made a name for himself. He´s everywhere.
WH: You know, it was so bizarre when we regrouped and announced to the world “Hey, we´re making a new record with Mark Tornillo!” because we didn´t have a song, no nothing. We just announced it and then we get this phone call from a guy called Andy Sneap, which I had never heard of because I wasn´t in the music business. I was a civilian at that point. “Andy who?”. I looked him up and he´d done Megadeth a bunch of other stuff so he must be somebody. We invited him over and met this totally nice guy who grew up listening to Accept and also a world class producer and I had no idea how well known he was. To this day I´m still… because he´s just Andy, you know. Everybody knows Andy, wherever I go. I´m almost more of a fan of him. We really work well together.
So you´ll probably work with him again for the next album?
WH: Oh yeah! I think so and I don´t think he has a choice. (laughs) I think the reason that we work so well together is… I mean, we´re totally old school. We recorded our first albums on tape and even our song writing is totally old school and we sometimes sit down with the acoustic guitars and it´s about the song. We´re not people who just pile on riffs and sorta stick it all together. It´s about the song. Andy is kinda the younger generation kid, the ProTools generation, which is not quite fair because he also recorded a lot of stuff on tape before. Anyhow, he´s more of a younger kid and for some reason that combination works perfectly. He´s giving us that modern, snappy sound and we do the old school song writing and somehow it works really well. And he´s a guitar player and a really cool guy. If only he wasn´t a vegetarian. I give him a lot of shit about that. (laughs)
Right on. Thank you!