By Andrew Bansal
German classic metal legends Accept are ready with their fourteenth studio album ‘Blind Rage’, set to be released worldwide on July 18th via Nuclear Blast Records. Continuing on with what they started with their triumphant comeback in 2010 and the success of the two subsequent studio albums ‘Blood Of The Nations’ and ‘Stalingrad’, Accept promise to deliver yet another enjoyable slab of pristine heavy metal. Earlier today on Friday April 25th 2014, I spoke to longstanding guitarist Wolf Hoffmann over the phone to talk about the musical style, lyrical themes and working process behind the album, amongst various other topics such as touring, songwriting, physical fitness and more. Enjoy my conversation with the ever-articulate Wolf Hoffmann below.
I was looking at the title and cover artwork for your upcoming album ‘Blind Rage’ and first of all wanted to ask you, is it more of a reflection of the lyrical themes or does it also have something to do with the musical attitude as well?
I think what we have here is really a collection of totally typical Accept songs with the classic feel, and of course as always, there’s an overriding theme of aggression and rage in all our music. I mean, otherwise it wouldn’t be metal. People call our music at this point ‘classic metal’ I believe, and we just fell in love with the title ‘Blind Rage’ and the artwork. Interestingly enough, we don’t even have a song called ‘Blind Rage’! We just have a collection of songs that to me all feel totally 100 per cent classic Accept.
So that means there’s no single song that represents this title, it’s the whole album itself.
Exactly. We were thinking about it whether we were even going to do that, and we thought, well, Judas Priest did it back in the 80s. They had an album called British Steel but there was never really a song called British Steel, and that’s how we feel about this. It’s just a collection of ‘blind rage’. It seems to fit the theme of everything, but it’s not a deep concept or anything.
The last two albums ‘Stalingrad’ and ‘Blood Of The Nations’ I think were a little different in terms of the lyrical topics. This is a bit of a departure from that, isn’t it?
Yeah, it is. I think we have great subjects for the songs this time, and I can run down the whole list for you but it makes more sense once people have heard the songs. But I think fans are really going to dig this one and it’s important to notice that there’s more variety on this album, but not really so much stylistically, to be honest. Because we didn’t want that. We didn’t really want to expand the style too much. We really know where Accept belongs, what we stand for and what we wanted to achieve, and we really spent many months trying to perfect the song ideas that we had and getting them more and more refined instead of trying different styles of music. That was never on our minds. We really wanted to do 100 per cent typical Accept stuff, only better than ever.
In terms of the working process, has it been the same as the last two albums? Once again you’ve worked with Andy Sneap on the console and of course it’s the same band lineup.
Yeah, Andy is such a good partner now, we couldn’t even imagine working without him on this album. He’s such a natural fit and he did a great job on the last two albums. The only thing that we did way different this time from ‘Stalingrad’ is, we really took our time. ‘Stalingrad’ was really made almost in a rush to be honest, because we had so many commitments right before we went to the studio to do the album and right after. Basically by the time we started working on that album, we already knew when it had to be finished and what gigs we had booked. So that put us under enormous pressure, but this time we really made sure it’s right before it’s ever released. We didn’t work excessively long, we just took a little more time to make sure that we were in a little more comfortable place. These last few weeks we’ve just refined and tweaked little things that we normally wouldn’t have the time to do.
I think ‘Stalingrad’ was in many ways ‘Blood Of The Nations’ Part 2, but this one is may be more of its own entity, right?
Yeah, I believe so. I think this will take us to a whole another level. To tell you the honest truth, I’m so close to it right now after months and months of working on these songs, I need a little distance myself from them now. I believe it’s some of the best stuff we’ve ever done, but then again you always kind of feel that way when you’re coming out of the studio. I have a stronger feeling for it now than ever before, but what does that all mean in the end? You just have to step away from it for a few weeks or months, and then you can be a little more objective. Right now I’m so knee-deep in the whole process, it’s hard for me to say anything objective about it.
You said that you took your time with this album. When did you actually start writing it?
I started writing last May-June. See, last year we had a lot of time off because we played mostly festivals, so there were many weeks where we did like only one show a week. So, Peter and I rented studio space in Germany, wherever we were, sometimes at my house and spent a week or two here and there. Then it got more intense towards the last fall. We were done with the songwriting in about six to eight months and we actually started recording the whole thing in January. That’s when it got real serious, Sneap came over and we hammered out the basic tracks in Nashville. So the last 3-4 months has been just recording and finishing. The process is that I do all the guitars and overdub stuff myself, so there were a few weeks of just that for me where I was basically working alone, doing solos and stuff.
As you just said, you did mainly festival shows last year, but in terms of the touring cycle for the last two albums, are you satisfied with the amount of touring that you did?
Yeah I think we really busted our balls in 2011 and 2012, and last year was the first year where we did moderate touring, I’d say. But that was out of necessity because once you’re committed to these summer festivals, a lot of times you can’t really do your own headlining tour around the same time. It makes no sense. It almost has to be either the summer festivals or you do your own headlining tour. You can’t really do both in the same year. But I’m totally happy with the amount of touring we’ve done. Gosh, look at the tour dates from the last three years. My God, that’s a long-ass list. I wonder how we did it all sometimes (laughs).
Yeah, it’s also important to keep a control on it as well, even though it’s necessary to keep touring these days. You also have to feel fresh on stage every time you go out there and not feel burned out.
Oh yeah, that’s a given. As soon as we feel that, we’d have to cut back or start rethinking everything. You can never really get to the stage where you think, “Oh, it’s another day in the office.” Then it’s time to quit or take a long break or something. But luckily, we’ve never felt that.
Talking of touring, can we expect a North America tour after the album release in the summer? I believe one or two dates have popped up but nothing official.
The majority of the now booked touring this year is going to be in Europe and South America, then we go to Australia for the first time and then Japan, but just to not disappoint anybody in the US and just to do something in the US, we’re talking about doing three shows on the West Coast before we even head out in Europe. Unfortunately there isn’t more time for any more US shows. So, three shows only from what I hear, and then we hope to come back in February 2015 to do a full US run.
So, you’ve had this lineup for the last four years and you’ve done three albums now with it. How have the contributions of the other members developed in this time? Has everybody been contributing more or is it always mainly you and Peter with the songwriting?
Yeah the basic ingredients have never really changed and it’s still the same. Peter and I do the basic work and then we present the stuff to Mark (Tornillo, vocals) and he puts his spin on it. Whoever sings on the song makes a big difference, obviously. Sometimes we think it’s going to sound a certain way but when Mark sings it and we get it back, we realize that we need to refine it a little more. So that sometimes influences us to reshape the songs a little bit. There’s quite a bit of back-and-forth. Whenever Peter and I feel that we have a song finished, we present it to Mark usually with some ideas of the vocal melody lines the way we hear them in our head. He tries our version first and sometimes refines and changes it a little bit. Once we hear that, we go back into it and reshape the song, rewrite some parts and tweak it here and there. So, every song went through may be 6 or 7 revisions that way, I’d say. But Peter and I have always been the sort of starting block for everything.
Right, but that’s interesting. When people look at songwriting credits for a song or album, they just think those one or two people wrote the music. But the other members also influence it, as you said.
Yeah, it’s always weird with those songwriting credits, and this has been in all our history. Sometimes I look back at songs where I know I have written it but everybody’s listed. You can’t always judge by whoever is credited as far as songwriting goes. It’s a big old myth that they always have equal parts. It’s never really the case. A lot of the times it’s really one guy who wrote the majority of it but just to give a share to everybody for their contribution and to keep the peace in the band, you list everybody as equal partners but that doesn’t mean everybody always contributed the same amount of ideas to the actual song. But that is the case with a lot of bands, I guess.
I have just a couple more for you. When I see your band live, I notice that you guys are good in terms of your physical fitness, which is an aspect that often gets ignored in rock ‘n roll, specially with all the drinking and partying. But to elongate your career you have to focus on it. So, do you deliberately make an effort in this regard?
Oh heck yeah man, I’m busting my balls to stay in shape. No doubt about it. I try to do an hour every day and don’t always succeed, but I try to do something. Being on stage is a motivating factor. There’s nothing worse than seeing pictures of yourself where you’ve got a gut hanging over your guitar or you see that you’re out of shape. That’s a pretty motivating thing for me to go back into the gym (laughs). So yeah, I’m much more conscious of it now, trying to eat right and get enough sleep, but man … this crazy rock ‘n roll life doesn’t always allow for that. It’s almost like contradicting each other. You can do one or the other but it’s really hard to do both.
And finally, which of your peers, or bands from the 80s are still going as strong as ever, in your opinion?
Oh, I’d say my heroes in that regard have always been The Scorpions, for one. They’re at least ten years older than we are and they still put on a killer show, whether you like them or not or think they are too poppy or whatever. In that regard they are my idols and heroes, and they’re really still busting their asses. They’ve never put on a lame-ass show. So, Scorpions and probably I’d say Iron Maiden. Those two bands are really still delivering the goods.