By Andrew Bansal
German guitarist and composer Wolf Hoffmann has stayed busy with his classic heavy metal band Accept ever since the band made its comeback in 2010, but while the band was inactive in the late ’90s and early 2000s, Hoffmann released a solo album called ‘Classical’ (1997), wherein he recorded his metal renditions of 11 of his favorite pieces of classical music, an album that also featured his Accept bandmate Peter Baltes on bass. Now, during a brief stint of down time from the crazy world of Accept, Hoffmann is revisiting his classical roots and rediscovering his love for the age-old genre. He is set to release his second solo album ‘Headbangers Symphony’ on July 1st 2016 via Nuclear Blast Entertainment, and carries forward the concept of his first solo effort, but with a more symphonic twist. On June 11th 2016, Hoffmann took some time out of his relentless schedule to talk to Metal Assault in detail about this album, and also offered a tiny bit of insight into plans for the next Accept record. Enjoy the conversation below.
Wolf, it’s great to have you again on Metal Assault. Obviously this interview is about your next solo album coming out very soon, ‘Headbangers Symphony’. But before we talk in detail about the album itself, first of all, how did you come upon the decision to release a solo album at this point?
You know, it’s been a long time in the making. I made one album about 19 or 20 years ago, and I wanted to do another one. This is something that I’ve always loved, to combine classical elements with metal music, and I have a long history of doing that. This album has been in the works for almost ten years, I believe. It always had to wait until Accept was done with whatever we were doing at that time. Ever since Accept got back together, it’s been non-stop on the road or in the studio, and I just didn’t have time to finish this. But here it is, finally. Ready! (Laughs)
You said ten years, so for most of these ten years, specially since Accept put out ‘Blood Of The Nations’ (2010) you’ve been really busy. So, you were working on this album all this time, whenever you could?
Yeah, correct! The first time I met with my partner Melo Mafali, the guy from Italy who was the other half of this record, was in 2007 or ’08. I can’t even remember exactly, but it was a long time ago. He’s my partner-in-crime on this one. He’s the classical guy who likes rock and metal and I’m the rock/metal guy who likes classical music, and the two of us worked together really well on this one. But then all of a sudden, Accept happened, and everything came to a screeching halt as Accept had priority over everything.
Right. You did your first solo album ‘Classical’ which came out in ’97 and was also based on a similar concept. But for this one, how did you come up the track listing and the kind of pieces you wanted to recreate?
I knew I wanted it more symphonic this time. I wanted to really use string instruments. On the first album I didn’t, and I reduced everything down to just guitars, which was fun and it worked out fine, but this time I wanted to actually up it a notch and bring it a real orchestra if I can. That’s what the concept was for this album. Other than that, it’s the same idea to use classical compositions that are preferably well-known and sort of favorites of mine and other people, and just metal them up and see what other stuff we can do with them. My motto was always, if I would have been the guy who wrote that beautiful melody, if I was Tchaikovsky or Mozart or whatever (laughs) and if I had written that, what would I have done with that element? What other songs or riff ideas would I have to go along with it? So, I kind of structured my own instrumental tracks out of these original compositions. I stuck to the main theme a lot of the times, but everything else is new.
It’s cool that you’re doing this combination of classical and metal because I think people probably don’t realize that classical music was written centuries ago, and a lot of music that is made today is indirectly derived from that. Do you see that as well with what you do in metal?
Of course! I’m a firm believer in everybody influencing everybody else. Whatever music you make today, you can’t help but admit that it’s influenced by whoever came before you. Even the guys who came 200 years before us, they influence what we do today and how we do it, and you can’t escape that. It’s a natural progression of things. Every generation builds on the previous one.
Exactly. In terms of the songwriting that you’ve done for Accept, was there anything over the years that was directly derived from any classical pieces?
Yeah, it’s always been a passion of mine to take existing classical pieces and stick them into metal and rock. The first time this was publicly done on an album was with ‘Metal Heart’ in 1984. That was when a lot of fans heard that kind of stuff in combination, and it’s been a sort of a signature of mine ever since. I’ve been doing this for a long, long time, but sticking certain parts into Accept songs is one thing, but to make a full-length album with complete songs of classical music is, of course, a different concept altogether.
Right, so, this album is going to come out on July 1st via Nuclear Blast. Is it just something you wanted to just put out because you’ve been working on it, or do you have any other plans for it, specially in terms of bringing it to the stage or anything like that?
Well, the first thing was just to get it out and done. This has been lingering for so long, it has always been on my bucket list to finish this album, so to speak. So, I wanted to get it done first and foremost and of course I wanted fans to hear it and I wanted it to be released, and a whole lot of fans love this kind of stuff, so I wanted them to enjoy it. The next step is, what do we do with it now? Can we perform this stuff live in some shape or form somewhere? That’s what we’re working on next, and we have to figure out how and where we can do this, and when. Most likely nothing is going to happen this year because we’re officially in the studio and in songwriting mode for Accept’s next album, so I don’t think we’ll have the time this year to stage any events with this classical stuff. But may be next year, I’m hoping that we can pull it off. It will be a lot of fun and I’m really looking forward to actually performing this stuff live.
In ’97 you put out the first album and now it’s 2016. In the late ’90s Accept were on a break, obviously, and after the comeback, for the best part of the last six years you’ve been going non-stop. Does it feel kind of refreshing to revisit this facet of your musicianship again? I know you’re not a hiatus or anything, but you’re finally taking a breather from the non-stop touring.
That’s correct! I was able to work on it for may be a couple of weeks every year here and there a little bit, but that was all I could really ever afford. For Accept, the majority of the touring was done by last December, and I had about a month to finish this album, get the mixing done and put the final finishing touches on it. I thought to myself, now or never, because who knows, once the next cycle starts with Accept and we start recording and touring, it won’t be out for another three years again. I really wanted it done (laughs), because I hate it when something is just sitting there three-quarters finished. It was actually 80 per cent finished for a long, long time. So, it feels great to finally have it released and out in the public. It’s awesome, I love it.
You talked earlier about more string instrumentation on this one as compared to your first solo effort, and I was listened to it and it’s pretty clear that there’s more of a symphonic touch to this, in addition to the guitar parts, of course. How did you execute that? Did you get anybody to play those parts?
Well, it went in stages. The initial step was in the studio and we used string libraries, but I wasn’t completely happy with the way it sounded. I mean, it can sound pretty darn close to the real thing, but I always felt that if we can find a real orchestra, that’s the way to go. And I was very fortunate when about a year ago I flew out to Prague and had it recorded by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra there. They just replaced all the sample instruments with real instruments. So, it was 40 guys on a big stage playing together, and it was just amazing to watch and be there. That was one of the best experiences of this whole production, really, to be there when these guys performed these compositions. I mean, they are not our compositions but they are our arrangements, and Melo and I were just blown away. It sounded so fantastic. That’s what you hear on the album now, the real strings.
So, I guess you would need a 40-person orchestra or something like that to recreate it live.
Yeah, you would! (Laughs) And that’s the tricky bit, how do you do that live, how do you travel with so many people. But we’re trying to figure this out right now and I’m sure something will happen somewhere.
In terms of the tracks on this album, which one would you pick as your absolute favorite? There are some real classics in there for sure, that you hear in a lot of music even today.
Yeah! I mean, usually the stuff that I play first to people is ‘Night On Bald Mountain’. It seems to be the one that most people respond to the strongest, because it’s got such a strong metal vibe and it’s really not like what you would think classic music per se is, because it gels together really, really well. The metal aspect with the guitars, double bass, kick drum and all of that kind of stuff works really well with that piece.
This album is a set of metalized versions of classical music, but a lot of metal bands have also gone the other way where they’ve kind of converted their own music into classical pieces. Would you ever think of doing something like that with Accept tunes at all?
To where it’s completely instrumental, I don’t really see that. I don’t think Accept’s music is the type that really wants to be played by an orchestra. Performing with an orchestra to where we would perform alongside it with the regular band with Marc singing and all that, I could possibly see that happening one day, somehow. That will be one thing. I’m open to anything. At the end of the day, you just have to try it and see what it sounds like, be honest about whether it works or not, and decide.
Exactly. So, in a way these are basically covers of these classical songs. Do you ever keep track of bands that do covers of Accept songs? There have been so many over the years. Anything in particular that sticks out to you?
To be quite honest, I don’t really always hear everything, but sometimes I hear stuff that I really like. There are a lot of tribute bands out there and I like some of them. To me, that’s the greatest form of compliment, when people take the time to learn your songs and cover your songs and pay tribute to you. That’s amazing. It’s a huge honor, always.
I can imagine. This album is finally coming out soon and you said you are in the studio for the songwriting phase of the next Accept album. Is that all you have in the works? What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Yeah, that’s exactly what’s in the works. That’s the big thing we need to accomplish this year. We stopped touring, and we need to now concentrate on writing killer songs and getting them all recorded. It sounds like a simple thing, but sometimes it takes months and months of hard work to just come up with something that really stands the test of time.
Is there any songwriting done at all, or are you going to start from scratch?
Yeah, we’ve got a bunch of stuff already. We’re not anywhere near completion but we definitely have some stuff that sounds amazing. We’ll just need more because an album is 12 songs at least. It’s weird, when I was a kid, albums used to be 7 or 8 songs. 40 minutes was an album. Nowadays, it’s almost twice that. It’s crazy.
I guess it really depends on what type of band it is, but I’d say albums are generally longer than they used to be.
Much, much longer. And even shows are longer now. I was actually shocked when I listened to some live tapes from shows we did in the ’70s and ’80s, and they were like 60 to 80 minutes long. That was it. Nobody played two hours or two-and-a-half or whatever, like everybody does nowadays. Everything’s getting longer and longer (laughs).
How do you feel about bands playing long sets? Do you prefer more of a ‘quality over quantity’ kind of thing or are you fine with playing and watching long sets?
I have a hard time going to shows, period. It’s weird, I don’t really listen to a lot of other people’s records and I don’t ever go to many shows. I do so much of that myself, I write so many songs myself, and we perform so many shows, so the last thing I want to do is watch somebody else do something like that. But if and when I go to a show, I personally like a long set, specially for a musician or band that has had a long career. If you watch a guy like Paul McCartney, they play for over two hours. I think it’s fabulous.
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Headbangers Symphony track listing:
01. Scherzo (L. v. Beethoven)
02. Night On Bald Mountain (M. Mussorgsky)
03. Je Crois Entendre Encore (G. Bizet)
04. Double Cello Concerto in G Minor (A. Vivaldi)
05. Adagio (T. Albinoni)
06. Symphony No. 40 (W. A. Mozart )
07. Swan Lake (P. Tchaikovsky)
08. Madame Butterfly (G. Puccini)
09. Pathétique (L. v. Beethoven)
10. Meditation (J. Massenet)
11. Air On The G String (J. S. Bach)