For this week’s Q&A, we’re pulling one from the archives, when Metal Contraband’s Chelsea spoke with Wolf Hoffmann, founder of the iconic metallers Accept, about their latest album Too Mean To Die. Check out the interview about the making of the album with Producer Andy Sneap, the newest additions to the Accept lineup, and Wolf Hoffmann’s symphonic experiences. 

Photo via the Accept Official Website

Wolf, you’re the day one Founder and member of Accept, you’ve always been the core of the band all along the way, so did you ever imagine you’d eventually be talking about your sixteenth studio album? Because that’s an amazing achievement. 

Oh! Well, of course, no. When you start as a teenager, you don’t have a clear idea of how far you can take it or what the future brings, but you’re hoping it’s going to last a while. But in my wildest dreams, I couldn’t have anticipated I’d still be doing this 45 years later, that’s, of course, nuts. But hey, I’m grateful, it’s great. 

So you just released Too Mean To Die which is the perfect album for a metal band of your lengthy legacy, especially when you had to push through a pandemic to make it happen. So what would you say was the most challenging part of trying to coordinate an album through these weird times we’re living in?

Really, the album production and recording, for the most part happened before Corona was even an issue. We had a batch of songs that we had recorded just as the pandemic was getting in motion, so we finished those seven songs, but then we had a bunch more that we wanted to record in the summer, and by that time, our producer Andy Sneap wasn’t able to fly into the US anymore. So we had no choice but to do it in kind of a strange, remote way where he was able to listen in and see what the rest of us were doing in Nashville, TN. So we hooked him up with an online connection, he sat over in his studio in England, and we were recording without him in Nashville. Certainly strange, but it worked out okay, I don’t think it harmed the songs or the spirit of the band, it just was a little…awkward.

Was that the first time you had ever done any kind of remote recording?

Absolutely, and hopefully the last time. I’d always prefer to be in the same room, a person-to-person meeting rather than looking at the computer screen. Something gets lost a little bit. But if you have to, you can make it happen.

I think you guys made it happen anyway, it has great results and you can’t even tell it was done through a screen. You mentioned that Andy Sneap produced, and that’s far from your first time working with him, he’s not only such a renowned producer, but also playing with Priest these days. So can you talk about the connection with him on this record?

Yeah, this is actually album number five! That we’ve done with him, I can hardly believe that, plus he worked on my solo album, plus some live recordings. We’ve worked with Andy a lot over the years, and I wish it would never change and I hope it holds. Because he’s the perfect guy, feels like part of the family by now. And there’s a bunch of reasons why that is, but it’s just perfect for us. I think he’s such a metal fan through and through that I couldn’t imagine working with anybody else at this point, really. 

That’s awesome, the go-to Producer for Accept.

In a way, absolutely. It’s great when you know somebody so well, there comes a certain comfortable relationship where you almost start thinking alike without saying much, that’s always very good. 

And you have a couple of new members of Accept this time around, a new guitarist for some triple guitar action going on, and a new bassist, so even though it is a record in the traditional Accept style, because it’s you, of course, the core of the band, there’s certainly a lot of new vibes contributing to the sound in this case.

Yeah, and I think the new vibes definitely helped the overall freshness and spirit and color of this album. That’s what I’ve heard in common from a lot of fans who have heard it up to now, even though we’ve been doing it forever and ever, this new album really sounds so fresh and exciting, it’s like a young, exciting album. Even though, obviously, we’re not young, and I think it’s because we have the new guys in the band. They bring some fresh blood, fresh energy, fresh ideas to the writing. Like in the case of our new bass player, Martin Motnik, he actually contributed a bunch of good songs to this album. Which is great, you can’t always expect that from a new member, but he did it, it’s awesome. 

How did the connection with the new members come about, how did they come to be in the band?

Well, Martin was just replacing Peter Baltes, our long-time bass player when he left about two years ago. Not totally unexpected, but still a bit surprising, he decided he no longer wanted to be in the band, and we had to look for a new guy, and Martin was happy to step in. So that’s Martin and he’s actually a fellow German, but he lives in Nashville, that’s where the rest of us are, so that helped. And in the case of Phil Schaus, our new guitar player, and he’s number three in the band now, which we’ve never had. Usually we’ve always had two guitar players, or for a few years, I was the only guy, but now we have three, and that’s incredible because it enables us to do a bunch more stuff live that you can’t really do with two guitar players. That’s very exciting, Phil is a great player, and we just came across him when we were doing some shows with orchestras two years ago. And the idea came about of, why can’t we have three guitar players? It’s one better than two! *laughs*

That’s great, and I know some people are commenting on it like, “oh, we’re getting a little Iron Maiden action going on with the triple guitar”, because not a lot of bands go for the triple guitars. I’m curious from more of the writing and arrangement perspective, when there are three guitars, how you find the balance for that, and the “who does what” sort of thing?

I mean, I’m being sort of the elder statesman, I’ve been writing a bunch of stuff, so it’s natural that I play most of it. But I didn’t really want to write and play everything if I don’t have to, so I was grateful, especially with Phil, he’s such a fantastic player that we decided to give him a lot of space on this album and have him play a bunch of solos so that it’s not always “me, me, me”, if you know what I mean. So definitely changed our approach a little bit, we’re already thinking ahead to these live shows that we’ll be doing again one day, hopefully, and we’d definitely enjoy  having dueling lead guitars on stage, twin leads, that sort of thing. So we wanted to bring that up on the album as much as possible in these new songs.

That’s definitely going to add a great dynamic. You mentioned just now how you did the symphonic shows a couple of years ago, and I wanted to ask you to talk about the symphonic side of Wolf Hoffmann a bit. Because obviously you’re very well established as a metal guitarist over the years, but you had the Headbangers Symphony solo record, and that Symphonic Terror live show at Wacken, a huge show that turned into a tour. So that must have been exciting for you to explore the orchestra side of things even further.

Oh, hell yeah, it was amazing. It’s honestly been like a dream come true on a personal level for me. It’s really fantastic to play with an orchestra. This is a special thing and it always has to be, because I couldn’t imagine doing this every day because of the logistics and the preparation and planning time that something like that needs. But man, having done it now, it’s really fantastic. I really loved doing it and maybe one day we’ll do it again, but for now, we’re going to concentrate on just regular Accept-only shows, which is kind of refreshing after this logistic…well, I wouldn’t call it a nightmare, but still it’s quite an undertaking to go on tour with an orchestra.

I’m sure! Instead of having four or five musicians to coordinate, all of a sudden there’s…20, 30, 40 however many you had. 

Sure, and then there’s no room for improvisation whatsoever. Everything has to be talked out and written down, because these orchestra players play to a score, so you have to sit there for weeks and months in advance, and write everything down for each individual instrument. And once it’s written down, that’s what they’re going to play. You can’t just shout out something to them and change something on the spot just because we feel like it, like change an ending or stuff like that. Once it’s written down, that’s it, you’ve got to play it that way.

That’s right. So did you personally sit down and make all the arrangements for the orchestra?

Yes and no, I can’t be the one who does the actual scoring, but I was definitely part of it in that I was sitting there with my collaborator, Melo Mafali from Italy, the two of us were actually working out the arrangements together. So I was involved, but I wasn’t the only guy. I mean, I can’t write scores, Melo can, but I know what I like and I can tell him how I’d like to hear it, but then somebody has to actually translate it into written music. And you have to have a lot of knowledge of what these instruments, how they interact, what their range is, who can play what, and how it all blends together in the end. That’s actually quite the art form, it’s not easy to do.

Absolutely, and it’s certainly different from guitar where there’s not really as many limitations in terms of range. There’s so much you can do with your 6+ strings. I know what you mean because I studied music composition, so getting to know that the horns can only go this high, or the cellos can only reach this low, is definitely a whole undertaking in itself.

I know, and it’s fun, when you hear an orchestra, it’s easy to hear it as one sound, it kind of has this wonderful, I don’t know, harmonic blend. But when you actually sit there and focus on just what the cello plays, what the double bass and viola plays, it’s fascinating to hear how it all works together, you know? Because it takes a special knowledge and ear to focus in on what each individual player plays, and of course, conductors and people who do that every day, they have that trained ear and they can pick it out right away. But for someone like me who’s been working with guitar, drums, and all that kind of stuff, that was an interesting learning experience and I definitely enjoyed it very much. 

So back to Too Mean To Die, I do want to ask if there’s any kind of standout track for you, that you feel like you’re the most proud of how it came out. 

No, I don’t think it’s one of those albums that has one or two standout tracks and the rest are album tracks, I think we have ten songs with a lot of variety, they all have something that somebody likes. I’ve heard from a lot people what their favorite album track is so far, and it’s been all across the board, it’s crazy. One song that gets mentioned a lot is, obviously, “Undertaker”, because it had the video, then we had a song called “Overnight Sensation” that a lot of people like because it’s an easygoing sort of rock tune that’s very catchy. But then the two opening songs, “Zombie Apocalypse” and “Too Mean To Die” pretty much are in your face up-tempo riffing metal songs. And we have a ballad, “The Best Is Yet To Come”, which is slightly unusual for us, but Mark has done such a wonderful job, we really felt this had to be on the album. So again, there’s a bunch of variety on this album. And some classical is on the album, as well, one of them is called “Symphony of Pain” and “Samson and Delilah”. 

Right off the bat, when I read the track listing and saw “Symphony of Pain”, I thought
“we’re continuing the symphonic trend here”, I like that.

Yeah, and the title I really liked, “Symphony of Pain”, I thought it just sounded cool, and I wanted to write a song about it, and when everything came together, I thought, this would be another song where maybe some real symphonic elements might be nice, and lo and behold, the Symphony came to the rescue, and there’s a bunch of Beethoven stuff in that song.

Awesome. I definitely agree that there’s a lot of variety on that album, a little something for everyone, and I’m seeing nothing but rave reviews and at radio, it’s getting a lot of great feedback. So I think you came up with some awesome stuff here, it’s really cool to see Accept keep on going strong with you at the core, especially with the recent additions. Do you have any message to your fans you want to send out there to wrap things up?

Well, thank you very much. I mean, first and foremost, we’re happy that we still have fans, and are actually getting new fans all the time. But to all the fans out there, I’d like to say, man, please stay safe and hopefully we can all get together before too long and enjoy some live shows again, because really that’s what metal is all about. Until that day, stay safe and rock on, we’ll see you soon. 

Thank you so much for your time, Wolf.

Thank you, cheers!