Interview by Robert Cavuoto
Accept guitarist Wolf Hoffmann has dedicated his life to heavy metal which is well documented in dozens of albums spanning four decades. But beyond heavy metal, many people might not know that he has an incessant craving for classical music! In 1997 he released his first classical CD and now almost 20 years later he is releasing his newest solo CD, Headbangers Symphony due out July 1st on Nuclear Blast Records. Eleven “metaled up” songs by classical composers like Ludwig v. Beethoven, Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to name a few.
I caught up with Wolf to talk about this monster endeavor that took almost a decade to create as well as the work that went into it.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about your passion for classical music and the desire to undertake this solo CD?
Wolf Hoffmann: I’ve had that passion my whole life. Maybe it didn’t come out that much in Accept but we did manage to sneak in some classical pieces in a guitar solo or an intro. I made a previous classical CD some 20 years ago, it was a similar concept but I didn’t use strings or an orchestra, it was just guitar. I took classical pieces and “metaled them up.” It wasn’t an easy undertaking by any means as it’s the nature of the beast. The compositions are quite involved so finding the right piece and then recording them wasn’t something you can do in a couple of weeks. Actually it took forever! I could never find the time to record and mix the CD so it dragged on for 8-10 years. The first demos were made eons ago. We were either on tour or in the studio for Accepts and one thing led into another – years went by. Just recently when we came off the last tour I knew I had to finish it. I took a month to mix and put the finishing touches on it just to get it out of my system.
Robert: Did you perform these songs live with an orchestra?
Wolf Hoffmann: No this was a layered thing. We made a demo, added the drums, then the orchestra. I flew out to Prague to meet with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra and they replaced all the computer strings. There were 40 real guys in the studio playing the composition and arrangements to my ProTools. After that I did the final guitars. It was all done step by step.
Robert: Were there any songs that didn’t make the cut?
Wolf Hoffmann: There were a few songs that we did work but not too many. It took all the energy we had to complete the ones that did make the CD.
Robert: What has classical music taught you as guitarist through-out your career?
Wolf Hoffmann: I’ve always had a love for classical music but not trained it so never really considered myself a classical player by any means. I’ve always loved certain compositions. Maybe in my early twenties I was drawn to composers like Tchaikovsky and Bizet; many of my favorites ended up on my first CD from 1997. I think my playing has always had a classical touch to it even on Accept albums that we recorded back in the 80s. Songs like “Son of a Bitch” has classical riffs in it, even “Neon Nights” and “Fast as a Shark.”
Robert: Did you use any special guitars or gear to get the proper tone and feel that you wanted to achieve?
Wolf Hoffmann: No not really. You may be surprised; I used my standard gear from Accept. I used Kemper Amps and my Framus signature Flying V on a lot of the tracks. To get some different tones I did have a couple of older Strats that I used to get more of a metal tone. I also used an acoustic guitar.
Robert: Which song was the toughest to learn, play, and record?
Wolf Hoffmann: They all have their own levels of difficulties, like “Air of the G String” by Bach was pretty involved. The acoustic guitar in the background is pretty tricky to play as well. Some of the background voicing of the chords was hell to play as I would never come up with that in a million years myself. I wanted to be authentic and play it exactly like it was written back then.
Robert: Did you have the transcriptions to all of these songs or did you figure it out by ear?
Wolf Hoffmann: I spent a lot of time reading the scores and transcriptions by other people soon realized that they changed the original composition. We had to go back to the original scores to figure out just what they played and then made our own arrangements from that. When I say we, I refer to my friend Melo Mafali who was the classical brains behind all of this. He wrote the string arrangements with me and is the classical guy with a passion for metal and rock while I’m the rock guy with a passion for classical music. We gelled together quite well but he is responsible for actually writing the notation of the strings arrangements. I can’t do that. I can tell him what I want to hear as I sing it to him and he makes it happened in “orchestra speak.”
Robert: You mentioned that you are not classical trained but are you formally trained in music theory to be able to pull this all together?
Wolf Hoffmann: I can read music to a certain degree but I’m not fluent. I don’t do it enough to do it really well. Melo does it fluently; he can do it with his eyes closed. Some people have a natural ear and can hear it once and play it, but I’m not like that. If you can put your mind to it you can play anything.
Robert: What do you want your fans to take away from this CD?
Wolf Hoffmann: It’s a different side of me. I just want them to hear it and enjoy it. With a project like this you can hear more nuances and a different side of my guitar playing than with Accept because it has a totally different frame work. I really don’t have a target audience and was able to do whatever I want. The songs don’t have lyric so I don’t have to worry about stepping on anyone’s toes. There is no message; it’s just music to be enjoyed.
Robert: Will you take this classical playing on the road for a tour?
Wolf Hoffmann: Absolutely, that’s the next step; I’m trying to figure out something grandiose with a big production. To have a full blown orchestra would be awesome; I just have no idea how to pull it off [laughing] but we are thinking about it and working on it. There might be a whole lot more to this CD as I don’t have everything worked out as of yet.
Robert: Would you include any Accept songs within an orchestra shows?
Wolf Hoffmann: Initially I was against it as Accept’s music was more rebellious and not meant to be played with an orchestra. But now I’m thinking if we can do it right and this CD is quite heavy in places I can actually see it. Some of these songs ended up being quite “metal.” So I think there is a good chance of doing it one day.
Robert: Which Accept songs can you envision being played by an orchestra?
Wolf Hoffmann: Songs like “Metal Heart,” for sure and “Shadow Soldiers” which a bit more melodic. “Neon Nights” is another good one and maybe “Fast as a Shark.”
Robert: I noticed that Udo will be playing a show in Anaheim during his Farwell to Accept Tour – the same time as NAMM. I’ve see you at NAMM the last two years and wondering if you would show up and surprise him?
Wolf Hoffmann: [Laughing] I might not be at the next NAMM show as Accept is looking to tour Europe. I don’t think we will have the time.