INTERVIEW AND LIVEPHOTOS BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
The German metal legend Accept is releasing its 15th album, THE RISE OF THE CHAOS, on August 4th. In early June, the band’s guitarist and founding member Wolf Hoffman visited Helsinki to promote the new album. Here’s what he had to tell us about THE RISE OF CHAOS and various other topics, including the current Accept line-up and the upcoming Wacken spectacle in August.
THE RISE OF CHAOS
First of all, congrats on the new Accept album, THE RISE OF CHAOS!
Wolf Hoffman: Thanks. We have a pretty good going with the band now.
I still remember when we talked in 2009. Then Accept had just returned with the new line-up, and then you were not sure how the fans would accept the renewed band. You were testing the waters then. But I’m sure you’re pleased with how things have turned out?
Wolf Hoffman: Right., I had hope, but nobody knew where it was going to lead? I wasn’t hopeless, or I wasn’t… Yeah, I was full of optimism. But I didn’t know, of course. Nobody could have known how the fans would react.
It seems that the band’s popularity is growing all the time. The latest album, BLIND RAGE, was a huge success. It was number one in Germany and Finland charts. So, does that give you extra pressure that the next album needs to be the number one as well? Otherwise, some people would say, “Accept is going down.”
Wolf Hoffman: No. You can only go down from number one. You can’t go up. So, it would be silly to think that way, no. If it happened again, it would be an absolute miracle. Maybe it already was an absolute miracle that it happened once, but you can’t accept that again. But I’m all worried about other things, and number one is just a symbolic thing anyhow. What does it mean? It’s an honor, but it’s not a sign of anything else. It’s just the stars who were aligned correctly, and nobody else sold more records than one week. But that doesn’t mean anything. When the record sales are overall going down, it gets so hard to judge your success. Like if the next album sells a little less than the previous one, that might still be better than everybody else because everybody else’s sales are going down too. So, in a declining market, it’s tough to judge your success.
And Accept was never an actual chart maker with big hit songs regularly played on radio and TV.
Wolf Hoffman: No. I mean, we would judge our success with other things. But what the fans say and how the shows go and the fans’ reaction is the most critical thing for me.
Since the BLOOD OF THE NATIONS, you always put out a new album every second year. But now it took three years. Did it just take more time to finish this one, or were there other reasons why it took so long?
Wolf Hoffman: The tour with BLIND RAGE got longer than ever before. We toured more for BLIND RAGE than ever before. Plus, we came out with a live album. Plus, I did my solo album METAL SYMPHONY. So, we have been quite busy, and then actually you can’t cram it all into one year. You don’t want to come out in one year with a live album and a studio album. So, you got to split it out a little bit, and it just worked out fine. Because we took a long time for the songwriting, and it all worked out perfectly well.
About the RESTLESS AND LIVE! Album, what was the reason you put out the show, which was already two years old when it was released?
Wolf Hoffman: It’s a matter of timing again. It never quite works out that you have the show, and then it just happens to be exactly when it’s supposed to be released. As I said, we had a small window of opportunity and the sales about the right time to bring out the live album. That was the show we had properly filmed. Maybe by the time it came out, it was two years. But by the time we started working on it, it was the most current, and it was one of the first shows we ever did with a new line-up, with Uwe and Christopher. So yeah. It seemed to be the best thing right at the time.
WORKING WITH ANDY SNEAP AGAIN
THE RISE OF THE CHAOS is the fourth album you have recorded with Andy Sneap. It seems that you’re a strong and great team and who wants to change a winning team?
Wolf Hoffman: Correct. Why change it if it works? This is the first time we worked four times a row with the same producer. I believe Andy’s first time to work on four albums in a row with the same band.
I think so?
Wolf Hoffman: So that’s cool. That’s a sign that we seem to work well together.
How things have changed since you first started working together. Because I remember when you did BLOOD OF THE NATIONS, Andy needed to put you to listen to your own stuff to get the right vibes for the album.
Wolf Hoffman: Yeah, yeah. He made us sit down and have a listen to our records, which was quite funny actually. Because we never listen to our stuff. You think you know it, but then you listen to it, and you think like, “Oh yeah, I believe he’s got the point.” He pointed out a few things that he liked about the old records, and we saw that we weren’t as aware of it as we thought we were. So, it made us a little focused. We felt a little bit like school kids. Being told by your teacher to write down your name or something, I don’t know. I will not talk in class. I will not talk in class. “Laughs.”
How has the working process developed with Andy? Am I sure it has changed a lot since then?
Wolf Hoffman: It has changed in the sense that we now don’t have to sit down and listen to our own records anymore. “Laughs,” So that’s good. We kind of know what we need to write to make it sound like Accept. It feels like we’ve got our marching orders. We have clear directions, and we follow them being good Germans. So, I’d say we’re much more focused on songwriting nowadays, and we just call him at a much later point. So, when everything is ready, we say, Andy. We’ve got enough stuff, and we go through it and just record what we have. It’s no longer sort of any selection process necessary, to be quite honest, because we do that already before he even shows up.
Did you do any recordings at his studio at this time?
Wolf Hoffman: We could have done it’s just much more convenient when he comes to us because now it’s one guy traveling versus three guys going there. Then only one guy is usually busy at a time. I remember the first time we did that, we all went to England, and then we started making backing tracks and drums first and then bass. I was sitting around for two weeks, going nuts. Having nothing to do. In the middle of nowhere in England. So, I didn’t care that much about that. I thought it is much better. Fuck that, let him come to us. But let him suffer, instead of three of suffer.
NEW MEMBERS AND DRUMMER TALK
THE RISE OF THE CHAOS is the first album with a new line-up. What kind of role do the new guys have, Christopher Williams and Uwe Lulis, in this recording process?
Wolf Hoffman: Christopher is an amazing drummer. So, we wanted him on the album. On the other hand, I play all the guitars. So, Uwe doesn’t play on the album. It’s just out of necessity and out of practicality. We didn’t want to change. We could have loaned him in; he was perfectly capable of playing all that. It just didn’t seem to make a lot of sense, just because I’ve always played all the guitars and really for us. It’s supposed to be the same left and right rhythm channels anyhow. Especially Andy, he’s fanatic about playing entirely in sync, left and right. Two guitar tracks. Even if it’s a super hard time sometimes to please his obsession, with like correctness or detail or whatever you want to call it, he wants it exact. So, to get another guy and just do exactly what I did already didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to us, and we thought I had written the stuff somebody will play it, and I’ve always done it. So, why mess with that now? So, to answer the question, Uwe is mostly there for the live shows.
I remember that some former band members could not play anything on albums, and they were kind of pissed off about it.
Wolf Hoffman: I know. But once somebody leaves the band, I’m not talking about him. And that goes for everybody. It makes no sense because they decided to go a different direction and form their own band. So why should they talk about that now? What’s done is done. I’m not giving them the satisfaction of playing their game.
Speaking about Christopher, I think he’s the most versatile drummer you have ever had in Accept.
Wolf Hoffman: Yeah. He’s an all-around talent. But man, he’s got the chops.
But isn’t it kind of risky when you have that technical drummer in the band? I mean, AC/DC couldn’t have Mike Portnoy playing with them, if you know what I’m saying?
Wolf Hoffman: Right, I see what you mean. Yeah. Everything is fine as long as he has the drive that we need. We have a very distinct style of what we want out of a drummer, and that is how he plays hi-hat, and we told him that. That’s the one thing we wanted to test when he applied for the job. Peter knew Christopher because of this small circle of heavy metal connoisseurs and friends in Nashville meet regularly to play jam sessions. It’s basically a place like this, and they always meet, and they play these songs. So, he knew about Christopher, and he said, there is this guy in Nashville that we should try, and he’s amazing. So, we called him over, and the one thing we wanted out of him, is something really basic and straightforward. For example, the beat of “Princess of the Dawn” sounds so damn simple, but hardly any drummer can do it properly. It’s the way how the hi-hat has been played. We know they can do technical stuff all day long, and most drummers can’t relate to some extent or another. But that’s not really what we’re interested in. We’re interested in that drive, and that’s also in a song like “Pandemic” that needs to sound like a machine and needs to have a particular drive. Anyhow, Christopher has got it. So that’s why we wanted him, and he’s cool enough. We can tell him, hey. Tone it down. We don’t need Mike Portnoy here. We don’t need you to show all you’ve got to every moment, and he’s cool with that.
Speaking about drummers, I always remember when I was young, and I listened to METAL HEART album, which is one of my all-time top three albums…
Wolf Hoffman: Wow! Very cool.
I always noticed that there is something cool about Stefan’s drum playing. Although it first sounded like “meat and potatoes” stuff, I later found out that it wasn’t anything like that.
Wolf Hoffman: No, it’s not simple stuff. Stefan Kaufmann was a very specific drummer because he always thought like a guitar player. He listened to guitars first and foremost, and every nuance I’d play on a guitar like he would do something that’s correspondent with that. He was not like one of those drummers who plays for himself and plays against others and over everything. He was following the guitars, and he was one of the very few guys that could play a song without listening to anybody else. He would go into the studio and just get a click, preferably not even that. He just played himself the whole song without listening to anybody else, and it would match perfectly. Front to back. It would never miss anything because, in his mind, he was playing guitar, even though he was playing drums. It’s crazy.
He was a kind of unique drummer.
Wolf Hoffman: He was. That’s why it was easy for him to pick up the guitar later on when he didn’t want or couldn’t play drums anymore. He could just switch over because, in his mind, he was always playing guitar anyhow already. It’s crazy. But thankfully Christopher Williams, he’s the right guy for the job, and we’re pleased with him.
THE BAND CHEMISTRY AND PETER BALTES
I think I already know the answer to this in advance, but I’ll ask it anyway. How do you describe the chemistry of the band?
Wolf Hoffman: I’d say that it’s better than ever. Honestly, people always say that during interviews. Of course, we’re supposed to say that. But it’s true. We get along better, and I’m much tighter with Uwe as a person than I’ve ever been with any other guitar player. Even playing-wise, I think we lock in much better than we’ve ever had before. Even with Jorg Fischer back in the day, I believe that we have a stronger connection playing-wise than I’ve ever had with another guitar player. So that’s great, and the camaraderie in the band is amazing. When we go on tour, we always explore the city together. Mark always stays in the room, which is fine. He usually relaxes and gets ready for the show.
Because he’s that old. “Laughs”
Wolf Hoffman: No, he’s just… Yeah, he’s old. We’re all old. But he likes to sleep and rest his voice and do that sort of thing. He’s never one who’s exploring the city before the show. But the rest of us, we go out all the time, hang and do stuff together. That’s a sign that we like each other to a certain extent.
Speaking of chemistry, Peter Baltes, you have known each other for 40 years?
Wolf Hoffman: Yeah, imagine that. It’s nuts, and it is something special. There is something very rare, and we still tolerate each other for the most part. Again, when we’re on tour, we text each other. Are you ready for breakfast? We meet at the breakfast bar. Whatever hotel place and we talk and hang, just like it’s an old married couple. Sometimes we get on each other’s nerves, and we go, don’t see each other a whole lot. But other times we hang together all the time.
How your relationship has changed since the early days because then, of course, you were drinking buddies and stuff like that, but life is different now. You have families, and he’s having that religious stuff, etc.?
Wolf Hoffman: He’s off that religion stuff now, which is good. I think that certainly didn’t help me because I’m not into it myself. But he’s come down. Yap, he’s off that. So that’s good. No, we’re still getting along fine. Or again, there was a period when we were both sorts of out of the music business, retired. We went separate ways. He started raising his family, raising his kids, and he was mostly concerned with that. I was doing my photography career, living in Tennessee. Doing that thing, and then we met again this ten years ago, and we were like, yeah. It was great to reconnect, and it wasn’t difficult or anything. It was like time in-between hadn’t passed at all. I wouldn’t say it’s totally like it was back then because we’re different people now. We’ve, of course, grown older and such, but at a certain level, we’re still the same two kids that met back then.
That’s important. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here together anymore.
Wolf Hoffman: No, I know. The funny thing is we never talk about this much. It’s something that just exists, and you don’t have to put your finger on it, and you can’t because we think alike. He knows what I think, and I know what he thinks, without even having to describe it much, really. It’s like brothers. Even though we’re brothers, we feel a little bit like brothers, and there is love, hate thing between brothers even. That’s not always pitchy, and the other guy likes everything you do, but at a certain level, you always come back. You always reconnect.
That’s great and also a rare thing nowadays.
Wolf Hoffman: It rarely works for that long. That’s why I think we jail together musically because we don’t have to talk about many things. It just goes without seeing, which is understood.
TRACK BY TRACK
I listened to THE RISE OF THE CHAOS about five times (so far), and I picked up individual songs. Maybe you can comment on those tracks briefly?
Wolf Hoffman: Sure.
The first single from the album, “The Rise of Chaos.” I wrote down a brief comment; it’s a typical, modern Accept song. What do you think about that?
Wolf Hoffman: I would agree. We were trying to sound… It’s not a song we probably would have written 30 years ago. Even though my motto is always, I want to write songs that I could have written back then. I only didn’t think of them back then. That is certainly true for some songs, maybe; I don’t know. Like “Carry the Weight” or some of the more traditional songs, or maybe even “Koolaid.” We could have done it back then. But yeah, you’re right. It had a slightly modern feeling to it.
On each newer Accept album, you always have had a couple of songs like this on these four albums. Those songs are made from the same wood. But it’s a good thing, I think?
Wolf Hoffman: Yeah, but you know, again, we can’t plan that stuff. It sorts of comes out of you, and you take it as it comes. People always think you can’t expect an album completely and all its facets. But really, if you have the ideas you have and at the end of the day after a year’s worth of writing. You take a resume and these other strong ten best songs we have in whatever shape or form they’re in. That’s what you have.
Exactly. Next on my list is “Koolaid,” which is my favorite song on the album.
Wolf Hoffman: I think it turns out that you’re not the first one to say that. So maybe that turns out to be the hit of the album.
For me, it’s like the “Pandemic” of this album?
Wolf Hoffman: Interesting, yeah. So yeah. That’s surprised me because it’s very traditional…
And it’s catchy.
Wolf Hoffman: Yeah. But at the same time, it’s very catchy. You’re right. It is. “Don’t drink the Koolaid.” I just heard this phrase and the very sort of traditional riff, and yeah. It all came together quite quickly. Do you know what “Koolaid” is about? Do you know the story about that?
No, I don’t.
Wolf Hoffman: “Don’t drink the Koolaid” means don’t be an idiot. Don’t believe everything people tell you. It’s a sort of a saying in America, and it comes from that horrific story where 900 people killed themselves in the jungle in 1978. They all drunk cyanide because this guy Jim Jones told them to do it, and they put “Koolaid,” a sort of mixed fruit drink, into the cyanide to make it taste better. That’s where the saying comes from. So, it’s based on a true story. So, we’re in that story, where we’re talking about that heavy-duty mass suicide. But the saying is more like don’t be an idiot. Don’t believe everything politicians or a cult-leaders or whoever tells you to do.
Then there is a song which I liked a lot at. First, I thought it is cool, but then I started listening to the lyrics, and I wasn’t that sure anymore because I work in the IT business. Do you know which song I’m talking about?
Wolf Hoffman: “Analog Man.” This is meant to be a little sort of in a funny way, to speak about the struggle we all have with technology sometimes. It goes back to a saying that Mark has been having all these years since we’ve been with them. He’s been saying that “I’m an Analog man caught in a digital world.” Because I am a fan of digital technology, I use it all the time, and I’m trying to advance the band and try to use modern amps, Kemper Amps; we have iPads on stage to control our radio mix. There is all this seemingly advanced stuff, and when it works, it’s fabulous. Of course, when it doesn’t work, once and for 200 shows. He’s the first to come up and say, “See. I told you. It doesn’t work, fucking. It’s all bullshit. Back in the day, it was much better; you didn’t have any of that shit.” So, he had to sing “I’m an Analog man, ” and we just thought, “We’ve heard it so many times, so why don’t we just write a song about it?” So, we basically sang a song, “I’m an Analog man caught in a digital world.” We had this whole idea of update and download, it never stops, and it is a drag at times.
There is one thing that came to my mind after I listened to the lyrics. One of your former vocalists had a kind of obsession at one point to sing a lot about robots and technology, and these lyrics reminded me about that “Laughs.”
Wolf Hoffman: Yeah, yeah. But for us, there was a very real sort of everyday kind of thing that we had, and I think for many people it is. When you constantly have to update and do this sort of shit. It can be frustrating. So, I could relate to it.
Then there is a track which surprised me, “Worlds Colliding.” It’s poppy, light, and it kind of sounds like EAT THE HEAT stuff for me.
Wolf Hoffman: Really? I wouldn’t go that far. I think it’s more melodic… It is a little light. To me, it sorts of has more of a flare of maybe the kind of the RUSSIAN ROULETTE era, where we used a lot of backing vocals and sort of the more approachable. But I think it’s, a lot of people like that song. We picked it out as something that sticks out. “Worlds Colliding,” yeah. To me, it’s part of who we are. We’ve always had this sort of slightly more melodic songs. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it pop. But it certainly has a kind of a more pleasant feeling to it. It does.
Yeah, it sounds like a real positive song, although the lyrics are not that happy after all.
Wolf Hoffman: Sure. “Worlds Colliding” isn’t exactly a positive subject. But it kind of t sounds a little more pleasant and singable. I agree, I agree.
Okay, the last one on my list is “Hole in the Head.” What is this song actually about?
Wolf Hoffman: I just had that line. I need you like a hole in the head. Of course, there is a certain irony in the line itself. Again, the way we work, we give that to Mark and whatever it means to him. That’s what he wrote it about. In this case, he chose to write about addiction to cigarette smoking. It seems like an odd subject to me, and he said, I wrote it. I dedicate this to my wife because she still smokes. I used to smoke for 30 years, and I was addicted to it, and I quit, and I wish she would stop too. It seems a little odd to me. But we don’t even question it. Once he writes it, we let him write whatever he feels it’s about. I just care about the line; I need you like a hole in the head. It could be about anything. It could be about somebody you don’t like, and I have a few people that come to mind. But it could be about anybody. It’s almost a song like to me like “Son of A Bitch” where you just blast away at somebody, and you use your imagination there. But he chose addiction to nicotine.
It seems that lyricist when they’re good, they can write on any subject.
Wolf Hoffman: Right. But there is a cool line; there are a few cool lines. Then as some of it, of course, they have to take with a certain amount of grain of salt, with humor. He said. What is it? I need you… Some cool lines in there, like a hole that doesn’t please. What is it? If you would read the lyrics, it’s well done. I think he did a brilliant job. Not sure that it is all about is so brilliant, but the way he expressed it is excellent.
THE RISE OF THE CHAOS COVER AND LYRICS
The cover art of THE RISE OF THE CHAOS is this time, something different. It’s not red “Laughs,” there are no photos used, and it’s strongly tied up with the album title. How did you end up on this album cover?
Wolf Hoffman: We wanted to get away from that, or it felt good to get away from it. So, we didn’t fall into it like too much of a category or like didn’t want it to be yet another one along those same lines, and it shouldn’t be red. We’ve had three red album covers in a row. So, we wanted to get away from that. We all like the title, THE RISE OF CHAOS because it seems to fit the times we lived in. So, we knew we were going to name it THE RISE OF CHAOS. What do you do for cover art? You could choose a photo again. Like we were thinking about using a street riot photograph. With somebody with their face covered up throwing a rock or a Molotov cocktail or something like that, but maybe that didn’t feel right either. So, we finally found chemicals… We had the stage set design for the last tour by this guy, and we liked the stage, and everybody commented on it. We were happy with that, and we thought this would probably make a good album cover. Just let him change it a little bit towards after the chaos, after the Godzilla attack, which became the album cover.
Most of the songs are about violence, wars, chaos, and stuff like the album lyrics. Accept is not a political band, but are these lyrics written that way because those seem to fit the times we lived in, as you said about the album title itself?
Wolf Hoffman: That’s what we felt. It was a good title to use because it seems like right now, the rise of chaos is in the air. Now, even more than six months ago, when we decided on the album title, days go by, and you look at what’s happening in London with terrorist attacks, Trump’s situation in the US. I don’t know, the situation in England or France or like in Syria. Fuck, there is chaos everywhere in the world. It seems to be up to date. The rise of chaos is now more current than ever.
THE WACKEN SHOW
Our time is running out, but before we are finished, please say something about the upcoming Accept/Wolf Hoffman show in the Wacken Open Air in August. Does it sound like a huge thing?
Wolf Hoffman: That’s going to be a huge deal. That show is making me slightly nervous because, of course, we’ve never played with an orchestra. We’re going to do three shows in one. First Accept, then I’m doing my solo album METAL SYMPHONY for the first time live on stage with an orchestra with minimal rehearsal, and then the band performs with that same Orchestra, Czech National Symphony Orchestra, playing old Accept songs. So, it’s going to be three shows in one.
This smells like another Accept live album/DVD shortly?
Wolf Hoffman: Sony, yes. Probably going to be a DVD if everything goes well, and even if it doesn’t go so well, there is still going to be a DVD “Laughs.”
This was an excellent way to end this interview. Thank you once again, and see you again on tour!
Wolf Hoffman: You’re always welcome.
THE RISE OF CHAOS!