Accept 2024 interview

Interview – Wolf Hoffmann of Accept

Accept live in NYC 9-15-2014 photo credit Tim Mccrum

Of all the legacy Heavy Metal bands still in existence, there are few who can boast such consistent output as Accept. The Germans even found new stability with a new American singer in Mark Tornillo, with whom they are now entering their sixth album cycle – no easy feat in and of itself. But to do so with such growing strength and success is even rarer.

Recently, Accept’s co-founding Guitarist and Songwriter Wolf Hoffmann sat down to discuss the story behind all of these developments and more. A man who appears far younger than the years he carries, the exuberant and talented musician has refused to compromise his vision, resulting in the forthcoming album Humanoid (due out on April 26, 2024 through Napalm Records). Read on to learn Hoffman’s thoughts on his newest work, the effects of AI and social media on our fellow humans, the future of Metal music, and even some compelling perspectives on Accept’s early years.

Cryptic Rock – The forthcoming Accept studio record Humanoid marks the sixth album cycle with Vocalist Mark Tornillo. How does it feel to be riding such a wave of success 14 years after hiring him? Furthermore, what do you think is the reason why the band has come back with such enduring strength?

Wolf Hoffmann – Well, first of all, when we started with Mark, we just gave it all we’ve got and didn’t think much further than that. It was a big unknown whether this was going to work or not, because as everybody knows, switching lead singers is one of the hardest things you can do. Because the voice very often is, I don’t know, 80% of the sound of the band or something. People recognize it first and foremost, and switching lead singers is very, very hard to do.

But when we heard Mark during our first meeting, we decided, “Man, it’s a dream fit and this should work.” But we don’t really know until we try. And then we didn’t really think much beyond that. And that goes for anything you do in music, really. You only always go to the next step. You take one step at a time, but you don’t really know what’s behind the hill after you’ve gotten there. You just sort of keep plugging away until the next, the next, the next.

But it’s amazing. It’s been an amazing run, six albums in these 10, 12, whatever years. And yeah, it feels to me like a much more coherent and steady run than anything we’ve ever done, even in the ’80s. I mean, this is a long, peaceful stretch of our career, so to say.

Cryptic Rock – Yes, and seeing Accept live, and listening to the albums, it is obvious that the energy between you all is incredible. This latest work, Humanoid, seems to play with lyrical themes and imagery about the pitfalls of technology, and how the advance of technology will challenge our morality. How much are you as an individual affected by this rise of AI and the effects of social media on the human psyche? The cover art seems to speak about that, with these plain blank people with no faces, beneath this vibrant, perfect humanoid robot. Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind these themes?

Wolf Hoffmann – I think we’re all affected by technology whether we want to be or not, and it’s almost like a train that’s running, and we can’t stop it. I decided to try to stay somewhat current on this whole technology question myself, but I’m not a nerd. I don’t know the latest gadgets. I don’t know the technology any better than you probably do. I’m just trying to know as much as I need for my daily life. But I can tell you this whole AI stuff that’s going on right now, yeah, I find that quite concerning to say the least.

Can I stop it? Can I do anything about it? Hell no. It’s going to happen with or without me. But it is something that was on our mind when we wrote that song because we thought, I mean, we’re not trying to change the world or anything, but we’re just trying to write songs that are relevant and have a meaning.

And Humanoid was one of those songs. I mean, when we do songwriting and when I sit there and stuff, sometimes you just need a starting point. And I had this word humanoid that I thought, “Oh, that’s kind of cool. That could probably lead to something.” And then you come up with a few other lines, and before you know it, you have a song and then Mark finishes the lyrics and then people think it was this grand master plan of writing an album about society. It wasn’t really. It was just an inspiration we used because it’s definitely worth writing a song about this topic, I think, very relevant today.

Accept - Breaker
Accept – Breaker / Brain (1981)
Accept - Balls to the Wall
Accept – Balls to the Wall / RCA (1983)

Cryptic Rock – Absolutely relevant. On a different note, the song “Man Up” is not only very catchy, but lyrically is a welcome appeal to people to tough things out in life; a message that might be lost in today’s society. You don’t hear a lot of that anymore. With this lyric, Accept is doing a great job trying to convey to people – through the medium of kick-ass Heavy Metal – to not be a victim, to remind them that maybe they are stronger than they think they are. Is this something that has affected you personally through life?

Wolf Hoffmann – This lyric was written by Mark Tornillo, regarding some pretty bad, tragic events in his life. I think a lot of people know his son died not too long ago, a few years back. I just took the lyrics as they were, complete. And I know Mark enough to know that kind of is his way of dealing with it. So just silent, strong, don’t talk about it much kind of guy. I personally think opening up and showing emotions is probably the better way. But that’s Mark. This was one of the few songs that Mark had written the lyrics completely, and the music was written after the fact. Sometimes we do it that way, not very often, but it happens. But that was one of the instances, yeah.

Cryptic Rock – What an incredibly difficult situation, and if the process of music can offer even a small amount of catharsis to Mark, and to all of us, that is a success. To cast our minds back towards the beginnings of Accept, when you were writing songs like “Breaker and “Fast as a Shark,” did you realize you were pushing an envelope toward a different genre? Were you looking to push it faster than, for example, Motörhead or Judas Priest? Or were you just writing what came naturally at that time?

Wolf Hoffmann – I would say we had a sense of, screw it, we just do what we want kind of attitude. We had a spirit of us against the world, and we had a bit of this attitude of to hell with commercial radio songs, we’re never going to do that. I mean, let’s just do what we feel like. And you can hear that in those songs. But by no means did we have any idea that we, I don’t know, that we would change the musical landscape or that we would create a genre or help create a genre that would become speed metal and all that.

I mean, we didn’t even know that people would take notice so far away as in America of that because I mean, back in those days, we were kind of isolated in Germany. We didn’t even play in many other countries. We just played in and around Germany, back then, maybe a little bit of the neighboring countries. But it was only until years later when we came to America that people told us, “Oh yeah, man, when I heard that,” yeah, people took notice far away, but nobody told us, because the internet obviously wasn’t around yet. So, you have no communication with anybody, really. So, it’s crazy, crazy. It still baffles me how that even happened, but yeah, it did happen.

Cryptic Rock – Did you receive any flack, for example, when you came out with a song like “Son of a Bitch”? Did you guys get censored or anything from that, or were you maybe not quite big enough yet to even get the attention?

Wolf Hoffmann – That was funny. Like I said, we had this sort of, oh yeah, let’s go crazy kind of attitude. And especially our drummer back then, Stefan Kaufmann, he was always a bit of an extreme kind of guy. He always wanted everything the fastest and the hardest. And when we hit this side, we had a friend, an American friend, and we didn’t speak English very well back then, and we asked her, “What are the nastiest things you can possibly say to somebody?” You know how it is when you speak to somebody who knows a foreign language, you say, “Tell me this, tell me that, and all the nasty swear words. What does that mean?”

So we’d asked her to tell us all these, and we basically just strung them along and built the lyrics out of that, the text lyrics without any, I mean, it was just a bit of fun and just to shock the people, because in Germany, people don’t even understand half of it, but we thought it was a bit of fun to write that song. Yeah, that’s the story about that.

Back in those days, there was heavy censorship because it was all about the radio in the ’80s, but they told us, oh, you can’t do it for the UK because basically the UK was still considered an important market in the world, kind of a big deal. And they said, “Well, if you have those lyrics, it’ll never get played on the radio. And if it won’t get played on the radio, the record company won’t release it.” So we had to change the lyrics, so there’s a different version of that song. I forget, it’s called “Born to Be Whipped,” and then it says something like “sock cooking father maker” and stuff like that, which kind of sounds like the real thing, but it’s clean.

Accept - Russian Roulette
Accept – Russian Roulette / RCA (1986)
Accept - Objection Overruled
Accept – Objection Overruled / RCA (1993)

Cryptic Rock – That is amusing, especially considering how the lines along which art is censored is so different now to what it was like back then. Censorship has crept back in nowadays, but instead of swear words it seems to be along the lines of vacuous concepts like ‘wrongthink’ and the countering of accepted big-media narratives.

Wolf Hoffmann – Yes, but I’ll tell you a little secret. We put the word ‘censored’ on the 1981 Breaker album sleeve that included the song “Son of a Bitch.” We didn’t print out the lyrics because we knew. I mean, the music itself wasn’t censored. We did that because we knew if it said ‘censored’ people would go like, “Oh, what’s that all about?” Because this was before the PMRC or whatever that was like in the ’80s that nobody cared about any of that stuff, basically. But we thought it would create even more attention if we pretended it was censored by some higher government agency, which it wasn’t.

Cryptic Rock – A smart marketing decision to manufacture some hype. That is a good idea. But yeah, now you see, you could have lyrics about all types of degeneracy, all types of violence, and nobody cares. But if you have a political message that is not the politically correct message, you will get censored today. It is interesting to see how the censorship game has changed since you were starting out.

Wolf Hoffmann – Well, what’s even more concerning to me is this whole question of algorithms and that people only get certain streams of coverage. That in itself is a sort of censorship. If you are a fan of either political side, you can be pretty sure that all the stuff that your iPhone will feed you is just the stuff you want to hear or that your iPhone thinks you need to hear. So this whole thing, this sort of censorship, there seems to be hardly anything that’s neutral and even middle ground anymore. That’s really concerning. Whether it’s TV stations or whether it’s your news outlets or social media kind of stuff. Everything is sort of one way or the other, and that concerns me. I wish there was a source, anything I could watch to feel safe and think like, “Oh, that’s probably close to the truth,” without being suspicious. Like, “Oh, they’re just saying that because they hate the other guy.”

Cryptic Rock – That is an excellent point. Well, you have the legacy media trying to remain relevant, so they are going to appeal to that tribalism, and then you have to look really deep into podcasts or alternate coverage sources and try to parse out the ones that are clearly one side or the other. That is the challenge, but that is a good point.

Returning to your excellent new record Humanoid, it packs a real punch. The last song, “The South Side of Hell” for example, just sounds so hungry. Did you have any particular spring in your step writing these songs? Talking about “The Reckoning” or “Nobody Gets Out Alive.” These have the feel of future classics, that you could play the day the album comes out, and fans are going to be singing them back to you in short order. Did you feel any kind of special inspiration for this album? How did it work for you writing these songs?

Wolf Hoffmann – Especially with “The South Side of Hell,” I had a little bit of that sort of spirit in mind that I was telling you when we wrote a bunch of these “Breaker” and “Fast as a Shark” songs where you basically don’t give a shit. You just basically write because it’s fun, and you don’t think about, “Oh, is this commercial? Is this approachable?” Sometimes I get into this spirit of just recording because it’s fun and then I worry about it later. And sometimes those are the kind of songs that people are attracted to even more than the ones that are sort of carefully crafted and have all the right elements. Sometimes it’s the little awkward moments that happen by chance that people really like the most. But again, you can’t really plan these things. You sort of have to go with the flow and see what happens, and then there it is, but it’s almost unforeseeable some of this stuff.

Yeah, I was just riffing along and had another idea and another idea and another idea, and I didn’t know what to do with it. Would this be an instrumental one day? Would I just play it? And then so often I have these ideas and then they never see the light of day because they never turn into a full song. They’re just like riffing moments. And I have hundreds of these things on some hard drives that never get finished. This was one of those, and then luckily it ended up being a complete song.

Accept - Blind Rage / Nuclear Blast (2014)
Accept – Blind Rage / Nuclear Blast (2014)
Accept - Too Mean to Die / Nuclear Blast (2021)
Accept – Too Mean to Die / Nuclear Blast (2021)

Cryptic Rock – There seem to be a lot of good gems on that hard drive. Keep them coming! Lastly, as 2024 is unfolding, we got solid releases by the likes of Judas Priest and Bruce Dickinson, now Accept, and we are only a short time removed from strong statements by Helloween and Iron Maiden. The old guard is thriving. Nowadays, everyone is released from the old constraints of record company trends and massive swings in mainstream tastes like Grunge or Nu Metal.

Do you think that Heavy Metal and Rock could ever get back to the cultural significance it once had in the West? Because it seems like if you look at movies and what is on commercials and even played at soccer and hockey games and such, you will have your Guns N’ Roses, your “Enter Sandman,” the same three AC/DC or Ramones songs. But do you think that Rock and Metal will cyclically come back to be as popular as it used to be? Do you think that world could happen anymore?

Wolf Hoffmann – Probably not. I mean, I wish it would, of course, because those were fantastic times, when I remember coming to America and heavy metal was everywhere. I remember that, especially coming from Europe, I remember turning on TV there, it was MTV, it was playing left and right. Every radio station played it. Every truck-stop you went to, you heard a bit of metal somewhere. It was everywhere in the air. And that has kind of been replaced by other stuff now. I mean, Pop, Country and Hip Hop. I’m afraid Heavy Metal has a hard time standing up commercially against the Taylor Swift’s of the world. I wish it would, but it’s okay I guess. It is what it is.

Cryptic Rock – It seems the future of Heavy Metal depends on the future of the current youth. When you are touring the world with Accept, do you look out at that crowd and do you find yourself seeing a lot of younger faces, or is it all of your fans aging together?

Wolf Hoffmann – No, luckily enough, there’s a lot of younger kids now. It depends on the country and the city and whatnot, but sometimes there’s a lot of kids. Of course, there’s the older generation that has been following us for years, which is great. So we have this multi-generational audience, and sometimes I’m just baffled because I don’t understand how the kids even know anything about us. I guess they go listen to some stuff and then research a bit where does it come from, who was influenced by whom, who was there first, and they sort of trace their way through the history of music, maybe. Is that so? Or I don’t know.

Cryptic Rock – That is one of the good things about Spotify. The app suggests similar artists and tries to bridge listeners to tons of different artists.

Wolf Hoffmann – See, there is that aspect of technology; it’s never just one side to it. I mean, what’s terrible on this end of the spectrum is pretty good on the other, it’s totally true. When everybody’s bitching about technology and saying, “It’s all making our world too dependent on technology,” then I say, “Well, you try going through Tokyo without your iPhone and your GPS,” or … I mean, this is one of the most valuable changes just to be able to travel and to know where you go nowadays. I remember driving with fold-out city maps and all this kind of stuff. It was a nightmare. And now it’s so easy. It’s beautiful. Love it.

Cryptic Rock – Anyone who remembers fold-out maps can most assuredly remind those of us who grew up with GPS how lucky they are. Speaking of moving around the map, do you prefer playing in small clubs or larger venues?

Wolf Hoffmann – I do enjoy small clubs. Because sometimes there’s an amazing vibe in the audience that you don’t … I mean I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s an amazing adrenaline rush to play on huge festival stages, but man, sometimes with these clubs there’s a certain relaxed atmosphere in the band, because we are so close to the audience. It is almost like you can let go of your guard a little bit and you play differently, and then you get this immediate feedback from the fans that are right in front of you. So it’s really cool. I really enjoy that. It’s a different vibe altogether, but I can’t really say one is better than the other is. It’s just a different vibe.

Accept - Humanoid / Napalm Records (2024)
Accept – Humanoid / Napalm Records (2024)

Cryptic Rock – Accept were one of the first acts to hit American shores coming out of lockdown. Those were smaller club shows and they were cooking with energy and atmosphere. People were so happy to get back to what they love most. Two years of thinking that there weren’t going to be any more shows must have been insanely depressing.

Wolf Hoffmann – Here’s what baffles me about this whole pandemic. I mean, we all lived through it. We all remember the ‘don’t do this, don’t do that, wear a mask at all times.’ Some people didn’t even open their mail for a week and things like that. And now it seems like it never happened. I mean, I have a hard time even remembering the time, even though it was a dark period of two years where everybody was at home, and nothing happened and everybody lost business and lost a lot of stuff. But to me, it’s almost like a bad dream. It seems unreal looking back.

Cryptic Rock – Certainly, a lesson that fear can make people do bizarre things like just give away their freedoms and become very easily pushed around and controlled.

Wolf Hoffmann – Yes, and I was scared for a while. I remember we were recording Too Mean To Die (2021). And in the middle of the recording we have to stop and say, “Okay, we all go home,” but we didn’t know that we needed to get home because we didn’t know the borders were closing, the flights were canceled, and so we had to make sure everybody still gets home. But that was a time when I thought, “How bad is this going to get? Is there going to be zombie land out there?” I mean, it was weird, man. I’m glad that’s behind us now and I’m glad we’re out there. We have a full year of touring ahead of us, and I’m super happy that that part is back to normal, however we are.

Accept - Humanoid 2024 poster

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