The German legends are less pissed off in their 50s, but they can still shred.
In the spirit of LL Cool J, German thrash lords Accept reunited in 2009 after an almost thirteen-year hiatus following their breakup in 1997. Though the band’s origins date all the way back to 1968, it wasn’t until 1976 when guitarist Wolf Hoffmann and bassist Peter Baltes joined vocalist Udo Dirkschneider that Accept became the battering ram of thrash and power metal that would influence generations of metal to come. With former TT Quick vocalist Mark Tornillo replacing Dirkschneider, Accept embarked on what’s revealed itself to be a comeback for a band that’s less interested in riding the gravy train of past success and more hellbent on the creation of new riffs for an entirely new generation of listeners as well as older fans who’ve been there since the beginning. Their upcoming full-length, Blind Rage, will be Accept’s third since reforming and gives every indication that age and time mean precisely dick when it comes to the riff. I recently talked to Hoffmann about the band’s history and why he’s glad heavy metal is more relaxed and chill now.
Noisey: Blind Rage will be Accept’s fourteenth full-length, Wolf. Just looking at the band’s history and career, have you seen the way you guys approach making music change very much since that 1979 LP, or is it still a matter of drawing from that original creative catalyst for Accept?
Wolf Hoffmann: Yeah, good question. I’ve never really thought about that, to be honest. We just go about our business the best we can, and sometimes I wonder where it’s really coming from, all that creativity. Sometimes I don’t even wanna think about it. I’m just glad it’s still there, you know? Every time we go to make a new record, we sorta have to do the same procedure which is get serious, lock ourselves away into a room somewhere, and get to work. Other than that, we’ll never come up with any song. It’s not like we wake up one day, and they’re finished in our heads. I never have any middle-of-the-night inspiration that just sorta comes flying my way. It’s just something that you have to tell yourself: “Well, if we wanna have a new record out next spring or something, we better start writing stuff now,” because counting backwards we’ve gotta get it done by such-and-such date, and that’s when the pressure starts building and you think to yourself, “Oh shit, we better start working on some ideas here.” [Laughs] It always happens. I don’t know how. Usually if you just try hard enough, something will take shape and then the songs start appearing before your eyes before you know it.
That simplicity is something that’s benefited you guys for years now, and that longevity is something that’s a bit of a rarity in any genre, much less heavy music. What was it that initially brought you guys together in the beginning, and in your mind what’s kept that drive to create and continue intact?
When Peter and I got to know each other which is by now 35 plus years ago, we were just pretty much kids, teenagers in the same village or hometown. We just loved making music, and that same love is still there. When he and I get together for these songwriting sessions, that mutual understanding and that love for jamming, that’s still the same, and that’s never gone away. I don’t think that ever will go away. As long as that is there, we can keep this going. As soon as you say to yourself or feel maybe where it becomes a routine or a chore or “Oh god, we have to,” and it’s no longer fun, then I think it’ll all go downhill from there. That to say it’s a magic time in the studio with the songwriting process when you start with just a basic riff, and at the end of the day you look back and you’ve created a song that maybe will stand the test of time. It’s just a miracle. But also, one should never forget at the end of the day it’s also a lot of work. You have to put in the hours. It just doesn’t come by itself. It just doesn’t work that way, and that’s something that you can easily forget sometimes. It just takes time and practice and hopefully after you’ve done it for so long, you get better at it. And really the magic or the miracle is can you differentiate between a crappy idea and a good idea early on, because so many of us get sucked into believing it’s just magic automatically, but it’s not. Only a small percentage of what we write will ever see the light of day. The rest just has to be tossed aside for good reason.
Accept, still shredding.
In talking about that miracle and the hard work you guys have obviously put into Accept for so many years now, I’m curious where you were personally when that initial desire to create music first found you. What was that moment for you?
Well, I was probably fourteen or fifteen, and I joined the band when I think I was sixteen maybe? 1976 or something to that. That’s really when I start counting the beginnings of Accept. Not because of me personally, but because Peter and I sort of joined the band and shortly after, we got our first contract. It was really when things started to happen for Accept’s existence along that time. I clearly remember having that big dream of being a professional musician one day and touring the world. It was just a magic world for me out there. We were all inspired by bands like Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, Queen, and the Scorpions, and Judas Priest, and AC/DC, and we just went to their concerts, and we thought it was fabulous. We thought, “Well, maybe one day we’ll be on one of those Nightliner buses, and maybe one day we can do what they do,” so we sort of did whatever we thought was necessary to get there. That meant rehearsing every day. That meant countless hours of doing chores. That was just part of the deal. That was our big dream. I guess if you just work hard enough, you get there eventually, and that’s how it happened for us. I used music as a way to sort of get out of our environment. It wasn’t like I was from a bad family or anything like that. It was just our way of protesting the establishment in those days anyhow. There was sort of a rebellious aspect in it as well. We all knew that we didn’t want to be like our parents. That was the overriding thing back then. You wanted to have long hair, and you wanted to live your life the way you wanted to. Being musicians sort of opened up that world for us, I think. That’s why we started this whole thing initially, which is crazy because nowadays that generation slash conflict doesn’t really exist anymore. Now I see parents and their kids going to the same shows! [Laughs]
There was definitely a very palpable and real sense of cultural resistance when you guys first started. In your mind, has that dynamic of resistance been lost to a great extent for extreme music today just with regards to what’s compelling artists to create? What are we rebelling against now?
It’s totally different nowadays. To me, it feels more relaxed, and I like it better now. We no longer have to justify everything we do by saying, “Oh, we’re rebellious,” because clearly we’re like 50-plus years old all of us. We don’t have a whole lot to rebel against anymore really. [Laughs] We’re not angry young men anymore, but at the same time we’re having a hell of a time and a lot of fun, and the same happened with the audience. I think everything mellowed out to a certain degree that you don’t take everything so darned seriously anymore. It’s okay now to accept AC/DC and Iron Maiden and all the other acts out there. People are much more relaxed first of all with what they like. Back in those days, it was all you were either an AC/DC fan or you were an Iron Maiden fan. Probably not the right example, but it was very defined what people stood for, and what they liked. They took it so darned seriously it would sometimes take the fun away a little bit, because it was all overly serious. Nowadays, everybody knows that there’s a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek humor in the whole thing. We’re standing there with fists in the air and everything but c’mon, it’s just fun. Back then, it wasn’t.
That constantly changing definition for what’s considered extreme is fascinating just given that it inevitably has an effect on the music that’s being created. I mean, Accept at one time was considered extreme metal.
Absolutely! And people either hated or loved us. There was no in-between. Either people thought this was so cool because it was so different and there was something in the band that they really liked, but a lot of other people just heard the first three notes and turned it off right away. Now it’s become much more mainstream, and there’s so much more extreme versions of metal out now that we’re almost like lame or classic rock in comparison to those kind of guys. [Laughs] And I kind of like that whole aspect of everything being more relaxed and more forgiving nowadays. Playing on these festival shows, there’s so many different bands out there. It’s just a nice, pretty relaxed, peaceful kind of atmosphere where not everybody is angry and hating each other. That was a little bit of the case in the 80s. There was the spirit of competition and it was either or. It wasn’t both.
Accept, putting their young balls to the wall.
You mentioned that gravitation towards the mainstream for extreme music and the broader acceptance the genre has seen in the last few years. What do you attribute that cultural shift to?
I just think music in general is getting wider and wider. People are exposed to so much more different styles of music, and there’s so many more subgenres nowadays that they’re taking it all in, and the consequence is that people are getting more lenient towards it. I see it at these festivals. Just last summer, we played a show, and it was Rush right after us, and then there was another show with ZZ Top right behind us, and then before us was some really heavy band. So there’s a wide spectrum of music genres and people enjoy it all. It’s very cool. I love it.
With the last three Accept releases since the break which would include the upcoming Blind Rage full-length, you guys are in good company with a few other of heavy metal’s pioneers like Judas Priest and Black Sabbath in releasing long-awaited albums. You guys don’t appear to be calling it a day anytime soon, and I’m just wondering what you see as the next step for Accept and how heavy music’s history will remember what you guys have done.
Who knows where it’s gonna go from here, to be honest? I can’t look in the future any other way that anybody else can, but I can tell you we’ve had a really unique history there having that long of a break and that special of a comeback. I don’t think it’s ever been quite done that way, at least not to my knowledge. Something else I find totally bizarre about our comeback is that when we started four or five years ago, everybody’s opinion was it’s not gonna work at all or if ever it’s gonna work, all they’re gonna do is just sort of tag on to their old success and try to play shows, play the old songs, and it won’t be quite as good as the old period. Everybody had sort of that opinion, and then when we released Blood of the Nations, everybody was surprised at how good it was and how fresh it sounded with new energy. And then the skepticism was “Well, they can’t repeat that. Maybe it was a one time thing, and they’re gonna go away after that. They’ve said all they’re gonna say.” Then we delivered Stalingrad, and it felt like there was more. Now here we are with our third album, and people are starting to say “You know, I’ve loved your old material. I grew up with it in the 80s. It was awesome, but I almost like this new phase of Accept as good or maybe even better than anything you’ve ever done in the past.” That, to me, is like the ultimate that we’re no longer trying to compete with what we’d done in the 80s. We’re actually starting to surpass it here, and I hear that more and more where people are saying this new era of Accept is better than we’ve done in the past. Wow. If that ever happens then mission accomplished, because nobody could have ever hoped for anything so good when we went out on this journey. We didn’t really know what to expect when we did it. I just called Mark and said, “This feels right. Let’s just do it. Let’s just see how far we can take it.” But we didn’t have a clue whether people would hate it or love it or what. We were bracing for anything. [Laughs]
Jonathan Dick will rage against the machine into his golden years. Follow him on Twitter - @steelforbrains
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