Going balls to the wall with Accept's Wolf Hoffmann before the metal band's San Antonio show

Touring behind new album Too Mean to Die, Accept will perform Tuesday, Oct. 4 with Narcotic Wasteland opening.

click to enlarge Accept's current lineup features three guitarists, including Wolf Hoffmann, the band's only original member. - Courtesy Photo / Accept
Courtesy Photo / Accept
Accept's current lineup features three guitarists, including Wolf Hoffmann, the band's only original member.
After laying down a legacy as one of the iconic heavy metal acts of the 1980s, Accept is back with a vengeance.

The German riffmeisters known for crushing anthems including "Balls to the Wall," "Fast as a Shark" and "Princess of the Dawn" reformed in 2010 and haven't let up since. The band has pumped out a string of critically lauded albums, including 2021's Too Mean to Die, and it's reemerged as a major draw in mainland Europe.

Now boasting a three-guitar lineup, Accept will perform at San Antonio's Espee Pavilion at St. Paul Square on Tuesday, Oct. 4 as part of a U.S. tour promoting the new LP. We caught up with guitarist and founding member Wolf Hoffmann to talk about the band's return, its lasting influence and its appeal to a new generation of fans. 

Openers for the Espee show include Narcotic Wasteland, Resist Control, Even in Death and Blackthorn Halo. Tickets are available online until Monday. Admission will be available the day of the show at a higher price.

Your 1982 song “Fast as a Shark” is iconic — so fast, so intense, especially for its time. Did you have any idea how influential it would become? People later called it a foundation for thrash metal and speed metal.

None whatsoever. I mean, we just had a bit of fun with it and thought, “It's a bit extreme; let's go crazy.” And basically, it was — I wouldn't say a joke — but it was definitely in the spirit of, "Hey, we don't care. Let's have a bit of fun with it, and let's just see where it goes." And at the time, there was no feedback whatsoever, because all these bands that we supposedly influenced with all this, they were far away in another part of the planet, and we had no connection with anybody. It was before the internet, obviously, so how would we ever know? It wasn't until years later that people said, "Man, we heard that, and it was incredible and it changed our lives," and all this kind of stuff.

But at the time, we were just in Germany doing our thing, and people were like, "Huh? What is this?" They didn't really know what to do with that song, to be honest. It sort of developed over time, much more than when it initially came out. If that makes any sense. I mean, we got a good reaction from it, but it wasn't an overnight success. It wasn't played on the radio or anything like that. It was just a bit of a shock to people. But obviously, it had a tremendous influence on other musicians and on the music scene. Just like you say, it was probably the first speed metal song ever.

The new album sounds like classic Accept while occasionally pushing in some new directions. For example, “The Best is Yet to Come,” is kind of an unusual turn for the band. When you write and record a new record, do you consciously try to strike a balance between pushing the envelope versus trying to make sure you're also giving fans what they've come to expect?

Yeah, of course. I think every band sort of struggles... Well, not struggles with it, but has to deal with it. You have to be mindful of what you stand for, and I'm very much aware of that. I know what people love about Accept and I know what we're good at, and I think I also know what we're not so good at. So, you kind of focus on what you think works and at the same time, you want to expand a little bit because you don't want to do something you've done over and over again, so it's a bit of a fine line that I feel like I'm walking every time I'm making records.

You want it to sound totally familiar and I want it to sound like a song I could have written back in the '80s, but at the same time, I want it to sound fresh and exciting and up to date. So, yeah, it's definitely a fine line, but it's fun. That's part of the fun of making an album. You want to challenge yourself. At the same time, you want to sound like you.

On that note, Accept's music is approachable. It's heavy, but the riffs are simple enough that they're memorable. When there's an intentional element of simplicity to the music, how hard is it to avoid repeating yourself?

It's not easy. Absolutely, it's not easy. But if you try hard enough, you come up with stuff that you'd never thought of before, and it's still catchy. So, it can be done, and I think we've succeeded on those last five albums on a lot of tracks. There are some tracks that are great and almost like timeless, and they could have been written earlier — 20 or 30 years ago — but at the same time, they're here and now and they're still exciting. But it's not easy to write. Usually, my motto is that the simpler it is, the harder it is. Songs that sound super simple, where you go like, "Oh, I could have thought of that. It's like nothing to it." But, yeah, you try writing one of those. It's not easy, man.

You've been busy recording and touring since 2010, but that came after band was broken up for almost a dozen years. What was it like for you not being able to play so long, and what brought the group back together with such ferocity?

It was different for every member, but for me, I was done with the music business in the late ’90s, because Accept had a few years where we made some albums that didn't go so well. And we were a little bit lost, stylistically, in the ’90s — like a lot of other bands from the ’80s era. We were struggling to fit in with all the grunge times and new age bands. Anyhow, we made some albums that didn't go so well, and the band finally said, "OK, we're done." And I personally thought, "OK, had a great run, but maybe that was it. Maybe it's time to move on in life." And so, I became a photographer. I did what was always my other passion.

I missed music. Yeah, I did, but it wasn't to the point where I said, "Well, I can't exist without music." I was still fairly OK. I was actually in a creative process, and I was doing something that I loved doing it. But then it all changed when we met, by pure chance, Mark Tornillo, the new singer. And we thought, "Hell, he could be our new singer." He's so good, he fits like a glove, and he became the catalyst to start this whole career again, because obviously, our old singer, Udo, was in his own band. He wasn't interested in ever working with us again, so there was no chance with him. But when we met Mark, we thought, “That opens up the door to any possibilities.” That's when we decided we're going to fire up the career again and make albums and go on tour. But it was all because of a lucky accident that we met this guy during a jam session, but we had no intention to reform Accept before that.

click to enlarge Wolf Hoffmann (left) poses with singer Mark Tornillo, whom he credits with convincing him to relaunch Accept around 2010. - Courtesy Photo / Accept
Courtesy Photo / Accept
Wolf Hoffmann (left) poses with singer Mark Tornillo, whom he credits with convincing him to relaunch Accept around 2010.
Talk about the exact moment when you realized Mark was the guy and that you wanted to get the band back together.

Oh, I remember it vividly. I was living in Nashville at the time, and I was visiting Peter [Baltes], the bass player, and we were just jamming. We met with a drummer friend in the studio and just wanted to shred on some old tunes just for a bit of fun, and somebody said, "Well, I know this guy. He would fit perfectly. Let's call him over. He's familiar with the songs. His name is Mark Tornillo."

So we did, and he walked in. We didn't think much of it. We thought we're going to have an hour of fun and that was it. Then it turns out he had actually covered some of the songs way early, a couple of the tunes, so he was definitely familiar with Accept. We jammed on “Flash Rockin' Man” and a couple of other songs that I can't remember, probably “Fast as a Shark” too. And within minutes, or seconds basically, when he started singing, Peter and I looked at each other and said like, “Whoa, what's going on here? Where did this guy come from?” And within minutes, it was crystal clear like, “Hello, this could be the ticket.”

After the success of Balls to the Wall, Accept released the album Metal Heart, which felt like a stab at making a more commercial record, maybe a record that sounded a little bit more like what American metal bands were releasing. At the time, fans were kind of divided about it. In retrospect, was that the album that Accept should have made at the time, or do you think, when you look back on it, that you should have stayed with a heavier sound?

That's an interesting point. Never even thought about that, to be honest, because I don't really think in those terms — like "could have" and "should have" and whatever — because I think what's done is done. I don't really ever go back second-guessing stuff that seems right at the time. But I remember at the time that we made this album, the approach was to go with a more established producer, because that's what all successful bands and everybody in those days did. There was a time when people looked on the album cover: who produced this album? Is it even worth buying this album if it's not produced by a big-name producer? And that was a big deal, so we worked with what we call the big producer, Dieter Dierks, who then did the Scorpions and whatnot. We wanted to go into a somewhat more approachable form, because it was all about being on MTV, being on the radio, and if you didn't have the songs to do that with, your career didn't really go anywhere. That was the common knowledge back then. It was true too, because super successful bands, that's what they did.

And so, we tried to get a piece of that. And whether it was right or wrong, it's hard to say, man, because it was later until there was the whole independent scene coming up and people or bands started to go different routes — the non-commercial way and the independent route. At the time, it seemed to be the right thing to do. That's all I know.

Back then, although probably to a lesser degree now, European bands and U.S. bands had different approaches to the metal genre. It always seemed like the European bands were more oriented around riffs, had a darker sound, darker lyrics. Meanwhile, the U.S. bands had more rock ’n’ roll in their sound and were singing about partying. I wonder if you could—

Very well put. Very well said. It's true.

I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how European bands' influences, and Accept's influences, might have differed from those of the U.S. bands, and how that might have contributed to that difference in sound?

I often thought about that actually: why is that that American bands sound a little different, or a lot different, actually? I mean, speaking for us, I can tell you that we came from a part of Germany that was heavily industrialized, and it wasn't a very pretty part of Germany. There was nothing much to do, so for us, it was very much like maybe for Black Sabbath coming out of Birmingham or Judas Priest coming out of whatever steel town they came from, and we used it as an escape almost. So naturally, our stuff was much darker. It would have sounded completely different if we had lived on a beach for instance, or I don't know, Hawaii or something. Because of where we are from, I think where you grow up, that has a lot to do with it.

And in general, maybe the Europeans have a much less of a party approach to things. They're not as laid back as Americans are a lot of times. That has something to do with it. And then, also, in America, I think a lot of musicians grow up being in lots of cover bands. There's this whole tradition of playing in bars and clubs, much more than in Europe. We never did any of that. I think we very early on started developing and writing our own songs, so we were more independent in that way, being that we weren't as heavily influenced by what's being played on the radio or whatever another band does, if that makes sense.

Some of your solos have movements in the same way a classical piece might. And occasionally, I hear stuff that sounds a little bit like a fugue or is in a diminished scale. Did classical music play much of an influence in the way you look at music? And might it be an influence that Accept and other European bands had that wasn’t so common for American bands?

Huge. Huge. That's one of the biggest differences, but actually, I forgot to mention that when you asked me about the difference between European bands and American bands. That's another huge influence — a huge reason and difference. Yeah, I definitely grew up being influenced by classical music, and I personally have loved playing classical music and using classical pieces in my solos. And even when I write stuff on my own, it always sounds a little bit like it could have been a classical melody. There's definitely a huge influence with that.

It probably has to do with the fact that classical music in Europe has been played and performed more, and you're more exposed to it. And me also growing up, my parents never listened to rock ’n’ roll or whatever. It was classical music that was played. Or even on TV — public TV — there were a lot of concerts. I wasn't a fan of it growing up, but I soaked it up, whether I wanted it or not, I guess. And, later on, when I was in my 20s or so, I really rediscovered it, basically.

Accept’s career has spanned decades. When tour these days, do you see the audience mostly being people that have been with the band since the ’80s, or do you see a lot of second and third generation fans?

There's a lot of young kids, especially in Europe, and also in South America. I don't know, we'll have to see. We haven't toured in the U.S. in a while, so we'll see how much young people there are. But generally, it's a good mix. It's a multi-generational audience sometimes. You see kids with their parents a lot of times.

It's funny. It has totally changed from the days when we grew up. Like I was saying earlier, when we wrote “Fast as a Shark,” it was clearly made to shock the parents. Nobody ever could imagine the idea of going to a metal show and your parents would be OK with that, or even liking it or being next to you at the show, fist in the air. That was unthinkable. All we wanted was to have long hair and shock the parents. There was this generation clash almost.

As evidenced by festivals like Wacken, metal is still popular. New generations are coming into it, but we don't see as many bands who could headline big arenas or stadiums the way an Iron Maiden or a Judas Priest can. Are you worried about the genre's future when we don't see new bands that have that sort of headliner status?

No, I'm personally not worried about anything. I'm not worried about the scene in general. I'm just observing the same thing that you are. It's true. Yeah. I'm seeing that Motörhead is gone now, and people are just passing away, so there's going to be a day when all these first-generation bands are going to be gone, for sure. And we'll have to see what happens then. I feel a bit like we're a bit of the last of a dying breed.

click to enlarge Accept performs at Hellfest in 2018. - WIkimedia Commons / Tilly Antoine
WIkimedia Commons / Tilly Antoine
Accept performs at Hellfest in 2018.
$30-$40, 6:15 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 4,  The Espee Pavilion at St. Paul Square, 1174 E. Commerce St., (210) 474-7640, theespee.com.

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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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