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Concerto For Group And Orchestra


Архив интервью | Русская версия

Human memory tends to be short, and not many still remember the shock they had in 2010 when Accept’s unlikely comeback with new singer Mark Tornillo turned out so surprisingly great. Nowadays the band is revered more for consistency than for surprises, and the most common praise that a new Accept album gets is that it’s “as good as the one before”. However, as guitarist and bandleader Wolf Hoffmann, puts it, “we have always been in favor of breaking stereotypes”, and this is exactly what they’re doing with their recent “Symphonic Terror” live album and video, as well as with the upcoming tour. The band that has generally been considered true-metal-to-the-bone, has now teamed up a full classic orchestra to add more power and bombast to both original compositions and famous classical pieces that Wolf previously recorded as a solo artist. Russian fans will soon get the chance to see this exciting collaboration with their own eyes, as Accept, accompanied by local orchestras, are set to perform in St. Petersburg on April 27 and in Moscow on April 28, and in the run-up to these gigs we hooked up with Wolf to find more about the upcoming attraction.

Many people have seen your very first show with an orchestra at Wacken 2017. Some saw it live, some saw it live-streamed on the Internet, and others bought the “Symphonic Terror” album and video. How much will the upcoming Accept shows differ from the Wacken performance?

Well, it’s gonna be similar, but not exactly the same. First of all, we’re gonna play a slightly different setlist, because we have a longer show, and the whole show is with an orchestra. That means we’ll play more songs from my solo material, from the first album (“Classical”, 1997), songs like “The Moldau” by Smetana or “Arabian Dance” by Tchaikovsky, songs that we couldn’t do at Wacken for several reasons. Now we have more of that material, and we have also included some newer songs that we couldn’t play at Wacken either. So we have more Accept songs and more classical songs. And of course, the venues are gonna be slightly different, this is a completely different environment than a festival. It’s gonna be indoors, it’s gonna be nice venues, and it’s gonna have more of a concert feeling than a festival feeling.

How much interaction is going on between the bandmembers and orchestras at the tour preparation stage? Do you have discussions with the orchestra administration or the conductor, do you meet with them, will there be rehearsals with orchestras before gigs?

Yes, all of that. We are in touch with all of them, we wanna make sure that the orchestra really has some fun parts to play, and they’re gonna be an important aspect of this thing. We don’t want the orchestra to be just in the background, to be filler material. We want them to be upfront and center with us, and as a special surprise, we also have a solo violinist, an amazing female solo violinist with us for the first time, so there’s gonna be a lot of interaction between her and myself, and that’s gonna add another dimension to the whole thing. She’s gonna be travelling with us all over the world – even when we take local orchestras, the solo violinist is gonna come with us.

And what about the conductors? Will they also be local guys, or will you have someone travelling with you?

Both! We have our musical genius Melo Mafali, he plays keyboards and he wrote all of the arrangements, so he’s gonna be in close contact with the conductor, and during rehearsals he can be the one who…. I mean, we’re gonna be using local conductors, because local orchestras all come with their own conductors, and they get the scores ahead of time, but Melo will make sure during the rehearsals that everything is the way that we envisioned it. There’s gonna be questions, and he can answer those – I cannot, I’m just a metal guitar player. I don’t speak that orchestra speak, do you know what I mean? (laughs)

We talked to Mike Terrana about 15 years ago, who had just played with orchestras as a member of Rage, and back then he was quite critical of orchestra musicians for not really being interested in anything other than playing notes from the score. What’s your own impression from communication with orchestra people?

Actually, I find that a lot of orchestra players nowadays are younger, and they’re much more open-minded than you would think. I’ve only had limited experience, because I’ve only played one album and live show in that format so far, but I can tell you that the players that we used there were very happy to be in that environment, and they were extremely excited to do something different They don’t get to play with pyrotechnics on a huge stage in front of 80,000 people every day - or usually ever, and they were super-excited to play with us. I mean, they still play the same notes that they always play, but in a different environment, and to them it was a lot of fun. I think they will enjoy it as much as we will.

You said in previous interviews that you personally got into classical music when you were about 20 years old, which means at the time of the first Accept album. What were the first classical pieces or composers that made a strong impression on you?

You’ll be happy to hear Tchaikovsly he was actually the first! (laughs) He wrote very approachable music, and when I heard it for the first time, I felt, “Wow, this is pretty much metal or rock in a different form!” I was drawn to Tchaikovsky first, and later on, of course, I discovered other people, but he was the first one for me.

You’ve been asked already to share your thoughts on other metal bands’ collaborations with orchestras, and you never make any comment. We would like to approach this differently – is there any “rock-meets-symphony” collaboration that you really like?

(sighs) I’m always careful not just to judge other bands. Everybody does it in their own way, but I can tell you this much: I’ve never heard it the way I want it to be done, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m bringing my own version of this to you guys now. I always felt it needs to be slightly different from what I’ve heard so far. But you’ll be the judge – when I come to Moscow and St. Petersburg you’ll tell me if it’s any different or if it’s the same. I think it’s gonna be different, but I don’t know until we actually go out there and do it. I think it’s gonna show my way of seeing and hearing things, my vision of how it should be translated. I could tell you this: I put months and months, almost a year, into this project, and I had the dream of doing it for many years, I put all my heart and soul into it, and if it works – it works, the people are gonna see it’s different. If it doesn’t, well, I don’t know. It’s just how I feel it should be done.

Who is going to play bass instead of Peter Baltes on the upcoming shows?

We’re gonna have a sit-in replacement player, his name is Daniel Silvestri, and we’re actually in rehearsals right now. He’s an amazing bass player, and we’re very fortunate to have him, but he’s a temporary guy. We’re actually using the same people that we listed for the Wacken show, the same line-up.

Does it mean that you will look for a permanent replacement later on?

Yes, this will be announced later, in a few weeks or months, we’ll see. Obviously we didn’t want to have the pressure of finding somebody within a week or two or three. It came as such a huge shock and surprise when Peter announced his retirement, that we felt like, “We have to keep this current tour going, and after that there will be a little more time to look for a permanent guy. Of course, it a case like this decisions have to be made right away, so the obvious choice was to have the people that we’ve worked with before. We know them, they know us, they know the material. After that we will see.

Given that Peter did not play on your solo part of the Wacken show, and that he left soon after the announcement of the orchestra tour, some people decided that he left because he does not enjoy classical music as much as you do. Could you comment on it?

No, I wouldn’t comment, because I don’t know what his reasons were. We could all speculate for all eternity, but we wouldn’t really know what his reasons were. I just have to respect his decision and move on, that’s all I can do. It doesn’t matter anyhow because it’s over. I’m still sad, but what can you do? Life goes on.

It’s just been announced that Accept will release a new single, “Life’s A Bitch”, on April 19. This is a completely new song, no one has heard it, so could you say a couple of words about it? Does it feature an orchestra?

No, it’s sort of a rock’n’roll fun song. It’s actually been in our archives for a little while, it was one of the leftover songs from one of our previous album productions that we never felt right to be released on a current album, because it didn’t really fit in the whole context. We always wanted to wait until there’s a long time between albums, and we felt now is the good time to release the song, just as a tie-over for the fans until the next album comes out. It’s actually an older song, it’s the song we worked on years and years ago, we have just never released it yet.

When Accept reformed with Mark Tornillo on the vocals, a lot of people expected you to play more songs from albums of the 90s, especially as Udo Dirkschnider had previously described them as “Wolf Hoffmann’s solo albums”. But this wasn’t the case, moreover, you said at the time that they were among the weaker Accept albums. What were you trying to achieve with records like “Death Row” or “Predator” at the time, and in your opinion, why didn’t you succeed?

Man, the 90s were a different time, a weird time for everybody. This was the time of soul searching, “where is it gonna go from here?”, it was the time when nobody really cared about traditional metal anymore. We all knew something had to change, but nobody quite knew how much and what has to change. Basically we were just trying to find a new direction for us, and you can hear it on the albums. It was a lot of this and a lot of that, and nothing really grabbed us. We didn’t feel completely comfortable with it, and the fans weren’t completely comfortable with it. Overall, we have tried several times to go back to the 90s albums and find songs that we really like nowadays, but it’s really hard to find such songs, because you’d have to change them so much to meet my – or our – current tastes. Actually we tried during rehearsals a couple of times to approach these songs and present them how we think they should be played nowadays, but nobody was ever 100 percent satisfied with the results. I mean there are a few songs that we could do, but overall on these albums of the 90s there are not a lot of good songs to choose from. I mean, they are good in their own right, and they were what they were, but they don’t really stand the test of time as well as some others. It’s actually an interesting thought. A lot of times you release an album, and you think it’s the best thing you have ever done, because it’s so fresh, and when you’re coming out of the studio, you think, “Oh my god, it’s all killer”. Then two years go down or five years go down the line, and you look back, and you think, “Eh, it wasn’t all that strong”. While on some other albums, like “Restless & Wild” (1982) or “Balls To The Wall” (1983), you could pick any song, it’s all good. You never really know at the time which of your songs will stand the test of time, you always know later on.

So there’s no chance for us to hear “Sodom & Gomorra”, live with an orchestra, is there?

That could actually be one, because it’s got that “Sabre Dance” part. That’s definitely a possibility.

One of the Accept songs that we – and we guess most Russian fans - like a lot is “Stalingrad”. But how is it received in other countries? Russia nowadays is not the most popular country in the world…

Actually it’s received very well, because people don’t care that much about the political context. To tell you the truth, Stalingrad means a lot to German people, it means, of course, a huge deal to Russian people because of the history and all that, but man, when you go to Argentina or Bolivia, they don’t know Stalingrad, they don’t care. They like the song for what it is. Some people do know, but the majority of people, I guess, have no idea what it all means. Such themes are specific to your region, your part of the world. Overall, fans come to the show for the music. We always think our songs should have a meaning, they should have lyrics that mean something, but for 90 percent, for us it’s about the riffs, the aggression on the stage, the fun we have, and the whole energy, it’s not always about the lyrics that much.

In general, how do you work on the lyrics nowadays? Do you discuss with Mark what each song is going to be about, or does he come up with his own ideas?

We always talk about it, because he needs inspiration, he needs to get excited about something. When I write songs, I send them to Mark, and I tell him, “Hey, what do you think about – ‘Don’t drink the Koolaid’? We could write a story about this massacre of Jonestown’. Or – ‘What do you think about - ‘Analog Man’? Write about yourself basically!” I always tell him what I think the song should be about, and then he steps in and puts his own words into it. I don’t tell him exactly each word, it’s up to him, because he has to sing the stuff, and he has to find words that make sense to him, but a lot of times we give him an idea of what we think the song should be about or could be about. I think the most important thing for songwriters is usually the hook line, the chorus part. When you have a story in your mind, you can build on that, but sometimes along the line the story can change - it doesn’t matter as long as you have a story at all, do you know what I mean? I imagine it’s like when you’re writing a movie script or something: you have a vague idea, you give it to another guy, and he turns it around and changes the story, and then during the filming it changes again. It’s an evolving process, but at least you always have to have a starting point.

Talking about “Analog Man” - we guess a lot of people born in the analogue era can relate to that, but don’t you think that a tour like “Symphonic Terror” could not be possible - or would have been much more difficult – without the aid of present-day technology?

(laughs) Well, that’s an eternal debate. I can tell you this: we’re using a lot of technology nowadays, and I would never go back to the analog days. I mean, we wouldn’t even be talking right now, if it was an analog telephone. (everybody laughs) It’s almost wishful thinking to me to go like, “Ah, analog rules, I hate all technology!” A lot of people tell me that, but then they go back home and talk via Skype with their girlfriend or what not. Sometimes you have that wishful dream like, “Oh, everything was better in the past”, but I like to live in the present. Actually I think life is pretty good right now. Technology can help tremendously. But it can also be a pain in the neck when it’s not working right.

Some years ago Accept surprised many older fans by going on tour as special guests for Sabaton. How do you look back on it? Did this tour succeed in bringing Accept more towards a younger generation of fans?

Yeah, I think it did. But how do you measure it? It’s really hard to say. I had a feeling while we were on tour with Sabaton that were was a lot of people in the audience that had never even heard of Accept. Overall, it was a good time for us, because we were in between albums, and it was a perfect time to go on tour and do something slightly different. We do headline tours every two or three years, and people know it; it’s great, we do it all the time; but why not do something unexpected? Why not go with a younger band? We’ve always been in favor of breaking stereotypes. I know a lot of fans went like, “Oh, how can you do it? Why would an established band go with such a young band like Sabaton? But it was good overall, nobody got hurt, and we had a lot of fun. In the end, it worked really well for both of us.

The first four Accept albums have recently been re-released in North America and in Russia, but what surprised us was that they were expanded with live bonus tracks by the Dirkschneider band. Does it mean that there are no more original Accept recordings from the 80s – live stuff or demos – that have not yet been released?

No, it just means that we weren’t involved in it. It means that somebody in the background released something that wasn’t officially sanctioned by us. There could be lawsuits, there could be lawyers talking, I don’t know where it’s at, but it’s nothing that was officially okeyed by me or anybody in our camp. It was just something that somebody at the label did. I have a very good idea of who was involved, but let’s not comment.

So there is still stuff from the 80s in the Accept vault that may see the light of day sometime in the future, right?

Yes, there is a huge volume of stuff, especially live recordings, lots and lots of it. Why would we ever choose something by Dirkschneider?

We guess you are often asked to make guest appearances, but we know of only two records where you actually participated as a guest – one is by Japanese rockers Outrage in 1997 and the other by Vengeance from Holland in 2006. What made these two records so special that you accepted the offer to play on them?

I don’t know if there was anything special with them. It’s just something you do once because people ask you. I mean, people ask me all the time, and back then I said, “OK, why not, let me just do it”. But later on I figured, “You know, this is not really for me. It’s not my product, it’s not my song”. A lot of times I’m not even that crazy about the songs, I just did it as a favor to somebody, but I realized later on, “Why should I do this if I’m not 100 percent behind it?” I just see how many people do these tribute things or these guest appearances all the time, and it kind of dilutes the whole thing a little bit to me. I’d rather focus on my own stuff and do that like I see it fit, but guest appearances are not really my thing anymore.

You have two solo albums with rock versions of classical pieces. Do you have any plans to make another one in the same vein? Or maybe in a different vein?

Oh yeah, definitely! But I just don’t know when to do this kind of stuff. The next thing on my agenda is the new Accept album, it will take all of this year, and hopefully it will be ready by the end of this year, so that it can be released next year. And then some time down the road we’ll see about another solo album. I’d love to do it, but there’s just not enough hours in the day sometimes.

I guess everybody who has seen Accept live has been impressed by the energy you personally display on stage. Where do you get all that energy from? What do you do if you’re tired or sick, and there’s a show to play in a few hours?

It’s a good question. You just pull yourself up and go for it. Sometimes it’s hard when you’re on tour and you have a cold and you’re not feeling well, or you get some sort of virus or some shit. When you’re travelling a lot, especially when you’re travelling on an airplane, a lot of times you end up just getting sick from exposure to other people, from shaking hands and… I don’t know where it happens, but it happens all the time. Then you just have to suck it up and go out and do your best.

And almost always something strange happens. When you go onstage, you forget that you’re sick. I mean, you feel like a dog when you walk up on the stage, but as soon as the lights come on, the energy starts, adrenaline kicks in, and you forget about being sick. I mean, a little bit - you’re still not well, but somehow it always works.

You’ve played in Russia quite a few times over the years, not only in Moscow, but also in other cities. What is your most striking or vivid memory of Russia? When somebody mentions our country, what comes to your head first of all?

I don’t know, man, there’s a special connection that I personally have with Russia. I’m trying to explain it to other people but I’m always at a loss about how to say it. To me, Russians and Germans are very much connected culturally and historically and also emotionally. I think the Russian fans are very special somehow. They like Accept music, they like my solo stuff, they pay very close attention, somehow they seem to be on the same wavelength. Even the way that you guys ask the questions is very detailed… I don’t know, it’s different from other countries. I’ve always felt at home in Russia in that regard.

Accept on the Internet: http://www.acceptworldwide.com

Special thanks to Olga Ovsyannikova (Eventation) for arranging this interview

Interview by Roman Patrashov, Natalia “Snakeheart” Patrashova
Promo photos courtesy of Eventation
Live photos of Accept at Wacken 2017 by Katerina Sorokopudova, Olga Yuryevna
March 21, 2019
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