Classic Metal: An Interview with Wolf Hoffmann

Accept are one of the seminal acts in classic heavy metal. From their early hard rock beginning to their glory days as the militaristic, bombastic juggernaut that birthed “Fast as a Shark”, “Balls to the Wall” and “Metal Heart”, through to their resurgence and return to glory in our current decade. It’s not hard to hear the history and legacy of European music in this most influential of bands, and a great deal of that is down to riff master Wolf Hoffmann. On his latest solo effort, Wolf has taken that bombast and history of music and applied to his not so secret love of classic music. The results are as heavy as they are intriguing. We had the chance to sit down with the man himself and get a short little glimpse in to his world.


I don’t really think that fans want to hear Accept with an orchestra on a record

Metal Blast: Hard rock and metal acts have dabbled with classical music since, basically, the genres’ inception. What is it that you would you say, for somebody who has no clue, that separates Headbanger’s Symphony from artists like Yngwie Malmsteen, Within Temptation, and other classically-minded metal acts?
Wolf: I guess I have a somewhat different approach. Truly different from Yngwie Malmsteen and people like that who are more into the virtuoso guitar player thing than I am. I’m really more of a songwriter. I’m trying to convey a mood more than just showing off my abilities as a guitar player.

MB: As a long time Accept fan, I’ve always viewed you as someone who is less about flash and more about solid riffs and structures. Now, classical music has more of an emphasis on virtuosity than a lot of more riff-oriented kinds of music. Was there ever a temptation for you to let loose, or was it always of the utmost importance to accompany and respect the compositions?
W: I like to sort of let loose once in a while, but I always think that it has to serve a purpose. I always look at the song and think to myself, “what would fit best here,” or, “what does the song need.” I’m always more interested in doing what is in the best interest of the song. That’s how it has always been in Accept and, to me, that’s how it always has to be.

MB: “Madame Butterfly”, a composition that you covered on the new record, was originally written with a female soprano in mind. Was there any temptation to bring in singers, or was this Headbanger’s Symphony always destined to be a strictly instrumental project?
W: From day one it was just going to be instrumental stuff. To me, that’s where the fun in this project was. To not have to worry about singing parts or singers at all. It’s a nice break for me from the normal routine that I have with Accept. It was so much fun for me to not have to worry about any of that when working on these songs.

MB: I’ve found that with certain classical projects done by metal bands in the past, whether it be Metallica’s S&M or KISS’ Alive IV, the classical elements have been kind of redundant and secondary to the metal ethos. With your compositions, however, it’s really balanced not just with regard to arrangement and writing, but also with regard to production. Was it difficult for you and Melo Mafali (your collaborator in the project) to achieve that balance?
W: The difference between this project and a lot of the others like those you mentioned is that this stuff was written with an orchestra in mind. If you take an existing song and just put an orchestra to it, like in the case of Metallica, to me it always sounds like the ensemble is fighting for space somewhere. Sometimes it even feels like they’re clashing. Or, alternatively, the orchestra ends up way in the background serving as kind of a filler element. I didn’t want that. I wanted to have the metal element and the orchestra as even partners. That was always very important to us, to have enough space for everybody.

Wolf Hoffmann.
Wolf Hoffmann.

MB: Was it difficult to keep that crispness on the production end or was it kind of second nature to you? Because Accept do have classical elements here and there, so did you have prior experience in melding those two worlds while keep things both heavy and lush?
W: No it was pretty new territory for me as well. I’ve never really written a record with an orchestra and I just had to kind of take things step by step as far as arranging things properly. Melo, is sort of my partner in crime in all of this. We started in the studio working with sample libraries. We were writing the orchestral parts, basically writing demos, using those samples as well as a keyboard. Then later on I flew to Prague and had a Czech orchestra overdub all of the stuff.

MB: Was it always the intention always to have a live orchestra, or were you going to be using those samples and such to create the record?
W: I was trying to see how close I could get; I bought an expensive sound library and we worked for weeks to try to get it as close as possible to sounding like an orchestra. It sounded okay but when you hear the real thing there is still quite a difference. I’m very fortunate that I had the chance to play with these talented musicians.

MB: It sounds like the thought of touring this project has already been talked about. Any movement on that, or are you starting to get into Accept mode now?
W: Both. We’re working on it, we’ve been talking to orchestras, planning some stuff for next year. Nothing has really materialized yet because the logistics of touring with an orchestra are somewhat mind-blowing. Nothing has really been decided yet, but we’re working on it. At the same time, Accept has started writing for the next record, so I have to do both at the same time.

MB: So if you did tour for Headbanger’s Symphony, you’d want to have one, consistent touring orchestra? You wouldn’t want to go from place to place and pick up different players as you go?
W: Well, I mean it’s everyone’s dream to have your own orchestra tour with you, but how’s that gonna work? Hire your own plane or have seven tour buses full of all the musicians or what? So it might be just be a few special occasions here and there but, honestly, I don’t know all of that myself yet. Certainly it’s not easy, it all needs to be worked out. There’s a reason why people usually don’t tour with orchestras!

MB: You’ve lived in Nashville for some time. Obviously that’s a place with a huge musical legacy, but a legacy that doesn’t really have anything to do with classical. Did you find it difficult to maintain inspiration for this record while living in that part of the world?
W: Not really, because I never really leave my house or my studio. I’m literally always in my own place. I don’t really go out much and get inspiration from local concerts or what have you. You’re right though, Nashville is a great place with lots of great players but it’s mostly for country stuff, which I don’t really like that much personally. But there is amazing talent here, it just doesn’t affect me very much.

MB: What were the beginnings of your exposure to classical music?
W: As a teenager actually. My parents would always play that stuff in the house. But I sort of rediscovered it for myself in my 20s; Tchaikovsky was the composer that I really fell in love with. By that point I was already in Accept and playing music professionally, but since day one I had the idea of combining those 2 worlds.

MB: Now that you’ve had the experience of working with a full orchestra, and have had quite a bit of success doing it from an artistic standpoint, do you think you could see yourself doing this again, perhaps under the Accept banner? Doing something along the lines of what Judas Priest did with the Nostradamus album?
W: That may be a little bit of a stretch for Accept. I never really saw that, never really wanted to go there. But now that this album is out, and it turned out a lot more metal than I thought it would, I keep thinking that maybe there is a way. So I wouldn’t rule it out, though I don’t think that it’s something that would be in the immediate future. We’re really a guitar band. We’re about riffs and I don’t really think that fans want to hear Accept with an orchestra on a record. Maybe live someday. I wouldn’t rule it out, but I don’t think it’s probable.

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