INTERVJU: Wolf Hoffman i Accept

Den tyska metalmaskinen är åter aktuell med ett nytt album, “Humanoid” Med Wolf pratar vi bland annat om AI´s framfart, tre ikoniska albumomslag och åldrandet:

I joined Accept when I was 16 and now I´m 64 and I´m still behaving like I´m 16. In my mind I´m still 16 because it takes that, or else you wouldn´t do what we´re doing. At the same time I know I´m not 16 anymore and I don´t look like 16, but nothing lasts forever as it says in the song.

What´s your take on AI in music? I talked to Joe in Halestorm late last year and he said he had actually talked to the legal department at the record company about the possibility to copyright Lzzy´s voice. I also watched a documentary about Van Halen´s “1984” album and tour and in it they used an AI version of David Lee Roth´s voice for some quotes from him and it sounded exactly like him.

It´s going to get worse, or better, depending on how you look at it. I find it super concerning. I´ve wondered myself, if you take somebody´s music and you make a new version, like creating a new Pink Floyd or Beatles song, who owns that song? I have no idea, because it´s a new creation but it´s not really new since it´s based on something somebody else created. I think, as so often, that the technology is already here, but we haven´t figured out what to do with it or how to deal with it legally, socially, rules… I don´t know, but technology doesn´t give a shit. It´s going to be there and it´s going to be ready and it´s going to be used and we all have to go “How do we deal with this?”

Have you tried out anything?

I´ve tried lyrical stuff and it´s scary good. It´s like “I have this idea for Humanoid. Let me put a few key words in there.” and here comes some lyrics and they´re pretty darn good! Much better that you would think they should be. And the same thing is true with pictures. Sometimes you put in pictures and let AI create some stuff and it looks pretty damn good.

Right. Joe also talked about a new Leica camera where every photo gets a code that then sticks with it online as well as a way to see if someone´s altered it.

Some meta data embedded then? Interesting. Well, I guess we have to wait and see. I think we´re in the middle of the biggest thing since the industrial revolution, because it´s changing society as we speak. Who knows? Maybe it´s the end of artists? Maybe it´s the last Accept album made by humans, hahaha! I´ve heard some Nirvana cloned song and it wasn´t great, but it was pretty damn good.

I´ve heard stuff where everything was done by AI, the music and the lyrics and had I not known, I would never have guessed it was done by AI.

And what happens if from a few years from now, people prefer that kind of music? What happens then? Like the new generation doesn´t give a shit about who created it. The kids that are born today with iPhones in their cribs, when they grow up… “What do you mean a human has to make it?”

In the EU they´ve come up with rules and regulations, but just because you have that, there´s always going to be someone taking it to the next level and trying it out.

We always though robots were ok for making cars and taking those jobs away because no one really wants to hammer on a piece of metal all day long, but now, if it starts coming into the creative part of the art world… it´s coming into my territory and I´m not crazy about that, but I can´t change it. I can´t stop the world and every time there´s some new technology, there´s always some people who are scared of it and others think “What´s the big deal?” That´s one of the reasons we called this album “Humanoid” because it seems to be a topic that is very current right now.

Yes, people have opinions about it and it really makes you think.

It´s strange times and we´re only at the beginning. I find it interesting that anything that became digital lost its value. I remember it started with desktop publishing. I remember type setters with those little stick on letters and it became digital and recording studios… You could record on a laptop and you didn´t need a $2000 a day recording studio and big tape machines that cost a million dollars. All that stuff was all of a sudden out the window and music lost its value. A ton of music was created all of a sudden and now people who work with photoshop and illustrators are scared to death now and lyricists and songwriters and movies. I hope it´s not all going to be replaced and lose its value completely. I think one thing that will never lose its value is the live performance. I don´t think you can replace that with machines.

Accept, Stockholm

You have the ABBA avatars?

I know and that´s a bit of a novelty. Not everybody can afford a billion dollar venue. I think people going on stage, playing the songs in real time on their instruments, that´s always going to be in demand because it´s something magic about that. Human imperfections and human emotions, that´s what´s interesting I think. I don´t think there´s gonna be any Accept avatars, hahaha! I don´t think that´s going to happen.

Onto the new album. “Straight up Jack” is a cool song and it made me think, throughout your career, like in the 80´s, was there ever a time when you were into partying and stuff or did you just stay away from that?

I´m not known to be a party animal, hahaha… but I didn´t write that song, it was Mark and that is his drinking song. He just wrote the lyrics and I wrote the music, half of it in fact. That´s totally Mark. He likes to go to the hotel bar and he´s definitely more into that. I wouldn´t call him a party animal either. He´s controlled, but he likes to drink his beer and he likes his tequila. In a deeper meaning he´s actually the kind of guy who says “Give it to me straight, don´t beat around the bush!” That´s totally him.

But back in the 80´s, you never…

No, I think we were too German for that.

But Germans like beer!

They do like beer and they do like drinking, that´s true… but for instance, there´s American bands that used music as a tool to get the chicks and the drugs and they were mostly interested in the lifestyle, “Let´s go crazy and party every night…” and “Yeah, we play a little bit of music to get there…” We were the opposite. We were really musicians first and foremost and later on as we went on tour and went around the world, then we got exposed to the so called crazy lifestyle, but we were always considered a bit of no fun in those circles. Of course there was nuances in the band and some guys really went for it and others stayed away and I was more of a stay away kind of guy to be honest.

Are you more of a guy who wants to be in control?

Nah, there were times when I was stupid drunk and crawling around hotel floors. I´ve done all that, but I was never out of control and the other thing is I was never into drugs, so that´s a huge difference. It kind of stopped with alcohol so that kind of puts a limit on things as well. I wasn´t snorting ants and all these kind of stories you hear. I always had the suspicion that the really crazy guys discovered how much people like to hear those stories and I think they make them up because the temptation is always there, like “Tell me more!” and then they go “Yeah, we did this and that…” Who knows how much of all that is really true? I´ve seen it too much in the music business all these years and all these stories change and get more and more dramatic. I´ve sat around on tour buses long enough and even stories that I was part of and how it gets bigger and bigger every time it gets told.

It´s also something that is, for me, very American and very Sunset Strip.

Yeah and we´re German. I´ve even been begged over the years… “Can´t you be a little crazier? Can´t you be more like them?” and I´m “No, I´m sorry, it´s not in me! It´s not in my blood.” I´m kind of glad those days are over a little bit to be honest. I always felt uncomfortable in that sort of crazy ass guitar hero role. I mean, I tried a little bit, but I never quite felt at home there. I always felt other people were born to do that stuff. They had the look and the moves and the chops and they were sort of loudmouths about themselves. I never felt comfortable in that role. I see myself all of these years later and I´m more of a songwriter and I like what I do. I like to have fun on stage. I know where I stand and I know what Accept is and who we are and what we sound like and I´m ok with that and not being like all the other guys.

You turn 65 in December.

Yep, thanks for reminding me, hahaha!

That´s when normal people retire.

I know, but I´m not normal.

How do you feel about getting older?

That brings me to the point of “Ravages of time” That´s why I wrote that song. When I was sitting there writing the first ideas for that song, I had a little guitar melody and I thought it could be a cool, slow song and I thought “What could it be about?” and I thought “It´s time for a little bit of honesty.” I joined Accept when I was 16 and now I´m 64 and I´m still behaving like I´m 16. In my mind I´m still 16 because it takes that, or else you wouldn´t do what we´re doing. At the same time I know I´m not 16 anymore and I don´t look like 16, but nothing lasts forever as it says in the song. That´s why I wrote that song. It could be a bit of an honest reflection on life and I think that´s good, to talk about the truth. I´m not saying I´m going to retire and I´m not saying I feel old or anything. Time takes it´s toll whether you want it to or not. Sometimes you sit there thinking “I hope this will last forever.”, but I know it won´t. That´s all. I remember when I was a young teenager there was a moment when I was trying to explain to my parents, “Mommy and daddy, I want to be a professional musician!” and they looked at me like “What do you mean? You´re not a classical musician, you´re playing rock music! You can´t do that forever.” There was a time when there wasn´t any old musicians. I mean The Stones weren´t even 30 for crying out loud when I started. The Beatles had retired and there wasn´t anybody 50 or 60 years old playing loud music and banging their heads. All that was a young man´s game. Everybody thought that one day they all have to get a proper job and so something else. Here we are all these years later and I´m almost one of the younger guys still out there. There are guys pushing 80 now. How crazy is that and I think it´s great. Now we all know we can do it and I see bands that start now that are younger and they have a completely different outlook and they know they can do it for the rest of their career and they take much more care of their career long term. We never did that. When we made these albums we thought “Ok, we´ll make another album, but it´s not going to last much longer.” Nobody thought you could do it for that long to be honest, so there was never anyone thinking ten years ahead. Same for me. I always thought we´d have a bit of fun, but one day it will all have to end. Just a completely different mindset.

It´s funny how things change as you get older. When you´re 19-20 you tend to care more about what people think about you and the older you get it´s more like “I couldn´t care less if people don´t like me.”

Yeah, I mean I still want to be successful, but at the same time you´re right. I don´t think I have to prove myself to anybody that much anymore. I have to satisfy myself. I want to do a really good job with the new album and every show we do and that´s my goal, but I really don´t have to reach a certain thing. I don´t look for approval that much anymore. I´m glad if I get it, but if I don´t than that´s also ok. I´m more relaxed about things now days. I don´t want this to sound arrogant or anything because I don´t think I´m an arrogant person, I´m just more relaxed about this.

A totally different thing and something I´ve always wondered, the album cover for “Restless and wild”, are those your guitars and were they actually on fire?

I still have them. The burning guitars were fake. They were not the real ones. We got replicas and we put a little Gibson sticker on them and those were the ones that burned. I wish I had those burned up guitars. It would be great to have. On the back cover were the ones with the barbed wire and those I still have and they still have the markings of the barbed wire on the neck.

It is a phenomenal album cover and it´s very metal.

It is very metal and we thought of that, like “Why don´t we put them together like soldiers put their guns together because they´re our weapons.” and the idea of the barbed wire, I don´t know what the meaning is there… One was mine and the other was Jörg Fisher´s and I recently, a few years ago, somebody offered me Jörg´s old guitar and I bought it back, so now I have them both. Pure coincidence. He said he bought it years ago from this tour manager blah blah blah… and now I have both and I´m proud of it. They´re really historic at this point.

Looking back on all the album covers, do you have a favorite one? Is it “Restless and wild” or maybe “Balls to the wall”?

“Metal heart” I like that one a lot because it´s so simple and so iconic. That´s why we even have made references to this on the new album because it´s a continuation of kind of a similar theme. I really like that album cover and it´s pre photoshop. The only way to make that cover back then was to have an actual model made and I still have that thing. It´s a model, life size, and we had it photographed and believe it or not but the background was supposed to be steel blue, but the photographer didn´t get it right. He used this sort of baby blue and we hated it. We wanted it to be metal blue and almost dark blue. He was a bit of an arrogant bastard, the photographer, and I remember he was in Cologne and he showed us a picture and we said “Eeehhh, what´s wrong…” and he said “You wanted blue, there´s your blue!” and we were like “Yeah, but not that kind of blue.”, but it was too late. It was a photo, a piece of film and you couldn´t change anything. I still have that model and it was made by a model maker who makes models for movies and shit and it was fucking expensive! It was 20.000 Marks (about $20000 in today´s value if I calculated correctly, Editor´s note) back then. A small fortune and it was supposed to be a holograph, remember those foils, but it turned out to be too expensive. Not to make the foil, but to stick it on the cover by hand would cost a fortune, so it wasn´t in the budget. I still have a proper holograph of that model actually. I have a bit of history at my house.

A bit of Accept history. I always liked “Balls to the wall” too.

You know that´s based on a Robert Mapplethorpe picture?

Yeah. I went to a Mapplethorpe exhibition in Denmark a long time ago. I didn´t really know that much about him and there were great pictures of people he knew and flowers and what not and then there were photos which were hardcore pron. If you´d put those photos somewhere else it would be considered harcore porn, but when you put it in an art gallery it…

Becomes art. Yeah, I´ve seen some pretty graphic shit, but one of his pictures inspired this and it was an idea of my then wife Gaby. We wanted this to be different from others, artsy, black and white and a lot of people thought it looked really gay, but I didn´t think it did. We caught a lot of shit from that album cover. I still think it´s pretty cool. I don´t know if it hurt or helped but it was certainly something people talked about. We always felt it´s a good thing. It´s not as bad as Scorpions “Virgin killer” That was definitely something. I still to this day think that it´s “Oooh, that´s a bit…”

The cover for “Balls to the wall” is kind of artsy and it always looked cool.

The photographer who did it was in Düsseldorf. His name´s Dieter Eikelpoth and when I was getting into photography, when I thought music was over and I wanted to go into photography and I wanted to learn it properly, I went to Dieter to be his assistant for a while. He was really good at these black and white pictures and he was also a really talented commercial photographer, so I worked with him for a while. I love photography, I really do, but I have to tell you, I never saw myself as much of a serious photographer. It never had the same meaning to me. I realized after a while, especially after getting into the commercial side of things, it´s kind of a commodity that´s valuable today and gets tossed away tomorrow. Nobody looks at old advertising pictures, unless your Gursky or Avedon or Sebastião Salgado and then you´re in museums, but that´s like one in a million or a billion. With musicians it´s a little bit different. It´s a lot more honour and what you do and what you don´t do. Even if somebody paid money I wouldn´t play a song at a wedding. There are certain limits to what I would do, but as a photographer… “Well, if you pay me that fee I´ll take your picture.” I was a bit of a money whore. I didn´t do everything and I was pretty good at taking pictures of people, but it didn´t have the same… It was a way to make a living and being creative and it was great and I enjoyed it, but it didn´t really go as deep as music does to me.

Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen

Foto: Therés Stephansdotter Björk, Björn Olsson, Michaela Barkensjö