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Accept’s Mark Tornillo Talks Going All In, Six-Piece Bands, & Owing It All to ‘The Aquarian’

Can a hometown show for a German band be inNew Jersey? Actually, yes – and you should be there to not miss out on the uproarious rock production over a decade in the making.

German metal legends Accept are fronted by a born-and bred Jersey guy. You read that right. Mark Tornillo, the Central New Jersey resident with the booming, raspy voice, has recorded five albums with the Solingen band since he came onboard in 2009.

Accept are currently touring for their latest album, 2021’s Too Mean to Die. This tour is also their first full American jaunt in a decade, includes stops at Debonair Music Hall in Teaneck on October 23, and the Gramercy Theatre in New York City on October 25. The band, which features founding guitarist Wolf Hoffmann, recently expanded from a five-man-band to a sextet with a new, three-guitar attack. Too Mean to Die is the first album to feature this six-string trio, and footage of the band’s European festival dates this past summer show that they have seamlessly pulled off what can be a challenging expansion in the likes of three guitar phenomes, Iron Maiden and Lynyrd Skynyrd. 

Tornillo, formerly of Garden State greats T.T. Quick, best known for their 1986 disc, Metal of Honor, is also the band’s main lyricist. His prose and dynamic vocals help make Too Mean to Die one of Accept’s finest outings. Ironically, Tornillo played Accept covers in his early eighties bands, when the group was pretty much unknown in America. (Their first album was released in 1979.) The lifelong fan joined Accept following a jam session in which the humble singer wowed Hoffmann with his commanding vocals. 

Accept consists of Tornillo, Hoffmann, guitarists Uwe Lulis and Philip Shouse, bassist Martin Motnik, and drummer Christopher Williams as of today.  We recently had the pleasure of speaking with the amiable Mr. Tornillo about his mates, the band, and their sound.

You’ve toured Europe and beyond, playing the festival circuit extensively over the past 10 years, but not here. What are your impressions so far on your first full American tour in a decade? 

Except for a few one-offs we’ve done over the last few years, this is the first very real tour that we’ve done since 2012. It’s great. The response has been ridiculous. The Whiskey in L.A. and Vegas were just insane. It’s been very rewarding. I think the European crowds and the South American crowds are off the charts. It always seemed to me like the American crowds were so laid back – and they haven’t been on this tour. They’ve been ridiculously going for it, screaming, singing, having a blast. It’s so nice to see. 

Accept is touring in support of its latest album, Too Mean to Die. Where do you feel it sits in the Accept pantheon?  

I think it really holds up. This is the very first Accept record without [founding member/bassist] Peter Baltes. It was a bit of a new writing experience for us; especially for Wolf, working without his writing partner.  He and I collaborated quite a bit. Martin, the new bass player, stepped up and came in with a lot of good ideas, as well as the rest of the band. It was definitely a group effort. I’m really happy with the way it turned out and I think a lot of the fans are, too. Anyone I’ve talked to in the crowds is loving this record. I’ll put it right up there with the best of them.

Do you have any favorites from the disc to play live?

“Overnight Sensation” seems to be the big one live. I don’t know why. It doesn’t really sound like an Accept track. It’s kind of poppy. Everyone seems to love that song for some reason so I’m all about it. We’ve been alternating night after night with “The Undertaker” and “The Best is Yet to Come.” We’re trying not to do too many slow things. Both of those go over real well live. The title track goes over really well, too, and “Symphony of Pain,” which we’ve been doing. We could play the whole album.

What is your approach to singing the classic songs like “Balls to the Wall,” “Fast as a Shark,” and “Restless and Wild”?

I try to make them as true to the original as possible. I think the crowd deserves that. They want to hear the song, they want to hear it performed perfectly. I try to make it as close to the recording as I can but I try to make them mine at the same point. I kind of put my own spin on them.

You’ve toured with an orchestra. How was that experience?

It was unbelievable. We did the one-off show at Wacken in 2017 with the orchestra and we really thought that was going to be the only thing. Then in 2019 we went out and did a whole summer tour with orchestras. We used local orchestras, so we had our music director with us and he would rehearse with that orchestra for one day and then go out and play with them in Russia or wherever it was. 

It was amazing, the fans really loved it, and we really loved it. I grew up as a tuba player and Chris was in the drum and bugle corp. He’s a really talented, learned drummer. For both of us to be able to go out and play with an orchestra was unbelievable. We were like little kids. The orchestra show was definitely bucket list for me.

There’s a high demand for Accept in the region. You’ve got several area shows yet it doesn’t feel like you’re saturating the market.

It’s just wonderful to be able to play close to home. We have two in New Jersey – one in North Jersey and one in South Jersey – a few in New York, a few in Pennsylvania. We’re really hoping to reinstate ourselves here in the U.S. and really become more of a mainstream band here. I really missed playing in the U.S. We’re paying our dues on this tour and we’re enjoying it.

Do you feel your entrance in 2012 sparked a renewed popularity for Accept? Before you came aboard the best people could hope for was reunion show. Now they’re gotten a whole new Accept experience of new material. 

When I was asked to join the band, it was, “Do you want to make a record and do a tour?” If we weren’t going to make new music… I think I would’ve bowed out. I don’t want to be one of those bands that just puts out one song and goes out and rests on their glory. When we announced that I was joining the band, online just lit up and hated the idea.

I was a pariah for God’s sake. We all looked at each other and were like, “We better make one hell of a damn record.” So that’s what we did. We spent a lot of time working on Blood of the Nations and I think we delivered a killer album. Say what you will; ome people love it, some people don’t, some people say no Udo, no Accept. Some people love what we’re doing, but all I know is we’re not living on past glory. We’ve done five new albums since I’ve been in the band. 

The initial reception didn’t sit well with me. I wasn’t happy about it. Although once we started recording, I saw where things were going and I felt a whole lot better about it. Then we started playing live shows. The first live show was The Gramercy in my backyard [of New York City]. I kind of knew what to expect there. Three days later we were in Lithuania. I had no idea what [was] going to happen. I almost wanted to walk out with a garbage can lid like Spanky in The Little Rascals in case tomatoes started flying. But they didn’t. From day one the fans loved us, and I love them.

Do you feel like you also brought new fans to the band that have followed your pre-Accept career, especially with the band T.T. Quick?

There’s some of that going on. I think a lot of T.T. Quick fans knew Accept. We used to cover Accept back in the day. I think we started covering them in ’80 or ’81. The first Accept song I heard was “Son of a Bitch” and I’m like, “Oh, we’re playing that. It’s funny.” We just stuck “Son  of a Bitch” back in the set on this tour. I haven’t sang that in so many years and it’s so much fun.

Accept’s first three albums were released in 1979, 1980, and 1981. They weren’t a known commodity here yet. How did you discover the band?

We were picking up imports, mostly from Rock and Roll Heaven, from Jonny Z.

I have to tell you something. In 1978, I answered an ad in The Aquarian and that is what led to the beginning of T.T. Quick. I owe it all to The Aquarian! I thought Accept was amazing. I was a big AC/DC fan. I always loved those raspy kind of vocals. Bon Scott, Noddy Holder from Slade, Nazareth – anyone who had a raspy voice I was all about. When I heard Accept I was like, “Oh, well, this is another step up. This is crazy.” I loved it right off the bat. 

You auditioned for the band but didn’t know it at the time, and not in Germany, but in Pennsylvania.

It turns out that Peter Baltes lived in Pennsylvania, 45 minutes from me in New Jersey. He was working at Shorefire Studio down in Long Branch. He was producing a record for his son Sebastian. Wolf had come up and they were both in the studio in Long Branch. They were talking about the fact that they wanted to put the band back together.

It was right after the movie The Wrestler came out. “Balls” was the big song in The Wrestler (It actually got played twice!). They were trying to negotiate with Udo and it wasn’t going anywhere. He was making ridiculous demands and they were talking about it at the studio and [Manowar bassist] Joey Demaio, who owns the studio, said, “Why don’t you call Mark?” And they said, “Mark? Mark, who?” 

He said, “Mark, the singer from T.T. Quick. I’ll get his number for you.” They said, “Yes, ok. Call him.” I [had] another guy call me saying, “Can I give your number to Peter Baltes?” I thought, “What do they want?” They’re like, “We’re working down at Shorefire, would you like to come jam with us?” Ok, so I went down and we had a jam and we had a nice day. We wrote “Life’s a Bitch” that day and did not release it for like six years. I didn’t really think much of it – I didn’t think it was going anywhere, but we had a good time. Two weeks letter I got a phone call: “Hey, would you like to do a record and a tour” I was like, “Oh, ‘kay. Hold on I have to ask the wife.” She said, “Well, there will be no living with you if you don’t do it.” I got her blessings, and here we are, 13 years later. 

What was the writing process for Too Mean to Die like?

We had started writing at the end of 2019. We were just finishing up touring and were writing while we were touring. I have to tell you, I had COVID at the end of 2019. I didn’t know what it was but I was sick as a dog. We came back from Europe in November and I was so damn sick it was ridiculous. I had all the symptoms. I wound up fighting it off.  Then we went to South America and Mexico and back to Europe in December, and to do a one-off in Estonia at a Christmas show. I was pretty much better by then.  

In March we started recording in Nashville. We have a house down there with a studio. Producer Andy Sneap came over and we were all recording and all the sudden it got really bad. You couldn’t go to the store anymore, you couldn’t do anything, everything was on lockdown. We’re looking at each other like, “What are we going to do? Maybe we should go home.” Andy was like, “Yeah, I’ve got to get back on a plane to England or else I’m never going to get there.” 

We were two-thirds of the way done with the record at that point. I went home. I flew into Newark Airport and there were 10 people on the plane. I flew into Terminal C, walk out, and it was a ghost town. I never saw anything like it in my life. The bars were wrapped in cellophane. I was frightened to death. It was like an apocalypse. It scared the living shit out of me. 

We stayed home for a little bit. We tried to do some stuff online and then in July we made the choice and I flew back to Nashville. I’d already had COVID twice by then, so, what the hell, I guess. Most of the guys live down there now. We linked up computers with Andy in England in his studio and we finished the record that way. Andy’s a big factor. He’s the guy that I go to. He’s the guy that says, “No, I don’t want this, I want that. Do it again; one more time, mate!”

And then you expended into a three-guitar lineup on Too Mean to Die. How did that come about?

The whole thing was that when we did the symphony tour. Phil was the guitar player and Uwe has a studio at home. He was producing bands and he really didn’t want to learn all the symphony stuff. Phil and Wolf just hit it off. They loved playing together and had a great rapport on stage and when the symphony tour was over, Wolf just was like, “I don’t want him to go and I’m not firing Uwe. There’s no way. What do you think about going six-piece.” I’m like, “Hell yeah!”

It’s a whole new ballgame. You can do anything – that’s the magic of the whole thing. Anything in the repertoire we can make sound like the record because you can do the double solos and still have a rhythm guitar. Plus, all the guys sing. They all sing their asses off. We can do pretty much anything we want to do. Phil and Wolf have that rapport onstage like Wolf and Peter had. I think that’s what Wolf missed the most and he’s got that now with Phil.

When you write lyrics for do you get a song title in your head and write around that or the other way around, or both?

It’s always different. Everybody wonders how we do these thigs. Sometimes there’s a riff first, sometimes there’s a title first. “Zombie Apocalypse,” I wrote the lyrics. I sent it to Wolf and he said he loved it. I had a totally different song in my head then what it turned out to be but that’s the way it goes. I love it. “The Undertaker” was a poem. I was texting with Gaby one day, Wolf’s wife, who was our manager until she retired. We were talking about something and at the end of the day she said, “The undertaker’s a busy man.” I went, “For he and death go hand in hand,” and she sent me another line and I said, “It’s on now.” I just wrote three stanzas of a poem and left it at that. I never thought it would be a song. When we started writing the album Wolf was looking for ideas and I came across it and I thought to send it to him just for fun. He was like, “Oh my God, what is this?” and I was like, “I’ll get back to you!” I had to rewrite some things to make it fit. That’s the way the song came about.  

Following this tour you’ve got a long European tour to start the first few months of 2023. When will you start working on the next Accept record?

We’re already writing a new album; working on it as we speak. Writing is one of those things I like being under pressure to do it. Right now we’re going at it slowly, going back and forth. We’re working on a few new songs. Once we come off the road here in November we’ll start hitting it hard. Then we’ll go back out in January. Just the opportunity to do this again is amazing. Before Accept I was, for all intents and purposes, retired as a musician. I played with the Edgar Cayse Band for a while. T.T. Quick would do a reunion show once in a while, but that was it. I’m just grateful to be able to do this on this level at this age. God, I’m 68-years-old. It’s insane. It’s a gift from God.