Scott Adams chats with David Reece, vocalist on the Accept album Eat the Heat; a record that splits Accept fans down the middle to this day, but a classic in the eyes of us here at Sentinel Daily...
Before we get into the track-by-track part of the interview, can you tell us how David Reece came to be in Accept in the first place? “Strange story. I was living in Los Angeles for, I think, the third time, trying to make it. I was literally homeless, and had ended up living at the house of a woman named Lucy Forbes. She had a strange idea called ‘Rock Congress’, which was a kind of placement agency for rock n’roll people… I was sleeping on her floor in Santa Monica at the beach. I had been working on some demos with Mitch Perry, who had been working with Billy Sheehan in Talas, and went on to work with Michael Schenker, but essentially I had hit rock bottom. So there were four or five tracks on a cassette which I basically forgot and left at Lucy’s house when I moved back to Colorado, where my family had moved to”.
So the rock and roll dream had died at that point. “I resumed my day job. But I was sitting at home one night and the phone rang and it was Wolf Hoffmann! It was strange to say the least! After he rang up and said ‘Hi I’m Wolf Hoffmann’ I said ‘and I’m Mickey Mouse!’ and hung up! I couldn’t believe it!. But he phoned back, introduced himself again and asked to speak to David Reece. I said ‘here I am, what do you want?’ and he said he was holding my demo tape in his hand and really wanted me to come and audition for Accept. I asked him how on earth he had gotten the tape. And apparently Accept’s producer, Dieter Dierks, had been having a fling with Lucy, and, while he was in Los Angeles on Scorpions business he’d stopped by her house. He’d explained that Accept had been working with an English guy, Rob Armitage, but that things weren’t working out – did she know any singers? And she gave him my tape, but said she had no idea where I was. And they tracked me down! I was living in a mountain cabin, painting houses, and they called me! Forty eight hours later I was on a plane to Dusseldorf! That’s the magic of rock n’roll! (laughs)”.
And did the band have the material for Eat the Heat ready at that point? “They had a lot of parts. If you want to know how it went down this is it: I flew in, jet lagged but excited out of my mind… I was just a young guy who’d played the clubs all my life and the main thing in my mind was that I was going to meet the Scorpions! That’s really all I thought about! I knew they were doing the Savage Amusement album at the time and I just thought ‘wow! I get to meet Rudolf Schenker and Klaus Meine!’ Anyway they picked me up from the airport and dropped me off at their guest house. ‘See you tomorrow!’ And that was it. At five or six the next morning I couldn’t sleep, so I got up, still jet lagged, and went out jogging. It was February, so it was cold, raining, and I got lost! I was in a major panic, but managed to find my way back. I went to sleep and about three hours later(Accept bassist) Peter Baltes came to get me to take me to the studio. Again I thought ‘I’m going to meet the Scorpions!’… and sure enough we got to the studio and there was Rudolf, talking to Dieter Dierks! I went over – ‘hey man!’ and they both looked at me like I was some sort of alien and ignored me. Baltes dragged me down to the basement where they had a rehearsal/recording room. He played a track, which I think was Turn the Wheel Around and basically said ‘start singing’! I said ‘what?’ He said ‘sing something!’ so I just started singing stuff. He already had the chorus, which he sang to me, but that’s kind of how it started”.
Ok, that’s the background established – let’s get into Eat the Heat. The first track (on my copy at least) is X-T-C. Tell us any memories you have about the writing or recording of that song. “During the recording of it I absolutely loved the main riff. And Peter Baltes had the ‘rock of life, seems like a hell of a load’ thing, which really worked for me, I loved that. But the lyrics for the verse weren’t really there. The whole point of bringing me in as an American was to kind of ‘bridge the gap’ across the pond, because the band were close to going gold with both Balls to the Wall and Metal Heart, which both sold around four hundred thousand units in the States and then stopped. Obviously Gabby (Hauke, Hoffmann’s wife, credited as Deaffy on Accept’s albums) was the lyricist, and they gave me some of here scribbles and said ‘go to work’. So I put some of my slang into it, and originally it was about sex, an Aerosmithy kinda thing. But the bizarre thing was that Gabby was so used to being in control with all the lyrics, with all her S&M messages, crazy death and dark lyrics, which I’m really not into, so we clashed immediately; There was a girl working for Dierks as a secretary, Ramona, who was an American Military daughter. They’d keep running upstairs to here with these lyrics and asking her ‘what does this mean? Does it make sense?’ But she was a very conservative young lady and she had no idea what I was going on about. There were huge fights, ‘this is to abstract, this isn’t who we are’, we were fighting incessantly about the lyrical concepts of the record. So we kept the lyrics, it’s basically about the lifestyle in the music business, the whole rock star dream thing… Funnily enough, I learned later that the song was banned in the UK, which was good press for us”.
Was it really? “Yes, I heard, and I don’t know how true this is, that the BBC banned it because of the Ecstasy drug explosion in the UK. They thought I was singing about the drug, so they banned it. That’s what I remember about X-T-C. I still play it in my live set today, and people go nuts”.
Next up is Generation Clash. “That’s Gabby – she was ninety per cent of that. It’s very much her style of writing – generations clashing down the ages and such. It’s one of those songs that was so bizarre to me at first – I just didn’t get it. And I could say that overall about the record – they’’d give me songs and we’d go from X-T-C to this. The direction of the album seemed all over the place. They were struggling to find a way to combine the two styles if you know what I mean. I think this song is her attempt at an American-styled anthem. It’s for the young people, an attempt at crossing over to the youth. It was picked as the single and the video by the record label Epic, and the song debuted in the top 200 in the charts, which was a first for the band. I remember being on a bus on tour and they opened up Billboard and found out they were in the charts. It was at number one hundred and twelve with a bullet, which was really amazing for a band that never really charted in the US”.
Track three is Chain Reaction. “That’s me. I loved the riff, it’s really melodic and still what I try to do today musically. It’s really stuck with me. The lyrics were inspired by Out on the Tiles off of Led Zeppelin Three. It’s about a chain of events leading to an explosion… it’s hard for me to explain. The older you get the easier it becomes but then… I’d written songs before, but this was the first time I was really taking the plunge as a lyricist. I really wanted to make my mark, so I would just sit down for hours each day and scribble down words, trying to make them fit. And typically I’d over write the words, trying to get eight hundred words into one line. (sings) ‘Chain reaction, loves attraction’”…
Sometimes though it’s the sound of the words together that are just as important as any meaning, isn’t it? “Yes… syllables are very important in rock – RE-ACT-ION – YES-NO-WHOA-OH… it’s rhythmic, isn’t it? So, like you say if it sounds right… -tion words seem to have worked a lot for me over the years… sensation… whether or not that’s just the English language, I don’t know. I think about that a lot”.
And of course the next song on the album, as if to prove the point, is Love Sensation. “Yes, it’s a ‘t-i-o-n’ isn’t it! That’s a weird one. It’s another attempt lyrically to cross over to the American fanbase, but I think it failed miserably as a song. It really doesn’t make any sense. It’s a basic rock n’roll sex kinda thing, and the weird thing about it was that Dieter had done a lot of work with Tina Turner in her early days; he had an African-American girl to sing on all the demos because she sounded the same as Tina. For this song he wanted to get her in to sing on it with me. ‘Wow! I know this black girl we can get in from Tina Turner!”. He had some insane ideas. But I can honestly say that song never really made sense to me. It’s just a blah-blah kind of song”.
Had they made it very clear that you were there to help conquer the American market? “Yes. They had been through every label and subsidiary known to man at the time. In those days you could get to that level where you didn’t quite go gold or bigger and the label would drop you. Gabby was very good at hustling new deals, and the deal with Epic was a big one for the band. But the parent company Colombia said ‘we’re going to make or break this band, but you can’t do it unless we Americanise the band’. Long story short, I remember during recording – I’m not sure which song – that Dieter hit the talkback button in the studio and said ‘you realise if this fails it’s your fault and my fault’. I was a cocky, twenty-seven year old kid with no real idea of the status of the band and I said ‘no way, it’s not going to fail’. But I can now tell you that I’d never heard truer words in my whole life – we were both blamed for everything! We were accused of slickening up Germany’s best true metal band, and I was told that I was destroying peoples lives! It’s not at the same level, but I would compare it to what happened to Dio when he joined Black Sabbath. People hated him! He was the antichrist!
Back to the album – Turn the Wheel is the next track. “That’s another one that Peter had. It’s kind of an AC/DC attempt. The band had toured with AC/DC when Bon Scott was in the band, and Peter said that you can’t tour with AC/DC without a little bit of Angus and Malcolm Young rubbing off on you. And he’d picked up some of their riffs subconsciously…So it was his title, and it was my duty to come up with some lyrics with Gabby. I’m really not sure what Turn the Wheel Around means. I interpreted it as some kind of sexual act, as did Dieter because that’s how he thought about things in those days… the chorus is another of those American ‘get the crowd going’ kinda things. But I still don’t fully understand what it’s about. I still play it live sometimes and people really like it. But they ask me what it’s about and I say I’ve no idea!”
It sounds as if large parts of your time with the band were like that! “You have to understand that I really didn’t know too much about them. In America they were kind of mysterious. Look at the cover of Balls to the Wall. Were they a gay band? I remember the first time I heard Fast As a Shark. Sitting in the band house of a band I was in smoking weed and some guy brings Restless and Wild in. Blood Red Vinyl; ‘hi-de-hi-do-hi-daAAAAARRRRGHHHH’. We were jumping around the room wondering what we were listening to! They were definitely the Godfathers of speed metal, and any of those bands that plays that music that says they weren’t inspired by Accept is lying”.
My favourite track is next – Prisoner. “That’s another one I can say Gabby had a real hand in. That was the Bon Jovi kind of attempt. Lyrically it’s about a dancer trying to seek fortune and fame in the New York ballet. I think it’s actually a pretty good lyric/story. Live it isn’t easy to play; we played a big festival in July in Italy and we brought in the keyboard player who played on my solo album, Andrea Pergori, who also plays rhythm guitar, which you really need on this song (demonstrates difficult riff by humming)… Wolf Hoffmann comes from a classical background, and you can see from the orchestration of that track where Wolf puts his stamp on the song. Without that I don’t think the song would have been as good as it is”.
Yes, it’s that melodic guitar solo that really makes the song isn’t it. “Yes, but (hums solo, pauses)… ‘shot through the heart’… it is, isn’t it?”
Yes! “But who wasn’t trying to do that at that time? We all stole from each other”.
And at least you didn’t have to pay Desmond Child thousands to come up with the refrain either. “It maybe would have helped! (laughs)”.
I was listening to the album earlier on today whilst I was preparing for this chat and I have to say I’d forgotten just how good it is – Mistreated. “That song has fifty seven vocal tracks on it. I believe there are a hundred and twelve tracks on the whole thing. One thing about the producer Dieter Dierks that most people may not know is that he can go a little bit overboard. But in those days being overboard was what it was all about! He was rival with Mutt Lange and a few others like that; I remember one day in the studio… as an American I tend to sing ahead of the groove. Mistreated was meant to be the band’s monster ballad of the sort everybody had in the eighties. The song is about some internal things going on between the band and the manager, and she wrote the lyric: ‘I still have to believe I’ve not been mistreated’… and she explained it to me and I said ‘you want me to sing about a fight between you and the band – are you kidding?’ So I said no. I told the band about it – not Wolf, as he’s married to her – and they said ‘what do you mean?’ so I said what Gabby had told me and they just told me to get on with it… it’s one of the songs that took me the longest to get done. It’s a tough track. I was sent in to a studio by myself, and because of my timing issues in those days I would be sent to sleep by Dieter with a metronome. Click-click-click… so we would go in for each song, rough out the vocal, flesh it out on the first day, and Dieter would listen back to everything in the evening. On the second day, he’d point out whatever issues he had and on the third or fourth day we’d really start tracking. But with Mistreated I just wasn’t getting it. Dieter’s thing was, he’d had a huge hit single with the Scorpions and Still Loving You – it sold seven hundred and fifty thousand copies as a single in France alone – and Mistreated was his next big song. The first words in Still Loving You, ‘time, it needs time’, took eighteen hours to get right! Dieter said they did it til Klaus collapsed! I think that’s a little nuts, because I’m a performance guy. But the German way is ‘IT MUST BE PERFECT!’, so I sat in that demo studio with a two-inch tape machine, sung the song, sent it to the band. They said no. I did it again, they said no, until it got to the point where I literally didn’t care. They broke me mentally. But I think in singing that song, I finally found my voice. When I arrived Dieter said ‘you have a range, but you don’t know who you are as a singer’. I said I did but he said ‘you’ve been in covers bands for ten years, emulating Halford and Dio or whoever just to make money to survive’. So Mistreated, I don’t know but I think it was my shining moment as a singer. We sang it at that festival I mentioned in Italy, and it was one of those good vocal days where I was able to sing. The band will ask before we perform it whether I’m in the voice for it, because it’s tough”.
Because there are fifty seven vocal tracks on the song! “Yes, but there’s so much layering on it. Also, while we were recording it Dieter would be waving his fingers about in front of his face saying ‘I’m going to have Asian waterfalls and sitars here’ or ‘you know the song Penny Lane? I’m going to find a trumpet player with a little trumpet’. He was insane. But there are some beautiful colours on that song”.
The next track is Stand 4 What U R. “That was me, but I wanna go back a little bit. You have to remember that the Germans were very scared about making this transition. And I’d gone for six and a half weeks in pre-production, getting to know the band, living with them. And then we started to rehearse the old catalogue, and some of these songs, obviously, at a place in Cologne called The Empire Club, which was a rock bar with fitness centre connected. And one day while we were here Gabby said ‘we’re playing a show here and it’ll be your final audition’. So I still wasn’t in the band, I was still being observed! So we get ready for the show, and I’m sitting across the road from the venue where about a thousand metalheads have gathered and are waiting for the show. And that’s where the panic sets in, because I know if I don’t do this, I’m going home tomorrow. The band had invited some famous people along to give their opinion – Bruce Dickinson and KK Downing were both there, I’m told – and the gig was sold out and we went down really well. I woke up next morning, to hear the band talking in the guest house, and I thought well, I’d better get up and shake hands before being on my way. I went upstairs and Gabby looked at me and said ‘welcome to Accept’. I wasn’t relieved, I was actually almost furious. It was just a bit too much, but I guess they were just being careful. So Stand 4 What U R was kind of my protest song. I believed in myself, but I never really felt welcome within the group. And it’s such a pop song, so far removed from what Accept is. I get a lot of Facebook messages saying it’s a favourite song, but of course I get a lot of hate mail. It’s weird, but it touches a lot of people in a lot of different ways”.
But I think it works within the context of the album. “Yeah, it’s weird. If you’re in a band and you’re not ‘the guy’ that started it all, then you do whatever you can to make things work. There are some nice parts on it; it’s one of the later songs we worked on and I was starting to get my confidence as a singer. Working with Dierks I’d sing twelve hours a day six days a week. It was extreme singing. But it built me to a point where we could do a matinee at twelve, drive eight hours and do another show right off. I was superman!”
The penultimate track on the album was Hellhammer. “Hellhammer is one of my all-time favourites. It’s classic Accept. Balls out Accept. That’s one of the things you have about the album – you have songs like this and X-T-C that are classic Accept songs, there for the old fans but I think Wolf had had enough of being ‘just’ a power metal guitar player and wanted to show a little of what he had”.
I love the slightly off-kilter snare work towards the end of the song. “To this day, nobody I work with can get that right! The only person, who has ever got it right was my guitar player in Bangalore Choir, Curt Mitchell. And he said it was simple! But you have to hand it to them, the Germans come up with some great patterns. The Italians I work with say ‘what are they doing!’. Most guys tend to gloss over the technical aspects of this album when they play it, and I defy anyone to play it note for note when they play it, because it’s tough! That drum break is technically simple, but people tend to overthink what Accept do”.
The last song is D-Train. “Of all of them I think that’s my favourite. Most of the time now I open with that song. The story I was told was that during their time with Rob Armitage they’d been doing a big press thing in New York, and gotten in to a taxi with a driver they knew. They asked the guy about a mutual friend and he said ‘ah, he kissed the D-Train’, which meant that he was dead, he’d committed suicide. So this was a song about suicide – ‘don’t kiss the D-Train’ – and it was something that affected Peter very profoundly, because he was living in Philadelphia at the time, picking up on some New York and East Coast Slang; but that song definitely has a strong lyric message and it’s strange how those things can come sometimes from just jumping in a taxi. It’s a great crowd favourite to this day. When they hear that first riff, heads are banging!’
And there we have it. If I might ask one last question in summary – do you look on the time of the recording of Eat the Heat fondly? “Yes and no. I was wish the band no animosity and I have the greatest respect for them. I wouldn’t be talking to you today if it wasn’t for that album, and I’m still talking about it a lot. It came out in 1988! I’m playing the songs live. I did a couple of years in the band Bonfire, and always at the after show meet and greets somebody would bring a copy of Eat the Heat. And every time these people would say ‘I hated your guts – I was sixteen and Accept were my life! You destroyed my life! But the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve come to love this record and your voice!’ and that to me is the highest compliment you can get. It’s the reward. The whole time was madness! It was happiness, it was sadness. The band have shown that they can come back and do even better than they did before with Mark Tornillo – that’s proof right there that they are an entity to be reckoned with”