by Steve Patrick
– Columnist –
Danish metal outfit Volbeat recently toured North America alongside support bands Spoken and Danko Jones in conjunction with the release of their latest studio album Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies. The record is the first to feature to feature the band’s brand new lead guitarist Rob Caggiano (ex-Anthrax, The Damned Things) and debuted at #9 in the Billboard 200.
Volbeat’s frontman and principle songwriter Michael Poulsen sat down with Hardrock Haven before their show at Piere’s Entertainment Center in Fort Wayne, IN on April 6th. Poulsen talked in detail about the new album, writing a song with King Diamond, and the band’s gameplan for announcing Caggiano as their new guitarist.
Hardrock Haven: Did you all make Rob learn basic Danish?
Michael Poulsen: Uh, he’s getting there. Baby steps. (laughs)
Hardrock Haven: Well, I was thinking he’d at least have to learn it for “The Garden’s Tale.”
Michael Poulsen: Yeah, I know, we were actually fooling around with that and said, “You’ve gotta sing the Danish lines in that song” and he was just like, “What?” (laughs) So we had a little bit of fun with that.
Hardrock Haven: How has the band dynamic changed with Rob?
Michael Poulsen: Ah, no it’s not like anything has changed that much. Now, of course you know you can definitely hear that there’s a new guitar player in the band and he has a tremendous good guitar style, you know. You can definitely hear that there’s a second guitar player now. It’s not just this wall of sound with guitars. You can hear there’s two guitar players and I really like that. You can hear that on the album as well because this is the first time we did an album where the second guitar player is recording his own guitar because on the previous albums I’ve been recording all the guitars.
Hardrock Haven: Well you’ve got a new album out in a few days … can you talk a bit about the song inspirations in terms of subject matter?
Michael Poulsen: Yeah, you know it’s very obvious that there’s a lot of inspiration from old, country/western movies and the 1800s … so uh … it was just the right time to do an album where I brought some of those characters to life and it seems to fit pretty well into the Volbeat universe. I was just going back to some of those movies that my father was really into and I was really into those soundtracks, so when I started writing the new album I could definitely hear that some of the material that I had was inspired by those old movies. So, I said, “Okay, this is what I’m gonna do. This is going to be the thing in the new Volbeat album.” So, I started writing lyrics bringing some of those characters to life from the 1800s and that became the new album.
Hardrock Haven: Do you have a personal favorite track off the new record?
Michael Poulsen: No, ‘cause every track is my favorite track. That’s the way it should be.
Hardrock Haven: Absolutely. Well, you talked about watching movies with your dad, what is your favorite western?
Michael Poulsen: I think the western movie I’ve been watching mostly, again and again, is Once Upon a Time in the West. It’s great.
Hardrock Haven: What did you want to do differently on this record in comparison with Beyond Hell/Above Heaven?
Michael Poulsen: Just make it better. (laughs)
Hardrock Haven: (laughs) Well, that’s always the goal isn’t it?
Michael Poulsen: (laughs) Nah, I’ll not take anything away from the other albums. I’m obviously just as proud of those albums as I am of the new one. The new one wouldn’t be that good if I didn’t have the past, you know, so it’s all about progressing and finding new inspiration without leaving what you already have. But it was very obvious with the new album that we were seeking something else. We wanted to leave our comfortable zone.
We wanted to try out a new studio, but still bring our producer Jacob Hansen and at the same time flirting around with trying to have Rob stepping in as a second producer because I really like the work he did with The Damned Things and the new Anthrax record. Rob was a huge fan of Volbeat and he said, “I’d love to produce a couple songs so you can hear what I think the band could sound like.” And I say, “Okay, I’ll touch base with you when it comes to the time when we enter the studio.” And I told him, “Maybe you should talk to Jacob Hansen and see if you two can come up with some kind of game plan of how you want to do this.” And that’s what they did, you know?
So that was a very interesting process…having Jacob Hansen, who is really…he knows every detail about Volbeat. He’d been producing all the previous albums and then to have a new guy who is a new fan of the band who is also producing…how does he see and hear Volbeat?
That was very, very interesting … how it all started with Rob being part of the whole team. I had a really good friend with me in the studio who was supposed to put down the solos and actually maybe stepping in to be the new guy in the band, but we just realized while we were working in the studio that it didn’t work out the way that we thought it could, so we said, “Let’s not do any more.” We were so afraid of mixing really close friendship and business and all that…so I said, “It’s not a problem. I’ll just put down all the guitars as I’m used to.” Then I kindly asked Rob if he could put down the solos and he loved to. He’s a fuckin’ freak on that guitar. Later on he had some ideas after putting down some solos and I said, “You know, those are really good ideas. Let’s use them in the songs if you’re okay with that.” And he said, “That’d be cool. That’ll be a compliment for me if you did that.” So, later in the process, I just said, “C’mon, you should just be in the fucking band. You put down all the solos and you have a few ideas for a couple of the songs. You should be in the band.” And he basically thought that we were kidding him. So, the next day he said, “Were you serious about that offer?” I say, “Yeah I was. I mean it.” He said, “I would love to join you guys.”
So that was how it all came about and I think you can definitely hear that in the music that there’s this new. second guitar player. He has his own sound. He has his own picking. He has his own style and all of that together was brought into the new Volbeat record. You can hear that. You can also definitely also hear it live when we play that there’s a second guitar player. So, even though I wrote all the material for the record, having a guy stepping in with such an in-your-face guitar style…that’s just brought something extra.
Hardrock Haven: In terms of the timeline, it sounds like Rob was offered the gig pretty early on in the process of making the new record. How long did you wait to announce the information that he had joined the band?
Michael Poulsen: You know, we gave him the offer in the studio and uh … that, you know, of course that was big news for us while we were working in the studio on the album we actually have a new man in the band now, but not the guy that we had thought should be the new guy. So, there was no reason for putting out the news before we were almost done in the studio because we wanted to concentrate on the work we were doing in the studio and not be infected by a lot of input from the outside by announcing him as the new guitar player. So, we waited until we were done.
Hardrock Haven: That makes a lot of sense. The song “Room 24” is obviously a stand-out track on the new record because of the guest appearance by King Diamond. Can you talk a little bit about how you and King co-wrote that song?
Michael Poulsen: It’s a really great track. I’m very proud of it. I’m a huge King Diamond fan and I met King Diamond for the first time in 1995 and later on in 1997. The whole idea for that song was…we were touring in Texas and King came to one of the shows and he was really into the Volbeat music and, of course, we knew each other from back in the days. Later on when we came back to Dallas, TX we had Hank Shermann with us on guitar. We hired him into the band after we kicked out Thomas (Bredahl) and King wanted to say hell to Hank and just hang out with us. That was on the Gigantour with Motörhead and Megadeth and that’s where we started talking about doing something together.
You know, Volbeat is actually only the second band coming out of Denmark who made it to the US. Mercyful Fate was the first band and we are only the second who made it and he was very proud of that. We just started talking and said we should do something together. Normally that’s not something King does. He’s very locked into his own thing, so that was a huge compliment that he actually really wanted to do something. I said, “You know, I have a really cool idea that we could work on. Let me work on it and I’ll send you the demo track.” And when he heard the song he said, “Definitely. That’s fucking heavy. Let’s do it.”
Normally when I have guest singers I would write the lyrics and the melody line, but King he wanted to write his own melody and he wanted to write his own lines which I think is perfect because why would I do that? It’s fucking King Diamond, man, you know? So when I started writing that song, of course, I had in mind all the time that it needs to be something that he could feel comfortable about and it needs to be a heavy song, but it still needs to have a feeling that it was a Volbeat song. You know, you don’t send a song to King Diamond saying, “Ah, I wrote a country song. Can you put vocals on this?” (laughs) You don’t do that. It needs to be a heavy song and I’m really into that. It’s easy for me to write those songs. I had another band in the past called Dominus which were really heavy and so of course I was having a lot of inspiration from old King Diamond records…also newer King Diamond records and Black Sabbath and Mercyful Fate when I wrote that song. I always had in mind that it needs to sound like something that could be on a King Diamond album.
So when he heard that he was really into it and the next thing was how do we do this when it comes to lyrics because if he wants to write his own lines and I want to write my own lines, how does that mix together? So I started talking about, I say, “You know, I had a really creepy experience in a hotel where I wake up in the middle of the night and I cannot move my arms and legs, but I’m totally awake.” I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I couldn’t move my arms or legs. I was trying to reach out for my wife and I couldn’t do anything. It almost felt like I was choking. The only thing I could get out was something like “aaaahhhhh” and I was so sure I was about to have a heart attack. I said, “Okay, you’re having some kind of stroke or heart attack. Something is wrong. You’re dying here.”
I managed to fall asleep and I don’t know how long I was sleeping, but I wake up again and the same thing is happening. I cannot move my arms or legs and I feel like choking. Suddenly I feel like somebody is pressing me, pushing me down on the bed … pushing my chest and everything became more dark and it’s almost like I sense some kind of presence in the room. I was so sure that I was dying, I said, “This is how it ends.” A lot of thoughts were going through my mind like…”Why do I see all this darkness?” “Why is it that I cannot move?” And I told King about that experience and he said, “That’s some heavy shit. You’ll never know if there was some spirit in the room. Have you ever heard of sleep paralysis?” I said, “No, what is that?” And he said, “Let me just send you a couple of links and you can read about it.” I don’t know if you’ve heard of it…sleep paralysis?
Hardrock Haven: I haven’t, no.
Michael Poulsen: It’s a really creepy thing and a lot of people have experienced this. And they tell the exact same story as I tell. They wake up and they cannot move their arms or legs. It’s something to do with the mind…the brain. That second when you wake up, it’s not communicating with the rest of the body. Your eyes are open, but your brain is just not full awake, so it’s not communicating with the rest of…you should look it up on the internet. It’s very, very spooky.
The thing is that everyone who experienced this sleep paralysis…they have the exact same story that they cannot move their arms and legs and feel like something is on top of you. Some kind of dark, spiritual force or something. I can’t explain it. Very, very few people have actually died from it … because of the shock of it. And he (King) said it could be that thing and that sounds pretty much what it was…what I was going through. So, we made the deal that I should try to explain that experience in the song and that he should be that dark thing in the room. So that made sense and we called the song “Room 24” since that was the room I was in.
Hardrock Haven: In terms of the song structure though, did you have to re-tool either part so they would mesh together songwriting wise?
Michael Poulsen: No, I knew exactly where I wanted King Diamond’s vocals. It was just up to him how he wanted to do the melodies and how he was going to put it down. So, when we recorded my part we sent the files over to his studio and we had no idea how it would sound like before we got it back. So when we got it we put it on and we were just blown away. It was just like, “Wow. This sounds amazing.”
Hardrock Haven: Well, it definitely does. You got the signature high notes in there for sure.
Michael Poulsen: Totally.
Hardrock Haven: What do you make of Volbeat’s increasing popularity in the U.S.?
Michael Poulsen: Yeah, it’s amazing because we have been touring Europe so much. We started to tour in bars and now in Europe we play venues with capacity of ten to seventeen thousand people. And now things are going really, really good in the US. You know, we can see every time we do another American tour there are more ticket sales and the venues are getting bigger and it seems very solid right now. There’s still a lot of roadwork to do, but we’re fine with that.
Hardrock Haven: Here it is a couple days before the new album comes out…do you ever get nervous or anxious in the days leading up to the release of a new record?
Michael Poulsen: I’m not nervous…I’m not nervous because there’s nothing to be nervous about. We’re very proud of the record. We’re just very excited. You know, about how the fans are going to react. That’s the main thing. Of course, it’s cool if the media likes it, but come on, everybody knows that the media doesn’t really have any force anymore. It is the fans who are in the driver’s seat. The fans are what we are concerned about…not concerned, but those are the people that we’re excited to hear opinions because they are the ones that go out there and buy the concert tickets and it means something to them, you know. It’s some kind of identity to them. I know how it feels when I’m waiting for one of my favorite bands to release a new album. I know how that feels like, so I totally put myself into the expectation of a new record. So that’s very exciting. I’m not nervous. I’m just very excited.
Hardrock Haven: Well how’s the tour been going so far with Danko Jones?
Michael Poulsen: Great, there have been only very, very few shows that haven’t been sold out. The lineup is really, really great. We have a great opening band in Spoken. Those guys are really, really good. And we have Danko Jones as the main support and he’s always great. He’s a great entertainer. He’s got good rock songs. Very happy to have those guys with us. We tried back in the days to get Danko Jones with us but it never really fit into our schedule, but this time everything was perfect. We’re very proud to have them with us.
Hardrock Haven: Who would you say is the definitive “outlaw gentleman”?
Michael Poulsen: Black Bart.
Hardrock Haven: What about “shady lady”?
Michael Poulsen: You know, they’re in our daily life every day and every man knows that. (laughs)
Hardrock Haven: Do you think that being in Volbeat has really freed Rob up musically?
Michael Poulsen: That’s probably a question you would need to ask Rob, but I’ll say yes because I think he was very flattered that we actually used his ideas. I don’t know how much … it didn’t seem like he was really writing anything in Anthrax, so stepping into a new band where you can…where there’s an option of bringing out your own ideas must be a good feeling. So, I believe that he appreciates that.
Hardrock Haven: How would you describe Rob’s production style in comparison to Jacob’s?
Michael Poulsen: Every producer is different, you know. They have their own style. Rob definitely has his own flow. There’s a really good balance in it. You can hear everything and it sounds very solid.
Hardrock Haven: Are there any Danish bands that US fans should know about that may not have made it over here yet?
Michael Poulsen: Everybody knows Mercyful Fate and King Diamond, but uh … Danish bands … that’s a good question. I feel a little bit helpless here. We had a really good support band with us on a tour in Denmark called Grumpynators. They’re good guys.
Hardrock Haven: Many Volbeat albums have liner notes explaining what each song is about. Why do you think it’s important to provide that detail?
Michael Poulsen: I don’t know if it’s important, but it’s like … the fans are really … they’re really into those lyrics and a lot of times they have a lot of questions on forums and stuff. You know, “What’s this song about?” I could feel that it meant something to them. But what I like is when people read lyrics then they make up their own mind what it’s about, but for some people it’s really important. They really want to go into the details and the depth of the lyric and I know how that feels like.
So I thought maybe it would be a good idea for certain songs to let people know what this is about because I know it means something to certain people…like they get into that. Sometimes when the fans or the listener gets the right information about the lyric suddenly the song becomes a new song for them. It’s like, “Wow, that’s what it was all about!” So the song becomes more fresh, so I thought that it might be a good idea.
Hardrock Haven: Well it’s like what you were saying about “Room 24.” I listened to that song last night and got the general idea, but hearing the story behind it makes it that much more interesting.
Michael Poulsen: Yeah, yeah, that’s what I also like. People can leave a lot of questions marks here and there. “What’s this song about?” And then they can read an interview about that song and say, “Wow, so that’s what the song is about!” They have to nerd around a little bit on the net to figure out what’s going on. Sometimes it’s cool to have everything in front of you, other times it’s cool that you need to go on a journey to figure the whole thing out, you know?
Hardrock Haven: I’d imagine putting that detail in the liner notes cuts down on stupid interview questions about the meaning of your songs too. (laughs)
Michael Poulsen: (laughs) Yeah, exactly.
Hardrock Haven: Anything you’d like to say to Volbeat fans out there reading this?
Michael Poulsen: Just that we’re very excited to get a new record out and hopefully they will like it. We appreciate their support and let’s rock out when we’re out there live.
Hardrock Haven: Well thank you so much for your time. It’s been very interesting talking with you.
Michael Poulsen: Thank you!