|It's been said that if Johnny Cash was born in 1968 and got his hands on a Slayer album when he was 18 or so, he would be singing metal ala Volbeat and vis a vis Michael Poulsen. This Danish wonder that has the metal world standing up and taking notice is a heady mix of rockabilly, early rock and roll and metal held together by a handful of pomade and nine gauge super slinky strings.|
Comprised of vocalist and guitarist Michael Poulsen, guitarist Thomas Bredahl, bassist Anders Kjølholm and drummer Jon Larsen, Volbeat has released three studio albums and one live dvd; all chart toppers and certified gold in Denmark, with their seminal release "Rock the Rebel/Metal the Devil" certified Platinum.
All precious metals aside, Volbeat has steadily increased their fan base with their unique blend and style of music and uncompromising stage shows. Capturing this writer's attention was the matchless sound that only a band with the guts to push musical boundaries can achieve--individuality in a musical landscape that is often more about following the recipe than being creative.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Michael Poulsen recently while he and the band were recording their much anticipated new album "Beyond Hell/Above Heaven" in Denmark...so slip on a black leather jacket, slide some pomade through your hair and channel Johnny, Elvis and Tom Araya ...it's surprisingly natural, it's Volbeat!
Strutter: First let's give our readers a bit of your bio as it were...prior to Dominus your first well known band, how did you decide and become a musician and singer?
Michael: You know, I think it all has something to do with the fact that since I was a child I was really interested in old rock and roll music. My parents were playing Elvis, Johnny Cash and Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, all the music from the 50's – they were playing it all of the time, and generally my family were all interested in music but no one was writing or playing – they were just listeners. I remember listening to some of the old records that belonged to my sister's boyfriend. He had old vinyl from Black Sabbath, Dio and bands like that and early Metallica—-I got really hooked into the metal scene. In school, I gathered some friends and tried to form a metal band but it seemed like I was the only guy that was 100% dedicated and serious. So I had to seek out something different. I ended up forming Dominus which was a death metal band. As I got older and out on my own, I started missing the old rock and roll songs that I grew up with and even though Dominus got pretty good respect and a name in Europe, I felt I needed to do something new.
Strutter: So, in breaking off to form Volbeat, did you already have a well formed plan of the look, feel and sound of the band or was your evolution more organic?
Michael: I could definitely sense I needed to write material that was a little bit more way back to the 50's and 60's but I still loved the distorted sound and double bass drums and everything and I started thinking why not combine the two? Do the songs like they were done in the 50's or 60's, keep the melodies, but do it in a metal way, keep the metal sound and it ended up being Volbeat.
Strutter: You've accomplished a hard task in Metal as a result; a kind of "this is what Johnny Cash would sound like if he were doing metal". So after forming Volbeat what was the initial response within the industry?
|I couldn't really figure out if I wanted to do full metal or full rock and roll and then I decided why not blend it, there's nothing wrong in it.|
Michael: Well we did a couple of demos and shuffled those around and ended up signing with our first record label. Before that, I remember when we were first shopping our demo to labels and we would be told "we really like your shit but we don't know who's going to buy it, so we can't sign you" but we kept on playing loud and the audiences kept getting bigger and bigger and suddenly we were written about in underground magazines, and the last couple of our records with our first label were selling.
Since the first release we have been touring so much in Europe, we've been sacrificing ourselves to the world in a way. We've dedicated ourselves, given up jobs, and have been doing it the hard way. It's been very difficult but we got a massive hit with our second cd in Denmark, which went number one, which meant we were selling more records than Britney Spears and Bruce Springsteen! (chuckling) It was really crazy, we were suddenly all over the radio, we had this hit called "The Garden's Tale" and you know, we toured a lot with this record, and the venues and halls got bigger, the crowds got bigger and suddenly we were performing for 10,000 people in Denmark.
Strutter: So once the record labels got on board, the public started taking notice?
Michael: Yes, inside Europe as a whole we were getting more fans and listeners. With our last record, Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood, it also went number one in Denmark, certified gold and once again we were touring with big crowds but with the enthusiasm we had when we were on a small label but they did a great job with pushing us in the US and we started getting noticed there as well.
Strutter: Undoubtedly, you have had impressive success in Denmark and Europe making waves in the music scene there which has now carried over to the States. Tell us more about the crossover and what happened.
Michael: Yeah, now we're signed to a major label, and we started to make some noise in the US when we went on tour with a band called Nightwish. That was a pretty good tour and small radio stations started playing our songs, people were starting to talk about us, then a band, called Metallica, I'm not sure if you've heard of them? (chuckling) (AAM: yes, I think I have!) they suddenly became very interested in us, they had been touring in Denmark and they hadn't played there for a long time. Well Lars, who's from the Copenhagen like I am, started calling the media to see what was going on, what's the big fuss in Denmark right now and everyone told him about Volbeat. So we got the opportunity to play with Metallica and as it turns out, James Hetfield really liked us as well. I had a good talk with James, he was sitting with his daughter on his lap and really into it. He came up to me afterwards and said, "I heard you translate some kind of Elvis metal. I really like it!" So, that was some kind of a start of a relationship with Metallica because later we were set to tour with them in the US. I also got the opportunity to hook up with James in Copenhagen, b/c there was five shows there...I got contacted by James' assistant and I said yeah I know him, (laughing), "he told me he knows your songs", of course I had already given James our cds, and had met him at a release party, and we discussed touring and I told him to call me and he did one day!
Strutter: It sounds like the two bands were able to form a pretty tight bond, seeing as how they've picked you up twice to tour with them.
Michael: Yes, we eventually got to hang out, eating Danish food and discussing how we work so we got the opportunity to tour with Metallica which was a pretty good spot for a band like Volbeat because people didn't really know who we were in the US, just a few in the underground scene, getting that tour was everything to us, and now we're set to tour again with Metallica in Europe. You know these are not the worst guys to be friends with!
Strutter: So I just reviewed your live DVD and it seems like you create some kind of mania in your fans. What's going on there?
Michael: Our listeners are very dedicated and seem to have the Volbeat fever! It's nice when you are playing live and you can see people sing along with the songs, we have in our audiences people from 12 years old to their 60s. Everything from metal heads to just normal people sitting on the bank, are at our shows which is a good thing. Also, I think it's the combination of the old stuff...people can relate to bands like Black Sabbath and the older style of music of Johnny Cash and Elvis and the melodic tunes from the 50's...since I grew up with that kind of music it was fairly normal for me. Our generation is really into a more modern style, you can still hear the metal influences...I write songs from the heart, and I worked on an acoustic and then switched to an electric, I couldn't really figure out if I wanted to do full metal or full rock and roll and then I decided why not blend it, there's nothing wrong in it...I figured it was best just not to worry about it or how weird it actually sounds like...don't think about it just do it. It was me not being afraid of mixing the styles I liked so if I wanted to sit down in the beginning and write a song in the style and feeling of Johnny Cash with a feel of old Metallica, I decided why not? I haven't heard anyone doing it and now we're making a living at what we're doing so we must be doing something right!
Strutter: Tell is about the current metal scene in Europe now what is it like or how is it different from the U.S.
Michael: You know the metal scene is pretty good in Europe, in Denmark we have some great metal bands but it's always been a problem keeping those kinds of bands alive. I'm not that quite sure how it goes in the US, but we know certain US bands that have a hard time surviving and playing--it seems like you have more rock bands who have a really strong career but in Europe we have several metal bands doing well but aren't doing that well in America. It's actually pretty weird.
Strutter: So let's talk about the new album, Beyond Hell/Above Heaven. Is it a musical departure?
Michael: It's really difficult to say because we just started yesterday! So far we have just been putting down the drum tracks, next is the guitars. Of course it will be different but still hold true to the Volbeat style. There's a few surprises, some guests that are really gonna be interesting for our style. I can't really say too much yet because it's all brand new in the studio, but after the first three albums you won't be disappointed!
Strutter: As a composer and songwriter what spurs you to write a song?
Michael: Umm, you know it's different, it can be anything—-you can be watching a movie, and then hear some notes, or a riff I hear from a band and I want to maybe do it another way, it can be me sitting down with my guitar just fooling around. The inspiration can come from anything. It can come from when you're in a really good mood and your wife told you something really sweet, it can really be anything, so there isn't a single inspiration
Strutter: It's been almost a decade since Volbeat formed. Can you single out one event that you are most proud of?
Michael: Umm, that's a tough one b/c there's been so many great things going on, of course I have to say that going on tour with Metallica has been a high point and pretty crazy because everybody in the band has been Metallica fans since they were teenagers! To be on the road with them and them having our cds has been crazy! Also, being able to make this kind of music in Denmark and making a living at it has been great.
Strutter: Your biography states that you got to work with some of Elvis's studio musicians. What was that experience like?
Michael: I got a call because they were touring in Denmark. It was a great compliment but, personally I hate seeing other people perform Elvis's songs--I can't stand it. So I was really a little afraid about it but they said, do it your own way, don't think too much about it, just do it your way. And I did that and I'm really glad I did it, b/c being on stage with those legends who have been playing this long and being told that I had a great voice by them and that I could make it was a big compliment.
Strutter: Let's talk about gear for a moment...in most of the videos I've seen you play a Gibson SG. Is that your axe of choice?
Michael: Yes, I play Gibsons exclusively and I mostly use Marshall heads to get my sound. I use two Marshall heads, and an Engl head.
Strutter: Ok, so America is waiting any plans to tour here soon?
Michael: We're shooting for August right now!
Strutter: Metallica has tapped into the band twice now, what other bands have you played with?
Michael: We've been playing with a lot of great bands, a couple of times with Megadeth—a couple of shows with Slayer, we actually had the opportunity to go out with Social Distortion, I'm a big admirer of Mike Ness but the time schedule wasn't right but hopefully we can do that later.
Strutter: So, any final words for our readers?
Michael: We are really working hard and dedicated to getting more shows in the US, and we really looking forward to getting back to the US, so check us out on the Internet in the mean time!
Strutter: Thanks Michael for taking time from the studio to speak with us! Rock on! Volbeat klipper og vi ønsker dig held og lykke!
For more information on Volbeat go to www.volbeat.dk , http://www.facebook.com/volbeat, or http://www.myspace.com/volbeat.
Special thanks to Toke Holt, Steve Karas and www.skhmusic.com for their assistance .
--Kim Thore (Strutter)