Ask any painter about light and dark values and they might tell you the color white is the presence of the complete spectrum and black the absence of all visible light. Black is said to be a protective color, as nothing can penetrate it; it absorbs. But one must be careful to balance the spectrum for without the light there can be no dark and we all know the dark is where the most prolific and sometimes haunting lyrics and melodies come from. And what can be said of those who grace the stage wearing only black?—there can only be one man in black and we all know who that is, but how do we describe the “other men” in black to be more specific? — One word; Volbeat.
Formed in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2000, Volbeat has become one of the most talked about bands around the world fusing thrash, rockabilly, metal, country and western, punk and everything in between to produce the metal sound that is Volbeat. But are they really doing something new and different? We think so and so do the legions of fans in every country they visit. They’re a hard band to pigeon-hole because you just can’t nail down the layers of sound they’re known for, so does combining all these various elements help or hinder Volbeat’s success? “If anything it’s helped us,” says lead singer Michael Poulsen with a smile, “because these days it’s so tough to come up with stuff you haven’t heard before, but we were not even aware we had something special going on; people were talking and saying we had something special and unique. We didn’t see it. When we did the first two albums people were talking all the time about how unique we were but we were totally aware of who we were inspired by so we just said, ‘we don’t know that; we just like these kinds of bands.’
“So we just kept doing what we were doing,” continues Poulsen, “and we still heard how special and unique we were and maybe at the same time we thought that maybe there were youngsters who really had tough times and they identified with us and I can truly understand that. We did meet people who didn’t understand what Volbeat was all about and they’d say ‘Well you’re not 100% metal or you’re not a 100% rock and we’d say, ‘You’re right!’ We are 100% everything that inspired us so we don’t need to be 100% only metal. So fine by me; I grew up with all these legendary performers of the 50s and all these heavy metal bands.”
Poulsen sites growing up in a home where his parents loved and played a lot of 50s era music so it was nothing for him and his siblings to spend time listening to Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry and little Richard at any given time, which later blossomed into Poulsen’s ability to combine all these great influences with his love of heavy metal thus producing, Volbeat. “When I was a teenager, I started discovering heavy metal music and rock music,” says Poulsen with a grin. “My older sister had a boyfriend who would listen to Dio, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and stuff like that so when I saw those record albums with those covers I was just like, ‘wow what is that?’ You know?” laughs Poulsen. “And I’d start to figure out the whole universe behind the album covers and sometimes you really liked the cover but you didn’t like the music or the other way around and I started to explore the world of heavy metal and I think that’s the whole key in Volbeat’s sound. You can hear the inspiration of the 50s music but of course you can hear the inspirations of the old school metal bands like Motorhead and old Metallica, Megadeth, Dio, Black Sabbath and I think you can definitely sense that in the Volbeat music.”
“When I started writing [for] Volbeat I couldn’t really decide what I wanted to do,” Poulsen explains, “so why not just blend it all together and play straight from the heart and don’t think too much, just play. I knew I liked the 50s and the crooners but at the same time I really liked the heaviness; the sound of heavy metal. So I decided to do it my way and blend all the styles together and I’m not going to make it all rock n’ roll or all heavy metal because it really doesn’t matter as long as it comes straight from your heart and that’s what’s called Volbeat music.”
Anything that comes from your heart can’t be bad; it’s authentic because trying to duplicate someone else’s sound or music never works out in the real world or as it did in your head. “Exactly,” states Poulsen with a smile and a nod. “If you try to follow a formula—you lose; because it would sound ridiculous. We’re doing really good; we’ve been sacrificing ourselves to this work awhile. When we started we played only small clubs and it was you know pay to play and we all had different jobs to be able to tour and suddenly all the road work we did in Europe started getting really good and we came to a point where we could actually quit our day jobs. Then we’d play for 50 people in Denmark and now we’re playing to 50,000 people in Denmark.” When Volbeat was an unknown name is the world of rock n’ roll, they made a decision to record a cover, which launched them from obscurity to being picked up on people’s radar. Many fans have posted that they played Volbeat’s version at their weddings; version of what you ask? I Only Want To Be With You. “We were about to have our first show in a bar in Copenhagen,” says Poulsen, “and we had our own material but we wanted to do a song that people knew because we would be singing down in the bar with songs that nobody had heard of so maybe we should just do a cover song. It just came together very organically in the rehearsal room. I Only Want To Be With You is something I heard as a child and it’s such an amazing song recorded by Dusty Springfield.”
And though the argument did come up that Volbeat’s version is just as good, Poulsen feels differently. “Hers is better. Oh yeah yeah ours is heavy though. When we did the cover, we looked at each other and said, ‘wow this is quite good lets just do it!’ It’s a great love song and it’s a song that everybody knows somehow. People will come up to us and say, ‘why don’t you play some Amanda Fox songs?’ and we’re scratching our heads saying ‘oh come on man– you idiot the fox is Dusty Springfield,” laughs Poulsen. “There are probably 500 other artists covering that song; it’s just a great song.”
Denmark loves Volbeat. They’ve been wildly successful in their homeland with multi-platinum records and have now come back to the U.S. with a twinkle in their eyes and packing the clubs/venues they play—when the lights go down at a Volbeat show, the men wearing black walk out into the light. “Well when we tour Europe we pull around 10,000 to 17,000 people and that’s amazing,” states a humbled Poulsen. “And we’ve been touring America again and we can see every time we come back the venues are getting bigger and the ticket sales are getting stronger. On this run, we’re playing for about 1500 to 60,000 people every night and that’s a really cool achievement for a band coming out of Denmark. We can see the band growing— we’ve got good airplay here in America, we’re gaining new fans discovering Volbeat who seem to really be embracing the band. When we toured with Metallica and did our own headlining shows after that; a lot of people would tell me, ‘we discovered you at the Metallica show.’ We have a lot of fans who were already Volbeat fans but some fans discovered us solely through Gigantour. It’s always an honor to be opening for legendary bands like Metallica and Motorhead because it always brings new fans.”
Everything looks bright and shiny for Volbeat, but everyone has karma and theirs seems to be holding on to lead guitarists. Sort of reminiscent of ‘Spinal Tap’ drummer issues, though no one has died in a bizarre gardening accident, spontaneous human combustion or by choking to death on the vomit of person(s) unknown thank God!
When asked about the departure of their past guitarists and the addition of their newest, ex-Anthrax axeman, Rob Caggiano, (who produced their new album with longtime Volbeat co-producer Jacob Hansen), Poulsen begins, “Yeah you know it’s just…ah…,” the hesitation in his voice speaks volumes and with a sigh and a smile, he states point blankly, “I don’t know what it is? I don’t like to back-stab people because you never get anything out of that as you know; but being in a band is just like being in a marriage and sometimes it works out and sometimes it don’t and when there are problems you try to fix that and if the problem doesn’t get better; it’s better that you’re splitting. And it’s the same thing being in a band, if the problems don’t get better it’s just better for everybody that you split and go separate ways. The thing here is that Jon [Larsen], Anders [Kjølholm] and I have known each other for so many years; Jon and I over 20 years; Anders and I almost 15 years. It is a very strong brotherhood and we take good care of each other and our crew; we want everyone to behave and just be good people. Sometimes people change and like I said it is like a marriage where sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t so there have been a few guys where it didn’t work out in the end and I have nothing against those guys; it is what it is and we still had a really good time with these guys and we wish them the best and there will be a day when we sit down and have a beer, laugh and remember our good times.”
And what of Rob Caggiano? “Rob became a Volbeat fan when we were touring with The Damned Things,” says Poulsen. “Rob said to me, ‘I would love to be able to produce you guys one day; just maybe a couple of songs and you’ll hear what it sounds like’ and I said, ‘yeah, who knows—we’re pretty much doing good with our own producer Jacob Hansen but who knows maybe you two could work together; I’ll give you a call when we hit the studio.’ So I sent him an email to tell him when we would be in the studio and if he wanted to produce to call up Jacob Hansen and let him know how he saw the band sound-wise and let’s find a new studio where we can step out of our comfort zone and be inspired. And he had told me that he was getting more and more into producing and that he might actually have to leave Anthrax. And I told him that what ever he decided to do there was a spot for him to produce the next album if we can get the right set-up in the studio with Jacob.”
“He then flew in and we sat down and talked about it,” continues Poulsen. “We liked the idea of him being a producer, but also a fan of the band, so what he would bring to the table sound-wise—and having Jacob there who knew and knows the band since we started. That was a very interesting process. So we started working in the studio and I was working with one of our really close friends on guitar and I wanted to bring him in and maybe become a new member of the band and I wanted him to play guitar solos because I really wanted that on the new album, but we sat down and talked and realized we didn’t want to mix close friendship with business so we asked Rob if he could play the solos on the album. He said he’d love to and that it would be an honor. When Rob started recording the solos he came up with a few ideas for different songs so we tried it out and we decided to use his ideas; the chemistry was so good we said, ‘Rob you should be in the band, man’ and he thought I was kidding.”
“So we continue to work in the studio and the next day he comes back and says, ‘were you serious about joining the band?’ and I said, ‘Of course I was.’ I told him it was not working out with my close friend so there was a spot open and I told him if he was still in, let’s do it. He told me he was thinking about it all night and would love to join you and that’s how be came our new guitarist.”
With Caggiano and Hansen at the helm, Volbeat trusted that they were in good hands and the result of everyone’s collective efforts; Volbeat’s newest release: Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies. Planned for release on April 8, 2013 (GSA on April 5 and USA on April 9), via Republic Records, Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies is a record that’s rich with stories and characters woven throughout its lyrics. Some are real – like the noble lady outlaw Pearl Hart, who held up a stagecoach to buy medicine for her dying mother, or Lola Montez, the erotic dancer with her infamous ‘Spider Dance,’ or Black Bart, the gentleman highwayman who wrote poems for the people he robbed. Others are entirely imagined. The Nameless One is a warning to all of a tale of dabbling in the dark arts, featuring the mysterious and sinister character of the title. Elsewhere, Room 24, featuring King Diamond, was inspired by a terrifying experience in a hotel room somewhere in the heart of America. Poulsen and Volbeat are very proud of their latest effort and rightly so; no one will be disappointed. “When I started writing the first couple of songs I could definitely sense that it had inspiration from all the old western outlaw movies that I had been watching as a kid with my daddy,” Poulsen says, “so I decided now is the right time to do something about it and I started writing lyrics to fit those songs and they were about legendary outlaws and shady ladies from the 1800’s and I also started getting pictures in my head of characters so I called up an illustrator friend to talk about what I wanted those characters to look like and it turned out to be the totally right thing for us to do; the music, the cover, everything fit so well into that molded universe. I’m so proud because I feel we reached what we wanted with this album.”
“It is a concept album somehow since you can hear in the melodies the inspiration of the old western movies,” continues Poulsen, “which is also what the lyrics are all about and what the cover art is all about, so somehow it feels a little like a concept album but the stories are not connected.”
The first single off the CD, Cape Of Our Hero, showcases the band’s softer side and the video is a true tear-jerker and one wonders about what inspires that type of song. “It’s a song that’s a little bit more laid back than the rest of the songs,” explains Poulsen. “A lot of guys can relate to the lyrics because it’s about growing up and what do you want to be when you grow up—a lot of boys read comic books about super heroes and look up to their daddies as some kind of hero. So the lyrics are about this kid who has a good imagination with superheroes and he looks at his dad as a hero. So when he loses his dad he stops believing in his superheroes too and he has an idea that if angels exist, because they have wings, he might catch an angel to fly him up to see his superhero and get a cape to fly around and look for his dad. It’s very emotional but I’m very proud of it. It might be too much for some people and not for others but we can honestly say we are very proud of it and everything comes straight from the heart.”
Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies truly promises to deliver an album full of ‘true grit’ tunes sans the filler, so picking a single would be hard for the band but fear not, they left that in the hands of others; “You know it’s so tough to figure out what is going to be the single,” contemplates Poulsen, “because we think every song on the record is a good song but we are completely aware that they–radio or our management–will always pick the most soft songs; at least that’s what they do in Europe, but we never sat down and said, ‘we need to write a radio song’ cause how in the fuck do you do that cause it’s not about that—we always write straight from the heart; we write heavy songs, soft songs, we like to write about it all, so when that process is done in the studio we always have our management tell us which they think and we’ll go ‘okay’ because to us all the songs are singles, know what I mean? But we all know that the radio stations play the soft songs.”
Poulsen takes a deep breath and if there’s anything he’d like to say to Volbeat’s fans, it would be this exactly, “We really appreciate the fans coming to the shows and the great feedback; it means a lot and we are so inspired to keep doing what we’re doing and to thank the fans for being good supportive people, it gives us the power to go out there.”
And with that, the outlaw gentleman with the ‘John R. Cash’ tattoo slung from shoulder to shoulder disappears into the dark; and as we walk out into the light, we wonder when we can go back and visit again with the other men in black—Volbeat.
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