This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Volbeat frontman and founder Michael Poulsen called in from a tour stop in Des Moines, Iowa, to discuss the band's new album, "Seal the Deal & Let's Boogie," and their tour to support it. Volbeat (also including guitarist Rob Caggiano, bassist Kaspar Boye Larsen, and drummer Jon Larsen) are playing at The Complex in Salt Lake City tonight.
Volbeat has been building an audience in the U.S. for years. What was it like finding out that "Seal the Deal" had debuted in the top five this year?
Very crazy, you know. That's always something you cannot foresee, when a record takes off like that. It's been an amazing experience so far with the new album. The fans really like it. Of course, you can't win 'em all. As Lemmy said, 'Where would you put 'em?' There will always people who are most into [older] Volbeat records more than the new one. In general, the new one is going really, really good. The sales have been amazing, the reactions to the new songs live have been really, really good.
What does it mean to you that in the States, Volbeat has gone from opening for bands like Nightwish to now headlining big rock shows throughout the country?
It's great to see that all the road work [paid off] that we did from the very beginning, when we had the first tour in America that we did with Nightwish. That's a long time ago, and we just kept coming back and touring America. We had the great opportunity to go out with Metallica, be on the Gigantour with Motorhead … We've been out with some really cool bands. And we could see every time we came back to America and played some of the same cities, the venues got bigger and we had more ticket sales. It's definitely a great accomplishment for a band coming from a small country like Denmark being able to tour America and actually do really good there. It's something that we're very proud of, and we definitely owe a lot to our fans out there in America. It's great, man.
What led to [bassist] Anders Kjøholm's departure from the band?
It came very naturally, somehow. When we end a year of touring, we always sit down as a band and go through all the details of everything we've been through all year and what we're about to do in the coming year. And it seemed like we were not on the same level, there were some things that we couldn't agree on. We just were not on the same level where you need to be on the same level. I stopped trying to push things to a certain degree, where you can't fix it, and you've been trying for a certain amount of time to fix the problem. It's better that you stay realistic to the whole situation, and it was better for him to be at home with his wife and kids. And we just have to soldier on on the road and do our work with Volbeat and make that functional. There was no big drama, it was basically just us sitting down and trying to figure out how to continue our work this year, and it just didn't seem that we were on the same page.
Now you guys have added Kaspar [Boye Larsen] back to the band. I know he's someone you played with a while ago, so what's it been like having him back?
Really great. The thing is, I know Kaspar from way back, and [drummer] Jon [Larsen] knows him too. Me and Kaspar go way back since the early '90s, when we were playing death metal. So we've pretty much known each other since we were 17 or 18 or something. We've been in the same environment, the same scene all along. Been playing together on the road, him in his bands and me in the bands I had. It's been very easy for us to get Kaspar into the band. The first European tour we did was actually with Kaspar as a stand-in bass player, because Anders couldn't make it because of circumstances at home with his wife and kids. So he's not actually new. People in Europe who saw Volbeat the first time with Kaspar. And now, he's the new guy and he's doing an amazing job. He has the experience, he's a great musician and human being. So it's been very easy, actually, to get him into the band.
It seems like what really separates Volbeat from a lot of the other hard rock and metal bands out there today is that beyond just having a heaviness to your sound, you also have quite a bit of melody. Is that something that is a specific focus for you in songwriting?
Yeah, totally. That is a must for me. I'm a sucker for melodies. Volbeat is all about that sweet melody. For me, it's important that it's a song that people can sing along to. I love songs that I can sing along to. So melody has always been at the front of the writing process for Volbeat. I'm really into '50s melodies rock stuff. Basically, I'm just a sucker for melodies. It definitely has a huge impact in Volbeat songwriting.
Your last album, "Outlaw Gentlemen," was almost something of a concept album, with a country-western flair to many of the songs. "Seal the Deal" has that to a lesser degree, I would say, with a few songs centered around devils, voodoo, ancient gods, even the final victim of a famous serial killer. Was there any specific theme you were focusing on, or was it just whatever you happened to be reading at the moment?
Pretty much. It was more just about a feeling I had when I wrote certain songs. It wasn't a steady theme on the new album. There were certain songs that flirted a little bit around the voodoo environment in New Orleans. Some people might feel it has a dark side 'cause of all the demons and devils and voodoo, but in general, there's a lot of light in them, because it's more about embracing those demons in yourself. Get rid of them, tackle them, get rid of them, and start a new, positive life with a lot of light in it. So some of them might sound dark, but at the end of the tunnel, there's light. I'm just trying to tell people to fix their demons, get peace with them or get rid of them. Other certain songs are really very spiritual, which give a lot of hope and light to [listeners], like "Goodbye Forever." It tells that you have to embrace every day when you wake up, and tell people around that care for them and care about them, and get something done with your life. You're not there for nothing you have to deal with why you wake up and why you go to bed. There's a lot of spiritual stuff going on in the new record, and people can use it as they want. I see it as a very light album, and hopefully a lot of [listeners] see that too.
When I spoke to you 2 years ago, when you were touring with Five Finger Death Punch, I asked you about new music you were working on, and you said, "We're trying to do some things we haven't done before." Now, I listen to "Seal the Deal" and I hear songs with banjos, bagpipes, female backing vocals, even a gospel choir on "Goodbye Forever." What prompted you to go in such a different direction on some of these songs and to try such different things?
There's always certain instruments or certain bands that I'm inspired by. When it comes to writing a song, it has to come straight from the heart, and I don't want to suffocate anything, I don't want to push anything. Things come to me very naturally. So when the songs come, I feel that it feels right, and that's when I feel the difference.
But at the same time, you can definitely hear songs on that album that could easily be on the first Volbeat record, or the second one. We do still keep our signature sound, our signature songs, but at the same time we're still very much inspired by stuff we haven't done before. Using a gospel choir was something I'd really wanted to do since we wrote the "Guitar Gangsters" album, but I didn't have the right song, so it was not the right time. So you just have to embrace those moments where the magic is around you, where you get the right ideas.
I said to the other guys in the band, 'I have a good feeling about the material I'm writing right now,' but I have to admit it seems to be more of a rock album. It's very melodic. Maybe the metal influence is not that high on this record, but it does still sound like Volbeat, it has the Volbeat signature sound. But who knows? Maybe the next record would have more metal influence. I don't know. It's all about that certain feeling you have, that certain plan when you write the album. Because it has to be fun to write an album, it has to be fun to record it. At the very end, it has to be fun to tour with the new songs, because you're away from family girlfriends, wives, children, everything so you have to enjoy what you're doing.
That's basically what Volbeat is all about. We're very honest with our material. We found our signature sound, but we're not afraid to push our limitations to where we show people that we can be inspired by gospel music, we can be inspired by Mumford & Sons, who use a lot of banjos. Yes, we have a female backing vocalist right now on five songs Mia Maja, who has that kind of certain Ronnie Spector thing. And that's all things that we like to listen to when we listen to other bands, and we can hear that we can use that in Volbeat. And we definitely tried to do that on the new album. I think it's working out really good.
When I first listened to "Seal the Deal," as each track came on, I thought, "Oh, that's different, but I really, really like it." Hearing the choir on "Goodbye Forever," hearing Mia's backing vocals on a lot of the tracks, the little banjo section on "The Bliss." Everything had a very distinct Volbeat sound to it, but those little flourishes on top really augmented them, I thought. Has that been the assessment you've gotten from other people as they look at the different things you've done?
First of all, thank you for your compliment. That's totally how I hear it, too. And yes, that's pretty much what people say. They like that they know what they're gonna get with Volbeat, but there are certain times where they know they're gonna get a few surprises. It seems like [people like] the new ideas that we bring into Volbeat. Of course, there will always be certain fans who like the more heavy stuff that we can do, and other fans like the more laid-back rock songs that we can do. As I said in the beginning, you cannot win 'em all, but at the end of the day, they all have something to choose from. Volbeat is a band with a lot of different kinds of songs, but with a signature touch.
So when you have a rock song or a metal song and suddenly a banjo pops in, it makes a difference. But it should not only make a difference [just] because it's a banjo, it should make a difference because it works. I think we find our way to write songs when we put in those kinds of instruments where it actually works. And it works because it comes very naturally to us; we're not trying to paint ourselves into a corner where it only has to be heavy or only has to be rock 'n' roll, or punk, or country. We're so much inspired by so many different styles, and I like to incorporate all those things into my songwriting. At the end of the day, if it feels natural, it's a keeper. I think the audience can hear that honesty in the songs.
How do you handle those songs in live performances? Is Rob busting out a banjo? Are you bring along a female vocalist?
There have been some European shows where we've brought in the banjo player and the female singer. We cannot do that everywhere we are touring. But there will be places where we bring in the banjo player and the female singer, and some of the guest singers, too. But when we don't do it, when we can't, we always find a way to do it another way, so people get the same kind of feeling. Rob might find a certain sound on his pedal board with his guitars, so it kind of sounds like what you're hearing on the record. So we always find a way to kind of make it sound pretty much as on the record.
Speaking of live performances, I saw you guys were on the bill for Coachella earlier this year, which seemed like a very odd pairing to me, but then again, they had Guns N' Roses headlining a couple of the performances, so maybe not all that weird? I don't know. How did you feel about how it went?
Ha ha! I'm glad that you said "weird," because that's the exact same word that me and Jon were using. We're from Denmark we'd never even heard of that festival. We just heard from the Americans [in our team] that it was the biggest thing, the biggest festival in America. "That's the festival to play in." We were like, "Really?" I didn't even know a single band that was playing there! I mean, yeah, we know Guns N' Roses, but all the other bands, we had no excuse my language f-ing clue about who those bands were. It more seems like a hipster festival. As Europeans, we were just like, "OK, yeah, let's just play the festival." Of course, [guitarist] Rob [Caggiano], as an American, was, "Oh, it's the biggest thing in the world! It's the biggest festival! It's gonna be great!" So we just let him have his crazy moment, and then we, as Europeans, just went out there and did what we were supposed to do. It is what it is. We did what we had to do, the reaction was fine, we got good reviews, so I can't ask for more than that. But yeah for us it seemed very weird, because we'd never heard about it and we'd never heard of any of the bands either. But at the end of the day, it's a challenge, and we like challenges, so we did what we were supposed to do and it went down fine.
Obviously, that was a huge crowd, and you're used to playing in front of those with the festivals you do across Europe, but some of the shows you're doing here including the one in Salt Lake are, by comparison, very small and intimate. Do you have a preference doing one of those kind of shows over the other? And what kind of specific challenges are there to each?
We just like to be on stage, and it really shows. We can do everything one day we can play an intimate show, and one day play a huge arena show, and the third day a big festival show, and suddenly you're doing a show with Metallica. We do a lot of different shows, and it's all a great experience. And now we have the experience because we've been touring so much. Sometimes you can get into a certain routine where you're only doing venues, and it's the same venues, and everything's the same and you can't really separate the shows from each other. Sometimes it's very nice to have those different kind of shows, because it makes it more fun. It's not like I prefer one certain show over another, it's just all about being on stage and seeing those happy faces in front of you. If they're happy, we're happy.
What can fans in Salt Lake City expect from your show here, both in terms of setlist and production?
You know what, since we're not there yet, I will not know. We'll take one day at a time. I can only promise you that we'll be there 100 percent in spirit, and we will be there physically doing everything we possibly can to deliver a good show. We always go on stage and deliver 100 percent. We'll bring a lot of good, positive energy and we'll do our best to put together the best setlist possible. We're just looking forward to playing the show and seeing the reaction from the fans. So hopefully we live up to expectations from the fans who've been waiting. We've been waiting for them too! So I guess everything's gonna work out fine.
Is the setlist something you change up night to night? I know a lot of bands play the exact same show everywhere they go, which is fine, but do you guys make it a point to fit in different songs here and there?
Yeah, we always change the setlist a little bit. There will always be a few songs that we change. It depends on the day, or if we've been there not that long a time ago. We go through the setlist from the last time and try to give people songs that they didn't get the last time. And there are certain song that maybe don't work out in the sound check, and so we'll change it sometimes the rooms have different sounds. So we always change the setlist a little bit. So right now, we actually don't know the setlist for that show yet. We'll just have to wait and see.
P With Killswitch Engage and Black Wizard
When • Tonight, 6
Where • The Complex: 536 W. 100 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $51.50; Smith's Tix