Elvis, Johnny Cash, King Diamond, Black Sabbath, Ramones, Fats Domino, Motorhead–these are just a few of the influences that make Danish rock band Volbeat tick. And it seems to work out for them. They’ve been headlining in Europe for almost a decade, and all of their studio albums have been certified gold. Their second album, Rock the Rebel/Metal the Devil went platinum, and 2010’s Beyond Hell/Above Heaven went double platinum in Denmark, platinum in Finland and Germany, and gold in Austria and Sweden.
Within the past few years they’ve been bringing their rockabilly-meets-classic-rock-meets-heavy-metal to the United States, and over that time they’ve steadily been gaining popular ground.
Up On the Sun talked with vocalist/guitarist Michael Poulsen about his favorite decade of music, the influence Arizona has on the band’s Wild West imagery, and how the band’s sound will evolve now that they have a thrash guitarist on board.
Volbeat is playing Desert Uprising with Avenged Sevenfold, HIM and Halestorm at Ak-Chin Pavilion on Friday, September 13.
Volbeat consists of vocalist/guitarist Poulsen, bassist Anders Kjolholm, drummer Jon Larsen, and, an incredible recent addition of former Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano, who brings a solid, veteran thrash metal element to the band.
This past April, the band released its fifth album Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies, which Poulsen says holds some of the heaviest songs they’ve ever recorded.
I like to call you guys the “Elvis of heavy metal.” So that begs the question: What were some of your earliest musical influences?
Some of my earliest musical influences definitely have to be Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Little Richard, Black Sabbath, Metallica, Maiden… a little bit later on came Social Distortion and some others. And King Diamond and Mercyful Fate.
You guys had great success with the song “We” in our country [from 2008’s Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood], and it’s also one of my favorite slower Volbeat tracks. Can you tell me about the inspiration behind that song?
Oh wow, that’s rewinding back. That’s an old song now. Good question, actually… um, I’m not sure what actually inspired me to write that song at the certain time, it could’ve been anything. I was listening to a lot of pop music at that time.
“We” is part of the story of the Gangster album [Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood.] The thing is, when I’m writing I’m locked into this bubble, and nobody can get through. It can be a living hell and at the same time a blessing. But when I leave that bubble I have no idea where I was at the time. I can’t even figure out where I get inspiration from. Other times I’ll be very aware of it.
I wasn’t sure if it had more to do with a relationship, or society, or the industry…
You know, a lot of Volbeat songs are love songs. That’s something a lot of people can relate to. To everybody, the biggest mission of why we are on this Earth is to find a loved one. And “We” is a small romantic story. When people hear a song like that and can rewind things in their own life and think about it, and they use that, we’re proud of that.
There are times I’m very careful talking about what the lyrics are about, because I don’t want to ruin the feeling that people have for what they think is right.
Rob [Caggiano] said that Volbeat’s sound may be a bit louder now that he is on board. What difference have you noticed in Volbeat’s sound since Rob has joined?
I think you can now hear that there are two guitar players, and you can actually separate the guitars. I’m not saying that to take away from the other guys in the band; they’re all talented. But Rob is without a doubt the best technical guitar player that we’ve performed with. He has his own sound.
And I think it’s important to have your own sound, so he’s not just becoming a part of a sound inferno. We make it tight and heavy. You know, Thomas [Brendahl], who was in the band before [from 2006-2011], he was more punk guitar, and there’s nothing wrong with that because we also have punk songs.
But Rob is more of a riff guy, and of course a lead guitar player, so that definitely brings something special to Volbeat. Now we have solos, and you can hear the riffing. It’s more in your face and heavy.
Yes, definitely. I saw you guys play at Rock on the Range this past May, and it seemed very natural. When you three strings players rock out in a line during the solos, you can tell you’re having a blast.
Yeah, you know, you’ve been waiting all day to be on stage. You’re very curious about how many tickets you sold and you know, there’s only one reason to tour and be on stage and it’s to have a good time. We wait around all day bored, but we live for one reason, and that’s to be on stage and enjoying what we’re doing and sharing that with the audience.
We will always show people that we’re thankful for being there. So many times you see shows where a band is all macho… But it’s all fake. We’re all mama’s boys sitting backstage and want to sell concert tickets. [Laughs]
So for us it’s very easy to show people who much we appreciate it. I’m very thankful that we have the opportunity to tour around the world. That’s an honest picture we paint on stage. We’re one big family touring around.
On the Desert Uprising bill out here in Phoenix, there’s also Avenged Sevenfold, HIM, Halestorm, and many more. How do you think Volbeat meshes well with some of these acts?
That’s a lot of big bands, and we’re just happy to be among the group. What we like is when there is a package of bands, and they are all different, and you can all be a part of it. It’s very interesting to hear different styles. You know, we have a style where we can play a lot of different shows with different bands. Rock, mainstream, big, small… we can adjust our set list to where we’re going.
You know what audience is showing up depending on the major bands, so we tailor it to that. When it comes to live music, we can contribute heavy metal, punk, or whatever. The material comes from the heart, either way. It’s great to be among bands with different styles because it’s very inspiring.
Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies has a lot of influence from the sounds of the 50s and 60s and even traces back to the 1800s in terms of lyrical imagery. What was your favorite decade of music?
I think it would have to be the ’50s. I love the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s….I have worked with so many time periods. It’s all very inspiring. But those records from the ’50s are still records I constantly put on and get inspired by.
Are you currently writing new material for an upcoming album, or are you just focusing on touring?
No, right now I’m just enjoying having the freedom not to write. You know, it takes a lot of time and when I put myself in that bubble it can be very stressing. It’s nice to concentrate on playing the songs off the last new album.
Phoenix is associated with the Wild West and outlaws, which are always apparent themes in your music. Does being in that environment inspire you to write at all, or spur song ideas?
A little bit. It’s not like we see too much. We will always be in some kind of city, and sometimes we are in the middle of nowhere and that can inspire. But mostly it would some of the old country western movies that I’d watch with my dad when I was a young kid. I still put those movies on and get inspired by the scenery and the soundtrack.
But in the U.S., in the middle of nowhere… that can be inspiring in the desert.
If someone had never heard a Volbeat album and you had to hand them a first and a second to listen to, which would you choose that defined your sound?
The thing is, when you have a new album out, that’s the one you always want everyone and anyone to hear. But I’m so proud of every album we’ve done so far. And of course the new album is still pretty new for us. I’d probably hand over the new album. And if I wasn’t allowed to do that, I’d hand over Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood.