Volbeat — performing at Bogart's tomorrow (Tuesday) — may not be a household name around venues in the United States, but they are an intense Danish Heavy Metal band that has played in front of some of the largest crowds in the world overseas. The band — Michael Poulsen (vocals/guitar), Anders Kjolholm (bass), Jon Larsen (drums) and Thomas Bredahl (guitar) — is about to kick off the U.S. leg of their Grand Summer Tour, promoting Volbeat's latest album, Beyond Hell and Above Heaven. CityBeat caught up with lead vocalist Michael Poulson by phone from his home overseas to discuss the band's growing popularity in America, being naked with Metallica and the great successes of the band in Europe.
CityBeat: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. I know it’s evening for you.
Michael Poulson: Yeah. Right now the sun is shining. Me and my wife are sitting out in the garden. It’s really good weather. The kids are playing around. Everything is just really peaceful.
CB: The tour does kick off next week in the U.S. What can fans expect from you guys and the show?
MP: We really love what we are doing. We are definitely a live band. We are very serious about our records. We would never go into the studio if we weren’t capable of doing exactly the same thing on the records that we do live. The image is just so much higher live because there are certain things you can’t get on the record. So there will definitely be lots of energy and good spirit and good connection to the audience. This is definitely a tour we are looking forward to.
CB: What’s the biggest difference for you guys when touring in the U.S. versus touring in Europe?
MP: In Europe, we really play big crowds. The common European tour, that’s like 12,000 or 14,000 or 16,000 capacity. So doing what we do now in the U.S. is like when it exploded in Denmark or Europe when we got bigger and bigger. It’s a really nice feeling. It’s almost like we are experiencing it all again. America has just discovered Volbeat. For them, we are quite new, and that is a really cool feeling both for them and also for the band because they are really dedicated and looking forward to playing and talking to the audience after the show. The difference is that we are not that big in America yet as we are in Europe. The fun thing is to see how it is starting to explode a little bit in America. It seems like the venues are getting bigger and bigger every time we come back to the U.S.
CB: I know that was one of the main differences. I saw that you were playing for tens of thousands people in Europe. The venues that you are playing this time look medium-sized. With venues like Bogarts and The House of Blues, there will be a couple thousand people you will be with every night. Hopefully you’ll have a lot of new fans along the way.
MP: It’s such a healthy start when you go to new territories. This will be the sixth time we will tour the U.S. and we are aware that it is a big country. so there is a lot of work to do there, a lot of road work. We are looking forward to it because we can see a lot of people traveling long distances to go to the Volbeat shows. That’s something you are really proud of when you can see people keep showing up to the shows when we know that we have been driving all night. Some of the fans have probably been driving for a few days and they rent hotels and everything. It’s very flattering to see some fans follow Volbeat for a lot of the shows.
CB: I know Metallica are big fans of yours and you have toured with them as well. What is your craziest Metallica tour story?
MP: I really don’t know because we were talking to those guys everyday and we were hanging out with them every day but mostly it was James (Hetfield) that would come to into our dressing room hanging out, talking, and fooling around and there were a lot of great jokes going on.
There was a lot of great stuff going. James put a lot of notes on our doors. "No Danish People Allowed Here" "No Danish Speaking," and that was really fun because, if Lars was in the room, of course, we were talking Danish. So if James entered the room, he didn’t get what we were talking about. He wrote notes (like) “No Danish Allowed” all the time.
CB: I do want to talk to you about the new album. It’s called Beyond Hell, Above Heaven. The song that stood out to me the most, because I lost my father a few years ago, was “Fallen” and I wanted you to tell the story behind that song. I’m sure that song means a lot to you personally from what I could tell from the lyrics.
MP: Yeah, I lost my father three years ago. When you write songs, sometimes I can easily just sit down with a guitar and then write a song. These are those kinds of songs that the emotions are so strong that the results can only be what it is. That means I would never be able to write a song like “Fallen” if I had not lost my father. There are just some songs that have this really honest feeling.
Actually, I wrote “Fallen” in less than a half an hour or something. It just came very natural to me. The lyrics were done in 15 minutes. It was like the song just came to me and that’s when music really becomes beautiful. Most of the time when you sit down about to write a straight Rock song, you have to screw around a long time and then it would just become too annoying because somehow it just doesn’t work out and you forget all about it. But then certain songs come very, very easy even though the subject is very emotional and heavy and dark.
“Fallen” is definitely a song that I am very, very proud of. It became a huge hit in Denmark and Europe so I had the opportunity somehow to get some words out of my system about the loss of my father and this is something I feel very good about. I have his name tattooed on my hands and I have an eagle tattoo which was an eagle he had on his chest. So every time I hit the guitar every night I feel somehow he is with me. I am capable every night of playing “Fallen." It is very important to me. It gives me some kind of peace.
CB: Do you have a tough time playing it?
MP: In the beginning, it was tough. Definitely in the beginning it was tough. It’s almost like somehow you find the strength so the strength becomes something really positive. Suddenly, it is not a bad song. Suddenly, it becomes a strong song that gives me the energy I need. It gives me peace, it gives me something that I cannot put words into. Maybe the intro, I feel a little bit sad, but as soon as everything, the drums kick in, the bass kicks in, and everything kicks in, then I’m actually OK. I am imagining that my father is out there in the audience listening to it and I want to show him that I am OK. I’m not going to show him that I feel sad because that is not what he wants. I try to imagine he is out there and he can see his boy is doing good.
CB: That is a great story. I can relate a little bit. You brought in some guest musicians on some of the songs like "Evelyn" and "Seven Shots." What made you bring in the guests to help with the album?
MP: It’s great to be a little bit spoiled when it comes to having opportunity to work with other musicians. Back in the days, if somebody told me that I had the opportunity to work with some of the musicians I have been working with on Volbeat, I would say, “Come on, it’s not going to happen.” The thing is we have been touring so much the last four years. It is so crazy being in the same sentence of bands that we look up to. Suddenly when we talk to those bands, we discover that they actually have our records. They really like what we are doing and, of course, we are very proud of that and it is very flattering. You’re in the same business and you’re life is pretty much the same. You’re touring, you’re away from the family, wife or girlfriend, children, so you have a lot of things actually to talk about.
We had the opportunity to talk to a lot of those guys that we had been using on the record, including Barney Greenway. We just kept on talking and suddenly I said, “I might have an idea for our next record if you’re into it.” He was really into it because the Volbeat style was something he had never tried out before. We have done a lot of fresh things with old school bands, and bands from Germany, and Barney had been doing lots of different things, hardcore grind and punk stuff. But he had never tried anything like Volbeat so he was very excited about it. When I sent him the demos, he was really into it. It was a heavy opportunity to have him in studio and work with him. That is something I am very proud of.
We also had Michael Denner from Legendary King Diamond. I remember listening to King Diamond when I was in school. So it’s so weird that so many years after, he is on my record. Last time we were in the U.S., we were in Dallas, and King Diamond came to hang out with us for a couple of hours. He was so proud because he was Danish too and he knows how much work you have to put into getting into the U.S., touring there and actually having some kind of audience and career. So that was a huge thing to be able to talk to some of the guys I had been looking up to for a very long time. Of course, you become aware that they are only human beings but I can have the feeling that they are really something special because they really are. They inspired me to do what I am doing right now. They were the reason that I picked up my guitar and started playing what I am playing.
CB: Is there a band or someone that you haven’t worked with that you’d like to work with in the future?
MP: There’s definitely a lot of cool musicians and singers that would be amazing to work with. The list is pretty long. Just to name a few, there could be James Dean Bretfield from Manic Street Creatures, that could be totally awesome, he is a tremendous good songwriter and a great singer. King Diamond could be very interesting to work with. Mike Ness from Social Distortion. The list is pretty long and there are a lot of legendary guitar players that give me a lot of inspiration.
CB: We look forward to seeing you in Cincinnati. We look forward to seeing you live and hearing the new album. Is there anything you would like to tell the fans here in Cincinnati?
MP: We would like them to know we are done with the European tour, we did around I think 20 shows this summer and we’ve been home for ten days. It’s very rare that we are home that much. Now we are relaxing at home but we are really looking forward on getting to the U.S. The tour is starting on Saturday. We are definitely looking forward and can’t wait to see all the happy faces and some of the people that have been there before. Hopefully they are ready because we are ready for them.