Having been slingin’ riffs for just under 30 years starting with his death metal project Dominus back in ’91, Michael Poulsen now stands behind one of hard rock/metals (or whatever genre you want to call it) most exciting bands.
Volbeat have been winning over new fans country to the continent for the best part of 20 years and their popularity seems to be catching like wildfire as they wow audiences across the globe be it special guests to Metallica or their very own stadium tour. Overdrive sat down with the vocalist to talk about the band status with new material, the journey from the early days to present and what the future holds for what is fast becoming one of the biggest bands on planet rock right now.
OD – You’re about 3/4’s of the way through the ‘Seal the Deal and Let’s Boogie’ tour with some festival dates coming up. I believe the plans are to enter the studio towards the end of the year to begin working on the next album, would that be a correct assumption?
MICHAEL – We already booked the studio for late November going into December, so we’re definitely going to record something. We always come very much prepared when we hit the studio. At the moment we have tonnes of material, so we’re just kind of going through all the different ideas and that takes some time.
OD – Would you just go in a do one huge session to lay down the bones of the album?
MICHAEL – For the first time ever, we are going in and doing two sessions just to take a small break and get a little space in the middle of the process. We have always just walked into the studio and stayed there for about a month, but this time, we’re gonna take our time and just let everything breath and grow at its own pace.
This time, we have so much material and are still writing, not to mention I just had my first child, a little girl and Kaspar (Boye Larsen, Bass pictured below) has a little boy and everybody is pretty much-having kids now (laughing), so there the family life has now become something very important for each of us even more so than before.
OD – With regards to the current state of the material that is already written, where would you say things are right now?
MICHAEL – If we were to enter the studio tomorrow, I would say we have about six or seven tracks ready to go.
OD – How has the writing process been to date or do you prefer to just concentrate on touring and then take a break before working on new material?
MICHAEL – When we are back home, we are constantly rehearsing (two times a week) and I’m basically writing every day and in some cases I’ll come home after rehearsal and my girlfriend would ask me “so, how was it today?” and I’ll be like “I think we have material for a whole record” and then two days later she’ll ask the same question and I’ll be like ” “Ugh, we got nothing!” (laughing). That’s basically the way we work!
I like to basically be able to work on all the songs in the rehearsal room as much as possible. The music still has to be infectious, even after one or two hundred times when hearing it. We are basically gonna be playing these tracks for years and years, so we want to produce music that stands the test of time.
OD – Do you have flash moments of brilliant ideas for melodies and arrangements?
MICHAEL – Yes, totally! I’ll be doing something totally mundane and normal and then something will just pop into my head and I have to run down to the basement where I have my equipment and record it as soon as possible, thinking “Fuck! That’s the greatest thing that I’ve written!” and then the next morning, I’ll wake up and run down to the basement and listen back to what I’ve recorded and I’m just like “What the fuck was I thinking?” (laughing).
So, it’s very much an emotional process for me that goes up and down. But to answer your question, at the moment we definitely have about six or seven ‘keepers’ right now. We have about another ten tracks that we are currently working on and I would say we have totally dropped about twenty tracks in total. So, there is a process happening that will eventually deliver the final collection of tracks that I believe will be the best step forward for the new album.
OD – There is no doubt that the success of the band has been going from strength to strength especially when you return to cities that you have played in the past and are back doing larger venues. Considering you’ve been together for nearly 17 years now, do you find that the momentum is finally in place and the hard work is paying off?
MICHAEL – That’s the way it’s been for Volbeat since day one. Every time we come back to a place that we’ve played in the past, we are in a bigger room and we really appreciate that because not only are we doing a lot of road work but we do have very loyal fans who are constantly doing very long trips to see us, and that blows our minds.
OD – When you look back on your career, having started out with Dominus (pictured left), that’s a big difference in sound and a huge departure with regards to genres. At that time, did you have a very specific idea of what you wanted Volbeat to sound like?
MICHAEL – I took a break from writing and being in the scene. I really needed to get some downtime and after about six months, I missed playing the guitar and writing and being in the rehearsal room with friends who all share the same passion for music.
So, I just picked up the guitar one day and what came out was the thing that started being Volbeat. The thing is when you have a specific signature sound, or certain style, you’re most likely not really aware of it yourself and people behind you on the outside are telling you they can hear something that’s very different and individual about the music and, to be honest, that’s the biggest compliment you can give a musician because you have it, or you don’t.
When I started writing there were some people in the local metal scene saying ‘We heard this Volbeat demo that you did and it’s gonna be fucking huge or people will forget you tomorrow!” (laughing). I didn’t think too much about it, to be honest.
I guess they could hear that we were doing something very different. When we started shopping our demos to the record labels the most common response we got was “we really like this, but we have no fucking idea what to do with it or who’s gonna buy it!”
Our thinking was more along the lines of “Yes, it’s different, but isn’t that the beauty of it?” In the end, it worked out great for us. (laughing)
OD – Would you agree that you somewhat created a new genre?
MICHAEL – I just knew that when I was writing I had all the influence from the 1950’s melodic tunes and really love that stuff. But I still wanted to keep the distorted guitars and the pounding drums. I didn’t want to just pander to one specific category. I never set out to be 100% metal. I just wanted to be just good music and I guess for the sake of labels, it was going to be rock.
OD – When you look back on the first record ‘The Strength/The Sound/The Songs‘ (2005) do you see it as being the statement of identity that has provided a solid foundation to what you are doing today?
MICHAEL – Well, the first record definitely had more ‘metal‘ than what we are producing today. We have become better musicians, better songwriters and have the experience of playing live music, being on the road, recording and being on stage. We just got better at doing all of those things. There is no way we would have been able to record our latest album or even the one before that because we were incapable of doing it back then. It’s almost like a professional athlete, over time we just got better and better at what we were doing.
We can definitely hear now that we have a very unique sound and style and when you hear it, you either like it, or you don’t.
OD – It’s no secret that you are a huge fan of Chuck Schuldiner and had the pleasure of writing the linear notes for the Relapse Records re-issue of ‘Spiritual Healing’. How did that come about?
MICHAEL – I’ve got to tell you, that’s something that I’m just so proud of. I’m a huge Death fan and Chuck Schuldiner was ‘The Man‘ and Death was ‘The Band“. Spiritual Healing (1990) is one of my all-time favourite albums, no question!
The story of how this happened is kind of strange, to say the least. Many years ago I was with my ex-girlfriend were out shopping and we went into an antique store and there was this fake skeleton sitting on a chair just inside the door and I ended up buying it, as I wanted it for my house.
We put the skeleton in the back of the car and it stayed there for a long time as I was in the process of moving house and was getting new furniture etc. That fucking thing was in the backseat of my car for months (laughing). So, one day in Copenhagen when we left home, with a Death T-Shirt on and was blasting Death from the car and this guy came up to me and was like ‘hey man, awesome t-shirt, I’m actually the manager of the band!‘.
I totally recognised him (Eric Greif) and actually, we found out that back in the day he was judging some death metal event which Dominus was playing and he was voting for us. So, we talked a little about that and he just thought it was great to see everything that was happening with Volbeat. He always comes to our shows when we’re in Canada and now I’m lucky enough to call Eric one of my very good friends.
I have spent a lot on Death merchandise over the years with the vinyl re-issues etc and he saw how much I truly loved that band and also how Volbeat was growing and said to me that Chuck would have loved to have loved to have worked with us, had he still been alive. Eric actually asked me if I would have been interested in stepping in to do vocals on DTA (Death To All), but I was too busy on the road with Volbeat to commit to it.
He knew that I was totally able to do it thanks to my background in Dominus but the timing was not right, so I recommended some other vocalists that would be perfect for the position. So, he then asked me if I would be interested in doing the linear notes for the re-issue of ‘Spiritual Healing‘ and it was a no-brainer for me.
He’s still one of my very good friends and I’m just still blown away that I got to do something so cool for one of my all-time favourite albums.
OD – So, what happened to the skeleton in the end?
MICHAEL – (laughing) Man, I was riding around with that skeleton in the back of my car for months and one day a cop pulled me over and he said “we got a tip that you have a skeleton in the back of your car” and my dog was just sitting there looking at the cop and I’m telling him, “hey, it’s not a real skeleton, it’s just made of plastic“, so, they just gave me a warning and told me that it was freaking people out! (laughing).
OD – Having the added bonus of Rob’s (Caggiano, ex-Anthrax) studio experience must play a huge part in the recording process for you. You definitely know you’re in good hands. Having a band member that is also a producer, did you notice a change for the better when recording?
MICHAEL – We still have Jacob Hansen as our producer. Jacob has been there since the second demo we did way back in the day. We’ve don’t do pre-production when it comes to albums anymore. When we signed to Universal they were asking when the ‘pre-production demos’ were going to be done and I was like ‘Pre-production? I don’t do pre-production demos, I do albums!”
When we go into the studio later this year, we will be actually booking two studios, one where Jacob is and the other where Rob is working from. They will be working together from their own spaces with Rob and I as co-producers. So, there’s a small difference in having Rob in this position, but I don’t really think it changes things too much.
OD – Does Rob have a considerable hand in writing when it comes to the new material?
MICHAEL – For the next record, there will be a few of his songs. For the last album ‘Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie‘ (2016) he (Rob) came up with a few ideas and some of those ideas ended up on the album, but this time it’s like he’s dialled into exactly what the ‘Volbeat style‘ really is.
He’s doing really great with the concept of the Volbeat sound as it takes a while to live it and understand it if you know what I mean. Being the main songwriter, it’s very important that I hear the vision and expression that I know is the pure essence of what Volbeat really is and working with Jacob and Rob makes this happen.
OD – Having toured the world and shared the stage with some of the biggest bands on the planet, what has been a truly memorable experience for you?
MICHAEL – I think there are so many of them and it’s very difficult to pick just one or even two memories. When I look at the work that other bands have to do to self-promote themselves on social media, I’m just so proud that I came from that time before the internet and it was down to good ol’ fashioned street work. Playing live, talking to people, getting the confidence to get up there and just fucking blow people away with the music. That’s what I’m talking about.
By doing that, I really think that we managed to survive and earned our stripes on the street in this business. I’m not into social media in any way but that’s just the way it is. We tried so much going out and playing with so many of our idols and what I’m most proud of is that we’re still here.
There are so many bands that start out and then after a few years/albums they are gone. This business is not a stable one. It’s a tough business and it’s not getting any easier. If someone came into this room right now and said, “Okay, you’re done, you’ve had your fun. Time to wrap all of this up.”
The first thing that would cross my mind would be the fact that we’ve had a great run so far and we survived when there was no internet and when everything changed as a result of social media and file sharing. We started playing club shows, moved into theatres, then into arenas and then just finished our own stadium tour last year in Europe.
During that tour, we headlined in our own hometown in a venue that holds 55, 000 people and we sold those tickets in three days! So, looking back on all of that and if someone was to stop Volbeat dead in its tracks right now, it’s a pretty satisfying legacy to leave behind.
Going home and taking some time out for half a year (which was our longest break to date), was a much-needed process but the desire to get creative once again took hold and I had to swallow all of the fantastic things that happened from that stadium tour and coming from America where we were out with Metallica, that could have easily have been the moment when I said “Okay, we did it and it doesn’t get any bigger than this” but I still have songs that I need to right and as long as I’m feeling that inspiration to keep writing, Volbeat will continue to march forward into the unknown.
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