Interview: Michael Poulsen of Volbeat
Tue, 07 Oct 2014 08:45:07
"You see so many younger bands searching for their sound, and it takes time," says Volbeat singer and guitarist Michael Poulsen. "I think we found our sound on the first record. We just got better at what we were doing along the way. We got better as songwriters, musicians, and performers. The door is wide open when it comes to writing songs. I don't feel like I paint myself into a corner. Everything is open."
That mentality instantly separated the Danish titans from the pack. However, they perfected their vision with last year's blazing Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies—one of the best metal records of the past decade. Following stories of timeless cowboys via impeccable guitar work and unpredictable yet undeniable vocals, the record remains a landmark for Volbeat and the genre. Since then, their own legend only continues to grow. Recently, "A Warrior's Call" went gold, and they're co-headlining arenas in the States with Five Finger Death Punch. Still, there are much bigger things on the horizon for Poulsen and co.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Michael Poulsen of Volbeat talks touring with Five Finger Death Punch, Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies, and so much more.
This tour was in the works for a while wasn't it?
We both love what each other is doing. We spent a lot of time talking to the Five Finger Death Punch guys and meeting with them. We've actually been discussing doing this run for quite some time, but our schedules had just been conflicting. We've been different places. It was about time that we figured out when would be the right period to do this. It happened to be now. It's really worked well. We have HELLYEAH with us. They're a great band too, and we're close friends with Vinnie Paul and the other guys. I definitely think the audience is getting a really great package. It's an awesome opportunity for all of the bands on the bill to reach out to new fans as well.
For you, how has Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies come to life on stage? Do the meanings of the songs change? How has touring affected everything?
It's been great. When I write these songs, we go to the rehearsal room and play them over and over again—first of all. The songs have to be exciting after 300 times. If it's not, it's not a keeper. Sometimes you can have a song and think it's great, but you get surprised that it becomes quite boring after fifty times. It's not really working, so you skip it and do something fresher. The next step is to try it out in sound check where you can hear it full blast with a PA system. Sometimes, you'll be surprised it's not really working there either. Other times, it just sounds really good. Then, we try small bits of those new songs live. That's how it comes together. When we go into the studio, we're basically sure whether or not the songs will work live. We use a lot of time to try them out in the rehearsal room and small snippets live. Of course, it's always great when you go out live and you see the reaction of the fans. They dig what we're doing, and they have their different favorites. It's not like you only have two or three songs that are working on the album. We always hear people have their own favorites, and that's the way it should be. That means there's no filler, and we have a solid album. It's been working out really well. We've been playing a song called "Ecotone", which is a bonus song on the record. People are really excited about that. We still have a few songs on the album we haven't played live, but those might come up later.
What's the story behind "Ecotone"?
Musically, it's very much inspired by Metallica. You can definitely hear the inspiration. It's almost a little bit over the limit [Laughs]. That's why we chose it as a bonus song. It's still very good so we wanted it as a bonus. Lyrically, it's quite interesting. If you Google "Ecotone", you'll get a really explanation about it. It's where if you're in the wilderness and you walk around, there will be a certain line where civilization and the wilderness meet exactly. However, there is a difference. You can plant a flower on one side of the line, and it will blossom. Fifteen centimeters away from that line, you won't be able to grow anything, it will die. It's a balance of a center where you almost are at the same place, but the differences are huge. It's where civilization actually meets the wilderness somehow. It's a very interesting subject. I took that and thought, "What if 'Ecotone' was something you had in your own system as a human being?" I made a lyric out of it. It's a sensation area between two environments. It's where two communities meet and integrate. Imagine you're building new technology on one side, and the next second you're attacked by a tiger. It's definitely a cool subject.
What do you like about the character Doc Holliday?
There are a lot of characters I really like. If you're into gunslinger and cowboy stories, everybody knows Doc Holliday. At least they should, if you ask me. There are so many of those characters. I grew up reading about Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp. I thought, "Even though they're tremendous and so exciting, do we really need another story about Billy the Kid or Wyatt Earp?" I tried to take some of the characters people haven't heard that much about and follow them. There are some who know about Doc, but there are a lot of people who don't. Not many know about Black Bart, and I think he's one of the most interesting characters. It comes from watching movies, reading books, and being very nerdy about it. I love it.
What song from the record means the most to you?
I look at my songs like they are my children. If you ask parents which child they like the most, they'll look at you very weird [Laughs]. They won't prefer one over the other. The songs are all my children. I can't pick one out as a favorite. Even though they are different, I love them all. Some songs work better than others. At the end of the day, I'm proud of all of them.
Have you been writing new music already?
Yeah, I'm actually working on new songs right now. We try out new things in the sound checks during the tour. We can already play a few new songs. I just need to put work into them. I have snippets for at least three other songs. When I get home, I'll start to put all of the pieces together. We'll probably try them out again next tour. I'm in the writing process now.
What's the direction?
When it comes to Volbeat, it's always all over the place because I like it all. That's why I formed Volbeat. There are so many styles in Volbeat, and it's always going to sound like Volbeat. We're not trying to change anything. We're trying to progress but without changing too much. I already know how I like to write and how I like my songs to be. At the same time, we always try to come up with things we haven't done before because that's the beauty of inspiration. You can always find things you think are cool. On the next record, you'll have all of those different styles.
What was your first meeting with Metallica like?
We have been huge fans of Metallica since we discovered heavy rock! They're the biggest heavy rock band in the world. Nobody will ever be able to top them. They're almost as big as Coca-Cola [Laughs]. Rewinding back, you remember being in your room at your parents' house with all the posters. I had Metallica posters up even before I had my first guitar. Now that we've been on the road with them and become friends with them, it's a great accomplishment, and I'm so proud of it. I think it was in 2007 when we first met them. Metallica hadn't been in Denmark for a long time. They were about to play a show in an open field in front of 40,000 people. They were looking for support bands. Lars was calling friends and media asking them, "What's the big buzz right now?" Everybody was talking about Volbeat. We had our second album out. He checked it out, liked what he heard, and we got the support slot that day. James Hetfield became the Volbeat fan! After that, we've been on the road lots of times with Metallica in America, in Europe, and playing on their own festivals like Orion Music + More. We've hung out with them and gotten invitations to their shows. It's been amazing. They're such nice guys. There are a lot of big bands who could learn a trick or two from Metallica about how to treat people. They're so nice. They're truly gentlemen. They've got a good crew, and it's inspiring to see how they work. They're so professional and still very dedicated. It was an honor and a great experience to go out with them. It just shows nothing is impossible. Dreams are there to come true. That was definitely one of them.
What have you been listening to lately?
I'm constantly listening to a lot of different music. Lately, there have been a lot of different bands. There's a thrash band from Greece called Suicidal Angels. I've been listening to some young guys from Finland also playing very old school thrash metal. They're called Lost Society. They're really cool guys. I've been listening to the new Hank Williams III. He's always great. I've been listening to The Secret Sisters. They have a new release out, and there are some really good songs on it. The new Autopsy is really great. I'm very much into lots of Biffy Clyro. I bought the new Bruce Springsteen. I'm listening to The Detroit Cobras a lot and the new Eminem. There's some really good stuff on there.
What's your favorite Volbeat song?