Volbeat Talks "Beyond Hell/Above Heaven," Movies, Boxing and More
Tue, 25 Jan 2011 09:25:42
"20 minutes ago I was at a record store buying Death's Symbolic for the third time because there are demo recordings on this new version," smiles Volbeat frontman Michael Poulsen.
It's really no surprise that Poulsen was just at a record store. Volbeat's music draws from such a diverse array of influences that each album feels like a trip to the stacks. On the band's fourth album, Beyond Hell/Above Heaven, Poulsen and Co. firmly embrace all of their inspirations—from Metallica and King Diamond to Social Distortion and Johnny Cash—while moving heavy music forward as a whole. In fact, Beyond Hell/Above Heaven is not only Volbeat's masterpiece to date, it's also a landmark record that elevates heavy music into new territory, brandishing soul, spirit, and singularity. Beyond Hell/Above Heaven is the only place to be…
Volbeat's Michael Poulsen spoke to ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino in this exclusive interview. Poulsen dives deep into Beyond Hell/Above Heaven, boxing, some favorite films and books and so much more.
Did you approach Beyond Hell/Above Heaven with one vision for the entire album?
Every time you write a new record, you have to put the previous albums in perspective somehow. This time, it was actually possible to be inspired by our own material. On Beyond Hell/Above Heaven, we stretch everything a little bit further from what we did on the previous albums. Generally, all of the elements we've been flirting with on the past records are the same elements we're flirting with now. We're just pushing them to a higher level and trying to come up with styles, sounds, and feelings we haven't dealt with before. I tried to put the first three albums in a big bowl of soup and just blend it all together—out came the new album [Laughs]. It's always good to look back at what you did, see how you can somehow explore the old style and still make it interesting. It has to come naturally though.
Do you like to tell stories with your lyrics?
It's definitely fun to tell stories because sometimes when you have the idea for lyrics, you can get inspired by the words. That will create a certain feeling in the music. Other times, the music will create a certain feeling that gives me an idea of how I'm going to write the lyrics. Mostly, I will write the music first, jam the song, find the rhythm and melody, and improvise words. I will actually structure some of those words I improvised and make a story out of those few lines. It's important that you have good titles and words. Some people really like to go deep into the lyrics and the concept. It makes the band deeper. If you have a good story, you can actually have some very good merchandise and artwork. If fans are into a certain story, they'll find the artwork to be pretty cool. They can relate to it.
What's the story behind "Thanks?"
I think that was actually the first song I wrote for the album. It's a song I wrote for all of the Volbeat fans who have been following us for a very long time. These days, we're playing very big venues. Some of them have the capacity of 10,000 people. We can still see everyone who was there from the beginning when we were only playing for 50 people. They're still there and up front! They keep showing up and making a lot of noise about Volbeat. That's something you really cannot take for granted. We will always try to go out after a show, say hello, and thank them for everything. I wanted to write a song that told them how much we appreciate them being around and still following the band. I wrote a song for them and hopefully they appreciate it.
What's up with "Magic Zone?"
That's a song I wrote for my wife. We got married at Graceland. There's a lot of emotion going on. When I came home, I had the idea for some lyrics. Sometimes, it's good to write lyrics that are really close to your heart or personality. Since I've been writing a lot of different stories, it was a good challenge to write a true love story. I really wanted to give my wife something special. My work is to write songs. The best thing I could give her is a song, so that's what I did.
Does the title Beyond Hell/Above Heaven tie into a larger story?
It's definitely combined with the story on the album. It's our way to maybe laugh a little bit about all the clichés there are in this scene about heaven and hell and all that crap. If you go beyond Hell, it looks like Heaven. Hell is probably not like that [Laughs]. If you go above Heaven, it looks like Hell. No one wins. We're telling people we don't support any of it. We can actually make Hell look like Heaven and vice versa and laugh about it. It's all a mental crutch for people to have something to believe in. We're telling them make your own beliefs, believe in yourself, and believe in your family. Cut all the bullshit with religion because it'll only lead you to something bad.
Are you a big reader?
I like to read! Mostly, I read biographies by boxers or legendary singers. Now and then, I read a little bit of history. It's not like I read a lot of books to get inspiration for the lyrics. The ideas for the lyrics are in my system, and it happens very naturally.
What are some of your favorite boxing biographies?
I have different books about legendary fighters like Muhammad Ali, Oscar De La Hoya, and Mike Tyson. If I'm on the Internet, I read more about boxing than I do about music or anything else. The first thing I do when I have my morning cereal is read FightNews.com. My father, Jørn Poulsen, was a fighter. Since I was a very young kid, I've been watching all of those old fights and the black and white movies all the way back to Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Sonny Liston, and all of those fighters up to modern boxers. My dad died two-and-a-half years ago, but he was a fighter. He had a few fights, and then he stopped. He watched a lot of boxing. As a kid, I looked up to my father. When he was watching boxing, I learned how boxing wasn't just about punching the other guy in the nose. It's very tactical. Those men are really gladiators. It's not like a football team where everybody can help each other, sit down, and talk about how many sponsors they have and all that bullshit. Boxers are real men fighting for a living and they only have themselves in every round. Learning to read different kinds of fighters became very interesting to me at an early age. I was thinking, "Should I be a boxer or a musician?" I chose music since that was something I was missing.
Do you watch a lot of movies?
Like everybody, I'm into a good movie. When we're on the road, I have the time to watch a lot of movies. I like movies that are true stories. It can be anything as long as I know it really happened. That inspires me. It doesn't matter what it is. You don't make a movie of something that happened if it isn't interesting somehow. I also like gangster movies. I like a lot of Asian movies too. I think they're brilliant. In the beginning, it was all about horror movies in Japan. They also make great dramas. I'm very into their cinema. I don't care about the action and kung fu movies, but the horror movies are really good.
If you were to compare Beyond Hell/Above Heaven to a movie or a combination of movies, what would you compare it to?
[Laughs] That's a tough one. I'd say a John Wayne film mixed with a Quentin Tarantino movie [Laughs].
Who's on your playlist right now?
It's a lot of different stuff! I've been listening to a lot of Hasil Adkins. He's from the '50s, and he's a really crazy hillbilly. He lived in a small trailer, and he wrote a lot of his own songs, but he'd also copy a lot of legendary songs. A lot of bands like Hank Williams III and The Cramps were really into this guy. He's probably one of the first to do Psychobilly. You should definitely check him out! I know you'll love him. He said, "I'm not trying to sound primitive. I just have bad microphones!" [Laughs] He plays every instrument himself, and it has a really good feel. I just discovered a band from Sweden called Ghost. They sound a lot like King Diamond and Mercyful Fate. I'm also listening to Charlie Feathers and Johnny Burnette. I got Bruce Springsteen's The Promise, and it's amazing. I can't believe he actually trashed those songs! The new Social Distortion album, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, is already a masterpiece to me. It reminds me a lot of the last record they did, Sex, Love and Rock 'N' Roll, but this time he did stuff he's never done before. He's got some female vocals on it. It's Social Distortion, and it's really good.
Have you heard Volbeat yet?
See Volbeat on tour at the below dates!
3/23 NY, NY Irving Plaza
3/24 Philadelphia, PA Theatre of Living Arts
3/25 Toronto, ONT Sound Academy
3/26 Detroit, MI St. Andrews Hall
3/27 Chicago, IL House of Blues
3/29 Englewood, CO Gothic Theatre
3/30 Salt Lake City, UT The Complex
4/03 Vancouver, BC Commodore Ballroom
4/05 Sacramento, CA Ace of Spades
4/06 W. Hollywood, CA House of Blues L.A
4/08 San Francisco, CA The Fillmore
4/09 Anaheim, CA House of Blues
4/10 San Diego, CA House of Blues
4/13 Dallas, TX House of Blues