Volbeat Talks "Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies"
Wed, 20 Mar 2013 16:00:43
Volbeat sling riffs like Clint Eastwood's "Man with No Name" slings bullets. On their brand new masterpiece, Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies, they've got enough musical firepower to win the west all over again. The record isn't just the best example of what Volbeat are capable of though; it's heavy metal at its beat as well. There hasn't been an album this utterly unique, unpredictable, and undeniable in ages. It's an early contender for best metal release of 2013, and it elevates the band to the next level. Get ready to meet Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies…
In this exclusive ARTISTdirect.com interview, Volbeat singer and guitarist Michael Poulsen talks Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies and so much more.
Did you approach Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies with one vision in mind?
"Vision" is a good word. However, a clear vision like that is something that can change from week to week and month to month. I had a very clear idea about where I wanted the music to go, not really sound-wise or when it comes to the Outlaw theme. I had so many ideas for strong melodies. I'm a sucker for that. I love melodies. After writing the first three songs, I could hear that it had a Western theme. I was like, "Okay, all of the old movies you watched with your dad as a kid are starting to get into your blood and out of the guitar as well". I thought, "Okay, now it's the right time to mix those influences". Those old Spaghetti Western movies had such great soundtracks. As I started writing, those movies popped up all the time on at least half of the songs. It was very natural that the lyrics should be about legendary outlaws, gunslingers, and shady ladies from the 1800s. I closed myself into this bubble and started writing. I had the inspiration when it came to melodies. I knew where I was going with the lyrics. I had tons of pictures in my head for the cover artwork. Suddenly, I was in that bubble where I needed to be. At that time, I had a feeling that this would be Volbeat's strongest work. I'm not taking anything away from the other albums. They're just as good but with this one, I reached everything I wanted to. We stepped out of our comfort zone where we were used to doing normal procedures. There's nothing wrong with that. We wanted to take Jacob Hansen out of his comfort zone too and go into a new studio and environment and flirt around with different sounds and equipment. Even though we still used the same amps and guitars, we tried some different things. It's still the Volbeat sound.
What did Rob Caggiano bring to the process?
We gave him the offer to join us in the studio as a producer too. When we were touring with The Damned Things, we heard that he produced their record. I loved the sound of that record. It's a good album. When he told me he produced the new Anthrax, I was like, "Wow!" I think that new Anthrax is the best album they've ever done, and it's got the best sound. Rob was very flattered. He said, "I'd love to produce a couple of your songs and see what it sounds like". I said, "Okay". He wanted to put more work into producing. I said, "Maybe you can collaborate with Jacob?"
It's like a dream team.
These days, you see more bands using multiple producers. I thought it'd be interesting to have an extremely talented guy like Jacob who knows the band in every way and detail and then have a new guy who's a fan of the music and has ideas about how he can bring more of a dynamic when it comes to the sound. We had a meeting about how they wanted to work in the studio. I could definitely hear all of the ideas I had come to life when we were recording. One of my friends was playing guitar. When we started cutting solos, it wasn't what I envisioned though. It was an awkward situation so we said, "Maybe we shouldn't mix really close friendship with business?" I thought, "It's okay. I'm used to recording all the guitars in the studio. I'm going to do that again". I had ideas for this record, and I wanted more leads. I kindly asked Rob if he could do it. He said, "Of course, I'd love to help you guys out". His solo work was so fine on the record I started opening up some more songs. When Rob put down those solos, he came up with some ideas for a few songs. We sat down and wrote a few extra riffs here and there. That worked really well. I wanted to use those ideas. He was like, "You're welcome!" Later on in the process, he cut more solos, and I told him, "You're already playing the solos on the album. You had a few ideas for tracks. You should be in the band". He just laughed. He seriously thought we were kidding. He responded, "What about the other guy?" I said, "He's too close of a friend. The solos aren't working. We decided to let it go". We continued working. The day after he came to me, "Michael, are you serious?" I responded, "Yes, I was". He was so flattered we gave him room to bring some ideas, and we wanted to use them. He was very into having this producer role. I said, "Why the hell should you sit in the studio? You're such a good guitar player. You can still produce here and there. You should be on the road with Volbeat". He looked at me, "If you're serious, I'd love to have the job!" I told him, "It's yours. Let's get to work". My vision was true and clear. On top of it, Rob came in and put an extra dynamic into it. It's definitely our strongest work.
What Westerns do you come back to?
There are so many great ones. I really love Once Upon a Time in the West with Charles Bronson. It's amazing. Then, there's A Good Punch. My dad had them all on videotapes.
What's the story behind "Doc Holliday"?
It's a song about Doc Holliday. Everybody who's into those kinds of movies, westerns, and gunslingers knows who he is. It was one of the first songs that was ready in the rehearsal room. It's definitely very heavy. As soon as the guitar pops in, it almost has a Slayer feeling. There's nothing wrong with that [Laughs]. It's beautiful to be inspired by Slayer. I think we called it, "Our Slayer Song". When it comes into the verse, it's got more of an old school Metallica feeling. I wanted an intro to the song which says a little bit more about the lyrics. That's why it almost sounds like a march or something. When it came to the chorus, you have a really heavy song, but I wanted to bring a chorus that wasn't typical. We put in the banjo, and it worked out really good.
Where did "Our Loved Ones" come from?
I'm very happy you asked about that. We weren't sure about that song, but we were also very sure that it was time to do a song like that. It was some kind of heavy ballad without really being a ballad. After our first record, Jon Larsen said, "We should have a really slow heavy song!" I was like, "What are you thinking about?" He mentioned some of the slow songs Metallica has. You just don't sit down and write a sound like that [Laughs]. You have to be inspired. It didn't happen on the second record. It's more like a '50s song. We've never done anything like it. It just came on this record. I couldn't finish a lot of these ideas on the previous albums. It was about having the right inspiration to finish them up. They came alive on the new one. "Our Loved Ones" is something we all can relate to. You're walking around with a burden and you have some heavy stuff in your heart. It could be a loss. It can be something you're struggling with. When you finally decide to open up to show other people what's going on, you become very vulnerable because it's a trust issue. That's what the lyrics are about. You're reaching out for a helping hand and hoping you can trust the one you're reaching out for and still feel good about it afterwards.
What about "Room 24"?
It's actually a true story. It's one of the spookiest things I've experienced. I've experienced lots of spiritual things. I'm not a religious guy, but I'm definitely a spiritual guy. I believe in the spiritual world. I'm very proud of the song. I've been a huge King Diamond fan since I was a little kid. The first time I discovered King Diamond, he was about to release Them. I met him in 1995 for the first time. I was in contact with him a couple of times. When I founded Volbeat, he was visiting us in Dallas, TX. He heard so many good things about us, and he was very proud that we were the second band who made it out of Denmark. Mercyful Fate was the first one. He already know the story about me missing my exam at school because I called up my tattoo artist and said, "I need this tattoo! I found the meaning of life". He was like, "What's that?" I just responded, "The Mercyful Fate cover for Don't Break the Oath! I need it very soon". He said, "I cannot do it. You're not old enough Michael!" I was like, "I don't care. I need it." He told me he wasn't allowed to do it, but I kept begging. Finally, he agreed, "Alright, if you come now. I'll do it". I couldn't do it because I had my exam at school. He was like, "I don't care". I said, "Me too, I'm on my way!" I got Don't Break the Oath on my leg [Laughs]. I never got to the exam. Later on, I managed to do pretty well. King loves that story. I told him another story.
What was that?
The first time I saw him was in Copenhagen. I really wanted to go to the show, but I was still living with my parents. My father said, "I'll buy the ticket for you, but if I know you right, you'll need merchandise, a train ticket, and money to buy food. It's a very expensive trip. Where are you going to earn that money?" I was in school and wasn't working. I had to figure it out. In my room, I only had records, but I didn't want to sell them. I went out to the garage and got my BMX bicycle. I nagged my parents for the bike for so long. I finally got it. I sold the bike. My father was like, "Why are you walking?" I told him I sold my bike. He yelled, "You sold your bike?" I said, "Yeah, I need to go to the King Diamond show. I got the money now!" At first he was really mad, then he started laughing, "That's smart". He knew I needed to go to school the day after and he had to buy me a new bicycle so I could get to school and I could still go to King Diamond [Laughs].
How did the lyrics come about?
On the Gigantour, we talked about doing something together. I had a really cool idea, and I sent him a demo. He was really into it. He thought it was very heavy. I asked, "How do you want to do it when it comes to lyrics?" He wanted to write his own lyrics and melody. That was perfect for me. You don't tell the King how to work. At the same time, how do you divide those lyrics and what do you write about? I had an experience at a hotel a few weeks prior that I told him about. I woke up in the middle of the night. I couldn't move my arms or legs, and I felt paralyzed. I tried to reach out for my wife, and I couldn't say anything. It was like I was losing my voice and I felt a pressure on my chest. The room became darker, and the chest pain was unbearable. I thought, "Alright, you're dying here. You're probably having a heart attack. This is how dying is". I fell asleep somehow, and the same thing happened when I woke up. I couldn't move my arms or legs. I tried to reach for my wife, and there was nothing I could do. The room got dark, and I felt like somebody was sitting on my chest trying to force me down in the bed. I thought I definitely had a heart attack. Why didn't I see light? Why did I see darkness? I told King, and he said, "We will never know if there was a spirit or something in that room but have you ever heard of sleep paralysis?" I asked, "What is that?" He sent me a few links. That was very interesting. Sleep paralysis is when your mind wakes before your body. Your brain is still not communicating with your arms and legs. You're half asleep, but your eyes are awake. For ages, a lot of people have been trying sleep paralysis. Everybody talks about the darkness and pressure on the chest like someone is sitting on top of you. Many people have described that thing as an old hag or witch. We decided that darkness and thing in the room should be King Diamond.
If this album were a movie, what would you compare it to?
Now that we're talking about "Room 24", combined with the other songs, it'd have to be a horror outlaw movie [Laughs].
What's your favorite Volbeat song?