Interview with vocalist Michael Poulsen, Volbeat (November 5th 2006)

Actually the sites man in the field made an appointment with Volbeat-front man, Michael Poulsen about an interview on Friday afternoon, as they should play Train in the evening (se review elsewhere on this site), but among other reasons that M.P. was hit by the flu, we agreed to do it over the phone the following Wednesday, then we could get a report from the first three days in the studio with the recordings for the forthcoming album too.

Thanks for taking time for a chat in the middle of recording and touring. I was at the concert on Friday, and I was surprised positively – I heard you weren’t quite fit, but that was completely unnoticeable, it really was a hammer…
Michael - Thanks – Yes, we too thought it went off well, and when you’re up there you quickly get some of it sweated out… so when we got started, it went well, but I was really beat afterwards.

I’ll try to ask you something new – there are some questions you’re a bit tired of answering I guess, about Elvis and so on… (The music of Volbeat is often described as a clone between Elvis and metal).
Michael - Well, there’s some that’s reoccurring… but just shoot.

You’re in the studio by Jacob Hansen at the moment, can you tell a little about how you’re doing?
Michael - There were some technical problems in the studio in the beginning, so we only got the drums for one track down on the first day, but actually we caught up the following day, where all the remaining 10 drum-tracks was laid down. Now there are drums, bass and guitar for four tracks, so were doing quite well.

We didn’t rehearse the new numbers very much the last couple of months because we’re on tour, so we actually used quite some time at the sound-checks rehearsing the numbers before we should go into the studio.

With J.H. as producer you obviously have a very competent gentleman at the buttons – how much is at his decision and how much is yours?
Michael - We actually control things 100 %, we work well together with Jacob, there’s a good atmosphere in the studio, and he has a good ear for, if something is not quite “sharp”, but the arrangements and so on, we’re completely in control of.

Do you think it’s expected, that you stay by the same style or that you try to develop it?
Michael - There are some people, that have asked what the new album is going to be like, and the short answer is: Volbeat! Fortunately the numbers from ”The Strength…” that people like the best, aren’t the same, but at least a 5 – 6 different ones, and that gives and that gives a wider freedom to  make something that people like.

Are you keeping up the known style on the new album?
Michael - I think we do – It’s me who writes all the material, and being as it is I write as I write, but I also think that we are developing the Volbeat-sound – the new album will be kind of ”The Strength…” II, a continuation of the style of the first album, but in a more developed version.

You’ve had generally very good reviews of your début (among others 95/100 on our page) – does that put a pressure on ahead of the new one?
Michael - When it has went so well as it has with the first one, we’ve won prizes and so on, there will always be a certain pressure, but I actually work best under pressure, so that’s fine with me.

Have you thought about what it takes to ”go all the way” review-wise with the new album – does it matter to you?
Michael - No, that’s not something I think about like that, but I think the new numbers has a high quality. I’ve written 21 new songs, whereof there has been sorted out, so only the eleven best will be on the album, so we can keep up a really high level. Of course it means something how the album is received by the reviewers, good reviews do it easier to reach a bigger audience.

How do you think the new numbers are received live?
Michael - Very positive. We’ve played 4 or 5 of the new numbers on the tour so far, and the reception has been really good.

Are you considering new cover tracks on the new album (it doesn’t look like that according to the provisional track list…)?
Michael - No, not really – we have a number that’s ½ Johnny Cash, or J.C.-inspired, and I thought it would be too much with that and  a ”whole” cover track on top of that…

What about the title for the album – do you still keep up the triads as on the first album and your homepage?
Michael - The album title came yesterday, so that’s completely new: ”Rock the Rebel /Metal the Devil, it sounds great, and shows that Volbeat is both.

At the moment you’re on tour in Denmark with prebands – how has that been going?
Michael - It has went really well, there has been sold out in most places, and it has been great to get out and fire away, not only on the bigger stages, but also the smaller ones in the provinces, so we covered some ground. We’ve had Gob Squad along in most places, unless the organizers wanted something local, or they haven’t been able to make fit into their calendar, and that has worked really well. It’s also great that our audience has been broadened, so everything from puberty kids to 60-year-olds is showing up, so it shows that we hit a wide audience with Volbeat.

What do you expect from the forthcoming tour in Europe with HateSphere and Raunchy?
Michael - We know the guys from Raunchy and HateSphere really well, and many times we’ve talked about that it could be fun going on a joint tour, but it hasn’t seemed very realistic before, but we are very fire dup on going, and if nothing else comes out of it, we’ll get a trip with our friends, doing what we like best.

Is there any difference in the reception in Denmark and abroad (is there an extra local-patriotism in Denmark towards you)?
Michael - It’s obvious that we still have the biggest and best audience in Denmark, but it has gone incredibly well abroad too. On the FULL FORCE Festival in Germany there were fans up front with giant Danish banners receiving us that were a wonderful sight. We are looking very much forward to the European tour, where we’re going out to meet all the foreign fans we’re in contact with.

How was the reception on the bigger venues during the summer ( Roskilde , Hard Rock, With Full Force and so on)?
Michael - We’ve had almost just positive experiences with the festivals during the summer, only on Summerbreeze we had a negative experience, when our bus broke down on the way there. That mint a lot of waiting, and as we were actually to open the festival, we only made it there to play 15 minutes, without being warm or anything, so we never really got started. That was an experience we could have done without. But apart from that, has being on the big stages just been something you dreamed about, when you were standing in the audience., so it has clearly been great, and the reception has been fantastic.

What’s it like to be on the big stages in comparison to the smaller ones (as at the moment)?
Michael - To be on a big stage is a dream already from when you were young – it’s beyond description… but also being on the small stages with the public up close, gives you something special.

I’ve heard that you played some stanzas from ”Reign In Blood”  on Soulweeper live at the WFF – who came up with that – was it a tribute or a gimmick?
Michael - It actually came on by coincidence – Franz (guitar) started playing it, and then we went along with it, but it wasn’t planned ahead. We got a real cool response, and then we used it at 6 - 8 shows right after, but decided, that we shouldn’t build up an expectation, that we would do it every time. That’s not something that’ll be on the new album either, but who knows what can happen live…

How do you keep up the spirit playing live with a relatively small back-catalogue to choose from?
Michael - It’s true, that it can be a killer practicing the same numbers, but live they suddenly seem new and fresh, and with the cool backup it never gets boring. We enjoy what we do.

Is there a new wave in Danish rock and metal these days?
Michael -
There are really a lot of good bands in Denmark at the moment, and I also think people in bands found out to help each other with contacts and such, instead of competing. A new wave - yes perhaps…

Do the sales figures match the good reviews of the album?
Michael - It’s really going well – after Roskilde we entered the Danish Top100. We entered as #76, and we thought: ”Hey, that’s great”, and we counted on no more than a week, but the following week we had risen to #18, and had surpassed many major names, and sales wise we’re the highest ranking hard rock band in Denmark in several years. So we and the record company are both really very satisfied.

How are the sales abroad – where are your strongest position?
Michael - I actually don’t know – the European tour will probably show that more clearly – on the face of it I think Germany , but maybe it could be France as well…

Can you make a living of it, or do you still have to have regular jobs on the side?
Michael - Two of us have quit our jobs to devote us to the music and all that comes with it – there’s a tremendous lot of organizational and such that has to be dealt with.

How is the support from promotion, record company and so on, for you here in Denmark and abroad? You did have some trouble or difficulties with the release of the first album…
Michael - In the beginning there were many that hadn’t got our record out – you know, those shops that only know the ten most known that’s played on the radio, but after Roskilde things started happening, and with the next one there shouldn’t be any problems.

Everywhere one reads, you’re obviously ”the main man” of the band – are you the only one who writes the numbers or does the others participate in the song process?
Michael - I’m the only one writing the numbers, and when I’ve got a pretty finished idea, the drummer and I go to the practice room and puts some rhythm on and perhaps change the arrangement a bit, and not until hen the others step in.

How do you compose – is it from a riff, a melody line or…?
Michael - It differs a lot, I’ve always got melodies in my head - it can be both. One goes around shopping in the local store, when some piece of melody appear in the head, then one have to record it on the mobile phone and go home and try it out. Usually it’s a melody in the song, where I put some guitar on that supports the song.

Do you have one or a few main sources of inspiration when you write?
Michael - No, it would be wrong to emphasize anyone especially, but I’m marked by having been listening 50’s-music already from when I was very young.

How do you go from death metal (Dominus, M.P.’s former band) to Rock ’n’ Roll-metal – How does a hybrid between Elvis and metal arise?
Michael - I was so fed up with and tired of the death metal genre and the whole environment around it when Dominus was dissolved, and I didn’t think I could try out the things I wanted to try out within that frame, that I needed something entirely new. Apart from that, one gets older , and is probably able to see more nuanced on things, so it was quite natural to think in an entirely new direction – that’s how Volbeat was formed.

Do you speculate in ”catchy” refrains for sing-along (like …Booze, Booza)?
Michael - Clearly I do – I like it to be, that one remembers a number once you’ve heard it a few times.

There’s very much classic metal in your music – but what about solos, those are there none of on your album or live?
Michael - I think solos are too outdated – Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi does it FANTASTICLY, they can tell a whole story in a solo, but generally it’s pretty much an 80’s-thing, and it’s not something I think fits Volbeat. On the new one we however play a little with a couple of solos, but that’s more because our sound engineer asked if he shouldn’t do a single solo or two on the disc, ha ha.
- You’ll hear, when it appears in the end of February/beginning of March …

What do you think is most exciting in the metal stage right now – in Denmark and abroad?
Michael - I don’t know really – maybe that there’s so much different happening right now, everything is sort of allowed…

My last question: Isn’t there a question you wonder why you’re never asked?
Michael - Naah, I think we’ve covered the most – or else it’s that you don’t think of until the receiver has been put down.

Thanks for your time – I’m looking forward to seeing you in Wacken next summer, packing a new album.
Michael - Thank you :-)  

Interviewed by Claus Melsen, October 18th 2006

Volbeat - The Strength/The Sound/The Songs

Album available on Rebel Monster.

For more info on Volbeat - click on the album cover.