HIS NAME IS MICHAEL POULSEN
The Volbeat frontman on touring, Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies and more
October 26, 2013
2013 has been the year of Volbeat in America. Songs such as “Still Counting” and “Heaven nor Hell” still were burning up the airwaves years after their initial release even as the band’s fifth studio album, Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies, hit stores in April. A heavy touring schedule, including prominent billing on many of the biggest festivals, solidified their place in the top tier of hard rock/metal bands here. Late summer/early fall saw them headlining perhaps their biggest U.S. tour yet, Rock Allegiance, with support from HIM, All That Remains and Airbourne. As the trek neared its end and came to the Mann Center for the Performing Arts Center in Philadelphia, Pa., Live Metal’s Greg Maki, with special guest Wesley Mann, sat down backstage with vocalist/guitarist Michael Poulsen to get the latest on Volbeat.
GREG MAKI: The Rock Allegiance tour is coming to an end pretty soon. How has it been for you?
MICHAEL POULSEN: Pretty good. It’s been a good run—great package, great bands, but most important, really good audience.
GREG MAKI: I thought the lineup was really interesting. Before Airbourne dropped off, four bands from four different countries, four very different styles of rock music. Is that something you look for in a tour, that kind of diversity?
I think it’s cool that you blend those different kind of bands altogether. Of course, people will always have their favorites. It’s a good idea. It’s sad that Airbourne had to go home. They’re a really good live band, and I really like those guys. Sometimes it’s great fun to just be a part of a metal festival, where it’s only metal or rock ‘n’ roll or whatever, and other times it’s great to have those different packages where bands are playing different styles. As long as the audience is good, then everything’s good.
GREG MAKI: And the cool thing about your band is that you can fit in with all those different styles.
Yeah, we’re so mixed that we can play a lot of different festival shows.
GREG MAKI: What are the biggest differences between touring in America and Europe?
Maybe the word “big” is the right thing. I’m just thinking about all your food.
Maybe they’re a little bit more wild over here when it comes to circle pits and crowd surfing. Not that they don’t do that in Europe because they really do. It’s tough to say what the difference is because what we experiencing now is that it’s about to explode here in America when it comes to Volbeat, which we’re very thankful for; it feels good. So it’s almost like going back to when it exploded in Europe, and it feels good because in Europe, we play those arena shows, but sometimes you want to go back to the smaller scenes where (it’s) a little more intimate with the fans and the crowds. So that’s a really good feeling. We just appreciate every kind of recognition we can get. We’re so much away from home and constantly touring, so it feels good that people embrace what we’re doing.
GREG MAKI: What do you miss most about home when you’re out on tour?
GREG MAKI: What kind of dog?
I have a Danish Swedish Farmdog. So my house and my dog. I’m going home in four or five days and picking up the dog at my mother’s house. So I’m looking forward to seeing the little guy again.
GREG MAKI: Do you make specific changes to the set list based on where you’re playing? Are there certain songs that are bigger here?
Yeah. If we do festival shows, it depends on what kind of festival we are playing. If it is a metal festival, we will include maybe a little bit more of the more heavy songs. And other times, we will be looking at what kind of set list we had the last time we were here so we can include songs that we haven’t played here before. And we always try different songs out in soundcheck.
GREG MAKI: So when you’re on tour, you have the show at night and you do some press. What is a typical day like for you? Do you have a chance to go out and do any sightseeing?
Yeah. We have been here before, seeing the Rocky statue and running the stairs and seeing where (Joe) Frazier was living. I’m a big boxing fan. Today, (drummer) Jon (Larsen) and I were just at a few record stores buying some vinyl. When we have the opportunity to go out, we go into the city, or if there’s some kind of attraction, we leave the venue. But most days, for me, I wake up and I’ll be running. I run five times a week. So that’s the first thing I do when I get up—take a run. Then come back, eat some good food. Mostly, we’ll have press, doing some interviews—and it can happen at the venue, or you can get picked up and get to a radio station. Other times, we will have different meetings with people that we work with. Or we will be watching movies, reading books, maybe rehearse a little bit backstage certain songs we want to include in the set, or just watching paint dry.
But it’s pretty much the same every day, promotional work and a lot of phone calls because we still need to be in touch with our European base when it comes to lawyers and accountants and management and publishers and stuff like that. So it’s not only about being onstage. There’s a business side, too, that you have to take care of.
GREG MAKI: Have you had a Philly cheesesteak while you’ve been here?
No, but I would love to.
GREG MAKI: We should talk a little bit about the new album, Outlaw Gentemen & Shady Ladies. A lot of the songs are based on historical figures. Did you have to do research on these people or were these stories that you already knew?
The thing is, I don’t even remember anymore, because when I start writing, I lock myself into this bubble, totally one-dimensional. My wife cannot get in contact with me; she hates me when I’m writing because she thinks I forget all about her, (whispering) which is actually the truth.
I really need to concentrate on writing. When I grew up, my father was always watching those old country-western movies, and he had a lot of books, too. So I just remember those movies, and I still have them. And I went to my mom’s attic and picked up those books again and started reading. That’s where I found most of the characters.
I wanted to bring some characters to life that people didn’t know that much about, like Lola Montez and Pearl Hart and, my favorite, Black Bart, because, of course, there are people out there who know about them, but not that many because they all know about Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid. So I wanted to pick out some names that were a little bit more diverse. When it comes to the music, I could just hear when I started writing that a lot of the melodies were inspired by old country-western gunslinger movies. So when it came to the lyrics, it fit pretty good together.
GREG MAKI: I did a little bit of looking into some of these people after hearing the songs. One thing I thought was really cool was in “Black Bart” where you actually used his poems. Did it start with that or did it start with just wanting to do a song about him?
I really wanted in the lyrics to explain that he left his poems when he does a robbery, and how do you explain that poem? Why not just use it? So that’s what I did.
GREG MAKI: Do we have the equivalent of any of these kinds of people today? Not necessarily criminals or robbers, but are there any kind of modern outlaws or anything like that?
They probably live today but don’t see themselves as modern. I guess so. There’s still a lot of people who still want to live the way you did back then, a little bit more primitive. I can totally relate to that. I guess they are around, but you don’t probably see them that much in the city.
GREG MAKI: A lot of these songs, they seem like they would translate well to videos, with all the characters. And they wouldn’t even need the band in them.
I’m so happy that you say that because, personally, I’m not into videos. We’ve done a lot of music videos, and we all hate it. We’d rather be onstage and play. We always said, “Why can’t you make a video without the band? It’s so much more interesting. You can really make a good storyline.” But the labels and management say, “Oh, no, no, the fans need to see the band.” And we always say, “Oh, OK.”
Actually, right now, they want to do a video for “Lola Montez.” And I said, “OK. You do that video, but it’s gonna be without the band.” People already know who the band are. We’ve done tons of videos. We’ve released five albums, and people know who the band is. A video without the band is so much cooler. Then we don’t have to stand there and be fake and be poseurs. So I guess that’s what we’re working on right now, to do a video without the band, and we can’t wait. I know that it’s a promotional tool and there’s still countries that show music videos, but I’ve never been a fan of music videos. And the videos that I mostly like are when the band is not included, so you’re definitely right.
GREG MAKI: I interviewed you back in the spring, and we talked about the guests on the album. We talked about “The Lonesome Rider” and Sarah Blackwood, but we didn’t talk about what the song is about. I think I can tell from reading the lyrics, but who is the lonesome rider?
The whole thing about lyrics is, I really like the idea that you can have 10 different people in a room and they will have 10 different stories about what the lyrics are all about. I have my version of it, and your version is just as correct as mine. It all depends on what kind of feeling you get out of it.
But it is about a cowboy who gets drafted into war, and when he returns, he’s actually not aware that he’s dead. So he’s actually strolling around as a spirit on his horse and can’t find his wife. What he doesn’t know is that she also passed while he was in the war, and he has no idea that he’s dead and she left him. So he’s strolling around and can’t really figure out where she is. And the wife is asking the reaper to lead him to the other side so they can meet again.
GREG MAKI: I saw that when you played in Canada, Sarah Blackwood did the song with you onstage.
Yeah. That was really fun. It was the first time we ever played the song live, and it was the first time we met Sarah, even though I’ve been in contact with Sarah for some years, actually, since she was in The Creepshow. We were all very excited to meet each other and do a good soundcheck on the song because we hadn’t rehearsed it and we hadn’t played it together. It turned out really weird because she just (had) her first kid; she’s very busy now being a mom, and she’s in that band called Walk off the Earth. During the day, somehow she didn’t have time to do the soundcheck. For us, it was like, OK, we’ll just rehearse it then. Then we finally heard that she came to the building, and we want to hook up and just talk. It was getting closer and closer to stage time, and we hadn’t met her yet. So the first time we met her is when she walks out onstage singing. When the show was over, we said, “Where’s Sarah?” And our tour manager said, “Oh, she left for home because she had to get home for her kid.” We never met her.
She’s on the record and she was onstage, but we never met her. It’s pretty cool somehow, but it’s also funny.
GREG MAKI: Any plans to do anything live onstage with King Diamond? (NOTE: King Diamond appears on the song “Room 24” from Volbeat’s Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies.)
It’s not like there’s any plans. There’s definitely hopes. King Diamond is very busy right now preparing his own tour and stage show and everything. He’s a very busy guy. After the operation, he wants to get back on the road. (NOTE: King Diamond underwent triple-bypass heart surgery in December 2010.) I think it would be very complicated to make it happen, but if it does, it would be very nice.
GREG MAKI: Maybe at a festival.
Something like that. That could be an option. I know he wants to do it, and we want to do it. Let’s see if the timing is right.
GREG MAKI: Like you said, you’re heading home soon, and then you have a big tour in Europe coming up.
Yeah, we’ll be home on Monday, and then this tour, which has been six weeks, is done. We’ll be home for 10 days, and then we tour Europe until the 3rd of December. So yeah, just have to be prepared for Christmas when we go back home after the European tour. It’s been a lot of shows.
GREG MAKI: If someone had never heard Volbeat before, if you could pick out one album, where should they start?
You know, it’ll be stupid if I don’t say, “Buy the new album,” because it is the new album.
Honestly, I also think it’s our strongest album. No matter what, I should say this: It is our strongest album. Even though it might not be—it is our strongest album.
I’ve got to be honest. I actually think it’s our strongest album. And if people can’t find that, buy the Guitar Gangsters album.
GREG MAKI: That's my favorite.
That’s my second favorite of the records. But I’m so proud of every record we’ve done so far. They all have a lot of great stuff that I’m so proud of. But I think we accomplished something on the new album that we’ve been trying to accomplish on some of the other records.
GREG MAKI: What is that?
Sometimes you can write a song and you can feel very satisfied about it, but maybe after a year, you pick it up again and it just doesn’t sound finished. A lot of the songs on the new album, I can’t really pick out anything that I want to change. Maybe if you ask me in two or three years, I will have a different favorite Volbeat album.
GREG MAKI: It’ll be the new one at that point.
Exactly. It’ll probably be the new one. But it changes now and then. I have my favorite songs from each album. I think if you want to find out about Volbeat, take the one that’s in the store. If they’ve got all of them, buy all of them. If there’s only one, then take the one that’s there.
GREG MAKI: Is there a song that you don’t play live regularly that’s one of your favorites?
There’s definitely songs that we’ve been playing live for a long time because they’re good live songs and we feel good about playing them. But they also need some rest now and then. Then it’s always fun to bring them back into the set. For a very long time, we haven’t played “The Human Instrument,” which was a steady song for a long time. I like that song. “I Only Wanna Be With You,” we haven’t played that for a long time; we rehearsed it in the soundcheck. “Radio Girl” was such a steady song for a long time, and we said, “OK, that needs a rest,” and now we’ve picked it up again. It feels good to do those kind of things. There’s still songs in the set that we’re not ready to put to rest. It’s nice to know that we have enough material to do a lot of different set lists, and right now it’s working pretty good.
WESLEY MANN: My favorite song is “Still Counting.” How many assholes have you counted up to?
I have no idea, but a lot. It seems like there’s many around.
That’s one of the songs that since it came on album, we had no idea that it would become such a live favorite song. It became one of those songs that just needs to be on the set list. The funny thing is, we never expected that song to be a radio song, because in Europe, they would never pick up a song like that. They will not play a song like that on the radio. But that’s the song they play over here. And I really like that. In Europe, they pick up the more soft songs. Over here, which I really like, they are not afraid of a little bit more power and double bass and some bad words.
Actually, that’s not the truth because I was told that I could not say “asshole,” so I had to change that word. I think there are probably some radio stations that play the original version, but there is also cities in America that won’t play it because of the “asshole.” So I had to go into the studio, and I said, “Well, what can I do? OK, I'll use the word ‘bastard.’ That’s fine!” “Counting all the bastards in the room.” I was allowed to do that, which is weird.
And another funny thing, which has nothing to do with this—it just made me think of it. We have this song called “Pool of Booze,” and there’s been some shows where we brought up some kids onstage to rock out with Volbeat. A few days after, we got some complaints from parents who said, “How can you bring up kids to a song about booze and whores and fucking? That’s not correct.” We ended up changing the song when we brought the kids up. So we said, “Today, the song is gonna be called ‘Pool of Chocolate.’”
So we will be singing, “The pool of chocolate, chocolate, chocolate.” And instead of “Fucked another whore in the pool of booze,” we say, “Kissed another girl in the pool of chocolate,” and the parents seem to think that’s OK. So when we bring up the kids in “Pool of Booze,” it’s actually called “Pool of Chooclate.”
WESLEY MANN: Where’s your favorite city you’ve ever been to?
There’s a lot of beautiful cities in America and also in Europe. I think I have to say—I don’t know, maybe it sounds a little bit clichéd—I think I have to say Memphis. I was married in Memphis, and I had so many great experiences in Memphis. I have to say Memphis. I'm a huge Elvis fan, and of course, I’ve been to Graceland. I also brought my father’s comb to Elvis’ grave. That was something that I promised him when I put him in the coffin in the living room at home. I told him I would take that comb and put it on Elvis’ grave because he was a huge Elvis fan. So I took the trip to Graceland, and I put the comb on Elvis’ grave. So it means something special to me, and I had a great experience.
I was driving from Memphis to Tupelo, Mississippi, because I wanted to see where Elvis was born. That was the first time I was driving in a car in America. Of course, I had the navigation system on, and it blacked out. Wow, what now? Even though there are signs, you still feel a little bit more comfortable with the navigation system. So I was a little bit panicked about if I’m gonna find it. So for maybe 10 minutes, there’s this eagle up in the air. It was almost like it was following the car. I got a little bit emotional about it because my father was really into eagles and had a big eagle on his chest and was really into birds. So I said, “I’m just gonna follow that eagle today and see where it brings me.” I was driving I don’t know how long and it took off, and then I was in Tupelo, Mississippi. So I told myself maybe that was my father trying to tell me where Tupelo, Mississippi, was, because he was very much into eagles. I got an eagle tattoo when I came home; (shows a tattoo on his hand) it says “dad,” and this is my father’s name. So there are a lot of great stories when it comes to Memphis. So I’ve gotta say Memphis.
GREG MAKI: Thank you very much for your time. Is there anything else you want to say?
Thank you very much for the interview. We’re very happy to be here and looking forward to the show.