Bringing Elvis Punk to the Masses
A TCE Exclusive Interview with drummer Jon Larsen
Words: TK Smith
Within a matter of a few short years Danish band Volbeat have taken the world by storm. Their recent offering Beyond Hell / Above Heaven (2010) has reached number one in numerous countries including Finland, Sweden and Denmark. It has also reached #3 in Germany and #8 on the European chats. For the Copenhagen four-piece the quick rise to success has been surprising but did come with a lot of hard road work. Since their inception during the early part of the millennium they have fought against the norm. Singer Michael Poulsen started off in the talons of death metal with band Dominus. After struggling for a year in that scene Poulsen eased off the death vocals, rediscovered his love of Elvis and Johnny Cash and went about developing a sound more a kin to rockabilly metal with a close network of friends. The group found their name in the third Dominus record Vol.Beat (Volume Beat), recorded a demo Beat The Meat and after selling 1,000 copies signed to Rebel Monster Records, a sub-label of Mascot Records.
“I think people respond to our music because it’s the best of what they are familiar with,” says band drummer Jon Larsen. “We grew up loving American music, bands from the ‘60s and ‘70s. We each have our own tastes in music but we all come from a similar back ground.” Poulsen, Larsen, bassist Ander Kjølholm and original guitarist Franz Gottschalk all came from the Danish metal scene. As they developed, the band took on an interesting cross-pollination of country, rock ‘n’ roll, metal, punk and rockabilly, mixed with shades of left over death metal. The band’s first album The Strength / The Sound / The Songs (2005) established not only their sound but their creative branding. “I think all our albums sound similar because they are all an extension of what we initially wanted this group to sound like,” continues Larsen. “We deliver a high level of quality rock. We’re, hopefully, better musicians now than when we started but we’ve always put the music first.”
Though the Volbeat sound has stayed basically the same, the production has improved. From their first album The Strength / The Sound / The Songs through Rock the Rebel / Metal the Devil (2007) to Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood (2009) the sonic edge to their music had become a galvanizing force. “We were fortunate enough to be praised by the critics right from the start,” says the drummer. “Our mission was always to write great music that could also go over well with an audience. We toured all over Europe doing these big festivals including Roskilde.” Volbeat’s life changes forever when they were invited the open for Metallica on their home turf in Denmark. “Lars is from Denmark so that really helped get our name out there,” says Larsen. “People really took interest after that. We put on a really good live show and that’s what Metallic like. They’re not afraid to be challenged every night by an opening band.” For the World Magnetic tour Metallic took Volbeat on the road through North America. “Michael and James (Hetfield) are good friends and exchange email all the time,” continues Larsen. “They recently asked if we could play the Outside Lands festival in San Francisco with them, August 10-12, 2012.
Volbeat are current touring behind their fourth barnburner Beyond Hell / Above Heaven (2010). Though the record is two years old this is the first opportunity the band has had to tour America as a headline act with Iced Earth and Hellyeah as support. The album was released in the band’s traditional gold and black illustrated design. “When we started, we wanted a logo that was easily recognizable,” says Larsen. “We liked what The Misfits and Ramones did with their album art. Every metal act uses silver (metal) and black we wanted to go past that with gold.” The same is said of the record’s title. In an interview with EspyRock, Michael Poulsen explained the title of the record stating “…it’s a way of telling people that we don’t belong or believe in neither heaven nor hell. So if we go beyond hell, we will make heaven look like hell, and if we go above heaven, we will make hell look like heaven. Heaven and hell is something we create in our minds and personal self-created demons come out of that.”
A first for the band was using a few of their friends as guest musicians during the recording of Beyond Hell / Above Heaven. “We got Barney Greenway (singer, Napalm Death), Mike Denner (guitarist, Mercyful Fate/King Diamond), and Mille Petrozza (singer, Kreator) to join in. We’re fans of them first and would meet at festivals around Europe. We asked them if they’d like to help out on the album and they were like, ‘Sure!’ I think it gives the record another dimension.” We asked Jon about the departure of album guitarist Thomas Bredahl. “That’s some deep water. Regardless we are moving ahead and on this tour we have Hank Sherman of Mercyful Fate filling in.” We also talked about which song on the new disc were fan favorites. “Heaven Nor Hell’ goes over real well,” says the drummer. “It gets the kids in the mosh pit moving. Also, ‘Fallen’ and ‘The Mirror and the Ripper’ have been doing real well. A funny thing about ‘Fallen’, the crowd starts crying. People tell us the song means so much to them, because they can relate to the lyrics and emotion of the song. It’s a bit overwhelming.”
The record itself is full on metal and classic story-telling as only Volbeat can do it. From the of amped-up swagger of “The Mirror and the Ripper” to the fan tribute, barroom anthem “Thanks” the record rolls through numerous elements of complex influences while still keeping it melodic, catchy and packed with energy. “Heaven Nor Hell” is the record’s harmonica blaring, rockabilly anthem and stands true to its intent with massive riffs and a fists-in-the-air drumbeat. The song features Henrik Hall of Love Shop. With a classic Slayer-like intro “Who They Are” is die-in-the-wool thrash Slayer as is “7 Shots” featuring both Mike Petrozza of Kreator and Michael Denner of Mercyful Fate and King Diamond. The unforgettable “Fallen” has a Foo Fighters feel but pulls out the most emotional delivery on the record. “16 Dollars” is pure cow punk (with Jakob Oelund of Taggy Tones playing the slap bass) while the fierce “Evelyn” with it occasional shock-n-awe death metal vocal burst, courtesy of Mark “Barney” Greenway (Napalm Death), is what makes this band so unique.
While the band showcase their influences upfront and center with a modern take on The Misfits, Metallic and Slayer, they pull it off in a rare combination of confidence, grace and honor. They continue to craft an overall unique style, almost impossible to describe, while still keeping it fluid, masterfully melodic, and filled with raw energy. A hint at reality, “Being #1” has that ultra-melodic romp that could easily be the group’s next big single while the brisk-paced “Better Believer” is a powerhouse. There are a couple oddities, “A New Day” takes on a funky beat with “Magic Zone” caught between punk and straight up rock ‘n’ roll. The addictive “A Warrior’s Call” was released last year as a single for Danish boxer Mikkel Kessler, nice to see is appear in album form, however it does breakup the storyline mojo of the disc. But over all, it’s exactly what you would expect from Volbeat: catchy melodies filled with lots of groove, tasty riffs and strong power chords. “We blend a lot of styles but still keep it very open,” says Larsen. “It’s just music, so judge for yourself!”
Website: Volbeat, *Wacken 2012*