VOLBEAT has been building momentum here in the United States for some time since unleashing their debut album to wide acclaim in their native Denmark. That was 2005 and since then the band has done everything the right way, releasing solid album after solid album and touring the world spreading the incredibly unique sound that has defined them and turned them into word of mouth legends. After a stint on the North American leg of Metallica’s DEATH MAGNETIC tour the band has started to really shake the U.S. with their recent Beyond Hell/Above Heaven album and Live DVD of the same name. This past winter has seen the band rolling through your town on Megadeth’s 2012 version of GIGANTOUR and once again turning some new heads with the recent success of “Warrior’s Call” on American rock radio. We had a chance to talk with longtime drummer Jon Larsen for a few minutes before their recent show here about all this and more. Read on….
Legendary Rock Interviews: How are you guys liking lovely Milwaukee? Was the show in Chicago a good time?
Jon Larsen: Yeah, it’s cold (laughs). Chicago went very well actually. We played the Aragon Ballroom which was a very strange venue, very beautiful. It was a really interesting place, as is the venue here in Milwaukee. They have a lot of history and are pretty visually interesting.
LRI: There seems to be a definite buzz here in the States on you guys right now. How have the GIGANTOUR dates been going so far?
JL: Really well actually. This tour is turning out to be a really good thing for us in VOLBEAT, it seems like there are a lot of people turning out for the shows who have heard of us and are into us which is always nice but thankfully there are also a lot of people who HAVEN’T heard of us yet which is also amazing.
LRI: I was going to say, you’re going on second every night but it does seem like there are a LOT of people we know personally that are really getting into VOLBEAT. Is it interesting, you have a situation of wanting to reach as many new people as possible and converting them but obviously there’s a lot of VOLBEAT T-shirts out there…
JL: Every show, every night, is a challenge whether they know us or don’t know of us. We just have to go out there determined to do the best show we can every single night and on this run we’re doing 45 minutes and it seems to be working out. That is very satisfying because it IS a challenge and especially on this tour where there are all these longtime diehard Megadeth and Motorhead fans out there (laughs). You know how it can be opening for those two bands……it’s a challenge for sure.
LRI: I know the Beyond Hell/Above Heaven album has been out quite a while, have you guys started shuffling around the setlist compared to say a year or so ago?
JL: We have created a buffer of songs that we can shuffle around if we want to but these past four or so shows we have pretty much stuck with the same setlist. Again, with us only playing this shorter set we really have to make sure we have exactly the right flow for these shows and we seem to have struck that with this set and it’s working. It seems to have the right energy and the right songs in the right place so we’re sticking with it for the time being. We may change out one song later on down the road but I’m not entirely sure about that.
LRI: These are pretty big audiences that you’re getting used to playing in front of. Do you prefer that or do you look forward to playing some smaller rooms on your own when you can?
JL: For us it’s kind of nice to be an opening band because we’ve basically been playing those shows on our own for the past two years really. The pressure of headlining a tour is totally different from the pressure of just going up and delivering every night as an opening act. It feels good to go up there and do our thing and we do our best at it but it’s not all riding on us so we can be a little more relaxed when the time comes that we do get to do our show. To be honest, there are a lot of people who are coming to see Megadeth and Motorhead so all we can do as openers is try to prepare and put on the best show possible for their fans, if they like it, great, if they don’t, well, that’s fine too because we’re sure they’ll enjoy the headliners.
LRI: There is something to be said for turning up at a show and seeing a band you’re not familiar with just blow you away and you guys have that ability. Have the American audiences been responding more and more as the years have gone on since the first shows or were they always pretty open to your sound which is fairly “AMERICAN” and classic?
JL: I think they’ve always been pretty open-minded towards us and our sound it’s just that we haven’t toured as much as we’d all like over here. It’s not as easy as just hopping on a boat and coming over to play (laughs). It takes the right situation and the right people and record company and all of those things. We first came over and did shows with NIGHTWISH and then we had the chance to play with METALLICA and now we’re making the most of this tour with MEGADETH and MOTORHEAD. Right now, it seems like the radio in America is really starting to pick up on us which is great. They’re starting to really pick up on a number of our songs and that’s actually really helpful.
LRI: The music translates incredibly well here because your influences are so largely that proud, authentic stuff of our landscape, Johnny Cash, Metallica and it’s all so melodic in Michael’s vocal delivery.
JL: Well, yeah, so much of the music we’ve always listened to as kids WAS American. A lot of the music that has historically come into Europe has always been American and especially that original rock and roll sound which I guess was pretty much invented in America. To us, that’s just natural.
LRI: The music has changed slightly from record to record for VOLBEAT but it really seems like your vision is just getting better and better. Have you already been kicking around ideas for the next album?
JL: Michael (Poulson, lead vocals, guitar) is always writing and he continues to do so but as of right now there’s really nothing complete for us to begin working on. There’s a lot of bits and pieces that are really good but not really any complete songs. Once we get home I think we will start really rehearsing and working on some of those ideas to have a set of complete song ideas. The plan is to get into the studio later this year and begin working on the follow-up album.
LRI: Is it hard to focus on writing and creating while going through the grind of being on a tour like this?
JL: Actually the last two or three albums were really written like what you’re describing, they were really written on the road while touring. This next time Michael really wants to be able to go home and relax and really focus on taking the time to write and rehearse off the road rather than on the back of a tour bus or at soundchecks. Just to go home and spend some time with the family and relax and try to come up with tunes a little differently and see if he can come up with the goods that way, which I’m pretty sure he can.
LRI: I would be so thrilled to go and tour Europe just to be able to see some different things. Not every American city is as lovely and glamorous as our beloved Milwaukee here but there ARE things to see and do on the road. Are you getting a chance or time to soak up any of the sights or shopping or anything?
JL: It kind of depends on the venue and the distance to the venue and things like that. What we do like to do when we do have a day off in America is just go to a shopping mall and walk around like zombies for a few hours and that’s basically it (laughs). We didn’t do anything yesterday in Chicago unfortunately just because it was SO cold, I mean so cold and freezing last night that there was no way in HELL we were going out (laughs). The last time we were in town I went to a few record stores which was really cool because I’m a big vinyl junkie.
LRI: Reckless Records and a few others are pretty badass there in Chicago, it’s nice that you’re a fellow fan of the spinning wax format. It’s really the best way to listen, especially to drums. I know you don’t sit around listening to your own stuff but is that your preferred format if you had to listen to VOLBEAT?
JL: Yes, that IS a good store and there’s a few others that a friend of mine always takes me to around there, it’s always so much fun. I do have all four of the VOLBEAT albums on vinyl and I think they’re all still available on vinyl, I know the latest album is. They are just so much fuller and warmer on vinyl I have to agree with you. We all have copies of our stuff if for no other reason than to look back on when we’re old and grey and be like “Yeah, that’s us” (laughs).
LRI: “And we fuckin rocked!”
JL: (laughs) Yeah, I guess we did rock at some points. I actually don’t have everything, there’s some demo stuff that I’m probably missing.
LRI: Is it a little surreal to be playing gigs with bands that were as influential to you as Metallica, Motorhead or Megadeth?
JL: Doing the American and Canadian leg of the Death Magnetic tour was the experience of a lifetime for us. They invited us to do that and it was really the most amazing time and was very good for us as a band. It is still mindblowing to be able to do shows like these with bands that we IDOLIZED growing up as 14 or 15 year old kids!! It’s unbelievable. Michael is a HUGE Megadeth fan and both he and I have always been big MOTORHEAD fans so to be able to see them both every night and share the stage with them is pretty amazing. Michael was up on stage the other night singing “Killed By Death” with Lemmy so it’s funny sometimes how things turn out!