Volbeat Frontman Michael Poulsen Talks About Rock and Roll Idiots, Healthy Living, Songwriting and Career Longevity
Volbeat is finally taking a little bit of a breather after a long run of worldwide tour dates in support of their latest album “Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies”. The guys will be back out hitting the road hard again in 2014 but are also up for a Grammy nod for their song “Room 24” featuring fellow Danish heavy King Diamond. I recently had the chance to interview singer/guitarist Michael Poulsen about the band’s hectic schedule, rising popularity and more; read on…
Legendary Rock Interviews: You guys have been touring on “Outlaw Gentleman and Shady Ladies” for quite some time now, is it pretty much a blur of hotel rooms and concert stages at this point?
Michael Poulsen: Oh you know, it’s always like that; for the first 3 or 4 shows you’re truly aware of where you are when you wake up in the morning and then you just start to lose track (laughs) until you walk into the venue and see the whole schedule.
LRI: I saw you many times on the previous tours supporting the live album and 2010’s “Beyond Hell, Above Heaven” and it just felt like you were ALWAYS on the road. The latest record is great but I honestly don’t know how you found time to relax and create. What did you do when it came time to go back to Denmark and recharge?
Michael: Yeah, that’s a good question (laughs). I had to write the album so there was not really much recharging, I guess that I’m still on my spare tank or something. If I’m not sitting and writing a new album, I’ll take my time to visit my family and close friends and just actually be in my house rather than a hotel room. I’ll take time to walk the dog and run and train, just doing normal daily stuff with my wife but again, there’s not that much time for recharging because we’re only home normally for a few days or a week; not more than two weeks. You think that you open the door but in reality you’re really just closing it again. The break we had this year was really more so that we could actually write the album so I don’t know, I guess it’s pretty tough to recharge but maybe one day I’ll figure it out.
LRI: I talked to your drummer Jon a couple times last year and I know he mentioned that he didn’t think the road was the best place to write an album or work on ideas for songs . Did you find that to be the case?
Michael: I’ll say that I would rather sit and home and write in my own office where I can do my thing but the thing is sometimes you’ll get inspiration on the road or in the dressing room where you’ll sit down with a guitar and it’s inspiration that you would never get at home. So actually, writing on the road can have a really positive angle as well but at the same time, there’s definitely something to being in your own environment where you are comfortable and at home and everything. So I guess the combination of having ideas on the road that you can take home and finish is the way that I like to work because there’s no way I would ever be able to write a whole album on the road. I’ll always write small snippets or details on the road and then take them with me back home and finish up all the songs; that’s mainly how I like to work when it comes to writing.
LRI: I know you’ve mentioned that having your wife Nina on the road and being on a more healthy diet has been beneficial to you. Has that been a pretty permanent change and has that helped you stay out on the road longer and helathier?
Michael: Yeah, you know, a lot of people on the outside think “sex, drugs and rock and roll” is the meaning of life but of course it’s really not (laughs). I mean, I’ve never done drugs, I’ll be honest with that, I’ve never done drugs but I’ve drank extremely and had really bad eating habits and had my share of a lot of girls and everything before I got married and that was all fun but you know it comes to a point where you have to focus on what’s important. I know there’s a lot of rock and roll idiots on the road who say they’re out there just for the women and they say that you’ll be lying if you said you were there for the music. I just read an interview with an idiot who said that. I don’t wanna mention his name but I’ll just say for me, it’s ALL about the music and everything else outside of that can be a bonus if you wanna have that as a bonus. I tried all the drinking and all the girls and all that and it has its moments but it also comes to a point where you have to focus on the matter of the real reason why you are on the road and realize the fact that you have a responsibility to take care of a lot of people who buy your tickets. At one point I just suddenly felt a complete difference in my body. I felt I was getting weak and sick and old. It was not fun and it was my own fault; I was drinking too much and partying too much and having too much fun with the girls instead of concentrating on the band and the music. When you’re having that kind of fun sometimes you have to stop yourself and ask what the real fun is, is it the music or the partying? Now I take real good care of myself, I lost a lot of weight, I’m barely drinking anymore, I eat well, I exercise, I run five times a day. I know for many people who hear that or read this that doesn’t sound very rock and roll but rock and roll is actually about being on the road, doing your job and playing those shows to the best of your abilities. We’re constantly away from home, we don’t even know where home is anymore, we live together on the tourbus so to me being able to stay out here on the road and do our job is rock and roll. We have decided it is more important to deliver good shows and deliver something to the audience that they can go home with and be happy about and have a feeling that they got something out of it. To me, THAT’s rock and roll.
LRI: I saw Johnny Cash several times in his later years and he still put on a great performance. Is that kind of longevity something you strive for or something that’s on your mind?
Michael: Well, yes and no. Sometimes you think “Will I still be on the stage when I’m 60 or something?” but the thing is when I look at my idols they were all having that kind of fun that I was talking about earlier but at some point they stopped. They came clean and concentrated on their career and their music because your body can only deal with that for a certain amount of time or else you would be six feet under. The key thing for me, if I have to think ahead, is that the future only exists in your head. There’s no way you can take anything for granted. If you think you’re gonna be there in the future I think you’re delusional because every day could be your last day, you could be hit by a car there’s all kinds of things that could go wrong so it’s important to enjoy what you do and remember that it’s all about having fun. If you don’t have fun being onstage, if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing than it’s not worth it. I’ll say that Volbeat will continue as long as we find it fun and as long as we are inspired and as long as we feel that we are doing the right thing because as long as that’s the case then age really doesn’t matter, it’s just a number. I guess time will be the test and prove if we still think it’s fun in twenty years or something, right? (laughs). Right now, we are having a lot of fun and touring constantly. We don’t even have to tour as much as we do but we do it because we love it. If the love for the music still continues to be in the right spot in our hearts then we will continue to do what feels right.
LRI: Volbeat is one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen and part of the reason is because you do make it a point to connect with the fans, often much more than other bands and you even wrote a song dedicated to the fans (“Thank You”). That fanbase has only grown since then, especially here in the United States. Has it become harder to stay connected with the fans as the band’s popularity has skyrocketed?
Michael: No it’s just a challenge to us. We see it every time we come back to a given city or country, we see the ticket sales getting stronger, the venues are getting bigger and that just means there are more fans to take care of. That’s the challenge because you surely don’t wanna leave anyone behind and you wanna save something for all of them. We still go out before shows to meet fans on the street because a lot of them are there very early on, trying to get up front, they will be at the venue almost when we arrive so we always go out and say hello or take pictures and just talk to them. Then, the next thing is we have our scheduled meet and greets and we don’t charge anything for meet and greets. A lot of bands charge money for meet and greets but in my opinion that’s wrong. And I know, I know music is a tough business but even when we didn’t earn anything touring and people said, “You know you can actually earn money on meet and greets” I said “There is no way I am gonna take away my fans’ money just to meet me; that should not cost anything!” I accept that the concert ticket costs something but a meet and greet? Come on. So we never charge anything for that, that’s ridiculous. The next time we have a chance to connect with fans is of course when we’re onstage and we always take our time to make contact and talk to people between our songs and appreciate them being there and being around and if we have time after the show, if the bus call isn’t too close we will go out on the street and talk to the fans. That is still something we really enjoy because they are the reason why we are able to do what we are doing. It is a tough business and production and everything is a big cost so we realize that without the fans we wouldn’t be able to do any of this and so, as much as possible, we stay in contact with them.
LRI: One of my favorite members of Volbeat live is your bassist Anders Kjolholm. He’s got so much energy and is just so much fun to watch onstage because he really makes it a point to connect with the audience. What do you attribute his onstage craziness to?
Michael: You know I am really proud of each member in the band, they all do a really good job and what I really like is that each member of the band really has their own unique personality. We are all very different and we all have different responsibilities on and off stage. Everyone is performing a really good show and it’s with great pride that I say that. Anders, back in the day, was SO shy. He would actually almost stand still onstage. It took him so much time to actually get into that routine and that swing that he has right now onstage. I knew that he had it in him and I said to him “You know, just loosen up, you’re the guy onstage now, you should perform and give them something, something they can hold onto and remember. Show them that you appreciate them, you should not be afraid of the audience”. It took him actually a lot of time to loosen up but now he’s really, really good at it and he’s good with the crowd; I’m very, very proud of that. It’s very important that the other guys contribute because I’m standing there singing and playing guitar at the same time and it can be tough sometimes while you’re doing that to also have time to communicate and interact with the audience. I always tell my wings Rob and Anders, “You know, when I’m singing, do your thing, keep your contact with the audience because I will only be able to communicate with them between songs or in the small parts I have where I don’t sing”. I think they’re both doing a really good job of that and Jon is the backbone of the whole beat of course so I’m just really, really proud of everyone.
LRI: I realize you’ve written a LOT of songs that are a lot of people’s favorites but I wanted to ask you about one of my all-time favorites. “Maybelline I Hofteholder” is a song that you don’t always play live but you did do it recently on this tour which made me extremely happy.
Michael: Yeah, “Maybelline” is a song that we finally got into our set in the U.S. because for a long time we just didn’t really think that people were that interested in that song and it has a few strange lines, it was a huge hit in Denmark. Our fans were constantly asking for that song in the U.S. so we said “Let’s try it out” and so far it’s worked out really good being back in the show, a lot of people are really into that song. You know, it’s a song about an old guy who’s possessed by this young stripper named Maybelline and he has his own table at the bar she’s dancing at. We even made a video where it follows that guy and he’s obsessed with Maybelline and is that stalker who would do anything to get in contact with her and would start to find her at her hotel room and she wouldn’t open the door because she was actually scared of him but he’s trying to smoke her out of the room. It’s a song about this extreme stalker who’s really in love or obsessed with Maybelline.
LRI: When did the Western theme of the current “ Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies” tour and album start to grip you?
Michael: That theme talked to me since I was a little kid you know and I knew from the very beginning of Volbeat that there would be a day where I would be using that inspiration for one of our albums. I just knew it would have to be at the right time where I felt that it was just the right moment. When I started writing the album a lot of the melodies I was writing were definitely inspired by old Western gunslinger movies and I said to myself “You know, it seems like now is the right time” and I had just picked up some of the old books and movies I had originally watched with my father and it just seemed like the right time. I think the whole thing really fits the Volbeat style really well.
LRI: The theme of the album carries over to the tour of course in the staging, backdrops and even a little bit into your own stage clothes. Do you sometimes feel a flashback to being a kid when you put on the badge and vest onstage every night?
Michael: Yeah, there’s definitely moments where there are pictures in my mind, especially when we play certain songs and that’s nice because then you feel that you’re close to your family even though they are a long way away, back in Denmark. When you get those pictures in your head you somehow feel that you are still close to your family and that’s a really good feeling.