Exclusive Interview: Michael Poulsen – track by track of Beyond Hell/Above Heaven

Formed in Copenhagen in 2001, Volbeat are comprised of vocalist and guitarist Michael Poulsen, guitarist Thomas Bredahl, bassist Anders Kjølholm and drummer Jon Larsen. To date Volbeat have released four studio albums and one live DVD with all topping the charts and/or certified gold in Europe, with their seminal release ‘Rock the Rebel/Metal the Devil’ certi?ed Platinum.

Steadily increasing their fan base with their unique blend and style of music and uncompromising stage shows, Volbeat continues to marry heavy metal and rockabilly together to create their own unique sound and legacy.

Back in July I had the opportunity to put some questions to the band which Michael Poulsen took some time to answer (read the interview here). During my email interview, Michael spoke about the sound of ‘Beyond Hell/Above Heaven’, the meaning behind the album title, guest musicians and also their first ever headlining tour here in the UK.

Recently I had the chance to speak to Michael on the phone to find out more about the songs that feature on their latest album ‘Beyond Hell/Above Heaven’, how he managed with the loss of his father while creating the album, his influences, their style, possible solo album and their upcoming headline tour of the UK.

Volbeat - Michael Poulsen

The Mirror And The Ripper

‘The Mirror And The Ripper’ is one of the songs that continues the story from ‘Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood’ were you hear more about the guitar gangster, how he was found and his destiny.

Heaven Nor Hell

‘Heaven Nor Hell’ is a rock song that tells a story about a guy who one day sold his soul to the devil but he actually ended up stealing it back and therefore was in debt to the devil. Since he did not believe in heaven nor hell, because he has seen the devil become an angel and otherwise, he doesn’t really need any of them because he had found peace within himself. He doesn’t need any direction to where he is going. So the song is very much about a guy who is struggling with his demons and has angels on his shoulders.

Me: When you previously explained the album title to me and you spoke about the album title being a way to tell people that you don’t believe in neither heaven nor hell. Was the story from this song a big reflection on the album title when you chose it?

Michael: Yes you could definitely that.

Who They Are

‘Who They Are’ is a little more complicated but it’s one of our metal songs that has very dark lyrics which are hard to explain. This is a song about spirits who, in the speed of light, are visiting the earth to give people a hint of what they should take care of before they ruin everything in front of them.

Fallen

‘Fallen’ is a song I wrote for my father. Unfortunately I lost my father two years ago and you know musically, it wasn’t tough to write because it came to me very naturally but of course lyrically it’s very emotional because it’s about my loss. It’s a song I’m very proud of and it’s a song that I really open up on and people can definitely see that I’m just a human being.

Me: You had mentioned in the email interview that this was the first album that you had wrote without your father being there. Was it difficult, not just with ‘Fallen’ but the album as a whole as you couldn’t go to him like you had previously?

Michael: Yeah, I was always playing material for him and he was really into what I was doing with my music and I always knew somehow what he liked and what he didn’t like but he would surprise me now and then. His opinion was very important to me and he always inspires me when I sit down to write songs. It was actually frustrating not to be able to play the songs for him because it was just when I started to write the new album [‘Beyond Hell/Above Heaven’]. “Well this time your old man is not able to hear it” but somehow, I am not a religious guy, I don’t support any religion but I definitely believe in the spiritual world but I have to believe that somehow and somewhere he is listening to the music. I don’t know how and when but you know I like to have that idea that he’s capable of doing that.

A Better Believer

‘A Better Believer’ is a typical Volbeat punk song; punk/pop rock song. Lyrically it’s inspired by the Dracula theme, were he loses his love and he turns his back on god and any religious beliefs because they took away his love. So yeah that song is really inspired by Dracula.

Me: Are punk and pop rock two genres that you like to work with a lot when it comes to the Volbeat sound or do you have to find the right moment to bring them into use?

Michael: Concerning all the styles we have, it’s something that comes very natural to me. I love so many styles of music so if I want to start a song as a country song and then burst into metal and end up as a punk song, that’s what I will do and I find it pretty natural because I am dedicated to so many different styles. That’s why, as it’s something that comes so natural to me, you can’t really say what style Volbeat is because of all the elements.

Me: Have you ever thought about the fact that you have your own sound and there is no other band out there that sounds similar?

Michael: It doesn’t seem like it you know. It’s really something we didn’t think about too much in the beginning because we never really thought that we were that original. We knew that there weren’t bands who were mixing all those elements that we do but it was not like we felt that we sounded original. It was actually after the third release [‘Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood’] it was like “man, maybe people are right, maybe we do have something special going on here”. We were definitely aware that people liked our music and we had collected a lot of fans in Europe playing live shows but actually it wasn’t that long ago we became aware of that maybe we are an original band. It’s still something we don’t think too much about because if you think about it too much and you put it in your inspirational work when you write, you will probably fail.

7 Shots

‘7 Shots’ is again one of those songs that continues the story from ‘Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood’. It tells what is going on in the head and the life of the guitar gangster. In that song we have Michael Denner from Mercyful Fate contributing with some guitar solos and we have Mille [Miland Petrozza] from Kreator doing some vocals and slide guitar done by a guy called Anders Pedersen, so this is a very special track as it has a lot of things in it. It has so many different elements, it actually starts out like a country song then it becomes a rock n roll song then suddenly a metal song.

Me: There are special guests throughout the album who you said previously had inspired you. Based on the special guests in ‘7 Shots’ with Michael Denner and Mille, how did these artists inspire you?

Michael: It’s no secret when you listen to our records that you hear that we’re inspired by a lot of fifties elements with medleys and you know, what we also want to show people and what they have to be aware of is that we are inspired by a lot of elements from the metal scene but the metal scene way back. Bands like Kreator, Napalm Death, Mercyful Death, King Diamond, Black Sabbath, Dio and you know those types of bands we were influenced by. You know we have been touring so much the last three years and I’ve been talking to those guys on the road since we played some of the same festivals and suddenly we had the opportunity to have them on our record.

Concerning Mille from Kreator, Barney [Mark Greenway] from Napalm Death and Michael Denner from Mercyful Fate, this was our way of showing our listeners we go way back and we were listening to those guys even when we were in school. Now we can have them on our record, that’s a great achievement for Volbeat.

Me: Considering you have already toured with big names such as Metallica and you have these artists making guest appearances on your album, which other bands/artists would you like to tour with or one day hope to have featured on a Volbeat album?

Michael: There are tons of great bands and musicians that could be very interesting to work with. Mike Ness from Social Distortion, James D Bradfield from Manic Street Preachers, Lemmy from Motorhead, James Hetfield (Metallica), Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath, Heaven & Hell) could be really something; who knows maybe in the future. I’m still a big King Diamond fan, it would be totally awesome to do something with him. Maybe Hank The Third, Jerry Lee Lewis or Chuck Berry, those guys are still alive, the list is just so long. It doesn’t have to be metal guys, it could be old rock n roll legends who are still alive. I just got the new Jerry Lee Lewis album and he is still going strong you know, it could be a great challenge and probably the biggest compliment to possibly work with him.

A New Day

‘A New Day’ is a song that again we blend a lot of different elements; there is definitely some [Quentin] Tarantino feeling in the middle of the song. Lyrically it’s about doing, leaving something in the past behind you, move forward and find new doors and new ways to be a new person. It’s actually about an old relationship which leads to the right one. Believe in having a soul mate and moving forward.

16 Dollars

’16 Dollars’ is definitely a rockabilly song and we have a guy called Jakob [Oelund] from a Danish band called Taggy Tones who plays slap bass on that song. It’s definitely the most rockabilly song that we have ever song. Definitely something I’d want to do a little more in the future as I really doing those kind of songs and it’s something that comes really naturally to me when I write.

Me: Could you envision Volbeat taking on more rockabilly material?

Michael: I don’t know, it doesn’t have to be something that I will write in Volbeat, it may be a solo thing where I really do something that is more rockabilly. Lyrically this song is just about this guy who doesn’t have any place to stay and just lives on the street, getting drunk and seeing what brings him through the day and what kind of experience he can get out of that. Somehow a typical cliché rock n roll song both lyrically and musically.

Me: You mentioned there that you may do the rockabilly material solo. Are you working or are you thinking about doing a solo album?

Michael: It’s not like I’m thinking about it but it’s something people ask me, if it’s something that’s going to happen and I say “well, perhaps, you know when I find the right time to do it”, because if I do it, it’s not like I want to have my own career because Volbeat is what I’m doing. I write all the material for Volbeat and it takes so much of my time that it’s hard for me to even imagine a side project. If I someday release a solo album, it will not be a band that I tour with or go out on the road with, it will just be a CD I would release with songs that would have, I don’t know, perhaps have more of a rockabilly sound or something like that. It could definitely happen in the future.

A Warrior’s Call

‘A Warrior’s Call’ is a typical Volbeat song if you listen to it. It’s a rock n roll, boogie woogie song, typical vein of Volbeat but it’s a song that I wrote for the Danish boxing champion Mikkel Kessler. Mikkel is the biggest boxer here in Denmark and he was in this tournament called the “Super Six Tournament” and he needed a song. He had been to some of the Volbeat shows and I had been to some of his fights so we just started talking and I said “you know, you need a good song when you’re walking to the ring” and he said “yeah, if you can come up with something good lets work on it”. I had this idea for ‘Warriors Call’ and Mikkel really liked it so we were in the studio and we had him sing on the part “Fight Fight Fight” and now he is walking into the ring with that song. I’m really proud of that since I’m a big boxing fan and a boxing fanatic and my father was also an old fighter. Every day, the first thing I do in the morning is load up the computer and go to FightNews.com

Me: As you said you’re proud to hear your music being used in a sport that you love but does it have extra significance as your father was a fighter?

Michael: Yes it does. I think in the future there may be more opportunities were we might do more songs that are linked to sports. We still see a lot of commercials here in Denmark for racing cars were they use some of our songs in small seconds, so it seems like some of the Volbeat music fits into sports.

Volbeat Kessler A Warriors Call

Magic Zone

‘Magic Zone’ is written and dedicated to my wife. That song is just a little about me giving her some credit and trying to open up and tell how important my wife is to me.

Evelyn

‘Evelyn’ is definitely the most mellow song on the album and we have Barney [Mark Greenway] from Napalm Death doing all the verses. We tuned the guitars a half tone down on that song also.

The verse sounds like a death metal song because with Barney on top of the verse, it sounds very brutal but then when it matures, it becomes a typical Volbeat song because of the up and down and my singing.

It’s a song I’m really proud of because you either hate it or love it because it’s so extreme for some people and they really don’t get how and why we mix these two things but other people will think it’s brilliant. I like the idea that people almost fight about this song.

It’s really special and Barney is really extreme on his output, his voice is so extreme; I really think he is one of the best at what he is doing. You cannot compare him to anyone and I’m so proud to have him on the record as I have been listening to Napalm Death since I was very young, so being able to work with him is a great compliment.

Me: What did you think when you first heard the song in full, knowing that fans may react negatively to it?

Michael: It was more about wanting to be free to do what I wanted to do. I still listen to Napalm Death records and I still love hearing how brutal and groovy they actually are and sometimes it’s so cool to put down a Napalm Death record, pick up your guitar and be inspired by them when you play. That’s what I did when I walked into the rehearsal room, I said “I have an idea. I’ve been listening to Napalm Death all day, try to hear this riff. Couldn’t it be cool to have Barney on top of that and me doing the chorus?” So it was really an idea I got just from listening to Napalm Death, playing back the old records and again, it was a great challenge as the other guest musicians we have been using were pop rock singers from the previous albums and this time people were perhaps expecting that. “Oh which kind of pop rock singers are singing on the next album” but this time we wanted to show people that we were able to do something that was very different from what we were used to but it still became very natural for us to do it. So this was actually the reason we chose to do it, because we could and we feel good about it.

Being 1

‘Being 1’ is again a song that is dedicated to my wife. It’s a little bit about our time in Memphis when we got married at Graceland. So yeah, that is a punk country song that I dedicate to my wife.

Thanks

‘Thanks’ is a track that is dedicated to our fans. It was a song that I really wanted to do for a really long time because from the beginning when we started, when we only played for fifty people and now we usually play for around ten thousand, it’s still those people who were there from day one. They keep showing up, they keep on supporting us, they keep on buying merchandise, they keep on buying CD’s, you know, they’re just there, they are who support us.

Even though every time after every show we go down and talk to them, I still feel like we owe them something and can a band do? Well we are a band and we write songs, well two plus two is four so let’s do a song. Let’s give them a song and hopefully they will appreciate it, hopefully it’s a song they will appreciate when we play it live and we can bring people on stage with us, singing that song and that is really something I would feel good about.

Angelfuck (Misfits cover)

On the other records we have always covered songs from the fifties. People were probably expecting a cover song and they were probably expecting a cover song from the fifties so we said let’s not do a cover song from the fifties, let’s show them that we can do something different and lets maybe not put it on the regular album, put it on the limited edition or the vinyl so it doesn’t become too obvious what is about to go on with the next records so that’s what we did.

Concerning the choice of Misfits, I am not a really big [Glenn] Danzig fan, I really like the Misfit days with Michale Graves who I think did two or three albums with the Misfits but ‘Static Age’, the first Misfits album, is probably the best punk rock record ever and I love that record. I think it’s perfect, the sound, it’s so raw, it’s so unpolished, the melodies you can definitely hear from Glenn Danzig, are so inspired from the fifties. The way they did that record, it was a diamond.

There was so many songs to pick from that album that we could do but ‘Angelfuck’ was the song that became my favourite song from that album and we had been playing it live and people really seemed to dig it. It’s not a song that most bands would cover but it’s definitely a song I think fits pretty well with Volbeat.

As my time came to a close I asked Michael if he was looking forward to the UK tour.

Oh yeah definitely. We still need to play shows in the UK and it’s been very tough for us to get into the UK. We have been there a few times so time around we hope we will have a good tour and people will show up and can definitely prove we are here to stay and that the UK needs Volbeat.

     

About Michael

Michael is the owner and creator of EspyRock. He is your general all round geek; sports fan; TV show fanatic. You can find him sharing his thoughts on his personal Twitter account. Contact Michael on Twitter or via Email.

One Response to “Exclusive Interview: Michael Poulsen – track by track of Beyond Hell/Above Heaven”

  1. Cadillac Blood 18/01/2013 at 3:27 pm

    You emailed Michael Poulsen? How’d you get his email, if you don’t mind me asking? I love this interview, by the way. It’s amazing!