If you’re a regular reader of Digital Diversion, you’re probably already aware of Volbeat. If you’re new to the site, let me boil it down for you … Volbeat is a Danish rock band that turns an unlikely mash up of punk, metal, country and rockabilly into something truly unique. Having already reached rock-star status in Europe, they have their sights set on conquering America in short order.
Returning to the Bay Area for the first time since their latest release (Beyond Hell / Above Heaven) with a Friday night show at the historic Fillmore, I had the honor of sitting down with Thomas Bredahl (guitar) and Jon Larsen (drums) before the show to discuss their progress towards domination.
Enjoy the interview and check back soon for live photos from the show.
Let’s start out by talking about your latest release which is arguably the most diverse Volbeat album to date. Was that what you set out to do or is that how it came out at the end of the process?
TB: [During the recording process] At one point Jon is like, “we need more hard hitting songs. Like more metal, more riff oriented,” because there was a lot of those songs that we do … like more punk, plain rock songs. We need a few of them so maybe at that point you had something that was a little bit more “together” and then we actually tried to add something that was different to give it that perspective as well. That’s all we do, blend everything. [laughs]
I think that part of what makes it diverse is that you brought in a number of guest musicians. I look at songs like Evelyn and 7 Shots … I think that those are vocal parts that Michael could do himself yet you chose to bring in some guests. Were those songs written for those people in particular or did you record the songs and say “he would be perfect for that?”
JL: Evelyn was definitely written for Barney [Greenway ,Napalm Death] with his voice in mind. It was definitely written for him. I’m not so sure about 7 shots, though. Evelyn was definitely based on what Napalm [Death] would do if they would sound like us. I’m not sure about the other one though.
TB: I think the other one, 7 shots, was written and then because we’ve had for a long time an idea of Mille [Petrozza, Kreator] play guitar or sing or something like that because we hook up with him every once in a while. We got this kind of old school part that we thought, “wouldn’t it be cool to have Mille sing something on top of this.” So I think actually that song was written without him in mind. But then again, I’m not sure.
JL: I’m not really sure because he [Michael Poulsen] kept on saying, “well, I got this riff that may suit him,” but if that ended up being the riff I’m not really sure. Maybe the song was already done and, “oh yeah, that’s the part for him,” but I seem to recall that Michael said, “I got this, this would be for Mille to do.” Was it guitar or vocals I really don’t recall.
TB: It was even before Guitar Gangsters that we talked with Mille … it was a couple of years ago. Three years ago we played the same festival up in Norway and we were like, “we should do something together one day.” And he was like, “yeah, just give me a call.” And he always drops by our show whenever we play on his home turf if he’s home. We knew we were going to do it at one point so it was basically waiting for the right part or the right song.
How often have you been playing those particular songs [Evelyn, 7 Shots] live?
JL: Evelyn was actually played throughout the whole European tour last year in Scandinavia because we brought out Entombed as a support act and we asked LG if he wanted to do it. I think he at some point really regretted saying yes because he was so nervous and so scared the first few nights that he did it. So that was played. I think 7 Shots was only played a couple of times … we played it on the Danish part of the tour. Michael Denner joined us for that. And I think we did it in Dusseldorf which is close to Mille’s home and I guess that was basically it.
TB: I don’t really remember.
JL: I think that we did it a few times and decided it take it off because …
TB: … it just doesn’t work. There’s only one Michael Denner and we can’t do what he does and make the guitar sound that way. Some vocal parts can be … I did Mille’s part which is doable. It’s also a short thing [the vocal part] but that signature sound you gotta have it to actually play that song.
Have you thought about touring with any of those bands?
JL: I think definitely Napalm Death could be fun but, especially in Europe, they are way too extreme for the crowd that we pull in now. Maybe we could do it in Europe but in Scandinavia they are too extreme. Kreator … ah, I don’t know … maybe. It could be done, but who knows. Maybe.
Never say never, right. The new album came out in the U.S. about three months after Europe. What was the delay? I know people were anxious to get it here and were ordering from Europe.
TB: Well it’s a normal thing that you don’t have the same release dates, it’s just normally the other way around so we gotta wait over in Europe. So we basically just wanted to give you guys a hard time. [laughs] I think they have to set everything straight with the label … we’re not a household name band yet over here so there’s some thoughts back and forth about which label to use. So I think that’s actually the main reason. And then also our touring activities … you know we can’t be everywhere at the same time. So for us touring-wise, it’s cool to release an album, tour one part of the world and release it somewhere else so it’s still new and fresh, instead of people having to wait another half year or something to have the band playing. Well now a days everybody gets their music from that big free library. [laughs]
For the record I picked mine up at a show in Munich.
TB: You’re okay. But the stupid thing is, of course, that people are ordering it through Amazon or something from Europe and they pay 10 or 15 Euros and then the same amount of money for shipment. So it’s actually UPS and Fedex who make the most money out of our albums. We’ll see next time … hopefully they can align the release schedules a little bit more.
That Munich show was a sold out … I was told 7000 people. About a month later you were out doing club shows in Denmark. Do you like going back and forth between the big shows and the club shows or do you have a particular preference?
TB: As musicians and human beings, it’s like one night you want a blonde, one night you want a brunette. [laughs] That’s how it is with shows as well. For us, if you do just those big arena shows it becomes a routine, and I wouldn’t say you don’t appreciate it … it’s just another day at the office at one point. And when you play in front of 10,000 people and it’s just another day at your office, that’s when you start thinking something’s a little bit wrong here. So you want to do something that’s different. And that was why we did that Danish tour. We said, “instead of just playing the major cities, let’s play like 12 cities,” and I think that 500 was the smallest place and 1500 was the biggest one. So basically the same venue capacities as we do over here now. And then playing cities that you don’t normally play as well. Some of them are places that you are like, “is this a city? Where is it?” You gotta Google the city yourself to find out where you’re going.
Now that you mention that, I have a Danish friend that had a question for you. He noticed that you went from playing in Nakskov straight to New York. Was that a strange adjustment? Apparently Nakskov is one of those small towns that you talked about.
JL: Not really because we went home for a week or something before we flew to New York so it wasn’t really a difference.
TB: One thing is the city that you actually play but that’s not what you think about when you’re on stage. It’s not like, “we’re in the middle of Manhattan” or “we’re in the middle of nowhere.” It doesn’t really matter because you’re on stage, you got your crowd going, you got your crew going, you got the gear … so that’s what you focus on. I don’t really think about that, but it might be a little bit weird … I’d say more weird just flying into New York and you’ll be on European time and just start playing. That’s weird.
So you’ve been touring here in the U.S. for about two weeks or so. I understand that this is your fourth tour of the United States and your second headlining …
So I’m curious how the U.S. crowds developed over the course of those years and their reaction to Volbeat?
JL: Well they’ve gotten slightly bigger because now we’re playing bigger venues than we did the last time. But apart from that, it’s basically the same I think. They’ve just gotten bigger … there’s just more people.
Do you find that people are more familiar with the music as well?
TB: They might be more than when we first started out as a support act. We supported Nightwish, Finnish whatever band, on the first tour of course there are some people there for their music. So of course they didn’t know the band [Volbeat]. But I think that already at that point we had people singing along, wearing t-shirts even though they weren’t available over here. But of course now you have a full crowd that knows all the songs and sings along. People seem really conscientious about it… but you know we haven’t been here that much. I think it’s still a fresh thing and a new thing for them.
I think that this tour has maybe 2 or 3 times as many dates as your last headline tour that you did in the summer . Are there any particular cities that you’ve been really looking forward to on the tour?
JL: I don’t know because it’s still a new thing even though we have played here before … not in this venue … but we’ve been here before. We’ve played in Los Angeles and New York before but it’s still kinda new. So to say, “oh, I’m really looking forward to this and that city” … not yet.
TB: After doing California we’re going to do Arizona and Texas and Florida … places we haven’t been at all. And we did the same on the way over here which is stopping in Montana or something like that. Places you’ve never visited so are there going to be any people? Especially that Montana show … that was insane. It was one of the best shows on the tour. You roll into a city and to a state you’ve never been before … excuse me, but probably never even heard of that city before it’s on your tour schedule … and there are 1500 people rocking out and one of the most intense shows we’ve played in a long time.
I’ve heard the same thing about Missoula Montana. Whatever it is, it’s a great rock town.
JL: Well, it seemed like it was, actually, because that was really a surprise. Because, again we said, “what is Missoula Montana? Is it gonna work?” But it definitely did.
Do you see a big difference between the U.S. crowds and the European crowds?
JL: I think that they’re a bit like central European crowds because, here in America, now we’ve got the mosh pits going again and stuff like that. We haven’t seen that in Europe that much on the last tour. Some places yeah, but it’s more like it was 3 years ago when we toured Europe.
TB: Of course you play to 10,000 and they’re not all really used to going to shows and moshing out and crowd surfing and all that. There’s a lot of, let’s say, normal people in the crowd as well [laughing] so that’s also one of the good things for us over here. The crowd we got here is so much into it. You don’t really have anybody just being there to see the thing. They’re there because they like what we do and they know the music. So that’s a difference.
How do you tailor your setlists between those different audiences, or do you?
TB: Not really. It’s a crowd and we’re Volbeat and there are certain songs that we know people wherever we go want to hear. Actually this time … normally we are just dictators and we play whatever we want …. but this time we actually used Facebook or something and put up, “what do you guys want to hear?” We put up a list of songs that we wanted to play, or know how to play, and people could choose from that so that got us an idea about what people like to hear over here. But I think it’s not that much of a difference what we actually play. There are some songs that you gotta play but we also left a few out. We left out … for once in like five years … we left out The Gardens Tale which we can’t do in Europe, they’ll kill us.
JL: Well we could but, we figured that the Garden’s Tale wouldn’t mean anything over here because of the Danish lines but actually a lot of people have been asking, “why don’t you play that song? That’s what got me into you guys!” Well we didn’t think it would mean anything … “What, are you kidding, it does!”
TB: Every night when we play a show we always go out and have a beer if the venues don’t throw people out right after the show. We normally hang out with some of the fans and everybody’s like, “why didn’t you play that song, that song, that song …” and we’re like, “sure but we’re playing one and a half hours. Which song tonight did you not want us to play?” And they’re like, “well you should just have more songs!” [laughs] So every once in a while you get to pick something and it’s also for us, let’s stick something in that we didn’t play for a while. But we get a good idea about what works and what doesn’t.
One last question before I let you guys go. Why do you think Denmark is the happiest place in the world?
JL: I’ve never lived outside Denmark so I don’t know. I have no idea.
You’re aware of the surveys, though?
JL: Yeah. Yeah.
TB: It’s like a small hobbit society or whatever. We’re five and a half million people living in a country and we got our own weird language and weird customs. I don’t know, but it’s a totally different thing. Our whole welfare system we’ve got going … all that stuff that a lot of people over here that we talk to say, “how can you guys live like that?” I think it’s kind of like one big family actually that you kind of take care of each other. I don’t know, it’s hard to make it to the top because we don’t really have any top. But there are a lot of middle class people that are doing good and I think that that makes people happy instead of having a too divided society. Let’s not talk politics…
I was going to say it was because they have Volbeat …
TB: That could be, that could be. But now you guys are having it.
DD: Right now San Francisco is the happiest place on earth … Well thank you both, I’m looking forward to the show tonight.
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