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Legendary Rock Interviews: Q & A with Volbeat drummer Jon Larsen
Heavy-metal band plays at May 27 Rock Monkey Fest
By John Parks
Volbeat is a fast-rising heavy-metal group from Denmark that will be headlining the WXRX Rock Monkey Fest at Rockford Speedway May 27, an all-day show that will feature countless other acts, including All That Remains.
Volbeat has an extremely unique sound that incorporates everything from Johnny Cash to a heavy dose of Metallica, a band Volbeat has opened for and become close with.
Their fans are fiercely loyal and will no doubt travel to see the band here in Rockford. So, get your tickets at the WXRX offices or www.universalticketing.com.
Rockford Speedway is at the intersection of Forest Hills Road and Illinois Route 173 in Loves Park.
I recently talked with longtime Volbeat drummer Jon Larsen about the show and the band’s rising fortunes. Following is that interview.
Q: I recently went to the Gigantour that you were a part of to go see Megadeth and Motorhead, and walked away totally a totally converted, impressed Volbeat fan. Is that the ultimate goal or something you hear a lot of?
A: Yeah, we do actually! Of course, it’s always really nice to hear, especially on such a high-profile tour as that was. That whole run was definitely a very special experience for us because we were out there with these bands that totally have their own big fanbase. It was a real challenge for us every night we stepped out there. We really hoped a lot of people would like us, and it seems like they did, so we’re really making some headway.
Q: You’re gearing up to do a lot of these big summer shows and festivals, like the one coming up here in Rockford May 27. Is it nice getting outside to play these gigs, or does that summer heat make it tough as a drummer?
A: (Laughs) I think it’s always tough and physical being a drummer, no matter what. It’s equally tough and demanding, whether it’s indoors in the winter or outdoors in the summer. The nice thing about being out and on the road in the spring and summer is that the sun is shining, and all the people coming out are so happy in general. We’re headlining a lot of these outdoor shows, so it’s really nice to be able to play a little bit longer set than what we were doing during the Megadeth tour. We’re able to play a much longer set most nights. We’re just happy to play, to be honest. It’s always nice to do these big shows, but then again, it’s also nice to headline clubs where you can look all the people right in the eye. Either way, it’s a great thing.
Q: I wanted to ask you a couple questions about the band’s past, since you’ve really come quite a way since the debut album in 2005. Your singer, Michael Poulson, was playing very different music in his previous band, Dominus, which was more extreme metal, while Volbeat is certainly more melodic. You excel at a lot of that “blast beat” drumming prominent in the really heavy music. Did that have anything to do with you and Michael joining forces in Volbeat?
A: No, not really. Like you said, his band Dominus was a more extreme style, but they did four albums, and each one was very, very different. The first one was just completely a death or black metal-type album, the second one was sort of punk metal, and by the third album, they were starting to move into the style of music more like what we do in Volbeat. The third Dominus album is actually called Vol.beat, volume and beat. We never really talked about that heavy drumming when we got together. He really just wanted someone to basically keep the beat like Charlie Watts of the Stones or a guy like that, believe it or not. That’s where it started from, and it’s really still a part of what we continue to do to this day.
Q: You’ve said before that you never really even imagined being able to make a living playing music. Were you guys surprised by the initial success of the debut album, The Strength/The Sound/The Songs?
A: We all were surprised because everyone kept talking about us being a new breed or a new hybrid, or talking about how we were doing some kind of music that had never been done before. We never understood why anyone hadn’t done this before, and we just knew we liked what we were doing. We thought it was kind of funny that everyone was surprised by it, and then that people seemed to like it like we like it. People would really be like “What is this? Is this punk or metal or rock and roll?” Whatever it was, we really had fun playing it, and were as surprised as anyone when we got the attention for it.
Q: I know you’re a big Misfits fan. They are another very unique band. Do you think that band had an influence or shares some of the same characteristics of Volbeat?
A: Yeah! I know that Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only were very into that stuff and share that love for the 1950s stuff. The melodies and tunefulness and some of the punk edge of that band has always demonstrated itself in Volbeat.
Q: It seems like each Volbeat album retains a signature sound, but sort of changes or evolves a little. Was it clear that melodies were becoming more and more a part of the albums as you moved from the second album to the third?
A: It wasn’t something we were really aware of or conscious of, to tell the truth. We just do what we do (laughs). We did the second album, Rock the Rebel/Metal the Devil, and had some of those songs like “Sad Man’s Tongue,” which were a part of it, but were really happy with the album in general. We were especially proud of it going to No. 1 in Denmark, of course. We had a great time recording and touring for it.
Q: A lot of things started really happening for you after the Guitar Gangsters and Cadillac Blood album. A lot of the singles and videos started getting attention here in the United States, especially after you opened up the Metallica tour and with your last studio album Beyond Hell/Above Heaven. Is it hard to predict what’s going to go over well, or do you have a pretty good idea just based on testing the songs live?
A: You can get a sense for it from the live shows. But again, we just do what we do, and if people like it, that’s great. If they don’t like it, that’s great, too (laughs). It’s pretty hard to predict, of course, especially since we like all of it to begin with (laughs). We just really are thankful that fans like it like you do and that people really respond to it. We just try to do the best we can every single time we go in the studio or on stage, and if it seems like we’re getting better or making more progress, well, that’s great! The Metallica thing was very good for us, though. It was very cool to see how the big boys do it!
Q: I have never been so moved by a live band in my life. Watching the people go crazy at your shows, it’s almost infectious. So I can see why you’d have a song like “Thanks” dedicated to the fans. The crowd at a Volbeat show is almost another member of the band, would you agree?
A: Absolutely. It’s totally real, and we love their energy. Without those dedicated fans, we don’t have anything. If you don’t appreciate or take note of your fans, then it’s over. We mean every word of that song.
Q: You guys are out there supporting the new live CD/DVD Live From Beyond Hell/Above Heaven, which is fantastic. Has Michael been busy writing songs and kicking around new ideas at soundcheck?
A: Always, always. We’re sorting through a lot of new ideas and have started working on things. So, hopefully, there will be a great new album in 2013.
From the May 16-22, 2012, issue