Nothing beats good, memorable songs and Copenhagen, Denmark’s VOLBEAT specialize in them. Their rise to fame in Europe is quite impressive as the band have earned multiple platinum and gold records, and several hit songs. In contrast, the band have only recently begun making their presence known in U.S. beginning with their tour earlier this year with fans, METALLICA. But make no mistake, the band have a very loyal underground following in the States that is only growing larger. APESHIT met up with guitarist Thomas Bredahl and drummer Jon Larsen before their sold out show in Anaheim, CA to speak with the new Danish gods about the secrets to their success.
APESHIT: How is the tour going?
Thomas: Tour is great. This is our first headliner tour over here. When you do your first headliner tour, you don’t know what to expect. We were hoping and hoping for the best but fearing the worst. And I think we’ve had almost the best. We’ve had a lot of people coming out to the shows; playing good venues; great interaction with fans; people hanging out talking to us. It seems that people are really into what we are doing so it’s better than what we can actually imagine.
APESHIT: Have there been any specific highlights so far?
Thomas: I don’t know. It’s like every night when you walk into a place like this (House of Blues Anaheim) or similar, and you’re like, “Back in Europe, we would easily fill the place up. But are there really enough people to buy tickets to our show here?”
I guess when you go on stage every night and see the place is packed, and the people know the lyrics…it’s one thing for people to just see the show. It’s another thing for people actually did their homework and know our songs. I wouldn’t pick one night as a specific highlight.
Well, we had something more on a personal level yesterday. We played in San Francisco and since we toured with METALLICA, we’re kind of friends with those guys. They’re out for holidays but James’ [Hetfield] assistant picked us up and took us to his private place and we saw some of his cars, and then we went to METALLICA headquarters. That was like a personal highlight! So that was our Disneyland [editor’s note: House of Blues Anaheim is located on Disneyland property.]
APESHIT: I know a lot of bands have this problem…[addressing Thomas] You could not enter the country from the start of the tour and it had something to do with a barstool. Was the barstool stolen from the King of Denmark’s palace?
Thomas: No, no, no, just regular drunk stuff. But that’s not the point. The point is basically that whenever you’ve got some sort of record, even a small one, it just takes longer to process the visa application. I just got caught by time basically.
It was eight years ago and it was something that everybody did and I just got unlucky by walking out of a bar with a barstool and running into a cop. It’s just a stupid, stupid, stupid thing.
APESHIT: This is your first headlining tour of U.S. and you guys have been making more of an effort to come over here lately. Will the U.S. be more of a priority?
Jon: It will be a priority but it’s not “the” priority. Every country is equally important. The thing about the U.S. is that once you get over here, you have to spent more time here than Europe. In Europe, you can go through all the countries in a bus within a short period of time. Here, you have to stay here for a month.
Thomas: And a month will not cover every state.
Jon: So this is like we’re tipping our toe in the water and see how it goes. Hopefully, we return early next year.
Thomas: We’re looking to touring here a lot next year. The tour seems to be going really well so let’s try to play over here more. Of course, it’s not a secret that we’re filling up to 10,000 capacity in Europe. We also got to make a living so it’s not like we’re going to spend our time in the U.S. playing 500 people seaters. But we really want to work it. We think it’s great to be here and the fans seem to be into what we’re doing.
It’s also like an adventure for us as well. I have never been to the States traveling on a holiday so it’s the furthest away from home we’ve ever been so it’s fun for us as well. Every day it’s exciting instead of just going through the same cities in Europe.
APESHIT: As it is, you guys play a lot of shows every year. You are road dogs. How do you prevent yourselves from burning out?
Jon: Do all the boring stuff. Make sure you sleep, not drink too much, not party too much…all the usual. Fortunately, nowadays we can afford to bring a crew with us, which helps us a lot because if we had to do everything ourselves, like in the beginning, we might have burned out already. It’s important that we can bring guys out to do the hard work for us.
Thomas: We just basically do the waiting and the playing. [Laughs]
Jon: Nowadays in Europe, we get to play bigger and better places in Europe and the food is normally better. It’s not like how it was in the beginning where you were lucky if you could get a burger. Nowadays, we can actually say that we want this, this, and this kind of food.
Thomas: Food is actually important…that you get healthy food because if you’re out on the road for a month or something and you’re eating crap food, it’s going to fuck you up. You’re going to get sick from it and lose any energy you might have. So yeah, quality food, vegetables…all the food your parents told you to eat.
APESHIT: Let’s talk about the new album, Beyond Hell/Above Heaven, which is coming out in a few weeks. You guys have some legendary guests on there like Michael Denner (ex-MERCYFUL FATE/KING DIAMOND). How did you guys get them to contribute?
Jon: Some of them…Mille [Petrozza] from KREATOR is actually a fan of the band. Every time we would play his hometown in Germany, he would always show up.
Thomas: That was even from the first time when we played small places.
Jon: The story is we would joke that, “Wouldn’t it be fun if we could get him to appear on the album?” So Michael [Poulsen] called him up and asked him if he wanted to do it and he said, “Sure!” That’s the same story with the other guys actually. Met them, called them up and they all said, “Yes!” It was really an honor for us to have these guys on the album. We were sitting there and giggling like little school girls watching them play their parts.
APESHIT: You have posted your new single, “Fallen,” online. Are there any details or information that you can share about the new album?
Thomas: Well, for the first time, you’re going to hear a harp, some upright bass on a song that is more rockabilly oriented. There are the classic VOLBEAT elements.
Jon: We took the sound that we had and stretched it a little bit in each direction. On this album, we definitely have more songs that are more riff-based and songs based more on the melodies. Guitar Gangsters [& Cadillac Blood] was a very melodic album and we have elements of that. We have two or three songs that are riff-based like the good old days. We have a good variety of everything.
APESHIT: There are two things that I love about you the most. First, you guys write great songs. Most bands can write cool riffs and play well but they can’t write great songs. Second, there is no band that sounds like VOLBEAT. Thus, you can’t look to other bands for musical guidance. If I wanted to start a thrash band, there are all these bands that I can reference to look to where to go. Somehow you always find the right balance between all the different styles. How difficult is that to achieve during the songwriting process?
Thomas: I remember at one point where Michael [Poulsen] came to the rehearsal room and asked if there is something we’re missing on this album. Especially Jon was like, “We need more riffs. We need more metal.” Sometimes when you begin writing, you go one way and it’s like, “C’mon, we still need to have these elements.” So actually, some of the harder songs on the album have been written as the last part. But I wouldn’t say that’s hard. It’s more like you want to keep the whole thing in balance. You don’t want to write the exact album that you just did but you also don’t want to change too much. That’s a balance that can be tough but it’s not only because we want to totally satisfy everybody.
Jon: The tough part with new songs is finding the right melodies. I think that’s the toughest part. The riff-based songs are the ones that are actually done very quickly. That takes maybe two or three times in the rehearsal room. The songs that we struggle with are the ones with the melody elements. Sometimes Michael comes up with an idea and we’re like, “Eh?”
Thomas: That’s the hard thing about the writing process. Coming from just a small idea…Sometimes Michael gets an idea on the way to the rehearsal room. You’re like, “It’s an idea but how is this ever going to be a great VOLBEAT song that’s going to end up on an album?” Of course there are songs that the first time you play it, you’re like, “Yeah!!!” And then there are some songs where you are like, “Is this good enough?” I guess that’s just us being critical.
APESHIT: You guys have played a lot big tours and shows with bands like METALLICA and AC/DC. Do you have any cool rock n roll stories to share?
Thomas: Not from those tours.
Jon: They have done it a million times. They’ve seen it all and they’ve done it all.
Thomas: When we’re supporting. We don’t want to step on any toes. We behave. It’s a different thing when we’re doing our own tour. We’re the masters when we’re on top of the posters. Of course you get 10 people on a bus and they get drunk and do stupid stuff but I wouldn’t say that we’re a typical rock ‘n roll band in that way.
Jon: We’ve actually never trashed a dressing room. We never had an onstage fight.
Thomas: Not on stage.
Jon: We’ve never done anything “rock ‘n roll” in the studio. Of course we do stupid things and we say stupid things…
Thomas: But that’s what you would do if you were on the road with your friends. You’re just out drinking with your friends. We’re pretty old guys. It’s not like we’re teenagers. I guess all the stupid teenage stuff, we’ve already done that…so it’s not needed. [laughs] Maybe we’re still doing some of it. [laughs]
Jon: Some of it. [laughs]
APESHIT: VOLBEAT is very successful in Europe. You’ve got gold and platinum records, hit songs, and play big venues. But what was the start of the band and the early days like?
Thomas: The start was Michael called me up one day and said, “Hey, I got this idea. I’ve got these simple guitar sounds and I need some simple drumming. Can you do that?” “That’s the only thing I can do.” So we met up and played a few bits and pieces that we had and my immediate reaction was, “Oh, this sounds like old BLACK SABBATH. This is fun.” So we had a few bits and pieces here and there and he showed me another piece that was a bit more punkish. “This is a mix of the MISFITS and the RAMONES. This is weird but why not?” So we ended up doing 10 songs and we did a demo of that. Once we sat down in the rehearsal room, we thought, “Who is going to listen to that?” Because it was a mix of everything. “Who listens to that? This is not punk. This is not metal. This is not rock ‘n roll. This is nothing.” But then we started to get a few gigs around Copenhagen and stuff like that. Ten people showed up. Twenty people showed up. All of the sudden, we managed to build a little audience, and then we got a record contract with Mascot. We gave it a shot and waited to see what happened. We got on a tour called “The Danish Dynamite Tour” in Germany with two other Danish bands. Seems like at that point, a lot of people already knew who we were. And then Thomas joined the band…
Thomas: And everything took off. [laughs]
Jon: Then we did the second album [Rock the Rebel/Metal the Devil] with “The Garden’s Tale” on it and…
Thomas: It was a major radio hit.
Jon: The guy who sang the Danish part [of that song] said, “Hey guys, this is going to be a huge hit.” We were like, “Shut up! You’re an idiot. Who’s going to listen to that?” “No, trust me. This is going to be a hit.” Sure enough, it became a huge hit on Danish radio and all of the sudden…I don’t want to say exploded. But everything grew.
Thomas: Everything just happened. But for us, we were out there touring all the time so a lot of people telling us that things are exploding…from here to there in no time. The band had been around for six years at that point and we were doing 100 shows a year, driving from Denmark to Italy to play for half an hour driving in a nine-seater driving all night, sleeping while sitting up. So it was hard work but things just happened. More and more people kept coming, more albums were selling.
Jon: So weird I remember that summer , we would do a garden party in front of 200 people and the next day we’re playing at Wacken playing in front of 25,000. How did we end up here?