Volbeat: 'We Made a Killer Album'

Volbeat axemen Michael Poulsen and Rob Caggiano talk to UG about their gear, new album vibe and how they shared guitar duties while recording.

Volbeat: 'We Made a Killer Album'
This month, Volbeat released their highly anticipated new album "Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies." The album contained a strong western gunslinger theme throughout. This album also marked the first release to feature the band's new lead guitarist Rob Caggiano, who had just left Anthrax a couple months prior. In the following exclusive interviews, both Michael Poulsen and Rob Caggiano tell their side of the story of Rob joining the band, gear, and the making of "Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies." Ultimate-Guitar: Let's go over your current live rig on this tour. Michael Poulsen: It's pretty simple, just a Gibson SG GT [they only made them for two years] plugged into a Marshall JCM 800 Head. That's pretty much it. Simple. I like it. Your guitar tech and I were sifting through some of your gear before this interview and I noticed that you had a DBZ Hail Fire guitar down there, is that something you've been considering switching to or are you pretty attached to the Gibson label? MP: Yeah that's a new brand that I've been playing for a few live shows this tour and they're pretty good. I'm still trying to figure out if maybe it needs to be a little heavier wood. They are very light weight and I've been trying those out a bit on this tour. I've been playing Gibson for such a long time. Now and then I try out other guitars but I always end up going back to the Gibson guitars. I just feel very comfortable with the sound of Gibson Guitars. The tone is perfect for me.

"Rob has his own rhythmic style but it really suits the Volbeat sound. Some of the old songs that we play live now have solos where there were none before."

Is the SG the tone we hear on the records as well? MP: On the new record we were trying out different guitars and amps for different songs where we thought it would be suitable. Now and then, you would use a different guitar or amp but I would go back to the Gibsons for the heavy stuff. So, the SGs were used a lot but I also used a Gibson 335 and a Tele. We used a couple old acoustics that the studio owned on the record. One was a Gibson and the other was a Matrin I cannot remember what the models were though. On the new record, "Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies," did you go into the writing process with any specific goals for this record and at what point did the western theme enter the picture? MP: We did all of the writing for this album before we went into the studio. For me, the toughest part of writing an album is trying to figure out where to start. The first 4 or 5 songs are always the hardest because that is what sets the mood of the album. All of the songs are written straight from the heart but at the same time, we knew that we were going into a new studio and we wanted to leave our comfort zone. We've used the same studio for all 4 records so far with Jacob Hansen as our producer. So we wanted to bring Jacob into a new environment because it was getting to the point where you'd just call up the pizza man and have the same pizza you've been ordering the last five years. We wanted something new. Jacob was working on building a new studio that was not totally finished yet so we just decided to all move to a different studio and we chose the Puk Studio, which is in Denmark and has been used by a lot of international musicians [Elton John, The Kinks, Gary Moore, ect.]. It was quite interesting because in these modern days, not many bands go into studios like that anymore; they produce them at their home office. There's nothing wrong with that but I still like to capture the sound of those studio rooms. There are reasons why great recording studios have rooms look like they do. You can catch a certain acoustic sound. Going into that studio, you could see and feel that it hasn't been used in years. We were dusting everything off. It was like finding the "Millennium Falcon" from "Star Wars" and trying to find out how it works. We were always pushing buttons and finding out how to work things. That was very interesting and inspiring to be there and see Jacob Hansen work with that stuff and see what he can do. We also hired in Rob Caggiano because he had become a fan of the band and he wanted to produce a couple of our songs just to see how they worked. We thought there might be an interesting angle to that, having Jacob Hansen who knows the band inside and out and then having a fan of the band come in bring us to a different level and then we have these two guys collaborating together. That was a very interesting process. To go back to the songwriting thing, I suddenly the more melodies that I came up with, the more I could tell that they were influenced by some old western gunslinger movies I had watched as a kid. So there is definitely a western influence on the new Volbeat album, now was just the right time for those melodies to come out and the lyrics, having a lot to do with some of the characters from those old movies fit in really well with the music and the whole Volbeat universe. It was a very interesting process to bring those melodies and characters to life and that is what has become the "Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies" album.

"[Leaving the Anthrax] was definitely a scary step because Anthrax is a huge band and we were doing amazing stuff and the shows were always killer."

I've read other interviews where you talk about your metal and rock influences but we never get a chance to hear what your influences are in the country music realm. MP: I am very into country music; I'm just not into the stuff coming out of Nashville these days that they call "new country." I don't see that stuff as country music and I see it as shameful that people actually call it country music. I'm so much more into the old stuff like Hank Williams and Woody, and "Hank 3" is great his sound is very much in the old style. I really like the old school country. I have nothing against what's going on in modern country but I just don't think it has anything to do with the old school country that I like. It's more pop music than country at this point. I really like Johnny Cash; I think he's a great storyteller. Elvis did some pretty good country music too. You've got some killer guests on the album as well. MP: Yeah, we have a guy called Anders Pedersen who plays slide on this album and also played on some of the previous albums. Our producer Jacob knew Anders and brought him in to play on a couple songs and we were so amazed by his talent that we call him anytime a song needs a slide. He's done some fine work on this new record. We've got Rod Sinclair on banjo, an old Irishman. He was also a guy that Jacob knew and again the first time we brought him in, he sounded so great that we used him on the new record as well. We've got Jakob Øelund playing stand-up bass. He was in a Danish rockabilly band called Taggy Tones. He was featured on the "Beyond Hell/Above Heaven" song "16 Dollars" which is a rockabilly song and on the new album he is on the song "Lonesome Rider" and on that song we also have Sarah Blackwood as a guest singer. She's formally known as the front person in Creepshow which is a Canadian rockabilly band and now she's in a band called Walk off the Earth. We knew her from back when we wanted to bring Creepshow on tour. It may sound strange but I'm not really into white female singers, I think they all sound the same; I'm so much more into black female singers when it comes to vocals. I know it sounds ridiculous and there's going to be a lot of white female singers out there who will think I'm an idiot but that's just the way I feel. But Sarah definitely has her own thing. She did a great job and her signing sounds beautiful on the record. One of the signers that I'm most psyched about and very proud to have on the album is King Diamond. I've been a huge fan of his since I was a teenager. I met him for the first time in 1995 and later in 1997 when I was releasing some death metal albums with my band, Dominus. Later when I formed Volbeat and we started touring the US, we stopped in Dallas, Texas for a show and that's where he has been living. He came by to visit us because a lot of our crew has worked for him in the past. So he came by the show to visit and he was so proud of us for making it to the US because Volbeat is really only the second rock band to make it in the US, Merciful Fate was the first. Later on, we had Hank Sherman with us on the Gigantour and he came out to see us again to see his old pal from Merciful Fate. It was then that we started talking about doing a song together and I had already had the idea for "Room 24" and King loved it and sang on it and now it's on the record and that is something that I'm very proud of. It's a heavy and dark song but that the way it should be when you write a song with King Diamond. Not to forget, we've also got Paul Lamb on harp, he's an English blues player. We wanted to get a man named Henrik Hall back in the studio because he had done some work on the previous records but we found out that he had passed away shortly after recording with us the last time around. Paul Lamb is a great guy and very talented.

"I am very into country music; I'm just not into the stuff coming out of Nashville these days that they call 'new country.'"

How is King Diamond doing these days? MP: He's doing really great. He had a triple bypass a while ago but he's doing great and sounds better than ever. I was performing with him in Sweden and he invited me onstage during one of the festival shows and I was stoked about that. I'm told that was the first time he had ever invited a guest on stage to play with his band before so I was very honored about that. But he sounds great and he's really eager to get back on the road and met his fans. He's got so many ideas and his operation was quite inspirational for him I think. So, you went in to record this album as a three piece and came out of the studio as a four piece. How did that happen? MP: When we setup in the studio, we were working with another guitar player who is one of my close friends and it just didn't turn out the way that we wanted. Sometimes it's not good to mix good friendship with business. So I thought we'd just go back to recording like we usually do, I can do all of the guitar tracking and do it that way. But I had I had made space for some solos on the album and I'm not a lead guitar player. I can do some solos here or there but we asked Rob (who was co-producing the album) to come in and do some solos. He came up with some ideas on a couple songs and his ideas were really good so we decided to keep it. He ended up putting several more solos on the record. It got to the point where we told him that he should join the band and be on the road with us. He thought that we were kidding, actually. So the next day he came in and asked if we were serious when we asked him to join the band and said he'd love to. He's a good guy and such a talented guitar player and we're very proud to have him in Volbeat. So Rob is a permanent member of Volbeat now? MP: Yes, Thomas was our former guitar player and there were many reasons why it didn't work out and we went our separate ways right before a tour with Motorhead and Megadeth in 2011 so we needed someone who would sing and play lead guitar. We've tried many times to carry on as a three piece band but with the new material at the time ("Beyond Hell/Above Heaven") and the harmonies, we just needed another member in the band. So we had Hank Sherman with us but he was a hired gun. He helped us out for a few tours which were great but he had his own things going on too. I just turned out to be that Rob was the perfect guy when we were in the studio but the had been talking for a long time that when he left Anthrax that he wanted to put his energy into producing. So he had some offers in producing that he was looking at so we weren't sure that he would want the job when we offered it to him. I think because he's so much into music and he sees that we welcome his ideas into the music, I think that was tempting for him and great for us because he's in the band now.

"To be honest, I don't really listen to that much metal when I'm at home. From the standpoint of a record producer, I try to listen to as much different stuff as I can to stay inspired."

Group dynamics often change when a new member is added or subtracted from a band. What has Rob added to Volbeat other than just some great solos? MP: For the first time now the second guitar player, which is Rob now, has put down their own rhythm tracks on the album. On the other albums it was always me putting down all the rhythm guitars so there was no contrast between the tracks. On the new record you can definitely hear two distinct guitar players with two different sounds and it fits. Rob has his style and I have mine but somehow it mixes very well and creates an interesting dynamic and it sounds solid. He has his own rhythmic style but it really suits the Volbeat sound. Some of the old songs that we play live now have solos where there were none before. How did you come about acquiring your first guitar? MP: Oh yes, my first guitar I honestly don't remember the name of it because it was a guitar I stole. It's a funny story I was in school and had a girlfriend who worked in a club after school which had a basement with a lot of music instruments. You know, boys will be boys and I was at that age where everything needs to be tried out so I was drinking and stealing and doing a lot of stupid stuff. So anyway, I saw that room and all those instruments and I so much wanted a guitar. So I left the window open, which she did not know anything about and during the night, me and one of my friends went down and stole an amp and a black guitar and brought it home. Well, my father was asking me where I got this stuff and I told him that I just borrowed it and was thinking about whether or not to buy it. Well, he saw right through me and asked where I would get the money to buy it and where did I get it. I just kept telling him that I borrowed it. But I felt so bad about it that the day after, I went back, went in the same window, replaced the guitar and amp and went back out again. I told my girlfriend that it was me who took the guitar and she was mad but was happy that I had returned it because I sensed somehow that my father knew something was wrong and at the end of the day I knew that it was not the right thing to do. So then I was trying to save up to buy my first guitar, I was probably 14 or so and I bought my first guitar from one of my friends who had stolen it from somewhere. So I bought it cheap. It was called a Maddox and I've never seen that guitar anywhere else ever but it says "Maddox" on the headstock. So that was the first guitar I ever bought and I still have it. Actually even though I have a lot of guitars, all the songs on all four Dominus albums were written on that guitar and the first 3 Volbeat records were written mostly by that guitar. It wasn't until "Beyond Hell/Above Heaven" and the new album that I decided to bury it in the attic. I'll always keep it, it's not a good guitar but it means something to me. So the last two records, I've been writing on a Gibson Goldtop at home.

"That studio hasn't been used in years. It was like finding the 'Millennium Falcon' from 'Star Wars' and trying to find out how it works."

Do you ever write songs acoustically or do you write them with all electric? MP: On the "Guitar Gangsters" and "Beyond Hell" albums the third and fourth albums, lots of the stuff was written on acoustic guitar actually and I think you can hear that. I remember John, our drummer, saying at the end of the writing process of "Beyond Hell" records that we need some more riffs. I was getting into a routine where I was writing on the acoustic guitar so I locked up the acoustic guitars and started writing more riffs on the electric guitar because there is certainly a different feel when writing riffs of electric as opposed to acoustic. I try to only use the acoustic guitar now if I know I wanted it to be an acoustic sound. I think that's why the "Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies" is more of a guitar album than the last couple, meaning it's got a lot more riffs. Is there anything else you'd like to say to the readers at Ultimate-Guitar? MP: Just for them to check out the new album, if you're a fan of the guitar, I think you'll like it, and we hope to see you all very soon. Let's go over the gear you're using on this tour. Rob Caggiano: For guitars I'm using my ESP Signature Models which I'm really psyched on. They came out last year and they're based on an old Horizon model which they gave me in 1996. My signatures have glow in the dark fret markers and my signature DiMarzio pickup in it in the bridge position. I'm using a Sennheiser Wireless Systems on this tour. My pedal board is pretty basic. I've got a company from Korea called Music Com Labs which makes this loop switcher and that sits in the middle of the board and turns different combos on and off. It's also able to switch channels in my amp head. On the board is a TC Tuner, a Dunlop Wah, a TC Overdrive, EVH Phase 90, Micro Chorus, Tech 21 Boost RVB, Boss DD5 Delay with a tap pedal so I can get the tempo of whatever song we're doing, and a TC Spark Plug which I'm trying out on this tour and really digging it actually, I just kick it on for the leads. Also for leads, I'll use the Loop Switcher to change the channel on my head and I set the volume a little higher on my lead channel so that's like a proper boost and level. And I will say that I do change my pedals around and adjust the gain all the time to suit the rooms we play. I also have an MXR noise gate. For heads, I'm using the Fryette Sig X Heads which to me is one of the best heads out there. It's really versatile, it's heavy as f--k, and it just totally kills. And for cabs, I run the Fryettes that are voiced to the Sig X heads.

"One of the signers that I'm most psyched about and very proud to have on the album is King Diamond."

Is your live rig in Volbeat similar to your Anthrax rig? RC: It's predominantly the same stuff. I'm using brand new heads now so they are a little different than the stuff I had with Anthrax. My setup is definitely a little bit bigger with Volbeat, I'm running more cabs. It's like three times as loud as I was with Anthrax. For the most part it's the same thing and my pedal board is cool because the way I have it set up, it's so easy to swap out pedals. You left Anthrax just months ago so I've got to ask, is there any animosity between you and the guys in Anthrax right now or was it a clean break? RC: There's definitely no animosity on my end and it seems like there's no animosity on their end either. I'm actually going to call Charlie today; he's the only one I haven't talked to throughout this whole ordeal. He's been dealing with his own stuff at home and was sort of missing in action on the last few Anthrax tours. He was out for a while dealing with stuff at home which I totally understand and I think that's why we haven't talked yet. I've been talking to Scott [Ian] on and off lately. I think things are cool and they understand why I needed to move on. They understand why I felt the way I did. Will you and Scott be doing another Damned Things record or tour at some point in the future? RC: Yeah, I think so. We've been talking. There have been some emails going around about that lately. It's really just a scheduling thing with that band. I'm doing this, Scott's got Anthrax, Fall Out Boy is back together now and they're busy. It's definitely something that we all want to do again, it's just a matter of getting us all some time off to do it.

"I've been playing Gibson for such a long time. Now and then I try out other guitars but I always end up going back to the Gibson guitars."

You've got your own signature DiMarzio pickup now, how does one go about making that happen? RC: Yeah, I've been with DiMarzio for a long time and my favorite pickup has always been the Tone Zone which I've been using for years and it's been on a bunch of records. I've tried all of DiMarzio's stuff and I'm a huge fan of what those guys do but for my sound, the Tone Zones were the best but there was always some stuff about it that I wish was different. There were a couple things that I wanted to tweak so I talked to Steve Blucher who designs and makes all these crazy pickups and he was all for it. It was fun, we got together a bunch of times we both live in New York so I'd go over there once a week or so and jam and we'd talk about what I was looking for and they f--king nailed it. Tonally, the highs scream a little bit more so you get more pick attack, the high notes are a little clearer and there's definitely an angrier low end. It's basically a supped up Tone Zone. Is that going to be made available on the market at some point? RC: It's going to be available at some point very soon. I just talked to Larry DiMarzio last night and we hope to have it out in conjunction with this new record and this Volbeat tour.

"My setup is definitely a little bit bigger with Volbeat, I'm running more cabs. It's like three times as loud as I was with Anthrax."

Let's talk about that. How did you go from producing the new Volbeat record to being in the band? RC: Yeah, it was a pretty crazy turn of events. When I decided to leave Anthrax, it was something that had been on my mind for quite a while. It was definitely a scary step because Anthrax is a huge band and we were doing amazing stuff and the shows were always killer, but I just knew I needed to make a change for myself or I was going to go crazy. But when that finally went down, Michael called me and asked me if I'd be interested in coming to Denmark to produce the record. I said yes immediately because I'm a big fan of the band. I was really excited about it. So I got to Copenhagen, sat down with the guys and went over the material the vibe was great, with Michael especially, we had this really cool chemistry going through the ideas. There were a couple songs that weren't finished yet and he'd ask me what I would do on this part or that part of a song. I was being creative and we were collaborating and that vibe grew greater and greater as we kept working and when we finally went in to track things started to take shape. It was about two weeks into recording that they asked me to join the band. It totally took me by surprise but it's been great, the shows are great and I'm really proud of the record I think we made a killer album. Everything feels great right now, I love the guys, I love the music, and we're ready to crush it live in as many places as we can. How did you and Michael split up soloing duties on the record? RC: Well Michael does a lot of the more thematic, melodic type solos and stuff. There is A LOT of guitar on this record and I think that people are going to see a side of me and my playing. There's a lot of interesting acoustic stuff on this record and there's a strong western theme to the record as well. There's some screaming heavy guitar stuff weaved into the western sound.

"If I had to guess, the next record I produce might be a Damned Things."

Was it difficult for you to get into that western vibe, being from such a metal background? RC: You know what; it actually came really natural to me. I listen to so much different music. People are usually pretty surprised when they see what's playing on my iPod. To be honest, I don't really listen to that much metal when I'm at home. From the standpoint of a record producer, I try to listen to as much different stuff as I can to stay inspired and I think that may be why that western vibe was easy for me to fall into and be creative in a new way. Will you continue to produce records? RC: Yeah, I'm never going to stop doing that. The touring cycle with Volbeat is pretty intense we're going to be playing a lot of shows all over the world. So it's just a matter of where, when, and how, nothing is in the books right now. But if I had to guess, the next record I produce might be a Damned Things record. It's just tough to work it in when you're on the road because you need to book a lot of time to produce a record in case it goes over schedule or something like that happens. Interview by Justin R. Beckner Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2013

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    "Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies" is very good thing. Should pay more attention to this band.
    Surprised that this band hasn't quite "made it big" in the USA yet. That's not to say they aren't good (which they absolutely are), but it's a shame that there's a lot of people who should be listening to Volbeat.
    It's weird, cus they started going to the US first, but since Beyond Hell/Above Heaven came out..suddenly Canada is like Volbeat's second home as they put it at the concert I was at. Not to mention Beyond Hell/Above Heaven is now past Gold certification here.
    First album I got of their's was Beyond Hell/Above Heaven. I will honestly say it took a while to understand what they were about, but after that, they became my favorite band (next to Metallica). Volbeat is huge in Europe, and I pray that they become huge in America
    m4ss3 m/
    Sad Man's Tongue and I Only Wanna Be With You are great but rest of their stuff is boring and the new album plays on the radio all the time.