Revolver teamed with Volbeat for an exclusive vinyl variant of their new album, Servant of the Mind, which sold out immediately. Check out our full selection of vinyl offerings, including a glow-in-the-dark variant of Volbeat's The Strength/The Sound/The Songs, at Revolver's store.
When Revolver catches up with Michael Poulsen, Volbeat's bus is just pulling out of Lubbock, Texas — one of a dozen or so dates on the short "Wait a Minute… Let's Tour" run, the Danish band's first North American shows since 2019. A massive fan of early rock & roll, you'd think that the Volbeat frontman would be buzzing from having just played the birthplace of the legendary Buddy Holly, or just from being (in the immortal words of Chuck Berry) back in the U.S.A. But while he tries to sound cheerful, it's clear that Poulsen's feeling a little frustrated by how the tour has been going thus far.
"It's been… interesting," he says with a laugh. "I don't think America is ready yet [for touring bands]. We're having a good time, and it's great to be onstage and play again, but there's still a lot of restrictions; there's still people who don't dare go to shows, and some people won't get the vaccine… it just seems like they're not ready over here. But it is what it is, you know? I'm sure everything's gonna be way better next year."
Indeed, things are already looking up for 2022. Not only are Volbeat returning in January on a co-headlining arena run with fellow Scandinavian envelope-pushers Ghost ("This is will be the first time we've ever played with them, and it's going to be great!") — but their setlist on that tour will prominently feature songs from their incredible new album Servant of the Mind (which is due out this December 3rd via Republic Records).
Produced and mixed by longtime collaborator Jacob Hansen, the album — the band's eighth, and first since 2019's Rewind, Replay, Rebound — may be the darkest and heaviest Volbeat offering yet. While the piano-pounding "Wait a Minute My Girl" (the album's first single, which reached Number One this summer on Billboard's Modern Rock chart) skews more to the rock & roll roots side of Volbeat's sound, tracks like "Temple of Ekur," "The Sacred Stones" and "Shotgun Blues" are packed with hard-charging riffs, wailing guitar leads (courtesy of ex-Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano, the band's lone American member) and lyrics that explore some intensely metaphysical corners.
Presented with unexpected time on his hands due the COVID-19 pandemic, Poulsen found the songs pouring out of him so rapidly that Servant of the Mind wound up being written and recorded in only a matter of months. "And it seemed like everything that was coming out of my sleeves was pretty heavy," he says. "Normally I would sit down and write with an acoustic guitar, but for this album I threw my acoustic guitar out the window. I was like, 'Fuck the acoustic guitar — we're going big!'"
IT SEEMS LIKE SERVANT OF THE MIND IS A RARE CASE OF SOMETHING GOOD ACTUALLY RESULTING FROM THE PANDEMIC.
MICHAEL POULSEN Yeah, there were a couple of times where we were supposed to go on tour and we were told, "That's not going to happen." So it was like, "What are we going to do, then?" And just kind of out of nowhere I said, "Well, I'm going to sit down and try and write an album," and our management said, "That's the perfect idea!" And then I thought, "Wait a minute — why did I say that?" [Laughs]
But the good thing about that was, suddenly I had to do something spontaneous, and that's how this record came out. Normally, you wait around to get some inspiration, and then time just runs by and it can be over a year before you have material ready for an album. But this time, it took me only three months to write everything — all the music, all the lyrics, everything! And it just kind of felt like being back to where we started. Because when we started Volbeat, no one knew who we were and there was no jobs; the only thing we could think about was just writing songs and getting to rehearsal and having fun with it. And that's all we were able to do because of the pandemic; we were like, "Let's just have some fucking fun, man!"
We did it just like we did it back in the day — hook up in the rehearsal room two days a week, bang out some heavy riffs and not give a shit about anything. I had a few songs for each rehearsal, and suddenly after three months we just looked at each other and said, "Wow, we've got a whole album — let's get in the studio!"
WHERE DID YOU RECORD THE ALBUM?
We recorded it at the studio we always use — Jacob Hansen's studio in Ribe, with Jacob, who was also mixing the album this time. We love working with Jacob; we've been working with him since I think our second demo, and he just manages to get better and better. We feel very comfortable working with Jacob; he has a big role in Volbeat. The great thing about Jacob is that he understands we don't worry about perfection. Perfection only lives for a few minutes or a few days, and then you start finding things that are wrong with it. So I don't believe in striving for perfection; it's fucking boring. We just care about whatever generates the best Volbeat swing and sound to the song.
We had so much fun making this record, he said, "It feels like we're starting all over again, just you guys are better than when you were here the first time!" And the studio wound up being just as crazy as the rehearsals — we recorded the whole thing in three weeks! Jon [Larsen] put down all his drums and Kaspar [Boye Larsen] did all his bass tracks, and I did all my guitars and vocals. And then we called up Rob in New York and said, "We've recorded a new album!" [Laughs] He said, "What?!?" I said, "Yes, and we need you to put some solos on it!" So we sent all the material to Rob, so he could spend some time with it and put down his solos. And it came out really good — I think it has some of his best solos ever!
HAVE YOU EVER PUT AN ALBUM TOGETHER THAT QUICKLY?
No, I had no idea I would be able to do it that fast. But I loved being home with my fiancée and our kid, and just writing all the songs that way — and I don't think that could have happened if it wasn't for the pandemic!
DID YOUR RECORD COLLECTION PROVIDE MUCH INSPIRATION WHILE YOU WERE WRITING THESE SONGS?
Yeah! You can definitely hear in the material some Black Sabbath inspiration from the Dio time, and also actually from the Tony Martin time — I'm a huge fan of the Headless Cross album! There's a song called "The Sacred Stones" that has some Black Sabbath-Dio feel, and there's a song called "Lasse's Bergitta" which also has an old-school Black Sabbath feel. There's certain moments where you can hear inspiration from Amorphis stuff, and of course old-school Metallica… And there's a song called "Step Into Light," which is influenced by psychobilly stuff like The Cramps.
AND "WAIT A MINUTE MY GIRL" IS OBVIOUSLY A CLASSIC 50S-STYLE ROCK N' ROLL SONG.
Yeah, "Wait a Minute My Girl" definitely has that Jerry Lee Lewis/Little Richard, little bit of Elvis Presley feeling, combined with a Ramones feeling. I think it was one of the first songs I wrote for the album, because it was already hidden somewhere on my phone; I just had to pick it up. There was just something very positive about it — good energy, good vibes. It probably doesn't really represent the rest of the album, though, because the rest of the material is more heavy. But it went to number one in America, so that was pretty cool!
I'VE ALWAYS LOVED HOW YOU GUYS WORK THOSE EARLY ROCK N' ROLL INFLUENCES INTO YOUR MUSIC.
That's a thing that's been part of us forever; we've just managed to master the style better. For me that's where it all started, because my parents always listened to 50s music, especially Elvis Presley. My father had a big collection of vinyl from the 50s, so there was a lot of Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, and the list continues. And those songs stuck with me, so no matter what I did — even death metal — I always found a certain inspiration in those melodies. When I formed Volbeat, that was the time to put those melodies into form — keep the heavy sound, but let those melodies out. And those melodies come out very naturally for me, so it's not something we're trying to do; it's just there.
THE OPENING TRACK, "TEMPLE OF EKUR" — IS THAT A REFERENCE TO ANCIENT BABYLON?
Yeah. It's pretty much just a trip for me to think about getting into those temples and seeing the writings on the walls, just trying to figure out if you can find an answer to whether or not there's an afterlife, or if you're part of bigger things in the universe. So it's just playing around with those ideas.
HAVE YOU BEEN TO MANY ANCIENT SITES?
No, I haven't. I would love to!
I'VE READ THAT "SHOTGUN BLUES" HAS TO DO WITH SOME KIND OF SUPERNATURAL EXPERIENCE YOU HAD. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THAT?
Yeah, those kinds of experiences I've had ever since I was a child, actually. It's not easy to talk about, so in the lyrics there's a lot of between-the-lines stuff. The thing was, last year, me and my fiancée and our kid moved into a new house, and during the first couple of weeks a lot of stuff started happening that was not normal. We had a medium come out to the house —actually, twice — and she said, "If I'm correct, stuff like this happens every time you move into a new house." She explained to me, "There's a guy who's been living with you since you were 13 years old; we have to get him out of your house and get him out of your life. He died in a car crash and jumped straight into you, and he's been there ever since!"
She was telling me all about these experiences I'd had from my childhood up until now, and there's no way she could have known any of it because I'd never talked about it. I was blown away! So the second time she visited the house, she put me on the couch, and spent about an hour and a half getting rid of the guy. I'm talking a little bit about it in "Shotgun Blues," and there are a few other songs that have a little bit about it in them. But yeah, life is crazy; you think you're a really normal guy, and it turns out you're not! [Laughs]
THAT'S AN EXCELLENT WAY OF PUTTING IT.
I think every person out there is capable of having those kind of experiences, but a lot of people are blindfolded. They don't open their mind when they walk out the door; they're too busy thinking about what they're going to buy at the supermarket, instead of listening to what's actually happening around them or see what's in front of them.
BUT AS FAR AS YOU KNOW, THERE HAVE BEEN NO FURTHER ISSUES SINCE THE SECOND TIME THE MEDIUM CAME TO YOUR HOUSE?
Ah, we had a few situations after her first visit, but the last time the medium was there she cleansed the whole house, and since then nothing has happened. But who knows? I don't think too much about it. The good thing is, the medium told us that these things only ever happened while I'm at home — she said, "It only happens when Michael is there." My fiancée has been a witness to what is going on; so it can happen while they're there, but I have to be in the house. So I don't have to worry about it happening to them when I'm not there.
LAST QUESTION: WHAT DOES SERVANT OF THE MIND MEAN?
Basically, I think that's what we are. We are all servants of our own mindset, from when we wake up to when we go to bed and while we are sleeping. Sometimes your mind can take you to places where you're not supposed to be, and it can also be such a beautiful thing, where you go, "Wow, I didn't know my brain could take me there!"
A lot of the songs on the album deal with that subject, so I thought it was the perfect album title. And I wanted to have cover art that would reflect the album title. The picture is of a guy — he looks like a doctor at an asylum — taking his face off and trying to look into his own brain and see what's going on.