Denmark’s Volbeat has been one of metal’s biggest international success stories in recent years. Propelled by a pair of number one singles at Active Rock Radio (“A Warrior’s Call” and “Still Counting”), tours with Metallica and Megadeth, and its own headlining runs, the band has become a force in the American metal scene. On the last day of its summer 2012 U.S. tour with Hellyeah and Iced Earth, Live Metal’s Greg Maki sat down with drummer Jon Larsen backstage at Rams Head Live in Baltimore, Maryland, to talk about Volbeat’s breakout success, Lamb of God vocalist Randy Blythe’s incarceration in the Czech Republic and more.
LIVE METAL: So this is the last night of the tour. I’ve heard stories over the years about last nights of tours, bands playing pranks on each other. Has that ever happened on your other tours?
JON LARSEN: Actually, not really. We’ve never really done that, I guess because every time we think about doing something, something always goes wrong and we can’t do it or we can’t get the stuff that we want or it’s too late or something like that. So not really. We did a small Danish tour last year—no, it must have been 2010, actually—but the crew on the last night pulled two pranks on us. We had a guy all of a sudden appear onstage stark naked, vacuuming the entire stage while we were playing, and my former drum tech was dressed up as a sumo wrestler and all of a sudden ran across the stage bumping into things and stuff like that. But apart from that, no.
How has this tour gone for you?
I think it’s been going very well, actually. We’ve had a good amount of sold-out shows or shows that came close to being sold out. I thought the package turned out to be much better than expected, because it was such a diversity of bands. But everybody has been getting along fine, no trouble, no egos, no nothing, and everybody’s been playing well. So I’m very satisfied.
How does it feel to have a veteran band like Iced Earth and Hellyeah with Vinnie Paul—these guys are opening for you. How does that feel?
It’s kind of a mind-boggling thing, actually. It’s like, “Whoa, they want to open for us?” It turns out they were more than happy to, so no complaints about that.
You’ve been to America several times now. Have you had a chance to see the sights at all?
Not really because if we have a show, we kind of don’t really have the time to do any sort of sightseeing—unless it’s just one or two blocks away, then we can. I’ve been trying—not so much on this run, actually—but on some of the previous runs to go out and see stuff. We were in Washington, on the last tour I think it was, and we went out and saw the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, stuff like that.
I went to Georgetown, which was right across the bridge actually, to see the stairs from “The Exorcist.” I had to see them. And when we told the cab driver, I was like, “This is Georgetown. This is where they did ‘The Exorcist,’ isn’t it?” He said, “Oh, you want to see the stairs?” I said, “Oh yeah.” “Well, you just go straight down, turn left, you see a gas station, and on the right there, there they are.” “Oh, OK, thank you.” And he was like, “Yeah, everybody wants to see the stairs.” I went down, took pictures of the stairs, went up the stairs—that was rough, actually. I wanted to find the house, as well, and I think I did manage to find the house. I’m not really sure because I saw a house that kind of looked like how it did in the movie, but I thought, “No, this can’t be the house.” But somebody told me it was actually the house; they just did some more stuff to it to make it look bigger and scarier. So I think I saw the house, but I’m not sure.
We try every once in a while to do something on a day off, but most of our days off, we’ll be staying at a hotel, go to a mall, take a dip in the pool, go to the movies, stuff like that.
I don’t know what it’s been like the other times you’ve been here, but during this tour, you’ve had a chance to experience a real American summer. How does this weather compare to what you’re used to?
Well, this is, for me personally, way way too hot. I don’t mind the heat—that’s OK. But the humidity is what kills us. When we were in Arizona earlier this week, it was like 115. There was no air, there’s nothing. I walked out of the bus in the morning, and it was like being hit with a fist in your face. It was like that the whole day. So yeah, the heat has been pretty much unbearable for all of us.
In the past couple years, the band obviously has really taken off over here. Has that always been a goal to make it over here, or is that just kind of how it happened?
I don’t think we really set it as a goal and said, “Oh, we’ve got to hit America.” We never really thought about that from the beginning. When we started the band, Michael and I, it was just like, well, we want to play the stuff that we want to play, and we never gave too much thought about, “Oh, we have to go to America. Oh, we have to go to Germany.” It’s just a natural progression, I think.
Of course, we started off playing back home in Denmark, went from very small clubs to slightly bigger clubs, all of a sudden to nicer venues, and all of a sudden it became an arena band, which we would never have imagined, because we always figured, “Who’s gonna listen to this type of music? Because what is it?” And then, of course, we tried to go to Germany, we tried to take the rest of Scandinavia. Things have progressed, and in a lot of those countries in Europe, we can play arenas now. So what is, actually, the next step? Well that would obviously be going to England or America, and sure, why not try to go to America?
Was the Metallica tour the real big break over here?
I wouldn’t say it was the big break, but of course, it did help a lot. We played a tour a few months before that here with Nightwish on the East Coast, and we had no expectations whatsoever about that, because America—why would they want us? But during that tour with Nightwish, we actually found out there’s a lot of people who actually came to the shows to see us because they’ve heard of us. We even saw people wearing our shirts, and we were like, “Where did you get that shirt?” “Oh, I had to order it from some European website. It was so expensive, but it was worth it.” Then we got offered the Metallica tour, and we, of course, said, “Oh yes, thank you very much.” So yeah, of course, it did help a lot. We’ve met a lot of people who said that I saw you guys on the Metallica tour in this and that city, so of course, it has helped a lot.
And you just hooked up with Metallica again at their festival in New Jersey. How did that go?
Yeah, the Orion festival. First of all, it was a great honor, because Metallica themselves hand picked all the bands that were playing there. It was their own personal favorites, I would guess. And so, we got the offer to do it, and again, who would say no to Metallica? It was a cool experience. James (Hetfield) came quickly into our bus just to say hi, and he introduced us up on the stage. That was very kind of him to do that.
It was actually a very cool festival. It was kind of like a more European type of festival. That’s the feeling that I got from being there the whole day. I think it’s a very cool thing, and I hope they can continue doing it, because they had some very good ideas. They had their own little area. Kirk (Hammet) had some of his horror collection on display. James had some of his cars. Lars (Ulrich) had some sort of movie tent, I think—I didn’t go there. Rob (Trujillo) had some surfing, skateboarding. So it was actually very cool.
I saw you guys a couple months ago up at Rock on the Range in Ohio. It was the middle of the afternoon, and you got one of the best crowd reactions of the entire weekend.
Yeah, that was amazing. When we walked out on that stage at the stadium, it was like, “Wow!” We’ve done it before in Europe and that’s still “wow,” but here, it’s like, “Wow, are they here to see us?” We were playing and looking over to the side, I could see Scott Ian and Frank Bello from Anthrax headbanging like maniacs, so it was like, “Oh, we must be doing something right.” And we got to see Anthrax later that night, so that was cool.
Last month, “Still Counting” went to number one at Active Rock Radio. That’s got to be pretty cool.
Of course. And who would’ve thought that would happen? “A Warrior’s Call” did it, as well, so now it’s the second one that went to number one. That’s mind-boggling.
And what makes that kind of weird is that it’s not even from the newest album. How did that end up as a single now?
I actually have no idea. I think that it might be because it’s been one of the crowd-pleasing songs in the set that everybody kind of knows the song and sings along to it. So maybe some people started calling radio stations and saying, “Play that song, play that song.” And I guess maybe that’s why, and probably our management said, “Oh, we better put this one out as a single because it seems like people are requesting it.” So I guess that’s why it ended up, because it’s on the previous album, not the latest one—although, somebody told me that you could get the new album digital with it as a bonus track.
All this year, you’ve had Hank Shermann from Mercyful Fate playing guitar with you. Was he a friend of the band who decided to help out? Did you know him before this?
I think (vocalist/guitarist) Michael (Poulsen) kind of knew him—not as a friend, but knew him. When we needed a new guitar player, I think it just popped in his head—“Hmm, why don’t we see if Hank Shermann is available?” So I think he just called him up and said, “Hey, we need a guitar player to do this tour with Megadeth and Motorhead. Would you be interested in doing it?” Fortunately for us, he said, “Sure, I’ll do it.” So we met up, and he learned the set list pretty quickly, and off we went.
Have you just been taking it tour by tour?
Yeah. Tonight’s show is the last show on this tour, and then we go home and play a show in Germany at the beginning of August, and that’s the end of that.
I’m sure you have a lot of fun out on tour, but are you looking forward to going home?
Oh yeah, definitely.
What do you miss most about home when you’re away?
I guess just being home. Seeing your family, your friends. Eating our own food. Drinking our own coffee. I guess just being home and not doing anything at all. Of course, we have stuff to do when we get home, but I guess just the feeling of being home, sleeping in your own bed, waking up in your own bed. Just being home. But I’m pretty sure after we’ve been home for a few weeks, we’ll end up going, “Are we going back on tour? Are we going back on tour?”
Are there plans for when you’ll go into the studio to work on the next album?
Michael is already now writing tons of stuff. He has a lot of ideas for riffs, melodies, storylines. It’s all up in that thick skull of his. Between tours, we have been in the rehearsal room trying to see if we can put something together. We have a few, I wouldn’t say total, complete songs, but there are some songs that are definitely almost finished. Once we are done with the touring for this year, we are gonna hide out in the rehearsal room and see what we can come up with, and hopefully, by the end of this year, go into the studio to record the next album.
There was a story that started on “Guitar Gangsters” and continued on the next album. Is that done now, or have you talked about continuing it?
As far as I know, I think it’s done. I’ve never really paid too much attention to that, to be honest. But Michael likes to write small stories. On the previous albums before “Guitar Gangsters,” there were stories, as well, and I don’t think he’s ever concluded those, actually. But I’m pretty sure the “Guitar Gangsters” is finished now. He wasn’t even really sure if he wanted to continue the story for the latest album, but I think he came up with some lyrics that fit that concept, and he was like, “OK, I’m going to finish this story.”
I’m sure you’re aware of the whole situation with Randy from Lamb of God. What’s your take on it?
First of all, I think it’s terrible. I think it’s terrible what has happened to Randy, and I think it’s terrible that he’s stuck there, so to speak. Hopefully, they will be able to get him home soon. We were speechless when we heard that they had arrested him for apparently something that, as far as I can gather, he actually didn’t do. It seems like he didn’t do anything, so why did they take him in? I don’t know. I sincerely hope that they can get things sorted out so he can get home. It has affected everybody in the business, actually. Everybody has been thinking about Randy, and so do we, because we know the guy and we love the guy. He’s a sweet guy. It’s like, why Randy?
Does it affect you, as far as when you’re on stage? Are you thinking about things like that?
Of course, it makes you think a bit. But if people want to do that stage dive thing, there isn’t really anything you can do about it, because no matter how many security people we have, if they want to, there’s always one person who can get through. The only thing that you can do is actually put the barrier even farther away from the stage so people can’t get up there, which is in some ways kind of a shame. But if that’s what you have to do to prevent similar stuff to what has happened to Randy, then that’s what you have to do.
Alright, I don’t want to take up a ton of your time. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Yeah. Listen to Slayer. It helps.