Rock is dead? Someone forgot to tell Volbeat. The three-fourths Danish band has ridden a string of hit singles from its 2010 album, “Beyond Hell/Above Heaven,” and its latest release, last year’s “Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies,” to its biggest U.S. tour to date, a co-headlining arena run with Five Finger Death Punch (with support from Hellyeah and Nothing More). Lead guitarist Rob Caggiano (the one-quarter of the band hailing from New York) never expected to end up in Volbeat when he left Anthrax about two years ago. But he quickly went from producing the newest album to becoming a full-fledged band member. And he couldn’t be happier about it. When the tour rolled into the Baltimore Arena in Baltimore, Maryland, Caggiano sat down for a chat with Live Metal’s Greg Maki.
LIVE METAL: This is definitely one of the big tours of the fall, Volbeat and Five Finger Death Punch. You’re going on a week or two now. How has it been so far?
ROB CAGGIANO: It’s been phenomenal every night. It’s pretty much been sold out every night. We definitely just started, but it feels really, really good. I think this package is really working, and it’s a treat for the fans, for fans of this kind of music.
In the early days of a tour, there can be some technical problems. Are you past that point now?
Well, for us—and I can only speak for Volbeat—the first two shows, I personally had some technical problems. But that’s been sorted out. I have a new tech on this tour, who just so happens to be Josh Newton, who used to play bass in The Damned Things. It’s been working out great. There’s a couple stupid, little kinks that we needed to work out in the first few shows, but overall it’s been amazing.
What are the pros and, if there are any, the cons of doing a co-headlining tour?
On this tour, I can’t really say anything bad about it, even down to our slot; we’re playing to a lot of people. It’s perfect for us.
What are your favorite songs to play live?
I’m really having fun playing “Doc Holliday” off the new record. “The Mirror and the Ripper” is another favorite of mine. “Hangman’s Body Count,” of course, is another one that I love playing. “16 Dollars,” ‘cause that’s when all the chicks get up. (laughs)
Are there any songs, back in the catalog or off the new album, that you haven’t played live yet that you want to play?
We’ve been kind of toying around with the set list. It hasn’t really been the same from show to show so far. So we’re still trying to figure out different things and keep it fresh for ourselves, as well. So off the top of my head, I don’t know. We definitely have a lot of tunes in the repertoire, so to speak, and we definitely shuffle them around.
What was it like when you first joined the band and you had a pretty short period of time to learn a whole set before you went out and played some shows?
(laughs) I was still finishing production on the album. I was still doing a bunch of editing, and the songs were getting ready to be mixed. So it was a very hectic time for me, between that and learning an hour and a half or an hour and 40 minutes worth of material. But pulled it off, so it worked out.
Volbeat, since even before you were in the band, they’ve always done shows where they’ve brought special guests up, and they’ve done that since you’ve been with them. I was at Carolina Rebellion, and you had some of the guys from Anthrax come out. I thought that was really cool. What was it like to play with those guys again?
It was great. We’re still really tight with the Anthrax camp. They’re still family to me. I basically grew up with those dudes.
Last year, I interviewed (guitarist/vocalist) Michael (Poulsen), and he told me that when he first asked you to join the band, you thought he was joking. Is that true?
Yeah. It really took me by surprise. I just didn’t expect it. Originally, I was called on as a producer, and things escalated really fast. But I just never saw that coming. I’m from New York City; these guys are from Denmark. I just never even thought it was a possibility really. But it worked out perfectly. We all really get along and connect on so many levels. It’s great.
Did you have to think about it at all?
Yeah, yeah. I told him, “Let’s think about this tonight.” We were actually in the studio in the Danish countryside, this little place called Randers, and in this particular studio, we each had our own chalet or apartment. So I said, “Let’s go back to the rooms tonight, and let’s think about it, and we’ll reconvene at breakfast.” (laughs) It didn’t take me too long to decide. It’s an amazing gig. I love the guys, I love the music, and it’s a creative outlet for me now. So it’s awesome.
You’ve been working and touring constantly, so maybe it hasn’t played into it yet, but what is it like being in a band with three guys who are from and live in another country? Does that cause any difficulties at all?
No, I don’t think it causes any difficulties. Of course, there are some cultural differences, but for the most part, when you’re in a band on this level, you live on the road. It doesn’t matter where you come from. And it’s rock ‘n’ roll—there’s only 12 notes. We’re all playing the same fuckin’ notes; it doesn’t matter where you are in the world. We connect on that level, and that’s the most important thing.
Have you picked up Danish along the way?
(laughs) Hell no! (laughs) My tongue doesn’t even do those things. (laughs) It doesn’t work like that.
What do you see as your goal as a producer?
Well, for me, as a producer, I really try to capture the essence of what the artist or band is trying to do. For me, when I’m working on a record, it’s less about putting my stamp on it. Of course, I have my own style and my own way of doing things. What I’m trying to say is, these days I find that records sound so similar to each other, especially in the hard rock world. You put on four or five different records, and you can hear the same fuckin’ snare drum sound or the same kick drum sound. For me, it just got the point where it’s just boring. Back in the day, I always felt like as a kid growing up listening to music, every band that I was listening to had their own identity and their own sound. I put on a Van Halen record, and I knew it was Van Halen within the first three notes or the first three drum hits or whatever the hell it was. Same with AC/DC, same with Zeppelin, same with Sabbath or any of those classic bands. I feel like a lot of that has gotten lost these days with technology and stuff like that. It’s just so easy to plug things into a formula, click the mouse around. But it gets old. I think fans, over the years, definitely started getting tired of that, as well.
I could go on for days about that. But what I always try to do is give each band and each record its own spirit, its own soul and its own identity. That’s my goal as a producer, and obviously, get the best takes and performances out of everybody.
What is it like producing yourself when you’re playing on an album?
It took me a while to get good at that, actually, ‘cause I’m a perfectionist as a guitar player and, also, as a producer. Back in the day, when I first started my production career and, also, my guitar-playing career, I was very critical of everything. It’s very easy for a producer or an engineer to really get caught in that trap of making things too perfect, and again, I’ll go back to blaming that on technology. These days, it’s so easy to make perfect music. But the thing is, music’s not supposed to be perfect, especially rock ‘n’ roll. The whole point is to rebel and be a little fucked up. (laughs)
So for me, it took me a while to find that balance, because you want it to sound as good as it can possibly be, but you don’t want it to be perfect, because you end up with something that lacks soul and lacks spirit. Again, for a long time, especially on American radio, stuff that came out on the radio had no spirit. I think there’s a huge backlash on that within the music community. I think it reflected on record sales and stuff like that. Obviously, there are other factors involved there.
You’ve been working with Jim Breuer and his band. I saw them play up at Rock on the Range, and it was a really fun show. What has it been like working with him?
He’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. He’s amazing. It’s actually very hard to work with him because you’re constantly fucking laughing. (laughs) He’s a genius. I did a lot of pre-production already on that record, and we’re gonna start tracking when Volbeat’s done in November. Looking forward to that. It’s gonna be great.
So Volbeat finishes in November, then taking a little break?
Yeah, we’re gonna take a break. Obviously, the holidays are gonna happen right around that time. We all need a break. We’re all getting burnt. It’s obviously gonna be time to start thinking about a new album, and we’re gonna have to go into the studio at some point, I think around August. Next year is gonna be very light, I think, for Volbeat, as far as touring. There’s gonna be some stuff here and there, but overall, it’s gonna be kind of some chill time, creative time.
Have you started putting together new material?
Yeah, we’ve been toying around with some ideas, for sure.
People are all talking about the whole “rock is dead” thing.
Yeah, that’s been the joke on this tour.
Well, you’re playing to sold-out crowds, so obviously it’s not. But I think what Gene Simmons was getting at was the business side and how it’s getting hard for younger bands to make a career out of it and things like that.
I just think it’s hard for a guy like that, who’s been in the business for as long as he has. He’s seeing things through a totally different lens, so to speak. Back in the day, when KISS was coming up, things were completely different than they are right now on a million different levels. I think probably what he meant to say is not that rock is dead, so to speak, but things are different. The music business is different. Record sales are not what they used to be.
But from our perspective, what we’re seeing is the music business is just changing. I guess none of us really know where it’s gonna end up. It seems like the streaming thing is picking up more and more and more, but live touring and merchandise—all that stuff is still massive, it’s still great. Rock is definitely not dead. The world’s too fucked up for rock to ever be dead. (laughs)