December 5, 2013 Interview – Jon Larsen of Volbeat
Rock n roll is an art form which has no formula. Denmark’s Volbeat are living proof of that. The group of talented musicians, from various extreme metal backgrounds, came together back in 2001 to break free of labels and the norm to start something new. With an artist’s palette of metal, rock, punk, rockabilly, and everything in between the band was born. With 5 full length records, touring the world, and headlining shows in North America Volbeat have lifted off into rock n roll stars. Their latest album Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies has reached peak positions in charts worldwide in 2013 and still climbing. Success didn’t happen overnight for these Danes, and it took years of hard work and dedication to reach the top. Recently we sat down with Volbeat drummer Jon Larsen for a personal look at the humble beginnings of Volbeat, their drive to create music, love for rock n roll, and much more.
Crypticrock.com – Volbeat has been together 12 years now and have released 5 full length records in that time. The story of the band is rather interesting. Michael, Anders, and yourself all came from death metal bands prior but decided you wanted to do something different, and that was the beginning of Volbeat. Tell me how all that happened for you guys?
Jon Larsen – As you said, we all came from the death metal scene which in those days in the late 90’s and early 2000’s was really big in Europe. It seemed like everybody in Denmark was playing death metal at some point. The idea sort of came out when Michael disbanded his old band after 10 years and grew tired of that whole scene and what you can do. Especially you are not allow to do this, you can’t play like that, and you have to sound like this. In the end he said I had enough and I won’t do it anymore. He basically just wanted to play what he felt like, it could be anything actually. That’s basically how we started.
I’ve known him since I was 16 years old. The scene in Denmark is so small everybody kind of knew each other one way or another. We had never played together before that. He called me and said I’ve disbanded my band and want to do something different, I need somebody who can just play 2 and 4 on snare drum, can you do that? I said I think I can still do that… I hadn’t played in a couple years at that point. He told me, “I have some ideas for some songs if you’d like to help me out”, and I said sure why not. I took out the drum kit from the basement, dusted it off, and put it in the rehearsal room. He played me a riff that kind of sounded like vintage Black Sabbath, I felt that was kind of interesting. He then played me another riff that was kind of more like The Misfits or The Offspring, I said ok.. that’s different but why not. The third thing he played me was kind of a Metallica type thing. I said ok which one? He said no, all of it! I said hmmm ok why not, it sounded like fun. That is how it started basically him saying I am going to play whatever I want and I don’t care what people say. We felt we are going to play whatever we feel like. We don’t care if it’s punk, rock n roll, or whatever.
Crypticrock.com – That is interesting and in the death metal world you can definitely box yourself in and limit what you can do. The band has built a strong following in the European scene over the years but it wasn’t until the past 3 years between Beyond Hell/ Above Heaven (2010) and Outlaw Gentleman & Shady Ladies (2013) the band really has taken off in the North American market. How does it feel for the band to finally break through into the North American market with such success?
Jon Larsen – It’s great and amazing. If somebody had told me just 10 years ago you guys are going to play arenas in Europe and big theaters in the USA I would say ok whatever drug you’re taking I would like to have some of that (laughs). It’s a great feeling because who would have thought that, but again who would have thought we could play arenas in Europe ever in a million years. I would never have thought that, it’s a great achievement and we are humbled and proud of it, but we also work our asses off.
Crypticrock.com – You should be proud of it, and I imagine working as hard as you have make it that much more redeeming. Those which know Volbeat and the history of the band would possibly say the turning point here in North America was when the band opened for Metallica on the Death Magnetic Tour in 2009. Looking back on that tour 4 years later, what was that experience like for the band?
Jon Larsen – Of course who would say no to open for Metallica? Nobody! Well almost nobody. When we got the opportunity to do that of course our immediate response was yes. It was scary the first night in Quebec because Metallica has some really die-hard fans. It turned out to be a really great experience. It is one of those tours that I will remember for the rest of my days. Not the shows themselves, because they tend to blend into one another, but just the whole atmosphere; the whole way of watching how Metallica works on and off stage, how their setup works with the crew and organization of Metallica. That was a huge experience. We definitely took a leaf or two out of their book. Of course it helped, they are the biggest metal band of all time. They play to a huge amount of people no matter where so of course it helped a lot.
Crypticrock.com – What is interesting about Metallica is they are possibly the biggest metal band of all time, but they have crossed barriers into the mainstream like other metal bands have not. That opened you up to a huge audience of possible new fans. Now the band’s newest record Outlaw Gentleman & Shady Ladies was released back in April. The album is excellent and is without a doubt the band’s most successful. Tell me what you think the key to success is for this new record and what was the writing process like?
Jon Larsen – The writing process was basically the same as it has always been. We did however, this time, take 6 months off. Last year we toured America three times and did one festival show in Europe at the end of August. Michael really wanted to take some time off and write. Normally he’d would do a lot of writing on a bus, the backstage room, and home. He still does that, but this time he wanted to take just a little bit of time off and work on the songs. That was the only difference in the writing process. Apart from that, it is basically the same as it has always been. Michael comes up with 99% of everything. Sometimes he will have a clear idea of what he wants and has everything laid down like drums. He will say try to play like this, or the bass try and play like this; of course we can add our two sense into it, but most of the time he will have a clear idea of what he wants.
As for the recording process we came in as a 3 piece and came out as a 4 piece. We wanted to get a bit out of our comfort zone. That is why we picked another studio and Rob Caggiano to help us out producing the album. Jacob Hansen was still there of course, he knows how we work and we know how he works. Recording in different studio was a new thing for us to do. In the beginning we’d lay down the drum tracks as we always do. Rob was a slave driver, and I wanted to kill him several times because I didn’t know what he was looking for (laughs), somehow he said he got it. The recording was slightly different. They spent a lot of time working out guitar sounds and different parts. Michael asked Rob if he’d play on it and sure enough Rob ended up playing on a lot of stuff on the album. That wasn’t the plan in the beginning and then we pursued him to join the band.
Crypticrock.com – The record is the first with Rob Caggiano, formerly of Anthrax, becoming part of Volbeat. You explained a little bit about what it was like initially working with him, but it seems to have worked out so it was a good addition to the chemistry?
Jon Larsen – Yes it was it. We have known Rob for 2 years prior. We toured with The Damned Things when he was a member of the band. He said he really liked us and ended up every night on that tour playing “Angelfuck” by The Misfits on stage with us. One night Rob was talking with us and said he’d really love to produce us one day. When it came time to try something new we said let’s give Rob a call and see if he’s available. He was available and during the recording that is when he told us he had left Anthrax. We were screaming at him for a half hour saying why would you do that (laughs). He said he wanted to focus on a bit more on the producing and didn’t want to be part of the band anymore. He then started playing guitar harmonies and lead stuff and Michael left a few openings on some of the songs. He asked Rob if he had any ideas perhaps for these tracks. He would come up with ideas, we figured this is working out really well with Rob, why don’t we ask him to join the band. Michael asked him and he said he had to sleep on it for a couple of days and think about it. He came back and said he’d love to do it and now he’s here.
Crypticrock.com – That’s a really cool story and it seems to all have worked out well.
Jon Larsen – The story got misinterpreted a lot on the internet. Rob put out a statement that he left Anthrax and some people took it the wrong way that we took him from Anthrax. That is not the truth, the truth is he actually left before he came to actually help us out on the album.
Crypticrock.com – Now you did the Rock Allegiance Tour here in North America with HIM, All That Remains, and Airbourne. This is a very unique mix of rock and metal. It is unfortunate that Airbourne had to exit the tour early. The tour recently came to a conclusion. How did the tour go?
Jon Larsen – I think it went very well actually for us. Unfortunately Airbourne did have to pull out of the tour early because they had some family issues, which is very sad. Besides that I think the tour went very well. It seems like the HIM crowd and our crowd can get along without fighting so that is good.
Crypticrock.com – Volbeat is obviously influenced by many forms of rock and metal, as it’s clear in the music you make. What are some of your musical influences personally?
Jon Larsen – Well it started off for me as a kid with The Beatles. I saw them on TV when I was 8 or 9 years old and for some reason that just hit me. I don’t know what it was, but I definitely felt this was the greatest thing I had ever seen in my life. Especially that little guy in the back playing drums, and he was just laughing all the time. I said that looks like a fun thing, I want to do that. I went home to my mom and dad and said I want to play the drums! They said you’re an idiot, and I said no I want to be a Beatle. They said ok if you want to be a Beatle fine. Then my dad would turn me onto other bands like The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, little bit of Elvis got thrown into there, and other stuff like Simon And Garfunkle as well.
Then when I was a little bit older I saw Adam Ant on TV. Again, I was hit over the head and I couldn’t believe what I saw. I thought it was even more cool than The Beatles. I pursued my mom to by the single because it had that huge drum sound. I was blown away, I was playing that single for a month non-stop and drove my mom mad. I became a huge Adam Ant fan and to this day I collect Adam Ant CD’s, Vinyl, and anything I can get my hands on. A few years down the road I discovered Kiss. I can’t remember why or how. I think it was just the Destroyer (1976) album cover, and there was just some songs that really hit me over the head. Then I went out and bought Kiss Alive II (1977). Again, I started playing that constantly. Then I discovered Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. I mean Maiden, with those album covers, as a teenager who wouldn’t buy an Iron Maiden album just to look at the cover. Then it progressed from there, a bit later on Metallica came onto the scene. I bought Ride The Lightening and Master Of Puppets. A close circle of friends started to turn each other on to different types of music. Slayer, Motorhead, some of the German power metal bands, Destruction, Helloween, and Running Wild. Then later on, the death metal scene bands like Death, Obituary, Napalm Death. At some point I grew tired of that whole thing because every album tended to sound the same. That is where The Ramones came into the picture. A friend of mine started to play one of their albums and at first I didn’t get it. I felt like what’s the idea? Short songs; 1,2,3. I don’t get that, they don’t play fast, and I want fast music. Something stuck in my mind so I ended up buying the It’s Alive album and became a giant Ramones fan ever since.
Crypticrock.com – That is quite an interesting progression and a great mix. It’s interesting how you went from rock to metal and then to punk.
Jon Larsen – I think it was because in the mid and late 90’s the whole death metal scene exploded. All the bands started to sound the same in my ears, and there is nothing wrong with that. I already had heard them, isn’t there something else out there? I knew The Sex Pistols before of course, but that is when The Ramones came in the picture for me. I saw them on MTV and I said oh they look funny but it’s good! Then of course The Misfits would be there as well later on. I guess it’s because I kind of grew tired of listening to all those death metal albums. I was looking for something new. Punk music is basically 3 chord rock n roll. It’s pure and simple. That is what I tend to go back to every single time. The same thing with drummers. I grew up listening to Ringo Starr, Charlie Watts, and Keith Moon. That is how I learned to play; listening to guys like that. Dave Lombardo, I can’t play like him but I get it.
Crypticrock.com – I understand, you do grow tired of things. Not to say you don’t like it anymore but you are looking for something new.
Jon Larsen – Yes for sure. I still like early Green Day stuff and Offspring stuff. Still every once in a while I put on one of the old death metal albums. Every once in a while it’s good to put on those albums and go oh yea. Sometimes you rediscover some of those albums like Cause Of Death (1990) by Obituary and you realize it is a great album.
Crypticrock.com – My last question for you is regarding films. Crypticrock.com is a rock/metal and horror news site so we like to focus on all genres. Are you a fan of horror films and if so what are some of your favorite horror films?
Jon Larsen – Oh yea. I am an old school guy. My favorite horror film of all time is Jaws (1975). A lot of people say it’s not a horror movie, but a lot of that could happen in real life. Jaws is my all time favorite movie. I have been obsessed with that movie ever since I was 6-7 years old. My mom wouldn’t let me see it in the theaters and it probably left a huge mark inside of me because now I collect Jaws stuff as well. The original Halloween (1978) is a favorite of mine. The original cut of The Exorcist (1973), not the re-issue. Horror Of Dracula (1958) with Christopher Lee. Hammer Films in general are among my favorites. I just recently started buying some of it again on blu-ray, it never ends. The old Universal Monsters like Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), The Wolfman (1941), and The Invisible Man (1933). I tend to like older movies. I am not really that much into the new style of horror. We went to see the new Evil Dead(2013), it was ok. I had a huge bowl of popcorn so that helped (laughs). I saw one recently called The Conjuring (2013). I tend to like all the horror stuff from the 20’s to the mid 90’s. All those remakes that pop up every once and a while I don’t really want to see, but I have to just to say oh I knew this would be bad. The Devil Rejects (2005) by Rob Zombie was good as well. I didn’t like what he did with the Halloween franchise, I didn’t get it. Some of Roger Corman productions are good as well.
Crypticrock.com – I agree with you totally. The late 70’s early 80’s was a great era for horror. The Italian horror scene was great for die-hard horror fans.
Jon Larsen – Oh yea. Bava and Fulci, I love Lucio Fulci films. They are so over the top.
Crypticrock.com – Yes, modern horror films are either remakes or they are excessive with the CGI. What do you think of that?
Jon Larsen – I am not a huge fan of it. I think in the 60’s to the 80’s they did the effects the old school way. As crappy as it looks now, or hooky as it was, it tends to go back to that because it was made by people. It was not made by a computer. CGI can be a good thing, but now a day everybody can do CGI. It doesn’t require that much so everybody is doing CGI and it usually turns out pretty crappy. Every once in a while you find a decent one, but it seems it’s become a bit too easy. People feel like they will just do CGI and it will be great. I am fearing for the day Universal announces a Jaws remake will happen. I know it will happen someday. They are going to do all this CGI shark crap and they are going to ruin it just like George Lucas ruined Star Wars. That is why I didn’t like the reissue of The Exorcist, they did CGI things. I felt like why? It didn’t add anything to the movie at all. There were a couple of scenes they put back in that kind of made sense, but the spider walk sequence I thought was terrible. In the book it worked, but in the movie it never worked. All those Captain Howdy clips you see with her face changing to this CGI thing, I thought was terrible. It’s a shame because The Exorcist is probably one of the scariest films of all time. It still scares the shit out of me. I watch it at least once a year, but I put on the old version.
Crypticrock.com – I agree with you totally. That film still gets to me to this day. The soundtrack, the atmosphere, everything about it. That movie was freaky as hell.
Jon Larsen – It is, it still is freaky as hell. It has good acting in it; George C. Scott and Linda Blair. That is the thing about 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s horror; you needed to have a decent actor. Now a days they don’t have to do anything except look stupid because CGI will take care of the rest. That is one of the reasons to this day I still love Jaws because they had good actors. It was made by people who knew how to do their work. That is why if they redo it I don’t think it will work. There will never be another Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Roy Scheider and Vincent Price in my opinion.