Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.
Volbeat has recorded an album that seamlessly brings together all of the band’s influences and reshapes them into something gleaming and new. Planned for release on April 9 Worldwide, Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies is a record that’s rich with stories and characters woven throughout its lyrics. Some are real – like the noble lady outlaw Pearl Hart, who held up a stagecoach to buy medicine for her dying mother, or Lola Montez, the erotic dancer with her infamous ‘Spider Dance,’ or Black Bart, the gentleman highwayman who wrote poems for the people he robbed. Others are entirely fictional. “The Nameless One” is a cautionary tale of dabbling in the dark arts, featuring the mysterious and sinister character of the title. Elsewhere, “Room 24,” featuring King Diamond, was inspired by a terrifying experience in a hotel room somewhere in the heart of America.
Since forming in Copenhagen in 2000, Volbeat has released four studio albums, and two live offerings, that have turned the band into superstars, collecting platinum discs and prestigious awards making them one of the most talked about bands around the world. Distilling the rebel spirits of metal, rockabilly, country & western and rock’n’roll into a gas-guzzling beast of a sound, they’ve drawn huge acclaim from music fans worldwide, and earned them the respect and admiration of such iconic musicians as James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich of Metallica (who invited them on tour in 2009), Lemmy and Danish metal legend King Diamond, Dave Mustaine, Hank III, Jon Schaefer, Social Distortion and Scott Ian. And now Volbeat’s electrifying fifth album, Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies, is about to secure them a seat at rock’s top table alongside those very same legends. It finds the core trio of Michael Poulsen (vocals/guitar), Anders Kjølholm (bass) and Jon Larsen (drums) joined by former Anthrax/The Damned Things guitarist Rob Caggiano, who produced the album with longtime Volbeat co-producer Jacob Hansen.
“It’s a new vibe for Volbeat,” says Volbeat main man Michael Poulsen. “You’ve got everything – the rockabilly stuff, the melodies, the ultra-heavy stuff, the Western motifs and the big rock songs. It’s everything that Volbeat are all about, but taken even further.” The album title is a phrase that evokes another time, an era when elegant lawbreakers were the rock stars of the day. It tips its fedora to everything from the bad men (and women) of the old west to the old school metal bands who influenced the young Michael Poulsen to form his first band, Dominus, back in the early 90s.
As with so many classic albums, the seeds of Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies were sown on the road in Europe and the US. That’s where Poulsen began playing around with ideas and riffs, recording them on his mobile phone and directly to an amp. “Melody, lyrics, everything – it’s just working non-stop in my head,” he shares. When the band eventually returned to Denmark, it was time to go to work. The band leader recalls, “We came back from the U.S. after touring a lot over there, and isolated ourselves in our own homes for six months to finish off the album. That peace was something I needed. Even though it’s very inspiring to write on the road, it’s more comfortable to write at home.”
It was there that the album truly began to take shape. Poulsen would close the curtains, turn off the light and draw inspiration from the old Western movies he’d watched as a child with his father. Watching the old spaghetti westerns he’s watched with his father provided a catalyst for inspiration. He offers, “Sometimes it’s just about the right feeling – the scenery, the lines, the dusty look. I have my own soundtrack when I see those kind of pictures.”
You can hear the influence of the Old West right from the start in “Let’s Shake Some Dust,” an evocative intro track that features harmonica from acclaimed blues harp player Paul Lamb. You can hear it again in the rampaging “Black Bart,” which Poulsen describes as “our country-Motörhead song,” and in the banjos that pepper the chorus of the hard-as-steel “Doc Holliday,” a tribute to the legendary lawman and associate of the Wyatt Earp gang. But Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies is no country & western record. If it was a car, it would be a 1973 Stutz Blackhawk with monster truck wheels – vintage and modern, stylish and muscular.
You can hear echoes of classic 50s rock’n’roll in the soaring “Pearl Hart,” and the live classic-in-waiting “Lola Montez.” The band’s metal roots come to the fore via the heavy riffage of “Dead But Rising” and “The Nameless One,” while the ghostly “The Lonesome Rider” – which finds Michael duetting with Sarah Blackwood of Canadian band Walk Off The Earth like a modern day Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash – beats with a rockabilly heart. Elsewhere, they bring some greased-back energy to “My Body,” a cover of the hit song by US pop-punk outfit Young The Giant, while the brooding album closer “Our Loved Ones” is the nearest thing they’ve ever written to a ballad. Poulsen offers, “When I was growing up, my dad and mother played a lot of old records – Elvis, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry. I love that stuff – it’s a drug somehow. My own record collection growing up was metal. But I listen to a lot of different styles of music. If something moves you, I don’t care what it is.”
The track “Room 24” features a massive coup for Volbeat with the guest appearance from King Diamond, the legendary front man of Danish metal pioneers Mercyful Fate, and one of Poulsen’s musical idols. He reveals, “I’m a huge fan of Mercyful Fate and King Diamond. Having King on the record is a huge privilege. Normally, it’s not something he does. He wrote his own lines, and it is half my lyrics and half his. It’s a weird, scary story, and he’s the perfect person for it.” Additional guests include Anders Pedersen on slide guitar, Rod Sinclair on banjo and
Jakob Øelund on double bass.
The album itself was recorded in the legendary PUK Studios, in Randers, Denmark. With Jacob Hansen and Rob Caggiano sharing production duties, which brought a new dynamic to proceedings. Poulsen reflects, “I love Jacob Hansen’s work. He’s part of Volbeat, and we worked together on all the albums so far. I started flirting with the idea of bringing Rob in as a producer too because he produced Anthrax and The Damned Things, and I like the sound of what he did there. I thought, ‘That could be a really cool combination,’ as both are quality guys with really high standards.”
In closing, Poulsen sums it up in sharing, “I chose this way of living because I love playing music and I love touring. We wanted to write, we wanted to be inspired by our idols, we just wanted to rock out. That, for me, is what music is all about.” Volbeat returns to the road launching a North American tour on March 6 in Dallas, TX. All dates can be found on www.volbeat.dk.