Country music has been defined in so many ways over the years. However, it is interesting to see how several rock musicians have an influence from country music. Some would even go on to cross over from rock to country music. From Conway Twitty to Johnny Cash, and even Elvis, they took their own particular sound and made it their own.
Rock band Volbeat from Denmark has been getting the attention of music fans, both from rock and country music. Their distinct blend of rock, country, metal, and blues makes them a unique band to see live in concert. Recently, Michael Poulsen, lead singer of Volbeat, took the time to talk during his busy schedule on the Rock Allegiance Tour to talk about their country music influence. He is well noted to be influenced on the rockabilly sounds of Johnny Cash and Elvis, even sporting several tattoos related to them. Below is his take on his influences and the success of the band Volbeat.
Volbeat is currently headlining the Rock Allegiance Tour. How has it been so far headlining the tour?
It’s been great so far. We’ve got some great bands to work with. It’s been great being back in the U.S. with some really good responses from the audiences. So far it has been really good.
How do you keep being humble by all of the attention and success with Volbeat?
We have been pretty humble by it all. We all come from very small cities. I guess we were brought up the right way. We truly appreciate with what we have.
What initially attracted you to the sounds of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, & Johnny Cash?
That’s a good question. It is an emotional thing. It’s funny with music. Sometimes you can listen to something your whole life and others don’t really get it. We all have our own styles and records of music that we grew up listening to. In my own situation, Elvis is what my parents were listening to at home. Along with the Elvis records, there were those of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry. Those are songs that ones that I liked to play and learned over the years. I liked those songs. They made me happy somehow. While my sisters were listening to more pop music, which became reality of more mainstream music, I didn’t really listen to that type. I didn’t see anything wrong with it, but I was more into 60s stuff. There was some really cool honesty and spiritual that I liked. It is also something really emotion that moves you. Those artists that you mentioned – they had something special that they cannot be replaced. There is a reason for that as they were unique. Even to this day, I can still find inspiration with those guys. It is a God given talent that they definitely had that was very unique.
Did you get to see any of them perform before they died?
I’ve seen Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard perform before. I’ve performed with some of Elvis’s band members from the seventies. They had a tour that came to our country and I was invited to play. I sang two songs “Suspicious Minds” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” It was a really cool experience.
Do you think country music is defined differently overseas as compared to here in the US?
Yes it definitely does. Over here, it is mainly the old country stuff, the real old traditional sounding country music stuff. We had the opportunity to go to Nashville a couple of times. Not that I have anything against it, but what they call country music today, I just don’t think it’s country. It’s more pop music. It’s so weird that if you visit the Grand Ole Opry, you want to go in there and hear good stories about all the old performances that were there. They are not even mentioned in there anymore. They only talk about the new stuff. We get on a tour, you don’t want to hear about. You want to hear about the rich history of the place. That’s the thing with country music; it is a little bit weird with the direction that it is going right now. It is what it is, but if it makes people happy then it’s a good thing. Personally, I’d rather it be the really old stuff.
You covered Kitty Wells “Making Believe” and Hank Williams “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” How did those arrangements come about and did you get approval from their estates to record them?
“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” was one that I knew that so many different artists were singing that song. I was really moved when I heard Elvis sing that song. So many times, we were flirting around with some old stuff in rehearsal. I think it was it was something to do when we started. We had some of our own songs. We were booked into small bars where no one really had any idea who we were or what we sang. So we said, maybe we should take a cover song that everyone should know. The first cover song we actually did was “I Only Wanna Be With You.” It was a great response with the audience. When we were first making records, it became a challenge for us to pick out those old songs because there are so many out there. Now we have a few cover songs like “Making Believe,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and “I Only Wanna Be With You.” I love the old fifties music stuff.
Have you worked with any country singers or musicians in the past or hope to work with in the future?
I haven’t been working with anyone lately. However, we’ve done a few live shows packaged with Hank III. I really like his stuff. I really think he’s the real thing. He’s the real deal. He is definitely the sound of old country. He’s such a nice guy and I love his style and his records. That would be a guy that would be quite interesting to hook up with and do something with.
Have you thought about recording a straight up country record?
No. I guess not. If you listen to the Volbeat records, you can hear that we can’t really make up our mind of what we really want to play. The thing is everything comes straight from the heart. That’s why it is so random. We are really big music lovers. We love country, punk, heavy metal, death metal, blues, gospel, etc. Why not blend it all together like a really big soup. When we’re playing in Volbeat, we love mixing all of those styles and elements that I mentioned before. To me and for all of us in the band, we are not trying to force anything or say we are 100% of one style. So I probably won’t do a full blown country album, it will always be a mixture of something else.
What do you think that makes your fans feel connected to Volbeat?
That’s a very good question. Sometimes I really want to know, but mostly I think I don’t want to know. I don’t want to think too much about it. I guess the younger fans hear something they really haven’t heard before. These modern days where everybody wants to be something and wants to be special or have some kind of identity in everything they do. I guess with Volbeat music, it has a certain style they haven’t heard before so when they pick it up they feel something special and can identify themselves with it. When it comes to the older fans, I guess they can hear inspiration from the music of when they were young kids like the style of Johnny Cash and Elvis. I guess it is a combination of that.
Considering the new album is called “Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies,” how would you best describe outlaw music or what an outlaw is?
That’s a good question. You know that could be actually Hank III. I definitely see him as an outlaw playing outlaw music. He would definitely be defined as that. I’m also a huge fan of Mike Ness of Social Distortion and his solo albums. He did some really good country stuff too. It could be him too. There definitely a lot of outlaws out there that are not even releasing albums but just sit and play beautiful country music. They are the real stuff. They have the real thing. They don’t care about releasing albums and just want to play and go down to the local bars and get a job.
Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website with over 20 years experience in music journalism, concert planning, photography, and promotion. Jessica is a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the 2019 Leadership Kentucky BRIGHT Class and a recipient of the Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award. Listen to her each week on WFKY on Friday mornings for the Nashville News Roundup.