The Hallelujah Road: A Conversation With Volbeat’s Michael Poulsen

Bon Scott, the unimitable lyricist/frontman for the rock band AC/DC during the band’s rise to prominence in the 1970s, once sang of life in a band: “Gettin’ had/Gettin’ took/I tell you folks, it’s harder than it looks/It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock n’ roll.”

But the 1970s and 80s were also the days of platinum albums, deep-pocketed record companies and a dozen brick and mortar record stores in every city, too. There was no Internet, no Napster, no pay-by-the-song option. By comparison today, there were multiple avenues to “make it big,” especially when MTV — get this — actually played music.

A few decades later, that’s all changed. Want to make a living playing in a band? Only one path remains: The road. And its poster child is Volbeat.

The Danish four-piece and brainchild of songwriter/vocalist/guitarist Michael Poulsen have put rubber to the pavement in both the United States and in Europe, playing hundreds of shows and logging tens of thousands of miles with one goal in mind: winning hearts and minds.

“We have done a lot of road work,” Poulsen said in a phone interview. “It doesn’t take too long to tour Denmark, so we are aware that it takes time to get street cred and respect from the people. But we’re road workers and know this is what it will take.”

The years of virtually non-stop touring have given Poulsen some keen insights into long-term survival on the road. The excesses and indulgent habits, he said, are gone.

The first thing Poulsen did was to lose 40 pounds. He now feels healthier and sharper than ever and has no plans of reverting back to his previous ways.

“I’m barely drinking anymore,” he said. “We play too many shows to be eating bad food and drinking too much alcohol. That’s no way to tour, especially as much as we do. I exercise five times per week, and I’m eating well and getting a good night’s sleep.”

Another stabilization in the Volbeat camp has been within the band itself. Poulsen and bandmates Anders Kjølholm (bass) and Jon Larsen (drums) shuffled through guitar players since their formation in 2000 before being joined by ex-Anthrax/The Damned Things guitarist Rob Caggiano in 2013, who also co-produced their latest studio album, “Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies.”

In bringing in Caggiano, Poulsen was able to stick to playing rhythm guitar on the record instead of handling all of the six-string duties as he had in the past.

“That was very inspiring to work that way,” Poulsen said. “The difference with Rob in the band now is that we have two guitar players. That’s not to take away from the other guys who were in the band, but we finally have a lead guitar player.”

The addition of Caggiano has also given Poulsen another brush with which to paint his already-eclectic songwriting canvas, one that points toward Johnny Cash as much as it does Slayer. Poulsen attributes most of his brand of songwriting to his father, who introduced him to the country and rockabilly elements that make their way onto each Volbeat album in one form or another.

“He was always bringing home records, playing them and watching those ’50s country and western gunslinger movies, so he was a big influence on me,” he said. “And all my songs, then, are my children; I created them, and I’m proud of them. They are all special because I don’t want to waste my time with something that doesn’t emotionally move me.”

Despite their penchant for the road (this is the fourth leg of the U.S. tour supporting “Outlaw…” with more touring planned in Europe afterward, then back to the U.S. in September and October), Poulsen said a new album is indeed in the works.

“I’m writing now and working on new material for the next record,” he said. “We’re jamming on some stuff in sound check. We have one song done that we can almost play, another we’re working on, and I have ideas for another. Hopefully we can have a new record out next year.”

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