In 2020, the Danish rock band Volbeat took a break from touring thanks to the pandemic. Their guitarist Rob Caggiano (formerly of Anthrax) is based in New York, so the other three musicians – bassist Kaspar Larsen, singer/guitarist Michael Poulsen, and drummer John Larsen – continued to rehearse a couple of times a week.
As the affable bass player explains, “Michael started bringing a riff or maybe half a song into the rehearsing room, and pretty soon we found out that we were going to do at least an EP. Michael just kept on bringing in new songs, though, and within two or three months, we had 13 or 14 new songs. He was just on fire!”
Talk to us about your new album, Servant of the Mind.
“We went to the studio in the summer and took three days to demo the songs, and then we booked some more time in October. I think we did three or four weeks – it went really fast. The album was pretty much done within two and a half weeks, and we had a lot of time left over, so we thought ‘Why don’t we do a couple of cover songs?’
“One of them was Domino by The Cramps, and we were also listening to a band called Wolfbrigade from Sweden, which is like a crust-punk thrash kind of band, so we did their song Return To None as well.
“We got a phone call on one of the last days in the studio, asking if we were interested in doing Don’t Tread On Me, a song from Metallica’s Black Album for their 30th anniversary project, so we squeezed that in, too.”
How do you write your bass parts?
“On the previous album, Rewind, Replay, Rebound, I was working a lot with Rob on the basslines, because before I joined Volbeat in 2016 I was playing a lot of hardcore and metal – really aggressive music that is more riff-based.
“Coming into Volbeat it was a little bit different, because you have a lot of chord-based choruses and verses – it’s very different to just playing riffs. So to get in the mood of creating basslines, I was working a lot with Rob on that last album, which gave me ideas about what to do on future songs.
“This time, I was all on my own, and free to do anything I wanted. I experimented a lot, but some of the ideas I had were maybe a little bit too much when we finally recorded it, so we changed them.”
Can you give us an example?
“Well, maybe there was a lick that was a little bit too much, so I scaled it down. When we have chord progressions, instead of just playing the root note, I really like to play an almost walking bassline. The Devil Rages On is an example. It has this kind of rockabilly beat, so I mimicked an upright bass on the bass guitar.
“And then, on a totally different song like The Sacred Stones, I wanted a different feeling – more of a Geezer Butler kind of vibe. We go from pop-punk to rockabilly to Black Sabbath-inspired riff-based songs on this album, and the bass is a big part of the sound.”
What’s your history as a bass player?
“When I started playing bass, I was in a melodic death metal band called Withering Surface. I was very young and I played with my fingers at the time, but after a couple of albums, I found out that the thing I wanted to do just didn’t fit in with a death metal band, so I started to play with a pick.
“I scaled down all my licks and all of the ideas I had. For many years, I was just playing riffs with a pick, but then I joined Volbeat and I really got the feeling of being a bass player back, because suddenly there was room for interesting basslines. I play faster and better, I think, with my fingers.”
That’s unusual for a band as heavy as yours.
“I feel that when I was playing with a pick, I didn’t have the same control and I couldn’t play as fast. It’s just not the same. A pick is good when you’re just hammering on the low E string, and going nuts and playing fast.
“It’s great, because it’s got a tone to it that’s a little more aggressive, but in this band it’s great to have the dynamics in the individual notes that you have when you play with your fingers. It doesn’t sound as tight on every note, but that’s the natural dynamic.”
What bass gear do you use?
“On tour I’m using an Ampeg SVT Pro. We have a couple of those, and then I use an Ampeg DI and compressor. That’s actually my lifeline, because there’s a lot happening at the front of house – he might be using some plugins on the sound, but I’m not sure. When we recorded the album I used a distortion pedal called a Brutalist Jr., made by Kurt Ballou from Converge.
“It sounds amazing. It’s got a very nice grit to it that sounds a little bit old-school. I don’t like my bass to have too much high end – I want it to sound more like a ’70s tube distortion, like an angry bear.
“As for basses, I have two Fender Precisions, one in standard tuning and one for some songs that are detuned. I use Ernie Ball strings, although I haven’t broken a single string since I joined this band.”
What was your first bass?
“The first bass I ever bought was a used Rickenbacker 4001 copy with a bolt-on neck. It sounded great. After that I had a few other cheap basses, but when I started playing death metal, I bought an original 4001 from 1974. I also had a Gibson Thunderbird from 1992, I think. That had a great bottom-end to it.
“I also started playing punk rock in the late ’90s, which was when I got my first P-Bass. It just sounded fucking awesome. I had that for some years and then I joined Volbeat. For the first year, I was using a Schecter bass, but then I got a deal with Fender. These P-Basses are the best basses I’ve ever played – they’re so easy to play.”
How did you get into bass?
“I didn’t have any interest in music until my sister got a record by The Cure in 1987. It was the Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me album. Suddenly, something just happened inside me. I don’t know what it was, but something triggered in me and I got really into The Cure. From there, I moved onto punk rock and goth and hardcore.
“I saw these pictures of Sid Vicious playing bass, and he just looked so cool. I knew that he couldn’t play that well, but looking at Sid, I thought, ‘I’ve gotta play bass.’ I come from a small town in Denmark, and there was no-one there who wanted to play punk rock, so the next best thing was to join a death metal band with other people that also couldn’t really play. I still live in that little town now.”
Which bassists do you most admire?
“Like I say, it started with The Cure. Simon Gallup has always been a favorite of mine. I’ve seen 18 shows by The Cure and I’ve never heard him make even one tiny mistake. The bass is such a big part of their sound. They’ve got their own melody going. And then, of course, there was the first Black Sabbath album with the bass solos by Geezer Butler.”
What’s next for you?
“We go out in mid-May for a lot of festival shows, and then we go out again in late August, September, for a full-scale European tour. We’ve been doing nothing for two years, apart from recording the album, of course: it’s the first time since I started playing bass that I haven’t played a show in two years. I feel like we should compensate for that this year.”
You must have built up a lot of energy.
“It’s just bursting to get out. Anyway, thank you for this interview. It’s nice to talk just about bass. I’ve been doing a lot of interviews, but no-one ever talks about my bass playing because no-one cares. But you do!”
- Servant of the Mind is out now via Republic.