Playing to the (Vol)beat7 May 2014
After years of hard work, Danish rockers Volbeat find themselves touring America, the European festival circuit and beyond. Erica Basnicki chats with the band’s engineers and finds out how so many have fallen under the band’s spell…
“They have enough of their own, so why import something different?” Volbeat’s FOH engineer Mads Mikkelsen reflects on how difficult it is for foreign bands to break into major music markets such as the US and UK. It’s a challenge Volbeat has overcome, and one which Mikkelsen has been a part of almost since day one.
From backstage at the Inn of the Mountain Gods in Mescalero, New Mexico, Volbeat reflect on how far they’ve come – literally – from building up their fan base at home in Denmark. Mikkelsen recalls they early years: “We did a tour where the band played for eight people in bars. Everybody was loading in and out and sleeping in the same hotel room, if not sitting in the van. It was good times.”
Those eight people soon became several thousand as Volbeat’s live gigs won them new fans after performances at Roskilde Festival and on tour with Metallica. It was around that time that monitor engineer Kristoffer Hinrichsen joined the Volbeat “family” (as he calls it): “We spend a lot of hours together during the year, and if you hate each other then it’s going to be a long f***ing year,” he laughs. With things kicking off for the band, Hinrichsen took on a different kind of challenge.
“It’s definitely the loudest band I’ve ever mixed monitors for,” he says. “The guitar stacks probably put out between 114 to 120dB of distorted guitar. If you ever look at the RTA (real time analyser) of that, you will see it’s very wide-band in the top and very wide-band in the bottom, so fitting a vocal in there sometimes gets very tricky. It takes a few tricks to actually be able to get that vocal loud enough for Mike [Poulsen, lead singer] to hear himself properly.”
One trick is microphone choice, and for Poulsen’s vocals an Audix OM7 is used, as Mikkelsen believes it “helps minimise bleed.” Mikkelsen has favoured the brand for a while, and for a number of reasons: “When I chose Audix many years ago, it was all about the drum mic’ing,” he says. “The D2s on toms are one of the reasons I chose them to begin with. They give a lot of body to the drum and they just sound awesome – very natural and not ‘plastic’ compared to other microphones of the same size.
“There’s D2s in the first five toms, and then there’s a D4 in the 16-inch and a D6 in the 18-inch tom, which is used more as an effect. They’re all mic’ed on the inside because the volume on stage is just too much. It’s really, really loud up there.”
Elsewhere on the kit are ADX51 mics on hi-hat, an I5 every second cymbal – “a brilliant, simple snare mic,” says Mikkelsen – and a D3 mic on the snare bottom. Rounding off the kit are two D6 mics on the kick drum, which Mikkelsen uses in combination with a drum trigger: “With bigger shows, especially outdoor festivals, it becomes too dry to just have one source of sound, so the kick is a blend of both.”
On the rest of the stage, guitars and bass are all DI’d, and every band member is on Sennheiser 2000 IEMs – with the exception of Poulsen, who prefers wedges. In Europe, the band uses d&b M2s wedges, while in America it’s Clair CM-22 stage monitors.
PA-wise, Mikkelsen is using a Coda Audio Airline LA12 system – “Which, is in my opinion, is just brilliant,” he says. “It’s very nice-sounding, good coverage, good software and amazing speakers. I use some ViRAY for front fills and centre fills as well.”
Both Mikkelsen and Hinrichsen are on DiGiCo desks. Hinrichsen will swap between an SD7, SD8 and SD10 depending on the size of the show, whereas Mikkelsen is keeping his FOH footprint small: “I carry a lot of Waves plug-ins on the board as well as running on a DiGiGrid. I actually mainly use the desk as a big patch bay for Waves – that’s just how I work. My FOH is very small, straightforward and I can have it on any tour. There’s not that much hocus-pocus to it!”
There weren’t any magic tricks to speed up Volbeat’s success, either, which very obviously impresses both engineers. Mikkelsen sums it up nicely: “The best thing about this band and this whole journey is that they actually built it up from nothing. They didn’t just get a radio hit, they started on the road and played their way up and succeeded. It wasn’t just handed to them: they worked for it, and for many years. There’s no X Factor, no Idol, no instant band – the way it should be.”