The guitarguitar Interview: Volbeat
Published on 02 October 2019
The streets in Glasgow leading to the O2 Academy are seeming with Volbeat T-shirts. Crowds of people, Rock tribes of all description, are surfacing from bars, restaurants and trains, all joining the flow towards the venue.
Volbeat have snuck up and become a massive band. Since 2001, this Danish Rock ‘n’ Roll/Metal band have built up a huge following across the globe. They’ve clocked up Double Platinum records and frequently headline gigantic tours with the likes of Green Day and System of a Down.
A big deal, in other words.
By the time I walked up to the venue, the huge queue out the front wasn’t even general admittance: it was the VIP one! I passed a truck with Volbeat’s logo and waited for Britt, the tour manager, to fetch me.
Volbeat shirts everywhere.
I was lucky enough to secure a quick slot with Volbeat’s lead guitarist, Rob Caggione. Rob is an interesting character: in addition to being Volbeat’s guitarist, he is also a noted producer and of course an ex-member of the mighty Anthrax! There would clearly be plenty to talk about!
I met up with Britt and was brought through Volbeat’s almost-military-like operation: staff everywhere with in-ears, multiple trucks with rigging being loaded and unloaded, and thick cabling running through the Labyrinthine backstage area of the old Victorian theatre that is the O2 Academy. Britt told me that the crew were actually having trouble fitting all of the production into the venue: despite the Academy being a 2500 capacity venue, Volbeat play to significantly bigger audiences in mainland Europe.
With the meet ‘n’ greet section of the night over, the fans happy and Rob finished his bite of food, it was time to go into the dressing room and chat. Rob was relaxed and friendly, happy to chat about whatever I asked him and letting me run over my allotted time in order to finish my questions. He’s an old school pro and made me feel welcome.
As ever, I had my list of questions, and, as ever, I veered wildly from what was on the page. Read on to hear some exclusive news about Rob’s new signature guitar, the changing world of plectrums and the latest about the mysterious Temple of the Black Moon...
Guitarguitar: So, this is night 2 of a huge tour, right?
Rob Caggiano: Yeah, we start with the UK and then we move our way across all of Europe, so...
GG: And for you guys, this is a relatively small gig? Britt was saying you were trying to downsize the show?
RC: Oh yeah, yeah yeah yeah. Yeah the crew loves it when we’re in the begger venues, obviously because they have more space and it’s more of a relaxed environment. In a room like this, it’s very cramped, not a lot of space for stuff, so, yeah, it just becomes stressful.
GG: People tripping over each other.
RC: Yeah. But for the band, y’know, we love the smaller venues, too! There’s something to be said for the intimacy of that.
GG: Totally. Compared to a lot of bands, though, this isn’t a small venue, haha! For you guys, it’s a step back from what you go on to later on, right?
RC: Oh yeah, yeah yeah. I mean, we love playing out here in the UK, they’ve been really good to us.
(Photo: Britt Bowman)
GG: Cool! So, with this being guitarguitar, let’s start with guitars! What are you taking out on tour with you this time? A keep seeing a nice purple ESP when I google you...
RC: Well, you mentioned ESP: I’m no longer with ESP!
GG: Oh! (Laughs) We can take that part out!
RC: No, it’s fine, we can talk about it, but I’ve switched over to Jackson guitars now. So yeah, I have my own signature model, it’s gonna be released at the NAMM show (Winter NAMM, a trade show in January in Anaheim - Ray), I’m very excited about it, I have those guitars with me on this tour, prototypes at least, we’re still tweaking some fine details about it. But yeah, overall, I’m super stoked. It’s a killer guitar, it sounds amazing...I dunno how technical we wanna go?
GG: Dude, completely: this is like geek levels, we’re talking! Our readers want it! (laughs!) So, is this based on an existing Jackson model?
RC: There is a story behind it: basically, when I was like 18 or 19 I had an old Jackson called the Outcaster. It was a really quirky guitar, kind of the body shape of a guitar they used to put out called a Surfcaster...
GG: I know it. It was a lipstick pickup, kind of offset...
RC: Yeah, offset. It’s kind of like a...Jaguar, you call them, I guess?
RC: That kind of vibe, but the Outcaster was a streamlined version of that. So it’s a little bit thinner, the body’s a little bit smaller I guess...
GG: A wee bit more contouring?
RC: Contouring, yeah, it looks a little different. And then we took that. So, basically, that’s the guitar I played waaay back in the day. They only released it for, like, a year, a year and a half.
(Photo: Britt Bowman)
GG: I think I remember this one: it’s like what I call a ‘performance guitar’: high pickups, Floyd Rose etc. Is it that kind of vibe?
RC; No, no, this was, no Floyd Rose, no tremolo bar, this was like a humbucker and a weird lipstick pickup in the neck. And it was a weird bridge, I dunno what you call them, a wraparound? The strings wrap around it.
GG: Yeah, wraparound.
RC: Yeah, so you’re really limited with the intonation, how you can set things up and stuff, so. Back then it wasn’t a pro guitar, you know? It was kind of like a mid-level guitar. But it was really cool, really sexy, sounded really good, looked cool. Anyway, that stopped making that! They haven’t made that guitar in many many many years and I wanted to revisit that shape so when we agreed to do a signature model, we were just throwing around ideas and I had this whole concept in my head about what I wanted to do.
So, basically, I wanted to take that body shape and kinda add all of these things that I’ve been, uh...
GG: The stuff that you need.
RC: Yeah exactly, the stuff that I need, that I’ve been using, the way I’ve evolved as a player, my needs. So, we put this thing together and it’s super-awesome and I love it, it sounds amazing. You know, I originally tried to use the same wood that I’ve been using with the ESP’s which was a Japanese wood called Sen Ash.
GG: Oh, ok!
RC: And that was a wood that, I think, they were using exclusively on my guitars. There was a bunch of it still in Japan and it’s impossible to get.
GG: Sen ash?
RC: Yeah, so we tried to do that with this guitar but it didn’t sound right. I guess because of the body shape or whatever? Um, and then unknowingly, I said ‘let’s try regular Swamp Ash’, thinking that it would be somewhat similar. Lo and behold, they did that and it sounded completely off! The weight was weird, everything was weird! We did some more digging and realised that Sen Ash actually has nothing to do with Swamp Ash! It’s just the way the grain looks, which is why they call it that. Tone-wise, they have nothing to do with each other. So then basically they went back and were comparing the tone of the Sen Ash to an Alder body. So, we went ‘Okay’, and we tried an Alder body and it just exceeded all of my expectations! It was amazing, it sounds better than all of my other previous guitars. It sounds really good. I’m super stoked on it.
GG: So you’ve got the prototypes out tonight?
(Photo: Britt Bowman)
GG: So, what are we looking at, pickup-wise? Also, see if there’s any stuff you actually can’t say because of pre-NAMM non-disclosure stuff, that’s totally fine.
RC: Yeah, no no no, that’s totally fine! I have a signature pickup that I’ve developed with DiMarzio.
GG: Oh, wicked!
RC: I’ve been using that for about 8 years now. They are exclusively on these new Jackson guitars and we’re gonna release the pickup separately through DiMarzio at some point.
GG: So is it a passive, pretty high output unit?
RC: Passive, it’s not super high output, um, it’s kind of like...I don’t know if you’re familiar with the DiMarzio stuff?
GG: I love DiMarzio!
RC: Yeah, so there was a pickup I used for many years called the Tone Zone.
GG: The Tone Zone’s amazing!
RC: yeah, it’s one of my favourites. Bu this one is kind of like a souped-up version of the Tone Zone: I wanted the top to be a little bit more screamin’, with harmonics jumping out a little bit easier.
GG: Totally, The Tone Zone’s already pretty great for that! It also adds a layer of, like, ‘production’ to your sound. It just adds a little more of what you need.
RC: It’s a phenomenal pickup. I think DiMarzio makes the best pickups out there, personally.
GG: I’m inclined to agree.
(Photo: Britt Bowman)
RC: They really, really nailed it man.
GG; No matter what you put them it, too. Like, an Evolution in a Les Paul sounds wicked.
RC: It just seems like the true essence of the guitar just comes to life.
GG: Oh, totally. Perfectly put! So, does your new Jackson have a hard tail like the original Outcaster?
RC: It’s an adjustable what-do-you-call-it, a Tonepros. Basically the same bridge I’ve been using for years on all my ESPs.
GG: It’s what your hand’s used to as well, right?
RC: Yeah. There’s like a tailpiece and there’s the bridge and you can adjust it.
GG: Tune-o-matic, sort of.
RC: Yeah, exactly.
GG: So, do you like a flat radius on your fretboard?
RC: The radius on this is a little different from what I’ve been used to. I think with ESP they were pretty flat across the board and this is a compound radius: it’s very ‘Jackson’, it’s part of the Jackson DNA, so to speak, and I love it.
GG: Is that like 12”-16”, something like that?
RC: Yeah, something like that, it makes it uh, I guess I just notice it more in the bending, that side of things, solos and stuff. It’s just killer: you can really fly on these guitars. So yeah, playability-wise, I’m super, super stoked. I’m really happy with these things.
GG: What kind of string gauge are you going for?
RC: Um, I’m doing two different string gauges because we have two different tunings. So, I think with the lower tuned stuff, because we have a bunch of tunes that are tuned a whole step down, with a D on the bottom, I’m using 10-52, which is a light top, heavy bottom set. I’m using Ernie Ball Slinkys. For the standard tuned guitars, I think it’s just 9-46. I think! I’m not really sure. We might be using some weird hybrid set, I’m not totally sure (laughs), I know we talked about it! I don’t know where we ended up, but they feel great. Even though they are tuned differently, and its different string gauges, the tension and playability are pretty consistent, pretty much the same and that’s what we’re going for.
GG: How about plectrums? Because, no matter what anybody says, those things make a difference, man!
RC: They make a huge difference and I’ve been struggling with that a little bit the last couple of years, actually. So, I’ve been using Dunlop Tortex, yellow ones, ah .73mm. Um, I’ve been using them since the beginning of my career as a guitar player and I love the picks, I love the way they feel. However, they changed the formula of the plastic.
GG: Oh, really?
RC: Yeah. So, they don’t...well, I don’t know if I should even be talking this, but it is true! (laughs)
GG: Well, if it’s true, its true! I haven’t heard that but...go ahead, nobody censors us.
RC: Ok. They changed the formula. And I guess it gets a little tricky because the plastic that Dunlop purchases is from another company obviously, so it gets a bit difficult, but yeah, basically, the picks don’t last as long as they used to. They’re not durable. When I was with Anthrax, I would literally go through a whole show with one pick. I can’t get through one song now, without the tips being all charred up and weird.
GG: You have to throw them.
RC: I have to throw ‘em out, yeah, yeah! That’s fine too, whatever, but I definitely noticed it. I’m not doing a lot of scaping strings or anything, I’m not doing that!
GG: You should still get more than a song out of your pick though, right?
RC: Completely. (laughs) Completely, yeah.
GG: So, what are thinking? Shifting up a gauge, maybe? A different type of plastic?
RC: Well, we’re now trying some different Dunlop materials, there’s actually stuff that they’re releasing. I’m experimenting with some stuff. I haven’t really homed in on one yet but we’ll see.
GG: Yeah. The Primetone is really good, if you care for my opinion on it, haha! The dark brown translucent ones with the raised texture centre.
RC: Yes, actually I agree with you. I like those a lot. But I don’t think they can take prints, cuz I like to print the band logo on them and my signature on them. But, yeah, we’ll see! We’re still in the process of figuring that out.
GG: Cool, that’s interesting!
RC: And also, apparently the different colours: cuz I’m not using yellow Tortex: I have them in black and I have them in white. The different colours affect how hard the plastic is and how durable they are.
GG: You never think about that!
GG: But of course it would!
(Photo: Britt Bowman)
GG: Interesting. So, one of the things that I think is interesting about you is that you’re a producer as well as a guitarist. In fact, that is part of the reason you’re with Volbeat. So, with that in mind, how do you approach producing guitar parts? In terms of like doubling, panning, the idea of shelving and chopping out frequencies...
RC: Yeah, I’m always just thinking of the big picture when I’m making a record, especially if I’m in there as a producer as well. So I’m noever just thinking about the guitar. I’m thinking about the kick drum just as much as I’m thinking about the guitar, or the bassline or whatever it is. It all has to fit together like a puzzle, really.
GG: Like colours in a painting, right?
RC: Yup, basically. So, for me, the way I like to do it is I like to get the foundation as solid as possible, so it’s like... the drum parts, for me, I’m also a drummer too, I’m always thinking from a rhythmic perspective at first. Even the way I play the guitar, I approach it like that.
So, when I’m making a record, I like to get the foundation as solid as possible, and then once you do that, it’s just like building a house: if the foundation is fucked up, the house is going to fall eventually. If you get the foundation right, the song kinda almost falls into place on its own: it dictates how stuff happens. The more you lay down, the more you track a song, the more parts you record, you start to see gaps and where stuff can be filled in, what can be done to fill in this section, bring the energy up, make it explode, whatever.
You know, dynamics for me are a huge thing as well. So, a lot of times it’s about what’s not there that makes it fuckin’ cool! (laughs) It all depends on what the song calls for and what you’re trying to achieve. Like I said, for me, it’s all about dynamics and about kinda taking you on a journey. If you start on ten, there’s nowhere else to go! (laughs)
GG: Yeah! Even though it’s heavy music, you still need that rollercoaster feeling.
RC: Yeah! I mean, music is all about engaging the listener and connecting with people, you know? Emotionally. If you make everything static, it gets samey and boring after a while.
GG: Yeah, people just get tired of it.
RC: The new TOOL record is absolutely phenomenal, I think. I think the production of that is amazing. You know, they really took an old-school approach to record everything onto tape.
GG: Oh, did they? I hadn’t heard that.
RC: Yeah. It’s very organic, super-dynamic, um, when the heavy parts come in, they are so fuckin’ heavy because the stuff around it isn’t. Everything breathes and the sounds are really dialled in.
GG: Space, right?
GG: You have to have that, or heaviness loses it’s meaning.
(Photo: Britt Bowman)
GG: I was thinking, with the heaviness of Volbeat, that it’s heavy, but accessible. Do you think that’s a key as to why Volbeat are such a popular band? It’s accessibility within the heaviness?
RC: I think so. I think there’s a lot of factors. I think one of the main things is that this band kind of incorporates all of the different styles, y’know?
RC: For me, Volbeat is a Rock ‘n’ Roll band with Metal influences, Punk influences, Country influences. But if you really boil down to the essence of what this thing is, it’s a Rock ‘n’ Roll band.
GG: It’s a Rock ‘n’ Roll band, yeah. So, a couple of the things I was going to touch on was being an ex-Anthrax member, you were involved in some of those ‘Big 4’ shows from a few years ago. For any guy who’s into metal, as you must have been growing up, that’s a big deal! Do you have any cool memories of those shows?
RC: So many great memories! I mean, as you can imagine, the shows were extremely big, and the crowds were amazing every night. For Anthrax, it was an amazing thing. You know, for the band, I think it really kind of rejuvenated, I think, the band’s career and...I don’t know how else to explain it, but it just kind of lit a fire under our ass to really like...cuz at the time, it was a weird period for the band. We were in between singers, the record was on ice, we didn’t know what the hell was going on, it was like a dark period for Anthrax and the future was uncertain, so that tour made us really kick it into gear and get our shit together. We put out that record Worship Music which is a phenomenal record that I’m really proud of. Yeah, so for us, those shows were phenomenal.
Obviously Metallica...back in the day I was too young. When they came out with the term ‘the Big 4’, I was a kid listening to that stuff. I lived and breathed that music, you know? So, now at this point to share the stage with these guys that I’ve been listening to growing up, it was absolutely surreal and crazy.
My favourite part of those shows was at the end of the night, when we all got on stage with Metallica and jammed a song: ‘Am I Evil?’, or whatever. Yeah, that was insane! You can imagine how insane that was! (laughs)
(Photo: Britt Bowman)
GG: Haha, yeah! For anybody who likes riffs, playing alongside James Hetfield is a good day! (laughs)
RC: Oh, man! It was absolutely crazy! And those guys are the best, man. They treated us so great. No bullshit, you know? Just super-cool dudes and a really classy band.
GG: So finally, is there anything you can tell us about Temple of the Black Moon?
RC: Haha! Um, well...we’ll see about that! It’s something that we definitely...we spent a lot of time putting that together and coming up with music for it. As I’m sure you know the line-up is Dani Filth, myself, King Ov Hell from Gorgoroth. So, we definitely put a lot of material together for that, demoed a bunch of stuff...but right as we were gonna launch that thing, I got the Volbeat gig and I became incredibly busy! I just had to put that on hold: at the time it just didn’t feel right to delve into that, it wouldn’t have been fair to either band. I can’t do anything half-assed: it has to be 1000% or nothing: I’d rather not do it. Hopefully the stars will align and there’ll be time to do that because I do really think it’s gonna be a killer Metal record, a really, really unique album. Especially with that cast of characters!
GG; Wow, yeah! So, last question. Without even stopping to think, first answer: what’s the greatest guitar riff ever written?
RC: Oh, easy! And it only consists of one note. Can you guess?
GG: Only consists of one note? Black Sabbath Black Sabbath?
RC: Nope. (laughs) Immigrant Song!
GG: Oh! Of course!
RC: It’s the heaviest fucking riff, still to this day, when I hear that riff, I go crazy.
GG: I never think if it as one note, but it’s just the F sharp octave!
RC: It’s the octave! It’s the heaviest riff I’ve ever heard (laughs!)
GG: It’s just attitude-max as soon as you hear it! (laughs) Well, that’s a great note to end it on!
With that, our time was up. In fact, our time was up about ten minutes previously, but Rob graciously encouraged me to continue until my questions were complete. We chatted a little longer and then he had to go and prepare for the show.
And what a show! Volbeat gigs are the kind of shows that show you where all the money goes: production, insane lights, everything sync'd for maximum effect. It was a joyous, mind-blowing experience that we can whole-heartedly recommend! If you like your Rock served hot, melodic and, most importantly, fun, that get yourself to one of their shows! Volbeat are on tour just now across Europe, and are headlining festivals next Summer. Get involved!
We'd like to thank Rob for giving up some of his precious pre-show time to hang with us. We'd also like to say thanks to Kirsten Sprinks for all the help setting this up and to Britt Bowman for not only her helo on the day but also her fantastic live photography. All other pics are by Ross Halfin. Keep up where Volbeat's wherabouts on the official Volbeat website.
Thanks for reading, and we'll see you next time.