DIAMOND HEAD - “We Paid For Everything Ourselves”
May 2, 2016, 2 years ago
Although Diamond Head paved the way for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, they never achieved the success of NWOBHM bands like Motörhead and Iron Maiden. Money never seemed to be the driving factor for The Midlands-based group, though. The band was interested in making good music. In fact, their penchant for writing good songs is what caught the eye of a fledgling Metallica band who covered many of their songs live and on recordings such as the Live Metal Up Your Ass Demo and Garage Days Revisited. Once Metallica really broke out and became one of rock’s biggest successes, songs like “Helpless” and “Am I Evil” resonated with the metal establishment.
It’s not that Diamond Head hasn’t achieved some major success. In fact, at one time they were considered the second coming of Led Zeppelin. They signed to MCA Records to release Borrowed Time in 1982, but were dropped in ’85 and the band split up later. The group has split up and had large gaps between records, but forty-years later they are still relevant and on the verge of releasing their seventh album, a self-titled effort (due June 3rd).
Diamond Head’s career has depended on hard work. Even the self-titled effort, which comes 36 years after their Lightning To The Nations debut full-length, the band is still very much a DIY band. In fact, the forthcoming record was almost a self-release. There has to be something the reinvigorates artists to continue playing music for forty years without making major money. In the case of the self-titled album it’s very much due to new vocalist Rasmus Bom Andersen. In the following phone conversation, band original and lead guitarist Brian Tatler gives BraveWords the scoop on creating said album and why he is so excited for his fans to hear the album.
BraveWords: You finished your self-titled album, your first in 9 years. How do you feel?
Brian Tatler: “I’m very happy with it. There was nothing more we could do. We put everything we’ve got into it. We didn’t rush it. We took time over it. I was very confident in the songs and the performance. I think the new singer, Rasmus [Bom Andersen] has done a brilliant job. I chose him because I liked the sound of his voice and how he handled the Diamond Head catalog because we will be playing live. We did a tour in 2014. I thought he sounded great and asked him to join. I had no idea if we could write songs together or how it would be going forward. Once I got to hear his vocals on this album, and even the guide vocals, I was blown away. He’s perfect for Diamond Head. We work well together, being able to write and record this way. Most of the reviews I see are excellent. They’ve been able to pick out Ras and say he’s given the band a fresh kick. He’s got such a lot of range and power that I’m very impressed.”
BraveWords: How do you compare him to your past vocalists?
Brian Tatler: “We’ve only had three. We had Sean Harris to begin with. Sean was in the original lineup, but we parted ways in 2004. Then we had this guy, Nick [Tart], who was another guy from the Midlands. It went well. We did two albums with Nick and then he immigrated to Brisbane in 2008, so since then we haven’t been able to write or record. We tried to keep the band going. We get off of at work and we can tour, but we would just concentrate on that. We had no time to get into the writing. In the end, we knew we needed a singer in England because it was just getting too expensive and complicated. Between the three there are similarities and I think that’s partly my taste. I’ve liked all three singers. Maybe it’s just what I like and it suits Diamond Head. It suits the sort of songs that we write.”
BraveWords: You used a blank title for your first album. You use a blank title for this album? Is this one referred to as the self-titled album?
Brian Tatler: “Yes, this one is called Diamond Head. The first album was called Lightning To The Nations. We didn’t have a record deal. No one wanted to sign us. We pressed up a thousand copies and sold them at gigs. It came in a white sleeve and a white label with no information at all—no picture, no label, not even the track titles, so that album became know as the White Album, but it was supposed to be called Lightning To The Nations.”
BraveWords: The production sounds terrific. The guitars are crisp. The bass and drums work well together and the vocals are not drowned out by the music. Where did you record the album? Who produced it?
Brian Tatler: “It’s sort of self-produced. We paid for everything ourselves. We paid for rehearsal, studio time, mixing, manufacturing—we’ve done everything ourselves. We have a deal now with a label, this company called Dissonance Productions, but up to February of this year, we were going to release it ourselves and sell them online and at gigs. It recorded at a studio about ten miles away at a place called Warsaw. It’s a new, small studio and we got it for a very good price. This guy, Adam Beddow, engineered it. We quite liked the idea of doing it somewhere that wasn’t so expensive. We could take time with it and not feel pressure to hurry it up. Say, ‘That will do,’ because we’ve run out of time or money. We probably took about 24 or five days to record and mix, which is not a lot of time for a big band, but is probably plenty of time for a band like us. We got the drums done in three days. Then we moved on to bass, guitars and vocals. It was done over a period of about four months, so we could do a couple of days, take a little break and then come back to it. It worked out really well for us.”
BraveWords: You wrote 14 songs and whittled it down to 11. Will we see these omitted songs on another album?
Brian Tatler: “Maybe. We started out with 45 pieces of music and demos that I gave to Rasmus on CD. I said, ‘Listen and pick out the ones you like.’ Then when we started rehearsing in January 2015, he went through the ones he liked. I thought, ‘He’s going to sing them, let him pick.’ We whittled it down to fourteen, which ended up as eleven, so I would imagine those three that got left by the wayside make it revamped at some point. We will rework or maybe rearrange them a bit.”
BraveWords: The guitars sound down tuned on “Diamonds”. Tell us a little about the guitar tuning on this track.
Brian Tatler: “The tuning is down one semitone, which ends up on D-Sharp or E-Flat. The only exception to that is track five ‘All The Reasons You Live’, which is dropped C-Sharp. The whole thing is a semitone down and then a tone again for the lower E string. That’s the only one that’s quite detuned.”
BraveWords: Considering the chorus lines ‘Diamonds are forever,’ did you mean this to be a Diamond Head live anthem?
Brian Tatler: “Yes. I don’t write lyrics. I come up with the music. Ras did the lyrics. He explained to me that’s what he would like to do. When he joined, he listened to everything. He went through the whole back catalog. He got a bit of an overview of what works with Diamond Head and what doesn’t work. He said he wanted to write a lyric that was an homage to all of the things Diamond Head has done, achieved and written about over the years. So it seemed like a good idea. He’s done a very good job. I’m looking forward to playing these songs live. We go out on tour in April. We’ve played three live so far because we did five gigs last year. We played ‘Bones’, ‘Shout At The Devil’, and ‘Speed’. This time I definitely want to do ‘All The Reasons You Live’, and we definitely want to do ‘See You Rise’.”
BraveWords: ‘All The Reasons You has a nice swell at the end with the violins. Did you use violins on this track?
Brian Tatler: “Rasmus did all of that. He can play keyboards and guitar. He’s got a little home studio. He said he’s got some software and keyboards and said he wanted to do some string arrangements on ‘All The Reasons You Live’, and the last track, ‘Silence’. I said go for it. He came up with that and sent it to me. I said it was fantastic. It almost sounds like a real orchestra. That’s the quality of technology today; you can almost fake an orchestra. It’s amazing.”
BraveWords: You mentioned the song “Speed”. The riff on that song really recalls your early material. Talk a little about this riff.
Brian Tatler: “That’s a riff I’ve had for a while. We’ve had this song for maybe ten years. It’s never really seen the light of day. We could have listened to it and maybe drawn a blank. I think it’s got a good tempo. We thought we would try it in rehearsal. Ras was able to come up with a tune. Once the singer is comfortable enough to come up with lyrics, the song is a go because until that happens it’s just an instrumental. It’s not much use to anybody. I did a demo of it. The finished version hasn’t changed that much from the demo that I did at home. I added more solos because there are about four solos. Myself and Abs [Andy Abberley] did a little swap. Near the end, we probably tweaked the arrangement a little bit, but it sounds good. We’ve done that one live a few times. It’s pretty powerful.”
BraveWords: The current lineup contains Eddie Moohan on bass, Karl Wilcox drumming, Andy Abberley on second guitar and Rasmus Bom Andersen singing. Other than Rasmus, this lineup has been together for at least ten years. Do you feel like there is strong chemistry with this lineup?
Brian Tatler: “Yeah, it’s a great lineup. Everybody knows that we can rely on each other. Everybody is a good player. Karl and Eddie have been with me since 1991, so there is a really strong bond there. They play very well together. Eddie, the bass player, has done really well on this album, I think. He’s been the most creative that he’s ever felt. He came up with some really fantastic ideas in the rehearsal room. He seemed to get behind the songs and was more enthusiastic about these songs than he has been on some of the previous albums. I think he just really thought we’ve got something here. Abs has been with us for about ten years now. Of course, Ras is the new boy, but he’ll be coming up to two years in June (laughs).”
BraveWords: The original line up got back together to jam through “Helpless” and “Am I Evil?” with Metallica at one of their shows at Birmingham’s NEC. How did that go?
Brian Tatler: “When Metallica comes to play Birmingham, I usually get a call from Lars who says, ‘We’re playing down the road. Come along and we’ll put you on the guest list.’ At this time they were doing the Black album in 1992. They were going to do two nights at the Birmingham NEC and he said, ‘It would be great if all of you would come down—myself, Sean, Collin [Kimberley] and Duncan [Scott]—come down and do ‘Helpless’ and ‘Am I Evil’. So I said, ‘Yeah, ok. Great!’ He phoned Sean and I phoned Colin and they all said, ‘Ok, let’s do it.’ We got to the NEC and had a little rehearsal back stage. We went through the song one time or something. They waited for us to usher our self back to the set and I played one of James’ white Explorers. There were two drum kits set up because the way the stage was kind of a v-shape so there was a drum kit on the side of the stage. Lars would have one drum kit and Duncan the other. It was great. There were eight people on stage for two songs. It was really exciting.”
BraveWords: Everybody always wants to discuss the bands that you influenced like Megadeth and Metallica, but not so much the bands that influenced you. What was the metal scene like in 1976 when you started?
Brian Tatler: “I always think that ‘70s were the golden age of music for me. You had all of these incredible bands that influenced me. Obviously, you’ve got Zeppelin, Purple and Sabbath. On top of that, you’ve also got bands like Rush, AC/DC, Queen and a whole lot of prog bands that I used to like, Genesis, YES and Pink Floyd and Gentle Giant. I listened to a lot of stuff when I was a kid. I’ve got an older brother who would buy albums. I have an older sister, so there would be a lot of music going on in that house. A lot of it seeped into me and informed my writing. Of course, we had punk rock as well in 1977. I liked that as well. I used to listen to it on the radio. John Peel’s show would play The Ramones, The Clash and the Sex Pistols, The Damned. I liked a lot of punk rock. It had a lot of energy. It’s one of the reasons Diamond Head played a lot of fast songs because, in a way, we were influenced by the big, epic bands like Black Sabbath. I love the song ‘War Pigs’, but having some of the punk rock in there is one of the reasons our tempos went up and up when we wrote songs like ‘Helpless’ and ‘The Prince’ because they work well live. You play them live and it would be exciting. You could get off on first hearing them.”
BraveWords: That’s interesting because bands like Metallica credit punk rock with helping create thrash. It was a mix of you guys, Motörhead and punk rock.
Brian Tatler: “I think punk was part of all that. I always give punk credit for that. It also got rid of a lot of the old school bands. It kind of swept it clean a bit and made room for some new boys because rock had become a bit over fed. You had bands that would only play giant arenas. And certainly, you have bands playing the pub up the road. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal seemed to be more like that, really. I had no idea how to become as big as Led Zeppelin, but I thought we could be like the Sex Pistols and play a little, dingy club and pull one hundred and fifty people. Reality check, almost. It was a do-it-yourself attitude. Make your own records. Do your own posters.”
BraveWords: How do you feel about your performance at 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise?
Brian Tatler: “It was fantastic! I’ve never done one before. It was amazing! We all loved it. We played for two nights on a 4-night cruise around the Caribbean to Jamaica and all that, brilliant! Loved it! Sixty bands (laughs). There were bands on at 4 o’clock in the morning. You have to go to bed; otherwise, you wouldn’t be up for the next day. You’d ruin the next day.”