INTERVIEW WITH ANDY LAROCQUE
King Diamond returned to the limelight after a long break. The whole band had been put on hold when the legendary Danish metal icon experienced several health issues. However, the man returned from the world beyond to show that King Diamond still reigns supreme in the metal world. I had the great pleasure to talk to the guitarist of King Diamond Andy LaRocque about the return to the stage, the song writing process and of course his producer role for several bands. Enjoy!
Interview and live pictures by Arto Lehtinen
Studio picture by the courtesy of Andy LaRocque
Good day Andy.
How are you doing man?
So far so good.
Okay that’s good.
Are you at home or in your studio?
I’m in the studio.
Sonic Train studio, it’s somewhere in between Halmstad and Goteburg?
So it’s not that far away from Goteburg?
No, it’s about 40 minutes with the train so it’s pretty close.
RETURN TO THE LIMELIGHT
Let’s talk about this return to the limelight. When did you start talking about returning to the stage after a long break?
I think it was, let’s see here, maybe about a year ago actually.
Was it obvious that it was going to be Sweden Rock and Hellfest?
No, we didn’t know that at the time, but we started talking about maybe doing a few things around Halloween as for last Halloween I believe. So we started talking about the possibilities about doing some things, but then again what stopped us was King’s health, you know. He had problems with his back and also some problems with the heart. He did like a triple bypass surgery a year and a half ago. So we didn’t really know, I mean we were waiting for him to get recovered until we could say anything. But we actually started talking about it maybe about a year ago, something like that.
You didn’t tour that much or at least nothing after GIVE ME YOUR SOUL, this was basically some kind of return to the stage after a long break?
Yeah I mean, we only did two festivals this summer and that’s about it. Because we did the Sweden Rock Festival and we did the Hellfest and we did that only as a test for King to see how everything worked out with his health and stuff. But I would say that everything worked out extremely good. He was very happy with everything and he was in very good shape. So we definitely are going to continue for the next summer.
I met King Diamond at the Sweden Rock festival and he said that you spent all of your money on the stage and its construction and the visual things for Sweden Rock and Hellfest, right?
Yes that’s right, we spent most of the money we got from the festivals to do the production and there were a lot of crew guys to be paid and all that. But we said okay it’s now or never, so it’s going to be really good and of course we have most of the production for the next couple of festivals and tours for the next couple of years. So of course it’s like a good investment in the future. But that’s right most of the money we actually spent on the production.
The stage was really great, it had really small details that the audience people were not able to pay attention to. What kind of details did you have there on the backdrop – Could describe the stage a little bit more and how did you come up with idea to have all these things there?
Well it started with when we started talking about the show more than a year ago. I thought I was going to do like a little drawing with some ideas that I had with the, it’s like a riser and then on each side of the drum riser it’s like a staircase going up to a balcony behind and over the drum riser. So I did a drawing about that. I’ve still got the original one, but it turned out very much different from the original one kind of with the design wise and then I just sent it to King and I sent that drawing to the stage manager and we started to talk about it from, I would say, from around Christmas last year and up until maybe January, February this year, March, April and we started to adjust the little details. And I also found this really cool backdrop of like a cathedral that could be actually be used as a backdrop, but of course that was somebody owned that picture or photo. So we had to find something else and then King’s wife found a really good software where you actually can build your own kind of backdrop in a program on the computer. So they started to put like a really cool background together. So the backdrop is, it looks like inside or maybe even outside of a church so it looks really very good atmosphere and when you see us on stage with that backdrop it’s like, it looks fucking amazing I would say.
As you said it was a test for King Diamond how he was able to survive. But I guess it was really encouraging because he sounded really good and the band sounded really tight. I assume you are going to continue in the next summer right?
Yes, next summer we’re actually, we are electing promoters for festivals letting them know that we are actually available for next summer’s festivals. So we’ll see how many festivals we can get. But that’s our goal to do as many festivals as we can within the timeframe here to next summer.
WORKING ON THE NEW MATERIAL
As I mentioned, the GIVE ME YOUR SOUL album came in 2006 or 2007?
2007 I believe yes.
It’s about five years, you must have started checking out some new songs, new riffs – Can you tell a little bit more, if you have started talking about making new songs?
Yeah we did and we were actually talking about starting writing songs this fall, but I started many years ago. So I think I already have like five or maybe six songs already for the next album, more or less ready I would say. I don’t really think that King has come that far in the writing process, but he got a lot of ideas in his head about the next album, I know that.
How do you usually start creating a riff and new songs in general for the Diamond albums?
Usually it’s like a riff that could be formed into a second riff and then you build it up from there. It could actually be some kind of atmospheric stuff. It doesn’t really have to be a good riff it can also be a chain of chords that sounds very cool together. So it’s really hard to say a specific thing about that, but usually it’s a riff and then we build it up from there and I’ve got my own studio. So I usually go put on the computer and try to record the riff as soon as I have a chance to do that. So I got a few really good riffs in the computer that’s for sure. And then what we do is like we started with like a click track or a tempo, BPM, like let’s say just for example it’s 120 or whatever and then we just record it with that click track for a few minutes. And then for me for example I got like a sequence drum like the easy drummer for example, like a drum machine in the computer. So I put on a few loops of drums and I start to build up the song from there and then when I’m finished with that whole thing for like three or four minutes or whatever how long that song is usually two guitar tracks, drums all the way through even though it’s kind of simple drums to leave it open for Matt, when he’s doing the real drums in the studio. Then I also put some bass on it and possibly some keyboards and then I burn it down to a CD and send it away to the guys.
Do you ever miss the old school writing process that each member makes their own things at home then you get together in the rehearsal room and start rehearsing? Or is this the normal way to work nowadays?
Yeah that’s the normal to work nowadays like sitting in front of the computer writing riffs and sending them to each other I believe. But sometimes you miss the charm with being in the rehearsal room, but for us it’s not possible since we live all the world, we’ve got the bass player in Denmark, we’ve got Michael in Stockholm, we’ve got King and Matt they live in Texas. So it’s like impossible to do it that way nowadays. So we just send it to them, the guys rehearse their stuff and then when we get to the studio, they all know what to do.
You mentioned King Diamond has some ideas in his head for the lyrics – Do you ever come up with the lyrics ideas or is King Diamond basically responsible for the lyrics?
Yeah he is definitely 100 percent responsible for all the ideas about the lyrics, definitely. I’ve never really been involved in that, because he is the storyteller here and that’s the way I think we like it too.
When reading the lyrics of King Diamond, there is a storytelling based on the magic and other things, but I found that there’s some deeper meaning like child molesting or family murders, like what was happened in Finland when father has murdered the kids at home – I think there’s some deeper meaning in the lyrics after all?
Oh yeah that’s right. I mean trying to combine that not politics, but things that happen like that child molesting thing that happened in a few places like that was a big issue. I think it was in Sweden for example around the mid ’90s, when he wrote that so that’s a small thing that he wanted to bring up as a part of the horror story I believe. So it’s not only like ghosts and vampires and stuff like that in the lyrics there is a lot of other elements too, which I think is really cool if you can combine that.
Which story has been the most fascinating and interesting from your point of view?
I would say I think it is probably ABIGAIL, THEM and CONSPIRACY, the three elements right there. It’s just very good, very good stories right there I think.
That made me ponder that the people, fans like me, are talking about ABIGAIL, THEM etc, but otherwise there’s a lot of other stories on other albums, but what is so special about the ABIGAIL concept in general?
I think that we captured a really cool atmosphere on the whole album first of all, with the music because I still think it’s a great album and the atmosphere that we all felt about that time. It was like the atmosphere was actually recorded on the album. It’s weird to explain that, but we all had a really good feel about it and then the great lyrics and the great story on top, that just made it very very special. And also the fact that it was kind of unique because we were one of the first bands who kind of wrote a horror story like that on an album in that genre, that horror kind of metal music. So I think the whole combination, the combination of all that made it kind of unique.
What about the PUPPET MASTER album? It’s a very interesting story actually.
It is, I think that’s a very very good story also, so it’s definitely really cool.
When you start working in the studio with the guys – Do your usually record the stuff in your own studio and other guys record in Dallas in their studio, how do you put all the things together after all then? Do you ever get together to check out what you have got ?
Well, what we do is like when King sends stuff to me for example, his songs and I send stuff to him. We sit down and talk about it and see if there are anything to change, but usually there are just small details. He usually likes my stuff. And I respect him as a writer and I really like his stuff too and I know that he knows what he wants and all the others do too. So it’s just a matter of getting together and get it down on hard drive. So we usually bring like a hard disk or maybe a CD with like a pre-production thing like a click track and a few guitars and the stuff. We go into a studio usually in Dallas and record the drums with the queue tracks. Then while we’re in the studio, we’ll sit down and talk about different drum ideas that Matt comes up with like trying out different things for different parts of the song. But in general I would say that is okay when there is like a programmed double kick part in the song that’s the way we usually end up having it. But of course if Matt has another idea, we’re definitely willing to try it out and, he comes up with some great stuff that we end up using on the album. And then when we’re done with that we start recording guitars and bass and all that off of that.
A STABLE LINE-UP
The current line-up of the King Diamond has been the most stable. Mike Wead has been in the band a long time and Matt has also been in the band a long time, do you think this has helped you because of having a stable line-up that and it’s easier work nowadays?
Oh yes, I think that’s very important. I mean it’s important for us of course and it’s also very important for the fans to have a settled line-up, I think that’s really important. I mean you look at many bands that they fire their members every like six months or even more often. But the fans I would say get a little confused about that. I mean we had a very stable line-up now for more than 10 years and I think that’s really important of course for us but also for the fans.
Has it been difficult for you to have different wingmen during the 20 years because the guitarists have come in, then left, then new guys came in and then left?
No, it’s not really, I mean, it is not a problem. I have my style and I hope that the other guitarist in the band has his style. So I never really had a problem with it, it hasn’t really been difficult in that way so I can’t really say that, no.
What about in general the chemistry in the band because as I said that members have come and gone so have you got problems in the band chemistry in general?
Not in general, but of course there has been some members in the past that maybe wasn’t the same level as us, I mean mind wise or whatever, but I think the line-up we have now is really good. I mean we played for more than 10-12 years together and we know each other really well so I can just refer to this right now. I’m really happy with what we have.
Mike Wead is a well-known name in the Swedish metal because he has played in several and known bands, so was it so easy to pick up him to the King Diamond band in general?
Yeah but I think it’s great. I mean he’s a very good guitarist and I’ve known him since I think 1987 I believe so 25 years. So I know he’s got great ability and he’s a great guy, he’s a great guitar player so I think it’s just a great line-up right now.
ANDY’S OTHER BANDS
You have got other bands as well like this Black band. Some people asked about what happened to it as it was on hold. Could you tell more about what actually happened with Black – there was some huge headlines as “this is a super group with former and current members of King Diamond, Black Sabbath and Hammerfall” ?
Yeah that’s right, but we’re still actually working on it because I talked to Tony just a few days ago and what we’re doing right. Now is like he’s going to redo some vocals for the first two songs and then we’re going to send that out as a demo tape to a different few record companies and see if they might be interested in releasing the stuff. And what can I say, I met Tony about a year and a half ago, in Sweden, Gothenburg and I invited him and Magnus, the bass player from Hammerfall down to the studio, because I wanted them to check out the few songs that I had and they liked that very much. So we decided to do like a cooperation. So I sent to Tony a few songs that he put vocals on, but he wasn’t really happy with that I believe. So he wanted to do it again, but then he was really busy with this other band The Cage, an Italian band. I can’t remember the guitarist’s name right now, but he was really busy with that and he was busy with many other things too. So he didn’t really have time back then and while we were playing at the Sweden Rock I kind of almost gave up on the Black, because I thought nothing is going to happen with that. But then I got in touch with Tony again and he said “Hey Andy I’m ready now, I’m going to send you two new takes of the first two songs you sent me with some vocals” and I’m still waiting for it, but he was supposed to do that, the re-recording last week I believe so any day I will get it now.
What about this X-World/5, it’s basically a band of the former Hammerfall guys as well?
Yeah Magnus, the bass player. And now we did, wanted to do something different and we talked to this old friend of ours Stephan who was a drummer at the time and we said hey let’s just do something very different and we didn’t do everything with King Diamond and I think Magnus was still in Hammerfall at the time and we were looking for a vocalist and ended up with Nils from Pagan’s Mind. Also we had Reeves Gabrels from he used to be in Tin Machine with David Bowie. So he was the other guitarist in the band. We ended up doing this album like a just a different thing, something totally different from whatever I had ever done before. Unfortunately then the Euro crisis came and all that like in 2008. So everything was like really bad, record companies had a problem and all that so it only ended up with like one album unfortunately. But it was really nice trying that out, it’s completely different from anything else I’ve done before so that was like a little experiment.
Do you want to try more experiments with something else besides playing King Diamond because you seem to have a passion to do something else anyway?
Maybe. I have tons of songs in my library kind of thing. As soon as we start with King Diamond again I’m not going to have time for anything else really and if we’re going to do the Black thing also we probably just finish the Black album and then jumping on to the King Diamond stuff after Christmas. So I won’t really have time to do anything else. And experimental stuff I did a few experimental things earlier in my career. So I probably won’t have time to do any more things like that as it seems now at least.
I can’t help asking when Mercyful Fate came back in the beginning of the ’90s and the King Diamond band went on hold – What else were you doing besides playing the album for Death at that time?
I took a break.
Completely from the music playing or…!?
No not really, but I was writing a lot of music during that time and I had this other band called Ill Will, I don’t know if you’ve heard about that.
Yes I know that, I have the album and demo.
Yeah, so I wrote songs for that in the meantime and I started to create my own studio for example during I would say during 1992 and 1995, I kind of built up my studio. So and I got kids at that time also. So that was like a good timing that Mercyful Fate actually reunited during that time, because I took a really needed break from the touring and the very hectic and intense time of recording and touring. So I had actually a good time and building up my studio and raising my kids for the first couple of years.
How many kids do you have?
They are 20 now?
Yeah they’re in their 20s now yes.
Do they like their father’s music?
They don’t hate it, but they don’t listen to everything I do either. So it’s like yeah, they think it’s alright and they come to the shows and all that and they think it’s cool that they have a heavy metal dad.
WORKING AS A PRODUCER
Speaking about your producer work. I talked to Andy Sneap, and he told that he puts a stamp to the product that he makes. What about you – Do you put some kind of stamp on albums you make for a band or do you follow with the instructions given by a band or how do you work with bands in the studio?
No, I think I’m doing about the same thing with Andy Sneap actually, even though maybe I could maybe possibly be just a little more flexible than he is. I don’t even know how Andy Sneap works, but when you listen to his productions they all sound great, but they also have a tendency to sound kind of they’re similar also in a sort of way and I guess that’s his stamp and his quality stamp of course too. And I try to do that too of course, put a quality stamp, because I don’t want to release anything that I can’t really put my stamp on it if you know what I mean. If it’s a bad mix or a bad recording it’s like no, you have to do this again because I don’t really like this. So I try to do that also which I think is really important to keep up the good quality.
How do you pick up these bands, do you work for any bands that are sending a tape of materials to you or do you pick out certain bands that you want to work with them?
Well I pretty much work with all the bands who want to come here and record if they’re good enough to, if I can assure that the end product will be good enough if you know what I mean. If there is a band that I think I don’t know man, this demo here, is this how it’s going to sound like. So I think that’s really important to tell them what I think about it.
I have noticed that you have produced several records with several death and black metal bands, but you also work with other types of music, not only metal things?
Yeah I’ve been working with some pop music, I’ve been working with some straight rock and roll and I’ve been working with stoner rock and some acoustic guitar music too. So it’s a big variety of music actually and I like all kinds of music as long as it’s quality as long as it’s well-played and good music. It doesn’t really matter what kind of music it is in my opinion, but since I am a heavy metal guy myself or a hard rock guy people tend to think that okay let’s got to Andy, because he’s got a great studio and he knows what he’s doing and he’s really into the style of our music. So that’s why it usually ends up with metal or hard rock or black metal or death metal.
Which album and metal musician made you play and had an influence and an impact on your playing style and how you became a metal musician?
Alright I think it was everything from UFO with Michael Schenker to AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy and then when Ozzy came out with his first couple of albums with Randy Rhodes that made a big impact on my guitar playing, definitely. And let’s see what else. I think Norwegian band TNT, yeah, you know the guitarist Ronni LeTekro? He actually made a big, he was a great inspiration of my playing for a while too, I thought it was just absolutely amazing.
Actually TNT had some kind of anniversary show in Bergen this summer and they had Darkness and Twisted Sister as a special guest there as well.
Alright, okay. Yeah I mean they used to be a great band, I don’t really know about them now, because I haven’t really been following them. But then talking about other guitarists it was probably Steve Via in the very beginning, I thought that was really good too so a lot of guitarists from the ’70s and ’80s made the guy I am I believe.
STILL PLAYING METAL
Alright. This is a little bit difficult question but I guess you’re turning to 50 in October?
Yes that’s right, November actually.
Yeah, are you going to have a big party or are you going to leave the country?
I leave the country.
That’s the simple way.
The simple way. Me and the woman we’re still planning something. We’re thinking maybe take a cruise to the Caribbean or something like that for a couple of weeks that would be great.
Did you believe over 20 years ago that you will still play in King Diamond and still playing metal at the age of 50?
I don’t really know, it’s hard to say. I remember when I was actually turning 25 we were on tour with Motorhead and Lemmy was going to turn like 42 at the end of that tour or maybe he turned 42 somewhere around that tour and we thought hey man it’s fucking great man, Lemmy is like 42 years old and still playing, it’s fucking great. Now I’m turning 50 and I’m fucking heavy metal. It’s funny. So I guess as long as we think it’s funny as long as we like it we’re going to play heavy metal. But when you’re like 25 years old, it’s kind of hard to imagine that when you’re 50 you’re still going to be standing on a stage playing metal.
As I’m from Finland and well there’s always been some kind of big brother or small brother contest between Finland and Sweden – how do you see the Finland’s heavy metal compared to Swedish, why Swedish metal was more successful than Finnish metal back in the day and did you ever follow the Finnish bands in the ’80s like Zero Nine or something like that?
No, I did not. I didn’t really think that there were that many bands from Finland in general. There was like Hanoi Rocks, that’s the only band we knew from Finland more or less. The only thing we kind of knew in the ’80s from Finland. And The Hurriganes in the ’70s, I thought it was a cool band. But that’s about the only thing we knew from Finland and I think that the Swedes has kind of been a little before Finland when it comes to playing metal and so that’s probably why. But nowadays tons of Finnish bands that are really good like Children of Bodom and you name it, Nightwish, and whatever. So there’s a lot of really good bands in Finland nowadays.
Did you ever think why the death metal thing became so big in Sweden because the thrash metal was really a big thing in Finland back in the day. But the thrash metal didn’t strike in Sweden like death metal did?
I don’t really know that because I wasn’t really in that kind of genre at that time. But I believe there were a few guys for example Entombed that were in my opinion one of the pioneers. And they just happened to find this studio, Sunlight Studio, they got a good sound and they got great songs and I think they just spread the message of heavy or death metal throughout the world and there were a lot of bands using that studio for a long time. So I guess that’s, they might have been one of the reasons why death metal was pretty big in Sweden during the ’90s.
Alright. And I thank you for your time, Thanks Andy
Thanks, take care.
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