Interview By Lord of The Wasteland
Transcription by Duke
***Pics courtesy of Metal Blade Records, Roadrunner Records, King's official site & Metal Rules staff.
One of the great things about this job is getting to speak with the legends of heavy metal. Despite being online for ten years, Metal Rules has never spoken to King Diamond himself (a conversation with guitarists Mike Wead and Andy LaRocque was done in 2001 and may be read here), so when the opportunity came up, I was on it like flies on stink.
Calling from his home in Texas, King is a dream interview subject as he loves to talk and is also one of the nicest guys in metal today. I could have spent hours and hours talking to him but during the course of our 50-minute conversation, King discusses his latest offering, DEADLY LULLABYES LIVE, new stuff from Mercyful Fate in 2005, the possibility of turning to movies, and loads of other things, so sit back and enjoy this interview with the one, the only?KING DIAMOND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It?s great to finally speak to you, King! It?s hard to believe that you have never crossed paths with Metal Rules before?!
Yeah, we?ve been around since 1995 but have never got to speak before.
Well, it?s about time, huh (laughs)?!
Definitely! I understand you?ve been very busy doing interviews lately?
Yeah, I?ve been on the phone since 11AM today and the same thing yesterday, actually. Eleven in the morning until 8PM.
Well I?ll try to take it easy on you tonight and make it quick (laughs).
(Laughs) It?s no problem!
Let?s get started with the new CD, DEADLY LULLABYES LIVE. It?s ninety minutes of live King Diamond and should satisfy even the most rabid fan. I?m really enjoying it!
Thank you very much.
The production job that was done on this CD is really phenomenal, even more so when considering the sound that live albums usually have, which is typically poor. I read on our own forum where people are calling DEADLY LULLABYES LIVE one of the best-sounding live albums ever!
Wow, that?s awesome to hear! I can tell you that a lot of work and a lot of decisions went in to making it. The first live album we did, ABIGAIL LIVE IN 1987, was not what I really consider a live album. That was an album that was given to finalize contract obligations with Roadrunner Records at the time, so those versions of the songs were recorded during the European tour by our sound engineer but they were just for own personal pleasure. The mixing went straight to a cassette deck and we had absolutely no control over it. We couldn?t mix it because there was no mixing we could do. The audience had to stay exactly where they were, the guitars, the drums, the bass, the vocals?we couldn?t adjust any levels. We?d wanted to do this live album for so long and every year, we talked to the label and told them we have to do another live album because we had never really done one. We actually changed our approach this time and actually went out and bought the equipment ourselves and brought it out on the road and started recording before we had actually signed a contract for the album. It?s not actually in our contract. Usually these live album deals are an amendment to the contract you have for studio albums, so we were waiting for that to get signed. It was completed right before the tour started so we knew that we were going to get the budget and mix this afterwards. Otherwise, we would have been sitting with all these tapes and just waiting for a good day and hoping for the opportunity. We had already made the setlist for the tour so we already knew what we were going to play but when we found out we were recording, the question arose if we were going to change the setlist and I totally didn?t want to do that. It didn?t make sense to me to do a ?best-of? live because, to me, that is something you do at the end of your career (laughs) and I don?t feel I?m there yet. We did a setlist that was a document of where King Diamond was live in 2003 and include the whole setlist from beginning to end. We wanted it to be so that the people who came out to the shows listened to the record, they would go, ?Man, I remember this! I can totally feel where I saw this!? That was the approach to it and I don?t regret it. There are songs, of course, that some people will wish was on there but there are a lot of songs on two discs and there are only two songs that are repeated from ABIGAIL LIVE 1987 and these are much better quality, of course. When it came to mixing the stuff, that?s where Andy and I were really put to the test because then we realized what a totally different environment we were suddenly trying to be experts on. We realized that we were not sitting with a studio album where you can put things in any room that you want. Everything recorded on the road is dry signals except for the audience which always has a certain ambience to it. In the studio albums, you can create a room to suit whatever mood you are offering in that story but when it comes to live, all of a sudden we were like, ?Oh, okay. Now what do we do here?? We didn?t want to make everything swim in reverb and make it sound like we were playing in an arena because we never did unless it was a big festival. You?ve got to be truthful and be as honest as you can so we put this whole thing into a room the size of 1,500-1,600. The average sized theatre that we will play in U.S. will be between 1,200 and 1,800, so that?s what we went for and I think that really is what it sounds like.
The next big problem was: Where do you put these instruments in the stereo picture? You totally don?t have the same things that you work with live in a studio. In every song that we?ve written, when there?s a guitar solo there?s at least one guitar on each side. We usually put them hard left and right, then we have the harmony guitar a little inside of those in the stereo picture and the rhythm guitar pretty much in the middle. You can?t do that here. We tried it, of course. Andy (LaRocque, guitar] did the solo, of course, while Mike [Wead, guitar] was on the opposite side trying to hold the rhythm with the bass and the drums in the middle. I swear, it sounded like Andy was in a different city or something! So we had to try different things. I think we ended up with 85% left pan and 85% right pan. Then we did as we always do live, and add a bit of extra reverb and delay on both the lead guitar and Mike?s, our sound engineer always does that. By moving them in that far, suddenly there?s a place where Andy does a solo and he?s way out there, and with the delay added it didn?t seem like they lost touch with the arrangements. They were all still in the same room, on the same stage. That was really good that we finally found out, it was a problem. We were sitting going, ?Oh my god, how the hell do other people do this?? We were listening to other live albums to try and get ideas. One thing we did that is different from the majority of other live albums was how we treated the audience. On most other live albums, when the music is playing, they turn the audience down because of course you get a better sound quality. It sounds cleaner. We had such a big debate about what we were going to do. If you want to stay true to a King Diamond concert, the fans are singing along in so many places throughout the concert that you can?t turn them down, turn them up for a chorus and then turn them down again. There are a lot of other responses that relate to what?s going on on the stage. In ?The Invisible Guests,? there?s a certain part in the middle where I?m in the wheelchair. When there?s a break, I get out of the chair and I always put my hand up to my ear to say that I want to hear the audience. I don?t scream or anything and they come in. You hear it on the album and if you were at one of the shows, you know exactly what took place then because you saw it yourself. You can?t turn those things up and then down again. You could turn it down and don?t have it during the music, but that would be totally phony King Diamond. That?s not what it?s like at a show, so eventually we started trying how loud we could allow the audience to be on an average and still be heard throughout the whole thing. We found a level and then we left it there. We didn?t change it between songs. We just found a level where the music was still powerful and left it there. That?s where the audience is. That plays such a big part of how this album is perceived when you listen to it. There are some parts where they don?t sing along as much as I would want them to and there are others where they are awesome. That?s the honest thing, that?s what it?s like. It would be unnatural if they?re as loud on ?Mansion In Sorrow?, which is one of the newer songs, as they are on ?Eye of The Witch.? There?s a clear difference when you?re there live and if you leave it like that, those who were there will get as close as you can, second best to being there. ?Ok, it wasn?t too loud there, but I was one of those who sang along!? Then when ?Eye of The Witch? comes along, it?s ?Oh man, I remember we were all singing here!? For psychological reasons, there are no mentions in the liner notes of what songs were taken from what shows. I know a couple of albums where I was at the show. There is a Rush album where a couple of songs were recorded at a show I saw in Dallas, Texas. That?s cool to hear those because I was there but all the rest are not worth that much to me as those two songs on the entire album. It makes no real sense, but that?s the way I feel. Had you been to one of these shows and it wasn?t mentioned where it was recorded, you can get the feeling of, ?Hey, every single song can be from the show I was at!? With that and really hearing the audience you get so much more out of it, I?ll bet you anything. If you knew it was recorded at eight or nine shows and you know that the show you went to isn?t one of them, you will automatically lose some value. With the other way, you could have been there for any of the songs. You will never know, I will never tell anyone.
I have never heard anyone say that for that reason before.
I have experienced it myself and I think a lot of other people would have the same feeling inside. You might not think about it but instinctually, you would think, ?Hmmm, I know I went on that tour somewhere and there?s nothing from my show.? Here, they could all be from that show.
Were there a lot of overdubs done in the studio or is this a really accurate representation of how the songs were played live?
No, no, no! The band, excluding me, went over to Andy?s studio and listened to all the tapes. They found three versions of each song from all these different shows on the tour that they felt were the best in general. Let?s say the song ?Welcome Home,? for example. It might be Mike?s first choice, Matt [Thompson, drums]?s second choice and Andy?s third choice. Then on an average, they would choose the three best ones. Then I would judge how my vocal performance was there. One good thing about the last tour was that there was so much good stuff. The band is so solid now. It?s the best lineup that I have ever been involved with in my career, no doubt. They are so solid every single night and one of the reasons for me having my best tour ever vocal-wise is that and that we have a crew that is so top notch. I have no worries going on stage. I know everybody knows their stuff. If we have problems, it will be with electronics or an amp blowing up or something like that. It will not be some guy who doesn?t know his stuff, so for that reason, there was plenty of good takes. Same thing with the vocals. I don?t think I ever sang this good on a live tour ever. The other band members told me that night after night. ?How the hell did you hit those notes? It?s much better than you?ve ever been!? I don?t mean that I?ve sucked before, but I had an extremely good monitor system that is one of a kind. There is not another one like it in the world. I have four monitors built specifically for me and the system that I run it through is separate from the entire monitor system on stage. The ones in the front of the stage each have a long horn and a shorter one. The short ones spread the sound perfectly when I?m standing right in front of the stage. Those four have only my voice, not even a kick drum. It?s blasting loud and it?s right in my face, so I hear myself very well. The crew knows exactly how to set it up on the different stages so I get perfect sound. There are difficult parts in songs like ?Welcome Home? and ?The Invisible Guests.? There are some extremely high notes in those. Seven years ago, I was dreading to get to those places. I was almost praying, ?Please, man, let me hear properly when I get to those parts!? Not that I can?t do it but?(groans) if I don?t hear it perfectly, I might get a little bit out of pitch and then it?s not going to sound like it should. Now for me, it sounds so good up there and I feel my voice in my chest because it?s so loud. Now I don?t fear those places. ?Ah, here it comes again, I can prove myself!? That?s a whole different attitude; it?s so much more fun. I feel so confident being on stage that even knowing that we recorded live didn?t matter. The only thing I had to remember about that was to mention to the audience that we were recording live. The rest of the time, it was just ?Do your thing, let?s go!? There are other funny things that I realized when we had gotten so far that we had everything that we were going to use. Then we started to mix it here in my house. I knew just by listening to it exactly where I was on stage at any moment throughout that entire live album. And every time Andy finishes a solo live?I?m not saying this to complain because he?s my favorite guitar player in the world?but every time he finishes a fast guitar solo on stage, he has a tendency to hold a long feedback note until he finds a safe spot to come back into the song with. It?s all over the album. I don?t know if you have noticed this, but you will. I said to him, ?Oh my god, here you do it again!? And he said ?How easy do you think it is to get back into ?The Invisible Guests? half way through a verse? It?s impossible!? He has to wait for a safe spot for him to come back in or otherwise I might screw up. He?s always been doing this. I just haven?t been paying attention to it. Now I do because I know that exactly when that happens, I?m always on Mike?s side and not on Andy?s side when the solo ends. It all makes sense to me suddenly. Of course, if I stand on Andy?s side, I wouldn?t hear Mike?s rhythm guitar or it would be so vague I couldn?t go by it once I start singing as well. I can?t start singing a verse to a sustained feedback note because there?s nothing to go by. Not that it was a big revelation or something, but it?s fun to think that ?Hey, that?s why I?m over there!? I can?t sing to that note hanging there, but it has its charm live. It?s raw, it?s cool, it doesn?t destroy anything.
One of the other big parts of the live experience of course is having Livia Zita on stage. Where did you meet her and how did you get her to sing on THE PUPPET MASTER record and then go out on the tour?
It was quite odd, actually. When we had finished ABIGAIL II, she was doing an interview for Metal Hammer Hungary regarding ABIGAIL II. She was in the US studying in Michigan, so she called me from there to ask about ABIGAIL II. We talked for a while and did the interview and then she mentioned to me that she was also a singer. A lot of people have said that to me and some of them are probably pretty good singers, but I never have a chance to hear that. She said, ?I have this demo that I feel pretty good about if you would like to hear it, it would be an honor to hear your opinion about it.? So, she sent it and it was actually a Nightwish song, one of their ballads. She sang that and there was so much emotion involved it gave me goosebumps. I was like, ?Wow!? Then I started writing for THE PUPPET MASTER and the further I got into it, I thought that this story had the potential to become really theatrical, more than ever before. The problem was that the female character was playing quite a big role in the story. It would be kind of lame, I mean, on a song like ?So Sad.? Can you imagine me singing, ?And then she said to him with her eyes, ?I can?t see you anymore??? It would have no power compared to a female voice. I can?t start pretending to have a female voice, that would be ridiculous. So the further I got into the story, the more I thought, ?Oh god, if we could find a female vocalist, it would really enhance the theatrics here and it would be much more personal and in the face of the listener.? It?s much more personal to hear a voice singing, ?Now I feel it, now I hear it? than to hear another voice singing ?Now she feels it, now she hears it.? It would be something fresh and it would never be used to the extent that it would change the King Diamond style at all. I would never allow that. Then I played her demo to the other guys in the band and I played it to the record company because I wanted everyone to be on the same page. They all loved her voice and said ?You should do it man, try!? Then I talked to her and eventually she came over and recorded and it turned out so good. It also was so well received by the fans. They all loved this new element that came in because it made everything so much more theatrical. A lot of guys?and girl?like to hear a female voice. She has a lot of Goth in her voice and a lot of feeling. The tonality of her voice fits mine extremely well. It was all good and no negative. That?s why we decided to bring her on the road. There was a couple of songs from THE PUPPET MASTER that she added a lot to, like ?Blood To Walk?, just because she was there. In the chorus with me alone I would have to pick whether I sing the low lead vocal or I sing the low falsetto choir voice. Neither of the two would have created the mood that the chorus needs. Now with my normal low voice in the chorus and her low falsetto on top, her falsetto is close enough to mine so that the overall feel of the piece comes across in a nice way. The same thing went for a couple of the ABIGAIL II songs, as well. She does quite a bit on those. In the song ?Mansion In Sorrow? after the first chorus there is this verse where in the studio I felt that to get the right effect, I took a low normal voice and then I put a low falsetto on top of it to create a certain mood or feel. There is that same thing right there. That passage would not have sounded good with just one voice. If I just sang a low falsetto, it would totally not have the power. If I just sang a low normal voice, it would also not have the mood. The fact that she was there taking that low falsetto was so cool. In ?Spirits,? there are a couple of those melodic pieces, like after the weird acoustic intro, where we sing in harmony. For the first part of that melodic piece, I used the low normal voice and she did the low falsetto and suddenly halfway through I jumped up over her low falsetto to a high falsetto to create the harmonies up there for the second part. It just adds more of what is there on the studio versions. It creates more of the right feel. Some of those could be the make or break of a song. I would probably say it wouldn?t work. If I take this one, it doesn?t work and if I take that one it doesn?t work, it has to be both of them. It has been rare before that we had to say that we won?t pick a song because it can?t get the right feel because I have to pick between two totally different lead vocals on the same verse. I have to pick the one melody line that sticks out, the one that the audience can?t live without. When I come from a verse to a chorus I might sing the first three or four words with a lead melody line then I jump to harmony line one for the next five words, then go to the third harmony line then back to the lead. I only have one voice, you know. That?s an interesting to thing to hear how these songs work live with just my voice. For the majority of the songs, it?s just me there. Sometimes the other voice is just a mood creator and I don?t need her, my voice is stronger than it ever was before. On songs like ?Welcome Home? and ?The Invisible Guests,? the lead vocals are cleaner and better than they were originally. In that respect, it?s not a matter of ?He needs help,? but it adds a very cool feel to a lot of places. She is used sparsely in many songs and on many she is not there at all. Of course on THE PUPPET MASTER and the ABIGAIL II songs, she appears quite often with a very good result.
Is Livia going to be used on the next King Diamond record, as well?
That hasn?t been decided yet. I don?t even know exactly what the story will be about. I have ideas but I haven?t told anyone yet. They are just loose ideas and if I talk about them, I will hear ?Hey, what happened to that idea of a new record you were going to make?? Once the story gets more worked out, I will have a better idea of that. I would really like it because I thought it was such a cool touch on the last album and it was so well received, too. I would love it because it gives me an opportunity to be more theatrical, which I really love. Like I said, the Puppet Master story could not have happened without her. I would have sounded ridiculous if I sang as a woman and it would have been ineffectual if I sang in the third person about this other person?s feelings. There are always female characters in my stories. Maybe we can make a sound byte with her, I don?t know. With that Goth voice and feel, she has the opportunity to? I so want to tell you a certain thing but I can?t (laughs)! I know there is one climax that I absolutely must have on the next album because I really think people will get hit hard in their emotional registers because of a certain decision that a certain character has to make. But let?s not talk about that now! It would be awesome to have that female character be right there, it would be much more touching to hear a female voice giving?I?ve got to shut up now (laughs)! But I really want to have her on the next record because it adds such a cool element and I can really be theatrical with the story.
Have you ever had an offer to do a movie on one of your album concepts?
No, I guess that would take a little bit of a miracle. It would have to be someone who has a high position within a movie company who is a fan, too, to realize that ?Hey, this is a CD that has more than enough material for a script?. I don?t have my foot in the door. It?s almost like I was in a band just starting up. If I sent in my first demo tape to a record company, both you and I know there would be a 99.9% chance that it would end up in a trash bin. There has to be someone there who can say, ?I know this guy will listen to it. I can?t guarantee he?ll like it but he will listen to it.? I don?t know anyone like that. You can?t just send a CD to a movie producer and say, ?Hey, check this story out!? I don?t believe anymore that someone will come out of the woodwork saying, ?Awesome, let?s do this movie!? I think the stories have massive potential, I really do, but what has happened so far is that I have been contacted by a screenplay writer in London. He is a pro writer and he is supposed to be close to having something for me to read. I don?t know if he?s been held up or something, but I?m supposed to get something very short that is the first edition of a treatment. That is THE PUPPET MASTER that we?re talking about, actually. I think a lot of them have potential but in my opinion the one with the most potential is THEM/CONSPIRACY. It doesn?t take place in another time period and doesn?t have the cost of big costumes. You can put it from the 1950s up to the present day. That story is just so brutal and I have so many things that I could add to that story. There was a time when I wanted to put it into the form of a novel and I have the first two chapters written. I never got any further. That was when I was in the process of moving to the U.S. in 1992. I had a little time when I was preparing to move, it?s a big process you know, but since then I have been busy. I haven?t had the two or three months of peace with nothing else to do where I can continue it but a couple of my friends have read these first two and said, ?Man, you gotta finish this stuff!? I have so many ideas. I have all the names for that story and there are a lot more characters. The fate of Grandpa is explained in detail in those two chapters and all the names of the surrounding cities and everything. It?s really for me just to dive into but I don?t have the time. That would be one way, to write and novel and have someone make sure it is all the way it should be. Then get a publisher and hope it creates enough stir for someone to base a screenplay on the book but I don?t have that time right now. I would love to do it but the time is simply not there right now. This guy working over there, if he can do a treatment and I can have some comments that we can agree on, he will start working on a screenplay. If it?s not something we can all agree on, if we feel like ?No, this doesn?t really capture everything,? then we?ll just drop it and I?ll see if there is someone else I can work with another time but if it turns out he?s on the same page and it?s like ?Wow, we gotta do this!? then the lawyer will get it a few months later and we?ll see.
Were you happy with how the bonus DVD that came THE PUPPET MASTER turned out?
Absolutely. Of course it?s a low budget thing but I think it was a very good companion to the story. It was different for the fans to see me sit down and tell a version of the story that just came directly from my brain. I didn?t have any notes or anything, it was just straight from my memory. It was actually done in my home and with just one camera, but I told the story three times. So they shot it from one camera angle, then another one and another one and edited that together. To get that extra thing for free, I think a lot of fans valued that as an extra gift. I actually got sucked into it, which was weird because I know exactly how it was done. I was there, but I got sucked into it and paid attention when I listened to it. I finally got the accepted version in Phoenix on a Saturday morning by eleven. It was sunshine outside and I sat and watched it on my DVD in my living room and I got sucked in then. When it was over I felt like ?Oh wow, that was weird. What am I getting freak out about?? I got caught up in the way I presented it. I don?t think I?ve heard any bad things about it. There might be a perfectionist out there going, ?Hey, that should have been another necklace in the background (laughs).? This was a good idea from [Metal Blade Records president] Brian Slagel originally because I told him the story in my living room when he was here for a business meeting. ?Hey, you want to hear the new story?? and then I told it, just like I did there, right off my memory. It was another bright sunny day and he was all like ?Wow, maybe you can record this as a bonus track at the end of the disc where you tell the story like this or better yet maybe we can shoot it on DVD?? I thought it sounded pretty nice as a little extra thing to put in.
So what can we expect from King Diamond in 2005, is there going to be a new album or a live DVD?
Once we?re past the release of the live album, me and Andy will start writing material for the next album. At the same time, I have to look at a lot of DVD stuff, old bootleg stuff. We want to see if we can put together a retro Mercyful Fate DVD and a retro King Diamond DVD to give the fans some of the very early stuff that we were involved with. I?m talking about bootlegs that no one has ever seen before. We do have copies of every bootleg that has been available, but we have masters of bootlegs that no one has ever seen. It?s that stuff that I would like to get out to the fans, so even collectors will be blown away. Very good picture quality, very good bootleg sound quality on all instruments. An example would be Mercyful Fate in early 1982, before Michael Denner joined the band, playing a live concert in Copenhagen. When I saw it the first time, I was a little stunned. ?Oh my god, that?s not Michael Denner there!? We have even more stuff of King Diamond. I received 35 tapes a few weeks ago where the majority is stuff that people have seen before, the collectors you know?that is not interesting for me at all. But there?s Mercyful Fate live in 1983 in a converted church that had become a concert venue in Amsterdam, Holland. The venue was called the Paradiso. We were playing DON?T BREAK THE OATH songs before we recorded DON?T BREAK THE OATH and were burning the cross on stage and all that stuff. It?s cool and has very good quality. You probably won?t have seen any bootleg quality that good, both picture and sound. It is really interesting. If I were a fan, say it was Sabbath and I could get some of that stuff, I would be right there, I would love it. In the end, the fans decide themselves what they will buy and not buy. It will be clearly labeled what it is, never before available official bootlegs. We hope to get through that, I have to have another meeting with Brian and when I?ve been through all of it and found the very best stuff, we have to see how he wants to approach the whole thing. Of course, we will throw all the official videos on that. Then we will do a second leg of THE PUPPET MASTER tour in the U.S., in places where we haven?t played before and revisiting some others, then a European leg of the same tour. When that is done, it will be late in the year and we will be getting ready for the next release, so we?re pretty busy up until Christmas.
***Thanks to Kelli at Metal Blade Records for setting up the interview.
***Read all the CD reviews of King Diamond at Metal Rules here.
King Diamond Official Site