Hail To The King – An Interview With King Diamond

You ever get asked that stupid question, “If you could have dinner with five people, living or dead, who would they be?” I’ve never been able to give a definitive answer on it, because I’ve never spent more than about forty seconds contemplating hypothetical dinner plans when there’s real dinners to eat. Still, I would bet that if I were asked that question ten times, eight of my rambling, unplanned answers would include King Diamond.
Because, of course, King’s a king. A true metal legend, one of the reasons I’ve been fascinated with this art form since I first heard him a quarter century ago. Between the riff-happy darkness of Mercyful Fate and the theatricality of King Diamond the band, the man has released some of metal’s greatest moments, and I’m a dedicated long-time Diamond-head.

As Last Rites rolls out our list of the Essential Albums of the 1980s, King Diamond is the only living person to appear twice — rules preclude multiple entries by one band, but King neatly sidesteps that rule by entering under the Fate banner and then his own nom de rock. 

A few months back, I had the absolute honor of spending my lunch hour locked in my boss’ office while he was out, ignoring my job duties and Skyping with the King. The man couldn’t have been nicer, more gracious, more polite — he talked longer than he was scheduled to; he answered my fumbling, star-struck questions as though he hadn’t been asked them countless times by people less outwardly dumbfounded by the fact that, yes, this was King damn Diamond on the phone. So I said a few stupid things, and he said a lot of things that kept me from having to say much else. I cut out the part where we talked about the weather, because, yeah, I talked about the weather on the phone with King Diamond. I’m that cool.

This is what came of it. Thanks, King.

First off, thanks for doing this – I really appreciate it. Last Rites is doing a comprehensive list of The Essential Albums of the 1980s, and you’re one of a dew people that have two entries on the list. We have rules about one album per band, and because you have one with Mercyful Fate and one with King Diamond, you squeezed in twice. I wanted to ask a couple of questions about Melissa and Abigail, and then maybe talk a bit about more current stuff… We’ll start with Melissa, going chronologically: That’s one of the most influential albums in the history of metal; it’s been rightfully praised for thirty years now, and it’s part of the foundation that all extreme metal is built upon. Obviously you’re proud of that, but is it something that you ever stop and think about? Does it ever cross your mind, ‘Hey, I helped build all of this…’?

No, you don’t think about that – only if you bring it up, like you brought it up now, will I think about it. I don’t stop in the middle of what I’m doing and suddenly start thinking, “Wow, I’ve done this or that.” You don’t do that – you just go and do your thing.

Do you remember what it was like listening to Melissa for the first time once you guys were done with it? Were you happy, blown away, or…?

Well, it was a great thing because the one before was the mini-LP, the start, and we had done a demo kind of thing that turned into us being on a compilation album called Metallic Storm in England. That was one song.

Then we did the mini-LP, and that was, of course, more substantial, but it was not what we expected because everything that you hear on Melissa, those type of arrangements and things, were meant to be on the mini-LP, as well. So it was a surprise when we showed up and they said, “No, we have two days here – we do not have time; it takes longer than that.”

We’d done some demos before, so we thought it was just like doing demos, and it was not exactly like that, because it was a real recording – it was more precise. And we had two days to record and mix four songs for the mini-LP. So that was the problem for us, that we couldn’t do what we had planned – so it was a letdown to learn that my choir-pieces turn out to be “You can use one double.” What? I don’t need a double of my lead – I later learned that it can be good to do, but that was not the point – that would not give me what I was after.

And the same thing with Hank and stuff like that, doing solos – “Well, you tried twice now to do the solo for ‘A Corpse Without Soul,’ and we don’t have time for this stuff. Whatever you do now goes on the album, okay?” Talk about the pressure there, you know? And that’s what is on the album, the third take, because we weren’t given any more takes after that.

And then suddenly comes a new deal, and the Melissa album, and we have, what? Eight days? Are you kidding me? This is going to be absolutely fantastic! But then you have this thing where you sit in the studio where there’s a producer that is… ehhhh… I guess is a producer. I’ve said this before to some people, but I felt like I was at the dentist, just sitting out there, waiting in the office until it’s your turn. When they were mixing it, actually, it felt like that, because we would be allowed in to listen to what he had done, and then we’d say, “Hey, what are you doing, man? I can’t hear this; I can’t hear that; there’s no this, and where are the backing vocals here and…” and he’d say “Okay, I’ll try and correct those things; go outside again.” And you go outside again and sit around and think, “What takes so long? What the hell?” and then you go back in and the next thing is “You still didn’t do this! And that!”

It was a very testing time. That was when you found out that you’d like to be more involved because it felt frustrating to sit there and someone else was not at your pace, and whether he was good or not, well… he worked with us. We had a lot of stuff to get done, to get this fixed up, so, without saying anything bad about anyone, it was just a frustrating way to work. So that was changed for Don’t Break The Oath, where we got twelve days to record, but with the same guy. But when he tried the same thing, I said, “No, no more. I’m staying here.” “Well, I can’t sit with people…” “Get used to it, pal. I’m not playing that fucking dentist game anymore. That is over.”

And he found out very quickly, too, that it was beneficial for us to sit there and be able to say, “Hey, could you take that one up a little bit; let me hear that,” and you’d see him do it and hear him do it. “Right, that’s the shit. Okay. Cool.” And agreeing with stuff and moving better along.

But the first one, was… man, that was irritating, to experience it that way, where you felt like “Hey, you guys are just not understanding anything, so stay out of my hair while I do this and I’ll bring you in when I think I’m ready for you to hear it.” [laughs] “Well, this is our fucking album. What are you doing?” When you start getting that feeling of, “Did you do that?” “Yeah, I raised it.” “Well, I don’t hear it.” “Well, I did!”

Ahhhh, what is it a guessing game here? Now it’s a game of he’s-trying-to-trick-us. When you start feeling like that, then it’s not right, you know? You come in and say, “Did you do that?” “Yes, yes, I did.” “Well, I can’t hear it.” Because then he could say to us, “Well, you see…” and then the paranoia… [sighs] It wasn’t that bad, but that thing was a problem, that we couldn’t stay in there. Otherwise, it was cool working there, with that guy, and all that stuff. And to get to do more things, and get our harmonies in there – which was, of course, great for us, to realize that, and actually get that out, you know.

The best version I’ve heard, there was a remastered version… Oh, hell, who was it that did that? Was it Ted Jensen that did a remaster of it, the 25th anniversary of it? [Ed — it was.]

Yeah, the one with the bonus DVD? It sounds great, and hey, bonus DVD…

Yeah, that one has really very, very good sound – very, very well done sound. That’s the version to get.

So the other entry of yours on our list is Abigail, another metal classic and the second one under the King Diamond name. What is about that album that resonated so much with everyone? Is there anything that stands out to you in particular?

I guess a lot of things, actually. The fact that it was the first concept horror story that you ever heard on an album – I mean, there had been concept albums before, but not with a full horror story on it. And that was the first concept album. Fatal Portrait was like a test for me, you could say, because there was a mini-story there with five of the songs. It was not a full-blown concept, but I always had an urge to do that, even with Mercyful Fate. But it didn’t fit Mercyful; it never fit in there. But with King Diamond, I got the chance, and when that mini-story went okay, it was like, “Okay, with Abigail, I’m going to do it. I don’t fucking care if it works or not; I’m going to at least try it.”

That was the first test of writing a story and putting that on an album, making it a continuous story from beginning to end, and then starting to use more voices. The more theatrical, the more conceptual things, came down the road from Abigail, too – the more crazy voices started appearing. There was a Grandma voice; there was a this voice, a that voice, and suddenly you realize that, because of what we were doing, that I had a lot of voices I could use.

The theatrical aspects are hard to put yourself into, into what you’re singing about, to put yourself into what these people are experiencing, that you have created yourself from, usually, your own experiences. A lot of them are real; some of them are real that are built on and changed to fit the storyline, but Abigail was a first, the first full-length horror concept album. And of course, our style – straight from the heart, and more extreme vocals, and of course, doing whatever we wanted to do.

With that album, also, we got a request from the record label – they were wondering if they could send somebody up to listen to the stuff that we were working on in the studio – and why? That was when Cees Wessells [former head of Roadrunner] said, “Well, you know, it would be great if you had some more radio-friendly songs, as well,” and that’s when I told him, “Oh, don’t worry. There’s at least four or five of the songs that are very radio-friendly this time.” “Oh, you already know that?” “Oh, yeah, yeah, we know exactly what needs to be done.”

And then when they got the album, of course, he was on the phone a couple of hours after he heard it, “Where are those radio-friendly songs?!” Oh, I just mentioned four titles, five titles, and he said, “Oh, you got me, but we love it. It’s a great album. There’s nothing wrong, so don’t worry about it.”

So that’s one of those things where you do whatever it takes to stick to what you believe in – we’ve always done that, you know. Our fans know that, too. We’ve not done anything we don’t believe in. Everything is straight from the heart, and probably a very big reason that we never got to platinum, but it’s not that important to me, either. It’s important that we are still here – we’ve been driving that feeder road for forever. We never got up on the highway and went fast and got a platinum record, but we’re still here.

We are still actually now, with all the festivals we’ve just done – we’re doing better than we have ever done; the band sounds better than it’s ever done live. It’s really mind-blowing to see us – I can tell you from those people that have seen us over there, who have told us. We have the best sounding gear we’ve ever had in our career; the band is tighter than ever; and the way it’s presented, the new production, it looks incredible. So all that stuff is really good, and being given all those headline spots on these new festivals is really amazing, too. It’s been really, really good.

I saw you got Wacken this year, too.

Yeah, that’s confirmed, that we’re gonna headline the black stage there – it sold out in two days, man. That’s never happened for Wacken before – it was November the past year. [Ed — 2012]  This last year, I know that our agent was almost betting with Ole Bang, who’s our tour manager and business partner, whether it would be October or maybe even late September. Then a few days after, or something – within forty-eight hours after announcing us and a bunch of other bands. We were the biggest band that was announced; they’re going to have bands that are bigger, of course – Metallica-style, whatever; you know there’s gonna be some big ones. They had Rammstein; they’ve had Maiden before, and all kinds of huge acts. But we were the biggest one that was announced right there, while the festival was still going on, and within two days they were sold out! No one could believe it. I don’t say it’s because of us, but we probably had a little bit to do with it…

That’s great, because there for a little while, it looks like we might’ve lost you… [King had triple bypass surgery in 2010.] And it was scary…

Oh, I wasn’t here. I wasn’t here for about two hours.

Yeah, don’t do that again, please.

We’ll try to do it in a different way. We’ll do it on stage next time, with a cremation. We’d like to bring the coffin back next year, if we can – we need to give it an overhaul. It needs to be tightened and repaired, made safe again, but if everything goes well, we’ll have that with us next year. Plus, there will be all the additions to the show that already now is really, really unique. But it will be a jaw-dropper next year, if we get those extra things added to it that we want to add.

Any plans for a US tour coming up?

It’s gotta happen next autumn. It’s got to happen, and with full production, with the full thing. If it’s done the right way, if it’s done in a way where we could have full physical production, even in those theaters where we play…

I saw you in Atlanta with Nile and Behemoth – it’s been probably seven or eight years ago now, but it was awesome then…

There’s no comparison to what we have now, I can tell you – it blows everything we’ve done away, and it’s also sounding better. I mean, my voice is better than it has ever been in my entire career. It’s never been this clean and clear, since I stopped smoking. It’s how you treat yourself, you know: Eat very specific food, all geared towards heart health. Same with no smoking. And walking. Exactly what the doctors have prescribed, hardcore power walk – just doing the right things.

I was where I couldn’t even walk – I had to practically learn to walk almost. I had to learn to breathe again, because they collapse your lungs and all this stuff. And now I have a braided metal rod going down my chest, tying my ribcage together, and it grew together now, around that. A lot of things that you go through there, a lot of different kinds of horror – those moods and feelings that can be used for the next album, and will be used for the next album, for sure.

That was going to be one of my next questions: Do you have anything you can tell us, any ideas for the next album?

I would never tell you anything about the stories or storylines, but I have tons of ideas. But we need to start writing, you know.

We do a lot of things different, and I think, better now than we used to, and that comes into play with the writing, as well. You know, we started doing this thing where people could sign up to our Skype channel and I sometimes would call some fans, three at a time, and just talk. And then they can record it, and we can put it up, and it can be played for others to hear and they can get some good info from those. It’s almost an interview, but it’s pretty relaxed, because it’s just a talk. This is pretty relaxed, too, because it also turns into a talk, and that’s the way to do it…

But it’s so cool to do those kind of things. We did quite a few meet-and-greets on the European tour this summer, and also it doesn’t cost the fans a dime. We are not charging anything. You know, most will charge and arm and a leg for getting access to these meet and greets, but not here; we do not do it.

We headlined this festival, Tuska, up in Finland, and the promoter up there said, “Hey, man, this is giving me the best promotion I’ve ever had,” and we suggested to him, “Find a good radio station, and give them fifteen winners that they can do a competition for,” and then they blasted the festival’s name for four days, a big competition. And then for fifteen winners, the biggest nightclub in Helsinki (even though it was in the middle of the afternoon) hosted the meet and greet, free beer and coffee and whatever, and we were there and we would sit and talk for forty-five minutes and sign a couple of things and have a good, relaxed time.

It’s a great opportunity for us to say, “Okay, pick two of your favorite items and we’ll sign those.” Of course, they bring five or whatever, but it does make it so it’s not a signing station, signing everything one person brings in. But it’s interesting for us to hear the stories, too – why are you bringing this? Why are you bringing that? What’s the deal? You get a really good feel for who we all are.

Because it is all of us that are in this – it has never been the band and the band had some people. It’s always been that thing from us, and I know our fans feel that respect, that two-way street that this has always been. And it’s those kind of things that help, to do these things the right way, I think – and that’s what I mean by “we do things differently.” The record label, they know what we get paid to play live, so it’s not like, “Oh, you get paid that, so we’re not going to give you this.”

No, no, no. We don’t hide anything from each other anymore – our booking agent, our lawyer record label – everybody knows each other, what’s going on. There’s open doors between us. But, outside of the room we’re in, there’s closed doors, but it works so great, because everybody knows it can help, and does help to say, “Hey, you can do this here and there, because I’ve done it,” and “Yes, oh, that should be possible, so we’ll do it that way, then.”

If something works for one, it usually works for the others, too. So do it right: The fan club is up, the internet shops, the merchandise is up and available, things that have been missing for so long – newsletters that people can sign up for. There’s so much stuff that is new and done better…

And now back to the writing and stuff. Andy has a nice studio in Sweden, you know, full-blown and all, but at home, both he and I have just gotten new ProTools systems – Andy is programming them at his studio right now – that we’ll have at home, to write on. And I’m going to have installed here also a fully pro vocal booth, so I can do vocals at home, and it will be top pro – we’re gonna spend the budget on doing this, so that’ll make up for the future, as well. It’s not like a cheap microphone or a mic pre-amp. It’s all gonna be the top-notch shit; nothing but the best.

There will be no more of this, on my part – five days left, five songs left, and I’m hoarse, well, go sing anyway. The quality will be higher – it must be higher, this way. Also, just from a writing point of view, writing the songs. If I’m working on a verse, going into a chorus… I can do the part, and then in the same room I’m playing guitar, I can go into the vocal booth – everything’s up and running – and I can start singing to that. See if everything feels good for the voice; is it a good key? Can I do a lot of stuff there, in that key? And then if they fit, then great, well, cool. But maybe the chorus does not feel good.Maybe the bridge is weird. So it’s like, okay, I’ll change that, and I’ll move it up a little bit in the chorus. You go back out, and you try, you change it, and you go back in, and it’s like, “Whoa, now it feels good.” Even though I don’t have words to sing, I can feel this is great; I can just sing simple little words, so you get in situations where you’re like, “Oh, man, this is the shit; this is great.”

And Andy’s sending stuff, and we have the same system, so I can say, “Hey, that third verse there – you’re coming from the soloing. It’s weird with this thing. Can you please do this, or move it that way, and then get it in and try it again.”

Oh, now it’s much better – I’ll get much better music to sing to, and that opens up doors for the vocals. But also, I can go in and just fool around whenever I want. I don’t have to have time in the studio. Normally, writing lyrics, you just sit and hum stuff, and here, I can go in and sing full blast, and hear right away that certain words sound good to sing. Everything will be right, from the beginning. And you actually can stand there and record a lot of it, as you’re writing your lyrics. I mean, come on, it’s just the best of everything! In the end, having it right at your fingertips, you’ll be more productive, too.

Any idea on a time-line, when this will all be done…?

No, but we would love to have it out before we start touring in Europe [in 2014], before the festival season ended. But if it’s not all done, then we’re not going to rush it. It has to be right – that’s the most important thing. It’ll be whenever, but that’s the process now. We’re starting it now, and we need to do all these things; it’s a process that has to happen – and when it’s up and running, and I’ve learned it enough to go really hardcore at it… But as you’re learning it, you’re writing, too – that’s how it goes – so there will be ideas that you will keep.

Now, we’re just gonna keep expanding, keep doing more and more, and get the new album out. Update the stage show to where it’s gonna blow your mind.


[Special thanks to Vince at Metal Blade for the opportunity to talk to the King.]

Posted by Andrew Edmunds

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; born in the cemetery, under the sign of the MOOOOOOON...

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