Interviews

Interview with Brian Tatler – guitarirst and founder of Diamond Head

Interview by Adrian Hextall:

Picture Credit: K1online.net

In 2011 Diamond Head were invited to open for the Big Four playing at both the UK and French Sonisphere festivals plus Heavy MTL and Heavy TO in Canada. For the first time in their career, Diamond Head undertook a 17 date headlining tour of USA.

Whilst it looked like the band had finally started to get their dues, singer Nick Tart and his family had by then emigrated to Brisbane, Australia. It became increasingly expensive and complicated to fly Nick back and forth for tours, and writing or rehearsing new material became almost impossible.

As such, the band happened upon Rasmus Bom Andersen, a Danish born singer living in London. Rasmus was invited to join Diamond Head on tour taking in Headbangers Open Air and Hard Rock Hell amongst other European dates. Rasmus now fills the permanent vocalist spot replacing Nick and the band return with perhaps their strongest album in years.

Adrian Hextall spoke to Brian to get the lowdown on the current position with the band.  

MGM: I didn’t appreciate until I was going through my notes that when I saw you with Europe back in 2010 we were already looking at the 30th anniversary of the début album, weren’t we?

BT: That’s right. That came in 1980, didn’t it? I think we did the celebration for that kind of made the most of 2010. We were playing the album live but I don’t think we did on the Europe tour but our own gigs we’ve been doing the album in its entirety kind of thing. Why not?

CHECK OUT THE VIDEO CLIP OF “AM I EVIL” FROM THE LONDON SHOW HERE: 

MGM: That sort of thing must be quite satisfying, is it? Because typically when you did a tour back in the day, you’d only play the selective number of tracks off often as you progressed anyway. So to do it in full, that must have been quite a lot of work.

BT: We’ve been doing most of the songs live because that is still Diamond Head’s main album really, that is the full the songs people really want to hear. So there was only a few songs that we didn’t do live and it just was a question of re-learning those and bringing them up to speed. It wasn’t too bad, it wasn’t too difficult. It would’ve been much harder to do Canterbury.

MGM: Slightly different approach in terms of style as well.

BT: Yes. And the strings, the piano and acoustic guitars and all sorts of things. That would’ve been a lot harder.

MGM: And presumably, how you manage to tie in some very impressive well-matched backing tracks or take out a lot more people with you as well.

BT: Yes, I suppose so. On Lightning to the Nations, all of our songs had been performed live anyway. So it was a kind of easy to assume that it would work live. The songs still work live now. Whereas with something like Canterbury you’d been working on the album in pieces and sometimes apart from each other.

MGM: Absolutely. In terms of that early era of Lightning to the Nations and the tracks you had around those times, I realise I’m diving back in history a little but, I would imagine most people you speak to, talk about the influence that you’ve had on some of the big thrash bands like Metallica and Megadeth and the like. That’s quite a legacy to be able to put your hand up and say ”Yes, that was me”.

BT: Indeed. That has helped keep Diamond Head alive and financially to be absolutely vital, lifeblood too, Sean and myself, we get some righteous royalties from those four songs that Metallica covered. That’s fantastic in itself but the fact that it’s allowed Diamond Head to continue because the name becoming influential band and it keeps getting name checked in Metallica interviews and things like that. The legacy just lives on. The song ”Am I Evil?” had got a life on its own, hasn’t it?

MGM: It has. Absolutely.

BT: Not only as a Metallica cover but all the bands that covered it as well and it just seems to become like a rock classic which is amazing really.

MGM: Doesn’t really matter who you like? If a person has any love of rock or metal then you know that track and you can put it on and sing it off by heart, can’t you?

BT: You can. I have people sing it to me very often. That is the one. We’re very lucky to have it and it has become the ”Smoke on the Water” or the ”Paranoid”.

MGM: One of the comments I’ve got then is that you were saying about how it allowed Diamond Head to continue. It has to have been a good pension pot for you and Sean and allow you to do what you enjoy.

BT: Who knew that we would be covered? Who knew that Metallica would go on to become so big? The biggest metal band of all time. You just do your best and you write the song, you try to make it great, you try to make it last but who knew if you’d write the song and in 35 years later people still loving it and we still play it live and Metallica still play it live.

MGM: It’s a nice touch.

BT: We’re very lucky.

MGM: If you come forward a year from that 30th anniversary set of shows and the tours that you did, you were then playing with Metallica at Sonisphere. How does it feel performing with such a big band, not only as a guest but playing your song as well? 

BT: Again, a gift. You kind of hope for things like that to happen and I often think you do the grand work, when we play in small places, clubs and things. That is a lot of time prep for when you do get given a bow and to say ”Do you want to come and do a festival like Sonisphere or you want to do an encore from Metallica, the big four. If we hadn’t been playing for years, we’d have been very rusty and that wouldn’t have gone anywhere near as well as the fact that we’re doing things as often as possible and keeping the band on the road. As I say, when you do get offered it, it’s something amazing. You’re ready for it.

MGM: Keeping you on the road until the last couple of years involved Nick working with you as well. He’d done ten years in the band. I take it unfortunately; it just wasn’t working with Nick because of the distance.

BT: It’s pretty much become that way. He emigrated in 2008 with his family to Brisbane and since then pretty much writing and rehearsing and all that went out the window and we would just have to fly Nick out to the UK for a tour or we were going to America then we’d fly him from Brisbane to say it, Montreal or wherever the tour started. And we’d fly from UK. And that’s such a lot of logistic problems, work fees as well as the cost of the flight. To come to the UK it’d be up to £1500, £1600. And it just became such a problem. So eventually, we decided this isn’t feasible any longer and we started looking for another singer around 2014, about over a year ago.

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MGM: And you found Rasmus now? And how is it working out with him?

BT: He’s fantastic. First, he got involved in 2014 and we did some dates in the summer towards the end of the year. And during that time we, it was like an audition, if you like. But we got to know him and you want to know that you’re going to get on if you’re sitting in the van or an aeroplane and travelling. We went to that process and we all decided he was great and we listened to recordings and he pretty much ticked all the boxes. So we asked him to join the band in 2014, around when we were touring.

He did that, he accepted that and then of course the next step on from that is, ”Do you want to write, so if you can write some songs to see how that goes?’’ Because people are always asking us ‘‘are you going to do a new album?” or ‘‘it’s a bad time you did a new album”. That was in the air and we just ‘‘we’ll try and write songs and just see how it goes” because that’s all you can do really. That’s all we did with Ras at first. We told him we’d try it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, and it doesn’t always work. But it did work so now we have a new album.

MGM: With the new album, presumably, so bit of a double edge sword for you because on one side, like you say, you’ve got people asking you ”Well, it must be about time you do a new album”, but as soon as you get out on tour they say ”Well, anyway, let’s play all the old stuff”.

BT: As it’s the case with most bands. You do play the old stuff but you can also play some new stuff. But you have to balance the act where you play your classics but you also get them some new material. And that’s what we’ll do, that’s what we’ve always done, I think. Introduce some new material. I wouldn’t play the whole thing and ignore the past. I wouldn’t be that arrogant. But I think songs are great, I think they’ll work really well live. We’ve already done three of them live. And they were all written in rehearsal rooms. So we know they sound good as band, it’s not like what we’ve done on prior tours with demos and stuff. We’ve done that in the past. And we definitely didn’t want to do that again this time.

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MGM: In terms of the new album, a sound that your fans, are they familiar with the songs all slot in neatly with your more of classic material as it were?

BT: Yes. I do think so. I think it’s very Diamond Head. We kind of had a brief when we were preparing material for this album. I would present Ras with music because I was writing music regardless of whether this is a new Diamond Head album. If I come up with something I will record it and work on it. So I was able to present Ras with about 45 pieces to consider for an album. And he could go through them and be ”I don’t think that sounds like Diamond Head” or ”This does sound like Diamond Head”. So we would do that quality control and work on songs that we thought had the Diamond Head feel. Because I’m the main writer and if it comes from me surely it’s got to have something about that’s a bit Diamond Head graded.

MGM: You would imagine it’s expected to have that feel.

BT: Yes, it’s about style, certain chords I play and certain things that I like and I think you can just pick them out if you want to. You can say ”That is very Diamond Head” and we did that. And we went down that route and I think it was exactly the right thing to do.

MGM: If something has worked for example with Accept, their big comeback over the last two or three albums, and Andy Sneap is the producer, he’s gone back to them and said ”No, this sounds like you, this doesn’t, this sounds like you, this doesn’t” so what then he is delivering is what the fans appreciate is a classic Accept sound. The fans have bought into it, it works.

BT: It’s a similar sort of thing. Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford somebody like Andy Sneap but we do it ourselves and hopefully we know what we’re doing.

MGM: Are there any collaborations on there from obviously a rather impressive black book of contacts that you must have from over the years?

BT: There are no collaborations unfortunately. It’s just the five guys in the band playing. And as I say, we did it all in rehearsal and made sure everything worked. If it works in rehearsal it’s going to go live, it’s going to record. We’re not relying on techniques or demos or producers. It makes it a bit more honest. It’s just the instruments in the room. And getting the most out of the four instruments really.

MGM: Is there a lead track that you’ll be doing the rounds with just to promote the album?

BT: Track one ”Bones” seems to be a lead track and we’re going to do a little promo video for that which hopefully will be ready soon. But I think we’re not releasing a single but if we were it would be ”Bones”.

MGM: And that’s the lead track on the album, isn’t it?

BT: Yes, it’s track one.

MGM: Just looking through your back history of colleagues that you’ve worked with over the years. I see Merv Goldsworthy mentioned in there as one of your bassists from the mid ’80s.

BT: That’s right. Because Colin Kimberley left while we were making ”Canterbury” unfortunately. And we did some auditions. We put an advert out for a drummer and bass player required and I pick Merv. About 30 bass players appeared. And I liked Merve so he came on board and he played on the ”Canterbury” album. We went out with Black Sabbath all over Europe. It went really well. But after a while the band were dropped by MCA and the money dried up and Merve disappeared to form another band.

They formed FM with that singer Steve Overland. He was fantastic I think, I’ve always liked Steve Overland.

MGM: He’s got a very nice bluesy voice, hasn’t he?

BT: It’s lovely and it’s classic.

MGM: It’s another one of those bands you wished they managed to crack it big in the States.

BT: Maybe it was money, maybe they just needed the tour for six months and that’s very expensive.

MGM: Looking at your tour in the US, that oddly was something you weren’t really able to do back when your biggest tracks were coming out but more recently you’ve managed to do it, haven’t you?

BT: We’re in control of the budget now so we can work out what events will pay and if we string enough together we can pay for flights and hotels and these costs like renting a van etc. But back in the day it seemed to be like it was all going to be paid for by the record company MCA and we probably weren’t as careful should we say, with the budget as we should’ve been. So instead of going out like a lot of bands did and just tour it in a van and keeping in cheap and cheerful, we probably expected to go in a big tour bus and stop in five star hotel. I don’t know, because we had management I didn’t get asked a lot of the nitty-gritty details. I think we were, they were expecting us to just get on with writing the music and not worry about that kind of thing. So probably handled it really badly and as a consequence we never went to the States so I don’t know exactly what went on but we should’ve gone when bands like Iron Maiden went over and Def Leppard and Saxon. It would’ve been worth it, but for some reason we never did.

The States is the biggest market, isn’t it? It’s not good just being big in UK, that’s not going to kick your career into gear. You have to be big all over the world. So just probably, completely, our management worked completely out of their depth. We kind of suffered at the hands of amateurs.

MGM: Yes. When you finally did make it, it must have been quite a good feeling when you finally realized you were getting these US tours in all day later on in the band’s career.

BT: It’s nice that you say ”make it” because it’s a relative viewpoint isn’t it? Depends on how you’re making it. If you think sitting in the van for ten hours and playing to 150 people in Texas is making it, then we made it.

MGM: But you’re at least extending your network, aren’t you?

BT: I’m not knocking it, we went over three times from 2011 to 2013 and it’s fantastic times. It’s tough, it’s long days. Each gig is probably is six to eight hundred miles apart. So it’s not like the UK. But it’s great to do, something I always wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to play in Canada as well and we finally got to do that in 2011 and we did two big festivals, Heavy MTL and T.O. So that was the first. It’s great to be still having the first after all these years.

MGM: Obviously, you’ve got a first this time with Ras as well. As soon as the album is out, is there a tour scheduled on the back of it?

BT: Not really. We just do what we can. We’re constantly looking for work. So there’s no record label, there’s no agent, there’s no management, so we have to do everything ourselves. So if we get off to play somewhere in Spain, we’ll try to make it happen but we can’t possibly setup a European tour or something. So we string together what we can, as occasionally as I said earlier, we get thrown a bone and we can afford something huge. But usually we’re just looking out to play wherever we can. Last year I think, we did about 14 gigs. This year we’ve probably got about 10 in so far but I think the album will generate some interest and I think we’ll get more as the year develops.

MGM: As soon as you get some positive reviews from the websites and the magazines in the like, then people will stick their head up and say ”Actually, I could probably use them on such and such”.

BT: Yes, I think that’s going to happen. It happened last time with the previous album, we got off to the tour so I think we will get something and more interest will follow. They like you to have new product, I think, they like you to be active and be seen to be moving forward.

MGM: Buy the new album and the T-shirt of course. In terms of the 10 shows you’ve got lined up, anything in the UK?

BT: Nor me. We’ve got that one coming up in April. On April 22nd, it’s called ”The Patriot”, it’s in Newbridge. Then we do in Northwich, we do Telford. And then I think the rest is going to be abroad, we’ve got Malta and Ibiza. We’re also doing Hardrock Hell in Ibiza.

MGM: That’s quite a popular destination every year now, isn’t it?

BT: Yes, that’s right. We’ve also got Sweden Rock and one in Germany as well. There’s a few dotted throughout the Europe really.

MGM: Sweden Rock, you’ve got the right crowd for your style of music there as well, haven’t you?

BT: Yes. We did it in 2005 and it was great. And so we’ve managed to get back again. It’s a great venue, well, festival. And very well organized. We were very impressed with the plays and the organization. There’s five stages and I think they have about 25 000 people.

MGM: Naturally, one question that you probably get asked a lot. You and Sean,  obviously you’ve got quite a history between the two of you which is kind of on/off. You keep doing things together even if it’s just a little reunion appearance on stage with somebody or something like that. Is it all amicable with you too? Do you still keep in touch? Do you seem to be reconnecting over the years?

BT: The last time really was the when we played the four songs in San Francisco, wasn’t it? That was Metallica’s 30th anniversary. And so they invited Sean and myself to go over and play the four Diamond Head songs they covered at this legendary gig. That was fantastic. But Sean and I don’t see eye to eye any more really. A lot of water has gone under the bridge. I think he doesn’t really want to do Diamond Head and I do and I think we just differ in too many ways.

MGM: He’s always seemed to want to go in slightly different creative directions, he’s always tried a wide range of things hasn’t he?

BT: Yes, I think deep down he likes more commercial stuff. I don’t think he likes, well he doesn’t really like heavy metal for a start but it’s just been, he is difficult to work with and I think after trying for 25 years even I threw the towel and had to walk away and say ”I can’t do this anymore”. So I’m a huge fan of Sean Harris but I couldn’t work with him any longer. I had to get away.

MGM: That’s fair enough. I’m sure it’s a question you get asked all the time when you’re talking to people.

BT: People want to know what he’s up to. I’d be glad if he was out there doing his own thing and making records or touring but he doesn’t seem to do any of that. He just seems to write songs. That’s all I know that he does. Anything he seems to have released without me was ”The Notorious” album, which didn’t do anything and got deleted. It was about 1990, wasn’t it? That’s all he’s done in the past, 25 years as far as I can see.

MGM: And it’s a shame, isn’t it? Because like you say, the buzz comes from surely getting out there playing live to people that appreciate your music.

BT: Yes. I still like playing. I don’t want to stop playing. Sean doesn’t want to stop writing and singing but he seems to have maybe some kind of confidence problem where he doesn’t really want to be on stage or he doesn’t want to release anything in case somebody doesn’t like it. That’s all I can think.

MGM: Do you read the reviews of your albums when they come out?

BT: Yes, because I’m looking for the good stuff and we can use it to re-promote the album. So usually people are pretty kind or at least they don’t have a go, there’s a lot of good will and good press over the years. We rarely run into someone who wants to cut us down and stumble over the dream.

On that note, and whilst Brian’s dreams remain un-trampled, we wrap up. Diamond Head are playing some dates right now. Check out the details below: 

http://www.diamond-head.net/tour-dates/

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Picture Credit: K1online.net

 

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