DIAMOND HEAD – Their Time Is Now
Stourbridge, England-based metal group Diamond Head embarked on the tour of the United Kingdom on October 10th, 2014, a performance at the Hairy Dog in Derby, England marking the trek’s inaugural date. Assuming vocal duties was Danish vocalist Rasmus Bom Anderson, whose temporary status quickly evolved into permanent membership within the veteran’s ranks.
“What happened was, when we made the decision we needed to get a singer who lives in the UK after our last singer emigrated to Brisbane, I put the word out,” relates Brian Tatler, guitarist and co-founder of Diamond Head. “I had a few people in mind, singers that I’ve met over the years. Our bass player Eddie, he worked with someone who knew Ras. I think they’d possibly been to uni together, because I think when Ras came over to the UK in 2005 possibly, he did a master’s degree in London to study vocals and vocal performance.
“I think he met this woman who knew Eddie, so Eddie’s friend said ‘I know a good rock singer. You should try him out.’ I had never heard of the guy, but we sent him a backing track to one of our songs, called ‘To Heaven From Hell’ (from March 1982’s Borrowed Time). He sang on top of it, sent it back, and we liked it. I remember thinking ‘He’s not struggling to reach the notes, or to hold the notes.’
“He had a lot of power; I thought he made it sound easy, and there was just something about his voice that I liked – a certain tone, a timbre. So, we got him up for an audition in the Midlands – he came up on the train – and we liked him. We offered him the tour, because we had a European tour coming up in maybe a couple of months or something. We had a date in July that we needed to honour, and so we offered him the dates and sort of took it from there really. Then midway through the tour, we were all getting on. I wanted to see what he was like on the road and to live with, and to make sure that he wanted to join Diamond Head, and to make sure that we were all on the same page. We offered him the gig, and he gratefully accepted.”
Naturally, the axeman is enthusiastic with respect to Rasmus’ vocal style. “It’s just a kind of voice that I like,” he reasons. “I like particular types of singers. Certain singers over the years have just done it for me, and it was just something about Ras’ voice that I really liked. I thought that he would do justice to our back catalogue. It’s difficult to explain a singer. All singers are slightly different, aren’t they? And that’s very often what makes a band unique. Sometimes when I listen to a track, I don’t know who it is until the singer starts. You’ve probably done it yourself, where you think ‘Oh yeah… It’s so and so,’ but that’s how unique the vocal is with each individual person and singer. There is a sort of singing that I like, as I said earlier, and he just appealed to me.”
Previous vocalist Nick Tart confirmed his departure on October 14th, four days into Diamond Head’s UK jaunt. The exit concluded an 11-year tenure behind the microphone. “Nick and his family emigrated to Brisbane in 2008, and I thought that it might stop the band,” Brian shares. “What we decided to do was to fly him backwards and forwards for gigs, and he was happy to do that. As things unfolded, we did it, but it became very complicated. Of course it meant we couldn’t really write and record any more, because Nick would only come over for the tour or the gigs. He’s got a wife, kids and a full-time job in Australia, so he couldn’t really hang around and spend six months working on an album.
“That became a problem and it also became very stressful on our drummer Karl (Wilcox), who does a lot of the nuts and bolts of booking flights, visas, transport, and backline. To have a singer who lives in Brisbane is just so complicated for an English rock band, so we had a meeting in 2014 and decided that we needed to look for a singer who lives in the UK. We didn’t realise that we were going to get a Danish singer who lives in the UK (laughs), but that was the plan. I’m really glad that we found Rasmus, because I think he’s awesome.”
Such comments suggest Nick Tart didn’t leave of his own accord, per se. “Yeah,” the composer confirms. “I explained what was gonna happen; I said ‘We’re gonna need to get a different singer.’ He could understand. I put it to him like this: I said ‘Imagine you had a band that is based in Brisbane, and your guitarist decided to emigrate to the UK. Would you, A, pay to fly him backwards and forwards for gigs? Or B, get another guitarist?’ He said ‘Yeah… I’d get another guitarist’ (laughs). He totally understood – he wasn’t offended. He realised that he had caused the problem by emigrating to Brisbane, so he could sympathise with our dilemma.
“We went on, though. We managed to keep him in the band until his last gig, which was in July 2013… No, October 2013… It was something like that, anyway. And he played in Birmingham with us. Then he went back to Australia, and we went to America to do a tour. We had to use a deputy singer, because Nick’s father was taken ill. He had cancer, but he went into a hospice. It all became terrible for Nick, and so he had to be around for his dad. We had this tour booked, so we couldn’t do any more.
“I can’t remember exactly the sequence of events, but once we announced that we had a different singer or that a different singer was going to be doing the UK tour and the European tour in 2014, Nick decided to say that he had quit rather than… He said ‘I don’t want people turning up to the gigs thinking it’s going to be me singing.’. He announced that he had quit Diamond Head, so then we thought ‘Okay… Well, we’ll crack on with Rasmus.’ It was slightly complicated, but those were the sequence of events as far as I can remember.”
When Nick and family emigrated to Australia during 2008, Brian didn’t lend any thought towards possibly hiring a new frontman. “No, I didn’t want to,” he explains. “I wanted to keep Nick in the band. I like Nick, and I think that he was great for the band. We tried it – we had Sonisphere coming in 2011 (July 8th). With things like that, I just thought ‘Nick can fly out. We’ll do the gig, and we’ll probably have a couple of dates around it to help pay for the flights.’ The flights were probably £1500-1600, so we kept it going for as long as we could.
“As I say, it brought a lot of stress on Karl, and it made a lot of sense in the end. It probably took us six years to do it (laughs), but in the end we just thought ’We’re going to at least look around for another singer.’ If we couldn’t have found anybody that I was happy with, we’d have stuck with Nick. I had tried about five or six guys though, and thought ’We can definitely do this.’ That’s when we explained to Nick in 2014 that this was what we were going to be doing.”
Discussions regarding April 2016’s self-titled affair – and seventh full-length overall – began towards the conclusion of 2014. “I can remember discussing writing together in various dressing rooms,” the axe-slinger notes. “Then we played Sin City in Swansea (November 21st), and we had a meeting in the dressing room then. I said ‘Well, I’ve got a load of material that I’ve been working on.’ That was since 2007 really, since the last album, so I said ‘Well, I’ll give you the music.’ I don’t do lyrics, but I had written a lot of music. I gave him two CDs with 45 pieces of music on, and he went away – probably over Christmas – and picked stuff that he liked, really.
“Then we arranged a writing rehearsal in January 2015; we all got together in a room, and said ‘We should do it in the room, and write the songs together as a band – like Diamond Head used to back in the day.’ We took it from there really, just to see how it would go really. I wasn’t even that confident in my material. I just thought ‘Well, we can but try and see how it goes,’ and then after a while – after probably a couple of rehearsals – I realised that there was some good stuff coming here. There was a lot of good will to make it happen, and so we went on.
“We did eight-hour rehearsals, and we did those over a period of about six months on and off – you know, broken up. We didn’t do rehearsals every day of course, because people have got jobs and things to do. Very often, we’d do it on a Sunday. We’d start at midday and finish about eight o’clock at night, and we’d get quite a bit done.”
Having not authored material in quite some time, Brian’s confidence had waned. “It had been a while since I’d written anything, and I didn’t want to write another album like the last one, What’s In Your Head? (July 2007),” he figures. “I don’t know. I wasn’t that confident. I just felt we would try. I think Ras has been a big part of the success of the record; I think he’s come in with such a lot of fresh ideas, and a new outlook. He’s new blood in the band. Once I could hear what Ras was capable of… I almost didn’t appreciate Ras until I heard the guy’s vocals for this new album.
“I knew that he could do the old stuff, because that’s kind of copying and learning someone else’s lyrics. Once Ras was able to let rip with his own ideas, his own lyrics and his own creative input though, I was fully aware of his talent and was almost taken aback by the standard. Some of the melody lines that he has come up with for this new album are just brilliant. I’m so impressed with Ras’ creativity.”
A songwriter for several decades, the musician has naturally questioned whether he has the ability to pen strong compositions any more. “Yeah, exactly,” he seconds. “I’ve been doing it since I was 16, and yeah, you do. It’s hard to live up to some of that. Those old Diamond Head songs have sort of taken on a legendary status, almost. ‘Am I Evil?’ is out there in the world (from October 1980 debut Lightning To The Nations), doing its thing – it’s become like a rock classic. So yeah, you’ve got a lot of competition to compete with, and there are a lot of fantastic bands out there who are at it full-time. Maybe I just thought there might not be a place for what we’re doing now. As I say though, once we started coming up with the goods, my confidence grew and grew, and I knew that it was gonna be a good record.”
Nevertheless, Brian is still the principal songwriter within the Diamond Head camp. “Ever since the start with me, I’ve come up with a guitar riff,” he describes. “I start with a guitar riff, and then I build on that. I need to have the mood right; the whole track needs to have a certain mood, so sometimes I come up with two or three parts at the same time that all have a similar flow. Then other times, I find things that just work together. Some of these songs I’ve had for a while – a number of years – and I will have chipped away at them, crafted them, and keep coming back to them, thinking ‘I still like this. This is a good idea.’
“In a way, they’ve lasted for a couple of years or more already before I even got to record them. Anything that I didn’t like or didn’t really sound like Diamond Head… A couple of times, I would play something to Ras, and he would either say ‘I don’t think it sounds like Diamond Head’ or sometimes he’d say ‘That sounds very Diamond Head-y.’ We would work on songs that sounded the most like Diamond Head, and songs that Ras could come up with melodies for. We whittled them down from the 45 to like 14, and then it became 11 for the album.”
Of the compositions recorded in support of April 2016’s self-titled effort, one eventually didn’t surface on the final track listing. “It felt the least finished, and the least like the rest of the album,” the mainman judges. “It didn’t quite fit in, so I was happy to just take it off and keep it as an 11-track album, and then we also kind of earmarked a song for Japan. If we can get a release in Japan, they very often like an extra track, a bonus track. So, if we get to use it, it will be available in Japan. We haven’t done it yet, a Japanese release for the album. Once we thrash out a deal, then we will have a track ready. It’s not set in stone, so it might not happen. We’re in talks though, let’s say.”
In departing, Nick issued the following statement: ‘I was hoping to pen a third album (with Diamond Head), but making new music with the band became limited; Brian mentioned he had no interest in making a new album, he didn’t feel the urge.’ “That’s right,” Brian acknowledges. “As I say, I didn’t see how we could make a new album with Nick living in Australia, and I didn’t want to do it over the net. There was no opportunity to get together with Nick, so I couldn’t think how this was going to happen.
“Also, as I said earlier, I didn’t really have much confidence in the material that I had. When you turn up in rehearsal and you play your idea, sometimes you think ‘I don’t really know if this any good or not.’ It’s just a confidence thing, really. If the band jumps on it and goes ‘That’s brilliant. Let’s have a go at that,’ then great, but sometimes you get kind of blank expressions (laughs). They don’t always work.”
The logistical difficulties of Nick being situated in Australia are understandable. “Oh, it’s so complicated,” the guitarist tells. “To get a work visa to fly a guy from Brisbane to Los Angeles and back again and things like that is so tricky.”
Inevitably, the aforementioned self-titled outing has been critiqued against previous Diamond Head records. “The reviews have been fantastic, some of the best reviews of my career,” Brian enthuses. “I wasn’t this kind of general… Everybody seems to like it, so I’m so pleased. And again, that’s given me another kick, another boost. Some people have said it’s a bit like the album we should have made after Borrowed Time (laughs), and I can understand that. Diamond Head lost its way a little with Canterbury (June 1983).
“We probably overstretched ourselves; there’s some great stuff on there, but if you listen to Lightning To The Nations and then Canterbury, the band moved so far and so quickly that we probably alienated some fans. It was very difficult to play it live, and to almost fit it in with the previous material. Canterbury sold less copies than Borrowed Time as well, which isn’t what you want with a new band that’s supposed to be on an upward trajectory, but I like all of the Diamond Head albums for what they are.
“Years ago, there seemed to be a lot of money to make records. You’d enter a 24-track studio and you’d have a producer and all that, and those days have gone now. You almost do it yourself. A lot of the What’s In Your Head? album was done at home and on a ProTools LE rig, and this album was only done at a relatively cheap studio in the Midlands. We paid for it all ourselves, so we didn’t have a huge budget for anything. We didn’t have a producer; we just produced it ourselves. We kind of do it ourselves a little now, a bit like we did the first album I suppose.”
Given that reviewers have commented that the self-titled platter could have potentially been authored following the issue of Borrowed Time, the self-titled record perhaps has more in common with the aforementioned March 1982 affair. “Maybe,” the axeman muses. “Maybe a little bit. There are definitely flashes of Lightning To The Nations and Borrowed Time on this new record. I’ve thought about it, and I reckon because Rasmus came in new, fresh…
“He’s 20 years younger than the rest of us, and I think he went through everything we’ve recorded. He listened to every track, and learnt the lyrics. I think almost like a producer would, he’s come in and kind of taken an overview of what’s good about Diamond Head – what we should be doing, and maybe what we shouldn’t be doing – and really focused our vision for what makes a good Diamond Head record. I could totally understand where he was coming from. We were all onboard with that notion, that it should sound like a Diamond Head record.”
Freedom exists within the Diamond Head framework. “Tons, because Diamond Head, we’re not stuck on one little style,” Brian asserts. “Certain bands have a style and you can recognise them in a second, but if you listen to something like ‘Helpless’ and then say ‘The Kingmaker’ or ‘Ishmael’, there’s a mile of difference there. So, it’s within that. It’s quite a broad sound, really. It’s still Diamond Head, but it’s quite a broad sound so you can branch out. Probably not too far, though. I think we probably went too far bringing in piano and kettle drums and…
“I don’t know. You name it – the kitchen sink (laughs). We probably naively thought that anything is possible when we were like 22, 23, but I think anything is possible as long as you’ve got the money to back it up and the sales base and fans. We would look to bands like Led Zeppelin and Queen who experimented and weren’t afraid to try new things, but Diamond Head didn’t have anything like those kinds of sales or power. I think we overstretched, and tried to change too quickly.”
As a songwriter, one wishes to stretch and branch out. “You do, but you can still write good songs that sound like Diamond Head,” the axe-slinger submits. “You don’t have to keep stretching and stretching. It’s very difficult to keep trying to go and do something totally new – it’s probably easier to do something similar to what you’ve done before.”
Brian possesses a catalogue of riffs unsuitable for Diamond Head. “I have got lots and lots of riffs; I have still got a lot of riffs even on cassette, and I’ve kept them,” he reveals. “I don’t throw anything away, so I keep things for a while until I can use them in the right context. Yeah though, occasionally. As I said earlier, I gave stuff to Ras, and sometimes I think ‘Oh, I like this one. This will be good,’ but Ras would go ‘I don’t think it’s Diamond Head.’ so I let him have that say, because I thought ‘Okay, he’s coming in fresh.’ I am probably too close to it sometimes, and by somebody coming in fresh, they can instantly see ‘Oh, I see that’s what’s good about Diamond Head.’ It’s all about good riffs and good melodies, and exciting, powerful songs.”
Sadly, the musician’s plethora of unused riffs will not emerge in a solo project. “No, I don’t fancy that,” he dismissively replies. “I’ve never fancied a solo album. I did have another band called Radio Moscow in the late 80s, but I wouldn’t do a solo band, like Brian Tatler’s Blah Blah Blah. It doesn’t appeal to me. I like being in a band. Diamond Head’s my band; I came up with the name and formed it in 1976, and I’ve tried to look after it and protect the quality ever since. I’m happy to just be in Diamond Head, and make sure it can survive as long as it can survive.”
Nevertheless, Diamond Head fanatics would love to hear Brian’s unused riffs. “They’re for my ears only,” he chuckles. “Sorry.”
Returning to the topic of Diamond Head’s self-titled outing, where lyrical fare is concerned, the mainman is devoid of contribution. “Ras writes all of the lyrics, and with previous albums Sean (Tatler) would write lyrics or Nick would write the lyrics,” he informs. “I do think because Ras is kind of a different generation and he’s a bit more aware of social issues, and he’s brought that to the table… It’s difficult for me to say, really. You’d have to speak to Ras, but you can hear the frustrations sometimes and the anger that he’s put into these lyrics, kind of raging about certain issues of the day, so there’s bit of a political statement in there. It all works for me, because I think if the music’s got a power to it, then the lyrics need to as well. and I’m happy with his lyrics, and his contribution. He’s done a sterling job (laughs).”
A member existing within the ranks markedly younger in age arguably makes for an interesting mix. “I don’t know,” Brian ponders. “Purely on his voice; he’s got this great voice, and it’s a trained voice. He knows how to look after it; warm-ups, he knows all about that, and techniques. He’s got a range that we probably haven’t even heard on record yet. I don’t know. There’s no problems – he understands that it’s my band. He comes in and does his thing, really.
“Ras is like a geek, and he’s very good with the social media side of things – the promotion of the band through things like Facebook – so he’s into all that. He’s into video and production, and he buys microphones and compressors and all kinds of things. He’s got a home studio, so he’s very technical like that, and he knows… If it can be done, Ras can probably do it, or at least find a way of doing it. It’s nice to have somebody in the band that can tackle some of those problems. In a way, he’s kind of found his niche within what each member of the band does.”
Self-titling the April 2016 Diamond Head long-player occurred since the guitarist “thought that it was the best title,” he divulges. “It was quite simple, really. I did want a title – all of the other albums have got titles. I looked at all of the song titles, and some of the song titles kept evolving as Ras would change the lyrics and change the title, and nothing quite fit. We had a big list on the studio wall. I had an idea in mind, but nothing quite worked. Then Eddie our bass player suggested ‘Why not call it Diamond Head?,’ and I thought about it. I thought ‘That’s a good idea. I like that,’ and so I said to everybody ‘Unless we can think of a better name, it will be called Diamond Head.’ We stuck with that (laughs).
“For like six months, we ended up thinking that that’s the best name for the album, and the artwork appeared. We had been working on artwork for T-shirts and things for a while, and then when this new design appeared – which is kind of like the old logo, the ’82 classic logo revamped – it made perfect sense. There was no way back from there. It’s a self-titled album. Bands have done it before. This is our time to do it.”
No consideration was lent towards self-titling October 1980 debut Lightning To The Nations. “This is the only one where I considered self-titling,” Brian clarifies. “‘Lightning To The Nations’ is track one, side one of that album, and it just seemed to be a great title for the album. It was probably Sean’s suggestion, and I had no problem with it. It’s a great title; it’s strong, especially for a debut. It kind of sends a message out. No though, we’ve never thought about calling an album Diamond Head before.”
Recording sessions for the aforementioned Diamond Head were handled courtesy of ProTools at a Walsall-based studio. “We met this engineer called Adam Beddoe, and we liked him,” the axeman details. “We just made a start, as you do. You record your drums, and then you move onto bass. What we did on this album which we’ve not done before is we recorded the bass DI, so Eddie would play along with the drums and then we’d re-amp the bass once we’d done the guitars so that we could tailor the bass sound to fit the guitar sound, and re-amped it twice. The DI sound, which was very good anyway, we ran it into an Ampeg SBT amp 8”x10”, and that was much more distorted.
“Then we did an even more distorted bass guitar track through a Blackstar Series One guitar amp, so then you had a blend of three different bass sounds that you could use in the mix, and that was so strong and powerful. The guitars, many were done with a Diezel amp, VH4. Myself and Abbz both used the same amp because it just sounded fantastic, which was an Orange 4”x12”. I’ve got a Les Paul Standard that I used while Abbz used his Les Paul Custom, because his is slightly bass-ier than mine. Mine’s got a bit more middle, so that was pretty much our sound.
“Ras tried doing the vocals at home in his home studio, but it didn’t work. I think he needed someone to encourage him and stop him becoming a perfectionist, so he ended up coming up to the studio and recording all of the vocals in Walsall, and that’s it really. We mixed it in Walsall. Our friend Dave “Shirt” Nichols, who’s Slipknot’s front-of-house engineer and also the producer of the last album – What’s In Your Head? – we got him to mix it with Adam, and he was fantastic. He did a great job; he pulled it to pieces, and rebuilt it (laughs). He’s got a very good ear, and is very decisive – he didn’t flim-flam.”
Recording sessions were spread across several months. “I would say it took about 25 days to record and mix, so fairly quick, but spread out over four months,” Brian recalls. “We’d work for three or four days, and then… We had a couple of gigs dotted around. Ras had to have a couple of months to work on lyrics, but it all got recorded between July and November 2015.”
Handling distribution for the self-titled affair is the Dissonance label. “Initially, it was gonna be completely self-funded,” the composer briefs. “We were gonna sell the album on the net – online, on the website – and then Dissonance got involved. They liked it, and we did a deal with them. It’s been great, because they put so much effort into it. They’ve got like three press guys – they’ve got America, and Europe – so the amount of press I’ve been doing is much more than normal. I’ve done so many interviews for this record. They’re just aggressively working on the promotion of it, much more so than we could have done ourselves, so it’s been really good. I’m glad we got onboard with this company, Dissonance. The head came to see us in Bristol, Steve Beatty, and yeah, great. It’s nice to be on with a label that can help us promote it.”
A music video to promote the effort is in the pipeline. “We’ve been talking about it,” Brian imparts. “We did have a video director in mind, but then he kind of went offline and said he had to deal with some corporate stuff, and we haven’t been able to tie him down since. Then we’ve had gigs – we’ve just been to Malta, Ibiza, and Madrid – so we’re just trying to time it really, and fit it all in. So, there may be. If we do one, we might do ‘All The Reasons You Live’. Ras did a video for ‘Bones’ and that did a job, got people excited about the album, but we haven’t done a proper music video and we should really. We’re sort of trying to get it together.”
The urge to pen further Diamond Head material exists. “We’ve been talking about it,” the axe-slinger discloses. “We might do another one. Funnily enough, I came up with a riff earlier I really like – I was just recording it when you phoned. I think ‘Oh, that’s a good one. That’s one for the Diamond Head camp.’ I still come up with riffs – I try to practice guitar every day. When I find a riff, I just tape it and then come back to it, and review it. Even if I don’t review it for a couple of years, I will come back to it. If I still like it, then it’s gotta be good (laughs).”
Diamond Head haven’t issued a wealth of full-lengths throughout the years. “No,” Brian concurs. “This is our seventh album, isn’t it? We did an album in 2003 that never came out, so this is still the seventh actual album that’s been released. Nobody’s ever heard this album – it’s just gathering dust.”
Whether Diamond Head’s 2003 record will see the light of day is uncertain. “It’s in Sean’s court,” the musician contends. “It’s complicated (laughs). I’d like it out; I think it’s a shame to just have it sitting and doing nothing. We paid for it ourselves, so it cost money that we’ve lost. I think it’s madness to not have it available, but it’s not my decision.”
One wonders as to whether Sean Tatler wishes for said 2003 jaunt to undergo general release. “Probably, but on his terms,” Brian reckons.
Diamond Head was released on April 22nd, 2016 via Dissonance.
Interview published in May 2016.
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