If you’re a metal fan of a certain age – ie like me, approaching your fiftieth year on the planet – legends don’t come much bigger than Brian Tatler. Influencer of bands such as Metallica and Megadeth, composer of such denim and leather beloved anthems as Am I Evil?, Its Electric and Call Me, guitarist of unfathomable ability and stoic fellow to boot, Mr Tatler is back with a new Diamond Head album and he’s ready to talk. When legends come calling you don’t say no…
You must be very pleased with the way the album’s turned out? “I am, and of course I’m very pleased with the reaction to it. Reviews so far have been amazing, some of the best I’ve ever had. You never know when you’re making a record what people will think of it, so you have please yourself I think. But the reaction has been fantastic and everyone seems to have taken to Rasmus (Bom Anderson), the new singer”.
Do you still get nervous before an album comes out or are you too long in the tooth for nerves now? Do you still worry what the press will think of your records? “I suppose I’m anxious. It is what it is; we made the best record we could with the resources we had available. I’m resigned to the fact that it will never be perfect. But when you get such a good reaction, it is a justification of all your hard work. When you make a record you commit yourself, a year of your life, so if people like it it’s all been worthwhile”.
Yet you were close to giving up, weren’t you? Even the press release that accompanied the new record says you were on the verge of giving Diamond Head away. So what changed? Was it meeting Rasmus? What gave you the enthusiasm to step back into the fray? “I was happy to continue Diamond Head, but I felt no urge to write another record. And with (former singer) Nick Tart emigrating to Brisbane it became extremely expensive and complicated to fly him backwards and forwards. We sort of hooked up with Rasmus mid tour; we wanted to see how we got on with him, see if he liked Diamond Head and we liked him. We offered him the job, and once he was in I started thinking maybe we should write some new material. Just to see if we could write. So we did that, I had some material I’d been working on and he said great. But let’s do it in a room together – he didn’t want to do a ‘send some files over the net’ kind of album. I said OK, because that’s the way we used to work when we did the first few albums, as a band in a room, making it sound good with the four instruments. I’ve had success doing it that way in the past, and I was all for trying to get that ‘band magic’ you get when you’re all playing together and you just hit a groove. But yes, Ras was the catalyst for the new album and me getting excited about it again. He’s definitely made me excited to make new music again”.
So many bands find it easy just to tour once a year playing their old material don’t they? Do you feel you owe it to yourself as a musician and an artist to try and come up with new stuff? “It’s true you could just go out and play the hits. But I’ve never stopped writing. I’ve maybe slowed down a bit as I’ve got older but I’m always taping riffs and ideas. I’ve got a little Pro Tools LE rig that I make demos on. Store them away. Some stuff I’ve had for years and you just bring it out when you need it. I did feel I had some good ideas, but I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my demos. I just thought well, we’ll try – what have we got to lose? So we went to the first rehearsal, and we thought if it’s no good, all that’s happened is we’ve wasted a day. Ras said ‘I can sing everything!’ which I thought was quite a claim! But it’s important your singer is happy. In the past I think we’ve tailored our material to whoever was singing it, whereas with Ras I fired some quite difficult riffs and rhythms at him and he never baulked at an idea or said ‘I can’t do that’. The only thing he would say occasionally was ‘I don’t think that sounds like Diamond Head’, and I would probably admit that I was trying to push those parts a bit, trying to move it forward a bit into some new direction where the reality is that Diamond Head has a sound and a style and we should probably try to make the most of it”.
Well that decision worked I think. One of my first reactions on hearing the record was that it could have been recorded between Borrowed Time and Canterbury in 1982-83. “A lost album!” Yes, or at least a quintessential one. It really does sound like a Diamond Head album sonically, if that’s not too silly a thing to say. “Yes it does. Which is amazing, given that in this day and age everything is done digitally, it’s a different line up and it’s a different singer. There are quite a few factors that could dilute what Diamond Head had on those first albums, but we seem to have pulled it off!”
I’m glad you did! You’ve been in some form of Diamond Head now for forty years, haven’t you? “Yes, although we’ve split up twice. I formed it in 1976 with the original drummer Duncan Scott. It’s like your baby. I’ve tried to protect it for all those years. When it’s great it’s great”.
Did you think in 1976 that the band would effectively become your life’s work? “No. Not at all. I couldn’t imagine beyond a couple of albums into the future. We put a lot of work into the first album; I remember thinking then ‘I can’t imagine writing album number four’. It just seemed somehow in another lifetime. You probably live a lot more in the moment when you’re younger. I never thought about the future”.
Well let’s think about the immediate future now – you’ll be out on tour soon I guess? “Yes, but sadly not in Australia! We going right around Europe, including a date in Ibiza which will be nice. I’ve never been to Ibiza! A lot of places we’ve been, some we haven’t, and we’re also playing the Bloodstock festival, which is a good festival in the Midlands of the UK”. I went to the second ever Bloodstock, I think, when it was still indoors at the Derby Assembly Rooms in 2002. “We played that one! The only time we played Bloodstock was in 2002, with Blind Guardian and Gamma Ray”. That’s the one. “It’s got bigger and bigger, Its Bloodstock Open Air now. It’s a great festival”.
You said a moment ago that you’re always writing, so is it too early to talk about album number two with this line up? “Well, myself and Ras have had this conversation. I said we should make a start because this year is going to fly by. I’ve already given him some stuff, and when we meet up for rehearsals in a couple of weeks’ time I’ll give him a bit more then. I think by the end of this year we’ll have enough material. I’m OK with doing another album, (a) because Ras has been such a great guy to work with, we’ve done so well together, and (b) because there’s a lot of goodwill towards Diamond Head”.
There certainly is. I think Borrowed Time was the second album I ever bought. Rock and metal fans seem to remember that sort of fact don’t they? “Yes, they are very loyal. Diamond Head fans are very loyal. I feel like that too, bands I loved, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, once I got into those bands I’ve never left them. They can change, split up, whatever – I’m still a fan”.
I’d like to go back to that first trio of albums now if I may – if I say Lightning to the Nations, what is the first thought that comes into your mind about the making of that record? “Probably the studio. It was called The Old Smithy in Worcester, and we did the whole thing, record and mix, in a week. I remember working on the solo for Am I Evil? We’d been working on Am I Evil? for so long, over a year. In the studio I was trying to figure out the solo. The engineer said ‘you can change key on the tapping section’ and he showed me on the piano. I thought that’s good! And we adjusted it there and then, even after working on it all that time. Finally it was finished! I think you can do that to a song right up until you mix it. Then I leave it alone. Even on this album I was doing edits while we were mixing. With Pro Tools you can do that, but once it’s mixed I can let go”.
What about Borrowed Time? “I would say the studio again. This time it was Playground Studios in Camden in London. We had three weeks for that album. We did it with a producer called Mike Hedges. He was trying to capture our live sound – we had a reputation as a good live band, we had an energy, and I think the plan was to try and capture some of that. Easier said than done! We’d already done the Call Me EP there”.
And what comes to mind when Canterbury is mentioned? “Canterbury was very, very hard work. It was our difficult third album. It split the band, which was something I never expected. I’d known Duncan Scott, the drummer, since I was eleven, and being put in a situation where we had to sack him was really horrible. I’ve never forgotten it. And then our bassist Colin Kimberley finished all his bass tracks and then announced he was leaving! We were doing stuff individually. I’d be working on a solo in one room, Colin was laying down his bass and Sean (Harris, the band’s mercurial vocalist) would be writing lyrics somewhere else, Colin finished his last track, asked the engineer if he was done and then said I’m leaving. It was a real shocker. I can understand now, because it had stopped being fun, it had become hard work and we had a huge debt hanging over our heads. That happens to a lot of bands I guess, it all depends how tough you are, whether you can come through the other side and make things happen. It was a real shame. A year after Canterbury the band began to disintegrate. In hindsight we should have made a go of it, regrouped and kept going, because we obviously had ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ is. We managed to screw it up”.
But anyone seeing you on the Canterbury tour with Budgie at the time wouldn’t have known the band was falling apart. “Yes, but we were having a lot of problems. Our management was always coming under fire for not being professional enough, we were signed to MCA which is an American label with an English office; Our management were basically told by the American office that they were out of their depth, they kept saying we needed to get new management. In the end it came down to a board meeting. The A&R guy who’d signed us a couple of years earlier, Charlie Eyre, said ‘either you drop your management or MCA will drop Diamond Head. We will not pick up your option in January 1984’. He left that meeting with tears in his eyes and we never saw him again”.
It’s awful that music can come to that, isn’t it? “It’s money, ultimately. They were throwing money at bands and then the bean counters say ‘this is making a loss’, the love goes out of it. We had that”.
Thankfully that was then this is now, and Diamond Head now has a happy and prosperous future ahead of it on the back of an utterly superb new album.