Interview conducted April 9 2019
Interview published May 12 2019
"I try to be quality control."
Legendary NWOBHM act Diamond Head
put out its new effort The Coffin Train via Silver Lining Music on May
24th and Metal Covenant was able to score some talking time with the band's
guitarist and grand master Brian Tatler as
he showed up in Stockholm, Sweden on his promo run.
Tobbe: Tell me how this new album kicks
off your personal vision for the next couple of years.
Brian: I always just want to expand the fanbase.
I want the band to get bigger and bigger. I've been trying to do that
for years. I mean, it's hard to keep a band together; keep everybody
happy. So I just want, you know, bigger crowds and I'd like playing
places we've never been before. That's always on the horizon.
You know, there's a lot of territories we haven't
been to yet. We haven't been to South America, Australia, New Zealand
and we've only been to Japan once. There's talk of, you know, Asia and
Russia, all sorts, but actually getting over there, logistically and
getting it promoted to book the band, is tricky. We just wanna keep
it going really. We've got all kinds of festivals coming up for this
year and we've got a couple of dates opening for Saxon in October and
then into next year we'll probably go back to the U.S..
it, really. We just promote the album as much as we can, trying to get
it out there, get it to as many people as we can. Obviously each band
is proud of their album when it comes out, but you want people to hear
it, don't you? You know, you've spent a long time making it and you
want people to listen to it and at least give you a reaction, even if
it's negative, but at least I've heard it.
It's horrible when you make a record and no one
listens to it. I've made two albums in fact that didn't even get released
and how frustrating is that? When you put all that time and effort in,
and then it never even got released. No one's ever heard them. So you
wanna get it out there, let it free, let it have its moment.
Tobbe: Is it always as energizing to have
a new record out?
Brian: Yes, it is. It's great. I love the creative
process of the writing. It can be frustrating getting the artwork, and
the mixing, and the mastering. And, you know, the record label do contracts.
A lot of that can be frustrating, but it's great to have new material
that we can play live. It feels like a progression from the last album.
It's the second album with Ras [Rasmus Bom Andersen [The first one being
the self titled album in 2016]], so it feels like we're going in the
This time Ras is the producer, so he's put a
lot of time into, you know, just the way the album sounds and the mixing.
He mixed it himself in his house. He's done a fantastic job. From the
last album we knew we wanted to get a better drum sound, because the
last album we did the drums in a room about this big [About 15 square
meters / 160 square feet] and I think it was carpeted and dead, right?
So this time we said "If we could start
with a bigger drum sound and go to a different studio
know, the ultimate drum sound is a bit like When The Levee Breaks, isn't
it? Nobody else can get that sound, but we can aspire to it. So we got
a better drum sound and then I think, building on top of that, everything
got better and better and Ras has proved himself as a producer and it's
a calling card for Ras.
Tobbe: As a sole original member of the
band, is it sometimes tough to let other people have their say and their
ideas without you inferring with that stuff?
Brian: I try to be quality control. I try to
filter out the riffs. You know "I think this is a good riff; this
is a very Diamond Head riff.". If somebody else has an idea I will
try and judge it on what it is; "Is this better?". I'm open
to ideas, as long as I actually like them, I guess. [Laughs]
think they all look to me to be quality control and as the original
member then I've got to like it, 'cause otherwise you're kind of messing
with the original idea of the band. They all appreciate that, you know,
I'm responsible for things like Am I Evil? and The Prince and Helpless,
and those classics kind of informed the band through the years. You
know, we need those songs as an identity, in a way. So we're always
looking to kind of, you know, write something that's gonna be classic
like that, and that almost kind of nods to it a little bit, and we haven't
completely moved away from what we had.
Since Ras joined the band he has focused on those
first 3 albums, really; Lightning [
To The Nations, 1980], Borrowed
Time  and Canterbury  and he has kind of appreciated what's
great about those 3 albums, in a fresh way. He has come in fresh and
he sort of said "This is what's great about Diamond Head. We probably
lost our way a little bit there, but we need to do more like that and
You know, I'll give him ideas and he will occasionally
say "I don't think that's Diamond Head.". You know, I've maybe
gone down this route or maybe I've been influenced by a newer band and
it's maybe taken us away from our style. I think we gotta respect and
define our style.
Tobbe: When I listened to this new album,
I kind of thought like "This was probably an easy decision, for Brian
to still play old school heavy metal, like the first couple of albums."
and I was actually gonna ask you a question about that, but now you've
already kind of answered it.
Brian: I've sort of answered it, yes. And I respect
the fact that people still like those songs. And people wanna hear them
live. A lot of those early songs are still in the set. So to do more
of the same, the big riffs, the big choruses, the big epics
know, there's a lot of quite long songs on this album. The Coffin Train
is 6 minutes long and a couple are 5 minutes long. So, that feels right
to me. It feels like we're doing the right thing. I think The Coffin
Train, the title track, is one of the best things I've ever done. I
was really, a 100 percent, pleased with it. So if I can get it right
from time to time, you know, I'm totally behind it.
Tobbe: You told me that you gave Ras a lot
of responsibility for this record, but right in the beginning of this
album cycle, when you first thought about making a new album, a couple
of years ago I guess, what were your initial thoughts back then?
Brian: The last album was so well-received by
fans and critics alike that we knew we had to do something good, really
good, because, you know, you've already made some expectation there.
There's a bit of pressure to do something better, or at least as good.
So we just started really with the best ideas we had and we'd just let
them grow and work on them. I would go down to Ras's flat in Acton in
London and we'd have guitars, 'cause he plays guitar as well, and we'd
work on songs, and very often I'd have a song idea that I'd given him
and he'd tell me "I like this one. This is really good. But
it doesn't have a chorus.".
we then have to write a chorus, so. You know, I might have a riff that
works, or he might have a riff. Between us something will come along
and we'll try and make it happen. But yeah, you just build, you do more
demos, then we get the band involved. We try in rehearsal, with just
Tobbe: Do a lot of riffs just pop up in
your head or do you need a guitar to go into creativity?
Brian: Guitar, yes. I try and practice every
day. So I pick up the guitar and as my fingers land on the neck sometimes
I come up with a riff straight away; the first thing. Or you might not
get anything for half an hour, or you might get nothing. If I do come
up with a riff I like I'll tape it. It's just immediately tape it, 'cause
tomorrow "I will never remember it in a million years.".
So I end up with these tapes full of riffs and
when it comes time to write: "I'm gonna have to write for this
album.", go through the tapes, and then out of 50 riffs you might
like one, and I'll say "That's good! Let's do that!". So I'll
do a demo at home and then I will give a CD of ideas to Ras and he then
filters out again, the ones that sound the most like Diamond Head. And
it's never a case that he can't come up with vocals.
So in a way I'm sort of giving him the opportunity
to say "I can't come up with a vocal for that.". 'Cause I
have had that in the past. But in Ras's case: He never says that. He
says he can work with anything. So I can give him the most difficult
riff possible and he'll still come up with a vocal. But the one criterion
we have is we filter out "It's not Diamond Head.", you know.
Tobbe: Ras seems to inspire your own work.
Brian: You know, since Ras joined he totally
got what was good about Diamond Head and maybe what we'd lost. So I
think he took an overview when he came in. I just wanna create great
music, and I need a singer to do that, because I don't do lyrics and
I can't sing. So unless I am working with a talented kind of partner,
then the end product would just not work.
mean, I was lucky enough to have Sean Harris in the early days. That
writing partnership worked very well. And then we did two albums with
Nick [Tart]. That was good, but I think Ras coming in has kind of raised
it again. And me and Ras work very well together. Very complimentary
to each other's styles, and again, I leave all the lyrics and vocals
up to him. So I like to concentrate on what I do. I'm trying to provide
as good musical backing and ideas as possible. Give something to inspire
Ras, so that he will do great things on top.
Tobbe: Is there any kind of lyrical concept
on the album? Or maybe a couple of songs about similar subjects?
Brian: It does seem like that at times. It's
quite a dark album; a lot of death references. You know, The Messenger;
you've got Death By Design; The Coffin Train. It's Ras really, because
I think: he's Danish, he's into "Save the planet.", ecology,
he gets frustrated when he sees businesses fucking the planet up like
that, and I think that comes out in a kind of anger in the lyrics. Some
of it is experiences he's witnessed and some of it is inspired by other
The Coffin Train title came from a dream he had.
'Cause we had titles. I was suggesting titles, he was suggesting titles
and he suggested The Coffin Train and I said "What's that then?"
and he said "I had a dream. There was a train, and all of the carriages
were, like, coffins, and there was a big nuclear explosion.". People
love trains. You know "That will make a good cover." and we
got in touch with this artist. It took months to get it from A to B,
but we got it right.
And then there's another song on the album, that
is a lament to Chris Cornell, 'cause we were gonna do a gig with Soundgarden
in Oklahoma called Rocklahoma, before Chris died, and our singer Ras's
second favorite singer was Chris Cornell; his first being Freddie Mercury,
and he thought he was gonna get to meet Chris and maybe have a chat
to him, shake his hand, tell him what a big influence he'd been on Ras's
style, and once Chris died, it sort of sunk Ras into a depression, you
know, and you could see all the energy drop and for about a week he
was just distort about losing Chris.
that lyric, to Shades Of Black, there's a lot of refererences in there
too, with loss and heartache.
Tobbe: In what way can a band like Diamond
Head attract people or kids from later generations and not only people
who were there from the beginning?
Brian: That's partly what we're trying to do
each time. I think Ras's production will help. I think it's a better
sounding album than the last one. And I hope that, you know, if you're
just getting into rock or metal and you don't know anything about Diamond
Head, the history, the baggage, then you just might listen to this record
and go "Ouff! That's good! I like that.". That's kind of all
I can do and hope for, you know, 'cause bringing new fans is always
good for the energy and the longevity.
So the sound of Diamond Head now is a little
bit modern. It's kind of Diamond Head for the 21st century. It's moved
on a little; technology has moved on. You know, 40 years almost since
Lightning To The Nations came out. So a lot has happened in metal in
that time and you can't help a little bit of influence in your style
and sound. And so, if we can make a record that is classic Diamond Head,
but has a slightly modern twist, then I think that we've probably done
the right thing.
Tobbe: Do you sometimes feel some kind of
frustration that maybe a lot of metal fans won't even listen to this record
or won't even know that it's out?
Brian: Well, you make a record to be heard, and
you kind of hand it over, don't you, to a label, people like yourself;
journalists, press. If everybody loves the record it should spread,
shouldn't it? Some bands and artists can be undiscovered almost in their
time, but eventually surely the talent should seep out and a record
can eventually become a classic even though it didn't get all the attention
right at that moment and didn't have 5 hit singles or anything.
It can be the same with films and books, because
it's just something in it that speaks to people and stays with them
and they wanna hear it over and over and over again. And I've had that
with albums and I can only do the best album I possibly can, with what
I've got, with the budget we have and then hope everybody likes it.
And that's all everybody probably wants to do.
Tobbe: So to what extent do you work on
the band's social media in order to keep up with today's climate?
Brian: We do much more now than we used to.
Before Ras and Dean [Ashton, bass] joined we didn't really have anyone
doing that. So we'd have a friend who ran a website and we'd just pump
him with a little information here and there. And it was very slow and,
you know, wouldn't compete with the big bands who were pumping every
day. But it's more now. And we've got a new manager. Well, we've got
a manager. Adam [Parsons] from Siren [Artist] Management is managing
they also manage Saxon, Black Star Riders, Europe. Diamond Head have
never really been with a big manager, 'til right now. So we're taking
much more care of social media. We'll do everything we can to give this
album the best chance it can get. 'Cause it will only have a shelf life,
won't it? It will come out, and if it doesn't explode, people'll move
on to the next thing.
Tobbe: Diamond Head really didn't get that
real breakthrough back in the day and did you at some point accept the
fact that Diamond Head maybe would never go big?
Brian: Yeah. Of course, of course. All the time
I had no choice; I had no control over it. I could not make it happen
myself. It needs to be a team; a team effort, and you have to be on
a trajectory going up and up and up, don't you? Because once you get
dropped by the label, then you're in trouble. And then the band split.
They always say, like "With the ball rolling...".
As long as the ball's rolling it's easy to keep it going, but if it
stops, then it's hard to get it rolling again. And I find that very
true. Because Diamond Head's been rolling now for at least 19 years.
We reformed in 2000. You know, anything is possible now. I mean, age
is probably against a few of us in the band, shall we say? [Laughs]
But then you've got the enthusiasm of Ras and
Dean, who are both in their 30's, and they're just gung-ho to "Let's
make it happen!". And there's so much potential for a band like
Diamond Head. We can play anywhere in the world. A lot of opportunities.
Tobbe: Is it hard to come to a conclusion
to why it didn't really click back then?
Brian: Yeah, it is. But we never had proper
management. We had a guy who ran a cardboard box factory and just put
some money in. And then we had Sean's mom, who was going out with him.
They were amateurs, really, that were learning on the job. They didn't
really know how to guide the band, from experience, you know.
It was not like they managed other bands, so
they knew what to do and put us out with this band and
there's so many things I think you need guidance for. Especially when
you're a young band and you've never done it before. The idea of touring
America is so complicated to a little band. You know, unless if you've
got somebody who can get it together. We never toured the States; we
only ever toured the UK.
then by the time we got over to Europe the lineup had changed and some
of the magic was probably gone. And then by '85 it was all over. Instead
of riding all the bumps in the road and keeping it going, it stopped.
That's life. There's very few bands at the top, isn't there? There's
a few, a handful, so if you can imagine
You know how many bands
who are out there. It's hundred of thousands, and everyone of those
wants to be as big as Metallica and it's just not gonna happen, is it?
The odds, it's impossible, but they still try. [Laughs]
Tobbe: Besides recording and writing music,
what does a normal day look like for Brian Tatler?
Brian: My wife works, so very often I'm in the
house, and I will, you know, do chores around the house, or walk the
dogs, do the cooking. I like cooking, so I'll prepare a meal for the
evening. Watch a film, read. I like to read. And I practice in the day.
I practice every day. I do guitar lessons sometimes. I try and keep
fit, so I'll do cycling. I'll go and see my mom, who's ill with dementia,
in a care home. My brother; I'll go to see him.
Just normal family things and trying, you know,
to keep myself busy. 'Cause I'm self-employed, I'm a full-time musician,
but I'm not always busy, so when we not gig and when we not do things
like this, I can have days when there's nothing to do. [Laughs]
Tobbe: Do you have any, like, biggest fears,
on a musical, or a personal plane?
Brian: Yeah, illness, really. I had a heart
attack in 2015 so I worry about that happening again. And also I don't
wanna get arthritis. I've got a bit of it in my fingers and there was
a time when I couldn't make a fist and I thought "How can I play
the guitar? I can't even get the strength to close my hand.". So
I had to do exercises and I would put Voltarol on.
And with lots of guitar exercises and gentle
massage and things like that, it comes back. I can do 15-20 minutes
and it'll come back, so I'm okay again. So whenever I practice I do
warm-ups. If we rehearse, if we do a gig, and record, I always have
to do warm-ups first, to get me back to a level of speed. So I worry
about maybe, you know, my fingers, and just general health, that I've
got no energy or I'm too tired to do things. You know, as you get older
it becomes an issue.