» Brian Tatler - Diamond Head
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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..

That'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 right direction.

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…". You 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]

I 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 [1982] and Canterbury [1983] 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 like that.".

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… You 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.".

So 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 tempos sometimes.

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.

I 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 things.

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.

So 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 the band.

And 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… You know, 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.

And 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.

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