Interview By Ville Krannila / May 2008
This month Steel Mill features a guest who needs no introduction: guitarist Andy LaRocque! The man of course has been playing guitar with King Diamond since the very beginning nearly 25 years ago, but besides this has made a long career in producing several other metal bands and runs his own studio in Sweden. Steel Mill staff was more than happy to discuss with Andy, subjects touched on King Diamond’s past and future, production side of things plus working with Death and Falconer among other interests.
Hello Andy, when you started out playing guitar, who were your biggest influences?
My first influences (mid-seventies) were bands like Status Quo, Slade, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, T-Rex, Uriah Heep, Priest, Thin Lizzy etc. All the good melodic stuff from the 70’s!! A few years later I listened to everything from UFO to Ozzy with Randy Rhoads. Guitarwise I would say that Michael Schenker and Randy Rhoads are the guitarists that I always end up having as my two favourite players through the years..
How many bands did you play with before joining the King Diamond band? One of them was called Swedish Beauty right?
Actually it was called Swedish Erotica, with the former singer of Norwegian Band TNT. Also played for a short time in a band called EF Band + other
local Gothenburg bands.
Back in 1985 how did you originally hook up with King?
Me and Mikkey Dee (Motörhead) played together for a while in what was later going to be called Swedish Erotica. Mikkey then joined a band from Copenhagen, Denmark and after playing with them for a while and hanging out with local musicians, he met the guys from Mercyful Fate which in
early 1985 broke up to be reformed as King Diamond.
Mikkey was the asked to join, and when it didn’t work out with the guitarist the had at the time they started to record “Fatal Portrait.” In June 1985 Mikkey called me up and said that they wanted me to come down for an audition. The day after I went down to the studio in Copenhagen with a guitar and my Marshall 50 watt head, met the guys, listened to a track from “Fatal Portrait” called “Dressed In White” for a few times, played along, they recorded it and told me I was in!!
On early King Diamond releases, especially on “Conspiracy,” and tracks like “Sleepless Nights” I picked up some definite Priest-influences. Do you agree and on those early records, how much of those guitar sounds and solos came from you?
Oh really? Well, Priest has always been an influence, but I would say that at the time before we recorded “Conspiracy” I listened a lot to Ozzy, Black Sabbath and Steve Vai. The clean guitar part of sleepless nights is definitely inspired by Tony Iommi´s playing on the album “Never Say Die…” (laughs)
We always used a pretty straight and simple way to record the guitars, so what you hear on the album is pretty much what came out of the speaker cabinet. Except that during the 80’s there supposed to be some reverbs to make it sound big and then, same as now me and the other guitarist share the solos 50/50.
When Mercyful Fate reunited in early 1990’s did you ever think that would spell the end of King Diamond band, or was it clear from the beginning both groups would continue to co-exist?
The strange thing is that I didn’t hear it straight from King himself at first, I just heard rumours about the MF reunion and it actually crossed my mind that maybe there was an end to the era of King Diamond. At that time we were still looking for a record deal, things went really slow and it took almost 4 years from the release of “The Eye” until we started to record “The Spiders Lullaby,” and it gave me some time to work with Death, and also write some songs for the band Illwill, that featured Sharlee D´Angelo andSnowy Shaw – even though the album wasn’t released until 1998. But the KD fans screamed for more from the band, albums and concerts, so after that period we got pretty active again. “The Graveyard,” “Voodoo,” “House Of God,” “Abigail 2” etc were released with not too long time in between.
© Håkon Grav
Can you describe your creative relationship with King? When composing a new album does he come up with the concept first and then you write music around that or the other way around?
It usually starts with the music even though King might have a vague idea of a story, but making the music first and when he has a more detailed version of the story he puts the songs in sequence to get the right expression, to make the music support the story, and the lyrics to enhance the modes of the music.
There have been a lot of players in the band throughout the last 20 years. You are the only remaining member (besides King himself of course) from the line-up which recorded “Fatal Portrait.” What is the secret of yours and King’s longevity?
We complement each other very good in everything from writing songs to mixing the album, and we’ve always been able to find good solutions without fighting to much (laughs). I also think we have the same opinion when it comes to: “what direction should we take the music?” – and we usually get along well on and off stage….
What’s going on with the King Diamond band right now? You had a couple of tours booked after the release of “Gimme Your Soul… Please” but had to cancel it?
Due to King’s back problems we had to postpone two tours – sorry to say but I hope King will get better soon so we can start working on some new songs. We just released a promo video of the song “Give Me Your Soul” and at this point we’re just planning for the future.
A lot of fans have requested a King Diamond DVD, which would definitely be a stunning musical and visual experience. Do you see a project like that surfacing in the near future?
Probably not a dedicated live DVD in the near future but we have lots of really cool material laying around, old stuff, backstage material, concert clips etc. which I think the fans would love, we hope to release that in the near future.
You did a sequel to classic “Abigail” story few years ago, how did this happen and would you consider doing sequels to other legendary KD records such as “The Eye” or third part of “Them” as well?
When we first talked about the second part of “Abigail,” we discussed a lot of things to make it a worthy follow up, also the possibility of having Michael Denner doing a guest solo, and maybe Mikkey playing drums on one song. We even talked briefly about having the producer of the first “Abigail”
Roberto Falcao to come in and give his touch on the album, but sound wise we wanted a fresh updated sound compared to the first “Abigail” album, and
I guess time and technical issues didn’t make the guest appearances possible.
When it comes to make another sequel I wont say: never again, youll never know…
I think it’s “Abigail,” the songs and the whole recording session was just surrounded with magical moments, great spirit and a very creative atmosphere, I still remember it as one of the best studio sessions I ever been involved in.
How do you view the evolution of the band, comparing “Fatal Portrait” to the latest King Diamond album what would you say is the biggest difference?
Well, we have become more professional in many ways since we recorded “Fatal Portrait” 23 years ago! At that time we just had the music which is the most important thing of course, but now I think we see the whole picture in a different way than we did back then, in everything from knowing how the first riff will turn out on the finished album to getting along as a band on tour.
And as you mentioned earlier, many members have been in the band throughout the years but it seems that we have found a very good line up in the recent one, and we have good fun when we are together and everything is a little bit more relaxed these days..(laughs)
Besides playing guitar with King, you have produced several bands, what got you interested in the production side of things originally?
This was back in the 80’s – the idea of presenting and documenting something that sounded better than just record it onto my Walkman actually started the big interest, and also the very creative and fun parts of being in the studio also helped to build interest in studio work. But I also remember the part that I thought was boring in the beginning like checking tom sounds for hours and hours…and I couldn’t for my life understand how anyone would want to become an engineer/producer but I guess the long days and nights of sound checking, mic placing, equipment talk, playing and mixing finally sunk into my head. I’ve had great use from all I learned from all the guys we
have worked with…
© Andy Larocque
In your opinion do you have a trademark sound that comes through on every band’s recording or do you try to enhance band’s own sound?
Yeah I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t have a “preset” to use on every band, I definitely want to enhance the sound of the band and take out the soul and spirit in every act. Then of course I have my preferences when it comes to sounds, but I prefer to listen to the band and work out the directions together with the artists.
You have your own studio called “Los Angered Recordings.” How do strike a balance and find the time between producing, running the studio and playing guitar with King?
It was called Los Angered Recording for about 13 years, then I relocated to a smaller city (Varberg) south of Gothenburg and since last spring the studio is called Sonic Train Studios.
When it comes to combine the things, it’s just a matter of good planning. Usually we know at least 6 months in advance what’s going to happen with Diamond so there’s usually no problems with that. And after being producing bands for several months it’s really great to go out on tour to meet the fans and have a great experience. Just as good as going back into the studio after being on tour for three months..(laughs)
You worked with Death on their classic “Individual Through Patterns” album? How was the experience and how do you remember the late, great Chuck Schuldiner?
Well people always ask me that question regarding Chuck, I thought he was a great person to work with, very friendly, respectful and cool! I thought we got along great during the recording of the album, which was a really cool experience for me, everyone was really friendly at the Morrissound too! The music was somewhat different to what I was used to playing, but when Monte from Road Runner Records called me up and asked me if I wanted to go to Florida to record with Death, I said to myself: “sure! why not?” Just for the great experience! So I had a great time with the music and the guys and I thought the album turned out good too!
After that session Chuck called me up every new years eve just to say hi and chat. I met him the last time on a King Diamond show in Florida -98 right after he had a surgery and you couldn’t even tell he was that ill, he was in a great shape, it was really cool to see him.
One of my personal favourite albums you have also worked on is Falconer’s folk metal influenced “Chapters From A Vale Forlorn”. A band and an album that probably hasn’t been given the recognition they deserve. What kind of memories do you have working with that band?
Well I’m still working with them, we started record their latest album right before x-mas and we are going to continue mixing it in May. I don’t know when it will be released but they’re still on Metal Blade Records.
I´ve been working with these guys for 10 years now and I just love them! Very different style and great musicianship and the very special vocal style makes it very interesting I think. One of the recent memories I had with these guys was when we drank 80% Strong-Rum Airplanefuel! How did we survive? That was right around x-mas and haven’t talked to the guys much since then…(laughs)
King Diamond on tour © Håkon Grav
What is your current guitar gear both on tour and in the studio?
Caparison Guitars all Stratstyle’s and my all-time favourite: Gibson Flying V White 1978!! For amps I use Marshalls TSL 100 and I’m going to try out a Preamp from Digitech (1101) for live purposes. 2 cabs with celestion vintage speakers and it’s the same I’ve been using for over 20 Years! Also been working on a cooperation with Randall as we speak. For studio stuff I use Engl, Digitech stuff, POD Marshalls, Peavey, tons of pedals, wahs, whatever I think is right for the situation. And always the vintage cabs!
What kind of advice would you could give to young guitar players, what is the most important thing if you hope to become a successful metal musician?
It’s never to give up! Even if it feels impossible sometimes, if you wanna do it you CAN do it!!!
Finally, what are your goals for the future? Will there ever be Andy LaRoque solo album for example?
I don’t know if I ever had the goal of making a pure Andy solo album, I thought it would be kind of boring. If there weren’t a band of some form then maybe, but you never know, let’s see what the future holds….
Thanks a lot for your time!
Thanks, say hello to the Priest camp!
Andy LaRocque on the web: