Guitarist Andy LaRocque has been a constant partner and creative force with King Diamond since the band’s origins 32 years ago. Here he talks to Heather Willliams about his lengthy career, past projects with Death and Falconer among others, gear and the status of upcoming long awaited King Diamond studio album.
You are a musician extroidinaire! You’ve been playing in one of the most well-known metal bands on the planet, King Diamond for thirty-two years, plus you’ve played for other artists such as Death, on their great album ”Individual Thought Patterns”. You had a cool band with Pagans Mind singer Nils Rue called X-World/5, guested on over 20 different bands albums including Dimmu Borgir, Melechesh, At the Gates, and Snowy Shaw, produced over 100 different bands in your studio, Sonic Train Studios, Plus have more than five compilation albums under your belt. I find your style of playing intricate, powerful, projected yet contained at the same time, flamboyant without being flamboyant. Your birth name is Anders Allhage. Why the name change to Andy La Rocque?
Well, that was in the 1980´s when it was cool to have a stage name, when you looked around at that time every person in a band had a stage name pretty much. So I decided to go for La Rocque.
You were in a band called The E.F. Band. You were on their third studio album “One Night Stand” released in 1985. You were only with them a year before they broke up. Is it possible to get this album anywhere?
I don’t know where you can get the album. I was asked to join the band just a few months before they were supposed to enter the studio in January 1985, so it was a hectic time contributing with a few songs and rehearsing hard before recording the album. And I quit the band just a few months later when I joined King Diamond in June 1985.
King Diamond hasn’t put out an album since 2007, eleven years. Any plans in the works for another album? Hasn’t King sort of been out of commission for the past few years because of some health issues? Perhaps he is writing a really juicy story for this latest album!
We plan to start writing songs for a new album this year. Hopefully we´ll start recording in the fall, and it’s just that we’ve been very busy playing shows, tours and festivals since King recovered from his surgery. So when we decided to try to play a few festivals back in 2012 it was very successful and since then the wheels were spinning faster and faster with tours and a lot of festivals. But for 2018 we decided to start writing a new album and I know that King has a few ideas for the story.
Out of Kim aka King Diamond, Michael (Denner) and Timi (Hansen), which of the three approached you about joining up with them to form King Diamond? Or did they all confront you together? Did you have to audition?
It was actually Mikkey Dee who asked me to come down to Copenhagen to meet the guys. Me and Mikkey played together in the same band in Gothenburg for a while back in 1984 I believe it was. Since then we were staying in touch and when it wasn’t working out in the studio with the guitarist they had at the time, Mikkey called me and I was down in Copenhagen just a few days later doing the audition in the studio. They asked me to play a solo to the song “Dressed in White” and so I did, they recorded a few tracks, talked about it and the same afternoon they said: welcome in the band!
I know King does a juggling act between Mercyful Fate and King Diamond. What do you do in the times he is working with Mercyful Fate?
Well there has been no activity with Mercyful Fate since 1999 so since then it has not affected the plans of King Diamond. Before 1999 they were actually busy at times, I was then doing different things like building up my studio, recording and producing other artists/bands, making guest appearances with other groups like Death, Dimmu Borgir etc…
Why didn’t you receive writing credits on the “Fatal Portrait” album?
All songs were already written, rehearsed, and partly recorded. I joined the band when they had already been in the studio for about two weeks, so the only thing I play on the album is my solos.
All of King Diamond -albums are based on stories. The whole concept of writing stories and putting music to them is just brilliant. The stories are brilliant, the music is brilliant. How does this work? Does King write the stories and you put the music to them or do all of you take part in coming up with these stories? “The Puppet Master” is my favorite story. I can just imagine the video that could be made with that song. What a storyline, turning humans to puppets and making them do your bidding by injecting blood into them. Seriously amazing.
King always come up with the story and all the lyrics. He often has a vague idea of a story before he starts composing songs, and then slowly puts together the story into more detailed lyrics as his and my songs are put into the right sequence. It’s a lot of hard work putting it all together because you have to have the right atmosphere music and lyrics combined. I’m really excited to see what he comes up with story wise for the next album.
What goes into making a King Diamond show? There are so many props, lights, it’s a huge production!
Yes, since 2012 we have been touring with a big production. It takes lot of crew guys to make it work, still we can fit in a fairly sized theater.
How about music videos? You were in quite a few of them. What was that like? Did they tell you guys what to do for the videos such as where to stand, how to look when you’re playing etc? When was the last time the band did a music video?
I think that back in the golden era of music videos in the 1980´s, it was a great experience to record them. Usually back then it was very costly because you used great locations, actors, expensive stage props . Just different from how you can record a video nowadays. The last video we recorded was more than 10 years ago and it was of the song `Never Ending Hill´´
I hear a shift in sound starting with the “Voodoo” album. “House Of God” is my favorite King Diamond album. Starting with “House Of God” I feel all albums after are heavier than the albums before them. Do you have an explanation for this shift in sound or why these albums are heavier?
I guess new studio, different engineer and maybe a little different song style, all that combined just made it a little bit different I guess.
I know that you have fans all over the world, and that you have traveled all over the world. I also know that each of your fans are special to you in their own ways and that the countries you have traveled in have all had their own unique things about them. But is there any places you’ve been with King Diamond that have stood out the most or bring back some sort of memory be it good or bad?
I really think all our fans are super cool. It doesn’t matter where in the world we play, often you meet them outside the venue or the hotel and it’s really cool to get a few minutes talking to them. In 2017 we visited a few countries and cities in South America. I was amazed of how dedicated our fans are down there. Amd for a memorable place, I thought it was very interesting to visit Mexico City and to experience the ancient culture of the native people, buildings and places.
IIIWill…V for Vulgarians, SingHai is cool.
You formed a band in 1997 called IllWill. It’s a cool, heavy, different and unique sort of band. I hear some thrash and death metal in there. Am I hearing a tinge of punk maybe too? But I’m confused. Here’s my thoughts: You formed the band with bassist Robert Hakemo, drummer Snowy Shaw, and vocalist Jonas Dahlstrom. Something happens with Robert and you bring in bassist Sharlee D’Angelo who stays with you guys until the band breaks up in 1998. Is this correct? Why did this band only last one year? You put out an album called “Evilution”. Who’s idea was it to come up with this band? Can you buy the “Evilution”-album anywhere?
The band was formed by me in 1993 actually. The name came about in 1994 (Snowys idea I believe) and we recorded the album in 1995. Robert was writing lyrics, Jonas was the singer and when Snowy and Sharlee heard the first couple of songs they wanted to do something with this. They joined, wrote some songs and we recorded the album in 1995. It was one of the first bands that were recorded in my studio which was called ´´Los Angered Recording´´. We negotiated with different record companies but it took some time and in the meantime we all got busy with other things. Snowy and Sharlee with Mercyful Fate and me with King Diamond so it all just went out into nothing pretty much.
In 1993, Chuck Schuldiner approached you about appearing on the “Individual Thought Patterns” – album. What made you decide to do this? I feel Death was different than most of the bands you played or appeared in and also had a different musical style than others you’ve played or appeared in as well.
At that time we didn’t do much with King Diamond. We were actually looking for a record deal, and Mercyful Fate was about to reunite. So I thought it was a great opportunity to try something different, and I think it turned out as a good cooperation.
Why did you not appear in Death’s “The Philosopher” -video?
They asked me if I wanted to join Death as a member but I was not very keen of touring at that time. I was expecting our second child at that point plus I had something else going musically, so I kindly had to say no.
X-World/5..New Universal Order…Powerful symphonic metal, maybe a tinge of progressive? “New Eden” is awesome, it would make for a spectacular music video!
Oh yes, that was also a very different thing. In a time where we did not do anything with King Diamond so I was asked by Magnus the bass player if I wanted to join.
Will there be any more albums coming out of this band? Where can people buy it? Do you guys play any shows currently?
We just did one album and we have no plans to pick it up again in the near future. It was fun making it because of the different way we composed songs. We sent riffs, short riffs to “Big Swede´´ the drummer, then he put that together to songs with help from Reeves Gabrels (ex.Tin Machine, David Bowie) who also put down guitars on the album.
You sang as co-lead vocalist on Falconer’s album “Grime vs. Grandeur”. What’s up with that? The longtime lead guitarist for King Diamond singing lead vocals? Any other albums with other bands you’ve sang on that we should know about?
Well, I just sang a line on one song and that’s it. It was more like a fun thing. I use to sing a lot when I was younger, but since joining King Diamond I just sing in the bathroom 🙂
Do you have pre-show or after-show touring rituals?
Before show I´d like to kind of meditate for a while. Just cool down and have some silence around me to focus but also pick up the guitar and play around a little to warm up.
Have you ever thought of releasing a solo album?
Oh yes, many times and I have been asked about it many times but it seems time is an issue and I have so many other things going on and you have to make priorities. A thing I really liked was I started out a project with Magnus (Rosen), the ex-bass player from Hammerfall and vocalist Tony Martin (Black Sabbath 1986-1996). We wrote few songs that never got released but who knows, maybe if there is time in the future we pick that up again.
SONIC TRAIN STUDIOS
You used to have a recording studio called Los Angered Recording, which you changed to Sonic Train Studios later on. Sonic Train is located in Varberg, Sweden. You have a spectacular website for your studio. Very professional and state of the art looking, simple yet straightforward. When did you get into producing music? Who are you producing for now?
Yes I do own a studio, a commercial studio open for anyone to record. Sometimes people think it’s only for my own purpose but no, I record and produce many bands in my studio. Since the start back in 1995, it also has accommodation where the bands don’t have to leave the studio unless they want to stay at a fancy hotel. 🙂 And I have a great second producer in the studio, Marcus who helps out when the studio is too busy. Lately I been working with SF. Bay Area metal band Kill Ritual (currently on tour with Iced Earth I believe) and US rocker Neil Turbin (ex-Anthrax) Secret Society featuring Rick Altzi of Masterplan, Paul Sabo and other great artists. Right now I’m working on an album with a band called Secret Chapter which will be released later this year. Studio website is: www.sonictrainstudios.com
What made you decide you wanted to play guitar? Are you self-taught?
Yes totally self-taught. When I was younger I tried to learn how to read music, but I had no patience, I wanted to play rock roll !! So I guess I trained my ears instead, just to learn licks from other guitar players. 🙂
I hear you also play synth. Is that you we hear playing the keyboard duties for King Diamond?
I’m not a skilled keyboard player but in the studio I manage to play a few chords and notes to create that extra feel to a song. I’m only playing and programming keyboards on the songs I compose. King plays keys on his songs. In the beginning we had Roberto Falcao, the producer of the first five albums playing most of the keyboards on the albums.
How is your guitar set up like say for when you’re touring with King as opposed to when you’re in the studio recording for an album? Do you have certain amps, strings, guitars, pedals, etc. that you use in the studio than when you’re touring with King Diamond?
My guitars are set up exactly the same way in studio and on tour. I use ESP guitars now which I think are awesome! Seymour Duncan pickups and Ernie Ball strings makes the sound that together with a Marshall JVM and a good cab will rock you. In the studio I also use Kemper profiling amp and for live I use Line6 gear. Very good sounding and convenient with built in FX.
What are you doing in your downtime? Any favorite books, music, food, movies or TV-shows?
I still love to travel, after so many years on the road I still think it’s very exciting and interesting to discover new places. We have a very long and dark winter here with freezing degrees so when possible I also love to just sit under a palm tree on a white sandy beach, looking out over the ocean, that to me is very inspiring and makes you recharge your batteries…
Thank You Andy!
Interview by Heather Williams