There’s something of a myth surrounding Diamond Head. Living up to the reputation of “Metallica’s favorite band” is a tall order, but Brian Tatler has a lifetime of experience, some new talent on his team, and a bit of luck on his side. The band’s eighth studio album, The Coffin Train,is due just in time for the 40th anniversary of the band’s debut album, Lightning to the Nations. We spoke to Brian over the phone about new members, new music, and what it takes to keep rocking for four decades.
JGILBERT: Hello, Brian! It’s an absolute pleasure, thank you for joining us. How are things going?
BRIAN TATLER: Great! We’re waiting for the release of the album on the 24th; it was completed last year, but it took a little time to sort everything out with the label and management. We’re finally with professional management and we’ve got a great label, it just took a little time into the new year to get ready for press and finishing the artwork, but it’s all coming together. The big start is next month; we’re touring Europe and the UK and we have some festivals
I want to come back to that in a minute, but let’s talk about your new management because it seems Diamond Head is much more active in recent years than they were before. Is that partly motivated by the change in management?
Well, we’ve only had the manager since around Christmas time, and he put us in touch with Silver Lining as a label. I’ve always said that Diamond Head never had professional management; insofar as a company who have other bands on their roster and have… done it before. We always had amateur management, really. People who wanted to help the band but had never done it before and were learning on the job; for a time we had the singer’s mum managing the band! We had all sorts of problems! So the band stopped twice; we never toured the US… Our first US tour was 2011! When the other bands like Saxon and Girschool and Def Leppard were coming to the States, we were still in the UK. But I think it all seems to be coming ‘round now. This is our second album with Rasmus on vocals and he’s a fantastic singer.
Truly world class! I’m so lucky to get him, hahaha! I think people are enjoying the album, and the press seems to think it’s a good album. I’m really happy to be in this place.
Your last album was meant to be a return to form for the band and an attempt to get back to what was good about Diamond Head to begin with. The new album is along the same lines, do you feel like you have more to say as artists in that style?
I guess so! It’s what we do best. We tried a few different things over the years, but I think what we do best is when I come up with a good riff and build on it, and I need to have someone else to write lyrics. And Ras is great at all that; I think when Ras joined, he wanted to make the most about what was good about Diamond Head at the start, especially Lightning to the Nations, Borrowed Time, and Canterbury. He encouraged us to look back and make the most of that period. We decided that if it didn’t sound like Diamond Head, we weren’t going to use it, and that was a leveler for people’s ideas. And I think after all these years, we’ve established the sound and the style of what Diamond Head is and we’re just running with that.
It seems like there’s been a renewed interest in that style and that sound lately; the resurgence of Diamond Head couldn’t be better timed.
I agree! You know it’s the 40th anniversary [of the band], and a lot of the bands from that period are no longer going or can no longer come up with the goods to make a great album. Our last one was very well-received, and we’re hoping that this one is going to be just as well-received. I think the timing is just bang-on, but that’s just luck, hahaha. The band needs a bit of luck!
How do you continue to enjoy what you’re doing 40 years later? Is touring still fun?
Yeah, I take my fun where I can. I still enjoy playing the guitar and I still enjoy these songs, even though some of them are 40 years old! I still think they sound great. I also enjoy playing with the band and I enjoy the camaraderie. I’ve tried to protect the name “DIamond Head” over the years, and I just wanted to continue and become more successful make life easier for everyone in the band and move up the ladder in the next few years.
I had the pleasure of seeing your tour for the last album. Your live show is great, but one thing that I noticed in particular was the age diversity at your show. There were some people who had clearly been around since the beginning, btu there were also a lot of young people in the crowd! That’s unusual for a band that’s been around as long as yours has.
That’s true, and it’s really great when that happens because you get a lot of energy from a young crowd who’ve maybe never seen the band and maybe they’ve been looking forward to seeing the band for a long time. We get a lot of young people who get come to us through Metallica, and they always apologise and say “I’m sorry, I never knew about Diamond Head” but maybe they heard “Am I Evil?” and learned it’s a Diamond Head song or maybe they read something online… So they come along for that reason or another. Either way, I think that’s great, whatever it takes. Just because Diamond Head didn’t do the ground work in the States back in the 80’s or 90’s… at least Metallica were doing it, to a degree, when they were playing Diamond Head songs; keeping the name out there and name checking us. I’ll take it!
You’ve got new people coming in, and new material coming out; do you have any favorites to rehearse or play live?
We haven’t played any of it live yet. We had them ready last year, and we did a big tour of Europe, we did 38 dates, but we didn’t play the new material because we were worried that people would record it on their phones and it would be on YouTube; some rough live version of tracks from the new album. We wanted people to have the opportunity to hear the album the way we intended first, hear the proper recordings. At the moment, all we’ve done is rehearse, but I think the opening track Belly of the Beast will go down well live. It sounds like classic Diamond Head with a modern twist, like “The Prince” or Helpless. It’s got that groove like “Streets of Gold” had. And My favorite track on the new album is the title track, “The Coffin Train”. I think we’ve done something excellent there.
I also thought those were standout tracks on the new album. When you look back on your career, 40 years ago, what was the goal of Diamond Head? What were you trying to accomplish?
Hahahaha! I guess it’s what I’ve always tried to do, innit? Which is to become successful. Yeah, it’s great fun at first, it’s new, when you’re making music. Your do a gig; it’s exciting; your first festival… the first time you play abroad… all those landmarks are so exciting for a young band. There’s lots of territories we’ve never been to that we’d like to go to, and I’d like the band to continue to move upwards and become more successful. That’s probably what I wanted to happen when we formed; you have this dream of becoming a big band, like your heroes. The bands I would go and see, like Black Sabbath and Rainbow or AC/DC, all those classic 70’s bands. I just wanted to do that! I thought I wanted to be onstage playing the guitar like that; that looks good! And I think you start practicing and writing songs and you hope that one day you write a great song and that people want to come and see you perform it! I think it’s that simple and it’s still the same. I don’t know what else I to do! I’m never going to give it up and get a day job or retrain as a software engineer! Hahahahaha! I don’t have the brains for a lot of other things; I’m a musician and I have been since a teenager. I just want to continue on this path.
That’s great! I was looking through your recent and upcoming tour dates, it seems like you’re playing a lot of shows with other bands who’ve been around for a long time; Saxon, Krokus, I see Tygers of Pan Tang on there… what’s it like seeing them now, all these years later?
Oh it’s good! There’s a mutual respect. I bumped into Cronos from Venom, and we had a big hug! It’s like “wow, we’ve been through so many years of ups and downs” but there’s a respect that we’re still in the game, we’re still chasing the dream, making music, and still enjoying it. We’re still prepared to go out there and do the work, meeting fans and do everything that is necessary to keep the band going. Once you’ve got that ball rolling it’s much easier to keep it going than for it to stop and have to get your shoulder behind it to start all over again.
Are there other bands still working that you love to play with or still want to play with?
Well we’ve done shows with Tygers of Pan Tang, that’s always good fun; we must’ve bumped into Girlschool at least a dozen times… We’ve played with Angel Witch and Venom… the names escape me. But it seems to me a lot of bands are getting back out there. It’s really a good time for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal; what with the 40th anniversary, I’ve noticed a few have got back together, taking the opportunity to do festivals and dates across Europe. Maybe making a new album and getting back out there. We did one with Vardis, remember that name? They stopped for years, but we just did a gig in London with them. We just did some gigs with Rock Goddess and they’d stopped for something like 30 years and just reformed last year to do an album. There’s lots of bands coming back to relive their former glories, shall we say.
How do you keep yourself in shape to do 30-plus date tours? It can be a hard life, even for young bands.
That’s not easy. It’s especially hard on a singer; but we’re lucky enough to have a singer whose voice seems almost indestructible. He can sing night after night. I mean, we did thirteen dates on the trot last year and he was fine. If you’ve a singer who’s prone to coughs or colds you can get in trouble. I just try and keep healthy; I’ve had a few health scares over the years. I do my best to eat well and get exercise and not get stressed about things. I’ve just turned 59 so
I do have to watch what I do and be careful. I’m not a big drinker and I don’t smoke or do drugs so I’ve just got to keep alive really. Anything can happen on the road, but I try to avoid stress and junk food. And I get enough sleep!
You’ve said in the past that you try to listen to different artists and avoid musical tunnel vision. Anything you or the band have been listening to lately, new or old?
I’m always listening to music; it’s still a pleasure to listen to old things. I’m a 70’s sort of guy I think the 1970s was the best decade for rock bands and the bands that came out of that decade were a huge influence on Diamond Head. There’s a bunch of new bands I’ve spotted; I quite like Monster Truck and the Amazons. Have you heard of Raveneye? And there’s a band called Scorpion Child. It’s great to hear a new song that’s got something. I look for good singers and good songs; a lot of the thrash, black, dark metal is a little beyond me. But I saw Cradle of Filth and they were very good, but some bands are just too much for me. But I’ve been listening to rock since I was 12 probably and you form your tastes; I’ve got my tastes in music. Nobody likes everything… even though some people say they do; that annoys me, that does. People who say “oh I like everything, I do, I like all sorts” and what they mean is they like everything that’s on the radio, but they don’t go into the deep cuts, do they? When was the last time you listened to Be Bop Deluxe’s third album?
At this point for me, when I say I like everything, I can tell when an artist cared and worked hard, and I guess that’s what I appreciate.
I agree with that; that’s a good way to put it.
It’s so much easier to put music out today; there’s so much music out there. Anyone with a computer can put a song online.
There’s so much, I wouldn’t know where to start. There’s so many songs coming out; it must be a nightmare for journalists! It’s much cheaper to put out an album these days compared to the 80’s.
Are there any other big differences in making the music happen since you got started?
I can make a really good quality demo at home! I have a ProTools LE rig, and it’s not even very expensive, but I can make very good quality demos and it’s great for my songwriting or working out guitar solos; I can play along to backing tracks. That’s been a big help; you don’t have to book into a studio anymore; you should only need a studio to record loud instruments like drums. It’s so much cheaper and the editing facility is incredible, the ability to edit and change things right in the mix. If somebody had the idea to change an arrangement in 1983, it would have cost a load of money and time to chop up the tapes; and now it’s done in moments and if you don’t like it: “undo”. It’s just fantastic; I’m all for digital.
Some bands have been going back to analog or period-correct gear; would you ever consider doing that?
No, we’ve done that. In 1980 Diamond Head recorded in an old studio in the Midlands. We recorded Lightning to the Nations in a week; we recorded and mixed it in a week and that’s all analog; we didn’t even have click tracks. So I’ve been there and done that and I prefer digital. You can spend more time, and it’s cheaper.
With Diamond Head growing and becoming more successful, what are you looking forward to in the next, say, 5 years?
Five years?? AAHH!!! I can’t see past twelve months. We’ve got festivals lined up into November, and we’re trying to come to the States, if not late this year then next year. I haven’t got plans for the next five years, but we’ll be promoting this album as much as we can; see where it takes us. Like I said, there’s lots of territories we’ve never been to that we’d like to play. We’ve never played South America, Australia or New Zealand. We’ve only been to Japan once, so there’s lots of places for the band to go. Have you heard of these metal cruises? We did 70,000 Tons of Metal, which was fantastic, and there’s a few of those. We’d like to do more of those; at least one more. We just want to keep it going. We’ve got professional management now; they can open many doors that we can’t open on our own. We’ve been managing ourselves for years and sometimes it’s really tough to get yourself in, to get onto festivals or support slots; sometimes they just don’t want to know. Now we’ve got good management and we’ve already got two big festivals in Europe that we could not get; we tried for ten years and we could not get on those bills but now we’ve got management: we’ve got them.
Yeah, I saw you’re on Wacken and Hellfest!
Exactly! We couldn’t get on those bills, they just weren’t interested and suddenly, we’re on. That’s the power of management. That’s that some “clout” does.
I’ve seen you give that advice before. Beyond “get good management” and “keep yourself healthy”, what pieces of advice do you have for other artists?
I would say “write songs”. Writing is the best thing you can ever do because that’s your legacy. That’s what will keep you going and that’s what will make money is by selling records. So hang on to your publishing! Don’t sign your publishing away because I made that mistake years ago and it took a long time to get it back. Do good merch! Look after your fans and keep them informed because there’s so much competition, people can easily drift away and watch another band instead.
Thanks for joining us, Brian! Anything else you want to add?
The new album is out on May 24th. We should have a third music video out soon so look for that. We’ll get over to the US when we can, we were over there last year doing Rocklahoma, and some dates around that; that was great fun. We try to get to the States when we can, and Canada, too. Everybody’s been giving us the thumb’s up this time around!