A DEAD GIRL'S BEST FRIEND: An Interview With King Diamond

Music Features
A DEAD GIRL'S BEST FRIEND: An Interview With King Diamond
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Mar 20, 2008, 17:16

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Dead babies. The microphone constructed of two femur bones in the shape of a crucifix. An unmistakable falsetto singing, almost beautifully: “…I deny Jesus Christ, the Deceiver…,” (“The Oath,” from Mercyful Fate's 1984 album, Don't Break the Oath). A theatrical stage set up like a cemetery, complete with a shed housing multiple implements such as scythes, shovels, and hatchets…. Well known ties to the Church of Satan. And, above all else, a musical journey that has spanned over thirty years…

This is King Diamond, arguably the most influential metal musician working today. The facts, though few and far between, are well known and have become just another part of the mysterious personae of the man. But to understand the music fully, one must understand the mind—whether demented or completely lucid—that spawned them. To get behind the makeup for just a glimmer of the spark that sets his fingers working, writing the next musical opus, and figure out…something, anything…

Your Flesh: Describe your early life. What was your childhood like?

King Diamond: Early life, you know, I was very lucky. I had a great childhood. Nothing but good to say about how my parents raised me. Strict but with that came a lot of freedom too, you know. Played a lot of soccer, for a long time. I was very interested in music. I saw my first concert in, I think it was 1970 or 71. I saw Grand Funk Railroad…and since then it's been [all about] going to concerts and collecting music, you know… vinyl at that time. Spent all my money on vinyl. Got a job with, what you call a lab assistant, and still did soccer and music. You know, it was too much. There was no time left for doing, you know, anything properly. So at one point I stopped playing soccer and concentrated on the music. It was a time when it was just a hobby, but it was a very serious hobby.

YF: Though a lot of people already know about it, tell me about your first few bands.

KD: There was the time with the band called Black Rose, the band that I started singing in. I played guitar in a band before that. We started playing shows, you know, and you can actually hear some of what we were doing because there was an album released with that band, which is a good sounding, good quality rehearsal recording. And from there, that band broke up because—what can I say—everyone was not serious enough. The keyboard player sold his big Hammond and so we were like, “So now what?” I think it was for a kitchen for his apartment so, I mean what can you do? The band split up and I went looking for another band and I was offered to join this other band was Brats, which was an early version of Mercyful Fate [absolutely hilarious video] . And after a while we got a deal with CBS in Denmark, a small division of the big CBS. When I joined the band it was under the condition that we were only going to play heavy metal. The band used to before that play a mix of heavy stuff…punk, you know, but when I joined the band it was under the condition to only play heavy metal. So we started doing that and then when it was presented to CBS, they said, “Uh, no thanks.” We sang in Danish and, at that time, you know, it was too much. And that's when Hank and I said, “Well, we're not gonna do that…you know. We're gonna do what we feel inside.” So I left the band and we started Mercyful Fate. It was not too long, a year or so into Mercyful Fate we got to be on a compilation album on a small English label. We got one song out there and then we were invited to go and do the BBC Radio Friday Night Rock Show and record some songs there. It just started spreading from there on. We got a deal with a small Dutch label. We got two days to record, no time for backing vocals and stuff like that. And then it stared growing from there. That album was exported to a lot of countries and created interest, especially from Roadrunner, who we signed with after that. That's where we got the deal to go in and spend a full eight days in the studio to do the Melissa album. So there was actually time to do backing vocals, to do the stuff that I had planned for those early songs but we never got a chance to record. At that point the band…we rehearsed so much that we had to, you know, quit our jobs to do it properly. So we took a chance and went on social welfare for a while. That's a time I'll never forget in my life, that's for sure. A time where you had to decide everyday whether you were going to smoke a pack of cigarettes or eat. That was the choice. You had to make the choice. You couldn't do both. We rehearsed and rehearsed and we went out and played these small shows. [Then] It turned into small tours and it just expanded from there, you know. When the Don't Break the Oath album came out, it not just became a hobby but a full time job, you know, which was, for me, the best that could happen. From then on I stopped being on social welfare in Denmark and it became my job, you know? It has been my job ever since.

YF: It was during your time in Black Rose that you chose the name King Diamond, is that correct?

KD: That was actually back in the band that I played guitar in called Brainstorm, it was before Black Rose.

YF: Why did you choose that name? Is there a special significance behind it?

KD: It was an old school pal and me [who] started the band. He played drums. We found a guitarist and a bass player. We thought we were so great, you know, we would become international stars in no time. We felt that we had to have international sounding names because we heard that other people, Alice Cooper, for instance, his name was not Alice Cooper…so we came up with those names. One guy was Jesse James, the drummer. Mike West was the guitarist, his real name was Mikael, So Mike West was more international, you know. Jesse James, his name was Jens Arnsted. So why and how King Diamond came up as a name…I have NO idea. That was the time period; it was 1976 probably. But I have no idea. I could lie to you and talk forever…I have no clue how that got into my brain, you know? [Laughs] It stuck big time, I can tell you. Hank has never called me anything but King, you know…it kind of defined my career. Everybody knows my name, even today. Most of the bands…it's always King. If someone on tour said, “Kim! Kim!” I don't think I would turn around, because you're so used to that environment where everyone just says “King.”

YF: What exactly was it about the Church of Satan that drew you to it?

KD: I lived in an apartment in Copenhagen that was seriously haunted. I had a lot of experiences there that inspired a lot of the lyrics. Those things that happened there, it was not just me; A lot of times the other people saw and felt the same things.

Not being able to explain the things, I went to the library, probably for the first time in my life, to borrow a book. I had gone there before to borrow vinyl albums, cause you could do that back then. I started reading some of these books that talked about the occult, but figured out that they were all written, or most of them were written, from that same viewpoint, a very Christian viewpoint. When they talked about Satanic this and Satanic that…and sacrifices…and I was thinking, “Oh, man…those Satanists must be totally insane.” That's the way it described those things. And then I find out down the road that these things also happened within the church itself, you know. What is all this stuff? Why is there not one clear explanation on what's what? It depends on what viewpoint you're looking at. It's like the more you get into these books, you know, it's like the more confused you get. A lot of information but none of it is clear. So many theories from different viewpoints that you just sit there…and that's exactly what religion is, I mean look at it today. No one has any proof of one specific god being the only real one. That's why we have so many different religions and so many different gods that people believe in, you know, because there is no proof! At least not proof where one person can stand up and show the rest of the world, “Look, here's the proof!” If that were the case then we would all believe in that one god. But there is no proof so…for me myself, I have no religious belief.

I would be the last in this world to say that there is no god because, I mean, how would I know? No proof that there are no gods or one or there are many…I don't know. But I pay respect to those who believe in different kinds of religions…I think everyone should do that. It would be a hell of a lot better world if people would have respect for each other regardless of religious beliefs because no one has the proof. Unfortunately that's not the case, you know. Almost every single war has religious motives as one of the main things in it, especially today, you know. It doesn't make sense to me, which is why I've stopped. I can't follow it. There's no logic to it for me. But people can use that kind of thing as a reason to go and kill each other. It doesn't exist! No one can prove that they are right! It just doesn't make sense!

Like I said before, I have a respect for people who believe because I don't know who's right or wrong. But the same goes for everyone else. No one knows if they are right or wrong, when it comes down to it. You might have a feeling inside you that is so strong, or had some experiences for yourself that makes you feel like, “This is the right belief for me.” But it is what it says: “Belief.” “I believe it could be this way.” It's not fact that you're dealing with, you know. Certain people are convinced that this is not the real thing or that is the real thing, but I just wish that everyone would realize or come to terms with the fact that they don't have the proof to show to everyone else what's going on. No one has the proof of what's going to happen to us when we die. No one knows. It's fine to believe in, as long as you can keep that respect and realize, “I can't expect everyone else to think the same, because there are no proofs.”

Then I came upon a book in a bookstore, the Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey. “I should probably buy this one to see what's in it,” you know. To see from that side…what they say. You see these different other sides, you know. Got it and read it and it didn't read like the other bible whatsoever. I mean…it's not a religious book. I think it's a book full of life philosophy. What was described in there was exactly the way that I lived my life. Exactly the feelings I had for the life in a philosophical way, you know?

Later on getting the chance to actually be invited to the Church and then spending the whole night…and meeting LaVey and starting a really amazing relationship, it was something totally different. Seeing how serious and behind his words that he was. That experience at the Church was something that I will never forget.

I have a handwritten letter from LaVey that I carry with me on tours. I know that Karla LaVey once told us, you know out on the west coast, that she wasn't quite sure whether she wanted to believe me (about the letter) or not. She said, “Dad never handwrote anyone. He always dictated to Blanche Barton.” And I said, “Well, you know, after dinner we can go up to the room and I can show it to you.” When she saw it the tears were rolling down her cheeks when she saw the things that LaVey had written to me. She had no idea. It's very special.

Also, the experience at the Church, to be able to talk along with LaVey for two hours in the ritual chamber was…I'll never forget it, you know. And not to just go in there and listen and nod your head, but to…to be there and to be able to say, “I would like to speak first,” and explain my thoughts and feelings instead of me nodding to whatever he says. That way he can judge what he feels about me, I suppose. And after I finished saying what it is I wanted to say, it was a really amazing feeling to see him take this symbol that was pinned to his black jacket, to take that off and place it into my hand. Then we talked about some things afterwards that I will not get into. But it was an experience that was very unique. He played keyboards, and organs, and other stuff for me…and then he switched to playing a well-known song to me called…I don't know what it's called, but it goes, [singing], “A wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen,” and he would be playing that on his organ and then turn his head over his shoulder with that smirking smile…”Hey I know that song…” But just the seriousness of the stuff, and his humor, and everything else…it was just an unbelievable experience.

YF: Do you still tie yourself with the Church of Satan?

KD: Well, it's not like I communicate back and forth, you know…it's not necessary for me in any way. LaVey gave me eternal membership at the time and I'm sure Peter H. Gilmore (head of Church of Satan) knows that. I still call the LaVeys [Anton passed away in 1997] whenever I can. When we were on the west coast I used to see a lot of Zeena and her son, Stanton, came to a lot of our shows. When I get the chance or they find out that we're coming then I'll usually get a phone call and we'll go out and get a nice dinner and talk. Very nice people, I like all of them. I think they have very good personalities. They have different viewpoints on certain things, but that's not my business. I try to stay in contact when I get out there. It's not like my number is outdated, but we don't stay in contact every two months or something, you know? But still we do keep up.

YF: What is the King Diamond philosophy of life?

KD: Mine?

YF: Yes.

KD: One of the most important things for me is respect for each other. Respect other human beings. Even if they have different ideas or opinions than you, it doesn't mean that they are wrong. It just means that they have those different opinions because they are in a different environment than you are. That respect is one of the most important things to me.

In some situations, if you don't have an open mind you miss out on so much good stuff, so much stuff you could learn from. I could give so many examples on people missing out on good things, but I don't have to. You could talk to a person leaping off a bridge and they could give you much more life experience than some kind of big executive that lives in a protective bubble because he's not…I don't know. It could be the other way around, too. You don't know until you give it a chance. I'm always making an effort to be open-minded and to pay the respect that I would like to be paid. That's one of my main things.

Since I don't have a religious belief I don't walk around everyday thinking on whether I'm sinning or not, that's just not part of my life. I don't break the law. I know what happens if you break the law. I have no need for doing that.  There is some truth to those saying, “Do what thou wilt that be the whole of the law,” but if you live literally by that you're not going to get very far. Probably, if you do you'll just end up in jail. But if you live according to that line with sense then you might get pretty far. It doesn't make sense to just drive full-blast through a red light 'cause you're in a hurry, you wanna get back and see the beginning to the football game. Don't worry because you won't ever again. There are rules, there are laws to try and make society work so, if you go by those you probably won't get into too much trouble.

Respect, that's the main thing. Get something out of life, because you don't know what's gonna happen later.

YF: On a less serious note, what are you listening to right now?

KD: I don't listen to a lot of new music. For the past ten years…I mean, there're a few bands…I always have the latest Metallica album. I don't buy all the new bands. Music…if you ask me about a bunch of new bands I probably wouldn't know them, or I wouldn't have heard them, you know. I've always been into the early '70s, the late '60s stuff that I got when I started collecting vinyl and, later on…I have a quite nice collection. That's music. I enjoy it so much and I have so much I could play it for the next six years and never repeat one of them. If I buy a new album it is probably a concert from a '70s release.

I have a lot of obscure stuff. One of the latest CDs that I got from a journalist in Norway, was a band called Aunt Mary, a Norwegian band from 1970 to 74. One of their albums from '72 called Loaded …very good…an unknown band. There are a few good Danish bands and some obscure German band called Spearfish, some people may have heard of them. The singer later joined Uriah Heep, after their original singer died. But the band before that was called Asterisk, VERY few people have heard of, I have that on CD—so much from that era. I don't get into…well, it's good and bad, you know. I can't talk to you about…”Oh, that band, yeah. What a good band.” There is a ton of great new music, I'm sure of it. But I just don't know. The good part of it is I don't get influenced by any of the new trends or whatever. I don't want to be influenced by anybody. I want us to just be ourselves. So far, I think we've managed that pretty well. First of all, the good fortune of being involved with all the good labels we've been involved with…they've given us total artistic freedom since day one. That's an amazing thing. We can put 100% of ourselves into our music. It comes straight from the heart—all of it. And that's rare today. That's the reason why King Diamond, or Mercy, sounds so unique. We've created our own little shelf. We never follow any trends. Never. That's probably why we have no platinum album, or gold or whatever [laughs]. But that's also the reason why we are still here, because we never got outdated. We never follow the trends and then die.

I know one thing that's been true, that's been 100% honest, and I'm very proud of that aspect of it. And the fact that we are still here you can attribute to the best fans in the world. I don't think anyone has fans that are more dedicated than ours. They play a huge role in us. Without them we would not be here.

When it's time to write new material for an album I totally stop listening to even the music that I love listening to. I stop listening to any music whatsoever. I will not be influenced. Because I know, from experience, that if I just listen to the first Sabbath album and I go in and turn my gear on and start playing and fooling around with some riffs, I'm gonna be in that mode. I'm gonna start playing slow, heavy riffs, you know? It is something that is not within me that comes straight from me. I will not have that. So I stop listening to anything except for what I write. From then on it's to the mix and then I'm done. I don't listen to anything else. I just want what fits our music, the best for that time, you know?

That's something with this new album. It's so clear. You can hear everything. You can hear the bass notes, everything. It's so clear. It has a lot to do with that we totally didn't go with the way that you go when you master an album. Normally there's a lot of limiters and compression going on that makes things tie together…then you start changing the whole mix, the whole sound, it washes out the detail…and, you just gotta stop doing that stuff! I don't care! I'd rather have what we do to be able to hear it clearly. Get all the details out. Screw them all and let's hear what we do clearly! Why go and cover up the sounds because that's what you do? So we didn't. And it turns out to what I think is the best sounding album that we've had. You never get too old to learn. Take chances if you believe in your things and not just play it safe all the time.

So I heard from one of the neighbors today, “Oh, hey, you got to change your style a little. Play more like this…,” and I said, “Well, goodbye.” Someone comes and starts telling me what King Diamond sounds like? It's wrong. Then they should go find another band that sounds like what they want out of us; either take us for what we are or forget it. I'm not going to start doing things that I don't believe in. Never.

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